An Early Monsoon Season
Monsoon season usually arrives in New Mexico in July and August but this year there were many stormy evenings in May, and then not as many as expected later in the summer. The dramatic clouds and rain often make for spectacular sunsets!
All photos shot with Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
In October of 2005, I was commissioned to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. I have elected not to share most of the photographs and names have been changed to protect the guilty. These are my stories.
It seems weird now, nineteen years later, to return to the Dark Continent for these stories. I wish I had never gone there but people wish for a lot of things. The past tense of wish is regret.
I was talking to my former employer the other day and he told me that he quit hunting and sold all his trophies, and by trophies he means heads. He sold them all. It doesn’t seem right to kill something just to put it’s head on your wall but at least you can say, “I did that. I killed that thing and now you see its head there on my wall.”
No one wants to say, “Aren’t all these heads beautiful? I bought them!” But now that I think about it, it really is splitting hairs to differentiate one statement from the other. When a white man goes to Africa to hunt a wild beast, a team of baby sitters take him out, track the animal for him, point his gun in the right direction and tell him when to pull the trigger. After that they wipe his ass and present him with an invoice that ends in six zeros. So I guess it really doesn’t matter how one acquires their African animal heads; one way or another, they were all bought anyway.
The first big score of our safari was the Hippo. They look docile but the 7,000 pound wickedly territorial sea bull is the undisputed king of the water. Even the crocodiles and venomous water serpents leave them alone.
On the first day, we went out to the Hippo pond and waited around, and around, and around.... My employer eventually got off a few shots, injuring his target which, when describing a Hippo hunt, means that he pissed it off and then it disappeared. To get a kill shot you have to shoot them right in the brain and that is difficult because they sit submerged in the water with only their eyes, nostrils and ears exposed. To kill a Hippo, you have to hit a target that is 50 yards away and roughly the same diameter as a beer bottle.
On the second day, a wild gun battle ensued. The injured hippo, having gone mad from it’s wounds, ran from the water and charged the camera crew. A few more rifle rounds to the ole noggin’ put ‘er down but not before it ran back into the pond, dying in the water as a final act of vengeance.
When your Hippo dies in the water, it’s a little bit of a problem. For one thing, it’s Hippo brethren just witnessed the massacre of their patriarch, which they find both frightening and upsetting. They’re not coming out and they stand guard in such a way that suggests you shouldn’t go in.
It was getting late, the sun was going down on the Dark Continent, and the Hippo I was supposed to photograph was at the bottom of the pond. I don’t know who thought retrieving it from the water with a helicopter was a good idea but, sure enough, a helicopter arrived all chop chop chop and gale force winds, to hoist the Hippo onto dry land. A discussion was held with the land owner, the trackers and the pro hunters who were actually in charge of this adventure, and it was decided that Crazy Barefoot Man would climb in his tiny canoe, that he paddled with his hands, and paddle on over to the fallen Hippo. He would then wrap chains around it’s feet and then hand the loose ends up to the helicopter. I never caught Crazy Barefoot Man’s name but he was there with his Crazy Barefoot Kid who probably called him Dad. Both of them were white and ran through the bush in their bare feet, somehow avoiding the giant stickers that carpeted the ground.
The sun was setting on the water and it looked lovely with all the ripples from the helicopter wind and the silhouette of Crazy Barefoot Man hand-paddling his canoe across the surface towards the family of Hippos, one of whom had sank to bottom.
The bulk of a Hippo’s 7000 pound body is not comprised of it’s brain and, because of this, they operate primarily on instinct. What little brain power they have is allocated to their senses, which are very keen.
This whole canoe scheme seemed like a bad idea but no one asked me and off he went. As the little boat approached the middle of the pond, the surviving members of the Hippo family saw, smelled and heard the intruder. They sounded the alarm and silent, angry water tanks mobilized in the direction of the hand paddled boat. I saw then that Crazy Barefoot Man could paddle backwards a hell of a lot faster than he had been paddling forward. He made a hasty retreat and the helicopter was sent home.
On the third day we left the lodge at 5:30am and sat in the back of a pickup for half an hour while we were driven back to the scene of the Hippo. During the night, the smell of death had permeated the water, choking the surviving Hippos until they forgot about being sad and grew more concerned over being grossed out. They were too disgusted to eat breakfast so they left the pond in search of greener pastures.
As the first golden rays of sunlight spilled over the horizon, we arrived at the pond ready to do battle, and by “we”, I mean an army of 15 Africans had been assembled to wade out in the water, tie chains to the now bloated and floating dead Hippo’s feet, and tow it back to the sandy beach where all the Americans and white Afrikaners waited patiently. Crazy Barefoot Man was there too but he didn’t bring his canoe.
Believe it or not, 7000 pounds of floating dead Hippo really doesn’t weigh anything. They towed it along effortlessly until it’s bloated sides started to drag the bottom and then 7000 pounds suddenly weighed a lot. A safari outfitted Toyota Hilux pickup, the same one we had just ridden in, was backed up to the shore and the chains were attached to the come-along winch on the back bumper. Moving dead animals is serious business in this part of the world.
Once freed from it’s watery grave, the carcass of the Hippo ceased to pollute the water and began at once to pollute the air, still seeking revenge for it’s untimely death.
The same team of men who were sent into the pond were now assigned the task of making the Hippo “photo ready”, which meant doing things like cleaning all the blood from it’s orifices, scraping barnacles and other unsightly debris from it’s body, prying it’s jaws open with a hydraulic car jack, thereby releasing a terrific stench into the morning air, and cleaning the swamp out of it’s mouth so that my employer could stick his head in there and tell me to take his picture.
I was supposed to wait until the Hippo was officially released from it’s hair and makeup chair to commence photography but I shot every detail of everything, all the while my employer kept saying “Just wait, you don’t need to shoot that.”
When the Hippo was finally deemed ready for it’s 15 minutes of fame, my employer knelt behind it, Pedorseli 45/70 hoisted over his shoulder. He looked straight into the camera and said “Isn’t it magnificent!”
Five Reasons The ABQ BioPark Zoo Is Fun For Adults
It goes without saying that families love to take their kids to the zoo, and for obvious reasons. Visiting the zoo, exposes young people to animals they may otherwise not ever see, or even know exist, and the zoo helps to foster a respect for wildlife and to educate about the need for conservation.
That's all well and good but I'm an adult who doesn't have children and I like the zoo too! Here are my top five reasons why the Albuquerque Bio Park Zoo is one of my favorite places to visit on a regular basis.
#5. Urban Hiking - Get Your Steps!
Founded in 1927, the 64 acre ABQ BioPark Zoo (originally called the Rio Grande Zoo) is nestled among the ancient Cottonwoods near the Rio Grande River that runs through the heart of Albuquerque. Over 250 species of animals live here and to see them all requires walking the entire 2.25 miles of paved trail. Conservatively, that is at least 6000 steps and possibly more depending on how many times you circle back around to see the giraffes.
The zoo provides a safe outdoor environment for walking (complete with refreshment stands) during all seasons of the year. Albuquerque is known for it's mild winters so the animals are still out on most days even in December and January.
My favorite way to meet my step goal is to do so while visiting my animal friends!
#4. A Place To Take Visitors
It is worth mentioning that the ABQ BioPark actually consists of four different locations: The Zoo, The Botanic Garden, The Aquarium, and Tingley Beach. Those with a BioPark membership can visit any of these locations for free and some membership levels even allow for bringing extra guests!
Have out-of-town guests and need help keeping them entertained? The ABQ BioPark has something suitable for guests of any age, mobility level, and for all seasons. Your guests may not feel like tromping around the zoo in the snow but, on a bad weather day, they would surely love the Aquarium! And, on a good weather day, there is positively nothing cuter than a baby elephant playing in the water.
#3. See Something Different Every Time
I never tire of visiting the zoo and, part of the reason, is because I know that each time I go I am sure to see something new. As an example, the Mexican Wolves in the above photo have a wonderful enclosure. It is roughly half an acre of wooded land which provides plenty of privacy for the shy wolves. It is such a wonderful enclosure that the wolves are rarely visible. During my many visits to the zoo, I would occasionally see one of the wolves walking around somewhere near the back fence but most of the time they are hiding out and enjoying their privacy. That's ok because the welfare of the animals has to take priority over appeasing looky-lou photographers like myself but, now and then I still get lucky. On this particular day, my husband and I got there right at feeding time and the wolves were running laps through their enclosure. We didn't plan it that way, but it was a pleasant surprise that once again makes the whole experience worth while.
#2. Support Conservation Efforts
The ABQ BioPark plays an important role in wildlife conservation. With the recent addition of two Red List assessors, the BioPark is now at the leading edge of conservation research worldwide.
The Red List is a growing database assessing the extinction threat faced by plants, animals and fungi around the world. The Red List is complied and published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Albuquerque's BioPark is the first facility of its type to become a hub for the IUCN and the first facility worldwide to have two Red List assessors.
Every BioPark membership and every visit supports conservation efforts to protect the other creatures that call our planet home.
In addition, the zoo also plays it's own direct role in the preservation of endangered species. Just this year, I have watched two baby Reticulated Giraffes growing up and been able to see the new baby Snow Leopard and there also two new baby Ocelots. Last year, the zoo saw it's 2nd baby Asian Elephant. Many years ago, I remember seeing a bunch of squirmy baby American Alligators and they now occupy the Gator Swamp!
#1. The Animals!
Hands down, the #1 reason I enjoy visiting the ABQ BioPark Zoo is because of the animals. There are over 250 species of animals living at the Zoo and everyone has their favorites. Personally, I am totally in love with the giraffes but I can't hardly drag my mom away from the penguins and my cousin would be happy enough to just stand there and stare at the flamingos all day.
The ABQ BioPark goes to great lengths to provide high quality care for all of their animal residents as well as enclosures that meet their needs. These animals serve as ambassadors and educators so that we all may have a better understanding of the diversity of life that shares our tiny blue planet.
A Free Show That Never Disappoints
April of 2019 was a particularly prolific month for the New Mexico sky. Almost every day, I would look out my back door and see something amazing. It took a lot of work to narrow it down to only the best images. I mean, how do you pick which of your children is your favorite?
Sunset tip: It's all about the clouds. When guessing whether or not there's going to be a good sunset on any given night, look for clouds. Too many clouds could mean an all grey dud, but no clouds almost certainly means a very un-dramatic ending to the day.
To see my 2019 sunset collection in it's entirety, click here.
All photos show with a Motorola MotoX4 and edited with Snapseed.
A Virtual Recital
Earlier this year, I started playing the ukulele and learning from multiple online resources. The site I am most involved with is called Uketropolis and features the teaching materials of James Hill as well as a friendly community of like minded ukulele enthusiasts.
Every so often Uketropolis hosts a virtual recital in which students are invited to submit videos of the pieces they have prepared. It's all of the fun, and none of the stress, of a live recital since there is no actual playing in front of people.
I prepared a couple of songs, and a couple hundred takes later, here they are!
Roving Gambler is a beginner level piece from book 1 of The Ukulele Way by James Hill. Most people would play this piece fingerstyle but I prefer to play it with a pick.
My second piece is a little more advanced and one of all time favorite songs. This is Wayfaring Stranger from Book 6 of The Ukulele Way, also played with a pick.
Both pieces were shot in the Sessions Academy (where you can also take online ukulele lessons) green screen studio. The ukulele is a Donner DUC-4E solid Mahogany concert uke, and the amp is a Donner DEA-1.
I am DeAnna Vincent, fine art and portrait photographer in Los Lunas, New Mexico. These are the photos from my everyday adventures.