Her Quiet

The road rumbles around us. Brilliant New Mexico sun shines through the windshield. Brilliant October blue sky surrounds us.

In the seat next to me, she sleeps. On the truck’s MP3 player is this song, Piercing Quiet by Tritonal. It resonates in me. Listen here as you read…

“The world’s in constant motion
And so are all of us.
You love the glow of sunrise.
My stars come out at night.
Your quiet pierces through me,
There’s freedom renewed.
It takes me to a place where
The solace drops right through…”

I reach over and push my fingers under her blanket to find her hand, her willowy, soft, pale hand. I take it, and as she sleeps, she takes my hand. In a second, she turns her head without opening her eyes.

“Where are we?” she asks, almost whispering.

“About an hour from Cuervo,” I say. She smiles, remembering in her half-sleep state a place we once visited, Cuervo, New Mexico.

She goes back to sleep. I find myself blinking back a tear. This moment together is so perfect in its intimacy, its simplicity, it’s identity. I cherish it, breathe it in, memorize it. I don’t know, after all, if it might be our last chance, our last dance. There is nothing I want more than her soft hand in mine, in a quiet moment in eastern New Mexico, with the wild road in front of us, and I don’t want it to end. Ever.

I see that she is asleep again. I look over my shoulder to see our Chihuahuas, Max and Sierra, are also asleep.

All morning long we chatted happily as home fell farther behind us. By noon we were in the Texas panhandle. By 2 p.m., we were in the mesalands of New Mexico. By sunset, we hoped to be in Santa Fe for the night.

I shift in my seat as another 400 miles of trucks and blowing sand and black coffee await. She shifts in response, and I watch as she pulls her newly-bought cowboy hat down to the bridge of her nose to keep out the sunlight streaming through the windshield. I lift my hand and place it on top of her blanket, and feel how warm the sun has made it.

45 minutes later, I hear her say, “Hi.” She stretches and yawns and looks back at the dogs.

“Are you hungry?” I ask.

“Yes, what do you want?” she asks back.

“A veggie burger sounds good,” I tell her. “Honey, do you remember your first veggie burger?”

She smiles. I knew she would. On our first vacation together, The High Road, we rode the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway to the landing on the crest of the mountain, then hiked for another mile to the restaurant at the very top. She only revealed to me very recently that by the time we got to the restaurant, she was famished. We both got veggie burgers, fries and iced tea.

Some memories never fade.

By the time we rolled into Santa Fe after dark, tired and dusty from the road, we stopped in the breezeway of our hotel and paused. We looked at each other. When everything else is busy and rough and noisy, she is quiet. She is the quiet at the end of every day. She is the quiet at the end of every road.

Aspens in Hillside, Chromo, Colorado, October 2014
Aspens in Hillside, Chromo, Colorado, October 2014

Know What? Chicken Butt?

This chicken wasn't at all shy about me being in the pen with her.
This chicken wasn’t at all shy about me being in the pen with her.

Our next door neighbor’s efforts to corner the chicken market seem to be coming along nicely. In addition to his 32 chickens, he recently added five guineas and a puppy that he says will grow up to guard the henhouse. They’re all fun and fun to photograph.

These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
These guineas are sure to amuse us with their noisy chatter and tiny eggs.
This chicken's feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.
This chicken’s feathers are fun to watch, and make an easy focus target for my cameras.

The Delicate Arch Paradox

It’s not exactly a paradox, and it’s not exactly ironic, but it is frustrating.

How do I justify my love of exploration and photography in spectacular places like Antelope Canyon, Arches National Park, Yosemite, and White Sands, yet still feel contempt for the way these places have become desperately overcrowded?

You can't elope with an antelope's cantaloupe, and you can't really have fun in Antelope Canyon any more.
You can’t elope with an antelope’s cantaloupe, and you can’t really have fun in Antelope Canyon any more.

Part of my problem with this issue is that I feel oddly outmatched by the crowds photographically, not because they have more talent, but because they have diluted the landscape so much with geotags and armchair photographers, squeezing professional photographers and naturalists into an empty corner.

On the third hand, shouldn’t Abby and I have special Delicate Arch creds, since, after all, we got married there?

Am I being whiney because I don’t want to share its specialness, or has it been made universally unspecial by its discovery and overpopulation by the Instagram crowd?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a month, yet can’t quite solidify it. Help me work this out.

I photographed this passel of visitors at Delicate Arch in October 2005.
I photographed this passel of visitors at Delicate Arch in October 2005.

Just to Break the Tension

I’m not pushing this one to social media for inobvious, murky reasons.

I read, and I blew.

My sister says she despises the phrase “these uncertain times” and the word “unprecedented.”

Newspapers struggle to survive, and soon we will get all our news from Snapchat. All reporters will look like puppies and baby deer.

A baby deer is called a deerling.

I despise the idea that corporate America is selling it back to me, and that our culture crashes when we can’t have the things I happen to think we don’t need at all, like indulgent entertainment and indulgent products, indulgent technology, indulgence.

All things are held in balance by circumstances we might never understand.
All things are held in balance by circumstances we might never understand.

Assuming you don’t have a real excuse (asthma, bronchitis, copd, ect.), you have no excuse for complaining about the mask. Can’t breathe? Look in the mirror. I’m surprised your lungs can lift all that fat off your heart.

Ouch. So cold and dismissive. Why can’t we all be perfect like Richard?

The racist name for the pandemic is “Kung Flu,” but I prefer, “Flung Pu.”

Fortunately, all covid news is fake, so we can go back to our gun shows.

If I could sneak headlines into newspaper? (Can I? Whoa. I guess I could.)…

  • Local dickhead steals Christmas
  • Oaklahoma changes name to Tinesee
  • Private parts now pubic (pube lick?)
  • Forecasters predict it will snow assholes all day
  • Sneeze guards added to pocket pullers
  • Deranged goat attacks two ex-presidents in one day
  • 15 college girls killed in tickling accident
  • Renegade vegan farts on supreme court nominee
  • A personal look at author I. K. Malloveru
  • Anus management clinic to remain open

Maybe The Rona is Oxlong Penal Camp 2.0? (Now regretting letting that URL expire.) The grey jumpsuits and dusty sunglasses are just one executive order away.

I am amazed by how many people really like me, and how many people really hate me.

Explosive decompression of my colon.

A “fortice machete” if you will…

  • It was a mistake to trim her coochie with a fortice machete
  • Fortice Machete had been named in the fraud case just a month earlier
  • Fortice Machete was Nicarango’s fifth underground nuclear test
  • The wolfhound cornered a raccoon trying to steal his dog food; I chased it away with a fortice machete
  • Fortice. Not fartus. Although, fortis machette literally translates to “cut the fart.”
  • The fourth Matrix, the one that overheated all the time so they had to stop for water at every other Texaco, was coded with fortice machete
  • Fortice machete is a video game centered around making your opponents orgasm
  • The fortice integument was stronger than sea panels for bulge control

When did being monstrously racist and sexist go from funny to unacceptable? I know it did, but I never got the email announcing it.

I think most people thought the end of the world would be a lot quicker, like a nuclear war, or a lot more fun, like the zombie apocalypse.

What is this, anyway?
What is this, anyway?

Another Flat Tire Sob Story

In my travels as a photojournalist yesterday, I drove down to Tupelo, Oklahoma to cover a baseball game, but found that it had been suddenly rained out by a rather spectacular, and spooky, thunderstorm.

It was a beautiful summer thunderstorm that left water standing ankle-deep on the Tupelo Tiger's baseball field.
It was a beautiful summer thunderstorm that left water standing ankle-deep on the Tupelo Tiger’s baseball field.

I turned around and head back toward Ada, thinking I would stop in Stonewall and photograph their softball game so the outing wouldn’t be a complete waste of time.

As I drove, the pop-up thunderstorms all around me got really interesting-looking. I saw a long shaft of rain to the south, and turned down a county road to get a better look. Just a few hundred yards down the road, I heard, “fsst, fsst, fsst, fsst…,” the tell-tale sound of a rapidly flattening tire. I turned around quickly and drove back to the intersection with the highway, and got out to find the left rear tire of our Nissan Frontier LE 4X4 Crew Cab pickup completely flat.

It turns out that I had never changed the wheel on our truck, so I actually had to consult the manual about a couple of things. By the time I had the spare ready and the jack set, the key for the anti-theft lug nut was nowhere to be found. This happened to me once before in 2010 in Utah, and on that occasion, a wrecker service actually chiseled it off. Fortunately, our friends at Ada Nissan drove out with a key, and I was then able to change the wheel. The tire was damaged beyond repair and will need to be replaced, and when they do, I will ask them to replace those stupid anti-theft lug nuts with standard ones.

I know everyone has some sob story about car trouble. I happen to think everyone should know how to change a wheel (not, as most people say, a tire, since it’s impossible to get a tire off a wheel by hand – so you don’t change a tire, you change a wheel), how to add coolant to the engine, how to jump start a car, and so on.

Yeah, I was a sad sad sushi roll, but I sucked it up, buttercup.
Yeah, I was a sad sad sushi roll, but I sucked it up, buttercup.

Life and Death in the Night

Hawken, our Irish wolfhound, cornered another opossum tonight, or possibly cornered the same opossum he encountered two weeks ago.

Our next door neighbors recently got chickens, and immediately had losses of the animals to wildlife like coyotes, racoons, and opossums.
Our next door neighbors recently got chickens, and immediately had losses of the animals to wildlife like coyotes, racoons, and opossums.

Hawken’s bark is unique to the situation: it is forceful, loud and urgent, and is meant to get the attention of the animal he is addressing as well as us.

I have no desire to kill animals like this, but I can’t have them stubbornly staking out Hawken’s food, and I am quite sure this animal or others like it are responsible for killing our next door neighbor Mike’s chickens recently.

I tried and tried to shoo it away, but it was too determined to dine on Hi-Point “Highly Active” 28/15 dog food, and wound not retreat. I shot it with my M&P 15/22. Once it was down, I gave it one point-blank to the head so it wouldn’t suffer.

Opportunistic animals of the night are part of living in the country.
Opportunistic animals of the night are part of living in the country.

Lost in New Mexico

I was cleaning up some computer files and folders recently when I came across images from our most recent anniversary trip, The Winding Road. I must have been hungry, because I gravitated to an image of a dessert Abby and I shared at our favorite restaurant in the world, Madrid, New Mexico’s The Hollar.

“Honey,” I said to my wife, who was crocheting in her recliner, “the whiskey cake!”

“That was so good,” she said without hesitation.

The whiskey cake.
The whiskey cake.

That’s how really great memories work.

A day or two later, a photographer friend on social media posted a moody black-and-white image of an abandoned store with the title Lost in New Mexico 2019.

I thought about all those great times Abby and I would open a map and just go.

Sometimes I get out maps and just read them. I think about all the places we would like to see.
Sometimes I get out maps and just read them. I think about all the places we would like to see.

Tomatoes to the Rescue

My garden hose, locked open, waters my new tomato plants last night.
My garden hose, locked open, waters my new tomato plants last night.

After a rather intense couple of days covering the news, I was able to pad my tension with a bit of good news: the garden center at Walmart had mature-ish tomato plants to I could replace some that I lost to cutworms or the weather. I was able to plant three Better Boy plants and two cherry tomato plants.

This is one of the tomato plants I got planted last night.
This is one of the tomato plants I got planted last night.
Flowers in the pasture take on late evening sun.
Flowers in the pasture take on late evening sun.
The sky takes on beautiful amber hues after sunset last night.
The sky takes on beautiful amber hues after sunset last night.

What Did I Want to Be? What About You?

This was my column for Wednesday, May 13.

This is me making pictures of rocks in a lot behind our house in 1978, using my then-new Fujica ST-605N film camera.
This is me making pictures of rocks in a lot behind our house in 1978, using my then-new Fujica ST-605N film camera.

I was recently honored to once again help jury some East Central University Mass Communications students’ senior presentations, specifically those students who emphasized visuals like photography, graphic arts and design.

It got me thinking about my college days and earlier, and about what I imagined I wanted to be as an adult – “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

This is a painting my parents had of my sister Nicole and me, painted when we were very young. I wonder what these two kids would think about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
This is a painting my parents had of my sister Nicole and me, painted when we were very young. I wonder what these two kids would think about what they wanted to be when they grew up.

In 1974, I was absolutely sure I wanted to grow up to be a pilot. I had a beautiful model of a Pam Am Boeing 747-200, an aircraft known as “the queen of the skies,” that inspired a whole generation of young people. Although I never did it professionally, I became a pilot in 1993.

In sixth grade, a teacher we all liked and admired, Mrs. Gerber, asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. When no one volunteered an answer, Mrs. Gerber got out her roll call book and started calling our names in alphabetical order, so I was first. I blurted out, “Farmer,” and the class laughed and laughed. But the next kid didn’t have an answer either, and also said, “Farmer!”

Eventually we had a room full of 26 would-be farmers.

That summer, my mom got me a part-time job working for an oral surgeon for whom she worked as an office manager. My job mostly involved mopping and cleaning, but I also learned how to clean stainless steel dental instruments and sterilize them using an autoclave, so for a while I had dentistry in mind.

For most of my life, I have loved flying and airplanes, and got my pilot's license May 1, 1993. Everything I thought would be great about flying was great.
For most of my life, I have loved flying and airplanes, and got my pilot’s license May 1, 1993. Everything I thought would be great about flying was great.

In 10th grade, I was fascinated with the weather, and even wrote down watches and warnings on my journal, so there was a short period when I wanted to be a meteorologist.

Made during the transition from film to digital in about 2003, this is the essential me: a professional photographer.
Made during the transition from film to digital in about 2003, this is the essential me: a professional photographer.

By 11th grade, I’d been keeping a journal for a while, and imagined I could one day be a novelist, albeit one without a plan for writing even my first novel.

As a senior in high school, I was taking pictures for yearbook, and got addicted to that. Around that same time, I started hanging out with guys who loved hi-fi stereo, so there was a period when I dreamed of working in a stereo store.

I asked my wife Abby what she wanted to be when she was young.

“I wanted to be a cowgirl when I was four,” she told me. “But not like Dale Evans. I wanted to be Roy Rogers.”

She wanted to be a mechanic, and actually did a fair amount of that kind of work as a hobby. She knows pretty much everything there is to know about internal combustion engines, even rebuilding one with her brother-in-law, Ralph Milligan, which she raced.

She played with being a math teacher, a child psychologist or a veterinarian. She worked in a veterinary clinic in the 1990s.

By my late college years, I had settled on being a photojournalist, in part because I was good at it, and in part because the equipment is pretty sexy.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Abby and I pose with a Cessna 152 I was renting in Shawnee in 2003. This was very early in our relationship.
Abby and I pose with a Cessna 152 I was renting in Shawnee in 2003. This was very early in our relationship.

Who Am I: The Idea of Identity

Street trash speaks directly to me.
Street trash speaks directly to me.

“Everybody in this town knows you, and knows who you are and what you do.”

Most people are accustomed to seeing me like this, behind a camera, and that's not going to change. Just don't be surprised when I ask you for a quote to go with the photos.
Most people are accustomed to seeing me like this, behind a camera, and that’s not going to change. Just don’t be surprised when I ask you for a quote to go with the photos.

The 2020 coronavirus crisis has had a crippling impact on the entire world. Entire industries have collapsed. One that comes to mind is the airline industry. Travel has plummeted beyond crisis levels. Some airlines have parked 95% of their fleets, and laid off thousands of workers.

My profession, print journalism, has struggled for more than a decade, and the outbreak has ripped away much luxury, and even some necessity, to the craft of delivering the news.

Readers might notice that in print, I have a new title, Senior Staff Writer. The reason for this is that corporate entities don’t see a need for photographers at struggling, small-market newspapers. Our hope with this title change is that they see me as a multi-role staff member with feature writing, column writing, internet, videography and photography skills, which I absolutely am.

I don’t anticipate taking fewer photographs, and I am already writing quite a bit at my paper. It’s a move intended to do more with less.

No one in my community will think I am no longer a photographer, their photographer.

Fellow photographer Courtney and I are married to our identities as photographers. But she and I have more duties that just taking pictures. Her's is running a business. Mine is writing features and columns.
Fellow photographer Courtney and I are married to our identities as photographers. But she and I have more duties that just taking pictures. Her’s is running a business. Mine is writing features and columns.

Considering the Facts

I photographed the next door neighbor's iris again last night. They don't stay in bloom very long, so I wanted to photograph them while I could.
I photographed the next door neighbor’s iris again last night. They don’t stay in bloom very long, so I wanted to photograph them while I could.

There was a time in my life, around my college years, when I imagined that total isolation, on a mesa in a home built into the cliffs at the end of the Boys Ranch Road northwest of Amarillo, would be the way I wanted to live.

*** As I wrote this, the phrase “no contact with the public at all” floated by through a television program. ***

But I am not that college kid any more.

Abby had a brief doctor visit last week. We pulled into the parking lot wearing our Rona masks, and the nurse came out and gave her an injection.
Abby had a brief doctor visit last week. We pulled into the parking lot wearing our Rona masks, and the nurse came out and gave her an injection.

There are news reports of people feeling isolated, and a lot of people are creating memes for social media that express isolation.

But for Abby and me, and the next door neighbors, the Nipps, life hasn’t changed all that much. They cook out and cut the grass. The next day, I cook out and cut my grass. I walk the wolfhound and the Chihuahua past them as they put ribs on the grill, and we chat or a few minutes. Mike is building a chicken pen, and plans to get some chickens, which I look forward to naming and photographing.

Summer Time Lane, our Chihuahua, rests on one of Abby's afghans.
Summer Time Lane, our Chihuahua, rests on one of Abby’s afghans.

What has changed dramatically for me is work. I still have a job, but everything about it is different, because of what my newspaper covers. Sports have stopped. There won’t be any graduations this month. There are a lot of parades and gatherings designed to get people together, yet keep them far apart enough to check the possible spread of the coronavirus.

At an evening event I covered Thursday, 15 people called me by name.

There don't seem to be any food shortages, especially if you are like us, and eat from the bottom of the food chain. Today I made red beans and rice.
There don’t seem to be any food shortages, especially if you are like us, and eat from the bottom of the food chain. Today I made red beans and rice.

At Walmart today, in the egg aisle, with both of us wearing Rona masks, “Hey, aren’t you here to take pictures?”

My community knows me, which I love. It’s also something that lets me do my job better.

So, here we are, May 2020. We are trying to “reopen” America bit by bit while the pandemic still rages, and while I hope for the best and prepare for the worst, I expect something in between.

Your humble host holds our young Chihuahua, Summer Time Lane, and Abby's cane "Raisin."
Your humble host holds our young Chihuahua, Summer Time Lane, and Abby’s cane “Raisin.”

Openings and Closings

Water bubbles in my kitchen sink. We still have clean water.
Water bubbles in my kitchen sink. We still have clean water.

There is an effort underway to reopen the world after shutting everything down due to the pandemic. Is this going to work?

I’ve been mute recently. I encourage my friend Mac to write more on her blog, but at the same time, I don’t. Maybe I’m discouraged.

Abby had a couple of dangerous health scares this week that I had to deal with rather urgently, and my office wasn’t happy about it. But Abby will always come first. She’s okay now.

The weather is weird tonight. The forecast was for sunshine, but the atmosphere was turbulent. In the midst of it I walked both dogs, then walked down to photograph the irises.

We are all turbulent.

Summer the Chihuahua stays close to Abby, but certainly loves to be with me, too.
Summer the Chihuahua stays close to Abby, but certainly loves to be with me, too.

Compartmentalization and Integration

Mom and Dad kept this shadowbox in the breakfast nook at their home in Florida until they passed away. It contains nicknacks representing everything from their travels to Alaska to their swap meet visits after they retired. When Mom died in 2009, Abby and I took it, and have it on display in our home.
Mom and Dad kept this shadowbox in the breakfast nook at their home in Florida until they passed away. It contains nicknacks representing everything from their travels to Alaska to their swap meet visits after they retired. When Mom died in 2009, Abby and I took it, and have it on display in our home.

We have all faced stress in our lives. My sister Nicole, for example, lost almost everything she owned when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans. She seemed to handle it well, and bounced back to be the first to rebuild in her neighborhood, but I know it must have taken an emotional toll beneath the surface.

I thought of this on this Easter Sunday as I watched a video from a fellow professional photographer Nic Coury (from whom I bought an 85mm last year), who came to us via Facebook live video from his henhouse with his pet chickens, encouraging us to do what we have to do to survive, but also to pay attention to our feelings and how this unprecedented situation must be effecting them.

I have always been pretty good at deferring and compartmentalizing my feelings. I do that partly so I can do my job when it gets rough (just this week, I covered a double-fatality car crash that killed a two-year-old), and as a pillar for my wife Abby, for whom I must care.

Nic’s video and the ever-increasing bad news about the pandemic got me thinking: am I just going to fall apart one of these days? I can’t just switch off compartmentalization and fully integrate my feelings; I’m not constructed that way. I guess time will tell.

One thing that keeps this crisis bearable, and for which I am so very grateful, is my marriage to my amazing wife Abby. Mac Crosby made his image of us in March just before the coronavirus crisis exploded.
One thing that keeps this crisis bearable, and for which I am so very grateful, is my marriage to my amazing wife Abby. Mac Crosby made his image of us in March just before the coronavirus crisis exploded.

Are We Still Here?

After 15 years of marriage, there is still no place we would rather be than at each other's side.
After 15 years of marriage, there is still no place we would rather be than at each other’s side.

Friday, April 3, 2020.

No, this is not a suicide note or an autobituary.

In the current scenario of risk around us, it is entirely possible that we could be at risk of illness and death.

I thought of this in February when I had the flu. What will become of my intellectual and creative content, the embodiment of everything I ever photographed and written, if I die?

And how would anyone reading my website, for example, know if I had shuffled off this mortal coil?

I thought about how to keep my family and friends updated about how we are without going through the eternal train wreck of social media, and finally settled on a widget at the top of our home page, on the right. I will update it as I am able, and if one month, three months, six months goes by without an update, we can all assume the worst.

Visit this page (link) to see the widget, or, if you are viewing it on a smartphone, click on the link and scroll to the bottom of the page to see “How Are We?”

Coughing My Fool Head Off

This is the curio cabinet turned into the camera cabinet.
This is the curio cabinet turned into the camera cabinet.

I am presently coughing my fool head off, but don’t worry. I don’t have the covids or the amtrax. I do, however, have a face full of dust after completing a task I’ve been avoiding for a couple of years: moving Abby’s mom’s curio cabinet into my dressing room and making it into a camera cabinet.

I actually accomplished this while Abby was napping, a variant on the saying, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission,” though when she woke up, we were all happy with it.

This started with me seeing a dusty camera, dusting it off, then seeing I couldn’t set it down again without dusting the spot where it sat. There was a lot of dust, then a decision, then action.

I sometimes wish all our actions could come about so organically.

The only remaining task is to find a new piece of glass for the front door, which was broken while moving it here with a bunch of other stuff.

The cameras on display in it are items Abby bought for me at various thrift and antique stores over the years.

These cameras mostly work, though many of them require film that hasn't been made in 50 years.
These cameras mostly work, though many of them require film that hasn’t been made in 50 years.

Potatoes for Abby

I shared this image on social media this week. I am kneeling next to "Frog Rock," an anonymous art installation on Lightning Ridge near our home.
I shared this image on social media this week. I am kneeling next to “Frog Rock,” an anonymous art installation on Lightning Ridge near our home.

In the midst of this pandemic , I heard from panic-stricken social medianites that potatoes were sold out everywhere. This did not encourage me to panic-buy potatoes, but it did remind me how much Abby and I love these nutritious tubers. So I went to the store to find them plentiful and cheap, and bought a reasonable amount, our usual amount in fact (five pounds of red ones, five pounds of white ones, and four sweet potatoes), for some upcoming meals.

Potatoes are more nutritious than most people think, since most of the ways people consume them have been deeply corrupted by gluttony.
Potatoes are more nutritious than most people think, since most of the ways people consume them have been deeply corrupted by gluttony.
Food for Thought
I want to know how, in just a couple of generations, we go from a society in which some people didn’t see fresh eggs or fresh fruit in a year (The Great Depression, both World Wars) to a generation that rides electric scooters in big box stores to buy 500 rolls of toilet paper. How do we go from a single 13-inch black-and-white in the living room to 20 high-definition devices in every corner of our homes? Who have we become, and what will we look like when we emerge from this crisis?

Cooking for my wife is wonderful, since she often has no appetite, worrying me that she might be malnourished, and when I can get her to eat, especially when I can get her excited about eating, I feel I am taking good care of her, which is more critical than ever right now.

Few things add more nutrition to a meal than broccoli.
Few things add more nutrition to a meal than broccoli.

Abby and I live in relative isolation most of the time. Our house sits back about 100 yards from the road, which is situated in a somewhat sparsely populated small town. I still work, and that puts me in contact with the public. As a result, I have never hated hand sanitizer more, and I am practically washing my hands off. But I am well, we are well.

Our baked potato lunch is ready.
Our baked potato lunch is ready.

Better and Best

Our dogs need us and we need them. Hawken and I both missed our daily walks.
Our dogs need us and we need them. Hawken and I both missed our daily walks.

This is just a quick aside to let my friends know that I am on the road to recovery from influenza.

I returned to work yesterday after missing six work days, unprecedented for me. I can still feel some weakness and malaise, but I am back in motion.

The most legitimate sign that I am on the mend: I walked Hawken the Irish Wolfhound yesterday afternoon. Our dogs are our best friends.

“What’s She Like?”

Someone recently asked me about my wife Abby. “What’s she like?” she asked.

I don’t know the real motive for asking a question like this, but I do know what she’s like.

She has bright, complex, intelligent eyes. She is confident. She is thoughtful about everything, and compassionate about everything.

Abby smiles for my camera recently. I never get tired of her face, the sound of her voice, her ideas, her smell.
Abby smiles for my camera recently. I never get tired of her face, the sound of her voice, her ideas, her smell.

Abby and I have never gone a day without saying “I love you.” We’ve never spent more than a day mad at each other. When I leave for work, she always tells me to be careful, and she always tells me I look nice. When we watch movies she cheers out loud for the good guys. When we watch sports, she cheers out loud for the home team. Sometimes she gets carried away and cheers for anything that’s happening in the game.

She is tactile and affectionate in just the right proportion as I am, which is very. She never turns down my hand or my kiss.

Abby loves animals of all kinds, and is abundantly kind to them. She cries when they suffer or die.

Abby loves sentimental anything.

Abby and I are in our 16th year of marriage as I write this. By any measure, that is a long time to be married. It has been the times of our lives.

Home

In 2011, Abby spent a week in Baltimore right after our grandson was born. I picked her up at the Dallas airport. We found each other in the crowd and moved together, holding each other close. In my arms, she said, “Now I’m home.”

In that crowded airport amidst thousands of people, we were home.

2020: The Year of Perfect Vision

Hawken the Irish Wolfhound is certainly fond of wading into the pond and getting a big sloppy drink of water, winter and summer.
Hawken the Irish Wolfhound is certainly fond of wading into the pond and getting a big sloppy drink of water, winter and summer.

I don’ t know if any of you ponder New Year’s Day, but I don’t. The year 2020 is only significant because we sort of started counting 2020-ish years ago. The winter solstice was December 21, and the spring equinox isn’t until March, so those two clearly more significant celestial benchmarks have been largely ignored.

So, 2020. Meh. I’m not 2020, Abby’s not 2020, the dogs aren’t 2020.

From the "Special Projects" bin...
I asked a friend, who I think should be writing, to start the new year by writing just one sentence. She texted, “She didn’t believe me, at least not at first.”

When I was young, 2020 sounded like science fiction. “By 2020, we’ll have bases on the moon and Mars.” NASA says right now they expect to be on the moon in five years, and on the way to Mars after that. But who are we going to beat to the moon? Who thinks it’s a good idea to spend 5% of the GPD on NASA? Look up this entry in five years and see if we’re on the moon.

Abby and I watched the Tournament of Roses Parade on The Hallmark Channel this morning. It’s comforting to see how archaic and underproduced the coverage is, and how much this event is just like it was when I was a kid.

Abby and I toasted the new year with sparkling apple cider. "So raise your glass to sorrow, And drink to all the pain, Tie a silver ribbon around, The pieces that remain..." ~Butterflies by Natalie Imbruglia
Abby and I toasted the new year with sparkling apple cider. “So raise your glass to sorrow,
And drink to all the pain,
Tie a silver ribbon around,
The pieces that remain…” ~Butterflies by Natalie Imbruglia

 

Some Monday Fun

Hawken and I walked three miles over some fairly uneven terrain yesterday. He knows the way well now, and I follow him as much as he follows me.

Hawken the Irish Wolfhound is as smart and affectionate as any creature I've ever known. He relishes our long walks as much as I do.
Hawken the Irish Wolfhound is as smart and affectionate as any creature I’ve ever known. He relishes our long walks as much as I do.
During my shooting session, I was ambushed by corn, oysters, and beef stew. My tactics prevailed.
During my shooting session, I was ambushed by corn, oysters, and beef stew. My tactics prevailed.

Later I got out a pistol and a rifle and put about a hundred rounds of .22lr downrange. It was fun and relaxing. I feel like I shot well.

Winter sunshine. Dogs. Hobbies.

I shot my Smith and Wesson M&P/15-22 rifle and my Ruger SR-22 pistol. I also brought my Radio Shack HTX-202, an amateur radio handheld that ranks among the hobby's best.
I shot my Smith and Wesson M&P/15-22 rifle and my Ruger SR-22 pistol. I also brought my Radio Shack HTX-202, an amateur radio handheld that ranks among the hobby’s best.

Limb-Lopping and Knee-Kronking

The Fiskar limb loppers are the key to this whole operation.
The Fiskar limb loppers are the key to this whole operation.Richard R. Barron — richardbarron.net

With a weekend during which I am not teaching last Monday and a period of warmish weather, I decided to prune my fruit trees for the first time in a couple of years. This task became more significant due to last summer’s nearly perfect growing season, which made my trees grow wildly.

You might intuitively imagine that pruning back branches to stumps is harmful to trees, but a fair human analog might be trimming your fingernails.
You might intuitively imagine that pruning back branches to stumps is harmful to trees, but a fair human analog might be trimming your fingernails.

Fruit tree owners know that keeping your trees cut back is a good idea for several reasons.

  1. Shorter, stouter branches can hold fruit better during windy conditions and as fruit weighs branches down.
  2. Fewer fruit on shorter branches mean individual fruit will be bigger.
  3. Trees taller than about eight feet require a ladder or lift to harvest, whereas short trees can be harvested by anyone without any additional equipment.
  4. Pruned trees have space between each other for moving and harvesting.

So for the last few days I’ve been using a Fiskars® brand limb lopper to cut back as many runaway branches as I was able to reach. It’s been pretty effective, and most of the work is done.

However, during an attempt to remedy an extra-high, extra-thick branch tonight, I pushed a little too hard, and mistakenly relied on a branch that immediately collapsed, kronking the sh!t out of my left knee.

Yeah, that’s going to leave a mark.

Hawken says he saw the whole thing, but he's not willing to implicate anyone.
Hawken says he saw the whole thing, but he’s not willing to implicate anyone.

Did I Go Dark?

It might seem like I haven’t been writing or blogging lately, but that’s because I have been piling on to several angry rants in my drafts folder, none of which seem like they would be a good idea to publish. This, along with the fact that I am very proud of my recent travel blog post (here), have been teaching extra much in the past weeks, and have been in the process of moving my old work office to my new work office, it might seem like I have gone dark.

I assure you I am just as bright as always.

Summer Time Lane sleeps on me as I nap earlier this week. She is one of the sweetest creatures I have ever known.
Summer Time Lane sleeps on me as I nap earlier this week. She is one of the sweetest creatures I have ever known.

Adding Three Minutes to My Commute

We moved out of our old building surprisingly quickly. Pictured is my old office after I removed all the "mission critical" items.
We moved out of our old building surprisingly quickly. Pictured is my old office after I removed all the “mission critical” items.

Readers of my newspaper are probably aware that we moved to a new location this week. Our old building was no longer a good fit, especially since we no longer have a press (our paper is printed in Norman). We’ve been looking for some time at a better-sized location that would not only save us some money, it would be safer, cleaner, and less expensive.

We’ve been in the new building for just a few days, but so far, I like it a lot.

When I first came to Ada in 1988, I got an apartment downtown, which I kept for 16 years until I got married. My daily commute for all those years was just three minutes. After we got married in 2004, my commute from Byng to Ada took about 10 minutes.

Our new office is … get this… half a block from my old apartment. It’s a small-town thing, I guess. Moving here added just three minutes to my daily commute.

My new office is just a space right now, but soon I will make it my own, and home to the photography department of The Ada News.
My new office is just a space right now, but soon I will make it my own, and home to the photography department of The Ada News.

Home from the Winding Road

Abby and our Chihuahua Summer prepare to leave for our anniversary trip last week.
Abby and our Chihuahua Summer prepare to leave for our anniversary trip last week.

My wife Abby and I are home after a week on the road celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary.

The full trip report, The Winding Road, is available now (link).

Our journey took us to New Mexico and Colorado and back, and went without a hitch. We had a great time.

Here is an early edit of an image I made of the San Juan Riverwalk at dusk in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
Here is an early edit of an image I made of the San Juan Riverwalk at dusk in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

I Feel Like a Lumberjack

(Please, nurds, don’t sing that Monty Python song. Thanks.)

This is my Rio Grande omelette, complete with fried okra and Texas toast given to me by Abby.
This is my Rio Grande omelette, complete with fried okra and Texas toast given to me by Abby.
Summer the Chihuahua wears a new sweater Abby made for her this week.
Summer the Chihuahua wears a new sweater Abby made for her this week.

Abby and I had a few items to tick off in town Monday, including getting her truck serviced. As we often do, we had lunch at what has become our favorite place to eat in Ada, Prairie Kitchen, also known around town as Prairie Chicken. I have one favorite go-to item, their Rio Grande omelette, since it is vegetarian, and they make it well. The last time we were at the Chicken, Abby had liver and onions, but Monday she got a Monterey mushroom steak.

Like a lot of married couples, we have each other comfortably figured out, and that includes dinner. We both know, for example, that when a waitress asks Abby what bread she wants with her meal, I answer, since she doesn’t eat bread. (If you want to know why, ask her.)

Yesterday she ordered fried okra “because I knew you’d like some.”

Abby digs into her Monterrey steak. I look at this picture and think what pretty hands she has.
Abby digs into her Monterrey steak. I look at this picture and think what pretty hands she has.
Abby smiles as we look at a Harley Davidson motorcycle at the Nissan place today while we waited for her truck to be serviced.
Abby smiles as we look at a Harley Davidson motorcycle at the Nissan place today while we waited for her truck to be serviced.
The long-promised cell tower antennas are getting installed this week.
The long-promised cell tower antennas are getting installed this week.

In other news, the antenna crew finally arrived to install the antennas and 5G LTE transceiver equipment that will allow customers like us to use the service. It appears they are installing three pairs of 65º 12-foot panel antennas. The installer told me they are also putting in some kind of repeater for first responders. I walked Hawken the Irish Wolfhound, and they met him and liked him.

Speaking of Hawken, last night he cornered another armadillo, which I shooed away and shot. I don’t like killing them, but I can’t have these animals harassing our dogs.

I capped this big ugly beast at about four this morning, using my Smith and Wesson M&P 15/22 loaded with CCI Mini-Mags. I had a cheap laser on the right rail that worked like a charm, but died during the hunt, so I need to replace it.
I capped this big ugly beast at about four this morning, using my Smith and Wesson M&P 15/22 loaded with CCI Mini-Mags. I had a cheap laser on the right rail that worked like a charm, but died during the hunt, so I need to replace it.

Freezes, Thaws, and Sweaters

I put two camping tent rain flies over my tomatoes Thursday night, and though there was still some frost damage, most of the leaves and fruit are still healthy.
I put two camping tent rain flies over my tomatoes Thursday night, and though there was still some frost damage, most of the leaves and fruit are still healthy.

We had a freeze Friday morning. I tried to cover my tomato plants with two rain flies from two of my camping tents, and it was partially successful.

The changes in the weather make Abby’s bones ache, but she remains in great spirits as we begin our 16th year of marriage together.

Our community now seems to have more medical marijuana dispensaries than Baptist Churches, and a friend of mine with several health problems just received her “card,” permitting legal purchase of medical cannabis. I’d like everyone to feel free to weigh in on this in the comments: is this good, bad, ugly, a trend, a mistake, an answer?

Among other tasks, Abby is crocheting new sweaters for Summer the Chihuahua, including one that is the exact same color as the afghan she just finished…

Between the afghan and the sweater, it's a little hard to make out the dog in this picture.
Between the afghan and the sweater, it’s a little hard to make out the dog in this picture.

Hawken the Irish Wolfhound won’t wear sweaters, and didn’t seem to want to wear the bandana I put on him this morning, or maybe he thought it was a funny game of keep-away, but I finally got him to wear it. It was a gift from my sister, and is supposed to be infused with a substance that repels insect and arachnids.

Hawken the Irish Wolfhound wears his green bandana today after a comical chase around the yard to get it on him.
Hawken the Irish Wolfhound wears his green bandana today after a comical chase around the yard to get it on him.

Where Were We 15 Years Ago?

Abby and I exchange wedding vows at the beautiful and iconic Delicate Arch in Utah's Arches National Park in October 2004.
Abby and I exchange wedding vows at the beautiful and iconic Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park in October 2004.

Did you hear about the two antennas who got married? The ceremony was only so-so, but the reception was fantastic!

Everybody talks about milestones in their lives, from school graduations to grandchildren’s births. Today is one of those milestones, our 15th wedding anniversary.

After 15 years of marriage, there is still no place we would rather be than at each other's side.
After 15 years of marriage, there is still no place we would rather be than at each other’s side.

Early in our relationship, Abby said, “I’m going to want to be married,” and I not only agreed with it, I was thinking it myself.

People, mostly women, talk about beautiful weddings, and often put too much emphasis on that one day, but the truth is, it really is only one day, the first day of an amazing adventure that, for those of us who like being married, is among the best things in our lives.

Marriage is what you both make it. Our marriage is good. I know many people who married poorly, or behaved poorly when they were married, and now despise the concept, but that’s a choice, not a fact. Marriage is what you make it.

  • My favorite thing to wear is my wedding ring. Abby has literally never taken hers off except to clean it.
  • Abby has me referring to myself as “Daddy” and her as “Mama” when I talk to the dogs.
  • We have never stayed mad at each other for more than a day.
  • She is the first person I want to tell when I hear news, and I tell her everything.

So, where were we 15 years ago? We were young and alive and so happy to be standing in the chilly southern Utah sunshine with the iconic Delicate Arch behind us, trading vows.

You can read the whole story of our wedding trip here (link.)

After all these years, Abby and I still look at each other like this, and we still mean it.
After all these years, Abby and I still look at each other like this, and we still mean it.

Shoffner Reunion 2019

Amber and Darrell hold up the afghan Abby made for the auction. The funds from the auction help fund next year's reunion.
Amber and Darrell hold up the afghan Abby made for the auction. The funds from the auction help fund next year’s reunion.

The Shoffner Reunion 2019 is in the books.

Despite the reunion being only one day, there was a big meal. Everyone got their fill.
Despite the reunion being only one day, there was a big meal. Everyone got their fill.

The reunion has changed in the last three years. In 2017, it was at Abby’s aunt Judy’s farm in Duncan, Oklahoma, where she hosted it for over a decade. But with Judy and her sons, who were instrumental in helping Judy organize the event, getting older, and with attendance waning as the family dispersed across the country, and as some of them died, the three-day affair on the farm stopped being the best choice.

Last year, Abby’s cousin Al Shoffner, the commander at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, near where I grew up in Lawton, and his wife Carron, stepped up. Everyone had a great time, but there were fewer family members than ever before.

This year the reunion was at the Ryan, Oklahoma Senior Citizens Center.

See more photos of this event on the reunion’s Facebook page album (link.)

The Ryan, Oklahoma Senior Citizens Center was host to this year's Shoffner Family Reunion.
The Ryan, Oklahoma Senior Citizens Center was host to this year’s Shoffner Family Reunion.

Washing in Dirt

John Martin photographed me at my office last week when he visited from Colorado.
John Martin photographed me at my office last week when he visited from Colorado.
Your humble host photographed himself at PEC Day Saturday.
Your humble host photographed himself at PEC Day Saturday.

Our 16-year-old water softener recently died. By the time the entire system was depleted of soft water, I remembered why I like soft water: showering in the City of Ada’s treated Byrd’s Mill Spring water is like showering in dirt.

We got a new softener late last week, and it’s good to lather again.

Some other notes…

  • It appears there is a good chance Donald Trump will be impeached soon. That doesn’t mean his presidency will end. Bill Clinton was impeached. Of note: someone in office can be a complete bastard, and you can hate him or her to tiny pieces, but you can only impeach a president for illegal acts. But Trump supporters continue to assert that accusations against him are liberal efforts to … well, things are less clear in their minds about why liberals want to get rid of him. They hate freedom. Yeah, that’s it.
A couple of things about this bumper sticker I photographed downtown: 1. If she had won, they wouldn't be over it. 2. "Get over it" implies we should stop disagreeing, which is not only absurd, but unpatriotic. 3. If he is impeached, when will they "get over it?"
A couple of things about this bumper sticker I photographed downtown: 1. If she had won, they wouldn’t be over it. 2. “Get over it” implies we should stop disagreeing, which is not only absurd, but unpatriotic. 3. If he is impeached, when will they “get over it?”
  • A Boeing B-17 warbird I photographed in March here in Ada as it toured with the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom tour crashed this week in Connecticut, destroying the aircraft and killing at least seven of the 13 on board.
  • Work continues on the cell tower: this week, a dude is over there with a tiny track hoe, digging something. Hopefully it will soon have antennas and equipment, and we will have a signal in Byng.
  • Abby’s iPhone 6S Plus died slowly over the past few months, so we finally replaced it with an iPhone XR. An Apple aficionado at my office is thoroughly offended when I refer to it as an iPhone SEX, so I do it as often as I can.
Your host photographed himself inside the Boeing B-17 "Nine-O-Nine" during the Wings of Freedom Tour March 20 at Ada Regional Airport. The aircraft was destroyed Wednesday when it crashed in Connecticut.
Your host photographed himself inside the Boeing B-17 “Nine-O-Nine” during the Wings of Freedom Tour March 20 at Ada Regional Airport. The aircraft was destroyed Wednesday when it crashed in Connecticut.