The importance of noticing

I spent this past weekend in Eureka Springs and I learned some valuable lessons — the main one being this: so much passes us by when we aren’t looking, aren’t paying attention and aren’t participating inwpid-20150329_193744.jpg life right in front of us.

It was this sunset that taught me that lesson. This beautiful display of light that towered above the pine trees at the cabin went on for only a few minutes. I was inside the cabin heating up some water for my tea when I glanced outside. The forest floor was seriously glowing yellow. It was a beautiful, amazing sight how the light from the clouds spilled down and onto the forest floor.

So, outside I went with tea in hand to watch the display unfold. It went from a yellow glow to the brilliant oranges in this photo. In less than three minutes or so, it was gone. The sky darkened and yielded to the night sky as stars started to expose themselves.

wpid-20150329_140441.jpgLater, the sky filled with the moon and stars, and a new beauty unfolded. Still later that night, a raccoon rustled its way down the mountain, passing near the cabin. Again, a moment in passing that if preoccupied, I would have missed entirely.

It’s critical to stop, put down the technology, and just notice life — something I’m honestly not very good at. Something I really need to do more of. I realize how much I stare at that glowing screen checking for emails, comments to the paper’s website and of course, the damn Internet rabbit hole.

Eureka Springs was filled with so much beauty — flowering dogwoods, daffodils, and many other signs of spring. I’m filled with so much gratitude I got to spend some time there and for a few lessons I learned during the trip.

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The evolution of fire

Recently I was out driving around near where I live hoping to find the perfect night prairie fire to photograph.wpid-20150321_210912.jpg

It’s a yearly ritual those of us who live in or around the prairie have become familiar with — the annual prescribed burning season. Old growth is burned to give way to new growth, controlled evasive species, reduce weeds — and many other benefits.

Prairie fires are not only necessary for the health of the prairie, but they’re a great photography opportunity and each year I try to find a couple of really good fires to add to my photograph collection. Recently, myself, along with another person, set out to find a fire. This year, we struck gold.

As we were driving down a highway, we spotted the glow. The orange glow of the fire graced the night sky, smoke pouring from the large fire, creating orange billows that rose from the earth. The chase was on.

The controlled burn was spread across the entire one-mile section. Upon arriving to the area, there was fire as far as the eye could see. It was an incredible sight. Lines upon lines of fire consumed the dry grass, filling the air with flames and smoke.

We drove to the far section, where the fire was more intense. Several other vehicles were in the area watching the incredible scene that was playing out before us. I snapped several photos, getting right up to the fence-line to grab some incredible shots of the flames consuming the grass. wpid-20150321_211626.jpg

As the flames became more intense, I noticed for the first time how fire creates its own weather system. It was incredible. As the fire-driven wind came up, the flames became taller and taller. In the distance all that could be seen was a giant wall of brilliant orange smoke, rising up in tall billows. Then I realized what was happening — to large fire lines were merging into what became my most powerful experience with grass fires.

As the two fires combined, the winds became stronger. The smoke pillar became taller and brighter — it was like the sky itself was on fire. It was like riding out a storm — a storm generated solely by the power of fire. I had always heard of this, but had never experienced it for myself in all the years I’ve been photographing the fires.

As soon as the two fires merged — the storm was over. The wind calmed down and ashes, along with the smoke, were blown all over everyone watching the fire along the road. I had tears streaming down my face — from the sting of the sudden smoke that was blown back at us.

And just like that, the sky darkened. The winds quietened. The fire on that side of the land was out. It had served its purpose, completed its life cycle. I had just witnessed the death of a well-managed fire. I was also reminded of the sheer power of nature — and how quickly things can turn around during a fire of that magnitude.11081238_10152640724517035_2371468769426684202_n

On the way out of the fire area, other areas of the pasture continued to burn and we stopped at a cattle chute to capture the glow of the fire behind the chute. It was an incredible portrait opportunity.

Still another photo we managed to capture was a row of trees, with the glow of the fire behind them and Venus right above them.

It was an incredible experience — one unique to those of us who live on prairies.1477789_10152640723442035_539801767091835881_n

King of the dirt pile

On the way to Topeka Friday evening, I was driving up Burlingame Road and I saw a cattle feed lot. Several cattle were standing on a dirt pile as if to say “I’m the king (or queen) of the dirt pile.” Cattle and I go way back. I have several stories to tell of my adventures alongside (or in the presence of) cattle.

First, I find cattle remarkably fun to watch. I love to go out, drive around, find random herds of cattle and just watch them. It’s especially fun to go cattle watching in the spring when the new babies are frolicking in the pasture alongside their mothers. I suspect it’s not just the cattle — it’s just the fact that I’m out in nature, away from the hustle and bustle enjoying time away that relaxes me.

Second, I use cattle as a reference point. Really, I did this once. I was out driving around one day and I got lost (I often get lost) and I called a coworker at the paper for directional guidance. She wanted to know what I was seeing. Of course, this is Kansas, so I replied “I see lots of cows!” Followed by silence. Then followed a bit of laughter — you can’t guide somebody home by way of cattle. Of course, I eventually found my way back home, but the cattle didn’t help my journey home. “Follow the black cattle all the way back to Emporia!” No, that doesn’t work out too well. Better to get a GPS or better yet, don’t get lost.

I scared a bunch of cattle half to death one day. Really, this was totally an accident. I was young and driving on a gravel road out in Greenwood County. I took a corner a bit too fast, missed the corner entirely and nearly ended up in the middle of a pasture filled with cattle. Cattle scattered in every direction and then they just stopped and stared at me. I felt a little like they were going turn rabid, break the fence down and eat me for lunch. Of course, zombie cows don’t exist — unless you read the book “Apocalypse Cow.” Do I recommend the book? Only if you like zombie, flesh-eating cows, twisted humor and lots of gore. If you should be so curious, it’s by Michael Logan. I do not recommend this book for kids — and probably even most adults.

Then there was the time I was attending college obtaining my degree in child development. In my first life I aimed at running a child care center but became interested in journalism and switched my focus. I did my unit box on cows. A friend’s mom helped us make cow beanbags and I made games and flashcards all based on cows. For the record, I got a “C” on that project. I was highly insulted my cow unit box didn’t go over as well as I had hoped for the instructor. She must not like cows, I determined.

There there is cow tipping. Just kidding. I promise I’ve never attempted to tip a cow — nor will I ever. Those poor cows are attempting to sleep and they don’t need tipped! Unless of course, you tip them with some tasty cow-safe treat — just for being a really cool cow.

Oh and who can forget the cows in the movie “Twister.” “We have cows!” is a line I’ll forever laugh at. My favorite screening of the movie was at Emporia’s Granada Theatre, where they gave us inflatable cows and even sprayed water on the audience during the movie. Another really awesome cow moment.

I’ve even had my neighbor’s cattle wander into my yard, which makes my dogs insane, but for myself, I’ve just gained a front-row seat to cattle-watching. And maybe a few pits in my yard to boot. But hey, who doesn’t enjoy a free lawn-mowing by the neighborhood bovine?

A harsh (and necessary) truth

Last night as I was writing in my journal, I wrote a hard (and necessary) truth.

“I — and I alone — am responsible for my emotions. I am responsible for my own happiness. I am responsible for how I react to situations. The choice to have a good day or a bad day is MINE. And mine alone.”

I won’t lie it’s been a challenging 2015 already in some ways and I find myself quite a bit wrapped up in stuff that’s going on rather than focusing on all the wondering things in my life. It affects my health, my attitude and those around me.

So this week I’ve set myself some goals: to make MYSELF responsible for myself. Whatever happens in my environment doesn’t have to color my entire day and color the days of others because I’m frustrated and bitter about something that (1) I have no control over because you only have control over yourself really and (2) that really isn’t worth ruining my day over.

Here’s to goals. Here’s to intentions. Here’s to reality.

To my baby brother on his birthday

On Friday the 13th, my baby brother turns 33. (That’s a lot of 3s!) We’ve been through thick and thin, been in a lot of mischief side by side and had many adventures together. This column is dedicated to him.

On March 13, 1982, my little brother, Dalton, arrived. I was 6 and went from the only child to a big sister. Little did I know at that time, I’d have a life-long partner in crime, in adventure and a life-long friend. So sit back and enjoy a few of my favorite childhood memories with my brother.
One of my favorite hilarious moments with my brother was when we lived in Wellington. There was a candy store in town that we loved to go into. On one trip we saw the candy cigarettes. Bam. Instant mischief. We purchased said candy and stood on the corner and “smoked” them. Wellington, mind you, is a pretty small place, so mom later reported to us that we were spotted “smoking.” Pretty funny stuff then. Now it makes some funny stories at the family dinner table.
Another fun moment was when we lived in Wichita. We used to save up our money to walk around the corner to Calvin’s Hamburger Haven on South Seneca. We’d go there together and order the big, juicy hamburgers and greasy French fries. The restaurant still exists; I’ve driven by a few times. Dalton, I’m hoping we can go sometime soon!
Of course, there was sibling rivalry and antics. I cannot say I was the perfect big sister. If he was writing this column, he would tell you this story, I’m sure. It all starts with a little orange tape (nope, there were no CDs or iPods back then, we had cassette tapes). This tape played Halloween sounds, which naturally scared my little brother. I would play those and chase him down the hallway in a white sheet. While he didn’t find it funny at the time, every time we talk about it it yields side-splitting laughs.
My brother and I also spent summers in the Ozarks together with family. Our family had an old school bus that was converted into a home with a master bedroom, bunk beds and a kitchen. It was fun to sit in the driver’s seat and pretend to drive the bus. I have fond memories of listening to the Trading Post on the radio every Saturday morning. It was a radio show where people called up to offer things for sale — much like the online buy, sell, trade groups today. (There wasn’t Internet back then, my brother and I are ancient in today’s kids’ eyes).
The campground we stayed at in the Ozarks didn’t have modern creature-comforts. If you had to go to the bathroom, you went to an outhouse. A real, wooden, hand-dug two-hole outhouse, with some questionable magazines to boot. What it did have was a river, a nightly campfire where we all cooked and plenty of things for kids to do. Every kid should grow up in nature, wandering up and down the shores of a river or beach, finding fossils, cooking your own food over a real campfire and just talking to one another. This was before cell phones and texting too so you actually had to talk to one another.
My brother and I have also shared sad times such as when my stepfather, who in all respects was our father, died in a house fire a while back. My brother and I both gave the eulogy at the funeral. The words that flowed out of my brother’s mouth regarding our father were beautiful and very honoring of our father. We stood by each other and our mother during a very tragic time in our lives.
My brother and I have been through thick and thin together — through wonderful times and through challenging times. I’m grateful he came into our lives nearly 33 years ago. I can’t imagine life without him.
Today, my little brother has a wonderful wife and kids of his own — two beautiful teenagers — a girl and a boy. And they have one on the way. I can’t wait to meet my new niece or nephew this fall. I’m proud of all my brother has accomplished and proud to call myself his sister.
Happy birthday, Dalton. I love you.

My snowman disaster

Today I had a snowman disaster. We haven’t had much snow this year and I haven’t built a snowman in years, so I decided to go for it. I put on the gloves, the sunglasses bwpid-20150301_114411.jpgecause the sun was wicked bright coming off that snow and I headed out the door to build a snowman.

The snow was perfect for packing today. I started out with a small ball and rolled it around to form the three rouwpid-20150301_114401.jpgnd parts of the snowman (you can see the path in the photo on the right). Since there wasn’t much snow left really, the parts were laced with leaves. But I attempted to fix that by packing the parts with clean snow…it didn’t quite work. But I did give it the college try.

Next, I looked around the yard for the snowman’s arms. A nearby bush yielded exactly what I needed. They were a little too long, but hey, they worked.

Naturally, the snowman needed eyes, nose, mouth and buttons. I was feeling too lazy to look around the yard (and did around in the snow) for rocks and I don’t happen to have any coal handy. So, for the nose, I used a piece of bark that I found near the wood pile. I thought for a few minutes on the rest of him — food coloring! Bam!

I went into the house and dug around in the baking drawer — boom. Gel food coloring. I grabbed my favorite color — red. Because red looks great on white, right? By now I’m sure you can see where this is possibly going.wpid-20150301_115432.jpg

I realized the error in my thinking as I was applying the first eye. First, GEL. Second, RED. He was starting to look like a bloody mess! Literally! By the time I realized how awful this was going to look, it was already too late. So I kept going. And things just went downhill from there. I applied the eyes, the mouth and the buttons. He looked like something out of a horror show. By this time, I was laughing so hard at my unintentional axe-murderer snowman.

To make things worse I decided to use some old sprinkles I had in the baking drawpid-20150301_155745.jpgwer to make “hair.” Thus, the colors on his head and on the ground next to him.

Things only got worse as the sun warmed my snowman. The gel food coloring continued to run. The red color spread. It truly looks like a snowman’s worse nightmare in my yard.

Perhaps I shouldn’t quit my day job and built snowmen for a living. Or perhaps maybe re-think my color choice next time.

Either way, it provided a fantastic laugh, a fantastic topic on social media and I had a great time making it.