Then and Again

In the spring of 1987, I was an awkward junior in high school. On a blustery day  in April or May, I took a road trip with my Mom from our hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming, to Laramie, Wyoming, to visit my older brother, who was attending the University of Wyoming. At the time, I was delving into the world of photography for the first time, taking a photography elective at school and learning to see the world from a different perspective.  My school-owned 35mm film camera went everywhere I did.  It was on this trip that Mom stopped along a desolate patch of Interstate 25 near mile marker 228 so I could run up the side of the hill to photograph an old homestead.

I-25 runs north-south beginning in Buffalo, Wyoming, and continues south until its exit into Colorado just south of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I’m just old enough to remember the construction of the interstate, and what it was like to make the 8-hour trip from Sheridan to Denver, CO on the “old” two-lane highway when I was a child.  Throughout the state, many sections of the “new” Interstate re-routed drivers to new landscapes and away from small towns previously reliant on business from travelers; notably, the small oil town of Midwest.  Just before the southbound exit for Midwest at about mile marker 228 lies the remains of the old homestead.  It’s easily noticeable from the road because of the two cottonwood trees planted on either side of the house, the only two trees for miles around.  But you have stop, get out of the car, and walk to the top of the hill before the old house can really be seen.

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View of the homestead as seen from I-25. Photo courtesy of Google Maps
I took one or two rolls of film that trip.  In those days, film was expensive and shots were planned.  You didn’t waste film, because bad shots couldn’t simply be deleted.  I processed and printed the pictures myself in the darkroom at my high school.  The picture of the house became part of a photo essay about Wyoming landscapes (I got an A), and afterward, was packed away in an accordion folder with most of my other high school photography work for many years.

I now live in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and have made the trip between my current home back to Sheridan, where my Mom and old friends still live, many times over many years.  Each time, I see the old homestead and have watched with equal parts sadness and fascination as it deteriorates.  One year, the porch roof finally fell, and the front door was obscured by the roof blocking the entrance.  Several years later, the back wall of the house fell in, and the two side walls remained, precariously holding up what was left of the roof.  A few years ago, the tree on the north side of the house died, but remains standing.  Finally, in the last year or two, the remaining walls collapsed, leaving a sad reminder of someone’s history at the mercy of the harsh Wyoming elements.

And who’s history is it?  The old homestead has sparked discussion between me and my husband over the years as we drove by.  Who lived there?  Someone once took pride in the old place.  It’s fenced, complete with welded pipe gates at the front and back of the house.  I seem to recall there used to be a clothesline, or the remains of one, in the yard.  When was it settled?  Why did they leave?  Were they ranchers?  Did children grow up there? Did they go into Midwest, which is several miles east of the property, to shop and interact with the community? Does someone still own the property?  Do they go visit the homestead? Interestingly, although I-25 now runs quite close to the homestead, the older roads do not go near it.  The home had to have been accessed from its own road or trail which most likely connected to a local county road.

As I look at the picture of the homestead in its current condition, I’m struck by the profound changes of time.  Yes, it’s sad that the old house has fallen and one of the trees has died.  After all, I can only imagine what kinds of memories were made within the tar-papered walls.  Maybe some were good memories, maybe some were not.  Perhaps the rooms were lit with oil lamps and warmed with a coal stove as the notorious Wyoming wind shrieked outside during winter.  Possibly, hand-sewn cotton-print curtains hung in the windows and billowed softly as a summer breeze cooled the home on hot days. Conceivably, all those memories are still alive in someone’s mind, but they may also be gone forever with the passing of whomever lived there.

There’s something kind of beautiful about how this place, and hundreds of other abandoned places around our state, have reached the end of their lives naturally.  Not razed by loud, dusty yellow iron making way for new progress, not remodeled into something newer but not quite its old self, not burned, dismantled, or otherwise assisted into decay by people.  There it all lays, naked and barren, a pile of lumber and nails not terribly unlike the pile of lumber and nails it began as.  It’s not morbid, it’s just the circle of life, Wyoming style. Windblown, cold, and forever West.

The homestead, photographed in 1987 and 2015.
The homestead, photographed in 1987 and 2015.
Postscript: Just out of curiosity, does anyone know anything about the old homestead?  I’m most interested in learning something about its history or the people that once lived there.

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iPhone Photography

My iPhone 4s has the following specs:

Basic Specifications
Resolution: 8.00 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/3.2″
Lens: Non-Zoom
(35mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 64-800
Shutter: 1/15-1/30000
Max Aperture: 2.4

While this is much more limited than the amazing Canon EFS 18-200 Zoom that I have on my camera, sometimes it’s all I have with me on outings.  After all, lugging around my big camera everywhere I go is not practical.  

With the popularity of FlickrInstagram, and other photo sharing sites, everyone can be a photographer and share their expressions. But what about the quality?

I don’t think most iPhone photos are gallery or even print-worthy in terms of pixel and grain, but that doesn’t make them worthless.  Their value is the image they captured, the feelings they evoke, the sometimes unique composition obtained that can’t be replicated with a traditional format.

In that spirit, I’d like to share a few of my favorite iPhone photos I’ve taken recently.  They are fun and forever fill the gap between not having a camera at all and having my 35mm setup with me on a shoot.  All of these photos can be found on my Instagram, username wyochick. Because they’ve been on Instagram, the images posted here are smaller and the pixel quality is degraded.  Even so, I think they make an impression. Enjoy.

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This is a wind farm just out of town where I live.  It was particularly stormy the day we drove by.  I took this through the windshield of the moving car.  I love the contrast of it, even if it is grainy.

ImageHere’s my cat, Lucy.  She was enjoying the tall grass one morning before we mowed the lawn.  I love this picture because I was able to put my phone right on the ground at her level and snap this.  If I had taken the time to try that with my Canon, she probably would’ve moved or run off.

ImageWeather conditions change fast in Wyoming, so when I woke up one morning and saw how the wind hadn’t blown the snow off the branches yet, I grabbed my nearby phone and captured it. 

ImageThis is my darling daughter and our other cat, Duke.  She was ready for a concert and picked him up because they both had “matching” outfits.  Getting this cat to hold still for a minute and look into the camera at the same time as her was indeed a rare catch.  A fun photo.

ImageThe iPhone does a beautiful job with close-up work, in my experience.  Here are  some strawberry blossoms from my garden.

ImageWhile driving in the mountain in Colorado, a large group of people pulled off the side of the road told me there was probably something interesting to look at.  So I stopped as well and was treated with a great viewing of a herd of Big Horn Mountain Sheep on the cliff wall next to the highway.  This was zoomed all the way in on my phone, but it captures the regal posture that makes this male so impressive.

ImageI was out in a field walking our dog at sunset, and these pretty yellow flowers caught my attention.  Again, being able to put the iPhone right on the ground allowed me to get a unique angle with the sun in the background.

ImageOk, this photo is the only one of the bunch that isn’t on Instagram, but I love having been able to get a shot of our sweet dog, Emma.  She is another animal of ours that doesn’t stay still for long.  

I believe the iPhone’s versatility, options, and small size make it a fun addition to my photography efforts.  Have you had luck capturing unique images with your phone’s camera?

 

 

 

End of the Season

If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.  Ever heard that saying?  There are a lot of places where that old adage will evoke a chuckle out of the locals.  Wyoming is no exception.

This morning we woke up to almost a foot of snow.  Yup, that’s right, snow in early October.  This is usually not an anomaly here, except the last ten years or so we’ve had a pretty good drought going.  The last couple of seasons, I’ve noticed, weather patterns seem to be more of a “normal” rotation, and we’ve picked up some more moisture during the year.  This is a good thing.

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Last night, as I opened the door to let our dog outside, I was greeted with a puff of frozen air that felt more January than October.  Emma ran out the door, and what I noticed next was that wonderful stillness and quiet that comes like a fluffy white shawl pulled over shivering shoulders.  I was tempted to bundle up and go out for a walk, but my brain’s objection about the extreme temperature change won out over my heart’s romantic intentions.  This morning, however, I was determined to get outside and take a few pictures before we started shoveling.  Emma was first out the door again.  She loves to ‘porpoise’ through the snow and look for the stray cats that live next door.

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She was having so much fun, I decided to bring our two cats outside-just for a minute- for a bit of fresh air.

Lucy
Lucy
Duke
Duke

This fall storm was particularly beautiful because the trees have not turned yet.

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I love how ordinary things look different after a snowstorm.  It’s almost as though the birdhouses, benches, and flowerpots are falling asleep.  They peek through the snow as if to say, “We’re still here…we’ll wake when the sun comes back out.”

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Since I’ve started riding, the season changes influence me differently than they had before.  Sure, I know this snow will be a memory in just a day or two, and the sun and warm fall weather will be back again.  But the frequency of the weather changes and the forbidding Wyoming wind are going to pick up now, making riding opportunities fewer and further between.  The skies will darken earlier, (aided by that ridiculous Nixon-era time change) limiting cycling excursions to weekend days.   Yet all the things I love about fall and winter are about to unfold in front of me; skiing, holidays, the kids’ band concerts, playing games in the family room with a glowing, crackling fire in the fireplace.

It’s with this storm that I bid a fond ‘adieu’ to summer:   It’s been great, dear summer.  I’ve enjoyed the hot afternoons and abundant sunshine.  I rode many miles through everything you had to offer; cloudless days, rain from out of nowhere, windy grit on my shins and bugs in my face.  It’s getting to the end of the cycling season, but I’ll see you again near the end of spring.  I’ll be ready.