Volunteers prepare 850 meals at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Blair
From Homer’s Odyssey to works by John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank’s photographs in The Americans, books about travel have always caught my imagination. I read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie when I was in high school, and I knew then that traveling the country in a home on wheels was something I wanted to do some day.
I recently bought a small pickup and fitted it with a pop up camper. A few weeks ago, I set off on my first adventure in my new wander wagon.
Originally my plan was to visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Heavy snow fall helped to extinguish the raging fires in Glacier, but also pretty much closed down much of the park. I decided to save Glacier for next year and stay in Wyoming.
My trip to Yellowstone was in part sentimental. My wife and I visited the park on our honeymoon. Driving through the park was kind of like listening to golden oldies from the ’70’s and 80’s that bring back fond memories. The appearance of the park was about what I expected, but there were changes too. Many of the facilities have been modernized and some completely replaced. After thirty plus years, my appearance has changed too.
As I snapped frame after digital frame of geysers, mountain vistas and buffalo with my cameras, I remembered that on my trip with Kris I brought along one Pentax SLR camera and maybe a dozen rolls of film. Now I can click the equivalent of that many frames in one day. There are always trade-offs to new technology. When I was shooting film, by necessity I tried to make each shot count by spending more time composing and calculating the exposure. I think those years of shooting film also has made me a better digital photographer.
That being said, I usually don’t miss using film until I see some of the fabulous prints by some of my fine art friends who use medium and large format film cameras. I am pretty much a snapshot wanderer. I enjoy the instant gratification of being able to look at the back of the camera to check the composition and exposure. I like not having to carry around a pocket load of film rolls, labeling each roll, and keeping the exposed rolls separate from the fresh ones. I like the freedom of trying a variety of framing and exposure combinations without worrying about wasting film- digital media cards are cheap.
The bad thing is that it is too easy to practice the “spray and pray” method of shooting away like crazy with the idea that at least one of the frames will look good.
Today, everyone has a cell phone camera and just about every geyser gawker extended a selfie stick and stopped every ten yards to make another selfie or pose with a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. Fortunately, by late September the tourist numbers have declined. I can’t imagine what the crowds must be like in the summer time. For the most part I tried to be patient, and enjoy people watching and making pictures of people taking pictures.
Yellowstone is a national treasure and something everyone should experience. It is a part of our American Heritage, and the National Park Service does a tremendous job maintaining the parks and assisting and meeting the needs of an ever-increasing volume of visitors.
But it some ways, standing in front of Old Faithful or on the board walks at The Grand Prismatic spring is kind of like jostling through crowds at The Henry Doorly Zoo.
Tourists by the bus and van load move from venue to venue to capture the Kodak moment before hurrying on to the next natural wonder without stopping to take in the extraordinary experience.
But Yellowstone is a huge park, and there are many beautiful back country trails where one can move about in semi-solitude and catch singular views of landscapes and wildlife. My principal souvenir of my Yellowstone treks along back country trails is a canister of bear spray to ward off unexpected trail companions.
While Yellowstone may have been a sentimental journey, Grand Teton National Park was a new and exciting adventure. My first stop in Jackson WY was for a tire repair. While driving through the rain, sleet and snow, I ran over some road debris.
Fortunately, it was not a blow out and I was able to cruise into Jackson, Wyoming after making stops along the way to add air.
Flat Creek Towing and Tire Repair in Jackson was open on Sunday, and in about an hour my tire was fixed and I was good to go. I also happened on to the Virginian Resort and RV Park to hole up during the rain and snow storm. Since the date was October 1, the official tourist season had ended and the hotel rate was about half of what it would have cost to book the room the night before.
I think the Tetons are the most strikingly beautiful mountains I have ever seen -particularly in autumn when the Aspen trees are iridescent yellow and the peaks are covered with snow from the unseasonably early snow falls. The Cathedral Peaks rise majestically above the lakes and trees.
For three nights I camped at the Gros Ventre campground just outside Jackson and within the boundaries of national park. As I returned to the campground one evening, the light from the full moon brightly lit the snow-covered peaks against the ink black and star filled sky.
The next morning as I looked out of my camper window I saw a herd of photographers traipse through the campground following two bull moose and a harem of cows and calves that were heading toward the river.
After nearly two weeks on the road, I took the long way home by heading south into national forest preserves. Near Cokeville, Wyoming I found myself in the middle of a cattle drive. Driving my camper rig, I navigated a steep and winding dirt logging road that overlooked breath taking scenery.
At the summit, I took the wrong turn and rocked and rolled down a log trail through mud holes and past deer hunter camps. I was so happy I was driving my four-wheel drive Tacoma.
The trip turned out to be everything I had hoped for and more. I look forward to the adventures to come.
Grain Bin Rescue trainer Craig Berg joined Arlington Fire and Rescue personnel inside a grain wagon at the Dunklau Dairy Farm Monday evening to practice grain elevator rescue. The assembled rescue tube allows responders to extricate grain elevator victims who have been caught in a grain collapse and unable to get out without assistance.
The tubes were purchased through a grant from Farm Services of America. All three Fire and Rescue departments in Washington County are now equipped with the life saving rescue tube kits. Farm Services of America donates 100 sets of rescue tubes in a 5 state area each year.
The phrase “salad days” describes a season when the taste of life, like the spring garden harvest, is fresh and sweet. My first years of teaching were salad days. I was young and enjoying the moment, living the life and learning my craft. There was the reality of hard work and some heartache and frustration, but I had few cares or responsibilities other than myself. Life was good – or at least fresh and fun.
Shakespeare coined the phrase “salad days” in the tragedy Cleopatra to mean “green in judgement,” and certainly that could be said of me at that time. More broadly the term evokes the light heartedness, vitality and optimism of youth. I think of late spring like that – an idyllic time of freshness, novelty and fun – and I have tried to capture that spirit in my photos.
Memorial Day is one of those salad days. From my youth, I associate the holiday with blue skies and sunny days. My memories are of pleasant walks with family along cemetery lawns filled with colorful displays of flags and fragrant flowers. The cemetery visits were a significant family ritual and history lesson. This year I attended and photographed ceremonies in Herman, Fort Calhoun and Kennard as well as visited and placed flowers on graves of my own relatives in Omaha. I still prefer and often use the old term “Decoration Day.”
The last weekend in May now has added significance because my daughter Erin is now Erin McElroy. She and her husband Declan were married on the Saturday before Memorial Day in a beautiful ceremony in the Fontenelle Park Pavillion in Omaha. While I had absolutely nothing to do with selecting the venue, I grew up on Ames Avenue in Omaha, and the park brings back many childhood memories.
Nothing evokes images of youth and summer more than swimming at outdoor pools. No matter the temperature, kids dive, splash and play. The weather and the water temp was near perfect the week that the Blair pool opened. Unfortunately, a few days later the pool was shut down while a maintenance crew removed shattered glass particles imbedded in paint at the bottom of the pool.
Gateway to The West events and similar summer festivals bring out the kid in many of us. Blair Otte Middle School was the new venue for Taste of Blair and the Blair Area Community Band Summer Concert. Holding the concert in the Otte commons area seemed to be an excellent fit and everyone enjoyed the performance.
While June Jam was again held at The Depot in Lions Park, the revamped park layout is a significant improvement. Kids swarmed the new and relocated playground. Concert goers could see and hear the band while families picnicked and watched their kids swing, slide and climb on the new playground equipment. The park will be even more family friendly when the modern all-season restrooms are completed.
Despite the toasty weather, families filled the sidewalks along the Gateway to the West parade route. Fire trucks spraying water, and parade participants throwing frozen treats to parade watchers proved to be particularly popular for the kids. After the parade, I stopped at the Blair Volunteer Fire Department beer garden for a refreshing beer and bratwurst before watching the kids and fire fighters water fight contests.
I can think of no better example of youthful vitality and celebration than the Kids Triathlon which took place this past Saturday. I have no interest in stats – I have no idea who won or even how many kids took part. I do know that for over an hour I watched kids ages 5 to 15 of all ability levels take part in the challenge and have a great time doing it. I watched a host of volunteers organize, monitor and keep kids safe while family members cheered the kids on.
I also applaud Kids Triathlon organizers for instituting the “Do Moore, Be Moore” award. which was presented to BHS graduates Alec and Evan Wick. The two outstanding and record setting cross country and track athletes have assisted with the triathlon each year since the event was first organized.
“Do Moore, Be Moore” honors recently retired PE teacher and Kids Tri co-founder Sandy Moore. Physical education teacher Kim Leggott said, “The award is based on all things ‘Sandy’, – hard work, kindness, compassion and dedication!”
Spring is at an end, and summer officially begins this Tuesday at 11: 24 PM. I am looking forward to the vacations and summer activities ahead, but I will miss the soft green salad days of spring.
My co-workers at the Enterprise Publishing Company brought home a load of awards and honors at last week’s Nebraska Press Association Convention in Lincoln. In addition to the sixty-four awards from the Better Newspaper Contest, the Washington County Pilot-Tribune received the World Herald Service to Agriculture and Community Service awards in its circulation category.
I was also pleased to learn that I received the “Sports Photo of the Year” for my photo of USA Triathlon cyclists as they passed through southern Washington County last summer. I also received first, second and third place news photo awards in Class D – which is the class for weekly newspapers in our circulation category.
The majority of the 60 plus honors were awarded to “staff ” – the talented team effort by writers, photographers, editors and visual artists. Well done!
If you picked up a copy of the Citizen or Enterprise newspaper last week you found it wrapped around our annual Washington County Progress edition. This slick covered publication is packed with 100 or so photos, not counting the advertising and nearly as many articles about the people and history of our county. Progress always reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner – all that planning and preparation for a feast that it is placed before us and then consumed in one sitting with plenty of leftovers to return to later.
The planning for this 80 plus page section begins in October and much of the interviewing, writing and photography is completed before the new year begins. I have the easy part, and I think the fun part which is making the portraits and producing images that matches and hopefully enhance the fine writing by my colleagues. I enjoy accompanying my co-workers or going out on my own to meet these interesting and accomplished people and to find unique visual ways to tell their stories.
Last week the P-T and Citizen newspapers were also packed with stories and images chronicling performances by Washington County Athletes at the State wrestling tournament at Century Link in Omaha. I was pleased to assist sports editor Grant Egger in capturing images that helped to tell the stories of our wrestlers’ performances at the state meet. I can totally relate to Grant’s comments that sports writers attempt to capture, “The powerful moments that, unfortunately, not everyone can see up close.” I try to do the same thing in pictures.
For the past 13 years I have covered state wrestling, first in Lincoln when the tournament was held at the Bob Devaney, and now at Century Link in Omaha. In my opinion, there is no other sports event quite like it. I am addicted to the energy and to the intense rollercoaster ride of emotion that erupts from the mats that fill the arena.
Another fun activity that I usually photograph in February each year is the K-2 Jump Rope for Heart. Photographs of the kids jumping rope will be featured in the Classroom of the Week in the Enterprise. The “Pie the Teacher” assemblies celebrate the efforts by students to collect money for the American Heart Association. Some of the pictures of smiling students and their pie-in-the-face teachers are in the paper today. This year the combined total for the K-2 effort approached $17,000. That is no small piece of change!
I get online comments once-in-awhile from people who think it is terrible that kids hit their teachers with pies, but the pies are more placed and smooshed than thrown, and always with TLC. Teachers and celebrity staff members happily volunteer and literally stand in line to get pied.
And finally, I want to comment on the Arbor Park and Blair Community Schools fundraiser in honor of my wife Kris Burns. Arbor Park physical education teacher Sandy Moore contacted me weeks ago to tell me about the T- shirt fund raiser they had planned. Sandy knew Kris well, and told me that the tee shirt they were designing would be simple and a design that Kris might wear. And she was right. On Wednesday, wearing my ‘Forever a Piece of our Hearts’ tee shirt I was in the Arbor Park gymnasium before school with assistant editor Leeanna Ellis to do my job and take the picture of the Arbor Park teachers standing in the shape of a heart. The picture and the accompanying story are something I will always treasure.
There is an intimacy to my job that is incredible. Whether I am working on my own or with co-workers I try to make portraits that capture the qualities and character of the people in Washington County.