Thursday, June 14, 2012

Flying the Red, White and Blue

   The Star Spangled Banner represents one of the most important symbols of the United States.  Marking the Flag Day holiday this year, I had the opportunity to shoot some photos of Elwood Taylor's flag collection which was featured in The Mercury and on line. Taylor oldest flag dates back to 1818.
Elwood Taylor
    There wasn't any conformity or rules in those days when sewing a flag. The field, star and stripes were patterned in many varied designs. My favorite was the Theodore Roosevelt flag that was used when traveling to Africa after completing his term as president. The former president's name is visible onto the white fabric edging. Taylor started researching and was able to verify the flag through correspondence with various people, the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and searching on the internet. Taylor has a copy of a photograph of Roosevelt and his team with the flag that was taken in Africa. The uniqueness of the stars on the field is one of the ways that the flag was identified. Taylor says part of the enjoyment of collecting is in the search for answers on the flags that he owns.
     The stars and stripes are one of my favorite subjects to photograph. I have countless pictures, many in black and white. Even in the absence of color, the symbol stands out in a stark contrast of gray tones.
    The  photograph I admire most was taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. It shows the raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi by U.S. Marines and Navy Corpsmen while fighting the Japanese at Iwo Jima during World War II.
      My most noteworthy shot was taken in 1992 when I flew in a helicopter to photograph the world's largest flag sewn by Humphrys Flag Company in Pottstown.  It weighs more than a ton and measured 255 by 505 feet, the size of three football fields. The banner used 5.5 miles of fabric and 6,000 miles of thread.
     There are many snapshots I've clicked of people holding flags at parades and military ceremonies. Others show kids learning about patriotism and the Pledge of Allegiance, hands placed over their hearts during morning flag raising ceremonies.
     It's odd when I look up at a flag pole and see a different nation's banner when I'm traveling outside of the United States. I wasn't expecting it to have an effect wanting to see the red, white and blue waving in the breeze.
    I have always flown a U.S. flag on our home. They last about one year before the stripes begin to fade and fray. I don't keep my old flags but have them honorably disposed at a flag retirement ceremony held at Memorial Park. The flags are reduced to ashes and then buried following proper protocol.
Following that custom is my way to show respect for Old Glory even when her days of flying are over.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Week Begins with a Multi-Alarm Fire

Pottstown firemen rescue man from building fire.
     The week began on a nasty note with a multi-alarm building fire in Pottstown early Monday morning. I hit the ground running hearing a call confirming one person trapped inside the Third Street home. Racing to the scene only minutes from my house, thick smoke billowed from the structure.
     I  ran the block and a half from where I parked my pickup truck. One person had already been taken off the roof by neighbors assisting with a ladder but there was still someone unaccounted for inside the building.
     The Pottstown Fire Department was on the scene and surrounding companies were called to assist. Flames rip from the upper floor windows as firemen sprayed water to knock down the fire while a team searched for the missing home owner.
     I made my way around the front of the house as rescuers carried the injured 89-year-old man from a first floor bedroom. They rush him to a waiting ambulance and he was airlifted to a Philadelphia hospital in critical condition.
Flames rip from window.
     The fire intensified on the home and flames raged up the side of the structure. The Sanatoga ladder holding several firemen had to be swung away from the blaze just beneath them. A fireman fighting inside the home was injured with minor burns to his ears and head.
     I ate some smoke while shooting photos as the wind swirled during a morning drizzle. I stayed back moving around as the breeze changed directions to keep from inhaling to much of it. Firemen continued to keep fire hoses fixed on the flames finally putting it out.
Suspect arrested by Pottstown P.D.
     The busy news week continued on Tuesday and I was out again by 8 a.m. Pottstown police began a sweep across town rounding up alleged drug dealers and others wanted for various crimes committed in the borough. During the day they arrested twenty-two people. I photographed a number of these arrests and photos appeared on the front page of The Mercury and on the web site. This was scheduled to be my week to work the late shift, but with the early news my day changes quickly.
     Wednesday was calmer and the start of graduation week coverage for me. The rain showers predicted held off and Pottstown's graduating class of 2012 proudly walked onto the Grigg Memorial Stadium field for their commencement. There were lots of smiles and cheers as the seniors came into view of their families.
Pottstown High School graduation.
     Pottstown holds a classy graduation ceremony, one that I always enjoy covering. Every day holds a different challenge. WOW! I checked Friday's schedule and we have six graduations to cover. Let's hope for a quiet news day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Travel - Yosemite National Park - Another Day in Wonderland

     Our day ahead was one we looked forward to for a long time. Deb and I were leaving Lake Tahoe and headed south and westward toward Yosemite National Park. Yosemite was an anticipated stop during a week-long group tour throughout central California. We drove several hours to our first point of interest stopping at Mono Lake.

Mono Lake

     Mono is a saline lake sitting below a mountainside. The quiet of the surroundings was immediately noticeable and appreciated. We walked along a pathway and could hear birds chirping in the distance. I enjoyed the silence and the solitude.
     Mark Twain quoted the lake in his book titled Roughing It. Twain stated, "Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea - his lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth - is little graced with the picturesque...
    It may be lonely, but I've seen some spectacular photos of the lake with swirling clouds and skies painted in violet and pink. I don't know how long I would have enjoyed the silence before the need to hear the noise of the busy east. I make a simple photograph with a bright blue sky reflecting part of the mountain in the lake. Nothing dramatic, all the same it is mine to keep. It was a brief stop before our tour bus headed for the Tioga Pass on Route 120 crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains. The pass is a winding roadway with the highest elevation measuring 9,943 feet. The views are spectacular and I was glad not to be driving. Looking down over the cliffs with 2,000 ft. drops would have made for white knuckle driving. There are tradeoffs when taking motor coach tours. I do appreciate having a skillful driver. But at times, I'd like to stop at a lookout or a spot interesting to hike and explore.
Sign at the eastern gate of Yosemite.
     But when covering the area for the first time it was nice to sit and have a knowledgeable tour guide pointing out all the interesting sites along the way into Yosemite.
     The Tioga Pass and eastern entrance to the park are closed from the first snow in November until the roadway can be cleared of deep snow and surface damage repaired in late spring. This was the highway I wanted to take winding up and around switchbacks and down the other side until we saw the wooden sign for Yosemite National Park. The park derserves a larger marquee announcing the arrival to such a grand spot but I understand the idea of keeping it simple and understated. They let nature speak for herself.
Half Dome

     Passing the gate, I laugh to myself thinking, "Move over Ansel, Johnny's taking pictures in the park today!" But with such a short time, the photos I click were only snapshots nothing classically Adams worthy. But, within the park, I'm finally in the company of one of the gems of the United States.
     I travel light when headed out on these adventures leaving my heavy professional cameras and long lens at home preferring to carry a high end snapshot camera. There are limitations when wrestling with the lightweight model trying to get a more wide angle view than the camera allows.
     But, I'm not on a snapshot gathering expedition. I'm there to participate not just record everything I see. I dip my hands in the cold Merced to get a sense of the melting snow pack that feeds the river. My eyes are opened to the Sequoia and Redwood trees that dwarf me, touching the thick craggy bark that protects them from fires. I pick my spots for photographs. My need is to experience Yosemite knowing that I'm treading on the same ground as naturalist John Muir.
     Muir said it best when quoted on Yosemite. "It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter."

View of Yosemite Valley from the overlook at Tunnel View.

     We drove down into the Yosemite Valley and got my first view of Half Dome before exiting the bus. We have an hour to get settled in with our surroundings before boarding an open air wagon pulled by a giant tractor. The park ranger driving the vehicle fills in all the details passing by the granite monoliths. We wound our way to a location called Tunnel View. Peering down into the valley, you can see how endless time carved out Yosemite Valley and nature rebuilt it in a carpet of pine and fir trees.
     From the panoramic overlook the cliffs of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls and Sentinel Rock are visible. I shoot my favorite photo of the trip from this spot.
Yosemite Falls
     Our time is limited and we make the most of it by hiking over to Yosemite Falls. Due to the heavy snowstorms from the previous winter the water pours over the cliff face. It's the middle of July and are told how lucky we are that normally the falls are running at a trickle this time of the year.We sit on a downed tree looking at boulders left behind by glaciers. There were many people at this spot but we never felt crowded. It was a relaxing location as polite vacationers and outdoorsmen come and go without spoiling the moment.
     As we were leaving the park Deb finally got to see what she was looking for the entire trip. By the side of the road was a young Black Bear and the mother keeping a watchful eye on her growing cub. Her trip is now complete and could have ended right there. They were the first bears she has seen in the wild. There was more to do in the coming days as we drove out of Yosemite on our way to Monterey and a ride along the Pacific Coast Highway at Big Sur.
    Another great day in Nature's wonderland.