2021—Abandoned?

The more remote areas of Alaska are dotted with abandoned vehicles. Some are hidden discretely amid stands of birch and pine while others are just off the road. We came across this abandoned vintage utility truck along the Old Richardson Highway at Salcha between Eielson Air Force Base and Delta Junction. The faded star on the door indicates it might have been a military vehicle. Who knows how it got there and why its rusted carcass was abandoned but it made an interesting subject in its snowy graveyard in the weak midday sun and frigid -16° temperature. And although the windows are gone and the body is decayed, the Uniroyal tires appear to be practically new so is it really abandoned or just waiting for the spring thaw?

2021—Beam Me Up, Scotty

The words “Beam me up, Scotty” came to mind when I looked at the sun setting in Fairbanks, Alaska at about 2;45 PM Wednesday and a single beam shot skyward from the fiery ball. Wrapping my head around the sun setting before 3PM and being transported from Earth up to a spaceship through a light beam are equally foreign to me. But the former is a stunningly beautiful reality and the latter is fun to think about.

2021—Short Days

It’s still three weeks from the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, but days are already pretty short in Fairbanks, Alaska which is just a couple hundred miles away from the Arctic Circle. Yesterday, the sun rose at 10:17AM and the sun set at 3:01PM. The sun never got very bright and it never rose very high over the horizon. There was still a little color in the sky an hour after sunrise when I took this near Chena Lake. Where I’m from in California, the sun rose at 7:00AM and set just before 5PM yesterday, double the number of hours of daylight here.

2021—The Flehmen Response

Animal behavior is fascinating. One of the behaviors that Rocky Mountain Bighorn rams exhibit is curling back their upper lip to expose their teeth, inhaling with nostrils closed, holding their head high, and staying still for several seconds. Bighorns have a gland in their mouths that can sense pheromones. I have witnessed this behavior when ewes are nearby and I have been told it is the way rams determine if a ewe is in estrus. This behavior is not limited to sheep. It is common behavior in lots of ungulates and even other kinds of mammals including big cats. And, it has a name. It is called the flehmen response and sometimes, the flehmen grimace. Flehmen is a German verb that means to bare the upper teeth and that word is derived from a Saxon-German word that means to grimace. The term for this behavior was coined in the 1930’s by a zoo keeper in Germany who observed the behavior in many different zoo mammals. There is apparently no English equivalent for this behavior so flehmen it is. It doesn’t really look like a grimace to me. The rams look more euphoric or enraptured than grimacing.

2021—Reminded of a Wedding Corsage

My parents were married in January of 1940 at my grandmother’s house in Alameda, California. Photographs from the event, all black and white or sepia, show my mother wearing an orchid corsage on her simple crocheted dress. When she passed away at age 97 six years ago, I discovered that orchid pressed between pieces of waxed paper in a small box. I suppose it was once white but it is now flat and sepia tone. I kept it and placed it between two sheets of glass. This is a photograph of a living Phalaenopsis Orchid that is actually yellow with reddish streaks. After creating a stacked image from 113 photographs the color seemed dull and uninteresting so I changed the picture control in Adobe Camera Raw from Standard to Charcoal which seems to mimic sepia tone photographs. The change instantly reminded me of my mother’s wedding corsage and I thought the sepia coloring made the image much more appealing.

2021—Pronghorn

Every season in Yellowstone has a decidedly different feel because of time of year, the weather, the color of the landscape, and which animals show themselves. It may seem as if the only ungulates we saw in Yellowstone National Park a couple of weeks ago were Bighorn Sheep but we saw and photographed Elk, Bison, and Pronghorn as well as Bighorns. Pronghorn are diminutive compared to Bison and Bighorn Sheep but they are the fastest land animal in North America. This year we encountered herds every day calmly grazing on the yellowing grasses. It was quite a contrast to last year at this time when we witnessed a pair of Coyotes take down a Pronghorn just a few feet from our van as the rest of the herd used their speed to distance themselves from their unfortunate mate. We watched, awestruck by this Serengeti-like drama without taking a photograph but it was something I’ll never forget. This year, the Pronghorn rarely seemed to be concerned about predators and were often curious about our presence but they returned to grazing as soon as their curiosity was satisfied.

2021—Blending In

It is pretty amazing how critters are colored to help them blend into their surroundings. The coat on this Red Fox in Yellowstone National Park is perfectly suited for its surroundings. The coat has every color in the meadow where it was hunting voles beneath the snow. The fox disappeared when it walked behind a shrub or through a stand of grasses.

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2021—Talking It Over

We found the Bighorns outside of Yellowstone National Park along the Old Yellowstone Road. On our second morning, the sun was out and the sky was cloudless. The rams stuck together in small groups as the ewes and lambs grazed nearby. We eventually found and photographed eleven rams, most with large curls like this pair of rams. I shouldn’t anthropomorphize but I tend to do that. These rams appear to be discussing something, just talking it over.

2021—Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! This is a Liquidambar leaf, from a tree also known as Sweet Gum. I found the leaf in the neighborhood on my walk one morning a few days ago. I thought it had an interesting shape but when I saw the resulting photograph I liked the leaf even more. I can see so many things in it. It could be a bird taking to wing, a cobra preparing to strike, or even a dragon. If you look long enough, you might even see a turkey, something apropos to today. I took this image with my newest lens, the Nikkor ZMC50mm Macro, using only ambient light. It is a focus stacked image created from 243 shots in HeliconFocus.

2021—Big Horns

Those gigantic horns that a Rocky Mountain Bighorn ram carries weigh about 30 pounds. Their bodies are designed to carry the weight. We were so close to these sheep that my Nikon 500mm PF lens was almost too much lens. Had he moved much closer, he would have been out of focus. I was about fifteen feet away from the ram as he munched grasses on the edge of the road just outside of Yellowstone Nationaal Park. This mature ram’s horns show a bit of “brooming,” a term used to describe the frayed ends of the horns that results from wear and tear throughout their lives.