More Happy Accidents

Yesterday afternoon skies. These are some straight shots:

Then on to the layering. When I saw the contrails I thought they might make interesting images.
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There really are endless options. I shot ten RAW files and fooled around with a lot of different combinations. I also discovered that if you use the same image twice in the processing it adds some extra oomph to the result.

OK, enough! Until next time…

2016: A Year of Skies

Last year I did a year in photos but it took forever and was in like five parts. It was fun looking back through all the pictures and remembering the days they were taken. I’ve always been interested in the ever-changing skies, sunrise, sunset, clouds, fog, even rain. Some make for better pictures than others.

WARNING! Photo geek stuff ahead…

I normally shoot Camera RAW with my 10 year old Nikon DSLR. Someone recently said, “A good starter camera…” Ouch! It does everything I need and more. I have been processing the images as HDR, high dynamic range. This is equivalent to the old neutral density filter in photography. With Camera RAW and HDR, like with the human eye, the deep shadows and blowout bright highlights are evened out. In a photo, whether digital or on film, the highlights and shadows can ruin the picture. This is probably why people show you a picture and say, “But it didn’t look like that in person, it was much more alive, real, dynamic.” Your eye, not the camera (and computer) was doing the processing. HDR makes a photo that is very close to how the scene appears to the human eye.

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In Mexico in 2011

HDR used to involve a tripod and multiple bracketed exposures at like a half stop from super bright to almost black. See some early HDR here. I still do this sometimes, but mostly now I shoot one image Camera RAW and process as HDR. This is ideal since, 1) tripod not required, 2) less space on disk with otherwise unusable images and 3) HDR processing has evolved. Greatly.

Sometime last year, I was processing some sky pictures and accidentally dragged two into the image area that were not bracketed. They were shot in the same sky and time period but objects did not align as normal HDR does. It was what Mr. Rugolo, one of my art professors called “a happy accident.”

We used to make double exposures in the camera and not know the resulting image until the film was processed.This is sort of like being back in the darkroom and not knowing what a double exposure in the enlarger would look like until it was processed. Or a solarized print. I like the suspense and the outcome was always unique.

Now, we have the technology to process on the computer and can create double or multiple exposures there. I loved processing the film and printing black and white and color in the darkroom but I would never go back to it, as some have. The computer can do all the things we wished we could do back then. In the olden days…

These two images caused the happy accident.
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This January sky in our Rio Grande Valley spot was pretty impressive on its own. We have a perfect uninterrupted sky view from our site so I just run out and take a picture or two when good ones come along. Both are one exposure RAW files. The accident occurred when I dragged the two different images into the HDR software. It tried its best to line up the similarities  but there was just some left over as you can see from the image below on the right and bottom.

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I cropped that off and ended up with this.
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I liked the way it attempted to make sense of the images and that it represented a roiling  and more complex picture of that day’s sky on January 12, 2016.

On March 18th, we had an incredible display of mammatus clouds and straight photos were shot.
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The fun thing about this technique is that you can always go back later and combine the images. Later in the year I got more used to shooting specifically with Layered Skies in mind. This is one from the same day’s sky processed later. The heavens were alive in every direction that evening.
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A later combination of three images from March 18.
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A few nights later on March 22 I got this straight shot of the full moon. We also have an excellent view of the moonrise here.
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In April we went to Austin and saw the sunset from friends’ boat on Lake Travis. This was a nice enough sunset on its own but the layering really gives the mood and motion of the sky.
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On the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, two images.
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April 12, 2016
And playing around with panoramas there too. These are single images stitched together in Photoshop. There wasn’t much to photograph except the sky…
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April 13, 2016

Another full moon on April 20 in Alabama
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April 26 in Chattanooga
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May 28, Jim’s birthday in Marthasville, Missouri. The sky was big and busy that night. This is the only layered image, the rest are straight out of camera. (SOOC)
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And Colorado never disappoints. A fisheye view near Canon City.
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Layered sunsets in Colorado Springs July 26
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Regular old skies in Ft. Collins were pretty spectacular.
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Montana is aptly described as Big Sky Country.
Layered sky in Billings July 15
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Layered sky in Montana July 19
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Sunset in Lame Deer July 20
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Montana rainbow
The horse pasture
Panorama at Little Bighorn battlefield
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Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower. The view from our site on July 22

Wyoming panorama July 24, 2016
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Nebraska
Storm a comin’ July 26.
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And after the storm:
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More panoramas on the Cowboy Trail
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July 30

Minnesota panorama
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Minnesota sunset with my phone, August 8
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And layered:
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Wisconsin, on the Elroy Sparta Trail August 20: SOOC
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Lake of the Ozarks on September 13
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Missouri and Illinois
On the Katy Trail near Portland September 21portland-pano copy.jpg
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The Tunnel Hill State Trail in Illinois October 4:
Layered
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And panorama
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On the Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama October 21
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Pensacola November 7-10: The Blue Angels!
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Gulf Islands National Seashore sunset
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Layered sunset in Biloxi, Mississippi November 10
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At Padre Island National Seashore November 20
Vertical panorama
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This was the first time I shot deliberately for the Layered Sky series. Sometimes it takes me a while…
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And back at our spot for the winter in the Rio Grande Valley.
Straight and Layered Sky November 26
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Sunset November 29
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December 2 Layered Skies:
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December 22
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December 27
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December 28
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I really like this one.

So, a year of skies! The sky is always changing so don’t forget to Look Up!

Life’s a Beach

After New Year’s our good friend Michael was in the park with us for a few days after attending a wedding party in Houston. Michael and Randy have been good friends for many years since we met in Mexico. We have visited them in Philadelphia several times and they have a great parking spot for the bus, a beautifully curated garden right in the middle of the city. Heavenly.

Randy passed away in February of last year, to all of our shock, and we were looking forward to seeing Michael and catching up.
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Layered beach.

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We organized a trip to the beach on South Padre Island since the weather was fabulous and it turned into a big group of about thirty people! We ate and drank and played games and splashed in the surf while the fog came and went.

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Foggy dunes

We even refurbished the sign designating the nude beach since the paint had faded away. It’s a ways down the beach. Before and after.
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We enjoyed tamales from Delia’s when we got back to the bus and as a native Texan, Michael gave his approval. They are really good.

Another evening we made dinner for our neighbors returning to the park, Jim’s famous cioppino. In the meantime we talked and swam and truly enjoyed and appreciated Michael’s company. We had a great visit and plan to see him again sometime this summer. We always look forward to the various garden projects and hopefully we can help more now that Randy is gone.

And he brought us a lovely reminder of Randy for the bus, a deep blue shot glass that he culled from Randy’s studio. We treasure it and the memories it brings back. But first and foremost we treasure our good friends.
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Happy New Year!

A little late;  I know. We’ve been busy swimming laps, playing volleyball, socializing, having dinners with friends, going to the beach, herding cats and enjoying time with visitors. Whew! The weather is supposed to turn cooler and rainy so we will have a few days of downtime to catch our breath.

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Late in 2015 I saw a Facebook post suggesting that folks get a jar with a lid and each week write a post-it note about a positive experience that week. Then at the end of the year, open the jar and read all the notes for a year in review.

I’m all for being positive and grateful so we decided to try it. We used an apple butter jar that we got on a bike trail somewhere and were pretty good about adding notes. A bonus was that every time we opened the jar to add one, the apple butter aroma wafted out.

When we opened the jar on New Year’s Day it was fun and gratifying to relive the experience and be thankful all over again. I didn’t photograph them all but we were fairly consistent throughout the year. A few examples.

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We wrote about this here.

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The best part about shingles.

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This unfolded really well…

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Just reading back through the blog and all the lovely people and places we have gotten to experience is humbling and gratifying. We know we are BIG BIG Lucky…

We have already started our jar for this year and it still smells like apple butter! Try it! You’ll be glad you did.

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Merry Christmas From The Mighty Bus

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The day before Christmas we pause to wish all our friends and family the Happiest Holiday possible. Some are filled with good will and cheer and others suffer from loss of loved ones and disability. We love you all.

The figurines above are our sole decoration in the bus. They took up about four inches of real estate on top of the charging cabinet until I realized that the cats traversing the narrow topped cabinet would result in ruin. So I took the pic and wrapped them back up. When my sister and I broke up my Aunt Muriel’s house, I kept these. I gave them to my mother in law in 1995 because she loved Christmas so much. When she died and they broke up her house in 2014 I got them back. I never realized how drunk they are. As a friend here said, Like us at a super happy hour.

We are fortunate enough to enjoy good weather and friends here in South Texas. It is warm and wonderful.

Best of the season to you.

The beauty in me salutes the beauty in you. Namaste.

And Then We Were Thankful…

When we were in Pensacola meeting up with B and Jim they graciously invited us for Thanksgiving dinner at their place. We hadn’t planned on arriving at our winter spot until after Thanksgiving but not only did we want to enjoy dinner, Jim had to practice for his first Jam Band performance on Friday. So from Padre Island, we headed for the Rio Grande Valley.

B explained the logistics and menu: We all gathered for the first course of Jim’s famous oyster pie and champagne, a longtime tradition of theirs. And more oysters! After the first course we all dispersed to warm up our stuff, then reconvened for the main event.Cecilia and Paul brought a smoked turkey and everybody made a side. There were sweet potatoes, gravy, mashed potatoes, the best brussels sprouts and green beans. Cranberry and a Mexican relish. Stuffing, of course. Buttermilk biscuits. More gravy.

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The table
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The oyster pie
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All the yummy deliciousness

We had a great group of 10 for the day, all from the park except for Cecilia and Paul from Austin. They are Airstream people like B and Jim and parked right next to us so we got to know them in the week or so they were there. They had a little dog, Honey who almost met Carmella and played well with Maisy, B’s dog.
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Honey and Cecilia

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Paul dresses for dinner.

After dinner we relaxed over more wine. B played her harp for us.
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Their house is full of colorful and interesting things and a story goes with each one. It was nice to learn more about their lives and history.

After Maisy got a walk and our food had settled down, we walked across the park to Dona and Stan’s place for three fabulous desserts; a raspberry cobbler, pecan caramel tarts and pumpkin cheesecake. And more wine. And coffee. The raspberry treat with ice cream (!) was so good I couldn’t stop eating it.
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Fortunately, I did get a taste of the cheesecake as we reconvened for meal #2 on Sunday. We finished off the turkey and ate a few more sides and I got to enjoy a piece. Delicious!

The whole weekend was just what the doctor ordered; a relaxing and recharging weekend with friends, puppies, good food, drink and thoughtful conversation.

We are thankful.

 

Otra Vez: Padre Island National Seashore

Time to head for our winter spot in south Texas. When we got a Thanksgiving dinner invitation from B and Jim we had a deadline. And my Jim wanted to practice with the band he plays in at the park before they performed right after Thanksgiving.

We were already pointed west and stopped for a few last days of beach bicycling at Padre Island National Seashore. We went back to the same campground on the beach we were at in 2014 except now with our senior pass it was just $4 a night. We settled in for a few more days of bicycling, cat walking and eating fresh seafood.

The first day it was misting a little in the morning when we took off down to the beach. We had gone just a short way before the sky opened up so we turned around and went back to the bus. The next day was gorgeous and we got in about 25 miles in all. Riding on the beach takes more energy, not just because of the wind, but the sand although hard packed has more friction than the average road or trail. It’s pretty easy to just cruise along on some of the trails we’ve ridden. Not so at the beach. The panoramic views were spectacular.
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The beach
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The dunes

That evening we had a nice sunset and I decided to fool around with my new Layered Skies project. I have put these images together before but this was the first time I shot particularly for this technique I discovered by accident. The results. There are infinite possibilities.

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This will be a fun project to fool around with while we are parked for the winter since the sky is ever changing and it is about all there is to take photos of. More coming soon.

Tammany Trace & Biloxi Blues

After leaving Sumrall, we spent the weekend in Slidell, Louisiana at the Elks which was right on a lake and close to the Tammany Trace. We have ridden the whole Trace and it is a great trail. They need to make some new ones!

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The lake we camped on had fish to feed and lots of turtles. A bluebird nest was in a hollowed out tree and the heron came to visit. We were there for the supermoon but it was behind some trees until higher in the sky. We had the place to ourselves except for the caretaker. There was a kid’s playground and Carmella loved running around on that. She even tried to go up the slide and ran up the seesaw until it moved and she jumped off.

After a couple of days riding, we decided to continue our Gulf Coast seafood crawl with a stop at Darwell’s Cafe in Long Beach on the agenda. The shrimp creole and crab cakes did not disappoint.


We  landed at the Elks Lodge in Biloxi, right across from the beach and next to the old French Cemetery. Carmella loved the cemetery!

And, as the Elks Exalted Ruler (yes, that’s really what they call the Lodge leader!) pointed out, they have no problems with the neighbors. The live oaks draped with Spanish moss provided shade and atmosphere for the graves, some dating back to the 1700s. Of course, being right across from the beach, it saw major damage in Hurricane Katrina but a restoration project was launched and except for a couple glued-back-together tombstones, you would never know. Those live oaks must be tough because all along the coast we saw places where homes had been. The houses were completely gone but the trees remain. Toward Gulfport the land across from the beach was completely devoid of buildings and lots of property was for sale.

We didn’t get the bikes out here but instead walked to the Ohr O’Keefe Museum to see the work of George Ohr, “the mad potter of Biloxi.” In a career spanning about thirty years until 1910, he produced an astonishing amount of carefully crafted ceramics. Many had whimsical handles and others were formed then obviously imploded or deconstructed, making the viewer look twice. Mugs that you don’t notice at first have holes in the sides. Elaborate handles, some pieces with several handles. The museum is right across from the beach in a complex designed by Frank Gehry. So a double treat to see. A friend had told me about it on our way east, so we walked the few miles to take a look. Wow!

Unfortunately, George never achieved the fame or financial success he desired from his art so he closed his studio and his collection sat untouched for many years until his family sold it to a collector in New York. He was quite the character.

Afterward we were ready for some more seafood so we found the Half Shell Oyster House and settled in with some oysters and a couple of martinis. They go great together. These oysters, while tasty, did not measure up to Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola. We really got spoiled there. The martinis were good though and much appreciated.
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A live oak along the way in a lot empty of house.

We scouted out a laundry in El Campo, Texas and there was an Elks Lodge there too which was completely deserted that night. In preparation for our winter in Texas, we washed everything in the bus, blankets, towels, rugs, clothes, bike stuff, cat stuff, quilts and seat covers. The El Campo Super Wash was brand new and had three 6x size washers and plenty of 4x washers. I figured out we did the equivalent of 28 loads of laundry! I need to get rid of some clothes! Planning on that soon.

On to Padre Island for some beach biking.

Back in Sumrall, Y’All

Once we got the go ahead to park at the trail head we made the short hop to Sumrall, Mississippi so we could ride the remainder of the 41 mile long Longleaf Trace that we first found in 2014. That time we parked at Bassfield and rode the Sumrall-Prentiss section.

Herlon Pierce is the gentleman from the Longleaf Trace who OKed us parking in Sumrall at the trail. He has a trail head named after him! How cool is that?
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This is a really great trail, one of the best we have been on. They have lots of amenities and comfy little rest stops all along the way. The section between Hattiesburg and Sumrall is especially well appointed. One aspect we hadn’t seen before is the identifying signs of the trees along the trail.

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There were many varieties including:

  • Southern red oak
  • Longleaf Pine
  • Tung tree
  • Tulip Poplar
  • Mimosa
  • Sumac
  • Post oak
  • Water oak
  • Persimmon
  • Sparkleberry
  • Eastern red cedar
  • Ironwood
  • Sassafras
  • Eastern Dogwood
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Wax myrtle
  • Blackgum
  • Chnese Tallow tree Loblolly pine
  • Crabapple
  • Poison Ivy (Yes! They marked it.)
  • Shortleaf pine
  • Groundsel tree
  • Hornbeam
  • Yupon
  • Supplejack
  • Southern magnolia
  • Chinese privet
  • Willow Oak
  • Muscadine
  • Cat greenbriar
  • Chinkipin
  • American Holly
  • Swamp Cyrilla “Tuti”
  • Black cherry
  • White oak
  • Cherry oak
  • Hawthorn
  • Devilwood
  • Sourwood
  • Huckleberry

There were probably more that I forgot. When I passed a sign I could ride until I had gotten about ten in my head, then I had to stop and put in my note before I forgot. I had never heard of several of them and Sparkleberry was my favorite.

We rode to Hattiesburg and back the first day, about 30 miles. The flag above the trail was a first. I don’t know James Moore’s  role in the Trace but we appreciate his effort toward a top notch experience.
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Some scenes along the trail.

We got misted on a little bit but no serious rain.

One of the rest stops. Even bridges got “adopted.”
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The next day we rode in the other direction toward Bassfield. When we rode that section before we came upon an exotic animal farm and wanted to see if it was still there. We saw some of the llamas up in another pasture but no prehistoric birds. Glad we saw them before.
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We also witnessed a beautiful incident. In a pasture by the trail were three magnificent horses. One was a very large draft horse. The others were smaller by not by much. I was going to try to get a picture when a truck pulled into the upper pasture and they started off at a trot toward the truck. It quickly escalated into a full gallop. As the driver went back to shut the gate, he waved his arms at the approaching horses. The others turned back but one of them, a beautifully proportioned tan and white beauty with a long mane, managed to slip past him and galloped into the adjoining field. We stopped to watch as he pranced and cavorted with his head high for a good ten minutes before allowing himself to be corralled. It looked like this has happened before. No pictures, you had to be there.

On the way back we stopped at this sign and decided to get some eggs.
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We headed down this drive and entered a whole other world, the world of Major Woodworking. There were chickens and kitties and piles of wood carefully covered.dsc_8787
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He makes custom counter tops and flooring and when a big tree goes down, they know who to call, Major. He and his helpers Jimmy and Scott uncovered something that he said would be worth taking a picture of.

These red oak planks are about 10 feet long, four feet wide and four or five inches thick. There were other piles he didn’t uncover; he had about a dozen planks this size. He showed us a picture in his phone of the tree before they milled it and was going to email it to me. It was a monster.

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Oreo guarding the planks once they’re covered back up.

And kitties.
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These two cuties posed willingly.
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Mom, not so much. We like those orange tabby females.

Scott and his 2002 Vette. He’s pretty proud of it and rightly so.
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Major took his time and we talked for quite a while. He went to the trouble to explain his work and we gained a real appreciation for his skill. We asked about the chickens and the local wildlife. He even cut us a piece of sugar cane.

As with most property owners along a rails-to-trails project, when first confronted with the idea, they are against it. As Major said, waving his hand toward the trail, “That’s our front yard.” They planted screening and it has grown up well but he may clear it out again. We said we hoped he and his neighbors have found that bicyclists are peaceful people. It took a while, he said, but he came around and now he gives us a look into his world and sells us eggs. We ended up with two dozen and they are delicious.

It was the best and most affirming experience of the day.