Grand Mesa, Colorado Adventure

One of the beautiful Grand Mesa lakes 2019 © Stephen Bruno

One of the beautiful Grand Mesa lakes 2019 © Stephen Bruno

One of the beautiful Grand Mesa lakes 2019 © Stephen Bruno

One of the beautiful Grand Mesa lakes 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Last week, after a picturesque drive up the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, I spent several days on the Grand Mesa for the first time since I moved to Cedaredge, Colorado last December. I was celebrating my 71st birthday which I wanted to do in pristine nature with diverse wildlife. It was incredibly beautiful, with numerous lakes and reservoirs surrounded by trees and vast meadows. I stopped at a few of the crystal blue lakes to take some quick photographs mostly with my compact camera.

Black Bear Mug 2019 © Stephen Bruno

My next stop was at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center. I spoke with a well-informed forest ranger about wildlife. She mentioned recently seeing a Black Bear on her hike and of course squirrels and chipmunks, large Mountain Lion tracks, a big Coyote who stood his ground and, Yellow-bellied Marmots. In the past, I have photographed each of those critters, but I have never observed a Yellow-bellied Marmot. I purchased this Black Bear mug at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center as a reminder of my birthday adventure and to contribute toward their work in supporting wildlife.

Alexander Lodge 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I checked into the Alexander Lodge and received the key to my small cabin, The family-owned lodge prepared the cabin several hours early knowing I would arrive before 3 pm check-in.

Bald Eagle 2019 © Stephen Bruno

After receiving the key to my cabin I observed a large Bald Eagle flying over Cobbett Lake within walking distance. It was too high to get reasonable photographs and was beautiful to watch it soar higher and higher while looking down towards the water for fish to catch. I was told by a woman from Altitude Outdoor Adventures near the lake that the Bald Eagle visits several lakes periodically and has been observed swooping down and catching large fish from the water.

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I was enchanted by an adorable friendly Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel who was missing one ear. He posed as we connected. Although I was told he was not friendly for most visitors he came out to say hello whenever I was near the lodge. He was one of the highlights of my birthday.

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Forest Trail 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I took a leisurely walk along a trail adjoining Cobbett Lake and I enjoyed being in the cool mountain forest air reveling in the sounds of nature. I did get bitten by a few mosquitoes. I brought some mosquito repellent but never felt the need to use it. I applied a little witch hazel to help with the itching in the evening. I didn’t experience swarms of mosquitoes that have been reported in the Grand Mesa area, and they were more than tolerable. I embrace them as I do all wildlife, and that seems to make a difference.

Yellow-bellied Marmot 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Yellow-bellied Marmot 2019 © Stephen Bruno

While exploring Eggleston Lake, I was captivated by a large Yellow-bellied Marmot. Marmots are large rodents with characteristically short but robust legs, enlarged claws well adapted to digging, stout bodies and large heads and incisors to quickly process a variety of vegetation. Marmots are the largest members of the squirrel family. Total length varies typically from about 18 to 28 in and body mass averages about 5-10 lbs. If alarmed, the Marmot often chirps or whistles. As I embraced and connected with each Marmot I encountered,  I was blessed to never have them exhibit a chirp or a whistle.

Alexander Lake Lodge 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Polish buffet 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I was invited to eat at a special Polish buffet in the Alexander Lake Lodge. I sampled a little of everything, and it was delicious.

American Robin 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Pine Squirrel 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Pine Squirrel 2019 © Stephen Bruno

To walk off the meal I photographed wildlife at several lakes and reservoirs including Alexander, Baron, Big Creek, Island, Ward, and Hotel Twin. I walked along lush meadows of grass and wildflowers and stands of Aspen, Englemann spruce and Douglas fir.

Trees across a meadow 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Wildflowers 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Relaxing meadow 2019 © Stephen Bruno

One of the beautiful Grand Mesa lakes 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I explored Trickel Park Reservoir from the boat launch. I  enjoyed the old-growth forests, aspens, and meadows and took a few photographs mostly with my compact camera as I continued driving to Bonham-Wells Reservoir on the way to Collbran. I learned that unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle or at least a truck and possibly an ATV, there are limitations in where you can explore. With my car, which is very low to the ground front-wheel-drive, I pushed the limits by driving on washboard dirt roads until it became clear that it was time to turn around. Getting away from the populated areas present me with a different perspective being in the mountain, forests, and lakes with sweeping panoramas. I took a few photographs of the scenery and lakes.

Cobbett Lake 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I sometimes took creative photographs in between observing wildlife. This view was striking and the photograph does not do it justice

Creek 2019 © Stephen Bruno

As evening approached I appreciated the cooler nighttime temperatures and I slept well in the fresh air and sound of the creek running behind the cabin.

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My stay in a cabin was a memorable 71st birthday in the Grand Mesa, Colorado.

Visit Stephen Bruno Photography for more photos of the Grand Mesa adventure.

 

 

The Opposable Thumb

 

The day after thumb surgery 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Perhaps you’ve heard about the opposable thumb that we humans share to a degree with all primates. I have known this relationship with primates since I was a child. Of course, as a naturalist, I understood the importance of the opposable thumb. However, it took an unexpected injury to learn just how significant our opposable thumb is to us, humans.

One morning I awoke intent on performing my countless routine tasks and getting out in nature to photograph wildlife. I quickly realized that whenever I moved the thumb of my dominant right hand in a specific direction or touched something too hard, I experienced intense pain.

I can’t recall having a trauma that created this unexpected situation. I had recently moved to a charming small mountain town and for the first time in many years had to shovel snow on my driveway. I thought maybe that was the cause, but I don’t remember the thumb being painful soon after the snow shoveling. I can’t think of anything that had occurred within a few weeks of the pain that I had done to create this condition.

I could not easily turn the key on and off my vehicle, write using a pen or pencil, brush my teeth, open jars, and at least twenty other normal activities. It soon became apparent that how this occurred was not as important as how it had suddenly and dramatically changed my life.

The intensity of the pain was distracting, to say the least not to mention how restrictive my life had suddenly become. I’m certain that if any of you have experienced what I’ve described some of this is not new to you. Each day I am amazed at the new tasks that I could no longer do without pain.

This month I had surgery on my thumb, and I continue to encourage healing. I remain optimistic in my prognosis.

Throughout all of this and in spite of the pain and definite limitations, the majority of my thoughts are a wondrous curiosity about the power and influence of our opposable thumb and how vital it is in our daily life. How could I have missed this obvious awareness?

Perhaps, it’s true that we don’t fully appreciate something until we no longer have it. I will look at other aspects of my life that I’ve taken for granted with equal dismissal.

Loving My New Home Town

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Historic Downtown Cedaredge 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I love the charming small mountain community with its three blocks of historic downtown, one traffic signal, minimal traffic, two banks, a community art center, shops, restaurants, Cedaredge Town Park, and about 2,266 residents to mention a few wonderful things.

Cedaredge Town Park 2019 © Stephen Bruno

It has been a little over a month since I relocated to the Cedaredge, Colorado at an elevation of 6,264 feet, and my friends have inquired about how things are working out. They know that one of the primary reasons for moving to the mountains was that as a wildlife photographer I wanted to connect with and photograph the diverse wildlife and nature.

Mule Deer Buck 2019 © Stephen Bruno

It snowed the morning that I moved into my new home and there was a large Mule Deer Buck that casually walked across the street as the movers unloaded the truck. Later in the afternoon, a family of Mule Deer Does and Fawns came by to welcome me as I connected with them and took a few quick photographs. It was wonderful that the wildlife visited me first.

Mule Deer family 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Nearly every day I have enjoyed being visited in my backyard by a friendly Mule Deer family.

Mule Deer Fawns 2019 © Stephen Bruno

I loved connecting with and photographing these two adorable, affectionate Mule Deer Fawns who came together and were eating the last of the apples from the tree in my backyard in between cuddling.

American Robin 2019 © Stephen Bruno

American Robin 2019 © Stephen Bruno

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of numerous American Robins who visited me in my backyard.

When the weather allows me to travel higher up the Grand Mesa, I plan on sharing time with the Black Bears, Mountain Lions, Moose, Mule Deer, Bald Eagles, and other animals and birds that make the mountain their home and taking their photographs at the more than 300 lakes.

 

Baby Stephen

Baby Stephen, at Humane Society of Ventura County

I received a wonderful early Christmas gift by email with this photograph this afternoon from a good friend.

The message said:

Donations were made in your name at Rancho Relaxo for Baby Stephen, at Humane Society of Ventura County for the animals affected by fires and, one hundred trees were planted in your name. Knowing you, this is closer to your heart than any material gift.

How touching to know that the potbellied piglet is cared for at the shelter and adoption Humane Society of Ventura County and a donation to care for him in my name. I’m going to continue donating for his well-being.

I also value that 100 trees are planted in my name to grow tall and strong for all the forest critters and people to experience.

Teaching the Essence of Wildlife Photography

 

Beaver photographed in darkness across the lake May 2018 © Stephen Bruno

I am frequently asked about my approach to teaching wildlife photography. I have a different perspective on teaching photography classes and workshops. Drawing on my writing, art, and photography background my teaching emphasis is on spontaneous natural creativity and systematic technology.

I believe that it is the craft of ‘process,’ that creates the art of photography. Regardless of the technical acumen, the camera cannot tell the photographer what to include in the composition. No matter how advanced the camera is, it cannot create a connection with the subject nor show when to press the shutter button.

I teach The Essence of Wildlife Photography for beginner, intermediate and newly professional level photography enthusiasts primarily for people with DSLR cameras and compact cameras that offer some setting options. People with point and shoot cameras without setting options will still learn many valuable photography principles.

Included in the easy to learn field instruction on wildlife photography are natural non-threatening wildlife approaches, and camera settings (ISO, white balance, shutter speed, aperture, shooting modes: manual vs. aperture and priority vs. shutter priority, etc.). Instruction also includes learning how to hold the camera steady, obtaining clear images of birds in flight, using a variety of background effects, and creative use of the composition.

I teach wildlife photography in a patient, compassionate, and thorough manner with easy to follow instructions using lecture, demonstration and hands-on approaches tailored to the students. I photograph to be surprised and delighted!

The emphasis is on practical field practice. I share numerous professional tips and techniques from my many years’ experience of wildlife photography from film to digital. Students are encouraged to bring their digital camera, owner’s manual, plenty of charged batteries, and extra storage media.

I have a very relaxed, yet aware personal teaching style that allows me to be present with each participant since I do not have an agenda or itinerary to follow. I do want to inspire their passion, vision, and creativity and motivate them to become the photographer that they desire to be. I want to encourage their photographic inquiries and share knowledge in an easy, flowing, uncomplicated manner. Show students how to see through the eyes of an artist.

In the photography excursions that I facilitate in Cedaredge, Colorado, I know that it is all about the process of relationships that makes a difference in quality photography, including the relationship of connections, process, communication, space, light, and even unfamiliarity.

The camaraderie of other participants is a valuable part of the learning process. Nurturing new friendships that emerge from these classes and workshops. We all learn by different means. Some of us are best with auditory learning, and others learn best by visual means. Fewer prefer both auditory and visual.

Talking about what we are doing as we do it has proven to be an effective approach. Demonstration by example combines both the auditory and visual which is one reason why I take photographs right next to each of the participants and share the reasons for my approach and camera settings.

I photographed the Beaver across the lake in Colorado one evening as the sun set when I was donating my time to teach other Veterans how to photograph wildlife. It was an opportunity to discuss the challenges of photographing wildlife in darkness.

 

 

Wildlife Print Adoption

2017 © Stephen Bruno

I created this blog, Curious Wordsmith, to share my miscellaneous musings, writing, and more in thought-provoking, intelligent, informative, humorous, and entertaining posts. Curious Wordsmith is now the foundation for my memoir.

I’ve been rather reluctant to write a memoir although I have had some fascinating experiences to share. I finally agreed to write a memoir when my daughter implored me to write about my experiences when I was in the US Army stationed in Vietnam for my 14-month tour of duty. She especially wanted my granddaughters to know what it was like for me in Vietnam.

It wasn’t that much of a stretch to think about including nonmilitary experiences which of course are the greater part of my life. With more time available since I recently withdrew from all my social media except my websites and this blog, I’m going to write blog posts more frequently.

As most of my faithful blog readers are aware, a year ago this month I moved from Prescott, Arizona to Grand Junction, Colorado. In a few days, I am moving to the small charming mountain town of Cedaredge, Colorado. Moving in the winter can have its challenges. However, I can’t think of a better season to cuddle up in my Pendleton shirt jacket with a hot cup of tea and edit some of my books in preparation for publication next year.

In my current home, I had mounted some of my framed wildlife photographs to enjoy and share with friends and visitors. Soon after I found my new home in Cedaredge, I knew that although I had these framed wildlife photographs for quite a few years, they were not going to come with me this time. In the past, I’ve had offers from fine art photography lovers to purchase my prints from my photography website or when I had gallery shows. This time I knew that I didn’t want to sell them. I wanted to gift them to people who felt drawn to the images and who would receive pleasure having them in their home.

I wasn’t quite certain of the logistics in sharing the framed prints on my wall at home and who would receive them. It’s been fascinating to observe the process of how each print finds a home. The people who adopted my wildlife prints include a FedEx driver, a Reiki Master Teacher who recently graduated from one of the certification classes I taught, a family that receives my Life Coaching, a grocery delivery driver from Safeway, GrubHub delivery driver, pizza delivery driver, and a house cleaner. Now all of my framed wildlife photography has found a caring home.

It has been an unexpected pleasure in learning how my wildlife prints have found the right family home where they truly belong. I believe that this is the beginning of a tradition that I will continue.

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.