28 November 2011

"Limited Edition" -- Yeah, that's it.

Riley the cock-eared, knock-kneed, bigfoot mystery mutt, June 2011
Still a cock-eared bigfoot goofball, and we love him for it
I saw a great sign today: "You're not weird; you're a limited edition."

I will totally be using that line with my clients this week, especially the teenagers.

Not that being "weird" is a terrible thing, right? Kids call each other weird as a put-down (adults do, too, but usually behind each other's backs because, you know, we're so much more civilized than mere children), and everyone is afraid of being "weird." Yet the most memorable, approachable, endearing people (and animals) I've known have all been "weird" as in different, unusual, quirky, eccentric.... Maybe it's something a person can better appreciate in others as well as self with age and wisdom. I find it fascinating that "weird" is also a noun that derives from an old Scottish word meaning destiny or fate -- it seems fitting, given that some people, at least, move away from "normal" as they age and free themselves to explore and express their unique selves.

27 November 2011

Ballad of a Runaway Horse

Precita, Drago, and Blaze roaming the range, Magdalena, NM, June 2011
Since June I've had the great pleasure of being able to go out to my dad's property north of town not only to let the dogs run and enjoy the stillness but also to commune with a small band of horses belonging to friends. It has taken some time to get to know them, for them to trust me and for me to tune into and read their cues so I don't scare or push them away. Now, even if I forget to bring them treats, they seem pleased to see me and usually walk with me and the dogs for a while before heading off to graze on their own. They are proving to be very therapeutic company both for their calm, centered presence and as occasional mirrors for issues I can't see or understand using my "rational," word-dependent left brain.

La bella Precita
Precita, the lone mare in the group, was skittish with me in the beginning and I had to approach her slowly, but over time her trust has grown and now she's usually the first one to find me and the last one to wander away. Sometimes when I'm standing or sitting among the horses she comes up to me and gently nuzzles my hand or even rests her big mug on my shoulder. Other times she comes up and nudges me, then dances away with a little crow-hop and buck as if to say, hey, loosen up -- find your Inner Mustang and play a little, or just bolt and run, whatever it takes to get away from that dust devil kicking up in your head. No words, no analysis, just play for a change.

Today Precita trots up to greet me and nudges my arm just as I'm focusing my camera on a nice shot of near-twins Blaze and Drago mirroring each other perfectly. I'm still feeling raw about something that happened yesterday, and I'm so intent on getting a perfect photograph -- what, am I on assignment from National Geographic here? -- that I push her back and she snorts, which startles Drago who looks like he might break the mirror pattern. Prescita once again nudges me gently and, annoyed that the camera gets shaken again, I put an elbow to her jaw and exclaim "Git!" She rears back from me and then puts her head down by her hooves to rub it, and it's then that I see the chunk of half-dead cholla caught in her mane just behind her ears, the long thorns likely digging deep into her neck. I realize Precita is in fact trying to tell me something important. I can't "hear" her because my head is churning with my own stuff that compels me to callously bat away this creature who simply wants to stand near me and, by the way, would I be so kind as to remove this awful thing digging into her neck.

Just as I reach up toward her, Precita turns tail and bolts up the hill, stopping for a moment to buck the living crap out of some imaginary demon riding her and yanking the reins and spurring her flank raw, then charges over the crest and out of sight. I thought, wow, that's some hell of a tantrum, girl. A hour or so later, as I'm sitting on a rock watching the other horses graze, I feel a soft nudge at my shoulder. I slowly raise my hand to her and she nuzzles it gently, standing quietly behind me as if to say, okay, I'm done now, I'm back, we can be friends again. And finally, I get the cholla out of her mane.

I'm glad she trusted me enough to come back, eventually.

I know that sometimes we forget how to use our words.

And sometimes we just don't want to use our words. Sometimes bolting and bucking and running far away feel so much better than stammering and struggling to say just the right words. We run away just to get it all out, just to say, fine, you weren't really listening anyway so to hell with you. (For now.)

Humans can be really dumb sometimes. They ignore or mistreat or take for granted those who care about them, four-legged and two-legged, then wonder why they get left behind in a cloud of dust. A few wise ones ponder their part in what happened, wait and hope for their runaway friend to come back, and do their best not to callously provoke another galloping tantrum. I understand why Precita runs: she's been penned up and reined in hard and spurred raw, and she never wants to go there again.

25 November 2011

Stormy Weather

The horses have grown their winter coats, and not a moment too soon as cold storms begin blowing across the plains. We got a bit of rain here last night, but the precipitation mostly hung around in the mountains and left a good amount of snow to brighten up the view. I took the dogs for a long run today and visited the horses today to make sure they have flowing water (they do) and just to stand with them in stillness. Blaze let me lean on him for a good while, sheltering me from the brisk winds and occasionally nuzzling my pockets for treats. All I had was an apple Larabar, but he seemed quite pleased with the exchange. As was I.

17 November 2011

Post-Processing Experiments: Color and Exposure

Devil's Weed (altered photograph), Magdalena, NM, Nov. 2011
I posted the "realistic" version of this Devil's Weed pod a few weeks ago but kept thinking it needed something.... So tonight, having had a LONG day and an unexpected long drive home (but much-needed for both myself and my girl child who was really missing her mama tonight), and feeling very far from calm or sleep, I thought I'd put on some music and play with some images in Photoshop. The image above started out with an accident: while working with a "hue" slider I slipped it way too far to the right, then... hmmm. And then, to the left... whoa, that's kinda cool. Then Monkey Mind woke up in a kerfluffle and I had a moment of, Oh, no, that's TOO FAR out there -- totally not believable -- what am I thinking -- let's just go back to realistic, shall we.... Just then, this line played through my headphones and, given that I have the music cranked up to GOODGODWOMANAREYOUFREAKIN'DEAF, I did manage to really hear it:

and if I close my mind in fear
please pry it open *

And so I kept playing, letting my fingers slip and slide across the color palettes and exposure settings, recklessly prying open my safe ideas of "realistic," and soon I realized I was letting go of the day's stresses and disappointments and my expectations and rules and everything else that walls me in when I allow it to. What is "realistic," and what's so sacred about it that I give up the freedom to play and have fun and just let the process go where it will, even if it goes someplace I'm not expecting to go?

I don't care whether this image is "right" or not. I think it's pretty cool.

* lyric from "The Outlaw Torn," Metallica {why, yes, I do listen to heavy metal sometimes...}

16 November 2011

Post-Processing Experiments: Tone and Texture

Bosque Sunset, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM, Nov. 2011
A great conversation with some artists recently inspired me to push myself out of my comfort zone in photo processing. I tend towards realism, which makes photography a perfect medium for me (not to mention I can't paint or draw worth a plugged nickel), but sometimes a photograph captures a moment that might be better expressed less literally, more figuratively... I'm not sure what the best words are to express this, so I've spent the past few days playing visually to see how I respond on a gut level to various effects.

I saw right away that this photo in its raw form was kind of flat; the composition was okay, the detail was pretty good but not good enough to zoom in (have I mentioned that I'm dying for a fast telephoto lens? Next year, perhaps), and the color was good but not striking enough to carry the image. So I applied Photoshop's black-and-white filter, which was okay but not fabulous (I do much prefer color to B/W -- my own visual bias), and then slowly ramped the color back up and added sepia and selenium toning (using Topaz Labs' new B&W Effects, which is a fun and fabulous Photoshop add-in) to "antique" the image. This seemed to bring out the snow geese, which helped me realize that I didn't really have one stand-out focal element in this image -- oh, pretty birds! oh, pretty trees! oh, cool lines! -- and that perhaps this is what I struggle with most in landscapes.

So, food for thought. Please feel free to offer whatever feedback you have on this image; it's definitely a work in progress. I'm really enjoying the process of experimenting and letting go of the idea that I have to create a "perfect" image, and I'm open to suggestions and inspiration.

14 November 2011

Mi Familia

My brother visited last month and enjoyed some family time, some adventure time (a motorcycle trip to and into the Grand Canyon with Dad), and lots of autumn sunshine. His departure was delayed one day because of that crazy snowstorm that charged up the East Coast... yo, bro, I think it's a sign. Dad took this picture of us in Box Canyon (aka The Box), about 10 miles west of Socorro, and I just had to shake my head looking through the shots because my boychild is intentionally making a goofy face in every single one.

One day, he will regret that.


11 November 2011

Ramblings with Riley

I haven't had much time for photo processing lately, but I try to at least look through my recent photos every few days to see what stands out and play a bit. I love this evening shot (above) of Riley because it really highlights his huge feet, and as he begins filling out (showing his Mastiff side a bit more every day) he is becoming a very handsome dog. He's not easy to catch standing still; the shot at right is much more typical of him, especially when we're out on the property. That morning he thought it would be fun to dash into the pond, roll around and get good and muddy, then run full-tilt towards me -- there's a wake-up call for you. He is a handful but is also a big sweetie, and I'm very glad Dad rescued him for us.

07 November 2011


Cosmos, Nov. 2011, Magdalena, NM
This amazingly hardy and beautiful cosmos greeted me this morning, having weathered several hard frosts over the past few nights, and it seemed a perfect symbol for this particular day that I call my re-birthday. Three years ago today I finally let go of a "coping mechanism" that I sensed was doing me far more harm than good. As my mental fog lifted I began to see and hear and feel so much more clearly -- and so much better -- than I imagined possible. Things I struggled with began to make sense, or to simply fall away as unimportant. I began to learn how to deal with events and situations and learn from them, and move on, and I began to feel strong enough to face rather than duck discomfort and uncertainty. I turned inward and found my core; now I turn outward to really live this life I've been given and to be there for others as others have been there for me. "Cosmos" refers to entities ranging from this cheerful flower to the whole universe, but the term (from the Greek kosmos, "order") also connotes harmony, which manifests in every living thing that emerges miraculously from the darkness and chaos of not-living.

01 November 2011

Days Like This

My Favorite Pumpkin, Magdalena, NM, Nov. 2011
Any day that starts with a few moments of sunshine in the garden is already a good day, and yet this day managed to get even better. The seeds sown during my past few years of slow, persistent, sometimes imperceptible effort and transformation have finally begun to bear fruit, and I saw it so clearly today when a client facing some pretty major challenges told me he was beginning to realize that no one is helpless, that even when he has no idea what to do he keeps trying anyway, and that whatever happens he will know he did his best and never gave up. He didn't get this from me or from a book or some spiritual guru; he found it within himself. What a daring journey to embark on, trekking deep into the wilderness of heart and soul; some days I feel like a sherpa, and it feels like a huge privilege that people ask me to walk with them during their travels.