Friday, January 15, 2016

Published 12:27 PM by with 0 comment

Home on the Ranch

We're making it a winter tradition to visit Linda's parents at their ranch house in Texas. It's a kind of base for us to gather with our kids and extended family and a chance to come off the road to recharge.
Live Oak Ranch, as it's known, is located fifteen miles outside the little town of Merkel and Linda's parents live there on a part time basis. Late this year, however, the property began a transformation of sorts. Linda's sister Shannon and her husband JP decided to build their own house on the hundred-acre property with eight goats, four horses, two chickens, three cats and two dogs in tow.
We arrived just before Thanksgiving and there was a definite chill in the air. We got busy right away with holiday meal plans and spent the afternoon keeping the dogs company.

I don't usually associate Texas with winter frost and fog but we encountered both during our stay.
On our first morning, I awoke to a frosty landscape. The entire place looked like it was covered in snow. I grabbed my camera, put on my smallest lens (27mm pancake) and walked out the door. Being out and about with a single prime lens is relatively new to me. I'm usually more comfortable with a zoom lens or a choice of primes in my bag. That way, I feel sure I won't miss a thing.
Using a fixed focal length lens is challenging but also liberating and rewarding. If I see something worth shooting, instead of standing still, I can either move back or forth to achieve my desired framing. Changing my relative distance helps me engage better with the subject. The 27mm lens is wide enough for landscape work but I can also get in tight for closeup shots without noticeable distortion. Mostly, it creates the most compact version of my camera and frees me from the burden of too many choices and a heavy kit.

A few days later, a thick mist surrounded the ranch and beckoned me. Nothing makes me wake up, get up and get out as fast as a soupy sunrise.
When we visit the ranch each year, we stay in our motorhome beside a large live oak tree. I've wanted to record this tree in a very specific way since I first saw it. The problem is that there's just too much stuff behind it to make it stand out.
When the fog rolled in, it transcended the scene to the one in my imagination. Now the big live oak displayed its majesty in strong contrast to the milky background.

Much like snow, fog mutes both color and sound. Objects are revealed briefly until the mist disperses and they once again return to hiding.

Everywhere I looked, photographs announced themselves and vied for my attention. There was a sense of mystery about what was lurking up ahead as details faded into oblivion. It all conspired to become a delicious visual cocktail.

The Burn Pile
This area is remote from services such as garbage collection so burning trash and debris from clearing the land is quite a common thing. A fire of this size needs to be closely monitored for at least a few hours to ensure its safety. It was quite meditative sitting there, watching the flames and feeling the warmth on this brisk day.

Workshop Still Life
It's easy to be inspired by things lying around the ranch. With a background in urban and suburban living, very little about a ranch is familiar to me. This arrangement of oil cans, for instance, drew my eye. A few hours later, they were gone, replaced on shelves until summoned to usefulness once again.

Seeing the Light
Every morning, I went in search of the effects of the sunrise. Evidence was abundant, casting long shadows on the exterior of the house, creating a soft wash in the workshop and then boldly announcing itself through the front door. I love how fleeting it all is, never shining again in the exact same way or in the same place.

During my stay, the ranch began its carnival of animals. Two by two and four by eight they arrived. The goats were the loudest of all. Each had a completely different personality and all fought for the tastiest chow spot.
Shannon and JP had to leave for a few days so Linda's dad John and I tried to figure out what to do with these four-leggers. As it turns out, goat herding did not actually need the heavy supervision we had first imagined. Although we were a little stressed about possibly losing the goats, they surprised us by staying close to home in a tight formation.

Documenting work at the ranch and getting to spend time with the people and animals was a rare treat. I gleaned quite a bit from John and JP's extensive knowledge. Being with them is like being an apprentice rancher. I always come away from the experience having learned about tools I didn't even know existed. Hey, you never know when you might need them :)

When the horses appeared, they added something quite special to my experience. Throughout my life, I have had an affinity for these beautiful beasts. I don't quite know why but there is a calm about them that can't be equaled. Spending any kind of time with horses feels, to me, like a privilege.

My son Zac and daughter Tara flew down to see us. They both loved being with the animals and even managed to fit in a little horse riding. There was no shortage of stimulation for each of them. Zac was particularly fascinated by some sheep skulls he retrieved from an old barn.

Being at the ranch was time well spent but, as soon as Christmas Day passed, our family began to return home and Linda and I were ready to get on the road once again. Next stop: RV camping off the grid in the Borrego Springs desert in Southern California. Have I mentioned that I love this life? Happy New Year!

My Adobe Spark (formerly Slate) presentation of this post is available here

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