House on the River Bluff

Belle Grove Plantation at Port Conway, King George, VA

Birthplace of James Madison and a Premiere B&B hosted by Michelle and Brett Darnell. A verifiable gem of a place backed by genuinely passionate people.




17 August 2014

Today is the seventh anniversary of Ruth’s passing.

I’ve flown back to Virginia to honor the date in my usual manner by visiting with her at the University Cemetery in Charlottesville. I believe I’m now more familiar with this section of The Grounds than any single other. Until the move to California I’d been in habit of visiting several times a year. I had thought from time to time about moving to C’ville just to be closer to the site. I suppose there are other reasons not the least of which the affinity with the area in general and the University in particular but the more I pondered the possibility the more it seemed a poor idea.

Dealing with memories is an uneasy task for me. By nature I’m inclined toward the past, nostalgic bordering on melancholy. The characteristic has it’s advantages, especially for someone who, Continue reading

Mountains vs Models

When people ask about my career I generally respond that I am a photographer. That at least is my latest reinvention and since it’s stuck for the past 3-4 years, I’m going with it. I don’t make my living this way; I make myself and a few others happy in this pursuit, so perhaps it’s more accurate to characterize as an avocation. Whatever. I spend a lot of time behind a lens and increasingly enjoy exploring the myriad nuances associated with using it.


“So, you’re photographer” she says. “What do you photograph?”

Fair question, to which I usually respond “things that don’t move or that have four legs,” meaning for the most mountains and trees and rocks and rivers – ok, water moves – and architecture and, of course, dogs and horses. I suppose what I’m trying to convey is I rarely deliberately and seriously shoot humans. Portraiture ain’t my game.

Until now.


I recently had the opportunity to shoot an old friend of mine whose photogeneity I’ve admired for years. Her name is Renée and to most people’s eyes she is quite comely.

Well, OK. She’s gorgeous.


She’s also uninhibited in front of a camera and, I came to discover, fun to work with. I figured that given those circumstances I’d have to work hard to screw things up. So, we met at Lake Anne in Reston one late afternoon several weeks ago and gave it a try.

I failed to get it entirely right in the camera for the most for lack of the correct lighting, which is more important than dealing with the model, which in this case was a breeze. Fortunately I’m better at post-processing than at portraiture (at moment) and managed to correct the lighting issues. I also discovered that I liked the processing more in black and white than in color although this might have been because of the lighting dealt us. I was more than a little anxious about how the images would be accepted but since they met my standard of publishable, I was happy with the work. And my anxieties aside, Renée was very pleased as were both our respective audiences.

The positive feedback heartened me and that encouraged me to spend some time studying lighting techniques. I concluded lighting was an art unto itself but for my purposes could probably be sufficiently mastered to engage in exploring this channel of photography further. I doubt it will ever supplant landscapes in my portfolio but if most of it is as uplifting as the first venture it will boost the happiness meters of everyone involved. I’ll be back in LA by the end of November and there is no shortage of lighting experts in that town. Should be easy to track down a mentor.


Maybe next time it’ll be a model with a mountain backdrop.

Thanks Renée!


Home Sweet Temporary Home


Well it took from the 4th Oct 12 to the 1st Sept 13 but this afternoon (17000 + miles later) I managed to walk back into the condo in Ivystone Court. A great journey so far, assisted by a lot of friends, the National Park System, a well- built Acura and a sense of nonsense.

It’s far from over. I’ll be in residence for a month. The big event upcoming is my daughter’s wedding on the 13th Sept in C’ville. Afterward I suppose there will be a lot of handwringing about what I need to fetch from here for the relocation west. Lots of memories and memorabilia to deal with. But no matter; its going to happen.

In the meantime I’m enjoying what is unquestionably a comfortable existence here and perhaps having a thought or two about cold nights on hard ground in tents. But only one or two.

It’s been a wonderful year. Looking forward to the next one which once again will begin in Oct and follow a leisurely route from Virginia to Key West, Tampa, Port Arthur, Austin, Big Bend, Grand Canyon and as many unscheduled stops as can also be fit in between then and Thanksgiving back in LA.

Thank you Maura, Mitzi, Jennifer, Kathleen & Jack, Sonja, Don, Ron, Bill, Ken, Carole, Juan, Vero & Joseph, Vickie, DJ, Alyta, Janet, Terry, Jayne-x2, Andrea, AJ, Warren, Bonnie, Beverly, Indre, Chris, Mike, Barbara, Scott, Brian, Susan A. (and Debbie and Angela), Sue V., Azura, Priscilla, Linda & Dan, Dana & Rick, Andy, Renée, Robin, Patty, Joette, David T., Dave D., Massie, Chaz and AnnaSummer. And, of course, Ruth.

It takes a village; this is mine. It keeps growing.


Oldies But Goodies

I had the good fortune to become connected with the Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel Rescue group a little less than a year ago and have counted that association among the myriad blessings I’ve been presented with these last few years since Ruth’s passing. Allow me to explain.

Memories and other material and immaterial possessions aside Ruth also left me the sole human-in-charge of the four dogs we included in our household – maybe it was the other way ’round: two American Eskimos (Gracie and Ruby) and two Cocker Spaniels (Corkie and Jake).  For two years we rattled around inside a house that, lacking Ruth, her company, the kids, frequent visitors and the like, had become increasingly overlarge for our needs and overbearing on my daily existence.  The one major advantage it offered  was a comfortable, fenced back yard that allowed the pups to wander at will while I was off at work but over time the emoional and financial budens this luxury imposed began to weigh rather heavily. So I began to toy with the idea of selling the house.

But where to go?

The first solution to come to mind was a large motorhome to house and transport the band. We investigated. Not a good idea. Still the movement to divest the house progressed and eventually occurred and we needed a place to hang our leashes. One of my rental condo tenants saved the day by deciding to move out and buy a house, thereby providing us with shelter in the process.

But – I concluded that the four of us (Gracie had died the previous year) would not fit into this new space and agonized over the prospect of giving up one of the animals. First off, which one? Ruby the Eskimo was the natural answer since Jake and Corkie, though not a bonded pair – far from it – were brothers; we had taken them from the same litter 5 years earlier. But when I mentioned my dilemma to our longtime housekeeper she beamed and volunteered to adopt Corkie, long her favorite.  And this allowed Jake and Ruby and I to occupy the condo on Ivystone Court.

It was comfortable and even though we all missed the backyard for slightly different reasons, there were plenty of trails to walk and we adjusted. Then the wanderlust set in and my nomad period began to emerge. I tried to include the dogs but for various reasons not the least of which was Jake vomiting about every 25 miles – it didn’t work and finding and financing dog-sitters became overwhelming. So I called upon the Eskie Rescue League to find a new home for Ruby – she moved to Long Island and then agonized over Jake. Of all the animals Jake was mine. I had selected him from the litter and spent more time with him, and vice versa – than the others. He was more than just my favorite. I didn’t know what to do.

A friend brought Oldies But Goodies Cocker Spaniel rescue to my attention and after a check of the group I contacted them. When Ruby left for Long Island I was happy for her and for her new human but the day it came for Jake to leave was near heartbreaking. I walked him out to the awaiting SUV and Lisa, the group transporter that day, and tearfully handed him over. It was pure hell; I was more or less bathed in a sense of guilt and self-loathing. Shortly thereafter I set off for what has become a veritable continuous road-trip. But I have had periods of being back in the Northern Virginia area and last December I contacted OBG and asked if I could in some manner be of service. They welcomed the inquiry and put me to work as a foster, a show handler and a transporter and over the next several months I got to take care of half a dozen dogs – including YoYo who I fell in love with – and to do photography on their behalf. That included fundraising events and the big one for me was the Annual Cocker Cruise. I got back from this latest road trip just in time to photograph this year’s cruise also and to reconnect with this energetic group of volunteers.

So, feast your eyes on a slice of what happened when 60-some Cockers and their humans assembled to cruise the Potomac from Alexandria to Georgetown and back on the 22 August.

Click on the Pic to be transported to the entire gallery.



Rainy Homecoming

It started raining just after midnight and hasn’t ceased or even slowed since – has me pinned in my tent pondering the rain gear stored in the car.

Rain of this magnitude – it’s really pouring – is a normal occurrence in the Mid-Atlantic region though usually not this early in the season. Trees begin storing water in the fall to create the sap necessary to get them through winter. But early fall is six weeks off. I keep thinking as I lay stretched out here on my sleeping bag how welcome this rain would be in the Eastern Sierra – Mono Lake especially comes to mind. But if I’ve learned nothing else out here it’s that Nature is what it is; fiddling with it can be problematic. Adjusting is a better approach. As Charles says ‘It’s never a matter of wrong weather just wrong kit.’ In this case it’s right kit; wrong storage location. And a soaking trip in between.

When I arrived in Shenandoah National Park yesterday, after completing the three day run of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the sky was near crystal clear. Very unusual here where a haze is almost constantly present from the summit of Skyline Drive out across Shenandoah Valley. Not yesterday afternoon. Visibility was excellent, better than I’d ever remembered from my many trips here over the years. I immediately anticipated a grandelicious sunset. That was around 1400.

But there was rain to the south headed our way. I believe there’s something called a Tropical Depression running round the Gulf so this might be a result of its presence. This is the early edge of hurricane season in that area which tends to frequent rain in this area. (Rain is much more welcome than a hurricane.) Anyway, as the clouds rolled in about 1600 my hopes began to fade. But I thought there might be a chance so, after getting camp set up and grabbing a couple of Reese Cups and a bottle of Gatorade for dinner at the camp store, I drove the ten miles or so south to Turk Mountain Overlook and took up the vigil, camera at the ready.

Didn’t happen.

What you see, compliments of iPhone, did.

What you don’t see is my hesitance to open the tent flap and make a dash for the car to retrieve the gear I should have placed in the tent last night. I’m sure I’ll rally soon. In the meantime I’ll enjoy another chapter of Twain’s Roughing It<a


They seem to have me coming and going


Eastbound and Down

I arrived in Los Angeles late last October with the idea of spending a few weeks before heading south to Baja for the winter and then working my way back east and home to Virginia. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. And I’ve been in LA ever since. I’ve yet to change my voting registration and driver’s license but I’ve come to think of this beautiful place as home. For a died-in-the-wool Virginian that’s hard to believe – but it is what it is. Still, there are places back east I need to be in the near future – principally my daughter’s wedding in September – and people scattered between here and there I need to see so next week after dawdling lo these many months in the SoCal sun I begin the long trek eastward.

One of my projects, not that I’m burdened with many, is to visit and photograph each of our National Parks at least once. There are 59 all told and so far I’ve taken in 27. Nine of those by the way are in California, the state which is home to the largest number of national parks. The trip back will consume 37 days primarily because I intend visiting a few more along the way. Eleven in fact. This project gets tougher as the number increases simply because at some point it’s no longer possible to drive to my destination: there are parks in America Samoa, the Virgin Islands and Hawaii. And eight in Alaska!

I’ll figure it out.

For now I thought I’d share the itinerary in word and image:


  1. 10 July                       Depart Los Angeles, CA
  2. 10 – 12                       Mono Lake, CA
  3. 12                               South Lake Tahoe, CA
  4. 13                               Ely, NV – Layover Point
  5. 14                               Great Basin NP, Baker, NV
  6. 14 – 16                        Capitol Reef NP, Torrey, UT
  7. 16                               Natural Bridges National Monument, UT
  8. 16 – 17                        Blanding, UT – Layover Point
  9. 17                               Hovenweep National Monument, UT
  10. 17 – 18                        Mesa Verde NP, Cortez, CO
  11. 18 – 19                        Heron Lake State Park, NM
  12. 19 – 22                        Taos, NM – Summer Writer’s Conference
  13. 22 – 23                        Great Sand Dunes National Park, Alamosa, CO
  14. 23 – 25                        Black Canyon of Gunnison NP, Montrose, CO
  15. 25 – 27                        Rocky Mountain NP, Estes Park, CO
  16. 27 – 28                        Wind Cave NP, Custer, SD
  17. 28                                Badlands NP, SD – Stopover
  18. 28 – 29                        Jamestown, ND – Layover Point
  19. 29 – 31                        Voyageurs NP, International Falls, MN
  20. 31 July – 2 Aug            Isle Royale NP, Grand Portage, MN
  21. 2 – 3                             Ironwood, MI – Layover Point
  22. 3 – 4                             Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
  23. 4 – 5                             Saginaw, MI – Layover Point
  24. 5 – 6                             Parma Heights, OH – Layover
  25. 6 – 7                             Cuyahoga Valley NP, Brecksville, OH
  26. 7 – 12                           Elizabethtown, KY – Layover
  27. 12 – 14                         Great Smoky Mountain NP, Gatlinburg, TN
  28. 14 – 16                         Triad, NC – Layover
  29. 16 – 17                         UVA, Charlottesville, VA
  30. 17 Aug                         Arrive Reston, VA

The trip covers a little over 6,000 miles and will consume about 115 driving hours. I’m won’t get to spend as much time in each of the parks as I’d like but I know I’ll get back to many of them over the next several years.

I’m looking forward to visiting my longtime friends and maybe to making a few new ones along the way. More about the wedding later. For now I’ll just say I’m probably looking forward to it as much as any father does when it comes to his one and only (and favorite) daughter. But I’ve known my future son-in-law now for half a dozen years or more and he’s a wonderful young man. I’m sure AnnaSummer will mold him into something workable. 🙂

And next winter?  Baja, of course.


Street View East vs Street View West

When I left the East Coast back in early October I did so with the idea that I might not return, at least as a permanent resident. I’ve been there for decades but the more time I spend in the West, the weaker my ties to The Commonwealth become. So when I left I rented my condo out for an indeterminate period to my friend Barbara. Yesterday she sent me this pic, a view from the bedroom window. It speaks for itself. All chilly thoughts I might add. It was certainly a shock to Barbara too: she just returned from Phoenix. I doubt there was snow there.

It got me thinking. So I went to our living room window and took the other shot. I don’t know that you’d call it a stark difference but its unquestionably a sunny one. I know which one I prefer. She’s got flakes piled one upon the other; we’ve got a couple of wayward palm fronds.

It’s a little more expensive to live here, a fact brought home every time sales tax is applied. But so far as the weather is concerned, you get what you pay for. Lacking an earthquake, or the return of the Republicans to the Statehouse, this place is looking better with every passing ray of sun.