Feisty Northern Mockingbird will stare you down, and you will lose

On a recent trip to Corpus Christi,  I noticed a very non-shy bird flitting about my parents’ backyard, ambivalent to our presence. I grabbed my Dad’s Nikon and mega-zoom lens and waited for a good shot.

The bird, a Northern Mockingbird, cocked his head as soon as I started snapping away.

Who’s that? Someone entering my territory? And taking my picture? Ohnoshedidnt.

Texas mockingbird on fence with bougainvillea

He got close, really close. And he stared me down, menacingly. Those yellow eyes! That intimidating frown.



Version 2

How I got the shot: Editing analysis of a recent Facebook fave of a sea turtle and a toddler

I’m a self-taught photo editor, and it really has become a surprising passion of mine. I’m far from expert level, but I love the challenge of making a good photo great (I’ve learned to set aside not-good photos; they’re too hard to salvage).

I’m also a paid editor of words, so in some ways my exploration into photo editing is just an expansion of my knowledge: To “tell the story better” not just verbally but visually.

I first realized I might be good at this when my Dad once asked me to view some of his photos and “do the thing you do where you make photos look better.” Since then, times have changed: Everyone now has access to basic editing software on their phones, and words like “cropping” and “rule of thirds” have become more commonplace.

Yet like writing, not everyone can do it well. It truly is a skill and an artform.

Recently a favorite wildlife photographer of mine, Marie Read, has been sharing her editing process. I’ve been fascinated and learned so much. I also have an inkling she also learns a lot from articulating her process and getting feedback–and it’s inspired me to do the same.

So here goes, using a recent example I shared on Facebook that really took off among my amigos. My parents recently spent a day with my daughter at the Texas State Aquarium, and took photos on their phones. This one in particular by my Dad caught my eye:


It was in crisp focus–sometimes a challenging feat on a camera phone–so it became an immediate candidate for cropping, where I could play with various perspectives. Second, the water is a deeply beautiful and saturated turquoise, ripe for some slight color enhancement. And luckily, Adela’s clothing matched the water. (I inadvertently but perhaps subconsciously dressed her in all shades of blue that morning?!)

And here is where I ended up:


I zoomed in much closer, so that the turtle’s eye is in the upper right quadrant, and Adela’s curls are adorably lifelike. After color processing, I lightened the turtle’s face to keep him/her a primary focal point. What we don’t see is Adela’s face, a now-trendy style common on Instagram. And it’s trendy for a good reason. It lets our minds create our own version, or story, of what’s happening, especially emotionally. We don’t actually know if they’re making eye contact, but we feel like it’s probably happening.

For me, this shot evoked a universal wonder and unease in all of us; our connection and separation from the natural world; our domination of the natural world paired with our fear of our own reckless domination.

Or maybe that’s just me overly projecting a cute moment. Edited on my phone with the terrific SnapSeed app.

Texas Shrimper Speaks the Truth to BP CEO

“As BP CEO Tony Hayward began his opening statement before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce today, a woman with what appeared to be oil smeared on her hands and face disrupted the hearing, yelling, in part, “you need to be charged with a crime…..”

The protester was the same woman arrested at a Senate hearing last week – Diane Wilson, a Texas shrimper and activist and co-founder of Codepink for Peace.”

Go Diane Wilson!  Watch the video at CBSNEWS.com.

I’ve been following Wilson’s awesome activism for years now. She’s never been afraid to say what the rest of us are too lazy or corrupt to say. If you’d like to read more about her, she wrote an excellent essay on Grist.com: The BP oil gusher is just the latest in a long line of assaults on the Gulf of Mexico.

As she notes:

“The bottom line is that the Gulf of Mexico dies a little every day from the tens of thousands of chemical plants, oil refineries, and oil and gas rigs that pockmark the Gulf and its coastlines. It’s a death of ten thousand cuts, and many of these offenses don’t get reported at all. We, the public, really have no way of knowing. The companies and the agencies certainly aren’t going to tell us. They’ve proved that time and time again. The truth of the matter only becomes clear when something monstrous like the BP oil spill comes along and wakes us up to the nightmare.”

Not only would the threat of prison perhaps scare these corporate executives into giving a shit about the planet they plunder, it would also be cathartic for women like Wilson and me. Finally, these money driven dirtbags would experience a tiny portion of the hell we’ve put Mother Nature through.

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Hot Rod Alley in Corpus Christi, Texas

Hello there, Joy here, reporting from the San Antonio Airport, with its AWESOME free wi-fi! This morning, before I made the two-hour drive up to hop on my flight(s) back home to New York City, I spent my final few hours in Corpus Christi at the 18th Annual Coastal A’s & Rods Fun Run, where a bunch of antique car owners gathered to show off their restored beauties.

Even though the temps were close to 90 degrees, with little shade or helpful breeze, I couldn’t resist roaming around, taking photos of all the cool cars.

Let’s start with the most important car of the day, my Dad’s mostly restored 1926 Oldsmobile:

1926 Oldsmobile

My parents with my Dad's "Olds" from 1926. He's been restoring it for more than a year.

1926 Oldsmobile

My Mom and I with the Olds. On hot pavement. At high noon.

Alrighty, now the rest of the bad-ass cars:

I love flame paint jobs. I want a VW Bug with one.

Retro space age-y car. If I were a better photojournalist, I'd tell you what make/model this is.

Texas Antique Vehicle

Nice color combo on this puppy.

Grease Lightening

They were playing the "Grease" soundtrack. Can't you see Danny Zuko driving this one down Thunder Road? Also, it's hard to photograph chrome without yourself showing up. This is an especially flattering self-portrait. *sighs*

There I am -- again!

All this little bug needs is some orange flames on the front end. Sadly, there was no rum in those drinks. The nerve.


Chevrolet logo

I like the antique logos. So let's show a few more of them, shall we?


Camaro logo. Sweet car.

Sexy. I'd own one of these, too. This always has been my favorite model of Corvette.

In case you forget which truck you're looking at.

This was a common theme on many cars. Ah, the good ole days. The food is fake, yet it still made me hungry.

*Evil laugh*

Runs on Lone Star Beer

Why was I not surprised to find this truck's owner lives in Austin?

You must be naked, or crazy, or both.

And yet, this rule resulted in absolutely no one stripping down.

Port Aransas, Texas: Where the Sea Turtles Roam

Today, on the 7th birthday of WordPress (woohoo!), I spent the official day off with my parents in Port Aransas, Texas, an adorable beach town about 30 minutes from Corpus Christi, my hometown.

We decided to go because my friends and former newspaper colleagues (way back when) just published a book, Surfing Corpus Christi and Port Aransas. I picked up a copy and had Dan and Michelle sign it. I love the book’s dedication: “To all Texas surfers, past, present and future.” Rock on, Dan and Michelle, you seriously are one of the coolest couples out there.

After the book signing, we headed down to a park next to the Port Aransas ferry. Growing up, my father spent a lot of time fishing and hanging out in this area, and he never remembers seeing sea turtles floating around the jetty. Thanks to enormous conservation efforts — both from federally supported sea turtle rescue/release and places like the ARK — the sea turtles have returned. (And if you’re looking for a place to throw your money at, may I recommend the ARK? Good, good people volunteer there.)

We went today in the late afternoon, and stood on the big granite jetty rocks. In the distance, dolphins rolled through the water, and at our feet, sea turtles hunted for a mid-afternoon snack. It really took no effort on our parts to find this nature, it came to us.

I love that just earlier this week (see previous post), I was hanging out with aquatic (freshwater) turtles in Central Texas, and today I hung out with marine (saltwater) turtles. Mother Nature is showing me mercy this week. I really do love Texas. She gets under your skin and stays there, no matter what. Stay wild, Texas!

My parents scouting for sea turtles and dolphins.

Port Aransas Sea Turtle

Wait, what's that brown spot beneath the water? OMGSEATURTLE!

Port Aransas Sea Turtle

Obviously, you *can* have a close encounter with sea turtles in Texas. Real, honest-to-goodness wild, not captive sea turtles, folks. Forget the aquarium, just go to the jetty!

And s/he dives back down. Hasta pronto, tortugita!

Bottlenose dolphins are plentiful in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. Here they ride the bow waves of a Greek ship. Oh, to have a good zoom lens.

The view beneath Horace Caldwell Pier on the beach in Port Aransas.

My crab legs dinner at Virginia's in Port Aransas. As much as I love seafood, I do try to limit eating it to only when I'm on vacation. But god, so good.

You Know You’re in Central Texas When…

1. You take a photo of your husband sitting under a pecan tree next to a spring-fed river.

2. Some dudes pull up and drop off a turtle they rescued from the highway.

3. You go kayaking, and spend a lot of the day protecting yourself (reluctantly) from the perfect Texas sun.

4. This is ubiquitous.

Lone Star Beeh

5. So is this.

6. Armadillos are art.

London Hall

7. The small towns have dance halls that let you bring in ‘ole bottles of liquor if you’re tired of Lone Star, aka “set-ups,” or as shown here, “se ups.”

Dance hall

8. The bars look timeless.

9. Lots of people drive trucks, especially dualies.

And you know you’re in Austin, specifically, when:

1. Your brother works at a local animal shelter.

2. You have a snuggly encounter with a cat named Bernard.

3. Every car has a preachy bumper sticker.

I’m So Sorry, Planet Earth

Padre Island, by Flickr user qnr

Padre Island along the Texas Gulf Coast doesn’t have the glittery, white sand beaches of travel magazines. The sand is more the color of agua de tamarindo, and it’s often covered by a  thick layer of decaying Sargassum seaweed. In certain areas, beach trash gets mixed up in this seaweed, creating odd, massive sculptures of rope, plastic and dying barnacles. Stepping into the water isn’t likely to bring a lot of relief — the water is too warm in the summer, and jellyfish and stingrays take up most of the space that isn’t occupied by floating seaweed and debris.

So, no, I won’t lie to you: It’s no paradise of vacation dreams. It sits on the receiving end of the Mississippi water shed, a victim of the massive river’s trash and silt.

It also is where I grew up; it’s marred beauty is one of the few places in the world where I feel a power beyond my own, a presence I wouldn’t call God but Mother Nature.  I don’t believe there is some ethereal male being watching over us from unknown heavens, but I do believe that our planet is very much alive, in her own way. And that we are doing our best to snuff her out.

But Padre Island hangs on, in spite of us. Look beyond the less-than-perfect scene, and you’ll start to realize what an ecological haven it is: Rattlesnakes shift in the dunes and sharks lurk a few sandbars out. Endangered Kemp Ridley sea turtles lay their eggs here every year, and dolphins fly-swim through the distant waters. It is paradise, just not in the human way.

About a decade ago, Texas decided to allow oil drilling not only in the nearby waters — the horizon has become a windshield covered with smashed bugs of oil rigs marring the view — but also in the sand dunes themselves.  It’s one of the reasons I moved away, and became a person who doesn’t own a car. I didn’t want to contribute to this nightmare, I want my hands clean when my time comes. Of course, that’s an impossible feat, but I do my best to keep my hands as clean as possible.

Earlier this year, when President Obama said he supported continued oil exploration, I was exasperated. I had previously supported him, assuming he’d never take such action. He broke my heart with that announcement, and my already increasingly demotivated attitude toward politics took a sharp nosedive into complete apathy. His hands are very dirty.

When the recent news of the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana made headlines, I turned off the news, I simply couldn’t process it. And now, as the oil churns out of the ocean floor at a frightening rate, my denial has turned into despair. All our hands are dirty.

When ecological disasters keep me up at night — and this one most definitely has — the things I take comfort in are the weeds that pop up through the concrete on the sidewalk, the rats that rip through the garbage bags at night, the pigeons that take over the city parks, those cockroaches that scurry across your kitchen floor. In the oceans, the legs of those giant drilling platforms that are creating such murder right now are also artificial reefs, and even our embarrassing ocean trash becomes covered with life.

Try as we might to dirty our hands, and dirty our only home, we’ll destroy ourselves long before we fully succeed. And if we do turn things around before our final moments, there’s a planet full of life waiting to cheer us on. I am taking comfort in that right now.