What Really Matters to You?

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Does anything get you fired up? I mean, does anything provoke you to sit up, pay attention, and decide to do something about it?

I hear a lot of rhetoric from well-meaning and good intentioned people, but few are motivated to stand up and be counted. We also have the slippery slope of political correctness that has run amuck in our country. I just said the other day that political correctness might be the gateway to our demise.

So here goes. I am going to say some things I believe strongly enough to stand up for and be counted. To some, it might sound like  am coming out of the closet because I don’t always wear these feelings on my sleeve nor do I share them publicly very often. I am sure I will offend some and perhaps many, but I want to be honest with you and with myself.

I grew up in the farming and hunting traditions of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. My parents taught me right from wrong and I listened to them sometimes. When I didn’t I got whacked real good! I attended church every week. I learned to respect my elders, do my chores, and enjoy God’s beautiful creation. My grandpa took me for walks in the woods to hunt for mushrooms. I never ate one of them, but I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we had on those long walks in the woods. At the age of 12 I became a hunter. My uncle was my hero and I couldn’t wait to hunt game and get to eat it. I got my first squirrel on Thanksgiving Day in 1977 with the help of my uncle. I did not eat this squirrel because my dad had it mounted for me to remember that successful hunt  the rest of my life. I hunted all through high school and developed a deep friendship with my best buddy, Randy. We roomed together in our first year of college, had one big fight and a few smaller arguments, but we always looked forward to hunting season. We ran a successful muskrat trap line and trapped a few raccoon, opossums, and skunks along the way! Then I transferred to Temple University and saw how life was lived in the city. It was awesome! It was all new, of course, to me, but it was mentally engaging and challenging in ways I never experienced before. My very first day in the city, I met an African-American for the first time in my life. Danny took me around the city, which was far different from taking a long walk in the woods! I learned that people might look different from me but they have similar wants, likes, and problems just as I do. I learned that some people are treated differently, too. African-Americans could not walk into certain neighborhoods, which was a hard lesson for me to understand. The city of brotherly love is just not always that lovely it seemed–at least not for everybody. I moved to Pittsburgh to continue my education and my life experiences expanded as well. I met a friendly city that was much different from the big city of Philly. These differences were both good and bad in my opinion. I got to experience a wonderful new culture on many levels. I often went to the Balcony, which featured great jazz musicians from the city and the entire region. I also went with a friend to a Reggae concert. Jeff and I were the only white people in the whole place! But we were treated like brothers and enjoyed the concert and the crowd immensely! I now got to work in a church and learned the hard way that church is not always a loving and friendly place. There are even some hypocrites and hateful people in the church. I got married to my high school sweetheart and lived in a little two-bedroom apartment. Denise worked at the hospital and I continued my education. My horizons were expanding and life was excellent! We bought some land in the mountains, near where I had hunted since the age of 15. It was so nice to have a little slice of God’s creation to steal away to every once in a while and to have a place of our very own. It didn’t hurt that the wildlife was abundant and we saw our very first Pennsylvania Elk. Wow, what a beautiful and majestic animal! I continued hunting with my dad and my buddy from high school, Randy. I often saw nice bucks in bear season and beautiful bear in deer season! We bagged a few bucks and I started trying to photograph the wildlife in the off seasons, especially the elk. My wife gave birth to beautiful twin children–Lydia and James. They helped me continue learning more and more. I learned my uncle had lied to me: he said your own children don’t stink! I learned that girls are different from boys, in more than just the obvious ways. I also learned that children will do the exact opposite of what you tell them sometimes! I served several churches as pastor and got to meet all kinds of wonderful people from all walks of life. I had great mentors along the way. I met some gay people who were more committed in their relationships than some of my friends and relatives were in their marriages. I had some of my thinking challenged and confirmed and completely torn apart. I thought I had life pretty much figured out when one of our church teenagers shot and killed his mom and dad. Why? I will probably never know. I enjoyed success and failures, and all kinds of ups and downs. I still enjoy hunting, trapping, and now other shooting and target sports. The best part is having an interested son who shares some of my interests and who is going to be a much better hunter than I will ever be in this life. He shoots straight and has specific goals and a good direction for his life, much like I recall in my own life when I was his age. My daughter keeps me cultured and tries to keep expanding my horizons. I don’t always like her music or her boyfriends. I love my children but, yes, we disagree sometimes and I am not always right. However, living in my house requires living by my rules. Funny how I find myself parenting like my parents raised me! Mom got her wish, too. She often said, “I hope when you have a son, he’s just like you!” Thanks, mom, thanks a lot! I still enjoy hunting and believe strongly in our Second Amendment. I am a proud member of the National Rifle Association. I was a member years ago but let my membership lapse because I thought they went too far much of the time. I’ve changed my thinking completely on this topic. I never thought I would live to see the day that hunting might be outlawed, but I fear that day is much closer than most of might imagine. A new bill introduced on Capitol Hill this week does include hunting rifles that may not be legal in Pennsylvania, but they are legal in other states. Why do I only get upset when my way of life is threatened? What about when other people’s ways of life are threatened? Shouldn’t I speak up then, too? The Second Amendment is not primarily about hunting, it’s about the unalienable right given to us by our founding fathers in the Constitution to bear arms. Yes, it was about a militia at the time of its conception but it was also about individual rights, too. It was also about protecting the citizens from a tyrannical government. Rights are sometimes lost over time. Just look at parenting. Remember the old adage: spare the rod and spoil the child? This is out the window today. I know that guns are often the choice for bad people to inflict hurt on others, but I also know that many more people die from car accidents and abortions. Could it be that our society is full of spoiled brats who need to learn a lesson or two before they become an active part of our society? It is an odd mix today, really… many feel entitled and yet many rights continue to be threatened. Morale in the church and our country is down. The economy shows signs of bouncing back like in the Stock Market but still hurts so many people trying to make a decent living and our seniors on fixed incomes. I do not believe in global warming, but I do see a lot of changes going on around me. My dad died a little over a year ago and I miss talking with him on hunting trips and I miss his camp cooking! My uncle is still my hero but many other hopeful heroes have come and gone, despised by society for the bad things they got caught doing and lied about. I question why so many people die so young and unexpectedly. I question but I remain faithful. And I still enjoy hunting deer but will only shoot the Pennsylvania elk with my camera. I thoroughly enjoy photographing God’s beautiful and amazing creation.

This is what really matters to me: God’s creation, my family, the traditions I grew up with, having an open mind, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution (especially the Second Amendment), photographing wildlife, continuing to learn as I experience more and more all the time, and knowing that there is no place like the mountains!

This is me, Bob Shank, for better or worse. I am a product to a large degree from where I came from and where I’ve been through the years. I don’t think my way is always better, but I think my way is right. I enjoy having debates and long conversations even with those who look at life differently, and I enjoy educating people on some topics. I hope I am still learning and I hope my life is making a difference in some way.

What really matters to you?

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A Tribute to My Dad – A Man Who Truly Loved the Mountains!

I was away on vacation; up in the mountains, in fact, when I received word that my dad died.

I immediately packed up a few essentials and traveled the three-hour trip to be with my mom, brother, and the rest of our family. That three-hour drive was therapeutic for me as I recollected past memories spent in the mountains with my dad. After all, it was my dad who showed me a true love for the mountains. This love for the mountains was passed down to me and then down to my son as well. Here is how I express it: “There is no place like the mountains.” Dad taught me this and spent a lot of time teaching me the mountain ways. I will forever be grateful!

Dad also enjoyed viewing the Pennsylvania elk. He found several antler sheds over the years. His proudest find was a matched set of 6x6s when he followed that bull for three days to get the matched antler. He always said, “I ate, drank, and slept with that bull for three days!” He also fed the elk at times when it used to be legal to do so. Later, as his life slowed down, he had a hard time understanding why it was illegal to feed the elk. I suppose it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but my dad really wasn’t all that old by today’s standards as he just turned 70 this past April.

Dad first saw the Pennsylvania elk in 1988 when he accompanied Perk Nye up to Benezette, PA. They were both in the vehicle when they first spotted their first elk and Perk yelled, “Caribou! Caribou!” because he was so excited that he misspoke their true identity. It wasn’t long afterward that Perk bought property on the Gilbert Farm. Then in 1990, on a tip from my dad, I purchased three properties on the old Winslow Farm, then known as the Busy-Bee Subdivision and now known as the Blue Sky Subdivision.

Dad spent many days and nights up on the elk range. He spent time there with my mom, Judy; his oldest brother, Lloyd; his younger brother, Dale; his youngest son, Dave; his grandchildren, Michael, James, and Lydia; and me. We shared many special times up in those mountains and created some mighty special memories! Dad taught me a lot of mountain and life lessons, but most of all he taught me to love the land, the mountains, and God’s Creation. It was these important lessons that prompted me to start photographing the elk much more seriously about four years ago. Dad always enjoyed seeing the photographs we produced because he loved the elk and enjoyed seeing them in all their glory.

Two weeks before his death, dad was up on the mountains with my brother,  his wife, and my mom. They had a great time together and dad enjoyed that weekend in the mountains seeing the elk. As everyone else was loading up the vehicle on Sunday to return home, dad was standing at the window in our camp crying. My mom asked him what was the matter. He said, “This will be the last time I will be in the mountains.”

He was correct. Perhaps he knew his time was growing short but none of us in the family knew it was going to be this quick. In the end, dad got his wish as he passed on to eternity in his sleep. He used to always say, “If I have the choice, I’d die in my sleep.” Dad passed peacefully which was his wish. Our family was surprised and a little shocked by his sudden passing, but we are comforted to know the faith dad taught us so well. We are only sad for our loss. We are very happy for dad’s new residence in heaven, where I imagine he is discovering some new and incredible mountains! He is probably making new mountain discoveries with Perk, my grandparents, and all those who have a love for the mountains.

I will certainly miss my dad; especially those special times we shared in the mountains during bear season, deer season, and on many other occasions throughout the years.

I will keep going to the mountains to cherish the memories my dad gave to me and I will keep photographing the Pennsylvania elk to the best of my ability to pass on the love of the elk that my dad passed down to me. The circle of life will keep on going–albeit with a few sad moments knowing my dad won’t be sharing these special times with me physically, but certain that one day we will roam the mountains of heaven together. I can’t wait for the lessons my dad will teach me then!

 

No Photos but Wow, What an Evening in the Field!

My son, James, and I recently purchased a portable blind at Cabelas. The main reason for the purchase is so I can photograph the birds here in my backyard. I inadvertently left the blind up in the mountains on a previous trip, so we decided to put it to use this past Wednesday evening. We practiced setting it up and packing it up while we ate supper around the campfire. It is not a fancy blind but it seats two comfortably. So off we went to give it a try. We assembled the blind and weren’t in it very long when James said, “There’s some elk.” Sure enough, there were four cows over on a distant field and then we spotted a bigger herd of elk just to the right of these first four. There were 40 elk in all! We also had deer come to within 50 yards of our blind. It was a very productive field test and we had a great father/son evening on the mountain!

We did see some elk this week. The highlight was Thursday morning when we saw an 8×8 bull–the biggest bull we’ve seen so far this year. Unlike our previous trip, we did manage to see more bulls, for which we were thankful. Their velvet is coming off and the bulls look uncomfortable with strings of velvet hanging all over their antlers and down in their eyes!

I will post some photos of our trip this coming week, but I think I jinxed myself. My most recent blog entry was about preparation. Well, I guess I jinxed myself because I got to camp with James on Monday around midnight only to realize I forgot my D300! I’ll bet Moose Peterson never did this! Thankfully, I did have my backup body–my old D70 and James let me borrow one of his lenses. I will post some of my photos in upcoming blog posts, but James definitely got much better photos than I did this trip! I guess I was just so excited for this trip that I overlooked grabbing and packing my camera bag into my truck. I even had it on my packing list! I can think of several words to describe what an idiot I am, but none of them are printable!

Now I really can’t wait to get back to the mountains of Elk County!!!

There’s No Place Like the Mountains!

My good friend and hunting buddy, Randy Greenly, teases me that sometimes I sound like a broken record. You see, if I said it once, I’ve said it hundreds of times: “There’s no place like the mountains!”

I believe this to be absolutely true, too. Last week my son, James, and I were able to get away for two days to our special place in the mountains of Elk County. We left immediately after his baseball practice on Thursday evening because we wanted to stop at Cabelas in Hamburg, PA before they closed. We got there 15 minutes before closing. The greeter who met us at the door even asked, “You do know you only have 15 minutes, right?” Yeah, 15 minutes isn’t much time at all for two outdoor enthusiasts to spend in a store like Cabelas! But we got what we wanted and were on our way to the mountains.

James and I both enjoy seeing the majestic elk of Pennsylvania and photographing them. We learn more and more about them all the time, too! The bull elk are currently in velvet, which means that their antlers are encased in a blood-rich covering that provides antler growth. Soon they will rub this away to get ready for the fall rut, which is my absolute most favorite time of the year to be in the outdoors with the elk. Hearing a bugling bull elk and watching two bulls stand each other off in a field are just of the impressive sightings I’ve experienced in the fall. It is awesome and there is nothing like it!

The weather last week was not very good, nor was it conducive to photography early in the morning or late in the day. The cloud cover and rain shortened the shooting time for us photographers, so I did not capture as many quality photos as normal. I do hope some of the following photographs do share my sentiment–that there is no place like the mountains!

 

 

Rabbits Out of Nowhere

Our daughter, Lydia, went for a walk late this afternoon. On her way out and then back again she was surprised to see a baby fawn lying right next to the front porch of house!

Motivated by her sighting, I grabbed my camera, put the 70-200mm lens on, and went out the door. It was just starting to rain and the cloud cover was blocking some of the light. Before I even took ten steps out our back door, I spotted a rabbit. It was a young one and appeared out of nowhere! I causally moved about as if just wandering around and was able to get closer. The light was too dim for a 200 ISO setting, so I bumped it up to 400. At an aperture of f/2.8 I was getting anywhere from 1/250 – 1/325 shutter speed. This was just enough to allow me to shoot handheld and get a few nice shots.

Before long, this little bunny moved into the brush, apparently having enough of my presence. So I moved on to another rabbit sitting just beyond our driveway. This was an adult rabbit. I observed and clicked the shutter release and then watched in amazement as he stretched out his neck to get some grass to eat. This was repeated several times as the continuous frames were blasting away from my end. Then, almost as if on cue, this rabbit started cleaning his back foot!

Wildlife is incredible and completely amazing to me. I am known to say, “There’s no place like the mountains.” I believe this deep down in my soul for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the wonderful wildlife I get to see and photograph!

Today I was hoping to photograph a fawn but ended up photographing two rabbits who seemed to emerge out of nowhere. I just happened upon them and I’m so glad I did!

What do you think of these rabbit photos?

New Year’s on Winslow Hill

Lydia, James, and I spent the New Year holiday up on Winslow Hill. This is a perfect time to get away to the quiet mountains and celebrate the passing of one year into all the hope and anticipation of a new one. It is a time for reflection. I counted my blessings acknowledging that this year I was able to spend more time in the mountains. My son also bagged his first buck, so that was another blessing. Time spent photographing the Pennsylvania elk is still another. Blessings abounded this past year!

It is also a time to look ahead with anticipation upon the new year. What will this year bring? How many times will I get out to photograph wildlife? Will there be any noteworthy photo purchases this year? What will I learn? What will I see? Where will I go? I am getting eager and excited just thinking about it!

Reflecting, pondering, hoping, and wondering are all important components to any New Year’s celebration. And I can think of nowhere better to do this than up in the mountains on Winslow Hill!

I wonder what this bull is thinking as he looks ahead to a new year?

Sunset Skies

I like sunsets.

I’d like sunrises more, too, if they didn’t happen so early in the morning! Actually, I do get up to photograph sunrises when I am at the beach and other locations that provide beautiful sunrises. It’s just that where I live there are mountains all around so the sun rises later and is already too bright.

This sunset was captured in Elk County looking out from the front of our cabin. It’s one of my favorite scenes to observe and this sunset was awesome. The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but I do like this photo anyway.

I always like to say, “There’s no place like the mountains.” And scenes like this only prove this to be the case. I love the mountains!

 

Turkey

 

I photographed this wild turkey last month when I was in Elk County during the Elk rut. It was my first day on the elk range and it was raining. You can see the rain in this photo and the rain made it difficult to get a clear image as  you can see in this photo. But since I do not have many turkey photos yet, I spent some time getting a little wet and clicking the shutter release. This was one of the best ones of the shoot.

All this to say that when we keep our eyes open in the wild outdoors we never know what we are going to see or experience!

I love walking through the mountains. There is nothing better or more exhilarating than walking through the wilderness. I love the mountains and the time I get to spend in them is precious to me. The wild animals are all around and when we get the opportunity to see one we should be thankful. There is so much to see and experience outdoors. Believe me, I would much rather take a walk in the wild rather than play a video game or surf the internet. It just isn’t the same!

This turkey was with a flock of 13 other turkeys. The flock was feeding in the grass as the rain fell. It was a very special few moments for me and I only wish I had a longer lens to reach out and get closer photos of these beautiful birds.

Time to Be in the Mountians!

I can feel it. The weather is slowly changing as the evenings and mornings are getting cooler. The leaves on the trees are starting to show some hints that their colors might soon be changing, too. Yep, I can feel it–it’s time to be in the mountains again!

I absolutely love this time of year. It is so beautiful and even the wildlife is becoming more active. The breeding season of the elk feature bugle sounds and sights that are breathtaking and photogenic.

This weekend I will be in the mountains with my son, James, to see and photograph the elk. I can’t wait. It’s only going to be a one day trip but at least we will see firsthand how the elk rut is going. We hope to hear some ear-piercing bugles, see some sparing, and capture some of this action with our cameras. It’s going to be sweet!

There is no place like the mountains and there is no place I’d rather be than in the mountains behind my viewfinder!

Here’s a photo of my colleague and professional photographer, Dick McCreight behind his viewfinder.

Yeah, We’re Friends Now

These two bulls were posing side-by-side for us last week in the middle of August. They seem to be good friends as they stand there in the field. Next month it will be a different story!

These two boys will go from friends to foe as they will be competing for breeding rights. I cannot wait for the rut! I generally like fall anyway–in fact, it is my most favorite time of the year. But when the elk activity at this time of year is added in, this time of year is simply magical! Bulls will be bugling and getting very excited, which makes any wildlife photographer excited as well! The rut is just around the corner and I definitely plan to be on the elk range for this wonderful and wild experience!

Yep, they might  look like good friends now, but just wait until next month!