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Clearing My Head

A thing happened and I decided I needed to take day off from work. I just needed a break. To clear my head. To get out into the world and away from … it.

I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, a birdwatching, wetlands paradise near the town of Willows, about 90 minutes north of Sacramento.

Here, then, are a few pictures from my jaunt today. It wasn’t as WOW as the last time I went there, but still it is far better than a day at work.

The closest I’ve got to a super bloom…

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A study in reeds and sky and spider web…

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I saw this bump on the log and didn’t know if it was a turtle. Used my zoom lens and got a closer look. Still didn’t know for sure. Now I know for sure…

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A study in tree and blue sky and sun…

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Bob’s back. Yes, I know. Bob is actually a whooping crane and this is an egret, but let me have my moments…

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Just a bunny…

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A slice of nature’s beauty and my head is as clear as it’s gonna be…

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9 out of 10 photos on this blog are unenhanced, unedited, uncropped. They represent the photo I took. For years, I have resisted editing my photos. I want them to look as natural and real as possible and so many edited photos I see out there look plastic to me. The colors are too bright, too vibrant. The clarity just too much. Some end up looking cartoonish.

But all too frequently, I started to notice that a lot of photos I was taking simply didn’t reflect what I actually saw when I took the picture. The colors too faded, washed out. Shadowy areas much darker and less distinct than in reality.

So, occasionally, I’ve started tinkering with pictures. Just increasing the color a bit, or the light, or both, and enhancing the clarity. What I’m trying to do is use the editing tools to create the picture I saw while not turning them into an unbelievable riot of color.

Below are three versions of the same picture. The first is what my camera produced. The colors in the sky are far less than what I saw when I took the picture.


The second is what I produced using the basic photo editing software on my laptop. I brightened the colors, but lost the foreground.

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The third is taking that initially enhanced photo and running it through the auto enhance feature on Photo Shop Express. The colors remain, but the light in the foreground is returned, bringing the entire picture to what I saw that night in San Simeon. I’m still trying to figure out how clicking on one “button” on the app can do this.

IMG_8902 photoshop




What I Learned While On A Cruise (w/ Pictures!!!)

1.  When the boarding information for our Alaskan cruise said they start boarding at 1:00 for a 4:00 departure, what they really meant was 10:00.  Because I’m pathological about being on time for things (yes, I’m terrified of being late for something like this and not getting on the boat) and also because we had no real plans for what to do for one morning in Seattle (it’s kind of hard to do anything anyway when you’re lugging around to big pieces of luggage), we agreed to get breakfast and then head over to the dock where our ship awaited us.  Maybe there would be opportunities for a walk around the dock area.  There wasn’t, but what there was were a whole lot of people already getting on the ship.  So, that’s what we did too.


2.  It seems that most Americans going on cruises are from the Midwest and the South.  This picture was taken shortly after the ship started out to sea.  The mountain is Mt. Rainier.  Right after I took the picture we met our first boat people.  A couple from Wichita, Kansas.  Mark and Kathy.  We discussed the photograph and how I was trying to take a picture of the mountain and a sailboat started to cross in the foreground and then another and I waited until they were just right.  And there you go.  We met only one other person from California, but several people from Kansas, quite a few from Texas and more from North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Montana.  So, yes, based on my unscientific sample — it appears those who live in the West and the Northeast don’t go on cruises.

3.  My eating habits have changed.  I’ve never been a gorger when it comes to mealtime.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t like Thanksgiving — because it seems the primary point is to see just how much food one can eat in one day.  At the same time, however, I have always wanted a full meal when I sit down, particularly for dinner.  I remember going to a local fine dining establishment a number of years ago.  Queen Midget was with me.  It may have been for an anniversary or some other celebration.  It was the two of us.  We ordered dinner and when we were done I commented that we needed to go somewhere else so I could have dinner.  It’s not a good sign when you’re still hungry after eating what is supposed to be a complete meal.

On the cruise ship there were several eating options.  We basically split our time between the fine dining room and the buffet.  The first night we went to the dining room and each ordered an appetizer and a main dish.  The Queen ordered a scallop appetizer.  The plate arrived with a grand total of 1 1/2 scallops.  I say 1/2 because one was pretty small, even for a scallop.  I don’t remember what I ordered, but I remember us discussing the small servings of food we got.  It didn’t really bother me.  We ate lightly and it wasn’t a bad thing.  It seems that I generally ate lightly the whole time.  I went on a cruise and lost two pounds.

4.  Fog and clouds can ruin any opportunity for truly stunning photographs.  From when we hit the sea Sunday evening until our Friday morning stop in Ketchikan, we never saw the sun.  It was clouds and fog and mist and drizzle day after day.  Which meant my picture-taking suffered.  Our first stop was Juneau.  We took a shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier and walked about for a couple of hours.


Here’s the glacier.  The waterfall to the right is Nugget Falls.  I think of what this picture could have looked like with sunlight and blue sky and I can’t help but be disappointed.

5.  Global warming is a real thing.  Whether it is caused by human beings is a whole other matter.  While we walked along the trail that took us to the glacier, we came across a group who were listening to a young man talk about the glacier.  A local resident he described how the waterfall flowed into the glacier when he was a kid.  The guy talking was only in his 20s.  So, in 20 years, the glacier has receded quite a bit.  Aha!!  Global warming is a man-made tragedy in the making!!!

Well, maybe not.  The glacier (as have others) has been receding for more than 300 years.  In front of the glacier you see Mendenhall Lake.  Before the glacier started receding, Mendenhall Lake didn’t exist because the entire area was covered by the glacier.  The reality is that global warming may just be a part of Earth’s natural cycles.  There was an ice age thousands of years ago when ice blanketed much of the Northern Hemisphere.  It all melted.  Was that caused by human activity?  Ummm.  No.  There was a mini ice age a couple of thousands of years ago.  Apparently, the glaciers are now receding.  Yes, maybe human activity is speeding the process along, but I wonder if Earth won’t adjust itself and reverse this process all on its own.  Whether humans survive that adjustment is another matter.

6.  Glaciers are truly remarkable.  The next day we cruised to Hubbard Glacier.  I can’t describe for you how mammoth this was.  All I can do is provide a picture.


OK.  Another picture.


7.  I’m not a fan of cruises as being a means to see the world.  Monday was spent entirely at sea.  Tuesday was Juneau, where we got a grand total of seven hours of exploration time.  Wednesday was entirely at sea and cruising the Hubbard Glacier.  And then Thursday began a whirlwind of stops.  Seven hours in Sitka on Thursday, five hours in Ketchikan on Friday, and five hours in Victoria on Saturday night.  Those last two, in particular bothered me — basically, barely enough time to get off the boat, get a meal, and walk around for a few minutes before being herded back onto the ship.  Each of our stops were places I would have loved to spend a day or two or three exploring.  Sitka and Ketchikan in particular — small towns perched on the edge of the sea, surrounded by mountains, with all sorts of opportunities to go exploring.  But, yeah, not gonna happen.  See above about my pathological need to be on time, if not early.  When the alternative is not making it back on board in time and being stranded … well, you know what means.  If we have to be back on board by 7:30, we’re headed back a whole lot earlier.  Which cuts the narrow window of time down even further.

So, here are a few pictures.



This is Sitka, a bald eagle at the Sitka Raptor Center…


The Raptor Center rehabilitates injured raptors and then releases them back to the wild if they are able.  The bald eagle in the picture was too injured to be released, so it has lived at the center for the last twelve years or so.


One of the things we didn’t do is go on some of the more adventurous on-shore excursions.  As a result, we didn’t get too far afield and didn’t see much in the way of wildlife.  In Ketchikan, I went on the prowl for bald eagles.  I found some, perched on a light pole in a parking lot.  If that doesn’t scream nature, I don’t know what does.  I camped out.  I waited.  I have no idea what this eagle’s name is.


More Ketchikan, when the sun and blue sky finally made an appearance…


And with clear skies that evening as we sailed on towards Victoria, I got my first and only sunset…


Here are a few more reasons I’m not a big fan of cruises.  Everything is scheduled and it gets a little tiresome, particularly since there are virtually no clocks anywhere on the ship and when you’re at sea and visiting a place like Alaska, unless you pay an arm and a leg, your cell phone isn’t really a working bit of technology.   But, ultimately, I don’t want to explore the world based on somebody else’s schedule.  I want to do it my own way.  My hope is that at some point in the coming years, I’ll make it back to Sitka and Ketchikan and spend a few days exploring each place, and maybe a few others in Alaska.

Here’s one reason I like a cruise ship.  Week-long blackjack!!!!

8.  And one final lesson.  If the wait staff at The Docks, a restaurant in Victoria, is any indication, the most beautiful women in the world are Canadian.  (Trent Lewin — if you got this far, why didn’t you tell me this?!?!)


To God Or Not


I went for a 6.5 mile walk this morning.  It began with this.


There’s thing about sunrises and sunsets.  It’s impossible to know whether you have seen the best the day has to offer or if there is still more to come.  I took this picture and scurried on, hoping that there was more brilliance to come.  I had not missed the morning’s best and continued to take pictures throughout my walk.


It’s incredibly beautiful watching a sunrise or sunset transform the sky, minute by minute.  The weather today provided the best canvas for watching that transformation.  Multiple layers and clumpings of thin clouds that allowed the sun’s rays to cast a colorful spectrum across the sky.  At one point, as I turned around looked at the sky all around me, I thought that were one to believe in God, what I saw above me most certainly could have been described as God’s canvas.  A constant shifting of light — white, blue, purple, orange, and all the shades between.  A minute by minute search for the most beautiful sky possible.

I thought then, as I always do at such moments, that one doesn’t need to believe in God to appreciate the beauty of nature or of the large and small things around us.  A sunrise is no more or less because I don’t believe in God.  It is still beautiful.  Breathtaking at times.  And a marvel that requires no greater explanation than that it is there for me, for all of us, to appreciate.  So, for those 100 minutes today, I simply enjoyed it.  In the quiet moments of an early morning, shared only with other joggers and walkers, I just … enjoyed … the … beauty … of the world around me.


Which leads to the fifth lesson Father Santos had to teach Kelvin Rockwell in Weed Therapy.


Father Santos took one last look at the ocean.  “Come.  Help an old man up the hill.”

With my hand on his elbow and his cane in his other hand, we made our way up to his home.  When we got to the cross, freshly painted and almost gleaming in the light of the setting sun, Father Santos stopped.  The setting sun cast the cross and the church in an unearthly orange glow.  “Would you like to pray, Señor Rockwell?”

“No, Father Santos.  Thanks, but no.”

“My church is always open to you.”

“I know.  I know.”  I wondered if a man such as Father Santos could fathom some one like me.  A non-believer.  “Prayer is a difficult thing for me.”

“Señor, you have doubts.  That is obvious.”

“Father, it is much more than doubt.  I may not be able to tell you everything that brought me here, but I can tell you one thing with certainty.”

He interrupted me then, “You do not have faith?  You do not believe in God?”

“Yes, Father Santos.”  I don’t know why, but I was ashamed to admit it to him.  By acknowledging my lack of faith, it was as though I was calling his own into question.

I looked down at Father Santos and saw that he was looking at me with a bemused expression, the one I had seen several times in the past twenty-four hours.  It told me that he was playing with me, but at the same time was also entertained by my lack of awareness.  The look meant another pearl of wisdom was about to be dropped into the palm of my consciousness.  For me to consider.

“Prayer does not require a god, Señor,” he said with a shrug.  “What is it you did yesterday while you sat in my church?  What is it you did this afternoon while you floated on the ocean’s waves?  What is it you did while you weeded in my flower bed this morning?  Was your head full of air or were you thinking?  With your head?  Or with your heart?  It does not matter.  Why is that not prayer?

“Prayer is a search for answers.  Or it should be.  Yes, too many people think of prayer as asking God for something.  I believe they are wrong.  Prayer is about opening your mind and … yes … this,” he stopped and pointed at his chest.  “Your corazon.”  He continued on, but I was no longer listening.

Depending on where you look, “prayer” is defined in various ways, but they all are based on the same general idea:


a. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.
b. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship.
2. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving: One evening a week, the family would join together in prayer.
3. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship.
4. prayers A religious observance in which praying predominates: morning prayers.

a. A fervent request: Her prayer for rain was granted at last.
b. The thing requested: His safe arrival was their only prayer.
6. The slightest chance or hope: In a storm the mountain climbers won’t have a prayer.

7. Law

a. The request of a complainant, as stated in a complaint or in equity, that the court grant the aid or relief solicited.
b. The section of the complaint or bill that contains this request.
It’s interesting to me that the word is defined as it is.  Broken down into its part it is an a) act that involves a b) petition to a c) God or object of worship.  Or, it is a a) request, b) a religious observation, or c) address to God.
And I wonder it must be so.  To pray, you must be asking for something.  Why?  Can’t prayer be nothing more than mindfulness or being thoughtful?  Why must it be a request to a supreme being?  Can’t it be a request of one’s self?
Clearly I’m trying to create a dynamic here that doesn’t fit into the traditional, believer’s definition of prayer, but is instead one that works on a much broader scale.  The way I look at it prayer can be a means by which people can achieve peaceful thoughts in their minds, to still their anxious heart, and to seek resolutions to the dilemmas that roil their day.  There is no God, or god, required for such a thing.  Just as there is no God required to appreciate the world’s beauty.  A blogging friend has referred to various things as her yoga — things that aren’t actually yoga.  She described it once and I responded that, at the time, bicycling seemed to be my form of yoga.  Those moments, those efforts where you are most at peace, most mindful, most thoughtful.  Those moments when you find your mind opening, your heart filling, and your world slowing down.
As well, why does prayer have to be asking for something.  Particularly, asking some higher being for help or a resolution to a problem.  That’s the thing that most bothers me about the generally accepted definition of prayer.  “Please God, feed the hungry.  Please God, make sure little Johnny is cured.  Please God, heal this, fix that.”  I don’t write these words as an attack or critique of those who pray in such a way.  Throughout my adult life I have had acquaintances tell me that I am a part of their prayers.  I am so appreciative that they consider me worthy of a spot in their prayers and, who knows, maybe it is my place there that has brought me the successes I have experienced.  Who am I to say?  But, at the same time, prayer could be so much more than just a petition, an ask, a request of a supreme being.
This is what Father Santos is suggesting to Kelvin.  One does not need a God, or belief in one, to pray.  One only needs to want to seek solutions to life’s dilemmas and be willing to take the time to slow down and ask the questions within an open mind and an open heart.  Take a walk and ponder the beauty of a sunrise.  Look at children laughing and laugh yourself.  Sit and watch the ocean waves pound relentlessly.  Take a moment, or two or three, every day and breathe deeply.  Look to the sky.  Check out the petals of a rose.  Think about that moment when your grandmother made you laugh or your brother made you cry.  Imagine that tomorrow gets better today.  That, I think is prayer.  More so than any ask you can make of your God.  That’s what I think at least and so does Father Santos.


A Peek Inside

Today’s random ramblings:

  • Read this article about the Feds’ interest in developing a super wi-fi network around the country that would be free.  Having just entered the smart phone society (more on this later), I hope this comes to pass.  I’m now spending $200 a month on cell phones for a family of four.  Free that money up for me and the millions who are doing the same and imagine what that could do for the economy instead of padding the pockets of the cell phone companies.
  • After six days, I’ve sold over 280 copies of One Night in Bridgeport.  Copies is not necessarily the right word since all but two or three were Kindle downloads.  But, I’ll take it.  Never thought my promotional efforts would produce this.  The daily sales are dropping now.  From a high of about 100 on Friday down to 11 so far today.  Regardless, it was an incredible six days for me that has re-invigorated my interest in writing.
  • On my drive home from work today I was offered the paradox of both beauty and ugly in the space of seconds.  First, I should dispense with the ugly.  Drove by a neighborhood park (fortunately, not in my neighborhood, although it could have happened there as well).  There were a couple of kids hanging out on the corner.  They were young, maybe one was on the young end of the teenage scale and the rest were younger.  The one who seemed to be the oldest casually flipped off the car in front of me and kept it out for my pleasure as well.  I am just amazed at times.
  • On to the beauty of the evening.  The last couple of weeks, on my drive home, I’ve been treated to beautiful sunsets.  There haven’t been heavy, thick clouds lately in Sacramento, but almost every evening there is a thin, wispy layering of clouds along the western horizon that turn these brilliant shades of purples and oranges and every color in between as I spend those 30-45 minutes on my way home.  Every evening at some point I wish for my camera.  Friday, I realized that with my recently purchased IPhone, I no longer needed my camera for these last minute picture opportunities.  The problem was that I couldn’t find the right spot for the picture on Friday.  Too many buildings in the way.  Tonight, I turned off the main road, taking a narrow road into a more rural area just outside my neighborhood and took the following pictures with my IPhone.  The pictures really don’t do the colors justice.  If you live in the Sacramento area and you’re not looking to the western sky on your drive home around 5:30, you’re missing something …

Sunset #2

Sunset #1

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