Sunday, April 29, 2012

Happy World Pinhole Photography Day!

In celebration of World Pinhole Photography Day, I present a couple of photos taken with my Canon Rebel T2i and a body cap that was converted to a pinhole "lens" (pictured here).

Friday, April 27, 2012

In Memoriam of the April 27 Tornadoes in Alabama

It's been a year since tornadoes tore across the state of Alabama in several waves of storms, on April 27, 2011, uprooting trees, homes, and lives. More than two hundred were killed, tens of thousands were left homeless, but none of us were unaffected. Memories of that day are no less vivid now than in the days immediately thereafter. 

I got a call from my tenants in Warrior around 8:30am that a tornado had ripped through that town, damaging my house, but leaving everyone healthy; almost every large tree on the block was downed leaving that landscape forever altered. That afternoon, I watched live footage of a large tornado as it tracked directly toward downtown Cullman, eventually ripping through that city and devastating it.

But those events were only precursors fore what was to come. A couple of hours later, multiple tornadoes touched down in western Alabama and began making their way east. One particular tornado stayed on the ground for more than 120 miles, at times more than a mile wide, and ravaging the likes of Tuscaloosa, Phil Campbell, Pleasant Grove, Pratt City, Fultondale, and on east to Anniston.

What left an equally strong impression as the storms themselves was the outpouring of love, compassion, giving, and humanity from neighbors and strangers across the street, state, and nation, that began in the moments immediately following the devastation and has continued to date. And while the landscape is still scarred, the long road to recovery is well under way.

Earlier posts regarding these tornadoes: Warrior and Fultondale, Fultondale, Tuscaloosa, Pratt City.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Celebrate Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day

Sunday, April 29, 2012, is cause for celebration, as it is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Pinhole photography can be either very simple or complicated. In its simplest form, it involves using a light-tight box (like an oatmeal container or coffee can, below), inserting either film or photographic paper, and exposing the film to light via a hole with a tiny aperture (ie: the size of the head a of straight pin) that you've made in your container. 

My two homemade pinhole cameras (above) are pretty simple, but some are really lovely and elaborate. I also fashioned a pinhole apparatus from the body cap for my Canon Rebel T2i, which I used to take the below photos. But I quickly discovered that pinhole photography behave differently on a digital sensor. Because of the small size of the sensor compared to a 5"x7" piece of photographic paper, diffraction is much more sever on the sensor, having a very negative effect on the sharpness of the photo.

On Sunday, I'll post some photos I made with my digital pinhole setup.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hosting a Family of Juncos in Alabama

For the last three years, a pair of juncos have built a nest atop the porch light in our back yard. Each year I have done whatever I can to deter them - knock down the nest in its early mud-and-stick stage; put a small, upturned hand-held rake on top of the light; leave the light on so it gets too warm - but to no avail. These juncos are determined that this is their nesting spot.

Waiting for the coast to clear for safe passage to the nest
 Juncos aren't particularly troublesome birds. Being in the sparrow family, they eat mostly seeds and small insects. My main concern has been getting my eyeballs pecked out by an overly protective momma bird; and this year, that concern extended to Darby's eyeballs, particularly since she likes to chase after the birds when they alight in the back yard. But the juncos don't seem to be bothered by any of us except when they forget we're in the back yard and land too close for comfort on the patio table, resulting in each of us being startled.

Lighting from the fence, bringing nourishment to those babies
In the last couple weeks, we started hearing chirping as momma nears the nest. And with each passing day, the little gray lumps of feather have kept getting bigger, until now when momma junco has to sleep on the edge of the nest and the junclets spend their days peeking over the sides, observing the goings on.

 In the not too distant future, silence will be emanating from that next. The babies will have learned to fly. And everyone will be off to northern destinations and cooler climates.

I count four heads, which is quite the nestful

Addendum: After I initially drafted this piece but before I was ready to post it, there was a significant change in the lives of these birds. I was sitting outside Saturday afternoon, drafting Sunday's post after running the Statue to Statue 15K, when I heard a flutter of wings. I immediately looked up to see one of the babies flying to the fence. It wasn't graceful, but he made it. Then he allowed me to approach for a close-up photo before fluttering off. He was much less shy than his mother.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Running the Statue to Statue 15K in Birmingham

Vulcan on Race Day
On Saturday, I ran the Birmingham Track Club's 22nd annual Statue to Statue 15K run, which proudly calls itself "The South's Toughest 15K." And while I can't attest to that, I can assure you that consensus has it as the most difficult race in Birmingham, Alabama. One particularly stretch is rather notorious and is the reason that some runners, when asked for advice about running this race, simply reply, "Don't." I don't know that this stretch has a monicker, but if not, I'd like to dub it "Hell's Half Mile."

 Saturday started out as a pretty dreary looking morning as the 500 or so congregated at the foot of Vulcan Park, but nothing dresses up a day like the attire donned by a couple hundred runners of every shape, size, color, and ilk.

Not far from the starting gate, everyone's still feeling spry and eager.
Our course carried us from the bottom of Vulcan Park east through Mountain Brook and eventually to Liberty Park, 9.39 miles later. But few are the flat patches between those two landmarks. We traversed some of Birmingham's nicer neighborhoods, and many residents spent a part of their mornings cheering us along our way. And while this raced lacked the hordes of fans that some of Birmingham's larger races draw, those who were present weren't lacking in spunk.

These ladies easily win the award for 'Most Encouraging Spectators'

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention and express gratitude to those most important components of any race, the volunteers at the aid and water stations, who both literally and figuratively are life savers. Unfortunately, I generally carry my Camelbak Lobo and bypass the water stations, since I'm apparently incapable of drinking from a cup while moving. But I sure do miss throwing my cup on the ground; it's awfully fun.

First water station, near mile 3
Near mile 7, these folks on the right were handing out sweets and beer to the bold or unwitting
Now for one more comment about Hell's Half Mile before the finish: I wasn't among the elite runners since I'm not gifted with great speed, so I was somewhere in the middle of the pack, but I didn't see one person run all the way up that hill. Prior to reaching it, I was determined, as a matter of pride, to keep my running form, but pride lost out after a couple hundred yards; I succumbed to it sooner than some, but later than most.

After that stretch is when it gets really interesting; from that point on, it's mostly downhill, which at first you really appreciate. But before long, going down is as grueling as was going up, as it just destroys what's left of your quads. So you do what I did - give in to gravity, let go of control, and hope for the best, remembering that if you do start to fall, tuck-and-roll is your best bet.

Beginning the long climb up Hell's Half Mile. It's worse than it looks from here.
For your perusing pleasure, here are other races I've run and written about: 2011 Mercedes Half Marathon, 2011 Huntsville Half Marathon, 2012 Russell Forest Run.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Story about Rainbow Falls on Signal Mountain, Tennessee

Sometime in 2002, I went on a solo hike on Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. I decided that since I was by myself, it would be best to keep everything pretty tame and not take any chances. I planned to stick to the trails and just have an enjoyable time. That was my plan.

Middle Creek above Rainbow Falls
Then I came to the part where you have to ditch the trail to go down to Rainbow Falls, which wasn't really a big deal as it's not a treacherous descent. And once I got to the pool at the bottom of the falls, from which the creek recommences its cascade down Signal Mountain and eventually into the Tennessee River, I took a few minutes to soak in the scene.

But it didn't take me long to be ready to move on again, which led me to a decision point. I could either head back to the trail the boring old way that I came down, thus keeping my pledge to myself to adhere to the whims of caution, or I could climb up the rock face just to the side of where the falls spills over the rocks. And you already know which way that decision went.

I began to ascend the stone wall to the right of the falls, and only once I'd gotten about one-third of the way up did I realize that this really wasn't a particularly good idea. The rock was wetter than I had anticipated, and I wasn't going to be able to go back down; I was committed. I kept going another ten feet or so and realized that there were an awful lot of bees buzzing about me. Now I'm not necessarily scared of bees, but I do have a healthy respect for them and normally allow them to carry on their business without disturbing them. They also cause me sometimes to break out into spastic movements. This would not be an opportune time to react or to be stung. My feet started shaking. And I started praying, like we so many of us do when we get in a pickle.

Middle Creek below Rainbow Lake on Signal Mountain
So I started taking deep breaths and settling myself down again. Shortly thereafter I was able to resume my climb, chastising myself for my stupidity. That seemingly close call did quell my taste for adventure for the rest of that day, resulting in the rest of the hike being pretty uneventful, just as I had originally intended.

As it turns out, I don't have a descent photo of Rainbow Falls, but if you do a Google image search, you can see any number of them. Hopefully, I'll get back one day to take a worthy photograph of it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Demonstration to Save Cooper Green Hospital

In downtown Birmingham, in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse, there is an on-again-off-again demonstrator, who sets up his numerous signs, his baby carriages full of baby dolls, dons his snazzy get-up, and sings for hours on end. And despite Birmingham's many social problems, he isn't protesting any of them. His song isn't a call to action for upheaval. His is an entreaty to God and the Jefferson County Commission to save Cooper Green Hospital. His song of choice, Give Me That Old Time Religion, which he was crooning at the time I arrived at the courthouse and was still going strong with it two hours later, when I left.

"Save Cooper Green Hospital"
I have wanted to take this fellows photo for some time now, but until Friday, either I didn't have a camera when I was at the courthouse, or he wasn't present when I was armed with one.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bromberg's 3rd Annual Diamond Dash in Birmingham

This weekend, I participated in Bromberg's Jewelers' 3rd Annual 'Diamond Dash' in Birmingham. Seemingly thousands of us converged on Railroad Park on Saturday afternoon to get our first clue and be off on our two-hour scavenger hunt; the prize, a $10,000.00 1.7kt diamond ring, designed by Ritani.

The gathering masses at Railroad Park in Birmingham, Alabama for Bromberg's Diamond Dash
While the majority of contestants were on bikes, Matt and I were disadvantaged to be on foot. But upon getting our first clue, we took off like everyone else, hoping for the best. Below is the footage from our efforts.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shady Grove on Newfound Creek in Gardendale

Shady Grove on Newfound Creek in Gardendale, Alabama, was a place that immediately struck me as a place that I liked, upon my first seeing it several years ago. It wasn't until two years ago that I first actually photographed it, and have since returned a couple of times. The problem with this little tract of rugged marshy beauty is that unless you have a kayak with you or are sporting waders and willing to brave what can only be snake-infested waters, you're pretty much relegated to the view offered by the road, which isn't all bad.

I hadn't thought about photographing Shady Grove on the occasion presented here; I was really only out for a bike ride (I have begun supplementing my running with biking, though as it turns out, the biking has supplanted the running a bit because I like it so well), when I road past the swamp, decorated as it was with tall grasses and yellow flowers. I was compelled to stop and photograph with the only camera I had on me at the time, my iPhone 4, which isn't all bad.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Rainbow, A Remembrance of Covenants Made

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9

iPhone 4 :: Fultondale, Alabama, after yesterday's late afternoon thunderstorms

What is it about this particular natural phenomenon that causes it to be so endeared by so many? Perhaps it's the scarcity and brevity with which it appears. Perhaps it's the symbolic affirmation that you've weathered another storm, and better things lie ahead. Perhaps it's the familiarity of the story of Noah and his family and the perpetual promise made to mankind. Or perhaps it's just because they're pretty.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Portrait of a Carolina Anole

Well, we've reached that time of year now where one can hardly walk outside without seeing one of these fellows sunbathing on the brick walls. So today I took the opportunity to photograph one of one. I found him quite photogenic, and he behaved very comfortably in front of the camera, though he did seem to keep one wary eye on the dog.

Several months ago, I photographed a young Carolina Anole who was molting and had climbed to the topmost leaves of one of my shrubs in the back yard.

Technorati Tags: alabama, fultondale, carolina anole, lizard.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Poignant Query by Satan, "Why Does God Love Me?"

An apt question considering their history, and not one I readily had an answer for. The more I pondered it and debated it, the more it seemed like I needed help answering the question. So I turned to my friends Mark and Stephan, students of theology; I asked them whether God does love Satan, and if so what does that love mean for us. Below are their responses:

'To delve into the depths of this question would take a more considerable amount of time than is allotted here, however, understanding some basic truth before application is necessary. It certainly is valid to wrestle with this idea. How could God love Satan? Satan was full of pride and wished to overthrow the throne (Isaiah 14:12-14). Satan had every intention to establish himself over the sovereign Jehovah God. Scripture chronicles for us the extreme attempts by Satan to deter the Messiah from ever coming to offer a permanent avenue for salvation. In the Old Testament there are numerous attempts to have Israel destroyed. On two separate occasions Israel (also Judah) was taken into captivity. Time after time, as kings took the throne for Israel, who “did that which was right in their own eyes,” or “did not follow in the paths of their father,” or a “generation grew up which knew not the Lord.” Satan was very crafty to deceive and manipulate, attempting to prevent Jesus from coming and fulfilling the prophecy in Genesis 3:15 in which God promises to “crush his head.” This was in reference to Jesus coming to die on the cross to offer eternal life to all mankind. In the New Testament, Herod ordered the slaying of all male babies from birth to two years. So, in light of the attempts of Satan, and the fact that he is the embodiment of evil and the enemy of God, how could God love him?
            'In order to understand the fact that God loves Satan, we need to get a closer look at who God is. In our mere mortal minds, we could easily conclude that God could never love His enemy. However, God is love (1 John 4:8). It’s not just that God can love, or is capable of loving. He IS love. Since He is love, all of His relations and interactions are driven out of love. What about the Justice of God? Since God is a just God, He has to deliver the punishment to Satan (Revelation 20). It would be easy to argue that God acts out of His justice in spite of His love; however, the two are married and not separate. I have three daughters, and when I discipline them, I am doing so because out of love. I want to protect them and instruct them. God’s love is not dependant on any merit. Neither we nor Satan, for that matter, could ever do enough to earn God’s love. God is love and He does love us. We also need to understand that God is under no obligation to explain anything to us. So while we may wrestle with the fact that God loves His enemy, we need to accept that and move on. God is all-powerful and capable of anything. See Psalm 115:3 and Daniel 4:35

         'What about us? We would conclude that God is love and loves us. Do we live in that love? What does the love of God say and/or do for me? Here are a few truths to embrace and live in.
  • God loves us (the world) enough to offer us life. Ephesians 2:1-10 describes us as dead but made alive through the rich mercy of God to send Christ to die for us. John 3:16 also describes this. 
  • Even knowing that we would be the natural enemy of God (born into sin- Psalm 51:7) Romans 5:8 describes that He loved us despite our sin and came to die for us. 
  • The Apostle Paul, in describing our call to be Christ’s ambassadors on this earth, said in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that we are controlled by the love of God.
'Another passage that can bring great comfort to the Christian is Romans 8:37-39. It states, “ No, in all these things were are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Often in life we fall to the lie that we aren’t loved. Maybe we made a mess of things- our finances, our marriage, our friendships, or we’ve driven our kids away. Still, God loves us. He knew ahead of time that we were sinners and yet he died for us. If we fail, God is not taken by surprise and loves us because He is love.
'We all desire and want acceptance and intimacy. We will search until we find it, regardless of the venue. We all want to be loved. God waits with opens arms to offer us that love. He does not love us because we are loveable; in fact we are quite the opposite. Don’t we often hurt the ones we love the most? Don’t we as followers of Christ stray from God? Romans 3:11-12 explains that we turn to our own way rather than God’s.
'Jesus told the story in the Gospel of Luke of the prodigal son. The son wanted his inheritance and the Father gave it to him before the appointed time. The son left and lived a hellish lifestyle and sped through the treasure. The Bible says he came to himself in the pig slop. (Interesting, sometimes we have to get down in the filth to realize it doesn’t have to be this way.) The son remembered how good he had it at the Father’s house. So he ran home. The father ran to him, kissed him, and placed on him the love and the honor that he chose to. We have a loving heavenly Father that will run to us as we run to Him, and embrace us and give us all the riches of heaven, namely love. The apostle Paul said it this way in I Corinthians 13:1-3, 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
          'God is Love, and He loves you.'

        'First the specifics.  Satan was an angel, and not just any angel, he is an Archangel.  He was cast out of heaven along with the other angels he convinced of his dream.  His offense, to be like the most High as Isaiah states; simply put, he wanted to be God, he desired the position and respect God commanded.  His rebellion failed.  So what became of him? He became the Archenemy of God, referred to as the murderer and numerous other such titles in Scripture.  He is not the opposite of God, he is simply opposed to Him, in every way.  He walks about seeking whom he may devour, while God is good, but not safe as C.S Lewis put it in describing Aslan.  God wills that all people come to know His love, while Satan is the keeper and leader of eternal torment.

         God in His infinite wisdom, justice, holiness and righteousness could never allow a blasphemer like Satan to occupy the heavens and the earth forever. Satan’s crime was infinite and so much his punishment be.  One might ask, so why not simply destroy him immediately? I don’t know.  I conjecture that Yahweh in His infinite grace allows Satan to exist for some reason that my finite mind cannot conceive.  God allows Satan to exist because He has a plan to seek and to save the lost, and Satan has a role.

        I’ve read both sides of arguments for and against God’s love for Satan, I do not believe an honest theologian can give a definitive answer.  I admit that for myself, the whole Satan issue is somewhat problematic for me, in that if I were God, I might simply rid us all of his devastating presence; alas, I am not God, and am confident that we are all better for it.

        The Angels inhabit a different reality than humans; while both being formed in the image of God, one being created to serve God, the other (us) being created to bring about His glory forever.  The scriptures even mention that the angels wonder about the workings of our salvation (1 Peter 1:12).  So I cannot definitively say about Angels what I can say about us, which is that He loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to die for us so that we might be in a right relationship with Him, so that we can boldly enter the throne of grace, so that we who know Christ know the Father.  I can also definitively say that when a bell rings an angel gets his wings….

         The important thing is this, God loves us and he gave us 66 books to tell us this story.'

So if you want to try to take those incredible answers and consolidate them into one brief thought, I think it has to be this: God is such a superabundance of love that His love for us cannot be doubted and cannot be otherwise; everything else is secondary in importance.

Please, feel free to share you own thoughts on the matter.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Preserve at Moss Rock, Photos of Us

With this being Anna's first hiking trip with us, there were a few things she had to come to terms early on in the venture: 1) Marked trails are merely suggestions about where to go rather than hard-and-fast requirements to be followed.

Cascading falls of a tributary to Hurricane Creek
2) Blake has a bit of a climbing bug, and wherever there is a vertical surface that isn't too sheer or inverted, it must be scaled. Of course in the photo on the left, he had the misfortune (after getting to the top) of discovering that the way he'd gone up was also the only way done; it seemed precarious.

3) Whatever you're doing of have done, once the camera's on you, you have to make it look like a huge accomplishment. Anna adapted to this idea more rapidly and enthusiastically than the previous one.

4) Everyone has to participate. Anna's debilitating fear of heights made it a little challenging for her to come out to the middle of this pipeline for a picture, but she eventually managed to bear-hug/inch-worm her way out there.

5) Just because you don't exactly know where you are according to the trail map, doesn't mean you're "lost." Here we are back on the White Trail (I really was sure at this point, despite some earlier false proclamations of certainty), headed home to watch the Final Four.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Followup to the Knockout Rose

Offered here are two additional photographs taken of the knockout rose that Anna transplanted to a pot for some front yard decor. In case you missed the previous post featuring this rose, it can be found here.

Technorati Tags: alabama, fultondale, rose, knockout rose.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Moss Rock Preserve, the Western Half

I went hiking at Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover, Alabama, with Anna, Blake, and Darby. Blake and I had been with another friend. Tyler, at the end of February (here) exploring the eastern portion of the preserve. On this day, we were setting out to see the western half, including Boulder Field, the Great Wall, Tunnel Falls, and whatever else happened across our path.

Panorama of Boulder Field at Moss Rock Preserve
Boulder Field lies about a tenth of a mile in from where we parked and is an aptly named landmark. It is one of the primary areas of the preserve that plays host to countless rock climbers and boulderers. As we continued along the trail, we came to Hurricane Creek, which runs the length of the preserve and is supported by dozens of tributaries. So it didn't take us long to abandon the trail and follow one of the creek beds up the mountain, slipping and sliding along mossy rock as we went.

And while there weren't countless flowers and berries blooming along the trails, I thought the loveliest such scene was not a wildflower at all, but fungus.

Orange Bracket Fungus at Moss Rock Preserve
After following the tributary for a while, we eventually ran into Powerline Trail, which then hooked up with the Blue Trail, which led us to the Great Wall. In an effort not to spoil it for you, I will only provide an abstract of that extraordinarily large boulder.

The Blue Trail led us to a connector trail, which hooked us up with the White Trail, which meandered its way back toward the car, but not before we had to stop for one more panoramic shot.

Blake and Darby taking one last look at Hurricane Creek

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Feature in "The Cumberland Lawyer"

This Spring, Cumberland School of Law is celebrating fifty years at Samford University in Homewood, Alabama. In Cumberland's alumni magazine, "The Cumberland Lawyer," they selected a student, an alumna, and a professor to depict their respective Cumberland experiences through photographs; I am the student. Below are the photographs I submitted.

The Break Room
A scene that's become all too familiar over the last three years
Lucille Beeson Law Library, affectionately known as "Lucille" by her faithful patrons
Offices of the "Journal of Trial Advocacy"
Stained Glass at Reid Chapel, from which much prayer and supplication is heard.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Black Warrior Riverkeeper PROJECT

Over the course of the past several years, in my ventures as a hiker and paddler, I have been able to enjoy much of the beauty that Alabama has to offer, particularly as it relates to the rivers and creeks throughout much of central and northern Alabama. And the more I see, the more it becomes increasingly important to me that these treasures are maintained and preserved for future generations, that we are good stewards of the Creation that was put into our care.

Pump House at Village Creek in Roebuck, Alabama
That desire has evolved into what I am dubbing the "Black Warrior Riverkeeper PROJECT." The Black Warrior Riverkeeper is one of the premier watchdog groups in Alabama, protecting our waterways, specifically those falling within the Black Warrior River watershed. As it pertains to central and northern Alabama, that watershed includes the following significant creeks and rivers: Sipsey Fork of the Warrior River, Locust Fork of the Warrior River, Mulberry Fork of the Warrior River, Black Warrior River, Hurricane Creek, Turkey Creek, Gurley Creek, Five Mile Creek, Village Creek, and others.

The Black Warrior Riverkeeper PROJECT is my effort to help raise money in support of this organization. Over the last two years, I have gotten to know several of the wonderful people that make up the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, and there could not be a better group of people looking out for our interests. As such, the proceeds from any prints sold from my Black Warrior Riverkeeper PROJECT gallery will be donated to the Black Warrior Riverkeeper in support of their steadfast and enduring efforts.

Find the Black Warrior Riverkeeper on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.