Birthday Adventure 2020

My cabin © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

On my birthday in August, I rented a small mountain cabin for several days around 11,000 feet at the top of Grand Mesa, Colorado.

The cabin was cozy and offered everything I needed. Additionally, I brought extra items to make my stay pleasurable. I enjoyed thunderstorms in the late afternoons and day time mild weather. Early morning cool weather was a respite from the heatwave where I live.

The cabin backed up to many acres of the Grand Mesa National Forest. I brought my new laptop with me to edit my soon to be published novels during the evenings. This was a very productive literary time.

Lake © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

During the days, I explored several beautiful lakes within walking distance from my cabin. I drove a short distance to this lake and observed a Bald Eagle chased by a hawk. Perhaps, the COVID 19 resulting in fewer people this year at the lakes.

Mule Deer Fawn behind my cabin © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

A family of Mule Deer visited me behind my cabin on my first evening. It was great to connect with each one. I shared a special moment with this curious deer. Where I live, families of Mule Deer visit me and take naps in my backyard.

Lake © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

This was one of the lakes I walked to from my cabin. I hiked partly around it and loved the birds I observed including a Gray Jay that I had never seen before this trip. This was a refreshing experience that I want to have more frequently.

Gray Jay © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

This beautiful Gray Jay frolicked for a long time around me. It would swoop down from a high branch and land in front of my feet. Suddenly, it would then fly to a branch on another tree and repeating this for nearly an hour. The Gray Jay allowed me to take photographs before taking flight. It was great fun and I felt like a child again exploring the forest and its critters.

Path © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

It was a pleasure to walk in nature again since COVID 19 began and especially connecting with diverse wildlife. This path led around a picturesque lake. The quiet paths offered solitude with just the rhythmic sound of my shoes on the ground.

Last year when I stayed at a different cabin for my birthday, countless mosquitoes took turns biting my arms. Thank goodness I brought Witch hazel that made all the difference. This year, only one gigantic mosquito attempted to take a bite.

The cabin, which is about 20 minutes up the mountain from where I currently live, offers the opportunity to visit the area whenever I can. The owners graciously offered me a voucher for two free days to stay at the cabin, which I hope to do when the first snows arrive or in spring as the snow melts.

I, of course, brought my professional camera with my telephoto lens for wildlife and my smaller wide-angle lens for nature and landscape photographs. I have included in this post some of the pictures.

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

This adorable Golden-mantled Squirrel munched on the leaf as we connected and I nibbled on a snack I brought. Sharing a meal with a squirrel eye-to-eye is an endearing experience.

Mule Deer behind my cabin © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

Although it was getting dark, I took this photograph of a Mule Deer being the lookout for the other deer family. Shortly after taking this photograph it quickly ran away from whatever it was looking at. The owners told me a Black Bear was behind my cabin before I arrived.

Colorado Chipmunk © 2020 Stephen Bruno, Grand Mesa, Cedaredge, Colorado

This Colorado Chipmunk was preoccupied eating while standing on a large rock at a nearby lake. I’m not certain what was in its mouth but the way it was enjoying the meal it reminded me of cotton candy.

I am looking to relocate to an affordable area somewhere next year with an even more accessible nature and wildlife that I can enjoy during the day while I continue to write in the evenings.

I considered the Drama & Tragedy they Express.

Recently I was out photographing nature and wildlife and found an unexpected cemetery located in the country. Mature trees, tall grass, brush, and shrubs grew around the stones. Each of the tombstones dates from around the middle to the late 1800s.

With fascination, I have always wandered around graveyards, and especially older ones reading the epitaphs inscribed on a monument, headstone, marker, or memorial that is a message for or a message about the deceased individual or individuals. Usually, they have the deceased’s name, date of birth, and date of death inscribed on them, along with a personal message or prayer details in stone relief. Additionally, I take numerous photographs.

I was admiring the stoneworking artistry of the ornamental carving face of the stone headstones and monuments. As I read the gravestone inscriptions, I imagined who they were and how they lived their lives and what eventually brought them to this cemetery. I considered the drama and tragedy they express.

While walking down the uneven rows of tombstones, I came to one that  was not lighted by the sun. By using a pocket mirror to reflect sunlight onto the unlighted stone, I was able to read the inscription. Inscribed on the face of the stone headstone are my name, date of birth, and date of death on the stone relief.

A Renewed Appreciation of Her Calm, Smiling Patience

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Recently I was visiting the city where I was considering relocating before the governor mandated wearing masks. I walked into the Visitors Center sans a mask. The receptionist offered a free cover from a small box.

Whenever I was in public wearing a mask, I placed one on in front of a mirror to get a tight fit over my mouth and nose.

She watched me fumble with the mask with an amused expression. I initially began with it covering my eyeglasses, then having got it caught on the frames of the glasses. I lowered the mask over my nose and around my mouth.

After an awkward repositioning, I finally had the mask on adequately. During this time, I was distracted by the loud music coming from her computer. Why I wondered, she did not turn down what I thought was a music video.

Once I felt comfortable with the mask on and began asking her some questions about the area, including nature and wildlife photography opportunities, I suddenly realized that music video was coming from the cell phone that I placed on the table to put on my mask. I had a renewed appreciation of her calm, smiling patience.

In the future, I’ll bring in the mask I keep in my car, and I will place it on in front of the vanity mirror before going into a public place. Additionally, I’ll be sure to turn my phone off.

 

 

One Heartbeat Away …

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The poignant image of the mother and child at the cemetery is profound and heart-wrenching.

As a Vietnam Veteran, Memorial Day is more than having a day off. It is a day like every day, remembering the Veterans, the military people who gave the greatest sacrifice, their lives, and all military families who give so much.

I believe that in many ways, I shall always be one heartbeat away from my fourteen-month tour of duty in the war.

Ancient Alliance

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I am nearing completion of my science fiction historical mystery novel, Ancient Alliance, planned for publication in 2020.

On December 15, 1900, mariners in the area claimed they saw a ghost ship crewed with skeletons through the sea fog.

On December 26, 1900, the Hesperus arrived as usual on the lee-side of the main island to find no one waiting on the jetty. There was no light from the tower for the first time since it was built a year before.

Mystified, the skipper sent a man ashore to find out why, and he soon returned with the news that the lighthouse was deserted entirely – all three beds and the front door seem to have been left as if just for a moment. The lamp, throughout, was working correctly, the reflectors were polished brightly, and the oil reservoir was full to the top. In one room, they found a slate where Ducat, the head keeper, had made his last log entry, dated December 15, and timed 9 a.m. But the men had disappeared into thin air.

All remained ominously mysterious. To this day, what happened to the three lighthouse keepers remains one of the sea’s unresolved riddles. Or is there an unimaginable explanation?

 

“My God, she talks to the birds, and I think she believes they talk back to her.”

American Robin 2020 © Stephen Bruno, Cedaredge, Colorado

When I was an Executive Director of a mental health agency in the California mountains, a brother and sister came to talk with me about their elderly mother, “Mary.” They felt that she needed to be institutionalized or kept in a long-term care facility. They expressed concern about her cognitive ability and safety.

“My God, she talks to the birds, and I think she believes they talk back to her.”

Her brother nodded his head in agreement.

They showed me some legal documents from their attorney. If I agreed that their mother was unable to adequately care for herself, and sign the papers, she could be committed. I was wondering how genuine their concern was and if there were ulterior motives. Either way, I wanted to ensure Mary’s well-being. I told them both that I would visit with their mother and report my decision back to them soon.

In the next few days, my new administrative assistant and I drove along the winding mountain road until we came to the address I was given. I had not called ahead so that we could observe the situation without any preparations from Mary.

The secluded older home was set on a beautiful, clean, clear water lake and nestled in a forest of towering pine trees. We walked past a well-kept front yard. I knocked on the door, and after a few minutes, a tall thin woman with kind eyes and a welcome smile opened the door and looked at us curiously, but she didn’t say anything. I explained that her children were concerned about her. She was dressed in warm winter clothes. I explained that we were asked to see how she was doing. I introduced myself and my assistant.  As she looked us over carefully, she was obviously in some deep contemplation.

After a few moments, she apologized for her lapse in hospitality, and she invited us into her home.

“Come, have a seat at my kitchen table while I make you some of my hibiscus tea.”

We followed her through the comfortable living room and sat at her large cherry oak dining table with a pedestal.

Her home was immaculate with everything in its place. The typical family portraits hanging on walls and knickknacks on the shelves.

“Oh, dear!” She exclaimed.

She turned off the burner under the teapot where the water had evaporated.

My assistant and I shared a subtle glance. I knew what she was thinking as she was troubled after listening to the family members stating their concern and was leaning toward my signing the legal documents. The teapot only increased this certainty.

Mary filled up a different teapot with water, turned on the same electric burner, and encouraged us to try her carrot cake she had baked earlier while the water heated. Each of us was given a generous portion of cake while she took a smaller slice. I was not surprised that the carrot cake was delicious.

“Although unnecessary, it is lovely of my children to be concerned about how I am doing. They are delightful children. I’ll always think of them as my young children even as they have grown into adulthood.”

After a few moments, Mary got up and poured the three of us tea and brought us sugar.

“How do you like living in the mountains without nearby neighbors, and have you ever felt lonely.”

“I love living here. This is my home. Oh, heavens, no, I have my friends who visit with me frequently.”

Again my assistant and I shared a curious glance.

“After we finish our tea, I would like to show you my pride and joy, my garden.”

I can see why she loved the garden; the landscaped garden was so peaceful and beautiful with a variety of plants and small trees. Every detail was impeccable.

Almost as soon as we sat in the three comfortable lounge chairs, the birds arrived. During the following two hours, these included Steller’s Jays, Scrub Jays, California Thrashers, woodpeckers, Mountain Bluebirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, nuthatches, and Northern Flickers. The tranquil melody of songs was inspiring.

“I don’t see any birdfeeders.”

“Oh dear, I never feed the birds as I know they have plenty of food provided by nature.”

As we enjoyed the beautiful garden, more birds came to replace the previous ones. From the interactions of Mary and the birds, it became evident that she did not need to feed them to encourage their visits.

“If you excuse me for a moment, I want to welcome my bird friends.”

With that, Mary walked around the garden, addressing each bird who seemed intently on connecting with her. It was clear that there is some communication between her and each bird. When she called to the birds, they arrived singing and responding to her softly communicating with each one.

“Is there is something else I can get for you?”

I looked at my assistant, and she shook her head no, and I said that there wasn’t anything else that she could do for us.

I asked if there was anything we could do for her since she did live alone. She said, not really. She thoughtfully mentioned that once in a while, she had become rather forgetful about things like a tea kettle boiling over, and occasionally why wondering why she walked into a room until a few minutes later, she’d remembered why.

After several questions about her living conditions that I asked as unintrusively as possible, she shared about her early life and her love for her children. She had been widowed for several years.

It was true that she was becoming forgetful, and I believed Mary required help to make sure she was more careful about things like not letting her water boil over on the stove. Also, I thought someone to help her shop, provide light housekeeping, and keeping a nurturing eye on her would be necessary. Although she was fiercely independent most of her life, Mary felt that her children would be relieved with her receiving a visiting caretaker.

On my recommendation, she remained in her home with a visiting caretaker. I believe that Mary flourished rather than forced to live in a restricted environment. I’m confident that the birds also benefited.

 

I May Attend My Own Eulogy

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve wondered why we fondly share all the meaningful remembrances about someone after their death rather than when they were alive. When I read about celebrities and others and the beautiful statements made about them from their peers, I can’t help but think it would be great if this information we shared in their eulogy was told to the person while they were still with us.

As editor of both my high school and college newspaper and a Journalism major in my first years in college, I know that newspaper morgues have prepared obituaries that can be updated and put out quickly when a well-known person passes on. I understand the value to family and friends in the general public to be reminded of the person’s qualities and things that they did to make a difference.

It seems to me there’s something missing with this process when the person isn’t around to hear these heartfelt sentiments and how much of a difference that may have made.

I wonder what would happen if we shared with people in person, how much they mean to us, and what a difference they make in our lives.

The Collie with a twinkle in its eyes …

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Years ago, I took 15 people on 50-foot houseboat personal and spiritual retreats to Lake Powell in Arizona year-round. On one trip returning to Prescott from Page,  Arizona, I was driving a large van on an isolated two-lane rural road with several of the retreat participants and no other vehicles in sight for miles. I was driving rather fast on the long straight flat road, and I continued looking farther up the road for safety when I noticed some movement.

I slowed the vehicle down without waking the passengers in the back. The person in the front passenger seat and I were mesmerized by what we observed on the road in front of us.

I pulled to a stop and observed two beautiful Collie dogs, each one facing the opposite direction of the road. In the middle were many sheep crossing from one side of the road to the other. There were no people anywhere to be seen.

It was an amazing sight to observe these two majestic dogs independently shepherding the sheep across the road, standing defiantly against any vehicles that could harm their flock. The focus and intensity of their herding instinct reminded me that domesticated dogs are decedents from wolves and use the circling and grouping moves I observed in the Collies.

It wasn’t until the last of the sheep crossed into safely that each of the dogs took one long look down the road and then followed the sheep.

The Collie facing our van looked me straight in the eyes, and I don’t believe it was my imagination that it had a twinkle in its eyes and a half-smile as the Collie jauntily continued its way towards its responsibility with the sheep.

The experience touched my naturalist’s heart and soul.

 

 

South Of Somewhere

South of Somewhere 2006 © Stephen Bruno, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Reservation, Sutcliffe, Nevada

South Of Somewhere

South of somewhere
Searching for someplace
Drawing me closer somehow
I found the elixir of something

© 2007 Stephen Bruno

 

Freelance Contributor & Photojournalist for Colorado Monthly News Magazine

After an extensive evaluation process including submission of my writing style and photography ability, I received an email today that I am now one of their freelance contributors & photojournalist for Western Colorado’s leading monthly news magazine for adults 50 and older with over 50,000 readers each month.

My first paid job was in high school taking action photographs of county-wide high school sports events and writing an accompanying brief news report for a large newspaper.

I am currently editing several fiction and nonfiction books and a coffee table photography book with 2020 as the publishing date.

Since I was drafted out of college at the height of the Vietnam War which deterred me from my journalism major, this Freelance Contributor & Photojournalist brings me back full circle to my first passion.

Early Writer – I was writing short stories on an old Underwood typewriter by the time I was four years old. In junior high school, I wrote two plays, Old Glory and Adelante! I was asked to have these play presented to the student body while given some director responsibility.

Avid Reader – I began reading at a very young age. Throughout elementary school, I read novels in class and ditched school to spend hours at the library near my home.

Editor in Chief – I was the editor of both my high school and college newspaper.

Rebel – I created and wrote articles and satire for an ‘underground’ newspaper I had the U.S. Army distribute in Vietnam during my fourteen-month tour of duty. I was nearly court marshaled and ordered to stop after two issues.

Columnist – For several years, I wrote a weekly Southern California newspaper column on diverse subjects.

Magazine Publisher & Editor –  I published and edited a monthly literary, photography, and art magazine for several years.

Writers’ Conference Director – I organized and directed two national writers’ conferences in Oregon and Washington.

Writers’ Group & Workshop Instructor – I created and taught numerous writers’ groups and workshops, resulting in publication for some participants.

Daddy, Why Are the People Crying?

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Daddy, why are there names on the wall?
They are Americans killed during the Vietnam War.
Daddy, why do the people touch the wall?
To touch the wall is to touch the dead.
Daddy, why are the people crying?
The dead are touching them back.

© 1989 Stephen Bruno

I wrote this poem at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., on Veteran’s Day 1989 during my first and most significant visit. I watched many people at the Wall tracing names, touching names, and staring off in reflection. After experiencing the same for myself as a Vietnam Veteran, I wrote this poem at 3 AM. I pictured my daughter, Kelly, as the child asking the questions.

Blessings to all of the veterans of all wars, their families and loved ones, MIAs, and the ones who gave their lives.

 

2019 AppleFest, Cedaredge, Colorado

AppleFest 2019 © Stephen Bruno, Cedaredge, Colorado

AppleFest 2019 © Stephen Bruno, Cedaredge, Colorado

Today, I walked around the 2019 AppleFest at Cedaredge Town Park. I found my current mountain home during the 2018 AppleFest. This morning I purchased some food for meals later this weekend, home-made natural soap, organic tea, and a few artistic creations.

The anticipated 20,000 visitors were already beginning to appear in my home town of 2,253 residents. I am presenting a few of the photographs that I took with my new Apple iPhone 11 Pro.

I had a long conversation with Lanya from Safe Landing Horse Rescue and will be sharing my support for her valuable work rescuing and healing horses.

I returned Sunday to take more photographs and listen to the musicians. I added more photographs and two videos I took with my Apple iPhone 11 Pro.

 

AppleFest 2019 © Stephen Bruno, Cedaredge, Colorado

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“This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

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Years ago, when I lived in the mountains in Southern California, I owned a house in an area called the Valley of Enchantment. It certainly was enchanting for my Miniature Dachshund companion, Quincy. You may have previously read my blog posts about Quincy and his adventures, and by popular request, I am sharing another of his true tale.

The two-story structure had a wood deck that looked out the back door and wrapped around one side of the house above the basement, leading to stairs that climbed to the street where my vehicle was parked.

One cold crisp, cloudy winter afternoon, I observed Quincy beginning his “morning constitutional” along the deck on the way to the stairs when he suddenly stopped and looked up towards the driveway beyond my view.

I slowly peeked around the corner and saw a large Mastiff dog quickly and jauntily unrestrained presence stopping at the top of the stairs surveying the deck and Quincy with a curious tilt of his massive head.

Dachshunds were bred to flush out Badgers and can be fearless with other animals. Nonetheless, Quincy was about a quarter of the size of this self-assured Mastiff.

Each of them found their center of gravity and squarely facing each other from a distance.  A decision to call the bluff and with an air of confidence, the Mastiff began to slowly descend the stairs leading straight to where Quincy held his ground.  They each stepped forward five paces, their toenails clicking on the wood deck with every step. Each of them must be thinking, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

After a while, the low deep growl of the Mastiff broke the silence. Quincy stood his grand, silently breathing heavily and bound by a personal code of honor to protect the homestead. It was difficult to tell who was standing their ground best for several minutes until the water vapor from the heavy exhaling cleared the air.

Then, my unusually large Great Dane, Bruno, (yes, I know I he was my namesake – and, he never complained) came from behind me unbeknown to Quincy and locking eyes with the Mastiff. Long seconds passed.

When the Mastiff slowly began backing up the stairs, Quincy became bolder and started barking as he moved forward. The Mastiff glanced at Quincy like the morsel he could be but never lost eye contact with Bruno, who was so intimating he didn’t need to move or to make a sound. I was curious to learn what was going to happen next.

Quincy chased his adversary back up the remainder of the stairs and halfway down the street. When he returned to the deck to see me standing there alone, his chest was so puffed out, I thought it might burst from pride. He never knew the influential support he received from Bruno, the Great Dane.

Nevertheless, from that day forward, Quincy effectively chased away every big or small animal, including a large coyote. To watch the dramatic change in him, you’d think he was backed up by a pack of wolves.

 

Transformed by Perspective, Interpretation, and Compassion

Decisions 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Years ago, I was interviewed on television news stations by reporters after someone killed themselves, especially if the individual was a teenager or younger. My background included directing a suicide prevention hotline and counseling people who were experiencing suicidal thoughts in a clinic setting.

One reporter frequently interviewed me. She was always very professional and directed her questions about what people can do to prevent suicides and how to help loved ones when a suicide occurred.

She was one of those reporters you probably have seen with her hair coiffed, perfect attire, attractive in the classical TV personality way, and always expressing a professional attitude.

Uncharacteristically after an interview on camera, she pulled me aside away from the television crew.

“I don’t understand how someone can become so distressed and depressed that they want to kill themselves. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

I shared my thoughts behind the reasons that people can become so despondent that they view suicide as their only reasonable alternative.

“I don’t think I will ever understand how someone would throw away their life when there were always alternatives and possibilities and support to help them move forward in their life.”

She described her idyllic childhood and acknowledged she was unable to relate to suicide as a means of reacting to stress.

I offered her my years of professional experience working with people who had reached their mental and emotional limits and viewed suicide as their last resort. I could tell that she was unable to relate to their desperation. She was interpreting their behavior from a more intellectual perspective.

A few months later, I was again interviewed by the same reporter after someone in the city committed suicide. She was as usual very professional and objective in her television interview questions, but I sensed something was different.

The interview took place in my backyard near a paddock where our horses lived, and she asked if we could walk around the paddock and away from the camera crew. I was curious about what she wanted to talk about. I waited patiently as we silently walked.

“I get it now. I understand how someone can reach such a level of despair that a person does not feel it’s possible to ever get past the feelings of desperation and helplessness.”

She then haltingly described a recent personal experience that shook her to the core resulting in her feeling for the first time in her life suicidal. It was an amazing transformation of this always professional person who prided herself on perfection, now privately exhibiting her vulnerability in all of her honesty and sensitivity.

I supported her moving beyond her traumatic reactions and finding ways to embrace the changes necessary so that she could move forward in a natural, grounded direction.

The next time she came to interview me about a young person who had killed herself, I noticed that her interview approach was different. There was a depth of compassion and understanding that had not been there before. Her questions had changed, and her responses, while still professional, were more personal and meaningful.

We never spoke about how she was different, and we didn’t need to have that discussion. It was a life transformed by perspective, interpretation,  and compassion. Every interview with me that followed, she asked more in-depth questions, a meaningful eye connection emerging from her soul, and the partial smile that she shared with me said it all.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

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A few months after arriving in Vietnam in 1969

The Times They Are a-Changin’ is a song written by Bob Dylan and released as the title track of his 1964 album of the same name. Dylan wrote the song to create an anthem of change for the fluid times. The ‘60s!  What a significant decade of change for our country. What dramatic unforeseen life changes ahead for me.

In 1960 while living during turbulent times in racially embattled East Los Angeles, California, the White Fence, one of the most violent gangs at the time recruited me. It wasn’t that I had options about being in the gang. Nevertheless, life then was more about daily surviving all the other combined gangs. When the White Fence recruited me I knew their violent reputation even intimidated the other gangs so I embraced the process.  I spent many months learning their criminal activities while initiated into the gang. I carried a Zip Gun that fired a .22-caliber bullet, and I had a large switchblade knife. I remained in the gang for two years losing my innocence once again until my single parent family moved out of the area. If I remained in the gang I can only imagine how my life would have changed.

I was first drawn into politics when John F. Kennedy became the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961. Like so many other people, I was drawn to his charismatic speeches and inspirational approaches to life.  Always curious, I wrote President Kennedy a lengthy letter requesting information about our military forces. I received a prompt letter from Robert McNamara, his Secretary of Defense, who said he was forwarding me boxes of military information, and photographs per the President’s orders. That was an understatement! Years later I donated all of this military material to a local library which filled up several large sections. On November 22, 1963, I had once again ditched high school, and I was back home alone watching television, when I heard about the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Like many Americans, it is a day I will always remember. I knew that this represented a major change in the country. On many levels, I experienced numerous changes.

I remember as a teenager in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, how quickly the local grocery store was empty of groceries and supplies. Most people kept their television tuned to the news which provided an hour by hour update of the impending war with the Soviets. There was fear in the air wherever you went. Daily, we all wondered how imminent the world was to a nuclear war. Any sudden flash of reflection in the sky bought our breathing to a momentary halt and our heart beating so hard we couldn’t hear ourselves think.  Our teachers conducted air raid drills where they would suddenly yell, “Drop!” We were expected to kneel under our desks with our hands clutched around our heads and necks. I didn’t believe that the “Duck and cover” method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear explosion was going to make a difference. It didn’t help that I had black and blue bruises on my knees and forehead hitting the desk from the constant drills. I simply remained seated or standing much to the consternation of the teachers.  I took the time to think about how serious this all was and even without a nuclear war, how the world already changed and that it would never be the same. And, the world never was the same.

The counterculture of the ‘60s was an unsurprisingly powerful expression of a desire for cultural change. I felt this intimately, and I responded with deep philosophical thinking. In some ways, I was counter to some elements of the counterculture. Turn on, tune in, and drop out was the theme that inspired many and nearly everyone I knew. I did chew on an unlighted corn cob pipe briefly as a Freshman in high school. Nonetheless, unlike most of my peers, I’ve never smoked cigarettes, marijuana, got drunk or tried any drugs. I did grow my hair long and I still do. Recently I was photographing wildlife at the Colorado River and a Park Ranger briefly glanced at me and said, What can I do for you, ma’am? I scratched my two week’s growth of beard and replied politely, It’s sir, not ma’am. He was embarrassed and apologized. Relatively new to Colorado, I guess men with long hair is a bit uncommon. During the ’60s, I dressed in comfortable Hippy clothes which I continue to do. I’ve photographed at the iconic center of the Flower Power movement at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets in San Francisco, California. My current Flower Power consists of a house full of plants while dancing to songs from the ’60s as I nurture the receptive plants with water.

My first car while in high school was a used 1957 Triumph TR10 4-door sedan. I remember my girlfriend’s parents purchased a new Ford Mustang 2-door convertible for her at the cost of around $2,615.00 in 1964 which was considered expensive at the time.  I can tell you, given the current monthly payments on my one-year-old Toyota Camry, things have changed.

I recall that in 1965 as a high school Junior, I doubled-dated and we watched the amazing performance of the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl amphitheatre near Los Angeles. What an unbelievable experience that was! For me, no concert since has come close to the excitement created by the Beatles. Music was changing in many ways and me along with it moving to the momentum and rhythm.

During high school, among the television shows I watched included Perry Mason, Route 66, Ironside, The Benny Hill Show, The Fugitive, 77 Sunset Strip, and The Twilight Zone.  In 1967 I purchased the first edition of the influential Rolling Stone magazine for 25¢. A rolling stone gathers no moss and neither did I that year.

I graduated from high school in California as the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper and a varsity track and cross-country runner. I entered my Freshman year in college as the Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper. I had so much to look forward to after graduation as a Journalism major! About two years later in 1968, prior to graduation, I was drafted. It was four months after the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War. No doubt they needed more men on the ground. I held no illusions. I knew that I’d go to Vietnam. I felt that with my gang experience and street smarts I’d be better prepared to embrace a tour of duty in Vietnam, so I never thought about avoiding the draft and having someone else go in my place.  The Tet campaign consisted of multiple simultaneous surprise attacks by some 85,000 troops on 100 major cities and towns in South Vietnam.  This year, 2018, marks the 50th Tet Offensive anniversary. How fast time seems to accelerate. The decision to fight wars never seems to change.

In the summer of 1969, more than 400,000 people tripped out to the Woodstock music festival in upstate New York for peace-and-love. It was the largest outdoor rock concert ever performed. As a Hippy I would have made my way there. I belonged in that atmosphere! I’d have loved to hear Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane among others while embracing like-minded people. However,  I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas going through the U.S. Army Combat Medic and Medical Laboratory training at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston. I didn’t have time for the self-indulgence of what I was missing. I needed to concentrate on the medical training since lives would depend on it in Vietnam. Rolling Stone listed Woodstock as one of the 50 moments that changed the history of Rock and Roll. Although I’m certain that being at Woodstock would have changed the course of my life,  I wonder if it would have been as fulfilling given the changes I have experienced.

In future posts, I’ll share my experiences of my 14-month U.S. Army tour of duty in Vietnam (as requested by my daughter Kelly) including one of the most significant experiences I had when I volunteered for a combat medic mission in the jungle several hours from our base. I know that with the Vietnam War protests this was a turbulent time of change for people back home. I turned 21 while in Vietnam. My experiences during the war remain the most challenging, intense, powerful, and meaningful time of change in my life.

Music through the Armed Forces Radio Network was our savior. There are several songs I heard in Vietnam that still impact my soul like shrapnel through my heart when I hear them again, and I’m sure other Vietnam Veterans feel the same. The one that was very popular during the middle of my tour is, We Gotta Got out of This Place written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and recorded as a 1965 hit single by The Animals. This song hits me the deepest with the truth that while in Vietnam I wasn’t certain that I would get out of that place. I saw many soldiers who never did leave alive. Perhaps, no one felt confident that they would survive the war.  Music gave us the respite from our thoughts and fears. I can’t listen to We Gotta Got out of This Place without reliving some of the more intense experiences in Vietnam and feel the emotions rising. It takes me right back there as if it was yesterday. Click on the link below to hear We Gotta Got out of This Place.

Another song that affected us in Vietnam is, Leaving on a Jet Plane. Written by John Denver in 1966, and picked up by Peter, Paul, and Mary in 1967 for their Album 1700 and released as a single in 1969 – their only No. 1 hit. I thought about leaving on that Freedom Bird and returning home nearly every day of my tour in Vietnam. When that day arrived, and the plane gently lifted off the runway filled with military personnel, there was absolute silence. When the aircraft flew beyond Vietnam airspace everyone spontaneously erupted in thunderous cheers! We smiled at each other in celebration. We survived the war.  We were finally heading home.  And then, 10,000 miles of reflective silence. There was a lot to think about.  I thought about how much I had changed.  Again, I lost my innocence. I knew that I was was not the same young man who had arrived in-country 14-months previously. I was older and tougher and younger and more vulnerable. Little did I know how much I changed and that learning this wasn’t the easiest part of returning home. Click on the link below to hear Leaving on a Jet Plane.

When I returned home from Vietnam, it was a culture shock. There were diverse changes in fashions, music, automobiles, attitudes, morality, education, politics, and behavior to mention a few. And of course, the harsh reception from the public towards Vietnam Veterans. It took nearly twenty years before I heard someone say, Welcome Home. Even now when someone reaches out to say thank you for your service, I hesitate before responding to the unfamiliar kindness. Perhaps, other Vietnam Veterans feel the same way. A song that reaches me deeply in a compassionate way is, Where to Have All the Flowers Gone. This song is by the Kingston Trio. I can’t help but think of all the young men and women who never made it home, or returned with horrendous wounds and losses of limbs, not to mention PTSD. I don’t believe any of us fully returned home. I think that each of us left parts of us there during the Vietnam War. Where Have All the Flowers Gone resonates the most in my post-Vietnam years and brings out my strongest philosophical thoughts. I wonder with my heart in my throat and incredulity in my mind, when Will they ever learn? Click on the link below to hear Where Have All the Flowers Gone.

I lived through more than my share of life experiences during the whirlwind decade of the ’60s. And not surprisingly, I remain as always, an unrepentant Hippie following my philosophical and spiritual paths. And still, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

 

 

Framed Photograph Sold

hippie

Hippie 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Today after visiting a gallery in Cedaredge, Colorado, I found out that this photograph on a traditional canvas wrapped around a wooden frame was sold for over $300.

I photographed this man in June 2008 at the intersection of Haight-Ashbury streets in San Francisco, California. I was struck by his sense of inner peace. I remain an unapologetic hippie, and can so relate to him. On that day,  I was photographing humanitarian scenes around San Francisco. I have deep feelings about the people in these scenes and I use my photography to bring compassionate conscientious awareness.

The image is one of my favorites.

The owners have requested that I replace the same print as soon as possible but with a process that I now use with dyes that are infused directly into a specially coated ready to hang aluminum sheet to create a print with incredible luminescence, detail, and durability. The brilliant high-gloss surface shows every detail. Most of my remaining photographs in the gallery are printed with this method.

Yes, it is true that I an not just a wildlife photographer.

Welcome Home

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Bewilderment detachment; solemnly praying,
Ceremonial Presidential Wreath’s a-laying.
Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown,
Honoring the loss of Americans we bemoan.

Taps painfully playing; hearing a solitary bugle,
Accompanying the rat ta tat tat; the drum so regal.
Cascading tears bathing my flushed cheek,
The longer I stand, the more I’m growing weak.

Jo, a Vietnam Memorial Wall volunteer,
Recognizing the familiar gleam of fear,
Offering help up that emotional climb,
“Some vets don’t make it their first time.”

Pausing beside a letter, set against cool black marble,
Words piercing my heart like pieces of shrapnel.
A dispatch from Jo, to her husband, Bill,
The message passionate: my body expels a chill.

Reflections casting shadows over Bill’s name,
On the polished granite self-proclaimed.
We are weighing the wounds of war,
Comforting each other, and too many before.

Jo, Whispering, “Welcome home,” without pretense.
Feelings welling inside me with a vengeance.
Moving, moving without belonging: needing to roam,
Two decades passing; maybe now coming home.

Fourteen months of duty, then 20 years shutdown,
Jo hugging tightly: our tears kissing the ground.
Tracing names for many a veteran friend,
Too few years left; too much to mend.

A silver POW/MIA bracelet placed on my wrist,
“I’ve never taken this off,” exclaims Jo in earnest.
Col. Robert L. Standerwick Sr., the bracelet proclaims,
On the Wall a diamond, the uncertainty of his remains.

Pacing a moonlit path, painfully alone,
Endless names bathed in light: etched forever in stone.
Haunting Vietnam memories revived,
Endless names survive.

Emerging from a deathlike dream,
Eerie consciousness in an audible stream.
An unforgettable song latched in time and space,
“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”

Feeling drawn to a crying woman looking askew,
Tearing a piece of my last dry tissue.
Sharing a tender offering,
Each new song reviving memories of warring.

This woman expressing calm enlightenment,
Hugging me with abandonment.
Tears mingling in loving suction,
A reprieve of war’s self-destruction.

A hand from behind grabs my shoulder,
I know the reach; it’s from a former soldier.
Reminding me when life was bloody.
He calls out, “Welcome home, buddy.”

An unplanned march to the Laotian Embassy,
Protesting the POW/MIA conspiracy.
Needing to go not sure how or why
Must go for those names that will not die.

Faces painted symbolically white,
Carrying burning candles of spiritual light.
Singing fervent songs and chanting,
Embassy personnel: concealed–not recanting.

Waiting to hear from Lynn, a hush in the air,
Protesters listening with rapt attention.
Sharing of her father’s loss in Laos while flying,
Shear strength keeps her from crying.

Speech over, Lynn now sitting silently,
Near the steps of the Laotian Embassy.
Pushing past the Washington police,
I’m sitting beside her now, near release.

Illuminating the bracelet drawn by the dim light of her candle,
Staring into the eyes of each other, more than either can handle.
Name on the Bracelet…that of her father,
An hour and then- embracing each other.

Back at the Wall of war; seeking a touch of peace.
Nearly one a.m.; will this dream ever cease?
Time; that unforgiving nemesis,
Oh God! Release the genesis.

Three A.M. and God-forsaken,
Writing a grieving letter–twenty years and still so shaken.
Pinning it on the Wall with a twig, wet and broken,
The message is profound, the gesture…. a token.

A poem I wrote on the plane home about 6 am of some of my experiences visiting the Vietnam Wall the first time in Washington on Veteran’s Day 1979, after 20 years serving a 14-month Vietnam U.S. Army tour of duty.  As powerful as this portion is, I will present a more extended narrative of the incredible total pilgrimage to the Vietnam Wall in another post. The image is of me, and Jo as I was getting something from my backpack to leave at the Wall, photographed unknown to us by one of her friends. She mailed the photograph to me about a month later.

© 1989 Stephen Bruno

“Grande Dame of Costuming”

Kay Hirsch, courtesy of Prescott Center for the Arts

In March 1991 I interviewed Kay Hirsch, the costume mistress for the Prescott Fine Arts Association (now PCA). This was intended to be a theater piece for the Arizona Literary Review, published in Prescott, Arizona. It turned out to be much more. She was such a fascinating woman that I wanted to share this interview.

I met her at the Prescott Fine Arts Association in Prescott, Arizona. At the time of the interview, I wore faded jeans and a t-shirt with a creative design and had long hair.  (I still dress the same and still wear long hair). She was an eloquent lady and very proper in her greeting. Carefully, yet politely, looking me over she asked if it would be wise to confirm the interview with my boss at the magazine. When I told her that I was the Publisher and Editor she graciously motioned me to sit next to her at a dressing table without a pause.

I began the interview with her in the fitting room near a large walk-in closet full of many styles of shoes. Behind Hirsch, was a large clothes rack, full of period collarless shirts and suits ready to be fitted for a forthcoming play, which added a touch of theater. Her mood was alternately upbeat and serious as she reflected on the public and private events of her past 50 years.

“I grew up in a theater-going family in London. At that time, we had the very young, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and Ralph Richardson. These actors are now all ‘Sir,’ but not at that time. All these people were all in their 20s and 30s, and it was a wonderful time to attend the theater. There was a program in which Alec Guinness played a sword-bearer. Margot Fonteyn-the famous ballerina), the same age as I am, was just coming along. That’s why I became interested in the theater.”

“I could sew well, so this was my entrance to the theater. I had no desire to be on the stage, but I wanted to work in theater. I fit into the seamstress role.”

She attended the Croydon School of Fine Arts and in 1938 became a member of the costume staff at the Westminster Theatre, London which was roughly equivalent to Off-Broadway in America.

“We did several plays a season. A year and a half later, World War II began and the theaters closed down for a while in London.”

Not only did she perfect her profession through experience and hard work, but she seems to have inherited a good dose of talent from her grandfather who was a very exclusive lady’s dressmaker in London.

“He made dresses for ladies to be presented in court back in the late 1800s. I sometimes think that my grandfather would be tickled that his daughter’s child is often making replicas of dresses he made many many years ago.”

When the theaters reopened, she was in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) of the Royal Air Force. While most other women requested duty near home, she asked for a transfer to Ireland. She wanted to experience something new and different. She was assigned as a weather observer to the British weather office at a weather station at Nutt’s Corner, Northern Ireland, not far from Belfast. This was the first landing for the B-17 Flying Fortresses, after crossing the Atlantic. The aircraft were then dispersed to different units. This was one of the very few, if not the only airfield that was half British and half American. Hirsch was assigned as a weather observer to the British Weather Office.

“My future husband was sent to the American Weather Office and that’s how we met in August of 1943. With our mutual interest in theater, we spent our free time with the stage and concert party on the base. I was doing the costumes and he was acting or directing skits. That’s how we really got to know each other.”

The two young lovers entertained the American and British troops at Nutts Corner, took bicycle rides on their time off, and talked about the theater.

She applied to the WAAF request for volunteers for the Air Transport Auxiliary, never expecting to be accepted by the RAF for the WAAF. Then, in 1944, the RAF recruited Kay and 1,000 other women for single-engine flight training. Kay was one of only 16 who qualified. She was selected and passed the course.

“For the last two years of the war, I was flying aircraft that had one engine from one field to another, or from the operational fields back to the factory. I ferried Spitfires, Hellcats, Hurricanes, Tiger Moths, Swordfish and Barracudas on visual flying with no radios.”

From 1944 to the end of the war, Kay was Third Officer Ferry Pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary. There were only about 162 women ferrying aircraft in non-operational flying.

“She and Zach married on June 5, 1945, in Croydon, England.”

At the time of their marriage, Hirsch was a ferry pilot for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Zach was in the weather service branch of the U.S. Army Air Corps, which became the United States Air Force.

In 1946, she joined her husband in America. Eighteen years later, they moved to Minnesota where she worked for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, which Sir Tyrone Guthrie had founded. She remained on the staff until 1972. She also worked as a senior costumer for the Minnesota ballet, Minnesota Opera, Minneapolis Children’s Theatre and Chanhassen Johnson Theatre.

“The Guthrie Theater was and still is famous for good quality costuming.”

After the war, Kay resumed her costume design career, and Zach joined the professional service of the Boy Scouts of America and became a national leader.

When the family transferred to New Jersey, she became a member of the costume staff for the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ for five years.

Then she moved to Dallas, Texas in 1979. There she sewed for Six Flags Over Texas, was senior sewer for the Dallas ballet, Dallas Opera, Shakespeare in the Park and the drama department at SMU.

“It was fun working all those different places.”

When he retired in 1984, she and Zach traveled to Phoenix to look at homes but fell in love with Prescott.

“We heard about the Prescott Fine Arts Association and quickly got involved with the PFAA.

“When we arrived in Prescott in 1986, we recognized a need to do costuming. I had never done community theater before.”

Hirsch found or sewed costumes for the performers. She mended and cleaned costumes during the run of the show. She was also the dresser, assisting performers with costume changes.

She designed and made costumes for over 110 main stage and Family Theatre Prescott Fine Arts Association productions in her 26 years as a volunteer resident costumer. One of her favorite shows as a costumer was Kiss Me Kate.

“A lot of people tend to think costuming is just throwing fabric together. It’s exactly the reverse because in community theater you’ve got clothes you perform in night after night. The wear and tear on them are much more than on a normal piece of clothing.”

The theater provided the Hirsch family the opportunity to make new friends, including young people.

“The high school kids coming through – meeting them and getting to know them, keeps us in touch with young people. Where else can you have a group of people from six years old to sixty plus, and everything in between? Where else, but in the theater?”

Hirsch was convinced that many people would enjoy the plays if they would only attend them.

“My husband and I are extremely impressed with the quality of the performances here. They are more professional than your average amateur production; the scenery and lighting are extremely well done.”

Kay Hirsch, the “grande dame of Prescott costuming” passed away on Sunday, October 17, 2010, at the age of 90 after an accidental fall and an ensuing infection.

My Artistic Renaissance

For more than five decades, my photography included wildlife, birds, nature, black & white film, humanitarian, travel, macro, documentary, fine art, headshot, and photographic artistry. I continue to teach aspiring wildlife and bird photographers on how to respect and photograph without intrusion. I embrace the essence of each wildlife in my images!. People tell me that I photograph with an artist’s eye. I believe that it comes from my naturalist’s heart.

I have decided to begin this birthday year also supporting my artistic renaissance. This includes experimenting with different new and used cameras, lenses, subjects, settings, filters, lighting, and other photographic procedures. I’m planning more astrophotography, abstract, surreal, black and white, and creative techniques.

Here are a few early samples of my photographic artistry from my original images taken over the years. There are powerful stories behind each of these images.

Brown Bear © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Wildlife Safari, Winston, Oregon © Stephen Bruno

Carousel Horse © 2019 Stephen Bruno, San Francisco, California © Stephen Bruno

Pyramid Lake © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Paiute Tribe Reservation, Sutcliffe, NV © Stephen Bruno

Classic Aircraft © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Reno, Nevada © Stephen Bruno

Classic Car © 2019 Stephen Bruno, Reno, Nevada © Stephen Bruno

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