Please buy this mug!

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Men and Their Dog at the Japanese Garden

This has to be one of the more unusual and thought-provoking episodes from our trip home from Washington. We were admiring the pond and waterfall, sort of the centerpiece of the gardens, when a man (the one wearing the orange sweatshirt in the photo) stood at the top of the waterfall and asked me in a loud voice if I would take a picture of him and his dog. He said that the dog was recently going to be "put down" at the animal shelter, so he and his friend had rescued it and were taking care of the dog. I said I would be glad to photograph them. After I got some photos of the first man, the other man then took the first's place, and I shot some photos of him as well.

The animal appeared to be in good health and had a pleasant (maybe a little bored) disposition, and I thought that in addition to being a companion for the men, that she provided at least a little protection on the streets just from her "intimidation factor"! The guys went on and on about how much the dog meant to them, and how great a pet and friend she was to them. Jan, Amy and the boys were a little reluctant to get too close, but when they asked me to pet her, I didn't get any sense that she was afraid or viscious, so I patted her on the back and moved gingerly back out of the way. Then the second man asked me to take a picture of the tattoo he had of the dog on his chest! Not wanting to offend him, I smiled and said I would. The photo is below.

Now I started thinking ahead and wondering how I would get the photos to them when I got the prints made. It occurred to me that they might not have an address or post office box to receive them. The guy with the tattoo said, "Just send them to Red Roses!" I must have looked pretty silly nodding my head saying, "ok, will do" not knowing what the heck he was referring to. They thanked me for taking time to take the photos and went on their way.

Shortly after that the park ranger came up to us and asked if the men were being a nuisance or any trouble. I told her no, in fact, they were very pleasant and just wanted their photo taken with their dog. I asked her what the fellow meant by "Red Roses" and she said he meant Bread and Roses, a homeless advocacy group in Olympia. She said I could get the address from the phone book and mail the photos to the director. She could get them to the men. That seemed like a terrific idea.

Well, last week I printed the photos you see above and mailed them to the Director of Bread and Roses, along with a small check to help with their expenses. If you look on their blog they seem to have the usual non-profit-type problems, namely too much need and not enough money. I will probably send them more from time to time. They appear to do great things from the comments on the weblog.

I really hope the guys get the photos. I will let you know if I get word that they have.

Best to all, Mike Z

PS Browsing the Bread and Roses blog this evening, I watched a very interesting video that two college students had made about B&R called Ready to Listen. I have made the title clickable so you can see it. Very interesting philosophy and how the center has evolved over the years to what it is today.

PPS I received a note from Patricia, a 25-year volunteer at Bread & Roses Love in Action, and also an email that the men had gotten the pictures and really appreciated them. I am glad they got the photos, and wish for them the best.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Yashiro Japanese Garden in Olympia WA

Before we started on the actual road trip home, Amy told us about Olympia's Yashiro Japanese Garden display. The Garden is a Sister City project between Olympia, WA and Yashiro Japan. We asked directions from the hotel folks as we left, and had no trouble finding the place. We were pretty excited to find it so easily. Sentry is hopeful that he will become a photographer like his Grandad, and I couldn't help getting a shot of him working on his composition.

As we went down the gravel path toward the koi pond, we saw many kinds of flowers and trees. The red flowers in the photo below are rhododendrons, the State Flower of Washington.

I have never seen a Japanese Garden without a pond and waterfall. This one was no exception. The walkways wound around the pond and featured a place to sit and contemplate. The koi were being "coy" I think because it was so cold. The park ranger said they are usually out and about, but this day they were huddled in a space between two rocks, and would not come out to see us.

Sentry was very interested in seeing them, and getting a photo.

As we walked around, the iris and rhododendrons were in full bloom. They were perfect for the relaxing place, and added a lot to our enjoyment of the garden.

In the top right corner of the photo above, you can see a tree with large white blossoms on it. I had not seen a tree like that before, so I asked the ranger what kind of tree was this? She said, "A dogwood tree." I was very surprised, because the dogwood trees where I grew up are small trees that live in the undergrowth of tall pines, and the flowers are very small. This flower was huge! I really have come to believe that everything grows bigger in Washington.

Walking from the pond, the path changed from gravel to stepping stones. The stone lanterns were nestled in several places along the paths. One in particular looked like a perfect place for a group photo! Amy did the honors, so she is not in the photo.

As we came back around the path, I got a few shots of Roland Thomas being himself. He seemed very happy and at ease in this place, as I think we all were. Both the boys' sense of wonder and adventure is great to see, and I think they deserve one more photo by the koi pond. They were skipping the small gravel stones across the water, trying to coax the koi out so Sentry could get a shot.

But it was not to be, and we needed to get going if we were going to make it to Oregon by nightfall. So we gathered up the boys and made our way out by the gravel path. If you are ever in Olympia WA, I can heartily recommend the Japanese Garden. I hope the photos have given you an idea of the peace and serenity that permeates the place.

All the Best,
Mike Z

PS John Corney took a great photo of dogwood blooms that look more like I remember them. Check out his Photo Page and see the difference...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Amy, the Boys, and the Pool

I know I should be posting about our trip from Washington to Texas, but today (Sunday) was such a fun day for Amy and the boys at the ranch in New Braunfels, I just had to share some photos. We had gone up originally for lunch and a visit, and to visit the goats (the boys remembered them from before they left for Washington), but when the invitation came from Jan's sister Julie to take a quick dip in the pool, no one could resist!

It took some time to get the little guys dressed for the pool, and "ease" them into the cool water, but they adapted quickly and in no time they were taking turns getting out of the water, walking briskly (running) around the edge of the pool and jumping into Amy's arms. But I guess it all started when Roland Thomas pushed his older brother Sentry into the pool....
As you might imagine, RT thought this was extremely funny. Sentry, however did not.

But they each took turns jumping off the edge of the pool into Amy's arms, and making a big splash. Below is one more photo of Roland Thomas "airborne" heading for the water.

The boys have had such a good time swimming these past few days. Their other grandma (Chad's mom) has been taking them to the community pool in her neighborhood. They have been splashing and sliding and even learning to swim, all with their cousins who are in town for a couple of weeks for summer vacation. What a joy to see all this! I am blessed.

Best to everyone! Mike Z

PS Just one more pic of Sentry hitting the water, just 'cause I like it! :-)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Washington to Texas Trip Day Minus One

Tricolored Bumblebee on Cranberry Viburnum

I call this "day minus one" because we had spent the morning in Olympia Washington going to Amy's church and doing some sightseeing around the city. We were going to stay the night in the Governor's Hotel in downtown Olympia, close to the capitol building, and then head out on the official journey the next day, Monday. So Sunday was a "free day."

The day was very gloomy, cool, and overcast, but we hoped to have some fun hiking and driving through Priest Park before it got too dark. I have mentioned on many other occasions just how loaded down the whole northwest part of Washington is with forests and flowering plants. It is amazing that on every street lamp, storefront, and house in most of the towns there are hanging baskets of flowers or flower boxes just filled with blooms of all colors and sizes.

As we walked through the gardens of the park, we walked by several tall bushes that I could not recognize. They were not identified (more's the pity) but Amy and I both noticed that there were large bees on almost every flower cluster, just sitting there. They appeared to be cold, asleep, or drugged by the flowers' nectar. Neither of us was brave enought to poke one to see if it was alive or dead, but it did give me the opportunity to take some pretty good photos of them without having to rush the focus. I was glad for that.

There were several of the "standard" honey bees, but there were also a few like the one in the photo above. Much larger than the honey bee, these had a broad patch of bright red on the upper abdomen. I had seen bumblebees, which I suspect these were, in the South, but never with the red patch that made these so unique.

I guess I had better start posting several pictures on each post for a while. If I post one photo per "essay," I'll never get to the end of the trip! If anyone knows what kind of bush the bee is on, would you leave a comment and name it? I would appreciate it. It looks a little like a type of hydrangea that I had shot in Snoqualmie Falls, but the leaves were much different. Also, the blooms on the hydrangea were deep blue. these were white with small pink flowers in the middle. It could very well be that same variety of hydrangea, but I would like some confirmation before I step forward and call it one.

Couldn't resist putting one more photo up of the bumblebee with the red patch. Lots more to come. I can't wait to get all the pictures posted up. Check back over the weekend and I will have some more, I hope.

Best to all! Mike Z

PS Yesterday Heather Who was kind enough to identify the flower in these photos. She said it was cranberry viburnum. If you're interested, go see her Flickr page by clicking on her name above. She does great work! If you see her page, tell her I sent you, ok? MZ

PPS says that the bumblebee in my photo is a Tricolored Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Raven at the Grand Canyon

While driving along the road towards the South Rim I spotted this raven (I hope I am correct, as I am no ornithologist!) horsing around with a buddy in one of the turnouts. I got out of the car to get a few photos, and they flew to the trees at the edge of the canyon.

I did my best to get a clear shot of either one of them, but they were too sneaky for me! I eased around as quietly as a 240 lb man can while crouching low enough to see where they had gone to, and got this photo of one of the pair.

We saw a coyote, a young deer buck, and a few ravens/crows while we drove along. Mostly they were just wandering along the road. We could tell where they were by the cars that lined up along both sides of the road while the tourists like ourselves took photo after photo.

This photo is for Heather, who has ravens in her back yard. To see some fascinating movies of her "pets," go see the Heather -Raven Lady blog. There are photos and a couple of movies!
I think you'll enjoy them.

More later. Hope you're having a great day!
Mike Z

PS Rockadee identified my photo bird as a raven by its' wedge shaped tail and the location the shot was taken. Thanks Rockadee! To see his Flickr page check out Birding in the Wild. Great photos!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

We're back from the long voyage!

We're back from the long trek from Washington State to Texas! It was an amazing 6 days, and was more fun than the trip up there two years ago. We had driven Amy and the boys up to Ft. Lewis near Tacoma WA so they could move into their new home on post. Now that Chad is back in Iraq for the second time, Amy gave up her house in Washington to be nearer family in Texas while Chad is deployed. On the way back, we knew a lot more about where to stay and made it a point to do all the things we said we'd do if we ever had the chance again. My hat is off to my daughter Amy who is a wonderful trip planner, navigator, and driver. She drove long hours across several states, and allowed me to take the photos you will see in later posts. Thanks Amy!

We had many adventures, and saw more beautiful places and wildlife than we had going up to WA. We stayed at a restored historic hotel in Oregon, went back to our favorite cheese/ice cream store in Idaho, saw breath-taking rock formations in Utah, saw the Grand Canyon and the Meteor Crater in Arizona, and even stopped by the "real, authentic" burial place of Billy the Kid. We stopped by a Quilt display and saw some wonderful handmade (and machine made) quilts, and stayed in a cabin in the National Forest near the Grand Canyon. What an adventure!

To see some photos of Shoshone Falls in Idaho and mesas in New Mexico, that I took on the trip up to Washington, click on the links to see some of My Old Photographic Memories.

I will be posting some photos of all the high points in future, but this one I wanted to devote to two of my favorite photos of the Grand Canyon. I still can't believe I was actually there. To say that no photo can do it justice seems trivial but I believe it's the absolute truth. I hope you like the photos above. There are plenty more to come! Stay tuned....

Mike Z

PS Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there. I am truly blessed to be counted in that number!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rose of Sharon

This week has gone by so fast. We had had so much rain last month, the flowers all started blooming at once it seemed. Our Rose of Sharon bush in the back yard was all green leaves one day, then all blooms the next! Took a quick photo of a representative specimen, and immediately it was like the "rain faucet" shut off for the next week. All the flowers began to look a little tired. Then today it rained a little, tomorrow maybe more.

Will be traveling the highways of the Great Western United States next week, but when I return I expect to have lots of photos and blog entries to report.

Hope you are well, and thanks for stopping by!

Mike Z

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Gardenia bush in Alice's front yard

We're back to flowers now. When Jan and I pulled up to my sister's house on the way to New Orleans for the reunion (see the causeway post), the beautiful fragrance of gardenias filled the air as I got out of the car. The gardenia bush, sort of small when I had visited last, had grown to near the height of the carport of their house! There were hundreds of fragrant white blossoms all over the bush. I vowed to get at least one good shot of a gardenia before I left the next morning.

The gardenia is almost a legend in our family. Like the magnolia, the gardenia was a favorite of my mother's. And my father, who also liked them very much, would always plant a gardenia bush at each place we moved to. We were never without the blooms during the spring, and we could hide and cool off in the shade of the dense dark green leaves during the hot summers.

The gardenia was mom and dad's "dating flower." Whenever he could, my dad would bring mom (not a mom then, of course) a small bunch of gardenias when they went out on dates. I can't say for sure that this is true, but we always heard the stories of dad bicycling from New Orleans to Mississippi, where mom lived (about 150 miles), to visit with his grandparents, and date Imogene. I can't remember if he rode the bike because he didn't have a car, or if the car was broke down. Either way, it always made us kids aware of just how strong Ray's feelings were for his beloved 'Gene.

A kind of sad footnote to the legend; when mom passed away, we wanted her to have a gardenia bloom with her in the casket. But the gardenias were out of season, so Alice found a silk one that we placed in her folded hands. I think she would have been glad to know that we remembered how much she loved them (and us).

PS Thanks to my brother Bill for reminding me that the flower is a gardenia, not a camelia. I swear I knew that, I really did....

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Birds on the Williams' Back Porch

I think I have mentioned on previous posts that I'd be trying my hand at taking bird photos today. My in-laws Frank and Karen had told me about Jan and Wayne Williams and the abundance of birds on their back porch. The Williams' live in a "less citified" part of Austin and all kinds of wildlife roam about their area pretty much un-bothered by the humans living there. Jan and Wayne have been feeding the birds on their back porch for some time now, and they enjoy sitting on the sofa in the den and watching them out the picture window that leads to the porch/deck.

This being my first "real" attempt at capturing wild birds on photo chip, I decided to bring the biggest memory card I could find and stick to my motto "take 100 to get 1." I started out with the camera on a tripod pointing at the feeder, and used a cord remote trigger to take the shots. Two problems -- the cord wasn't long enough, and all the action with the birds was happening in the trees and birdbaths around the feeder! So I made an executive decision and tried the rest hand-held. Using my elbows as a "tripod" on the arms of the lawn chair, I did my best to stabilize the camera while carefully pressing the button. I was at pretty much maximum zoom on the telephoto lens, and I am very bad about camera shake when I take shots hand-held.

The first and boldest birds to hit the feeder after I settled back into the lawn chair were the finches. I had the camera set on auto exposure and auto focus, so it was difficult to get focused and set before they flew off. The leaves and surrounding foliage made the autofocus go a little crazy, so I switched to manual focus. Later shots came out much better, I think.

The next birds brave enough to get close to the feeder and birdbath were the whitewing doves. They mostly stayed in the trees and eyed me curiously, but never went to the birdbath or the deck floor to feed. Jan says they usually just pick the seeds that the finches and cardinals toss out of the feeder, but they didn't this time. I did see a young cardinal picking seeds off the porch floor, but no doves.

Next came the cardinals! These beautiful birds were the ones I was hoping to see. Jan said they were a little off their feeding schedule, as they are still parenting the fledgling babies, and as with human babies, it takes a lot of effort on the parents' part. She told me that the young birds are changing rapidly this week, and had just gotten the orange color in their beaks. I think she said that the beaks were black before they changed. I include a baby photo below:

Last to come around were the noisy aggressive blue jays. As soon as they arrived the finches and cardinals hit the road! They didn't stay away long, but they sure didn't want to tangle with the jays, either. The jays stayed at the birdbath, and up in the branches, and were particularly wary of me and the camera. I tried several times to get a clear photo of one, but if I moved even slightly, off they went. I got this one good photo (in my humble opinion of course...) after several attempts.

I end this post with another photo of the purple finch. This was the bird that I was surprised to learn about. There are no purple finches in my area, which may be because I live in a more urban area of Austin. Or, it may be because I don't have a bird feeder! Either way, I thought these were very unusual and pretty birds.

Wayne mentioned that there might be some deer passing by at the bottom of the hill behind their house. Sure enough, I spotted two does moving through the trees, but wasn't able to get a clear photo of either one. Maybe next time.

Thanks to everyone for visiting my 'blog. I sincerely appreciate you dropping by. Next post will probably be more flowers, since I have collected a few more flora photos in recent days. Stay tuned, more to come!

Best regards, Mike Z

PS Looking on Bob Zeller's wonderful website, I noticed that he calls the purple/red colored finch a house finch. It looks a lot like the purple finch in my photos, so I will have to do some more research to see which mine are. Will keep you posted.