Airshow 2

Back at it the second day. Again, the weather was almost uncooperative, but things held off until the show was over. I was a little concerned because there was a rather large area of mammatus clouds. I’ve been told that they are indicators of pretty rough air and potential severe weather. Fortunately, they passed over before the action started.

Saturday’s show saw the Blue Angels short one plane, so the traditional diamond formation was replaced with what they called the mini-delta. Sunday, all six planes were ready to go and the diamond formation was back. I’ve got to say that the Blue Angels Diamond formation is the tightest, finest, most thrilling formation to watch. They fly about a foot-and-a-half from wing tip to canopy and make a knife edge pass by the field to show how close they are. Then they show similar close quarters with an echelon formation. One of the Blues’ maneuvers is to do a roll in the echelon formation. When I was stationed at Miramar Naval Air Station, their announcer said they did that maneuver because the Air Force said it was impossible. No inter-service rivalry there.

Here are a couple shots from Day 2 (click the thumbnails):

 

The Diamond

 

The Diamond

The Diamond

 

And the Echelon:

Angels Echelon

Angels Echelon

 

That’s my Blue Angels fix for a while. Until, of course, they appear close to home again!

More to follow,

Bob

 

 

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Airshow 1

Sometimes I amaze myself. I do the oddest things. I’ve been a fan of the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron for years. I served in the Navy air wing and so got to see the Angels fly several times while on active duty. They’ve always thrilled me. After the Navy I didn’t see the Blues for a while. Hard to catch them in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, after all. Somehow I came across the Blue Angels’ Facebook page and started following them. A couple Mondays back I noticed they were going to perform in St. George, Utah. I thought that would be a nice place to go see them and mentioned it to a couple of my colleagues. They encouraged me to go. After chasing air fare deals and hotel reservations, I decided to take a flyer and see the flyers. Flew into Las Vegas and stayed in Mesquite, about 30 miles from the St. George airport.

And then there were two days of great flying. The weather was challenging both days and actually grounded a couple of the demonstrations on Saturday, but the Blues flew both days. Oh, boy, did they fly!

Here are some shots I got. I’ll do a couple today and then a couple more Wednesday. (Click on the thumbnails.)

 

Of course, you can’t start an airshow without the National Anthem and you can’t play the National Anthem without the flag. Here, a woman from the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team delivers the colors.

 

Presenting the Colors

Presenting the Colors

 

The Blue Angels are flying FA-18 Super Hornet jets these days. The planes perform well faster than lighting and slower than molasses. Here’s an example of slow flight:

Dirty Delta

Dirty Delta

 

One of the thrills of the show is watching the solo pilots fly directly at each other, doing rolls and other maneuvers at 400 mph. Here’s one on a high-speed run.

Solo Angel

Solo Angel

 

The Blues do a number of signature moves, but probably the most well-known is the Blue Angels’ Fleur de Lis.

Angels Fleur de Lis

Angels Fleur de Lis

 

And that was just the first day! Check back Wednesday for more.

More to follow,

Bob

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The Jewel is in the Lotus

When we were at the zoo a couple weeks ago, we came across a pond of water lilies. Lotus if you will. The lotus has a lot of meaning to Eastern religions. The Lord Buddha sits on a Lotus Throne. The flower is so complex that it requires a lot of contemplation. It’s very symbolic because its roots are in the mud, yet a beautiful flower is the end result. The Jewel is in the Lotus. That’s the basic meaning, as I’ve been told, of the Mani mantra: Om Mani Pedmé Hung. I’ve read that this is the favorite mantra of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet. When one chants that mantra, one is supposed to realize that no matter what his or her origins are, the potential for inner beauty is there. Our true nature is not in the mud but in the realization of beauty. Not a bad thought to carry around.

Here are the lotus I found in good old Billings. The backlighting was a challenge, but I think Lightroom helped me control it (click on the thumbnails):

 

 

The Jewel is in the Lotus

The Jewel is in the Lotus

 

And the true nature of the lotus may be as a Black & White image. Who knew?

Pink lotus

Pink lotus

 

I’d better go meditate for a while.

More to follow.

Bob

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Brought to you in Glorious Monochrome!

Well, you know me. Still trying to make a good Black & White image. I’m showing improvement and some of the images I’ve done lately I’m pretty happy with. It’s funny how I can be looking at a brilliant green scene and see monochrome written all over it. I guess that’s my preference, so I lean that way. I’ve been up in the canyons lately and have done a lot of wildflower photography. And I’ve noticed the non-floral scenery. While I still can’t understand mountains and trees as well as I can the desert, I think I’m getting there.

Here are some monochrome scenes I’ve seen lately (as always, click on the image to see them full size and with the right color. Oh, no color this time):

 

Here’s my boy Gandalf, The Gray Cat. He was sitting thinking about the birds at the feeder, so he held still for a while. Not a bad portrait.

 

Gandalf the Gray Cat

Gandalf the Gray Cat

 

This False Hellebore or California Corn Lily (I’ve been told) just called to me, saying, “Monochrome.” It was right.

False Hellebore

False Hellebore

 

And these are, to all intents and purposes, weeds. I don’t have a clue what family they belong to, so I’ll take the lazy way out on the naming.

Weeds, Big Timber Canyon

Weeds, Big Timber Canyon

 

I’ll keep working in this old-timey mode, I think.

 

More to follow.

Bob

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More Big Timber Flowers

I went back up to Big Timber Canyon today. I’d heard the flowers are blooming big time, so decided I had to catch them in the act. There were a few that I thought looked photogenic, so I pulled out the macro lens, got up close and personal and clicked away.

While I knelt in the rocky soil with sore knees two things dawned on me. First, I need to put my kneepads back in the camera bag. My cat Spike used to steal them from the bag and chew on them, so I put them where I figured he couldn’t get at them. Now he’s gone, but I keep forgetting to put them in the bag. And if I go do it now while I’m thinking of it, I’ll likely forget to complete this post, so it’s a matter of taking chances.

The second thing is that I need to get a wildflower identification guide. I always say that I know two wildflowers by name. One is Indian paintbrush, the other isn’t. The two you’re seeing here may be bluebells and an LWF. LWF is little white flower. That may not be a very good means of identifying, so I’ll start to study up on them.

Here’s what I saw today (click on the thumbnails to see them full size and properly colored).

 

These are pretty small and they’re mostly white. Hence the name.

 

LWF, Big Timber Canyon

LWF, Big Timber Canyon

 

 

My department head said the bluebells are blooming up there, so these may be those. Or something else. I saw some other blue bell-shaped flowers, but I think they were too big.

 

Blue Bells Maybe

Blue Bells Maybe

 

 

That’s all for now.

More to follow,

Bob

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Eagles and Tigers and Bears, Oh, my!

A group of us went to the zoo today. It was unfortunate that they wouldn’t let us in until they opened and they opened at about the moment the lighting got really awful. But I got some shots I don’t mind anyway. They had to be worked on quite a bit to control the contrast, and I cropped them some, just because my lens isn’t long enough to isolate the critters properly. Cropped them except for the GRIZ (Ed Abbey always used to refer to ursus horibilis  this way). Some of the zoo staff facilitated a close, yet safe look at the big guy.

All in all it was a nice morning, hot and sunny and cool critters.

Here’s what I saw (be sure to click on the thumbnails to see the images full size and properly colored):

 

Bald Eagle, Billings Zoo

Bald Eagle, Billings Zoo

 

 

Griz

Griz

 

 

Siberian Tiger, Billings Zoo

Siberian Tiger, Billings Zoo

 

More to follow,

Bob

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Independence Plus One

I missed posting fireworks last year because, being new to Billings, I didn’t know where to go. Turns out I need to put a lawn chair in my back yard and set the camera next to it.

Here’s what I saw from home (click on the images to see them full size and with proper color):

 

Fireworks1

Fireworks1

 

Fireworks 2

Fireworks 2

 

Fireworks 3

Fireworks 3

 

Fireworks 4

Fireworks 4

 

That’s all for now.

 

More to follow,

Bob

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A-birding we will go!

I’ve fed birds for a lot of years. It’s fascinating watching them at the feeder. But, of course, there are a lot more birds than come to the feeder, so going out in the field is always a good idea. There’s a lot to see out there.

I hooked up with a group from the Yellowstone Valley Chapter of the Audubon Society for a little jaunt into the field yesterday. Birding, it’s called. Used to be birdwatching, but that was a long time ago and things change. The one thing that doesn’t change in a hobby like this is the fact that the people who do it are full of knowledge and passion about birds. And to make things perfect, they are generous with their knowledge and extremely welcoming to a newbie to their hobby. I really appreciate that.

I knew I didn’t really have the equipment to do a lot of good photography, but took the camera along anyway. Glad I did. We stopped at the home of an artist who lives in the mountains. He invited us to have lunch on his porch and watch the hummingbirds. There were quite a few, of several varieties. The people I was with could tell by looking what they were. I couldn’t. Nick said the birds were only rented, not his. They come in in May and leave in September, but while they are in Montana, he feeds them and welcomes them while they visit. I tried a few images and got a couple that weren’t awful. Here’s one (as always, click to enlarge and see the right colors):

 

Hummer at feeder

Hummer at feeder

 

Nick had a couple Labrador Retrievers, too. I love labs. They’re great dogs and someday if I ever retire, I’ll get one to share the house with me and the cats. I decided the yellow one was a good candidate for a portrait (sorry, I’ve already forgotten her name), and took two or three. Then I found out one of the settings on the camera got inadvertently changed and the image was just awful. Well, the old cliché goes that if you’re handed a lemon, make lemonade. So I did. Here’s the badly-exposed image turned into a high-key black-and-white. Now it’s deliberate, and I like it!

 

Yellow Lab

Yellow Lab

 

All in all, a good day and I expect I’ll have more adventures with the birders!

 

More to follow,

Bob

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Memorial Day 2

Here’s the post I intended to get scheduled for today. Things happened and I let it slip my mind. Sorry about that.

 

When I went to Baltimore last week, I had a free day and decided to go to the Wall and pay my respects. It was, after all, nearing Memorial Day and I wanted to be sure I made the trip.

It was a beautiful day in Washington, DC, and the crowds were manageable. I got to the Wall, found my friends and decided to make a wall of my own. It appears below.

Then I moved away from the wall and admired the statue of the three soldiers. They were in combat gear and all looking toward the Wall, looking at all their buddies who had given everything. It’s an amazing sculpture and the expressions on the soldiers’ faces shows tremendous emotion. All was fine.

I moved along to get some images of the Nurse statue. I watched as an old Veteran (you know, about my age) walked up the sidewalk with his walker and a couple bags. I wondered if he was homeless (all too common) or just traveling heavy. He stopped, set the brakes on his walker and sat down on the handy little seat it had. He reached into his luggage and pulled out a bugle. I didn’t want him to play Taps. I had held it together so far and didn’t need to start sobbing. But play Taps he did. I had to stop photographing because I couldn’t see through the tears. I’m getting misty as I type this, just remembering. Taps always makes me shed a tear, but here it had me blubbering like someone who had just lost friends and shipmates in battle. But then, I had, and I didn’t feel silly at all. As the last note echoed away, I felt cleansed. I felt good that I could visit my comrades-in-amrs and say hello. I felt a little like the soldiers in the statue, wondering where my friends have gone.

My personal Wall commemorates five individuals I knew who gave everything for the United States:

Corporal Irwin J. Harder, U. S. Army, Vietnam

Lt. Joseph G. Greenleaf, VF-114, Vietnam

Lt. Clemie McKinney, VF-114, Vietnam

LCDR. Orland J. Pender, Jr., VF-114, Vietnam

Capt. John R. Pitzen, VF-114, Vietnam

Irwin was a high school friend and football teammate. He was sent to Vietnam in February and died in April. Short tour of duty.

Mr. Greenleaf, Mr. McKinney and Mr. Pender were aircrew members in my squadron. Captain Pitzen was named as our squadron Skipper just as I was leaving to come home.

Mr. Greenleaf and Mr. McKinney were shot down over North Vietnam, and reports were that they weren’t able to escape the aircraft. Other reports, however, indicate that Mr. McKinney was held as a POW and died in captivity.

Captain Pitzen and Mr. Pender were reported missing in action because they never called out “Feet Wet,” that is, clear of North Vietnam and returning to the ship. They were presumed down, but listed as Missing in Action (MIA). Their remains were identified in the late 1990s. I wore an MIA bracelet to remind me of them for years.

 

Click on the images to see them full size and in proper color.

 

The Wall

The Wall

 

The Soldiers looking for them are below.

Three Soldiers at the Wall

Three Soldiers at the Wall

 

RIP, Gentlemen

 

 

More to follow.

Bob

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Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day again. I was in Baltimore last week and took a day to visit the Wall to say hello and thanks to old friends and shipmates. I took some photos, but managed not to schedule the post I had intended. Check later today to see the images and learn a little more about my visit. The text here is something I run every year to talk about the day and its significance and to remember my comrades-in-arms. I’ll do a little more tomorrow when I get back to my computer at home. Until then, I feel it is necessary to start the day with some thoughts.

Memorial Day was set aside to remember and honor those who gave everything in defense of this nation. And, I might add, to offer condolences to their families. Whether they were heroes in the midst of battle or victims of cowardly attack by terrorists, the men and women who took one step forward, raised their right hand, put on the uniform and then died while serving should have a day all their own. Whether it’s a case of national guilt at not serving, embarrassment at not knowing what to say to a wounded warrior or a chance for the media to sell more advertising, the focus of Memorial Day is shifting.

The spirit of Memorial Day should really happen every day that we wake up in a country that enjoys freedom, safety and security. But I know it’s inconvenient to offer thanks every day. I wouldn’t mind seeing the focus of the Day shift back to where it was. Honor the fallen every day, but especially on Memorial Day.

Perhaps my biggest fear is that awareness of those who died for this country will be shuffled aside in the quest for corporate profits. After all, it’s much easier to forget the sacrifices made by those who aren’t with us and go shopping.

OK, that’s my rant.

 

Here’s my usual Memorial Day post:

My understanding of what Memorial Day truly is for: remembering and thanking dear friends and shipmates.

Private Irwin J. Harder, U. S. Army, Vietnam

Lt. Joseph G. Greenleaf, VF-114, Vietnam

Lt. Clemie McKinney, VF-114, Vietnam

LCDR. Orland J. Pender, Jr., VF-114, Vietnam

Capt. John R. Pitzen, VF-114, Vietnam

Irwin was a high school friend and football teammate. He was sent to Vietnam in February and died in April. Short tour of duty.

Mr. Greenleaf, Mr. McKinney and Mr. Pender were aircrew members in my squadron. Captain Pitzen was named as our squadron Skipper just as I was leaving to come home.

Mr. Greenleaf and Mr. McKinney were shot down over North Vietnam, and reports were that they weren’t able to escape the aircraft. Other reports, however, indicate that Mr. McKinney was held as a POW and died in captivity.

Captain Pitzen and Mr. Pender were reported missing in action because they never called out “Feet Wet,” that is, clear of North Vietnam and returning to the ship. They were presumed down, but listed as Missing in Action (MIA). Their remains were identified in the late 1990s. I wore an MIA bracelet to remind me of them for years.

Thank you all for your sacrifice.

RIP