Follow the Puppet Strings

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The following was submitted as a Letter to the Editor and printed in the February 22, 2017 edition of our local paper, The Tipton Conservative.

Like many Iowans, I am extremely disappointed with last week’s legislative action to dismantle the collective bargaining powers of public employees. This legislation will adversely impact the lives and careers of many of my friends who are teachers, or who work in the public sector. It will force our young professionals to think twice before embarking on careers here rather than pursuing better opportunities elsewhere. It will hurt our rural communities, where school districts and public works are often primary employers. Down the road this could very well lead my wife and I to question if the quality of life I grew up knowing, due largely to the value of Iowa’s public education system, will remain; if this will still be a great place to raise our child, and if it’s truly in our family’s best interest to settle here permanently.

As saddening as it is to consider the 184,000 Iowa families likely to be hurt by this measure, it is equally infuriating to understand how this all played out. Despite earlier claims that they would only consider minor tweaks to the State’s 43-year-old collective bargaining rule, Republican leaders capitalized on House and Senate majority to gut the law completely. With little warning or consultation, exploiting rarely used procedure to limit floor debate, and while thousands of teachers, firemen, police officers and concerned citizens pleaded to be heard, the bill was raced through both chambers in a thinly-veiled attempt to limit public awareness and outcry. None of this was in the true interest of Iowa workers or reflective of Iowa values. Instead, it was the direct result of union busting tactics born of dark money and out-of-state interests. Governor Branstad eagerly signed the bill less than 24 hours later, behind closed doors but in the company of Drew Klein, a henchman for “Americans for Prosperity” –the shady, ill-reputed Koch Brothers funded Super PAC.

Worse yet, this is only the beginning. Bills still pending in this legislative session include plans to eliminate the Iowa Department of Education (SF 29) to end current retirement offerings for future public employees, including teachers, fire fighters and police (SF 45) to ban teachers from speaking out on education matters (HSB 47) and to eliminate the tenure system in our universities and community colleges (SF 41.) Each of these proposals are suspected derivatives of think tank drafted template bills, adapted from a national playbook and created to push the agenda of shadow organizations. And each attack, if approved by our lawmakers, will cause reprehensible harm to thousands of hard working people who represent the best of what Iowa has to offer.

It’s time for voters to wake up and realize what’s going on; not just in Iowa but all across the nation. The greatest threat to our democracy and to our livelihoods is not illegal immigration. It’s not the welfare system or affordable health care. It’s billionaire greed and blind partisan support. And until we hold our elected officials accountable, it will continue to prey on our working class and thrive on our apathy.

Josh Meier
Tipton

 

Links to the bills mentioned above and currently pending (at the time of this writing) in the Iowa legislature that will impact public education. If you scroll down to the end of each bill you will find a section that offers a more concise explanation.

SF 29 Eliminates the Iowa Department of Education
SF 45 Ends access to current retirement programs for newly hired state employees
HSB 47 Prohibits teachers from speaking out on education matters
SF 41 Eliminates tenure system in Iowa universities and community colleges

And finally, this video courtesy of Iowa Senator Matt McCoy provides a little more insight to what is happening in Iowa and across the nation, thanks to Citizens United, the Koch Brothers, model legislation, and our very own Governor Terry Branstad. Click Here.

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Best of 2016

For the past few years I have enjoyed following along with what has become an annual tradition for many photographers, the Jim Goldstein “Best of… Photo Project.” This is an opportunity for hobbyists, serious amateurs, and professionals alike to reflect on their work and experiences of the past year and to share a sampling (usually what they feel are their 5-10 best or favorite images) with the rest of us. It’s also a chance for photo lovers to discover new talents, make new friends, and join in camaraderie for networking and inspiration. Each season I look on with great appreciation for those who have shared their collections, and honestly every year for the past several I’ve had the intention of doing the same. You know how it goes, though. The holidays hit, I finally have a chance to catch my breath after a busy show season, I’m generally months behind in my edits; and somehow I manage to let the opportunity slip away. Until now, that is…

Somehow this year I am a just little more on top of things, at least in a photography sense. Now don’t let that fool you. I still have a couple thousand images from trips this summer and fall (Northern Rockies and New England) that I need to finish processing, and do believe there are a few gems in there that would have been included here if they were ready. I only disclose that because I don’t want any of my regular readers to grow concerned- in no way have I suddenly become organized or managed to entirely catch up! But I am at a point where I feel comfortable contributing this collection as a fair representation of my work from the past year. For good measure, I also put together an Honorable Mention series, which was posted the other night and can be viewed HERE. It’s never an easy task, selecting your favorite images, and even now I feel like maybe some of those should be swapped out for some of the shots you see here; but it’s all in fun so I’ll let the original selections stand.

That said, here is my inaugural contribution to the Jim Goldstein Photo Project. Many thanks to Mr. Goldstein for the great work he does in putting this together. Like I say, I’ve enjoyed looking on for years and am grateful for this chance to throw my work into the mix. And for anyone interested, once the submissions are gathered a list will be compiled with links to all of the entries. I’ll pass that along here and through my social media channels- so look for that in the coming weeks and prepare to be amazed by some of the awesome work that this project elicits.

And now, in chronological order, my Top 10 images of 2016…

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Tidal Stream, Newport Beach, California

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The Watchman, Zion National Park, Utah

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Old Barn, Yellow River State Forest, Iowa

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Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

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Malanaphy Springs State Preserve, Iowa

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Lake Macbride State Park, Iowa

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The University of Iowa, Iowa City

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Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

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Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

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Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine

 

Of course, with the reflection of a year passed it’s only natural to look ahead at what’s to come. 2017 is going to bring great change to my life, as my wife and I prepare to welcome our first child in just a few short weeks. What will this mean for my photography? Only time will tell. But while travel will certainly be limited and other priorities will soon dictate my day-to-day, I do intend to carry on in some capacity. I’ve always been a strong believer in living and leading by example, and I want my child to understand the necessity of passion and perseverance in life. When it comes to career success, nature photography is no easy gig. But I’m going to keep trying; keep working hard to improve and fighting to find a way- if for no reason other than proving to my child that we never give up on our dreams.

Happy New Years, Everyone!

2016 Honorable Mentions

After years of gawking and admiring from the shadows, I’ve decided to finally participate in the annual Jim Goldstein “Best of…” photo project. This is a really cool opportunity for photographers to showcase their work while networking, discovering, and drawing inspiration from that of others. It’s a pretty simple concept. Each year, photographers submit what they feel are their best 5-10 images from the preceding 12 months. Mr. Goldstein then compiles a list of all of the photographers who have submitted, and posts links to their galleries or blogs. Photo lovers can then spend hours or even days clicking through the many excellent showcases; marveling at all of the beautiful captures.
As I’ve tried this past week to select what I feel are my years best images, I’ve realized that this in itself is no easy feat. I’ve been pretty fortunate this year in getting to travel to some amazing places and I’ve taken in some truly wondrous sights. It’s difficult to narrow the thousands of resultant photos down to so few, especially with the emotion of experience involved. I think I’ve finally settled on my selection, and I’ll be sharing that post on New Years Eve. However, it has been awhile since I’ve released any new work (online, anyway…) or written on this blog, so as a little primer here is a collection of 2016 images that were in heavy consideration, but finished just outside of my top ten.

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Little Corona del Mar, Newport Beach, California

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Rock Creek, Cedar County, Iowa

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Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

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Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

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Lanesboro, Minnesota

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Glacier National Park, Montana

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Banff National Park, Alberta

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Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

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Swift River, New Hampshire

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Acadia National Park, Maine

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Tomorrow marks the start of my 7th season with the Iowa City Farmers Market. Back in the summer of 2010, having recently moved home after several years in Montana, I decided to take a chance and see if my photography might actually sell. Out west I’d come across photographers who created handmade note cards from their prints and sold them at the local Whitefish farmers market, so with my wife’s encouragement I decided to give that a try here.

For my first attempt, I made about fifteen cards. Cris and I were living in an apartment in Iowa City at the time, and I pulled two framed prints off of our living room wall. I had little intention of selling these, I just thought they would fill the table and make a nice display. Feeling the weight of my social anxiety, I convinced my sister Tiffany, who had also helped me secure a substitute vendor slot, to come and help me tend the booth. I had little expectation, but when the final whistle sounded that day I was almost out of cards and neither framed print would be returning to our apartment wall. It was enough to convince me to go ahead and give this thing a whirl…

Now here I am, several years later, still going strong. This will be my fifth season as a full time market vendor, I’m looking at some potential retail opportunities, and I’ve been accepted into a number of juried art shows across three states for this summer and fall. It hasn’t been easy- for every success there’s been plenty of rejection and heartbreak along the way- and I still have a long way to go to get to where I want to be. But at the start of each season, filled with excitement and apprehension, I take a minute to look back and remember how it all started with this table right here.

Earth Day 2016

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I shared this “dandelion”* photo on Facebook a few years back as part of an impromptu Earth Day post. Soon after, a friend questioned its appropriateness.

“Really?!!! A dandelion on Earth Day? Think about all the chemicals people pump onto their lawns trying to get rid of these things…”

This reaction caught me off guard. I’d chosen the image because I felt it portrayed a certain beauty and fragility emblematic of our natural world; and under the working title “Make a Wish…” I thought of it as a symbol of hope for a more sustainable future. I honestly hadn’t considered the extensive environmental damage caused by efforts to control what so many people consider a noxious weed. In my friends defense he wasn’t advocating these practices, but instead reminding me of this attitude and what results. And he had a point. Each year the mere sight of dandelions contributes to millions of gallons of herbicide being unleashed on the environment.

I’ve thought of this often in the years since, and have come to the conclusion that this actually IS a really good Earth Day image. Not just for the reasons I stated above, but for what my friend alluded to as well. Dandelions are actually extremely beneficial plants. They are edible and contain high nutritional value, and also contribute to soil health through nitrogen fixation. Yet most people fail to see this. Instead, they’ve been told that these are wretched weeds- something that cannot be allowed in a responsible homeowners lawn. Thus we must take any and all measures to eradicate them.

Why?

Because somebody said so? As children most of us loved dandelions. They emerged on those warm spring days when after a long winter we could finally run outside to play without need for jacket, hat and gloves. We smeared the yellow flowers on our faces, blew the seeds and watched with innocent wonder as they drifted off on the wind. But as we grew old, our attitudes were expected to change. Nature became something to be marginalized and controlled. Flowers were for window boxes and designated gardens, but shouldn’t dare emerge in our well-manicured lawns. Reasoning and truth and childhood sentiment didn’t matter. That’s just the way it was.

So much of what we do, so many social norms, come as a result of following blindly. An appliance quits working we send it to the landfill. That’s just the way things work. The same fate comes for clothes we no longer wear or toys our kids no longer play with. It’s just the way things are handled. We need a gallon of milk we drive two blocks to the grocery store, that’s just how things are done. Our work places are left to sit vacant overnight but still suck power for security lights, printers, microwaves and coffee makers on the ready. That’s just the way it goes. We get thirsty we buy a bottle of water. That’s just the way it is.

The way it is has got to change. Acknowledge it or not the way it is, the way we are living, has got us into a heap of trouble and it’s going to take a drastic and immediate shift in attitude to get ourselves out. It’s not about saving the Earth. The Earth will be just fine. This is a matter of respect and appreciating the opportunity we have to live here; and giving our children and grandchildren so much as a fighting chance to do the same.

This Earth Day, please take a moment and think about the world you wish to leave for future generations, reflect on your own daily choices and make the necessary changes to bring about a better end.

 

Iowa-based writer Catherine Haustein recently wrote an excellent piece celebrating the value of dandelions, and used this photo on her blog. Check that out here.

*I try to make it a point to acknowledge that this photo is not of a true dandelion. It’s actually a plant called goats beard, which looks almost identical only a bit larger. Sometimes the impression a photo gives and the emotion it stirs is all that really matters, so I call this one “Make a Wish…” and leave it at that.

Maroon Bells

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This sun-soaked mountain scene comes from the Maroon Bells Wilderness of White River National Forest, just south of Aspen, Colorado. The Maroon Bells (the peaks on the right) are said to be the most photographed location in Colorado, and by some accounts possibly even all of North America. The vast majority of these photos depict sunrise reflections of the mountains on Maroon Lake; a gorgeous sight and what I had come to witness myself. (See photo below.) However, with the need to get to the lakeshore around 3 a.m. to stake out real estate (literally hundreds of photographers line the shore each morning during peak season) I arrived the afternoon before and spent some time scouting. It’s always kind of nice to visit well known “trophy shot” type locations like this in less than ideal light, because it forces you to look around, work different angles and take your own approach instead of shooting the obvious standard vantage that has been done thousands of times over. I did enjoy the more traditional Maroon Bells shoot the following morning and was pleased with the results, but was also happy to walk away with a handful of photos like this one which I felt were a little more my own.

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As mentioned in previous posts, this week I’m conducting a little experiment. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!

 

And here is the more famous view of the Maroon Bells…

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Bryce Canyon National Park

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Today’s shot comes from Bryce Canyon in beautiful Southwest Utah. I shot this one in early 2013 and really like the repeating pattern in the photo of fins and hoodoos, contrasting with the shadows of the canyon and glowing orange in the late afternoon sun. As I’ve mentioned before, Bryce Canyon is said to be as spectacular at sunrise as it is sunset. I’ve yet to visit here in the early morning, but I definitely want to. It also offers some really unique hiking, another venture I long to experience but in my limited visits have only had time to barely scratch the surface.

In short, I desperately want to get back to Bryce Canyon, and I hope on my next visit I can give it the time it deserves. It’s crazy how the more I travel not only does the list of new places I want to see grow, but the list of those I want to return to does as well!

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As mentioned in previous posts, this week I’m conducting a little experiment. I’m trying to figure how it is that my WordPress analytics always seem to show that I get more “likes” on posts than I do actual views. With that in mind, I’m asking anyone who actually reads the posts to chime in and let me know that you’ve done so, simply by leaving a brief comment below. Don’t be shy, again, you can just type “Yes, I read it,” and be done; or you can offer your own thoughts or experiences if you care to elaborate. Check out my post from yesterday for further information (similar to this one, you have to read down a couple of paragraphs to get to the details,) and thanks for visiting my site!