For once, I spent more time watching than photographing

We had a behind the scenes meet-and-greet with the US Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration squadron Friday in advance of the Northern Thunder air and space expo at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, and it was a fantastic way to spend a Friday! The pilots and crew were gracious hosts, answering all our questions and clearly enjoying themselves when talking about their jobs and their aircraft.

That’s not to say that I didn’t snap some photos during practice, though! I have a new camera for 2022, and some of the lenses I always dreamed about, so of course I want to wield them for stuff like this.

Naturally I had a few questions about the F-16, with some particularly technical questions about how it compares to the F-18, F-22, and F-35. The Thunderbirds pilots are rated on a number of aircraft, including my beloved A-10, so it’s a blast getting their impressions of the various equipment.

Due to my line of work I have to protect my hearing, so I have custom molded ear plugs which I’ve worn religiously while racing, working around noisy equipment, or attending airshows. I do, however, remove them for a bit whenever fighters are nearby. What can I say, I love the sound of freedom!

Those with an eye for detail will notice that Kyle’s number 5 is upside-down on his flight suit. It’s actually upside-down on his aircraft, too – what started out as a joke is actually pretty practical. He spends so much time inverted during the program that this allows his number to be upright in all the photos!

This isn’t Kyle, by the way. But the number on the intake is the one I’m referring to. In shots where aircraft number 5 is inverted aside another Thunderbird, both aircraft have numbers properly oriented for the photographers.

I didn’t spend that much time photographing the practice, really! This is it. It’s funny how many times I took the camera in and out of the bag, though. I didn’t bring any lenses longer than 200mm, so it wasn’t really an ideal photography circumstance anyway. When I’ve shot the Thunderbirds in other states I’ve rented really long glass so I can get the shots I want. 400-600mm is ideal, with image stabilization of course, and it takes a lot of practice. At that kind of focal length it’s like looking through a straw, and following the action is a challenge.

I didn’t make it back up to Grand Forks AFB Saturday to just be a spectator, but I’m looking forward to the next time I get to see a fighter demo squadron in action! As far as how much time I spend looking through a viewfinder instead of just enjoying the show…we’ll, we’ll have to play that one by ear.

Peace Officer Memorial Procession

One part of today’s Peace Officer Memorial commemoration was a parade from the cathedral to the capitol for the conclusion of the day’s ceremonies. It was a special component of today’s event in order to honor former attorney general Wayne Stenehjem, who passed away earlier this year.

I was there with my cameras and caught the procession as it came by. I wasn’t able to stay around for the rest of the ceremony, but this was a special occasion and I wasn’t about to miss it. I’m glad I could share it with you.

Arena winter walkabout

This is the first photo I ever took of St. John’s church in Arena, ND. It was in much better shape back then. Since then I’ve photographed it in all four seasons, all hours of the day and night, with Northern Lights in the background, from the ground and from the air. Sadly, I don’t think it’ll be around much longer.

I took a stroll around the church this winter, and I thought you’d like to see what I saw that sunny (yet chilly) January afternoon:

Someone has moved “into town” now, so if you visit the church you might have company. I suggest going soon, as the church is deteriorating rapidly. It’s so sad to see it go.

Sign of the season

I drove past this sign south of Mandan and had to do a double-take. First off, the water in the ditch is pretty deep (and solid). Second, the sign itself is rather photogenic. Third, the patterns in the ice caught my eye.

See the cool shape of the cracks in the ice? It had started to get nice enough to warm the ice and crack it, too.

In places where the ice was thin enough I could see the vegetation below. It was still solid enough to walk on, though, and it was probably frozen all the way through.

The adjacent fence posts weren’t quite as photogenic, but the ice around them was close.

Taken from above, those looked pretty cool, too. This also shows how I could see through the ice and the nice, sunny day.

A week later I came back and found that the neatest features of the ice were gone. The warmer weather had smoothed out all the cool jagged edges, and the idea of walking out on this ice wasn’t too appealing anymore.

Oddly enough, I had to come by again for other business, so I stopped in to see that the ice had really melted around the sign. I wasn’t able to get out on it any more, even though I spend extra for the waterproof version of my shoes.

Finally, I stopped by on my way back from Fort Lincoln to check on the progress of the ice melt. Well underway, as you can see. Now we’re into telephoto lens territory…even with waders I don’t think I’d have wanted to venture any closer.

I’m so excited for Spring! Now that I’ve chronicled the seasonal changes of this location, I’m ready to start snapping photos of warmer subjects.

A post of a different vein

This is an aerial photo of McDowell Dam from last week. It was a very nice day, and the water was a-flowin’. There were rivulets of water ready to be reclassified as rivers in every low-lying area, guaranteeing the lake plenty of fresh runoff. It was a fantastic day, warm and sunny. Looking down at the ice, the cracks took on an organic nature. It reminded me of a butterfly wing or something.

I applied one of those filters you see on a lot of Facebook “photography” groups – you know, the ones where the sunrise or sunrise is so color-saturated that it makes your retinas hurt – in order to demonstrate the array of muted color beneath the ice. While some of those rivers of water rushing into the dam were relatively clean, some of them were pretty brown. The same goes for the water below the ice, apparently. Anyway, oversaturating the image gives it a much more visceral look, don’t you think?

My “Brush with Rush”

I really miss Rush Limbaugh…the consummate broadcast professional. Thankfully, when I did get to speak with him, he did pay me a sort of compliment. The rest of my call was unremarkable, actually…but I’ll never forget how it began.

Regardless of how one feels about politics, it’s irrefutable what an amazing broadcaster Rush was or his impact on broadcasting in general. I didn’t listen every day, even though I was a subscriber, but I’ll miss him forever.

An awkward name unless you’re a Rhinelander

“Worms” seems like an odd, if not insensitive, name for this cemetery on the northern edge of McIntosh County in south-central North Dakota. That was my first reaction when I came upon it. It even conjured memories of Lloyd and Harry’s ill-fated entrepreneurial opportunity in Dumb and Dumber!

This is a tiny little strip of land in a field just north of Highway 3. I imagine it was named after one of the oldest cities in Europe: Worms, Germany. This was the location of the Edict of Worms, where Martin Luther was branded a heretic. And it was the even more awkwardly titled Diet of Worms who made this decision. A “diet” in that sense was a deliberative body, not a food plan as we think of it today. That would pretty gross.

Language over time is interesting, don’t you think?

In honor of Wayne Stenehjem

It was with a heavy heart that I went out for these photos tonight. The state has suffered a tragic loss with the death of Wayne Stenehjem. The capitol windows were adorned with a blue line and the number 5, in accordance with his license plate number (the governor has 1, lieutenant governor 2, and so on).

I’m certain there are thousands of people like me who have considered Wayne a friend…not a close one, but a friend who I’d greet with a smile every time I saw him, who invited me to take sunset photos from his back yard, who actually inspired me with some of his photos of the capitol. It still doesn’t seem real that he has passed so unexpectedly. When I got to this point I remembered that the last time I took a photo from this angle it was to try to replicate a photo Wayne had posted on his Facebook feed.

It’s fitting that the capitol windows would commemorate such a respected public servant, a guy who loved North Dakota and its citizens. It was Attorney General Stenehjem who asked lawmakers to support the idea in 2017, when it was proposed in Senate Concurrent Resolution 4015.

Since 2006 I’ve been eagerly dashing to the capitol at various times of the year to capture displays in the windows of the tower. I wasn’t so eager tonight. It’s heartbreaking for North Dakota, and Wayne’s family in particular, to lose such a truly great guy. I couldn’t miss it, though..he’s a historic figure and leaves a legacy of integrity and kindness we all should hope to possess. I’ll miss you, Wayne.