Not Exactly My Finer Moments.

Mallard Duck, 2016 © Stephen Bruno

Many years ago, I was the Publisher and Editor of the Arizona Literary Review, a monthly literary, art, and photography magazine. Today I was sorting through some of my papers for better organization when I found a copy of the June 1992 issue of the magazine. It was a bit of nostalgia to look through Arizona Literary Review.

While looking at this June issue this morning, I valued high-quality literary, art, and photography that people submitted. When I created the magazine, I imagined that it would eventually reach across the country. I had no idea that people as far away as Paris, France would subscribe and send their submissions, including well-established authors.  As a writer, artist, and photographer It was a pleasure providing opportunities for contributors to be published, some for the first time. Decades later, I happened to meet a neighbor who reminded me that I published his photography in the first issue of the Arizona Literary Review. This visibility started his professional career, and he became a renown photographer.

I read an article in the issue that I wrote in my column, From the Publisher & Editor titled, I Fell in Love with Marie Antoinette, about imagination, creativity, and sometimes not taking ourselves too seriously. I would like to share this with you in my blog post as I believe there is still some relevance.

When we fall in love, I believe that the latent characters who normally reside passively within our psyche suddenly emerge. Our emotions intensify creating illusions of reality. Romantic songs play “just for us,” and the world revolves around our immediate needs and desires. You know the sense when the flowers are brighter, the air is crisper, and the birds sing sweeter.

With creativity, passion is also aroused and inhibited, equally often without satisfactory resolution. The quality of this relationship to creativity determines how we share our passion. Sometimes it is expressed by writing, photography, painting, dance, or music.

There are moments when I can recall a furtive glance by an inquisitive squirrel; the whooshing sound of wind embracing the tall pines; the distinctive aroma of summer blossoms, and cherished memories for a high school sweetheart. The haunting words and melodic rhythm of the 60s song, We got to get out of this place, revive the indelible melancholy and mania for my 14-month tour of duty in Vietnam. Then these memories vaporize just as suddenly.

My passion is to understand how this lingering tenderness in such sensorial experiences manifests itself in unrestricted drawing, painting, writing, and photography. I feel drawn into and captivated by this intimate involvement with my raw emotions in an undefined desire for creativity.

The arduous process of establishing an authentic relationship with creativity is an intimate, passionate process. Having our work published is a collective external experience. Poetry, fiction, photography, music, dance, and drama caress the heart soul and spirit. As an artist, writer, and photographer I appreciate the creative depth from others who also enjoy these mediums.

Relationships real or imagined are a wealth of resources for story, character, and plot development. Several years ago, I indifferently requested a book on Marie Antoinette through a popular book club. To my astonishment, I identified with her struggles, dreams, losses, adventures, letters, and trauma dramas.

I began writing a historical novel reflecting on the essence of Marie Antoinette.  The positive elements of her life and personality that are less known. Sometime during that year, I fell in love with Marie Antoinette and rediscovered my creative passion soon after I published the Arizona Literary Review. Many years earlier as Editor-Chief of my college newspaper I produced the weekly publications with great enthusiasm, but without as much passion.

I believe that we stimulate our inspiration when we experience the unusual in the familiar. In my thirties, at an airline terminal, I sketched on an imaginary drawing pad the divergence of passengers waiting to board a flight. I observed their mannerisms, conversations, and facial features which I committed to memory for later retrieval in one of my novels.

Startled out of my reverie of character sketching, I heard the last few words of my flight’s departure announcement in the loudspeaker. Reaching for my portable art bin, I remembered that the drawings and art supplies were imaginary.

Feeling chagrined, I hurried past all the passengers to the front of the line along the tarmac towards the America West Airlines aircraft so that I could get the window seat that I preferred. At that time no one had assigned seating. Unlike at many airports today, everyone walked along the tarmac and climbed the mobile stairs to board the aircraft.

Consumed with my recent creative energy and overly stimulated imagination, I climbed the portable stairs leading to the aircraft’s forward cabin ahead of the other passengers. On the aircraft at the top of the stairs, a uniformed Flight Attendant politely greeted me and asked to see my airline ticket. With a curious appraisal of me, she suggested that this was not the correct aircraft that I wanted. Trying to nurture me through my confused gaze, she said that the flight I wanted was on the other side of the aircraft.

With a slight half smile, she pointed to the last of the passengers on my flight who were on the tarmac walking to the other side of the aircraft. I couldn’t help myself I and asked if she was sure that this aircraft was not my flight. Once again, with a measure of infinite patience and smile, she said that she could assure me with absolute confidence that I was not going anywhere on this aircraft.

The Flight Attendant then gently handed me back my ticket and wished me a good flight. In addition to the previous concentration on my character sketching I had a couple of intense things in my life that needed some resolution, and I figured that being a bit distracted is understandable resulting in my attempting to board the wrong aircraft. I casually turned and noticed that the line of passengers was no longer on the tarmac.

I walked carefully down the steps trying to make sense of this unfamiliar experience until I reached the bottom of the stairs. Perhaps an intuition, I turned around and looked up at the top of the stairs. I noticed that the Flight Attendant was still standing by the door, and now with several other uniformed personnel who were all staring down at me.

With a Mona Lisa smile and the slight movement of her eyes looking to the left and down I finally realized why they all were so amused. With the sun gleaming off the aircraft I looked up and saw that the wing was empty where the engine should be. With a gleam in her eye, a nod, and a warm smile, the Flight Attendant placed her hand over her heart as if to say she understood and wished me well.

I was the last passenger to board the correct aircraft and ignoring all the passenger smiles and subdued laughter who had watched me climb up the stairs to an aircraft with no engine; I found an empty aisle seat. Yes, I was embarrassed by this careless attention to familiar detail but found the humor, nonetheless and I still do. I have since embraced the subtle and powerful influence of the familiar on writing, art, photography, and everyday life and the value of being able to laugh at ourselves.

Suspending judgment removes the shackles that inhibit who we truly are. A healthy sense of humor offers insight, humility, and tickles our judgments into a relaxed state in which curiosity offers a resolution.

When the plane landed, I was determined to make up for my faux pas by asking out a Flight Attendant who had been particularly warm and friendly to me during the flight. I was the last one off the aircraft, and as I walked along the hall toward the baggage claim, she met up with me and walked right alongside so close that we occasional brushed against each other.

Normally not too inhibited socially, I knew that before we reached the end of the hall where I needed to turn right, that I must ask her if she would be interested in sharing some time together, perhaps lunch. As we walked along, I looked at her, and she responded with a beautiful smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

I then without any apparent cognitive thinking asked if she knew what time it was. With a squint of her eye, she looked at my watch and told me the time.  We walked further in silence. What are you thinking, Bruno, I thought to myself? Soon we were going to reach the end of the hall, and I needed to turn right toward the baggage claim area, and she probably will go the opposite direction, and I only had a few moments to do better.

You can do this Bruno, I said to myself with confidence. I smiled, and she still smiled warmly back. Then, with a temporary mental fugue condition, I experienced an inexplicable state of altered consciousness and I asked her if she comes here often. I couldn’t believe it came out of my mouth any more than she could. She just nodded in unconcealed disbelief and disappointment at just the moment when we reached the end of the hall and without another word she turned to the left, and I walked to the right to the baggage claim area.

Not exactly my finer moments. It does, however, demonstrate how deeply we can be connected in creative ways using our imagination so that we lose perspective of the present.

The next day I decided to visit one of the lakes in the forest to focus primarily on creativity, my love of nature and wildlife and to get grounded. That Sunday afternoon, I was sketching on my outdoor easel the variety of people and families who were fishing, hiking, boating, and enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.

Five beautiful Mallard Ducks swam across the placid lake purposefully to the shore in front of me.  In unison, they began a powerful song as they marched single file up the steep hill and gathered beside my easel looking at the sketch thoughtfully.

Now, this is what nature is all about I mused. I wanted to capture this moment of communion and remember it. I positioned my charcoal pencil on a new page of the drawing tablet to sketch the largest Mallard Duck who was posing quietly beside me as he watched me sketch him.

I could hear rippling of the water, children laughing, and the flutter of songbirds. With the warmth of the sun and a light breeze, it was a great day to be creative and enjoy nature, and have wildlife come right up to me to share this special time.

The largest Mallard Duck remained standing next to be me looking intently at my sketch of his portrait. I knelt on the ground, faced him, and looked directly into his eyes.  I verbally shared the idea of unconditional compassion, love, and harmony with nature and assured him that I subscribed to these philosophies and that I valued his participation with me. I told him that he and his family are welcome to visit with me any time I’m at the lake.

I mentioned that I was a wildlife photographer and how I loved to capture the essence of wildlife in my photographs. This monologue drew his deep attention and he cocked his head frequently occasionally looking up at me and then back to the sketch. Glancing briefly at his impassive companions who stood several feet away, he then fixed his eyes back on mine.

I accepted this gaze as his sensibility and mutual understanding, and I felt that lightheaded rush of compassion and enlightenment in my connection with one of nature’s own. It was one of those rare moments and insight into the wonders of the universe and the reverence for life.

And then he bit me.

Showdown at High Noon

The Year: The Wild West ’70’s.

The Location: In the middle of an empty, dusty wood deck outside an abode in the valley on the outskirts of a western town.

The Time: Nearing when the clock strikes high noon.

Years ago, I lived in California where I owned a mountain home in a rural 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 amazing adventures. By popular request, I am sharing another 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.

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

I cautiously peeked around the corner behind him and observed a large Mastiff dog riding into view and stopping at the at the top of the stairs surveying the deck and Quincy with an intense stare. He may have been new in town but clearly, this Mastiff was no stranger to showdowns.

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 and he was thoughtfully weighing his options.

They each found their center of gravity and squarely faced each other from a distance like gunslingers of the Old West.  From a decision to call the bluff and with an air of confidence, the Mastiff began to slowly and deliberately descend the first step of the stairs, leading straight to where Quincy firmly held his ground.

Then, both of them stepped forward five paces, their toenails clicking on the wood deck with every step, and locked in focused eye contact. Each of them must be thinking, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

Within a few heart-pounding minutes, the low deep growl of the Mastiff broke the silence. Nevertheless, Quincy stood his ground 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 cold air and I could once again see this stalemate.

Then, Bruno, (yes, I know, he was my namesake – and, trust me he never complained), my unusually large Great Dane, came from behind me unbeknown to Quincy locking eyes with the Mastiff who stood on the stails smaller by about a head.

Long seconds passed.

When the Mastiff slowly began backing up the stairs, Quincy became bolder and started growling with an occasional bark for good measure as he took small paces forward toward the stairs.

The Mastiff glanced at Quincy like the morsel he could be, but never losing eye contact with Bruno, who was so intimating that he didn’t need to move or to make a sound. I was curious to learn what was going to happen next. You can never predict what is going to happen in a showdown.

Taking advantage of the Mastiff’s sudden distraction, Quincy chased his adversary back up the remainder of the stairs and halfway down the road and out of town just as the clock strikes high noon.

When Quincy strode purposefully back to the deck seeing me standing there alone, his chest was so puffed out that I thought it might burst from pride. He may not have worn a ten-gallon hat or handcrafted boots with spurs but he walked like he was ten feet tall.

He never knew the influential support he received from Bruno. Nevertheless, from that day forward Quincy effectively chased away every big or small animal including a Black Bear cub, large dogs, deer, a family of Racoons, and a Coyote.  To watch the dramatic change in him, you’d think he was backed up by a pack of wolves. All that made the difference was his having belief in himself.

 

 

 

 

Embracing our Animal Companions

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2009 © Stephen Bruno

Several years ago, I was running an errand, when I decided to stop by unannounced at a new small service business in town that had recently opened. The owner was interested in my participating in the open house a week later. I had communicated by email about meeting with the owner, but we had not set up a specific date.

I drove to the address which was on a small residential street and looked like a home business. There was an ‘open’ sign on the outside near the front door surrounded by a delightful small courtyard. I pushed lightly on the front door which stuck a little, so I pushed harder to enter. It was common that time of year for doors to expand and require greater effort to move.

I walked into a quaint looking homey living room with cozy country style curtains, closing the front door behind me. I didn’t see any customers sitting on the comfy looking couches or overstuffed chairs. I noticed business cards and brochures on a round wood table in what would be the dining area.

After a few minutes of looking around the living room waiting for the owner or an employee to appear, I walked near the table in the dining room area and called several times toward the kitchen which was around the corner.

Since the kitchen area may be private, I stopped by the table and called out again several times thinking that they may be the backyard. There was no response. I turned to look once more around the living room to see if any new customers had arrived since a bell was not attached to the front door. No one else had entered.

I thought it was prudent to be patient. I walked away towards the middle of the room, and I heard something behind me coming from the kitchen.  I turned casually expecting to be greeted by the owner or employee.

I came face-to-face with a very large dog who came casually walking around the corner stretching and yawning from probably a long nap. Then, the dog realized I was standing there. I suspect that we both had the same expression being startled by each other’s unexpected presence. The dog raised one eyebrow up in bewilderment. It was almost comical to observe the gradual realization of its facial expressions. Time appeared to stand still while we both waited to see what developed. I almost bent down or kneeled in a greeting ritual in front of the dog, and then slowly extending my hand to be sniffed. Under the circumstance, I thought it wise to refrain from that behavior.

Then, the fur on its tail bristled with the tail held high in alertness with large, fast wags. It was inevitable that something was soon about to happen. The dog and I cautiously eyed each other as I began talking calmly, softly yet firmly in a positive voice.

And then, another even larger dog walked into the living room and stood slightly in front of its animal companion. We each stood motionless while the new dog began to process what was happening. Within moments, both dogs’ erect ears faced forward with attentiveness. A ridge of hair bristled down their backs. Their lips now retracted exposing glistening large, long and pointy canine teeth.

Viewing me as an intruder, I knew to prepare for an imminent attack, and without the business owner, I had to manage the dogs myself. Their size and desire to protect their territory suggested that it could be a rather tenacious attack in tandem.

I drew on my many experiences with wildlife including black bears and Mountain Lions as a wildlife photographer out in the wilderness where my process is to photograph them and not be intrusive. And above all, to leave wildlife unharmed by my actions of being in their territory.

I stood in the middle of the living room; the only exit was the front door behind me which the dogs could easily reach faster. They might also block my path to the door during an attack.

For survival, I glanced around quickly while the dogs were deciding what to do to see if I had any means of protecting myself using a kitchen chair, umbrella, walking stick or something. While finding a few objects that would work, I summarily dismissed this option as I wanted to leave without harming the dogs.

I knew an attack was nanoseconds away. Under the circumstances it was inevitable. This much I accepted. Just like with my experiences with wildlife in a threatening situation I was surprisingly calm and focused on how to get out the front door with minimum harm to myself and no harm to the dogs.  I stood slightly sideways making me a narrower target while keeping the dogs in my peripheral vision.

Both dogs began to emit deep, low growls and inched forward toward me.  I stood up straight to look as big as possible (something I learned with Mountain Lions in the wild), and I kept my mouth shut as bared teeth may signify aggression to a dog.

I began to slowly back towards the front door as the two dogs walked closer, each of them keeping a steely eye on me. I knew it was important to remain calm and to talk to the dogs quietly.

I was still away from the front door when the largest of the two dogs suddenly leaped towards me initiating the second dog to do the same. I was immediately bitten twice in my leg which was in front of me as I backed up towards the door. I could tell from the pain that each dog had taken bites which had punctured the skin through my jeans. I remembered to protect my face, chest, and throat and to keep my hands in fists to protect the fingers.

All I could think about was how to leave without harming the dogs as it was not their fault that they found me in their territory and they only wanted to protect the area. I was committed not to strike them with anything including my hands and feet. If only I could reach the door and somehow back out to the front yard, I could then safely close the door escaping with few further injuries.

The dogs continued to bite at my legs. Throughout the attack, I kept myself calm while not creating a sense of anxiety to minimize the dogs’ aggressiveness. I recalled an experience with a protective mother Mountain Lion and her two kittens at Lake Powell, Arizona on top of a ledge when I was jogging alone. But that’s another story.

Still talking in a relaxed, soothing voice the dogs crowded towards me and backed me against the door which opened inward towards the room. I grabbed the doorknob and pulled it in leaving me just enough room to slide out into the front yard and then I carefully closed the door.

I didn’t know where the owner was. It was clear that I needed to get to the VA hospital and have them inspect my lacerations and provide treatment which I quickly did.

I still have the physical scars of the dog bites but no emotional ones. I’m very pleased that my primary focus was to reasonably protect myself while not in any way harming the dogs which is what I accomplished.

One reason I decided to post this story now is that I have had numerous questions about my soon to be published personal and spiritual process book that discusses concepts including responding rather than reacting. I was asked to give an example of what I meant, and this experience came to mind.

 

 

 

 

Curious Naturalist: The Art of Observation

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle 2014 © Stephen Bruno

Over my many years of nature and wildlife photography in numerous locations, I have become a curious naturalist. I know a lot about birds and animals because I have studied them for years. Whenever I photograph something new, I return home to my study and thoroughly research them.

I find it interesting that frequently people are in such a hurry to walk through the forest, country, and desert that they appear to miss so many opportunities to observe nature and wildlife. Visit my photography website and view a slideshow of my photography. http://www.stephenbrunophotography.com/.

Once I was photographing a large tarantula when an older couple walked by and the man quickly took a twig and scooted the tarantula off the path and into a pile of leaves. The woman glanced at my raised camera and me and asked if I was photographing the tarantula. I lied and told her no, that I was just observing it. It did not seem to matter much to explain how he interfered with my observation and photography.

Another time I was photographing an Osprey that I had tracked around a lake to a tree high above a well-worn path. Just as I had raised my camera with a telephoto lens and was focusing in on the Osprey eating a rainbow trout, a family walked rapidly passed me talking loudly as they neared the large tree with the Osprey. Unfortunately, the bird became nervous and flew to the other side of the lake. Although disappointing that I had missed the opportunity to photograph the bird that I had pursued so vigilantly, I was amazed that the family never even noticed the Osprey.

There is so much to see when we are in nature if we have the patience and presence to observe. Most people now have a cell phone with reasonable photography capability or a compact camera. If you are not a photographer or prefer to draw, sketch the wildlife that you see and note the location.

Walk with someone who can point out things of interest in the field and explain simple, useful identifying characteristics.This is one reason why I offer photography workshops. http://www.stephenbrunophotography.com/Photography-Workshops

People who view my wildlife photography frequently ask how I get so close to photograph wildlife.

Below are a few of my approaches to photographing wildlife close up:

  • Shifting between my vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.
  • Stopping at the nearest desert, forestry office or interpretive center to pick up brochures, trail maps, and wildlife checklists. Asking about any recent wildlife sightings.
  • Following my intuition. If the hair on the back of my neck stands up, wildlife could be near!
  • Being mindful of recent weather and knowing that temperature, sunlight, and precipitation all factor into reading tracks and wildlife behavior.

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Endangered: Western Lowland Gorillas

Female Western Lowland Gorilla 2014 © Stephen Bruno

For many years, I have enjoyed watching and photographing Western Lowland Gorillas.

The Western Lowland Gorilla is not the gorilla featured in the book and movie Gorillas in the Mist. That is the Mountain Gorilla which is one of the subspecies of eastern gorilla.

With the benefit of a super telephoto lens, I have learned much about their behavior.

When I have had the wonderful opportunity for closer observation, I value the intelligent interaction we share.

Western lowland gorillas are distinguished from other gorilla subspecies by their slightly smaller size, their brown-grey coats and auburn chests. They also have wider skulls with more pronounced brow ridges and smaller ears. Hands, faces, feet and chests are black and hairless.

Males are twice as large as females, often weighing over 350 pounds, and they have longer canine teeth. Females weigh about 180 – 200 pounds. On two feet, they may stand up to six feet tall.

Noses are the most distinguishing features on gorillas and are as individualized as fingerprints. Their eyes are small and reddish brown. Ears are small and set close to the head. Gorillas cannot swim and may drown in relatively shallow water

The males have a broad, silvery-white saddle as they mature, and are then, called “silverbacks.” Western Lowland Gorillas have many vocalizations, from hooting to pig grunting. They beat their chest and break vegetation as a defensive display against outsiders. They also communicate through facial expressions. Western Lowland Gorillas live about 30 to 40 years in the wild. They live about 40 to 60 years in captivity.

All gorillas are endangered. Western Lowland Gorillas are critically endangered. This is the highest threat category for a species. Illegal hunting of gorillas by humans, mainly for their bushmeat, poaching, mining, slash-and-burn agriculture, and war threaten the Western Lowland Gorillas. In addition, zoos and research organizations purchase some young captured gorillas.

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Cougars at Lake Powell

DSCN0990 copy

Mountain Lion 2014 © Stephen Bruno

One summer during a spiritual and personal growth houseboat retreat, I was teaching at Lake Powell, Page, Arizona, I anchored a 50-foot houseboat near the sandy beach far into the lake at an isolated cove. Our group of 16 participants observed one very large pair of Cougar paw prints about 4 inches wide. This is about the width of an adult hand. There also were two sets of small kitten prints imbedded in the soft wet sand.

In the late afternoon, I was jogging at the top of a steep cliff and as I rounded a curve, I saw a large 100lb female Cougar sitting at the top off a bluff. Her torso was a cinnamon buff-colored contrasted by a white belly. She had two kittens with brownish-black irregular spots on the body and dark rings on the short tail.

I had read that they can jump as far as 40 feet in one leap and as high as 15 feet from the ground. This was disconcerting as I was only about 45 feet away below her. I figured one leap would bring us together.

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Black Bear Family

Black Bear 2014 © Stephen Bruno

At age seven, I encountered my first bears in the wild, in Yosemite National Park. I hiked away from my family’s canvas tent cabin at the Curry Village campground and walked down toward one of the many cold rapid moving rivers in the beautiful valley. I became lost that morning in the splendor of the Giant Sequoia trees and the lush green meadows in the valley floor.

I easily recall that when four adult Black Bears (actually more cinnamon) and three cubs strolled by me when I wandered off the path I was so captivated that I completely forgot about being lost. The bears were friendly, and remained comfortable in my presence. It never occurred to me to be concerned about my safety, or theirs.

I talked quietly to each of the bears, watching their curious expressions as they responded with grunts, and followed them the entire day through the countless blooming flowers and tall green grass. I watched the frequent Gray Squirrels running about and the occasional Mule Deer roaming near the riverbed of the roaring Merced River.

Sometimes I watched as the cubs were wrestling, falling, and nipping each other. They were very playful and seemed curious about me. When the family of bears ate huckleberries, blueberries, or other berries, I ate berries. When they rested, I rested. When they looked for other areas to forage at wet meadows along creeks and river, I walked along with them.

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