Great Blue Heron in December

•April 15, 2018 • 13 Comments


Just a small indulgence to get back in the rhythm of the birds and artistic endeavors. This considering I have missed most of the 2018 nesting season and was unable to get out today yet felt motivated to do something. I was surprised in looking at my file folders that I have not taken any pictures, save some at my father’s funeral in February which I have not loaded up yet, since the shoot this bird was part of in December of last year. I had basically rejected that shoot as not being particularly worthy photographically but was a welcomed respite just hiking around. Still, I did like the elegant pose of this Great Blue Heron despite the fact that the capture image falls quite short. Not the heron’s fault of course as it gave me all the beauty it had.

The image was fairly dark and low contrast being late day and the sun not really hitting this section of the tree island very well. Being December, the leaves were also not particularly beautiful as they are in spring and were quite tattered by birds beginning to nest. So this image, for better or worse, involves darkening and blurring the background, bringing out the bird from it, and then filtering for some lighting which was not there onto the bird and selected leaves. Trying to minimize a tangled background is not always the easiest thing for me but I hope that the bird itself carries the image enough for an enjoyable view.

Now to get back out there!!! I really need an everglades or big cypress swamp fix.










Duty-Honor-Country: Remembering my Dad

•April 1, 2018 • 17 Comments

Perhaps Easter with its underlying themes of life, death, rebirth, and immortality is an appropriate time to post a remembrance of my father. As with my mother who died just a year and 4 days before Dad, I am sharing the eulogy I gave at his funeral. While consumed by practical matters after Dad’s death and even with the support of my wonderful siblings, I have still felt emotionally stalled unable to take interest in things such as reading, photography, or writing anything. Mom’s last years were marked by the unfortunate progression into dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dad, on the other hand, was very much himself to the last, and this is part of what has made it more difficult. And, so I miss his company, generous nature, and just manner of being much more profoundly. I thought he’d have more time to be himself after losing Mom.

I have used a sort of metaphor lately, an image I can’t seem to dismiss from my thinking, that I feel “root pruned.” I remember when our two large Sea Grape Trees were root pruned for transplant to another location. They cut the larger supporting roots which extend out beyond the arms of the branches to encourage the growth of more of the smaller feeder roots at the root ball itself. For an older tree the shock of this procedure can kill it, but properly done the tree will survive in its new location beautifully. As an army brat, we moved a lot and so I never put down roots at a particular place. The ground my roots were imbedded in was the people in my life, my family. That was my constant and my support. Although, death is as natural as birth and a good death should be treasured and special, still for the living there is a big void. Just about every older relative that was part of my memories of childhood and integral sense of self are gone now…grandparents, favourite aunts and uncles, a favourite cousin, and now my mother and father. It feels like the last, biggest and strongest supporting roots have been severed. Sure, the tree will survive and other supporting roots will become even stronger, and new feeder roots will give life new vitality. Still, I don’t like the sense of disconnect from such well loved parts of myself, but I don’t want to forget either and regret no tear spent in the process. I am lucky to feel this way. I love my roots.

As we seek renewal through Christ today, may we not be severed either from his love and support, by forgetting all He suffered on our behalf.


eulogy for Dad

John Darby Howard -  West Point Cadet


Almost exactly a year ago, I stood here delivering my mother’s eulogy, and found it one last chance to say thank you to someone you love. In that spirit, my eulogy to my father is a thank you letter.

Dear Dad;

It is so difficult for me to accept that your time with us in this earthly realm has ended. If I hadn’t been there at your bedside when you drew your last breath, I might yet think you were just working in your office or sitting in the next room. Yet, we had you here for 93 well lived years and how can I complain about that!

And what a 93 years they were. You served in three wars and saw the Berlin Wall come down. You’ve seen the advent of TV, the personal computer, man touching foot on the surface of the moon, and the Space Shuttle rumble into orbit from your back yard in Merritt Island.

They say that life’s only constant is change and I am sure the future holds many more technological achievements. But, Space Age to Digital Age the one thing that never changed was your personal dedication to God, Country and Family. Considering we moved every couple of years growing up, it was this sense of constancy and stability that gave us a secure childhood despite having had many addresses.

The hallmarks of my upbringing included your unflagging optimism and joy in life and that great gift you have in seeing the good in people. Being raised by a person who believes in the inherent goodness of man to balance out the negatives out there in the world gave all of us kids a positive platform from which to build our lives. That this would come from a soldier who has seen the face of war, is to me especially unusual. Perhaps we can blame it on Abou Ben Adhem’s angel who let us know that love of God blesses the one who loves his fellow man.

Of your 93 years, I am grateful for the years your parents spent helping mold you into the person you were and for the influence of forbears such as your grandfather, James Marion Howard, who exhibited a great work ethic and a problem solving attitude to life, including surviving the Civil War. And, for the influence of your own father Willis T. Howard, Methodist Minister and Military Chaplain who put God first and allowed that individuals must find a personal relationship with their Creator first and foremost above denominational concerns.

I am most grateful for the years you, along with Mom’s love and support, spent molding me into the person I am and thank you sincerely for a wonderful, supportive childhood. A childhood filled with both important as well as silly memories. Like remembering you laboring to help me understand Geometry with my tears of frustration dripping all over my theorems, or that short-lived enterprise of trying to get us kids take a spoonful of vinegar daily for health, or instilling a love of poetry…well with a few coins for the memorizing…always brings a smile…. did I really memorize Poe’s The Raven for a quarter??  Those poems so wisely chosen were probably part of the molding too…from Henry Leigh Hunts’ Abou Ben Adhem to William Ernest Henley’s Invictus to Edward Sill’s A Fool’s Prayer and so many others which spoke to the better instincts of man. And, on the more serious side remembering losing little Susan Leigh so soon and the lessons of Viet Nam learned while we lived in the Philippines. Even the difficult things were handled with grace and we kids were instilled with an appreciation for how precious life truly is.

Tripping down memory lane is certainly a fun ride of family camaraderie during so many wonderful road trips traveling from one army base to another. So many things, but whether the Grand Tetons, The Painted Desert, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or some lesser known side trip… it was always an adventure. Hawaii was one of my favourites from being there to witness statehood, to seeing Mauna Loa after it erupted and feeling the heat still present in the rock beneath our feet and steam visible from fissures as we walked on the hardened lava. Far too many adventures and anecdotes to recite here, but all part of my sense of life and inevitable curiosity of what comes next.

Even in retirement, you never slowed your pace and continued to serve your fellow man in so many ways. A position with the State Job service helped people gain employment. You took a Program Director position with Brevard Correctional to give others a chance to turn things around through education. And, most notably and most dear to your heart you led a campaign to bring veterans together in remembrance of all they gave for our freedoms and to aid their families in making the Merritt Island Veteran’s Center and Museum a reality. Duty – Honor – Country was never just a Motto for you; it was your sense of self. You not only followed the guidance of father and family, but also that of our founding fathers who looked to God as the source of Life and Freedom.

Even in your last days you thought of others first with thank you s for everyone and every helpful service provided. Your grateful spirit was undimmed even as you struggled for breath from failing lungs. When Darby and Ginger flew in to see you in the hospital with Lynda and me, you thanked US for ‘backing you up’, you who had our backs from day one.

I am so deeply blessed you were my father and thank you for your guidance in my life,

In conclusion, I’d like to share the poem Abou Ben Adhem by James Henry Leigh Hunt alluded to in the letter. If we are at all defined by the things we love, then it is easy to see why he loved this poem.


Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight in his room,

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold:—

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

And to the presence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,

And with a look made of all sweet accord,

Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”

Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,

Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night

It came again with a great wakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.



 Heaps of Love Dad, Heaps of Love


Dad in front of the Merritt Island Veteran's Center
and Museum he helped found and worked tirelessly
to make happen.


These soldier boots on display at the Merritt Island
 Veteran's Center are a haunting reminder of those who
served and the sacrifices they made.

For those who may wish to support the Merritt Island Veteran’s Memorial Center and Museum and its mission to help veterans you will find a donate button on their website.

Happy Easter Everyone,


Grandmother’s Donut Vase in Still Life

•January 14, 2018 • 9 Comments


Selecting a couple more images from the November Still Life shoot. Who knows what I will go and  round up when I have a camera in my hand. Most of my short experience with peonies has been with the lighter colored ones which I actually find easier to work with post processing because of differences in my monitors and the stronger colors. The objects were set in my general fashion with black felt as a background and ambient light from the window on the semi reflective surface of the old sewing cabinet I have been using.  I probably should just do a series of posts simply of favorite things as I keep gravitating towards these old pieces I have.

This particular vase was my maternal grandmother’s and very likely belonged to Great Granny too. It looks it. It is one of those things that doesn’t quite fit with modern tastes but has a charm of its own and I find that donut hole structure of it feels very right in hand. Easy to hold. Quite often with vintage items I will go online and see if anyone has one like it. I have found so many times when I think I have an object so unique and old that it must be one of a kind, I find something exactly the same for sale on eBay. A reality check of sorts. But, I haven’t found one like this yet in looking around. Maybe someone else out there has one saved from their grandmother too.

I hope that you enjoy seeing the vase and the arrangement of the items. When working by a window the ambient light changes when time moves on and when clouds drift by, giving  dimmer or brighter images.  I rather liked the single peony below in the vase, it just looks so soft.

PS: I am not a hoarder, possibly a pack rat, I just have always felt connected to people I have loved through objects they owned and used.


The Complexity of Simplicity

•January 7, 2018 • 9 Comments

Delicate pink flowers with the classic Thatcheria
mirabilis shell and elegant Murex haustellum.

It is said that true understanding is when you reach the simplicity on the other side of complexity. The same could be said for the effort to create a pleasing still life composition. Speaking for myself at least, there seems to be quite of bit of experimentation with selection and turning things this way or that to try an arrive at the goal of classic artistic simplicity. As individual elements seashells and flowers have it all being graced with nature’s perfect symmetry and a geometry so pure that it must surely have its origin in the divine.

These images are from an earlier still life experimentation session from which I may draw upon another time or two for sharing. I hope that they are enjoyable to view and I am as interested in what doesn’t work as well as what does!!



Probably got carried away with this chain of shells and
flowers. The image features two types of Murex &
the Thatcheria shell.


This pairing is of the elegant Thatcheria mirabilis &
the spiny Murex pecten. The Murex as not an uncommon
species but is truly uncommonly beautiful. It has over
100 spines which protect the gastropod from predation.
This intricate safety feature earns the shell the
nickname of Venus Comb. This I collected in the 
Philippines in 1970.



 This one is for Linda Leinen who liked the grunged Thatcheria!

To simple joys in a complex world

Happy 2018!!



3 Still Lifes – Grunged – with peonies & blue bells, Chinese artifacts plus Thatcheria shell

•November 30, 2017 • 21 Comments


This image is of light pink and dark pink peonies arranged
in a Chinese blue ginger jar with white prunus trees which
came from my Grandparents time in the Orient. The white
water buffalo with flute player belonged to my Grandparents
as well. I arranged them on a vintage cloth against the
black felt background in ambient light.

In photoshop the image was subjected to the oil paint filter,
lighting adjusted to my liking with two different background
layers. One for color and a painterly feel with some blues
and reds. One I pulled in for fun and ended up liking it.
That one is a rusted metal with a seam with nail heads. 
Those were layered in, I think using 'divide' for the 
blending mode, and adjusting opacity and light.

It is quite possible that I took three nice normal images and wrecked them with grungy background elements or worse, not so background and more up front and personal-at least in the case of the Thatcheria! When I saw that Whole Foods had peonies again just before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t resist setting up a few shots.  I really have become fond of peonies and their voluptuous full blossoms. These three images were just what I started with and I am pretty sure I will show a few more of the arrangements as I did drag out some of my favourite objects in the process.  I do enjoy the low key compositions so far and the possibilities for a painterly look and so often when doing so feel that the solid black background just has no depth. Although perhaps the depth created just by the light on the flower should be just enough. This only really means that I need to work on a proper stage with more than the black felt I have been using on the wall.

In hopes you might enjoy these, I’ve described the elements beneath each picture. Critique is always welcome especially in the areas of whether the scene works as a composition and if the color looks pretty on different monitors, and what general merit the ideas have. When I do these each time I am convinced I am NOT a flower arranger.


This arrangement is placed in a ruffly edged vintage, 
Fenton Glass most likely, pink vase with white glass
 lining with peonies, blue bells,some fill flowers
 and the porcelain flamingo.

As with the top image shot in available light, with grunge
layer added in with divide for blend mode on the 
background. I'd conceived of a lighter look on this one
with all the pink and the flamingo, but it had a mind
of its own and went to the dark side.


The Thatcheria shell I've utilized before as I am always
fascinated with its form, just so elegant and
architectural. For this, big use of blending modes in
Photoshop. I just had one grunge layer that looks a
bit like an old tin type with greens and golds.
With this I went away completely from the natural
color of the shell and used blend modes just to reveal its
shape and shadows with the green/gold tones of the 
grungy layer. Looks kind of ancient.

It seems that if you are engaged in any way in artistic endeavors, that our inner child wants to play perhaps for better, perhaps for worse, but always for fun!


Have fun!


A reason to be grateful — I can hear the birds again!!

•November 20, 2017 • 29 Comments

 Great Blue Heron looks pensive at day’s end.

Last Saturday I visited my favourite Florida wetland rookery for more than one reason. Yes, it has been months since the last time I drove out to see which species were in residence and to enjoy the little Eden that Wakodahatchee is when  your days are consumed with work and deadlines and windowless office spaces disconnecting you from the crying birds or ocean breezes. But, I also wanted to see if I really could hear the birds again.

I have slowly lost most of my hearing probably since my late 40’s and no one really knows why. I always suspected my slow thyroid. The cochlear doc says maybe I have the gene for it. Apparently it is not entirely age related loss even if the demise of the hair cells in the cochlea is not uncommon with aging. But, over time hearing aids no longer made any significant difference. My trips to the rookery were always beautiful but even my footfalls were too quiet to hear. Actually, I felt rather stealthy but turns out not as much as I thought. When I first visited Wakodahatchee I was mesmerized by the cacophony of bird sounds and loved the chorus of hungry Great Blue Heron chicks crying out for a little fish. So cute. I missed those sounds and I missed the rustle of wind through the palms. And, of course, being able to have a conversation with friends and family. It really was all gone!! And, what was left wasn’t understandable. And at my office no more phone duty!! Well, ok, possibly a plus! CapTel was kind enough to provide me with two free caption phones, one for the office and one for the house which was a wonderful gift and enabled very smooth “conversations” all in all.

So my audiologist recommended I get evaluated for cochlear implant. My type of loss with the dead hair cells in the cochlea was just the right kind to be a great candidate. And, with my residual hearing in the low ranges for a hybrid type system with a shorter array in the cochlea to both preserve low end and stimulate the high end. I ended up choosing the University of Miami’s Health Program as they are  world renown for cochlear implant and people come world over to be there. Luckily near me and my Alma Mater to boot. I looked carefully at the top three brands, Cochlear Americas, Med-EL and Advanced Bionics. AB wasn’t approved yet for the hybrid system (I think maybe they are now though) so I focused on Cochlear and Med-EL. All three you can’t really go wrong but I chose Med-El as their stats I thought were just enough better on preservation of residual hearing. Dr Telischi I know works to preserve residual with every surgery regardless of brand, but from what I can tell, I think  he saved most of what I had left.

My surgery was at the end of September and I was “turned on” or activated a month later on Halloween!! I’d been cautioned not to expect to understand right away and that it might sound rather electronic like beeps at first and there would be a learning curve. But, whether I am lucky, or had just enough left, or my loss was later in life rather than childhood, or I hadn’t forgotten what things are supposed to sound like, for whatever wonderful reason, once all the frequencies were set the very first session, I could hear and understand all the conversation. It has only gotten better each day. Even music…not bad at all. Kind of modern anyway…they make music sound a bit electronic these days after all. Voices sound mostly normal.

And, so….Saturday…I heard the birds and everything. It was like Christmas and I kept looking around to see where sounds were coming from. I remembered what I had forgotten. Could hear the cormorants and the krack of the big herons and the racket the grackles make. And, I could talk to the other photographers around. Before I could carry on only so long and missed most of what was said and hated to make the other person work so hard at it so would just retreat.

The Great Blue Herons pictured here really just prove my day and remind me that I could hear them!!

Below you will also see just a couple of images I plucked from the Med-EL site to give the idea of what I have installed in my ear.

I am beyond grateful for this technology and feel someone just handed me my hearing back all wrapped up and tied with a bow. I would like to say that if anyone wants to know more of my particular experience who may be considering cochlear implantation, I am happy to share. Everyone is different and I talked to a lot of people before deciding.

Birds and medical devices below 🙂

Great Blue Heron preens in this early season nesting scene. Its breeding colors are already in evidence with reddish tints to its legs and the lore becoming blue.

In a somewhat awkward pose this Great Blue Heron still stands in its wing spread sunning posture, yet turns to begin preening its back feathers in a contortionist body position. Ahh, to be so flexible!



This image from Med-El shows both the internal and external portions of the cochlear implant. The part on the right is installed under the skin behind the ear with that slender tail portion with the electrodes curled within the cochlea. My particular array is the Flex 28 which doesn’t go all the way to the apex of the cochlea to try and save the low end hair cells and residual hearing. The normal CI array is 31mm or so. The outside processor hangs on the top of the ear with the circular part magnetically attached to the under-skin magnet. The chip is in that square shaped area under the skin. If I undo the circular outer piece then hearing goes away just like that. The beige piece in the image I do not have. It is an alternative processor which is placed on the magnet with no cord or cable. I was sure I’d knock it off. 🙂


A good view of what is inside.



This shows the pitches and tones in the cochlea in an arrangement known as tonotopicity. So my array electrodes are adjusted or mapped to optimize getting all those frequencies. When I get the add on portion for the low end, I should really have a complete range. It feels complete already. I am now enjoying the clack of the keyboard keys as I type. So cool!!

A Very Happy Thanksgiving to All!

I have many reasons to be thankful this year, but the gift of hearing makes me positively euphoric!!


A Coin Collector’s Desk

•November 17, 2017 • 8 Comments


Today’ s post combines two favourite occupations….thinking up still life subjects and coin collecting. So this is my first experimentation with The Coin Collector’s Desk. Much of the imagery includes the much cherished and desired remnant of America’s Wild Wild West, the Morgan Silver Dollar minted from the famous Comstock Lode silver discovered in 1859 in Nevada. I still find it hard to believe that people actually carried the splendid, lustrous 0.77344 troy oz pieces of silver in their pockets and didn’t marvel at the beauty of it. No, the coin was very unpopular in its own time which has contributed to some degree to the number of mint state examples which do remain in the numismatic marketplace. Even the gorgeous original mint silvery highlight which circles the coin as you twirl it in the light often called a cartwheel led to the derisive reference to the coins as just being a cartwheel or as heavy as one. As contrary as human nature is, not just due to the increased value of silver, these particular coins are eagerly sought after today by collectors with passionate enthusiasm. Whether you like them raw with visions of who may have held them in 1878 or tossed them onto a poker table in some dusty saloon back when they were introduced or safely encapsulated in graded slabs, they are each and every one of them a bit of history in your hand.

Ok, I went off on the Morgans. Besides the Morgan Dollars you will see an example an 1877 Trade Dollar, Seated Liberty Quarter from 1853, an Eisenhower Dollar and a Kennedy Half. I’ve shown folded up GreySheets…the bible of pricing for me pretty much along with magnifiers for examining the coin surfaces. The open Morgan Book is by Alan Hager who was one of the first in about 1984, if not the first, to come up with a system for grading Mint State coins called Accugrade , with way to rate them depending on the quality of their surfaces, hard or soft strike, luster and brilliance, year, mint and remaining examples existing in the year or grade. His book on Morgans is very interesting and thorough and I think is a bit of a collectible in of itself.

I hope you enjoy the effort and maybe even the majesty of these silver coins and a time when people had actual precious metal in their pockets for everyday purchases, when money was real.

On the still life side I tend to think that if you take the picture looking down at you assembly of items, that it looks more commercial like an ad for something. When the image is more straight on with the camera at desk level as if your work was waiting for you to sit down and do it, then I think perhaps the result is more painterly or artistic. I am still working these things for what is the most ideal for a viewer to enjoy. These scenes were at a desk with morning ambient light from the window.






This is the only foreign coin pictured in this group. It is a Ceylon 5 Rupee coin made of .925 percent of silver. The front of coin (not pictured) has a Buddha temple on it and the reverse has the number 2500 in the center commemorating 2500 years of Buddhism and is encircled by rings of floral and zoological symbols. Quite lovely really. The silver coin was issued under Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 when Ceylon was a British Commonwealth Nation. Sri Lanka’s identity was not until 1972. Its original mintage was 500,000 but 258,000 were returned to the mint for melting in 1962.

This image is an 1889 Pennsylvania mint example of the Morgan Dollar. It is placed for photography on brass box with a pretty, exotic design which contrasts nicely with the silver coin. I did use my 100mm macro lens for some of the coins close ups and thought the results were very detailed of the surface values of the coin.


I’d planned more of a list of history references for the Morgan Dollar as it is wonderfully interesting but my computer and WordPress are not playing nicely this evening with linkages. So below find two url locations for some history and grading insights:

A bit of Morgan History:

How to Grade Morgan Dollars: