Taking Stock

It’s officially been 2 months since my leave of absence began. I thought it would be a good time to enumerate both the new lessons I’ve learned and the old lessons that have  resurfaced as particularly relevant to this major shift in my life.

  1. Your time will fill. No matter how much you have to do or how long you think you have to do it, time will pass more quickly than you expected and you will get less done than you planned.
  2. It doesn’t matter how much of an out-of-the-box thinker you are; if there is no box, you can’t think outside of it.
  3. When you have a mile-long list of things to do and believe you have only a fraction of the time you need to get them done, you manage your time far more judiciously than when you have a short list of things to do and believe you have all day. (See #1.)
  4. There is always more opportunity than capacity.
  5. When one thing has been your biggest time investment for a long time, when you pull it out of your schedule, everything that surrounded it collapses on top of each other and you have to scratch and claw your way through the crap to shove in something new and get all the little stuff safely held at bay.
  6. Staying busy is not the hard part. It’s staying busy doing the important things instead of the distracting things that’s hard. (See #1.)
  7. Just because something must be done urgently doesn’t mean it should be done at all.
  8. I really mind a dirty house less than I mind cleaning it.
  9. We treat people we have an intimate personal relationship with like someone we have an intimate personal relationship with even when the topics are professional–it takes effort not to hear “I don’t love you” when you disagree.
  10. Working with your spouse is an opportunity to better your overall relationship. Creating artificial lines between your personal and professional relationship is only lying to yourself. The two roles are inseparable and must feed one another, driving both a closer, more intimate relationship and more creative energy from the feeling of being on the same team working towards the same goals.
  11. Sleep helps. This is theoretical. I used reverse logic: lack of sleep makes everything harder. Therefore, I believe that if I someday get enough sleep, it will make everything easier.
  12. Every day we have the opportunity to be more focused, more productive, more playful, more creative, more effective, more attuned to our health, and to get more sleep. We probably won’t do all of these things in the same day, however.
  13. At the end of the day, it’s you. There is only you and what you did and didn’t get done, whether what you did made a difference, and whether that difference is the difference you intended. Ultimately, there is not, and really never has been, anyone else to blame.


The entrance to Fairyland

The entrance to Fairyland

I have now been to Rock City many times between going up to photograph the birds of prey show, photographing the release of a rehabilitated Peregrine Falcon, taking visiting friends up, shooting the Christmas lights for a local paper, and now volunteering for the Rock City Raptors show.

Usually I spend my time at the Rock City Raptors amphitheater, although I manage to make it to the cliff that has an amazing view.  Supposedly you can see 7 states from the overlook if you use a scope and it’s a clear day.

A cave completely lined in colored corals

A cave completely lined in colored corals

But underneath Rock City, there is a whole ‘nother world for which it is really famous.  The property is lined with caverns and crevices that provide for “fat man’s squeeze” and a variety of other interesting places to explore.  I, however, have never made it through that part of Rock City.  This is because when I’ve had the chance, we’ve either had accessibility limitations with a stroller or we had Tisen with us and I volunteered to stay behind with him so he wouldn’t get upset when he saw me walking away without him.  This summer, I’m going to find a little time to check out what I’ve been missing.  I’m determined.

Hansel and Gretel make an appearance

Hansel and Gretel make an appearance

In that spirit, when John and Dale asked me if I’d seen Fairyland before, I took the opportunity to see a part of Rock City I’d not only never seen, but never even heard of.  John and Dale took me to Fairyland via a shortcut, so I’m not sure I’d be able to find it again, but the entrance to Fairyland was pretty impressive.  They lined a naturally occurring crevice with stone and added on to the entrance to a tunnel to make a rather interesting, if not natural, entryway.

Rip Van Winkle just woke up

Rip Van Winkle just woke up

There is apparently a long tradition of gnomes at Rock City.  They show up as a decorating theme all over the park.  I suppose I should not have been surprised that gnomes would also have a big presence in a place called Fairyland.  It’s just, well, I find gnomes surprising in general.

Little Red Riding Hood is in trouble

Little Red Riding Hood is in trouble

While I am generally more into exploring caverns that still look like they did the day they were first discovered, I have to admit I was amazed by the amount of effort that went into creating the series of scenes in Fairyland.  As we passed down a dark passage, inside cavern after cavern was a recreation of a scene from the fairytales that were so popular in my childhood (and my mother’s and probably my grandmother’s if not may great-grandmother’s).  The figurines and sets were painted in glow-in-the-dark paint and the lighting was black lights.  It made for an intense burst of color in the middle of the pitch black of the cave.

Mother Goose Village rises up out of the dark

Mother Goose Village rises up out of the dark

One giant room was called Mother Goose Village and had a full assortment of characters from Mother Goose herself to Humpty Dumpty.  The whole Fairyland experience was more fun than I expected–and definitely unique.


A gnome carnival is in full motion

A gnome carnival is in full motion

Stream of Unconsciousness

Rock City Christmas LightsAU0A7761 AU0A7768 AU0A7777 AU0A7784 Christmas View Kids posing for a photo Waiting in Line

It’s 11:08PM EST. I’m falling asleep as I type. I’ve been up since 5:00AM. At the end of the day, I pulled up the photos I’d processed for tomorrow morning’s post. They are from Rock City when I went up to shoot the Christmas lights.

Several things occur to me as I start typing. First, approximately 3 people will read what I write tonight. Odds are in favor of me being able to get away with saying anything.

In the interest of saying anything, here is an experiment in free writing when one ignores constraints such as basic grammar rules, logic, and even consciousness–who says you have to be awake when you’re writing? Instead, I’ve decided to see what happens when I write while I’m falling asleep.

A black and white dog approaches. The girl squats to get get down to his level.

The dog approaches and feels a pretty special in the most obvious of spots. He doesn’t growl at her–a first in his shot history of co-existing amongst higher-class humans than he was used to.

Instead, the dog takes his place in line, making a formidable barrier between those who would take what they need and those who are happy to earn it. Tisen is all about earnings. He has no comprehension of what we decided years ago for on prem licenses. But we are trying to accommodate.

I have to stop here for a moment, shaking my head trying to clear it of cobwebs to determine if I can possibly finish this point–or, more accurately, to determine if I had a point or if this is just random talk popping up as I nod off while typing. It’s mostly just random.

As I sit with finger tips hovering over key board, I start typing in a stream of consciousness fashion that won’t impact the embarrassment in honor of Christmas.

I imagine telling a partner that we’re releasing a small number of parts and contract agreements .

I re-read and realize I’ve just typed a series of sentences that make me think of collecting automated data details from the set top box of the cable solution. Oops–I’ve done it again–written in a way that sounds like one of those spam comments on wordpress. All this time, I’ve been wondering how they come up with the wording for those. Apparently, all you have to do is type while you’re nodding off.

My back is aching. My hips have had enough. I learn that only FedEx and UPS are handling these expert deliveries. I decide that Santa must have had enough too. After all is there enough “common caring” oil that a grower might be able to offset right before Christmas. Oops, I must have started to nod off while typing again.

Well, this post makes no sense. But, I’d love to know if you noticed. Leave me a comment or a like if you read this.



The Return of Dunwoody Fourscore

When my friend Dale (from S.O.A.R.) called me and told me that the Peregrine Falcon they recently released at Rock City was continuing to return for meals and that I might get some good close ups of him eating if I could come up to Rock City soon, I decided it was the perfect time to take Pat’s family (who was visiting) up to see the birds.

We arrived early and walked out to the feeding platform with John and Dale.  John tossed a chick into the feeding box while he looked for Dunwoody (as named by Dale and John because the falcon was found in Dunwoody, Georgia) Fourscore (as named by the Rock City naming contest in honor of Rock City’s 80th anniversary).  Pat and his family crouched further back behind a tree while I hid behind a bush closer to the feeding platform.  John walked around in the open, known to the bird and symbolic of breakfast, he figured Dunwoody Fourscore might be enticed to come eat.  However, the falcon was no where to be seen.

Since it was about time for the first Rock City Raptor show of the day, we all returned to the amphitheater.

Watching the intro video for the 4th time, I still got chills watching the birds maneuver through the air.  It’s an amazing feat to watch and the video shows just how agile these birds are in slow motion.  I could watch that video all day.

But, seeing the birds live is an even bigger thrill.  Cayce gave me a special treat by flying straight at my head.  Unfortunately, she got so close I would have needed extension tubes to get a good shot of her just before her tail rearranged my hair, causing the whole audience to take a collective gasp.  It’s always fun to be part of the show.

After the show, Pat and his family went off to explore Rock City and I followed Dale and John back to the feeding platform to see if we could find Dunwoody Fourscore.  The first clue that he had been by was the missing chick.  Of course, he’s not the only raptor in the area, so that wasn’t solid proof of his presence.  We walked around looking to see if we could spot him.  Eventually, John managed to spot him hanging out in a tree nearby.  He had his wings partially spread, trying to cool off.  It was about 102 degrees by then, a few degrees cooler than down in Chattanooga below.  Dunwoody Fourscore was making the most of the breeze coming up over the cliff.

Fourscore didn’t move while I circled underneath him.  Well, not quite a circle–a true circle would have taken me off the cliff.  As I came around to the other side of him, he switched his stance, looking down at me as if he was thinking, “What in the heck are you with that big glass thing growing out of your face?”


Fourscore years ago, Rock City was created.  80 years later, in honor of their anniversary, Rock City held a naming contest for a rescued Peregrine Falcon recuperating on their property.  The winning name was Fourscore.

Fourscore was the offspring of a mom who wasn’t mature enough to take motherhood seriously.  His more mature father took over incubating the eggs and doing the feeding.  But, as the two brothers grew, the father couldn’t keep up with their eating needs without the help of the mother.

One of the chicks died before a human intervened.  The other, Fourscore, survived, but he was too weak from underfeeding to survive on his own.  Fortunately for Fourscore, his rescuer turned him over to S.O.A.R. and Rock City for rehab.

Kept safe inside a box perched high on Lookout Mountain, the little guy gained in strength until he was well prepared to fledge for real.

Pat and I were invited to Fourscore’s launch.  It meant getting up at 4:30 AM to have time to take care of the dogs before driving up to the top of Lookout Mountain, but we were game.  I, of course, packed my backpack full of camera gear.  I wanted my 100-400mm lens to get a good shot of the falcon launching, but they were opening the box at 6:00AM–the light would be low.  Since my 70-200mm lens is faster, I figured I would have a better chance of getting something usable with the extra speed than with the extra length.

As the Eastern horizon started to show the first signs of dawn, I crouched behind a shrub while John and Dale lowered the front of the box, creating a shelf that the falcon could step out on.  I sat with my face pressed against my viewfinder, resting the lens on my knee in an attempt to hold still while we waited.  Nothing happened.

John had warned us that sometimes it can take a couple of hours for a bird to fly when released after being rehabbed.  We waited.

I realized I could not possibly keep my face pressed up against my camera for two hours.  I was getting a cramp in the muscles I use to close my left eye.  I pulled back and started to relax my arms, which were also cramping.  Then I realized we’d only been waiting about 3 minutes.

This was not the first time I questioned my desire to shoot wildlife.

Then, just as I was about to stretch my wrists, there was a noise.  I got back into position as quickly as I could, but I missed.  I managed to catch a dark silhouette against the sky when Fourscore circled back around and flew for the woods.  Not exactly what I was hoping for.

We spent the next half hour with John wielding an antenna to track a radio transmitter on Fourscore.  As we were about to leave, we saw him being chased by a group of swallows.  He looked like he was having a ball.


Fresh Eyes

One of the things that my husband and I usually miss out on is experiencing life through a child’s eyes.  This is the consequence of not having children and not usually being around children.  While there are many great reasons not to have children and we have no regrets about that decision, there are times when it’s nice to borrow the perspective of someone else’s child.

Having been to Rock City only for the birds of prey show (which is FABULOUS), it was cool that a visit from some friends who have a 4 year old gave us the opportunity to revisit the place.

We discovered a lot of things we’d missed the first time.  Because that little guy had more energy than I’ve had in a long, long time, making sure we pointed out every possible source of amusement became our passion.  This forced us to notice everything.

For one thing, there is a “Fat Man’s Squeeze.”  Granted, there are many places in the world with a “Fat Man’s Squeeze,”  but watching a four year old creep his way through the tight quarters made this one extra special.

We also noticed the waterfall in a whole new way.  We’d never noticed you could see it from the road.  With a four year old in the back seat, we quickly discovered a whole new view.  He was so excited that we were going that waterfall!  I had to pause and take a new look at how spectacular it really is.

Then there was the rock climbing wall.  Our four year old friend wasn’t big enough to climb, but he sure was excited by his mom’s decision to climb!  We hung around cheering for the other climbers while we waited for his mom’s turn.  I like wall climbing, but I was feeling too hot and sticky to want to attempt it myself.  As a spectator,  I found myself watching novice wall climbers and not just clapping politely for them but really feeling the need for them to make it to the top.  It was pretty inspiring to watch.  Albeit, our four year old friend lost interest about the time his mom made it to the top, but we were fascinated to stay and watch a young girl climb.

Finally, of course, we went to the birds of prey show.  I shot with a wide angle lens trying to include the audience because I wanted to capture the four year old’s reactions.  I admit I was a little disappointed that he often seemed more interested in the gravel under his feet than the birds, but every once in a while he’d look up with curiosity and even a hint of amazement.  But maybe you have to be an adult to realize how special it is to be that close to a bird of prey?

All in all, going to Rock City with a kid made the place feel like a brand new adventure.  Now I can’t wait to go again!



One of the things we enjoy about Chattanooga is the surrounding mountains.  They may be smaller, rounder and greener than, say, the Rockies, but they introduce a lovely, rolling feel to the area that only ancient mountains can create.  They also make for a lot of nice views.

Point Park offers spectacular views in three directions.  Lookout Mountain Hang gliding gives you a completely unimpeded view if you’re willing to run off a mountain or be towed up in a hang glider.  And then there is Rock City, famous for its view of 7 states.

Rumor has it that you can, in fact, see 7 states from the overlook at Rock City.  However, it requires a scope and an extremely clear day with no haze.

I find myself wondering how one knows when one is peering into a new state?  Is the state line superimposed on the landscape like a giant yellow line showing the next down in an American football game?

Having gone to Rock City to take pictures of the birds performing in S.O.A.R.’s bird program, I figured I might as well check out the view.  I even brought my wide angle lens and a tripod so I could capture that fantastic view.

Given my timing was around the bird programs and not around the sun, I, of course, ended up on the overlook at precisely noon.  I decided to wait until after the second show to try to get any pictures, thinking maybe 2PM would be better than noon.

When 2PM came, I headed back to the overlook feeling rushed because Pat was picking me up and wanted to get back to work as quickly as possible.

Instead of setting up my tripod, I hand held and took advantage of the bright sun with fast shutter speeds.  I would have loved a polarizer, but this lens is too big for my polarizer.  Another item for the wish list.

On my way to the overlook, I see a manmade waterfall cascading from underneath the walking path.  There is a bridge that spans the space in front of the waterfall that would probably make a great spot to shoot from.  However, I have my limits.  I may be willing to launch myself off a mountain in a glider, but I’m not about to walk on some skinny little bridge that spans a 1000 foot drop.  Not even for a better angle on the waterfall.

Instead, I grab a couple of shots that give me a headache to look at.

One of the consequences of the rolling mountains in this part of the country is that I can never decide where level is.  90% of my landscape shots have to be straightened in post production because they were shot at an angle.  At least, I think it’s due to the terrain.  I once learned that when I thought I was holding my head straight, I was actually holding it at a tilt.  Seems to have spread to my camera.

Cayce’s Turn

Perhaps three posts on one birds of prey program is a bit excessive?  But, I feel that Cayce requires her own post.  After all, how many Black Vultures do you know that get a standing ovation?  For that matter, how many Black Vultures do you know at all?

Vultures happen to be one of my favorite birds.  I always enjoy watching them soar on the wind, hardly ever flapping their wings.  But I really fell in love with vultures when we had a house in the country with a large pond.  One spring day, we had a inversion.  I honestly can’t say I fully understand this, but apparently the water on the top of the pond becomes cooler than the water on the bottom and, as the water switches places, the oxygen escapes and the fish suffocate.  When I say the fish suffocate, I mean hundreds of fish suffocate.  I mean more fish than we would have ever guessed lived in that pond suffocated.  I mean the entire surface of a 1 acre pond was covered in dead fish.

Enter the vultures.

Any bird that can come onto the scene of such a stinky mess and leave less than 3 days later with the place looking like nothing happened (besides a few stray skeletons)  is welcome at my house any time.  I can’t imagine how much we would have had to pay a person to clean up that mess.

My appreciation for nature’s sanitation engineers (as Dale of S.O.A.R. would say) meant I had an open mind the first time I met Cayce.  But Cayce doesn’t really require you to have an open mind–she will win you over regardless.

First of all, Cayce likes to run around on the ground.  This is in and of itself is funny.  Black Vulture run by hopping and skipping across the ground.  It’s funny.  Trust me.  Or, watch the video:

Second, Cayce flies over the audience with a particular glee.  She seems to know she’s a star and that getting as close as physically possible to the audience makes her more of a star.  In fact, she hit me in the head with her tail as she flared to land on Dale’s glove during the second show.  The audience loved it.

Third, Cayce chases John, pecking at his legs, demonstrating he is below her in the pecking order.  The entire audience cracks up as John runs from Cayce.  While he is being slightly theatrical, Cayce can draw blood, so moving quickly to avoid her beak is not just for show.

An interesting tidbit I learned about vultures from John and Dale is that Black Vultures have a strong beak for piercing and tearing through thick flesh while Turkey Vultures have a great sense of smell.  Together, both species eat well.

But today, no one is really thinking too much about what Cayce eats, even though Dale is throwing her chunks of dead mice.  My only complaint about Cayce is that she’s hard to photograph.

Birdie, You’re a Star

Continuing the theme of birds, on Sunday, I had the opportunity to go to Rock City, a local attraction on Lookout Mountain, to see the S.O.A.R. raptors perform.

S.O.A.R. performs regularly at Rock City throughout the warmer months, educating the public about the role raptors play in the ecosystem and giving people a close encounter with birds of prey.

I’d never seen the S.O.A.R. program before, so I plan to watch it twice. I’m hoping to collect enough photos to put together a screen saver we can use to raise money for the program.

One of the unique things about Rock City is that dogs are welcome. Unfortunately, dogs make birds of prey (and really, most birds) quite nervous, so while they are welcome in Rock City in general, they are not permitted in the vicinity of the bird program.  This meant that while Tisen got to come with us, he had to be escorted away from the vicinity of the performance before the show.  So, both Pat and Tisen missed out.

My goal for the first run was to learn the pattern of what they did so I could do a better job getting shots of the birds in flight during the second performance.  However, it’s almost impossible to sit with your camera in your lap and not shoot a single frame when you’re surrounded by super stars!

The performance is in a nice amphitheater large enough to accommodate probably 100 people.  It’s small enough to create an intimate setting.  It also makes it possible for Dale and John to walk through the entire audience with the birds, giving people an up-close view.  And, if walking around with the birds isn’t exciting enough, they fly a barn owl, Theo, a red-tail hawk, Cody, and a black vulture, Cayce, right over people’s heads.

While the birds are busy capturing the audience’s interest, John and Dale sneak in an enormous amount of information about the birds.  Between the live birds and several videos, people witness incredible feats that only birds of prey can perform.  And while it’s one thing to see a video of a Peregrine Falcon pulling in his wings to achieve a dive of over 250 MPH, it’s completely another to feel the wind from a raptor’s wings as it soars just above your head.

The thing that I really like about John and Dale’s approach is that they are serious about raising awareness about the importance of these birds to the highly interconnected network of life we are part of.  At the same time, they understand that to raise awareness, you have to get someone’s attention first.  And there is no one, I contend no one, who can fail to be fascinated by the kind of close encounter John and Dale provide.  If having a bird soar over your head doesn’t do it for you, petting a Screech Owl after the show probably will.

These birds have a special skill at attracting attention and keeping it.