Posts Tagged ‘Santa Fe’

Ardis Hyde’s Garden 2: Pecos Paradise

March 9th, 2021

Ardis Hyde’s Garden Two

Feature Blog Post

My Garden Paradise in Pecos, New Mexico

The End of My World and a New Home North of Santa Fe

(See also, “Ardis Hyde’s Garden 1: Digging Stumps, Beginner’s Luck and Mom’s Green Thumb.”)

Wheelbarrow, Adobe Wall, Fall, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2009 by David Leland Hyde. (Click to see large.)

In 1992, I left Los Angeles in the midst of the Rodney King Riots. Fires and looting had surrounded my home, devastated my neighborhood in West L.A. and left me thinking it was the end of civilization, as we knew it. Perhaps it was the beginning of the end. Time will tell.

It was certainly the end of my world. My business was falling apart because I was spending more time meditating in the lush gardens outside my apartment in the backyard of an old Crescent Heights mansion. That garden, besides its beauty, was quiet and a peaceful sanctuary away from the gritty, gray and violent city weighing on my psyche every day.

I moved to the desert in Cuyamungue north of Santa Fe between the Pojoaque and Tesuque Indian Reservations. My home was a basement apartment below the house of the Martinez family. The family had lived on that land for over 400 years, like many of the direct descendants from the Spaniards who had originally settled Northern New Mexico. I could walk out my own entrance and look up at the giant old cottonwoods along the arroyo that had stood there for centuries just like the family. In back of the house, relatives of my landlord had cornfields, squash and Chile, the staples of their culture, partly adopted from the Native Americans.

I took long walks in the desert, wrote a lot in my journal and drove back and forth to work. Living in the country again was like coming home for me. I talked to my parents a lot on the phone and they were very happy I had gotten out of L.A., the rat race and the money oriented life I had been living. I lived in Cuyamungue for over a year, but decided I needed to move into town to be closer to the two waiter jobs I had taken to try to pay off some of my debt and stay afloat after my California business collapsed. Living in town was a great time socially, but I longed for another place in the country with solitude, the night stars overhead and perhaps even with a place I could grow a garden.

A Bottomland Paradise Between Glorieta and Pecos Near the Anasazi

Eventually, by late 1994, I found the ideal place. It was a single wide 1953 mobile home out of town to the east between the small villages of Glorieta and Pecos. It had a large yard and a shop added on in the back. There were a number of friendly neighbors who lived in much newer mobile homes and stick houses nearby. This spot was also right next to wild lands and as I found out later, less than a mile from an ancient Native American burial ground that the locals said was from the days of the Ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi. This was certainly not far-fetched because there were other well-known Anasazi sites in the area.

Less than 10 miles away, the largest documented sites lie within the Pecos National Historic Park. The park, located between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Glorieta Mesa, not far from Glorieta Pass, contains the remains of ancient pithouses dating to 800 A.D., a large Ancestral Puebloan ruin circa 1300 A.D., and remnants of a Spanish Franciscan mission church from 1600 A.D. The rich culture of Pecos National Historic Park started with Pre-Anasazi nomad hunter-gatherers and Paleoindians who roamed the Pecos Valley and traded with the Plains Indians going back as far as 11,500 B.C. The first settlements and planting of corn, beans and squash began in 3500 B.C. After the Spanish conquered the pueblos in the 1600s, lost control of the region in the first American Revolution called the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, they forcefully retook the pueblos and increased in power as the pueblos declined throughout the 1700s. The region became part of Mexico in 1821 when the Mexicans won independence from Spain. The legendary Santa Fe Trail opened that same year, passing right through what is today the Pecos National Historic Park. The Santa Fe Trail brought an influx of settlers and eventually led to New Mexico being established as a US Territory during the Mexican-American War in 1846.

Surrounded by Ancient Farmland and Depictions of Kokopelli

Just three miles to the other side of my new place toward Santa Fe, in 1862, the Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass, also called the “Gettysburg of the West,” left thousands of bodies and artifacts buried as well. The many historical conflicts made for a colorful backdrop and counterpoint to the agrarian legacy of the place. By the time I arrived on the scene, a peaceful, quiet way of life had won out, but the woods and meadows were full of hidden secrets and spiritual disturbances. From the first night I slept in my new home, I had wild, vivid dreams of people and events completely foreign to my own life. Nonetheless, I always slept very soundly and always felt safe and very happy in my tiny paradise next to Glorieta Creek.

The original builder of the shop in the back had been a metal worker. He left me a number of welded metal surprises hidden either in the grass, behind other junk or under the mobile home floor, which I discovered over time around the place. He had apparently been into Kokopelli, as the owners after him who at first rented and then sold me the place, told me that the various representations of the magic flute player I found had been there when they arrived.

Back when the farming Ancient Puebloan natives began to build structures above ground, about 1,000 years ago, they also developed a layered system of deities that helped protect them and ensure prosperous harvests. The living descendents of the Anasazi, who live along the Rio Grande River between Albuquerque and Taos and in the Hopi Villages in Arizona, to this day make offerings and pay homage to various Kachina spirits. Kokopelli, known as the hunchback flute player, is the most well-known Kachina. Kokopelli is a fertility god, who plays his flute to bring rain, fertilize crops and make sure the women of the tribe bear new babies. Kokopelli is ubiquitous on the contemporary Southwest tourist scene in fine art, kitsch art and in trinkets and souvenirs.

I often listened to Native American flute music. I noticed Kokopelli showed up often in my life, ever since I had moved to New Mexico. My new landlords, if my memory is correct, said the hunchbacked deity influenced them. They conceived three children while living in the mobile home.

Rent-to-Own Paradise, a Visit From the Rain Gods and Soulmate Dreams

They offered me the old mobile home rent-to-own. I started out making payments, but eventually bought it outright. Having a shop again, like my home here in California where I grew up, made me very happy. Some of the best days of my life I spent there in Pecos.

One time when my favorite uncle, Nick King, came to visit, we explored the Anasazi burial ground for the first time. For more about my uncle go to, “Actor, Photographer, Apple Farmer and 1960’s Activist Nicholas King.” We could see where the graves were, but not long after we arrived on the burial site, what little blue sky we could see turned to clouds and got darker. Within 15 minutes of arriving where we could see the graves, the clouds opened up and deluged us with rain. Soaking wet, but laughing and running back through the woods, we retreated into my kitchen to dry off and sip hot chocolate. Right after we got home, the sun came back out and the air was warm and fresh in my garden.

My girlfriend and I used to stay toasty warm at night in the back bedroom with many blankets and the upright propane heater. However, despite the cozy visits from her, she and I were on the way out when I moved out there. As soon as we broke up, another beautiful lady came into my life. We were having a blast and it was going really well when one of my best platonic friends called me and said she had a dream about us being together. She had awakened feeling she needed to call me and suggest we try romance. I explained that I was dating someone else, but that we could get together and talk. We had both been in love with each other since we met, but had never gotten together because the whole time we had known each other, one or the other of us had been in a relationship with someone else. We used to go out to eat at our mutually favorite Italian Restaurant in Santa Fe and talk for hours. When we got together to discuss it, I was done for. I agreed to get out of the other situation to give love a shot with her. I told her I already loved her. She said, “Ditto,” referring to the film Ghost. We soon after got engaged and came very close to marrying. However, the positive vibe went out of the love affair as soon as I moved away from Pecos. The relationship disintegrated shortly after I sold the place in 1996. I have never married. That was the one time I was engaged.

A Painter of Kivas Who Grew Giant Sunflowers and Fed a Community

Michael Kaczor, my neighbor a few miles to the east, closer to the town center of Pecos, had a gigantic garden. He was a painter. He sketched and painted the pueblos, particularly their meeting houses, kivas, pots and Kokopelli. His extra-large yard full of plants of all kinds, edible and ornamental, generated more garden produce than I had ever seen. Sunflowers 15 feet tall surrounded his yard. He had tons of zucchini, many of them oversize and a few up to two feet long. His strawberry plants bore berries as big as nectarines.

Kaczor himself said that he fed a lot of people out of that garden. He gave food to neighbors, relatives and friends in Pecos and Glorieta, not to mention areas closer to Santa Fe and beyond. He gave away hundreds of pounds of vegetables like peas, corn, lettuce, turnips, yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, potatoes onions and lots of spices like Cilantro, oregano, mint, sage, rosemary and dill. Just the community building value alone made me want to plant my own plot, but more than anything, I am drawn to gardening naturally. I feel like all is right in the world when I am doing it.

Besides a natural attraction, I like gardening because I get more exercise cultivating soil, building compost, planting, watering, weeding and scavenging and buying plants, pots and other supplies. When I have a garden my digestion is better and my energy levels are higher due to eating more vegetables. With produce getting ripe regularly, I get more creative in planning healthy meals. Just being in the garden, whether working or just sitting, I feel at peace. Needless to say, it was easy for Kaczor to talk me into planting my own plot, even though most of this paragraph describes values I discovered after doing it more as an adult, I did remember a lot of it from childhood too. The main difference now was that there were no trees or stumps to remove and the soil needed no manure or any other supplement. My bottomland soil was as fertile as any possible and at least six feet deep, judging by one section of the bank along the creek.

Sunshine, Good Advice, Rich Soil and a Charmed Beginning

Other major factors improved the odds for success as well. We had an abundance of sunshine at that latitude in “The Land of Enchantment,” New Mexico’s official nickname. The Southwest sun provided a long growing season without too much summer heat due to the 6,500’ elevation.

Kaczor taught me a number of other key gardening secrets and tricks that I will go into in posts to come in this series. One major secret that may seem minor at first, Michael gave me when I asked if he knew anyone that had a Rototiller. He said he did not use a Rototiller. He suggested I do like him and in the fall collect a lot of plain brown corrugated cardboard with no lettering or other ink on it. In the winter you then put this cardboard down on the ground, smoothing it out all across the leveled rows in the whole area you plan to plant the following spring. If you want, you can even leave carrots, onions and other root crops under the cardboard. They will keep growing and stay fresh and ready to eat all winter. In the spring you can pull back the cardboard and you will not need to add as many beneficial bugs either. You will have earthworms and organic activity under the cardboard. You may get a few earwigs, sow bugs or potato bugs that you can easily squish or deport, but there will also be lots of earthworms and other beneficial insects.

Speaking of insects, Kaczor also showed me the best natural organic pest control for any garden: just plant Marigolds around the whole circumference of your plot. This will keep most destructive garden pests out most of the time. There are exceptions I learned later and will share in future posts. Meanwhile, when I pulled back the cardboard, sure enough. The ground was soft and fertile. I planted carrots, onions, garlic and radishes in mid April. During the last week of April, I planted broccoli and spinach. The first week of May I put in beans, summer squash, zucchini, corn, pumpkins, spinach, cucumbers and a few other items I don’t remember. Everything took off fast and dank. The sunflowers I planted in a long row all along my mobile home grew like mad and soon were taller than the roof. It was an epic summer on so many levels. The mountains and deserts called to be hiked and written about, while the garden always grounded my adventures. The greenery and abundance pulled people in to sit and enjoy my little piece of paradise. I was truly blessed.

What I learned that summer about that garden in that centuries old farming place and about gardening in general, due to beginner’s luck, circumstances, location, hard work, good advice, and a little good medicine, has put me in good stead, good homestead that is, for the rest of my life. I planted where the natives had planted, lived where they lived, thrived where they thrived and even I felt at times lightly communicated in my mind with their dead and worshipped their gods. I like to think Kokopelli had an eye on my garden. I certainly had an eye out to learn about him and other such gods of the Southwest who had a tendency to appear and disappear easily and fly like most of the Kachinas.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21st, 2012

Happy Holidays 2012…

Dried Native Corn Bundle, Adobe Wall, Santa Fe, New Mexico, copyright 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

Outside the wind roars and the rain drums on the roof and the decks. Inside I sit in the warmth of the stove, cozy, listening to the fire hum with the wind outside and watching the flames dance through the glazed stove door casting a faint glow that flickers around the room.

Today it was dark and gloomy, lonely and a bit sad here. The seasons march on into the night, into winter and into the past. The past that hovers just beneath the surface, that still holds a candle for the future. A past enriched by love and laughter. We were wandering in the wilderness with open hearts. The people we were, are only here in memory now. Yet perhaps they are still here in some other form, they must be. They feel very close, yet very far away.

Tomorrow, the rain will stop, the weather report promised. The sun will come out. Everything will glisten wet, fresh and clean, washed by time and the weather. I do not have to become addicted to technology to believe in the future. The future will be here, whether I believe in it or not. Will I be here? If I am here, in what form will I appear? Will I be like the rain? Will I change into the wind and roar over the mountains and down the canyons? Will I sweep out to sea and not come back until I blow out the lights in New York City? Perhaps.

Perhaps I will be changed by the sun. I will grow soft and kiss a new baby’s cheek. I will sit by the stove in the firelight and play the guitar with my friends. I will bring a salad and an offering to the Thanksgiving feast. I will give thanks for the many blessings I have. I will think about the Pilgrims and what they went through to find their rock. I will share with the native people and not take advantage of their generosity this time. I will celebrate my culture and many other cultures without bending them to a colorless mix of media, advertising and globalization. I will stay small and happy by the fire, happy in my local ways, eating well, close to the land, warm while I know I am ready for the storm. I don’t fear the rain or the water because I am their brother. I am the wind. I am Giving Thanks.

New David Leland Hyde Portfolio Prints

February 2nd, 2012

Unveiling 24 New Archival Digital Prints Added To The David Leland Hyde Portfolio At Philiphyde.com

To begin this exciting announcement, from the blog post, “Best Photos Of 2011,” four new Lightjet archival fine art digital prints are now part of the David Leland Hyde Portfolio:

Fountain, Main Courtyard, Sauk Institute, La Jolla Shores, San Diego, California, copyright 2009 by David Leland Hyde. Nikon D90.

– “Curved Shadow On Cliffs, Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore”

– “Thistle Heads And Pines, Northern Sierra Nevada,”

– “Tents, Dutton Hall Financial Aid, Fountain, Occupy UC Davis, Davis, California”

– “Grain Processing Plant At Night, Great Central Valley”

Additional NEW IMAGES added to the David Leland Hyde Portfolio at Philiphyde.com are:

– “Juniper Tree Skeleton Near Eureka, Nevada”

– “Panamint Mountains Near Panamint Springs, Approach To Death Valley National Park”

– “Granite, Pool And Maple Leaves At Indian Falls, Northern Sierra Nevada”

– “Daisies, Cracking Adobe Wall, Carmel Mission, Carmel”

– “Bicycle Church, Barrio Anita, Tucson, Arizona”

– “Historical Mansion, Downtown Santa Cruz, California”

– “Graffiti And Wall Art, San Francisco, California”

– “Self Realization Fellowship, Pacific Palisades, California”

– “Fountain, Main Courtyard, Sauk Institute, La Jolla Shores”

– “Wheelbarrow, Adobe Wall, Fall Leaves, Santa Fe, New Mexico”

– “Bell Tower, San Juan Bautista Mission”

– “Tokopa Falls, Kaweah River, Sequoia National Park”

– “Summit Sunset, Loveland Pass, Rocky Mountains, Colorado”

– “Sunrise And Volcano Along US Highway 6, Nevada”

– “Reflections Detail, Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park”

– “Hay Bales, Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz County North Coast”

– “Foothills Of The Rocky Mountains Front Range Near Eldorado Canyon State Park, Boulder County, Colorado”

– “Ghost Ranch In Snake Valley, Snake Range, Near Milford, Utah”

– “Sierra Wave Cloud Over Bodie, Eastern Side Sierra Nevada, California”

– “Tufa, Mono Lake, East Side Sierra Nevada Near Lee Vining, California”

– “Tide Pool Rocks, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, California”

– “Tokopah Falls, Sequoia National Park, Southern Sierra Nevada, California”

– “Bell Tower, San Juan Bautista Mission, California”

– “Foothills Of The Rocky Mountain Front Range Near Eldorado Canyon State Park, Boulder County, Colorado”

– “Snow And Grass Detail Near Angel Fire, Sangre De Christo Mountains, New Mexico”

View the photographs: “David Leland Hyde Portfolio.”

Please share which new photograph(s) you like best of the group and which you like least…?

Living The Good Life 1: The Book and Background

October 11th, 2011

Living The Good Life, Part One

Reflections on the book that launched the 1950s Back to the Land movement, Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing, and how Ardis and Philip Hyde implemented the book’s philosophy…

Lower Lawn, Japanese Maples, Aspens, Raised Beds, Apple Orchard, Part of Gardens At Rough Rock, Spring, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2009 by David Leland Hyde.

Living The Good Life With Ardis And Philip Hyde, Part One

By Nancy Presser and David Leland Hyde

The first day I met David Leland Hyde, he introduced me to the life and work of his late mother and father, Ardis and Philip Hyde. David explained his father’s life long dedication to wilderness conservation through landscape photography of the American West. David also shared how his father designed, drew the plans and built the family home.

Even though David was fighting off a mid-winter flu, he still took the time to lead me through the Hyde house and Philip Hyde’s photography studio. David said that his father built the place himself over two years beginning in 1957. Ardis Hyde helped in the evenings and taught kindergarten during the day. They acquired 18 acres and built what was originally a 1200 square foot home plus garage and studio, all on Ardis’ school teaching salary. Quite a feat I think even in the 1950s.

After I knew David better he shared with me that everything around us in the home, the flat roof, the solar hot water panels, the clerestory windows, the raised bed vegetable garden, the fruit trees and the whimsical stone lined pond and flower garden were all ideals of self reliance and low impact living that his parent’s adopted back in the 1950s. The foundation of the Hyde’s living philosophy came from the book Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing. This Amazon link goes to the original version which is now out of print and only available used. The new version, The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living, contains the Nearing’s first book Living The Good Life and their second book Continuing The Good Life all in one volume for one low price. Recently, David happened to have his mom’s personal copy of Living The Good Life around and loaned it to me to read.

David is a voracious reader and has loaned or recommended many books to me to read in the time I have known him. However, intuition told me that reading this book was a priority. He first presented Living the Good Life to me in a way that made a lasting impression. He said:

In the 1990s I planted a garden at my place in Pecos, New Mexico. My mother gave me advice regularly and a local green thumb friend also taught me quite a few tricks to gardening in that area. For example, if you plant Marigolds around the perimeter of your vegetable garden it greatly decreases pesky bugs and slugs. As I delved back into gardening, I thought back on the vegetable gardens I had planted with my mother and on the gigantic 40X60 foot plantation that she tended in various years. I also realized that she was probably one of the foremost experts on gardening for butterflies in the Northern Sierra Nevada of California. At the same time some friends of mine had bought land outside Santa Fe, New Mexico and were building and farming. One day while visiting my parents in California, I interviewed my mother about vegetable gardening and gardening for butterflies. I recorded the interview, which turned out to be a delightful discourse between us and illustrated very well my mother’s deep knowledge and love of plants, insects and other aspects of pesticide-free gardening. I wish now that I had made dozens of tapes of her because she was an expert in canning, freezing, preserving, making her own soap, bread, cheese, butter, tofu and many other household items and foods. At the end of our session, she pulled me close and said very seriously, “David, here’s the basis of your mother and father’s philosophy and what we based our home lifestyle upon,” as she handed me her copy of Living The Good Life. She passed on not long afterwards. Ironically, I have only read the first few chapters. Living The Good Life has been on my list for a long time, ever since her passing in 2002. I regret that I did not get a chance to read it and discuss it while she was alive.

Because I now had a key into the insight of Ardis and Philip Hyde, I opened this crucial book to see how I could get to know the Hyde’s better and to learn more about growing a life close to the land. Being a city girl from Long Beach I never lived on the land and I wanted to learn how people did it. The closest I’ve ever come was when I helped create a cooperative organic garden outside San Diego, which we called the Edible Village. We cultivated structures out of plants. We made a dome from collected branches that became a bean and herb garden. We also built a corn maze for the kids and a labyrinth out of plants and rocks. Each participant picked out his or her own stone along the perimeter. We also had chickens and practiced biodynamic composting. I will share more about all of this in blog posts to come in this series. The introduction to Living The Good Life, written in the 1930s, and preface, written in the 1970s, are all about how crazy and chaotic the world was then. What struck me was that nothing has changed. Meanwhile, I have been working to simplify my own life over the last 10 years.

David noticed that I continued reading Living The Good Life more than most of the other books he had shown me. He asked me if I would like to write about my reflections as I read the book and how it relates to what I am discovering about the lifestyle of the Hydes. Helen and Scott Nearing, as well as Ardis and Philip Hyde in kind, had approaches to life that serve as examples that can guide us today toward living more happily and sustainably. What I find most fascinating about reading The Good Life now is that although the first publication of the book was in 1954 and the sixth printing was in 1971, we still have the same, if not worse, chaotic, degenerating society.

Helen and Scott Nearing wrote Living The Good Life after coming out of the Depression of the 1930s:

We had tried living in several cities, at home and abroad. In varying degrees we met the same obstacles to a simple, quiet life—complexity, tension, strain, artificiality, and heavy overhead costs. These costs were payable only in cash, which had to be earned under conditions imposed upon one by the city—for its benefit and advantage. Even if cash income had been of no concern to us, we were convinced that it was virtually impossible to counter city pressures and preserve physical health, mental balance and social sanity through long periods of city dwelling. After careful consideration we decided that we could live a saner, quieter, more worthwhile life in the country than in any urban or suburban center.

For further reading see also Helen Nearing’s latest book, Loving and Leaving the Good Life, written after Scott Nearing passed on at age 100. Here’s Wilda Williams’ Library Journal description:

This quiet and reserved memoir is a tribute to the “good life” and the ideals of self-sufficiency, simplicity, socialism, and pacifism that Helen and Scott Nearing shared for 53 years. Helen was 24 years old in 1928 when she met Scott, a married 45-year-old economics professor who had been blacklisted by universities and publishers for his radical views. In 1932, the Nearings left New York City for a Vermont farm, beginning the homesteading life described in their Living the Good Life (1954), the bible of the back-to-the-land movement. Later, they moved to Maine where, during the 1960s and 1970s, they played host to 2000 visitors a year. For Scott and Helen, old age was a “time of fulfillment. Scott kept his strength and bearing all through his last decades.” But as he neared his 100th birthday in 1983, he chose to leave the good life peacefully by fasting. Helen is a modest narrator, at times so self-effacing that she switches into third person as when she discusses her relationship with the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Still, her eloquent chapter on death and old age and her loving portrait of a remarkable man makes this a recommended purchase…

Both the Nearings and the Hydes managed to find and implement the Good Life. For a lively discussion on creating the Good Life on a larger scale through building a sustainable world and the issues related to it see the blog post, “Art, Earth And Ethics 1.”

How would you define The Good Life?

(Continued in the next blog post, “Living The Good Life 2.”)

Monday Blog Blog: Derrick Birdsall

September 26th, 2011

Monday Blog Blog: Derrick Birdsall of My Sight Picture Lands A Book Deal To Photograph North Texas Frontier Forts And Lives For A Week In A Historical Log Cabin

Sunset, Log Cabin, Farmer's Branch Historical Park, Farmer's Branch, Texas, copyright 2009 Derrick Birdsall.

(See the photograph large here.)

What in the world is Monday Blog Blog? See the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog Celebration.”

Some photographers have no problem with singing their own praises or even over-blowing the merit of their own work. In contrast, many photographers and other creative people hesitate to promote themselves because either they doubt their own work, feel self-aggrandizement is tacky or any number of other reasons. My father, pioneer landscape photographer Philip Hyde, fit into the second category and architectural, historical, street and landscape photographer Derrick Birdsall does as well.

When I proposed doing a Monday Blog Blog on Derrick Birdsall and his popular blog My Sight Picture, he said something about the caliber of photographers I feature, how short a time he had been “serious” about photography and that he felt highly honored to be the subject of such a blog post. My reply was that my father liked to support and encourage those who were the most dedicated to the craft and the most accelerated in their development. Besides, Dad was always egalitarian in his association with all levels of photographers. I added that even though Landscape Photography Blogger exists to honor my father, it is my blog, doggon it, and I will feature who I want, which essentially in time will be a wide variety of landscape photographers from all over the world that I haven’t even met yet, but to start with I will feature those who I like and who support this blog the most.

Derrick Birdsall began his participation on this blog by asking in a comment if I thought that the current period was another Golden Era for photography. See comments on the blog post, “Photography’s Golden Era 2.” Ever since, he has shown a knack for asking pithy, discussion sparking and often difficult questions. I have always been amazed at his prolific volume of photography. This month, for example, he made over 20,000 exposures. Also, he puts up blog posts more frequently than any other blog I follow.

Just five years ago, Derrick Birdsall began photographing with a small Hewlett Packard “point-and-shoot” that came with a printer he bought. Because it was convenient to keep in his pocket, he took it everywhere he went. At first he had mainly an “I was here” style, but once he was out exploring around the Gila River in New Mexico and a storm blew across the canyon. Derrick “snapped” a few pictures and found that one of them had an “Ansel Adams style to it and something just clicked in my head, that I could do this.” He now photographs mainly with his Canon 7D, with his earlier Canon 50D as a backup. For post processing, he uses only Adobe Lightroom and Idealab/Google Picasa, no Photoshop.

Right away Derrick made an impression on me with his polite, Southern manner sprinkled with “please” and “thank you, Sir.” He was born in Virginia and has lived in Texas since the 4th Grade. His distinct photography in some ways is best exemplified by his photographs from his visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Rather than going for the landmarks: the adobe, Native Americans on the Plaza, or other typical Santa Fe clichés, his images on Smug Mug are of the land and not even of the most prominent features. He explained that this was partially circumstantial as he had attended a museum conference, took a walk and photographed what looked good to him. “A lot of times we miss something right under our noses because we’re too busy trying to put tripods where someone else already has. Part of my uniqueness is that growing up, I never spent much time looking at, or learning about art or photography. Even now, I don’t look to others’ photographs to guide what I do.”

He photographs landscapes, motorcycles, shooting competitions, airplanes, animals, architecture and many other subjects. Here’s his explanation for wide variety over specialization:

If I had my druthers, I’d be out working the Texas deserts and canyons every day with a camera. Unfortunately for me, I can’t get out there all the time, so I take images of what I have access to. There’s beauty to be found everywhere—whether that’s in a majestic desert landscape, a nice macro that you walk by every day, your dog laying out in the sun, or whatever you might pass by.  My rule number one is that to take a good picture, you’ve got to have your camera with you everywhere you go.  That way if you see something that catches your eye, you can take the time to stop and capture that moment. That being said, I think that to really capture the essence of something, you have to know it, and the images I share with folks are of things I know and love.  Basically, it’s all about ‘seeing.’  Once you start hunting for the light, you see it everywhere you go. I also use every photo opportunity as a way to become more skilled with the camera across the board. For example, I can learn something from taking an image of a hot rod and apply it to capturing reflections of a pool of water in the desert. In the short time I’ve been working at this, I’ve learned that photography is often about trial and error. Every time you hit the shutter button it’s a learning experience. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and the more images you take, the better you get at being able to bend the camera to your will so that you can capture the image you visualized.

The big news recently was a book deal with TSTC Publishing for a coffee table book featuring Derrick Birdsall’s photographs of the Texas Frontier Forts. Derrick Birdsall has a background in history and has been photographing the Texas Frontier Forts seriously since 2009. He earned an MA in History from Sam Houston State University and since then has been working in museums for over 20 years. He learned from a competitive shooting mentor that if you want to succeed, “you have to let other people know what your goals are and they will help you reach your goals.” Derrick Birdsall has had the goal to produce a coffee table book on the Texas Frontier Forts for some time. At one point, he collaborated with Margaret Hoogstra, who manages a cultural tourism trail centered on the Texas Frontier Forts called Texas Forts Trail. She was at a meeting with a representative from TSTC Publishing and they started talking about potential book projects. Margaret Hoogstra mentioned Derrick Birdsall’s photography of the forts. Subsequently the publisher set up a meeting in which they agreed to do the book. Derrick called it a “networking success.”

The forts project hits so many buttons for me. For starters, I am a historian by trade… I love history, always have. Secondly, the bulk of the forts are well off the beaten path and in some truly beautiful country. Thirdly, they are some of the only places you can get to anymore where you can not only see things the way they were, but you can feel it too. Standing inside some of the old buildings and hearing the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls without the interruption of modern noises is just magical to me… I can get my history fix and my landscape fix in the same breath.

The city of Farmer’s Branch, Texas has a historical city park with 28 acres of grounds and 12 structures dating from the 1840s to the 1930s. Derrick Birdsall, park Superintendent for 12 years, slept in one of the log cabins for a week this last March in commemoration of Farmer’s Branch Historical Park’s 25th Anniversary. The Dallas Morning News article shared how Superintendent Birdsall wore period clothing and cooked over an open fire to help bring frontier days to life. See the YouTube video here. The Farmer’s Branch Historical Park, with over 80,000 visitor’s a year, is an outdoor museum, special event venue and educational facility sharing the heritage of North Texas and Dallas County.

I enjoy being able to teach people… and there are definitely perks associated with the museum world. From time to time I can flash my “museum card” and get access to places that I otherwise would not have…. My museum is… not your usual gallery type setting. One of the things that just flat drives me nuts is that quite a few of the folks who work in a gallery setting are elitist snobs. It’s my belief that the objects in our care are to be shared with as many folks as possible and that visitors should have reasonable access to the artifacts. A lot of the gallery types keep everything behind glass if it’s accessible at all and more often than not you can’t even see the items because they are hiding back in the stacks. How can you educate and teach your visitors if all of your tools are locked up behind closed doors? The other thing that I notice about some folks in more traditional types of museums is that while they are often times highly educated, they only know what they’ve read, and not because they have any experience in their subject matter.  Those are the folks that talk about the rules in art and photography but if you put a paintbrush or camera in their hands they wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to use it.

When Derrick Birdsall studied museums, he attended graduate school. When he learned competition shooting, he took classes from the best marksmen in the world (See a YouTube video of the “Three Gun” type of shooting he does here). However, with photography he has been largely self-taught. He took one class online with master landscape photographer William Neill, but the rest of his training has been through trial and error in the field. He chooses photographs and guides his photography with the help of pre-visualization. In shooting competition, he made a sight picture, aligning the front and rear sight of his gun with the target. He also learned to fire between breaths, during what is called the respiratory pause. He sometimes uses this technique while photographing. As a result of his training, he can often defy the rules about when a tripod is necessary. He wrote about the parallels between both types of “shooting” in an excellent blog post appropriately called, “Sight Picture,” similar to the name of his highly visited blog My Sight Picture. Take a sight along his photo blog for yourself. You will see the work of a new voice in photography, traveling at a high velocity toward his target.