Light Pixie Studio – Sharyn Richardson » Preserve your memories | fine art portraits that tell a story | photographs and paintings by Sharyn Richardson | Light Pixie Studio | What do you want to remember? | worldwide

Masthead header

American Woodcock welcomes springWinter is persistent! March 2018 came and went as a lion.

We woke to frost goblins and tonight there will be more snow. But this day announced itself with sunshine that soon after revealed a secret.

Life-listing birder

Thirty years ago I was a novice birder with a growing list. At that time I lived and worked in Miami with Everglades at the backdoor. One evening a friend invited me there to watch the aerial ballet of the American Woodcock, a chubby little guy determined to impress the ladies with his circling, diving courtship, declaring intentions on whistling wings. My logbook shows him as my 201st life bird and I’ve seen only a handful of others in more than three decades until . . . .

American Woodcock, Scolopax minor

Fast forward to Easter Sunday 2018 and an urgent call to come see who was snacking in the creek below our springbox. The American Woodcock is not rare in the eastern United States though this is the first one I’ve seen in decades; it is a secretive bird, skulking around in damp underbrush from dusk to dawn.

Woodcock with a stylish coat and a big head

This bird has huge eyes placed high in a big head—the better to see me with. They’re strongly marked with bars, stripes, and dots above a soft cinnamon, buff-colored belly. The feet are pink and the bill is long and thin, perfect to probe the soft stream bed where slugs, worms, and snails hide. Scolopax minor walks with a constant rocking motion which distinguishes it from its cousin, the Snipe.

Eye-to-eye, one species to another

All of these behaviors were on vivid display while I sat watching from the grass. He saw me there, big eyes staring straight into mine, then returned to his hunt. I watched as his day ended and mine began, relishing the sunshine, thankful that it’s strengthening each day. To him and to all of you, Happy Easter, welcome spring!


In Memoriam

I am an average pilot who feels very lucky to have known Paul Johns who died last week at age one hundred and four. I’ve been shooting his birthday portraits for the past few years and below you can see the last of them from his final birthday celebration in October of 2017.

Touching Greatness

Years ago an acquaintance introduced me to the idea that one might touch greatness. He played a fine Martin D45 and chose his heroes from among the greatest guitarists of his youth.  This was long before people became famous for being famous, and touching greatness meant more than being a fan-boy for the latest fad. My friend the musician never bragged about his famous friends or claimed degrees of separation. By touching greatness he meant that under unique and fortuitous circumstances an average person might meet someone celebrated for significant achievement and for living a noteworthy life.

Paul Johns, age 104 in October 2017

Paul Johns at his last birthday celebration

Paul Johns, pilot

Paul Johns had the kind of flying experience that many dream of but few will have. He soloed for the first time in a glider in 1929 when he was fifteen years old. That was on his first training day marking him as an early and gifted pilot.

His celestial navigation and instrument flying were so superior that he was recruited to teach military pilots to depend entirely on their instruments for flight in the clouds. Navigating by cockpit instruments alone is required whenever the nighttime or weather make it impossible to see outside the airplane. That’s just as true today but modern pilots have additional situational help from ground and satellite-based navigational aids, radar, and GPS that were not invented in Paul’s time.

PAA Clipper

After the war Paul flew DC3s and flying boats for Pan American Airlines including the Boeing Clipper on the 2,400 mile route from San Francisco to Honolulu. On each eighteen hour crossing the lives of two dozen passengers depended on the pilot/navigator’s skills. In recognition of his long and remarkable aviation career Paul Johns joined the 2009 inductees of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame.

 Paul Johns, Centenarian

Paul flew his home-built Kitfox airplane until the age of 85. Then at ninety years old he learned computer repair and became a competent iPad user. Paul was a licensed ham radio operator (KF9ZN). And as a centenarian he was still building and selling his own design for one of the best radio antennas for fabric airplanes. He could tell a good story full of memorable details and never lost a bit of his mental sharpness or good humor. At his 104th birthday Paul Johns stood for ten minutes with microphone in hand telling stories and thanking by name his many friends at which he never faltered.

Remembering Greatness

In August 2015 the Central County Airport at Iola, Wisconsin, was renamed Paul Johns Field to honor him for his long and remarkable career. Lunch at Iola is a Friday event sponsored by the Central County Flyers group of pilots and other community volunteers that draws aviation enthusiasts by plane and car (many of which are prized and vintage) from near and far. Paul Johns rarely missed the weekly Lunch at Iola. He was a pilot and a gentleman, innovator, inspiration, friend, and role model.

In late spring his ashes will scattered in the grass of Runway 22 and Paul Johns will be remembered as a wonderful man, a very good friend who will be greatly missed by us all.


New Year

May 2018 be the most satisfying new year of your life. Be productive and joyful. May you share your path with others you admire, trust, and love.

Happy New Year 2018

On the road with a friend

This is my newest painting, On the Road, for a grandfather who fondly recalls when his granddaughter was barely taller than his favorite dog. The big, lovable Lab cast himself as protector for the small girl as they walked down a country road. The dog is patient and she goes confidently by his side because it’s a partnership of love and trust.

I’ve been absent from the Light Pixie Studio blog for far too long. I’ve been extra busy with several jobs including this one and several others for retouching and restoration. Two years ago I joined a professional coaching group. I’m a forever student, never too old or too experienced to stop learning. Main incentives were to see inspiring work from other professionals, to be challenged by them, and to stretch my boundaries. There is so much incredible, amazing talent in the photography and painting communities.

The hardest part for me was within. Sticking with the program, being forced to create even when I wasn’t feeling creative, having required public critiques, meeting so many artists in the coaching community with the same doubts, but also hearing what was right and good in my work. It’s been liberating. It’s a long path that doesn’t end. Like the title of this new painting, I’m also On the Road!

Whatever path you choose in the new year, may it lead to good places!

Still life – a collection

Classic still life involves an artful arrangement of inanimate objects, a collection of something beautiful or rare or peculiar. Odd numbers are visually appealing perhaps because the eye is forced to move around a scene. The sweet spot is three so here’s a collection of three crystal objects. The whimsical figures are leftovers from a holiday display. Puzzling out how to arrange such dissimilar objects led to my discovery of The Incident as told from the dolls’ perspective.

The Incident, a still life

Raggedy Siblings find unexpected trouble

When fun goes wrong

The Incident involves dolls at play. The seesaw spoon is a lever pivoting on a crystal fulcrum. Whether it launched the young Raggedy Ann into the crystal vase or it’s Raggedy Andy’s strategy to toss her a raspberry lunch is a guess. Ann’s frown suggests she’s been stuck for a while. Andy’s found a rope with its end looped into a tiny heart, reflecting Ann’s candy heart with its “I love you” that was sewn into the original, early 19th century Raggedy Ann dolls (Andy came along in 1920). Using the rope and a toy ladder Andy’s climbed up to his sister. We don’t know the plan. Perhaps she does.

Your help is needed!

It’s hard to finish, to stop the work, then leave it alone. My theory is often that if some is good, more is better! Here is where The Incident stands now but it feels like the scene isn’t over. The rest of the story is missing. Any ideas? Do please leave a comment—always very appreciated!

Still life – looks easy, is hard

I don’t officially collect anything! There’s no collection of stamps, watches, dolls, frog statues, seashells, although I know actual people who have drained bank accounts to fill their homes with such things.

What do people collect?

Baseball cards, thimbles, LPs or CDs, and autographs are among the top collectibles, as well as the more esoteric assemblages of action figures and Zippo lighters, and hobbyists who collect cars, coins or fine art. Then there’s the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin.  I threw that in because it is an interesting place chock a block with mustards of every pedigree imaginable, a veritable collection of mustard!

What do I collect?

I collect recipes and hundreds of books are fruitful but not visual enough; neither do groaning closets and cupboards a collection make. I do collect good memories, notes from friends, photographs, and experience with never enough of the last.

What’s real and what’s not

Just so you know, the only real objects are crystal and the two tiny dolls, Everything else is a digital composite including the spoon and the shadows. It used to be that you could trust words in print and all that you saw with your own eyes. Gossipmongers, tattlers, and liars beware, we’ve heard about fake news and we’re on to you!

A warning, “Don’t start collecting stuff!”

If you’re looking for something to collect my advice is don’t start down that road. George Carlin’s riff on stuff  is a cautionary tale; he’s funny and honest enough that you might recognize yourself. If you aim to amass stuff and need inspiration there’s a list of the top 150 things that people collect.




Paul often reads to me while I cook. With holiday preparations underway for Christmas 2016 Eve supper there was ample time for this week’s headline story in our small town newspaper of childhood Christmas traditions recalled. That led inevitably to stories from our own childhoods.

Sugar Plums first and then the Christmas tree

When we were young trees were decorated and packages arranged only after children were asleep in their beds presumably with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. Children were expected to wait to be called or at least past a certain early morning hour before Christmas could begin.

Bells in the family

We’ve always had bells in the family, not the thin metal, cheap ones but real harness bells, weighty and resonant. My parents prized a strand of five woven into a red rope that hung from a hook on the back door. On Christmas morning they were rung to signal me and three siblings that it was time to come downstairs accompanied by Santa’s deep-throated gravely, “Ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas!” Our mother’s voice was never recognized in any hint of tone or timbre. Our father was by nature too guarded and serious to be so playful. Long after I knew their secret, it remains a special memory and a phrase like music that I can recall perfectly. Whether I say the words aloud or not, tomorrow morning the memory will connect me once again to Mother.

Who Santa really is

I was the eldest of four, each of us born five years apart. My parents grew concerned as I neared age seven that I might learn and tell the larger truth about Santa to the youngest. That Christmas Eve as they tucked me into bed, they revealed who Santa really is: the season’s love and generosity openly expressed and shared in gifts and greetings among cherished family and treasured friends. Parents, they said, are the real elves, surrogates who do the magic work themselves. They invited me to join with them for the sake of my siblings. The words were gentle and honest, words I emulated with my own children as they too began to participate in Christmas magic. But that night I closed my eyes and held my breath until my parents tiptoed away. And then I cried myself to sleep at the loss of reindeer who could fly and a red-suited stranger who visited all the world’s children in the night.

Guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet

Paul recalled a Christmas in Bronxville when his older brother waked him early on Christmas morning, “Wake up! Don’t you want to go down stairs to see what’s under the tree?” Paul was very young but savvy enough to see darkness outside and mistrust that it was past seven o’clock. “Just come look at my clock then!” which big brother had slyly set forward. So both boys navigated the wide staircase and flipped the switch to light the tree in a vision of sparkling light and color. That’s a strong, visual memory that Paul carries today. At long ago Christmases the children’s gifts weren’t wrapped but arranged openly beneath the tree. That year a train and a sled demanded immediate play. Tired after a while of their too early adventures, they went back to sleepy beds where their parents found them and when guilty sled runner tracks in the carpet’s deep pile gave them away.

Wishing you joy and peace and kindred souls

However you enjoy these wintry days, take time, as will we, to remember those who taught us by their example to love, respect, and be generous of spirit. Home is wherever and with whomever you rest your heart. May you be blessed with joy and peace and kindred souls. Merry Christmas to all!


Carson Mansion in Eureka, California

Three stories, eighteen rooms, wide porches, grand pillars, stained glass, elaborate carvings, exotic woods, turrets, towers and lacy carving. William Carson said about his home, ” . . . If I build it poorly, they would say that I was a damned miser; if I build it expensively, they will say I’m a show off; I guess I’ll just build it to suit myself.” And in a Halloween photo retoucher’s challenge, I altered Carson’s house to suit myself!

Construction of the home began in 1884 and continued non-stop for two years. Cited on a bluff overlooking lumber yards and mills it was commissioned by lumber baron William Carson during a slump in business to keep one hundred of his workers employed. It is his initials that entwine with the Masonic shield above the front entrance. Carson family descendants occupied the home until 1950 when it was sold to the private Ingomar Club with the primary purpose to maintain and preserve this exotically beautiful residence.

Most photographed home in America

One of the most famous homes in America, the Carson Mansion is spectacular architecture. Inside and out it catches the eye and begs to be photographed. Newsom Brothers Architects used elements of Italianate, Eastlake, Slick, Queen Anne vernacular styles to embellish this Victorian masterpiece. On any given day its sidewalks swarm with tourists inviting a bit of hyperbole that the house is the most photographed home in America and maybe the world.

Carson Mansion Halloween

2011 photograph of the Carson Mansion:  copyrighted by Kay Gaensler

Basic Halloween Spooktacular contest rules

A photo of the building as it looks today accompanied an invitation to join in the fun of a bragging rights Halloween contest. The rules of the game reflect the sponsor, a photo retouchers’ website. Remove the logo from the entrance awning; I did that and then decided to remove the entire awning. Remove all of the street lights and additional buildings in the background. Add a graveyard and a moon, change the driveway to cobblestones.

Looking back at Halloween Past 

As I worked on my submission I thought about the Halloweens I experienced as a child and how–a sad circumstance to me–it has since been refocused as an adult celebration. When I was seven there were no Halloween trees to decorate. No one thought to prepare elaborate adult beverages or ghoulish hors d’oeuvres in the Martha Stewart style. We made our own costumes with minimal planning often executed within hours of heading out the door. As a youngster I was smitten with princesses and butterflies and ballerinas, never the ugly or scary things. I repurposed a dance recital tiger lily costume and another time my mother’s party dress. My last Halloween adventure of childhood was at age twelve and when the evening ended it was also the end of something else, the sweet shelter of a Midwestern childhood.

We were fearless in our pursuit of candy, we knew who gave the best treats and who dropped a princely nickle in your bag. We ate many treats before they could settle to the bottom. Our parents entrusted us to welcoming neighbors and kindly strangers. It was the one time a year when we were permitted to navigate the neighborhood streets after dark and well beyond bedtime. The echo of childish giggles and scared-happy screams filled the blocks around our home. The Jim Henson of my childhood was Burr Tillstrom and he lived just around the corner. Puppetry magic faithfully arrived on his doorstep every Halloween in the form of talking ghosts and swooping witches on brooms. We all knew Kookla, Fran and Ollie lived there in Tillstrom’s house and it disappointed us mightily that they never came out to play with us. Once we’d collected the best Nevada Street had to offer and, if it suited our parents’ plans, they sometimes drove us miles away to our grandparents’ homes where there were different and sometimes ethnic taste treats to collect.

In the context of a changing world my own children enjoyed Halloween in similar ways but safer too–no tripping hazards, never alone on the streets, candy bags searched by loving adults before eating anything. Have my children forgiven the well-intentioned household rule: eat all you want in the first 24 hours and surrender the rest after that?

For the photographers among you

Photo retouching is an art but storytelling is weightier. It’s interesting to know how others create their images, what stories might be hiding within. In this case, a Halloween challenge just for the fun of it, I imagined creating for a client looking over my shoulder with ideas of their own. That sparked inspiration for the witchly hand on a wicked crystal ball!


Best friends

Best Friends

Best friends, a bond of affection

Horses make good friends! They’re social animals and sociable once a pecking order is established to make them feel secure in their equine neighborhood. Studies show that leadership and dominance do play a role in horse interactions but they’re less important once order and safety are established between them and their familiar and best friends; then they’re more likely to rub and scratch each other’s backs, to parade the paddock together, and to watch out for one another. Those behaviors reveal a horse level of understanding and trust.

Sensory creatures

Like people, horses communicate with facial expressions using eyes, ears, and noses. It’s been said that the eyes are the windows of the soul and horses have the largest eyes among all the land mammals. Placed at the sides of their head, they can see more than 270° around without turning the head. Each ear has sixteen articulating muscles that rotate the ear through 180° and they typically point the ear toward whatever the eye on that side is seeing. So yes, the horse can see two different things at the very same time! They can twitch and move their skin separately from the muscles beneath. Horses also vocalize what they want to communicate with whinnies, neighs, roars and snorts, the meaning of which other horses know and that we too can learn. They are unique and interesting animals.

Do horses really befriend humans?

If you’ve cared for a horse, enjoyed each other’s company, built a history together, learned the nuances of emotion, you know that the horse is your friend just as you are his. Each of you is free to express your feelings honestly, to exchange trust, sympathy and love. It’s not that a horse cannot compare or judge you but that he’s found you worthy. Because a horse does judge and remembers, earning his affection is a personal honor and true compliment. In your shared friendship each of you can be happier. A horse may live many decades returning value for value with a fortunate human friend. They see us; we see them.

From the artist’s point of view:

This is Ed, a Morgan horse who was cherished by his human for more than thirty years. The commission came last winter—to paint a remembrance in honor of a wonderful horse and as a surprise for his owner and best friend to replace her grief with glad memory. The exact time and place is imagined but summarizes familiar woods and trees, a corral and the cattail marsh of home. To set the scene required four major paint sketches. From the beginning both husband and daughter contributed ideas in the framework of a good day between best friends landscaped against a summer sky with puffy clouds. It was a challenge gladly accepted and their help throughout was irreplaceable.

Challenges in painting Best Friends

Painting Ed was complicated by their wish to show his muscular, younger self in the prime of life, in the days when carrying his friend across the countryside was a mutual joy–in the absence of a photo that showed him that way. Painting her was challenging in a different way; we humans recognize everything about ourselves! The slightest nuance of glance or smile or posture had to be accurate or she wouldn’t recognize or accept it as herself. Several months into the process I even considered anonymously observing her, perhaps in her place of work—until that just seemed too entirely weird.

So I put her riding helmet on her head and even turned her sideways into the scene. The helmet covered her lovely hair which I’d decided long before to showcase with sunshine highlights. Turning her head toward Ed made painting a reasonable likeness more reliable (as we don’t commonly see ourselves from the side). But that dodged the point of the painting. So I persisted without helmet, face forward until she looked like the woman in two dozen family photos, until husband and daughter confirmed that indeed it did capture the woman they knew.

Passing the test! 20160918_133514

But the truest test came when the husband brought his wife to our home. On a Sunday drive through the country, he’d told her moments before that he wanted her to meet some people who lived down a long country lane in coulee country. We greeted him, “It’s good to see you again,” while she looked slightly bewildered; imagine her thinking, “Odd that he knows these strangers whom I don’t.” We all acknowledged the peculiarity of the moment and assured her that soon all would be explained.

I’d hung her portrait in our library and beyond were lemonade and cookies on the summer porch. Leading the way I turned toward her at the instant she saw herself and Ed. It was a life event for them and for us too, a never to be forgotten moment. We four spent time getting to know one another, answering questions, explaining how it all came to be. They are a remarkable couple in the ways they communicate, in his kindness and perceptions of what might please her, in her appreciation of him and thankfulness for the gift.

And she looks exactly like the beautiful woman in the painting!

  • Bill Mecozzi - Excellent work Sharyn!!ReplyCancel

    • Sharyn - Thank you, Bill! Hope all is well with you and Judy.ReplyCancel

World’s Largest Flying Boat

Behold the Mighty Martin Mars!

Martin Mars water bomber snuffs the fire

Last of the Mighty Martin Mars

This has been a very busy year for Light Pixie and too long since my last post. There’s a backlog of interesting stories to tell and new photos and a painting to show in the coming weeks. First up is a notable bit of history and technology after seeing the Martin Mars at Airventure 2016, the week-long festival of aviation at the annual EAA Fly-In, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Impressive display

The Martin Mars named Hawaii came to Airventure 2016 from British Columbia in western Canada, put on display here to court a new owner. She’s a wonder of competence in fighting fires. Her crew of four is no less amazing as they must fly into the fire only 150 to 200 feet above it within the heat and smoke. We heard the pilots and navigator discuss their challenges and answer questions about the airplane and its work. We learned that they endure tremendous heat, can hardly breathe at times, must fly precisely in turbulent air and low to no visibility. The ship and her crews are the last of the Mighty Mars!

7,200 gallons of water dumped in 2½ seconds

During Airventure 2016 Hawaii Mars anchored just outside the Seaplane Base in Lake Winnebago immediately east of Oshkosh. At mid-afternoon on its airshow days, the Hawaii Mars taxied to take on 7,200 US gallons (32 tons of lake water) in 22 seconds and flew the short distance to the airshow. Flying at 138 mph low over the runway through a huge smoke screen of fire, it deployed its entire load in 2½ seconds. That’s what you see happening above caught just at the moment of maximum drop. It’s not there one second, then the bay doors open and the flood appears. It’s gone almost before you can click the shutter.

Earlier in the last century Lake Winnebago was a staging area for massive timber harvests. Some saturated logs remain hidden below the surface. Nearing the end of the week, Hawaii Mars was cruising Lake Winnebago and struck a submerged log and couldn’t be repaired in time to complete her final two airshow days. I’m glad to have taken her picture when I did.

End of an era!

Since 2012 Hawaii Mars has helped with California and Mexican wildfires as well as nearer home in vast western Canada timberstands. She can still do the job handily but at $18,000 an hour to lease is too expensive to operate. Since 2012 Hawaii Mars has helped with California and Mexican wildfires as well as nearer home in vast western Canada timberstands. A single drop from the Mars can cover 3 to 4 acres, but there are newer, more efficient water tankers available. Hawaii Mars needs a new job or a berth at the Smithsonian as the last of her kind. Here’s to an era ending!

Why the Martin Mars were built

As World War II approached, flying boats were designed by the Glenn L. Martin Company for US Naval operations in the Pacific intended for use as patrol bombers. As war strategy shifted they ferried crew and transported cargo. Named for five key Pacific island groups (the Marianas, Philippines, Marshall, Caroline, and Hawaii), each carried the last name of Mars. The prototype named Hawaii Mars was destroyed in an accident on Chesapeake Bay in 1945 and, with the end of the war, the Navy reduced its original order for twenty to the five then in production including a replacement for Hawaii.

In early 1949 the Caroline Mars set a new world record by carrying 269 people from San Diego to Alameda, California. The Marshall Mars sunk following an engine fire. The others flew record amounts of naval cargo between San Francisco and Honolulu until 1956 when they appeared obsolete and destined for scrap.

New life as water bombers

A consortium of forest owners in British Columbia came to their rescue and acquired the remaining four Mars along with a huge parts inventory. They were converted to  water bombers with a massive tank in the cargo bay and scoops to upload thirty tons of water in 22 seconds while taxiing. In 1961 the Marianas Mars crashed while fighting a fire and was lost along with her entire crew of four and the next year Carolina Mars was destroyed while anchored in harbor during Typhoon Frieda. The Philippine and the Hawaii Mars were sold to their current owner Coulson Tankers of Sproat Lake near Port Alberni, British Columbia.

The Philippine Mars hasn’t been in service since 2007 and was formally retired in 2012. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is more efficient and economical at the task so Hawaii Mars only occasionally fights a fire and mostly flies the airshow circuit where it’s on display to find a new owner. What an impressive sight to see the deployment of 7,200 gallons of water in 2½ seconds targeted precisely on a fire!

Videos and other details of the Mars at work

There are many videos of the Mars. Choose from a variety at YouTube.

Technical specifications
• Crew: four (with accommodations for a second relief crew)
• Capacity: 133 troops or 84 litter patients with 25 attendants or 32,000 lb (15,000 kg) of payload including up to seven Willys jeeps
• Length: 117 ft 3 in (35.74 m)
• Wingspan: 200 ft 0 in (60.96 m)
• Hull draft: 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
• Gross weight: 90,000 lb (40,823 kg)
• Max takeoff weight: 165,000 lb (74,843 kg)
• Powerplant: 4 × Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone 18-cylinder radial engines, 2,500 hp (1,900 kW) each
• Propellers: 4-bladed Curtiss Electric, 15 ft 2 in (4.62 m) diameter variable-pitch propellers
• Maximum speed: 221 mph (356 km/h; 192 knots)
• Cruise speed: 190 mph (165 knots; 306 km/h)
• Range: 4,948 mi; 7,964 km (4,300 nautical miles)
• Service ceiling: 14,600 ft (4,450 m)
• Drop speed: 138 mph (120 knots; 222 km/h)
• Landing approach speed: 115 mph (100 knots; 185 km/h)
• Touchdown speed: 92 mph (80 knots; 148 km/h)
• Fuel consumption (cruise): 420 US gal (1,600 l; 350 imp gal) per hour
• Fuel consumption (under operations): 780 US gal (3,000 l; 650 imp gal) per hour
• Operations duration (normal): 5 1/2 hours
• Area covered, single drop: 3 to 4 acres (1.2 to 1.6 hectares)
• Drop height: 150 to 200 ft (46 to 61 m)
• Full water tank load: 7,200 US gal (27,000 l; 6,000 imp gal)

Martin Mars at low altitude deploys 7200 gallons in 2 1/2 seconds

Releasing 7200 gallons of water in 2-1/2 seconds



















One final thing. This month’s EAA Sport Aviation magazine is graced by the Martin Mars water drop on its cover and as background for Contents. The two photos by Jim Koepnick are excellent examples of the photographer’s art. I wish they were mine!

Martin Mars by Jim Koepnick Martin Mars by Jim Koepnick



GraduateIt may seem as if it’s taken a long time to graduate. To your family it’s happened in a flash! Once you were a small boy adventuring for the first time. Now you’re a man who’s learned important things, especially the lay of the land along with the topography of your own mind and heart.

Proud Accomplishment

First hunt, an early and proud accomplishment

As you graduate

Today anything is possible! As you receive the congratulations of your family and many friends, take a quiet moment to consider your future. Set goals and grow toward them with planning and hard work. Treat everything as an opportunity. Your life is the most important thing you will ever build, one decision at a time, life’s challenges faced and conquered. Today is the beginning. Have confidence. Trust life. Invent yourself!

Petersen Museum

Bugatti’s transcendent masterpiece . . .

Cars as tools

I wasn’t a car lover and and never knew any gear heads. After all, aren’t cars tools not treasures? A mindset can change and last week that’s what The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles did for me.

My life with cars

Most young people look forward to learning to drive but that wasn’t my priority. I walked or took buses. Finally, in my early twenties I borrowed my grandfather’s car to get a license. It wasn’t a smooth introduction: my first two cars were stolen! Friends thought my ’63 Olds with a Corvette conversion was cool ‘though to me it was simply hand-me-down practical and I missed it. Can’t recall what the other car was, a clear indication of how little it mattered.

Next I had a 1972 Datsun 240Z because it was cheap and available. Only later did I learn what it neat car it was. By then I had a baby who’d outgrown her carseat bolted to the rear deck. I traded up to what was now called a Nissan 300ZX; it might have been sexy transportation except for diapers, baby toys and bottles. The now three children couldn’t all ride at once!

So I relented buying sensible transportation for my first brand-new car! The Tudor red Honda Accord hatchback was a workhorse, an appliance, and for the very first time I changed my own oil. Yeah, and then realized it was much cheaper to pay the dealer. This was followed by a string of Volvos and more recently by Suburu Outbacks. See a pattern here?

I’ve had but one accident, serious–the other driver was legally blind–yes, really! And one ticket–for a heavy foot! All things considered my life with cars has been utilitarian–until I collided with knowledge last week and fell in love. Cars can be tools AND works of art!

The Petersen Museum full of powerful, engineering marvels, and oh so beautiful!

The Petersen Automotive Museum holds a collection of 300+ vehicles that illustrate the history of cars alongside the many ways in which they mold our culture and introduce cutting edge technology. As if that isn’t enough, the best of them are rolling works of sculpture too. Powerful, engineered to excellence, transcendentally beautiful works of art under jewel lights!

The 100,000 square feet of exhibition space at the Petersen Museum is ever-changing, telling new stories in unique ways. On any day you may not find what was there the day before, having been returned to the vault and replaced with another car treasure. The Petersen collects, preserves, and educates. They made me a convert and, wherever you are on the car spectrum, go visit for yourself for the surprise of it and the sheer beauty.

  • Richard Engel - I was a “gearhead” and my dad, being a mechanic was a guy that worked on SOME of those cars. So I grew up in that culture. Some of those are works of art, truly. Really nice photos Sharyn. I would love to see the full size shot of some of them sometime. Art Deco vehicles. What a concept. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Light Pixie - I’d heard about gear heads but had no idea how extensive the skill and tools needed to chop and join, mix and match into such fantastic cars. I have shots of Billy Gibbon’s (ZZ Top) midnight purple Eliminator and others but had to draw the line somewhere! The shooting conditions were tough; no tripod that day but a pretty fast lens so some worked out, others didn’t. Got lots of breath-hold practice! Do you have photos of your work?ReplyCancel

      • Richard Engel - I was using an old “point n shoot” I used to have. This was back in 2001 I believe. So, not great photos. I’ll look through them and IF I find something I’m totally ashamed of, I’ll put them in the dropbox and let you know. That same trip we also visited the Pensacola Air Station and Air Museum and I took some things there too. We’ll see.
        The “Eliminator” is at that museum???? Wow that is one of the most famous hot rods ever. It was in all of their videos I believe. Very cool!ReplyCancel

Acquiring a personal painting is a milestone event, a rare one in today’s Instagram world. A painted portrait is both more time consuming to accomplish and more expensive to acquire but in addition to being far more permanent, it has the ability to capture so much more than a momentary look. It can bring personality to life along with important details that are unique to one person at a specific place and time.

Capture the essence

The essence here is a passion for music and books, comfortable and contented throughout

Capturing the Essence

During winter into spring, I’ve been working with two young people. Here is one of them just beyond childhood having emerged as a young woman. Her portrait began in casual conversation as we eased into the idea for a very special gift; this is always the most interesting part of my painting process. At these early stages it’s hard to know whether it will ever come together, whether my skills are sufficient to capture not just what a person looks like but to capture their essence.  A camera can do that much faster and cheaper but I’m a painter first and foremost. There was no scene exactly as you see it here but it captures a deeper truth.

As weeks became months I studied dozens of photos along with handwritten notes of our conversations recalling how she described herself and what details were important. When the client is communicative my work is always easier! She was direct and had opinions about what she liked as well as freely sharing what she didn’t like. I learned a lot–about her passion for music and books, and that at her core she is comfortable and contented through and through. She revealed herself indirectly as thoughtful and intelligent, introspective, determined, and hardworking. There’s no doubt she has special things ahead in life, a jewel of a person who made a good process great.

I’ve since learned that she had a big smile when she opened the package. Her mother says it captures her personality and her passions. My hope is that it may become a focal point for memory, especially for how much she is loved and admired and that she’ll treasure that feeling always.

In the next two weeks I hope to show you something different—photographic and personal—of a young man graduating high school and moving into his own version of the future.

Howard 500 owned by Drs. Forrest and Pamela Bird

One of only two Howard 500 aircraft still flying

Howard 500: Flying art from 1960

Airplanes are functional sculpture, beautiful birds that join physics to mechanical flight. The Howard 500 that’s the focus of this memorial stood out among hundreds of other airplanes at one of AOPA’s regional fly-ins last summer, enough so that I featured it in a post here at Light Pixie Studio blog.

A moment in time

Its owners were aviators, inventors, and doctors, Forrest and Pamela Bird, and together they lovingly restored this magnificent airplane that Forrest Howard called the “best airplane I ever flew.” Before the restoration project began, it first had to cross Europe and the north Atlantic in late October 2012 to its new American home; the wingtip cameras record a magnificent world. Hear the throaty roar of its dual engines, sweet music to a pilot’s ears, in The Journey Home.

An Aviation Legend

This Howard 500 was in a hangar at the Anoka-Blaine airport near Minneapolis. I didn’t know the story when I saw and photographed it last summer. Two weeks before owner Dr. Forrest Morton Bird, whose invention of the modern medical respirator saved so many lives, died at the age of 94; read the link to be inspired by his life. Two months later his wife Dr. Pamela Riddle Bird died in the crash of her Cessna 182 in the Cabinet Mountains of Idaho.

Memorial flight

I’m posting the photo of the Howard 500 again along with links to their stories because memorial flight is a touching way to honor any pilot. Howards are unique; only 17 were ever built. This one, the Birds’ Howard 500 with tail number N500LN, is one of only two still flying. Tailwheel airplanes are their own kind of special as are the pilots who learn to fly them well; (I’m working on it). The flight over the desert near Palm Springs CA touches my heart in so many ways. Watch the memorial flight here and you’ll see some of the why. [link repaired: if it didn’t work for you yesterday, it will now]

Cloud Mountains in the River of No Return

During the summer of 2012 forest and brush fires raged throughout the western U.S. It was a perfect storm wherever hot, dry August met thunderstorms and lightning strikes. Midday on August 12th I flew our Husky east across Idaho toward a noontime sunrise just peaking over 10,000′ mountains in the Bitterroot range; somewhere below us was expansive Frank Church “River of No Return” Wilderness.

Pilots see things others may not, like sunrise at high noon

Lodgepole pine beetles in Salmon-Challis National Forest had  been busy killing forests of trees providing fuel for multiple fires. The Halstead Fire west of Salmon, the Mustang Complex of five fires to the north of us, and the Trinity Ridge Fire engulfed hundreds of thousands of acres of forest land, the air-quality index reached a choking purple, while we were treated to this spectacular sight.

Sunrise in the cloud mountains of the River of No Return

Cloud Mountains in the River of No Return

Yellow-stained smoke settled into the valleys and sun-filtered toward rosy pinks on the higher slopes. I like the way the Salmon River valleys carve diagonal slashes through this wild, rugged land. Faint in the far distant background one can see the highest peaks on the Idaho-Wyoming border with 10,620′ Homer Youngs Peak in Montana center stage for the noonday sun.

A pilot embraces many things: the physics of flight, living geography, flowing along with the column of air and weather–and for me there is always the next photograph!




The Husky is now in its winter hangar and we dislike having to drive so far to enjoy flying Fire Horse. The hangar is dark and cold but the runway is long and plowed, so it’s the responsible thing to do. Good judgment is smart!

Minimize Risk

Most of us have an intuitive understanding of danger, hard-wired as we are to avoid loss or the possibility of loss. That can be a good thing unless it unreasonably restricts what we might otherwise safely enjoy or when the fear itself is larger than fact.

How real is the danger?

Basic risk management involves recognizing the true nature of a threat: Listen to instinct; know what’s happened to others; train for it and preplan. Then compare the potential cost to the potential benefit; do it formally or informally, but do it.

Know your personal style

This seems on its surface to be only about piloting but for almost forty years aviation management practice has been making  its way into the board room, operating rooms, and into the family circle. It began with a tragic accident.

Avoid risk with good decision-making

Seeking the sky, Husky heads into deep winter on a longer, wider, safer runway

In 1977 on Tenerife in the Canary Islands two fully loaded 747s careened into history when they collided on the runway. This deadliest of accidents was the final link in a chain of irony, confusion, coincidence, and bad luck. From it grew the NASA training program that pilots know as crew resource management and business professionals recognize as participative management and employee involvement. The FAA now introduces pilots to their own dangerous attitudes with the chance to modify them before they result in an incident or accident.

Smart people doing dumb things

As a passenger you might fear equipment malfunction or violent weather, but most aviation accidents are entirely avoidable if you address failures of communication, leadership and decision-making that cause them.  In other words the path to most accidents starts before the prop ever turns. Stick with me here because the same dangerous attitudes can also ruin your business or your family. Life has costs, potential legal and liability hazards, financial pressures, human factors, public relations challenges, technical breakdowns, emotional facets, operational perils, and more. What you believe turns into how you act and that can create danger. Know yourself to manage that risk, the first step to improving how you interact with the most important people in your life.

Five Hazardous Attitudes

As pilots we’re taught to identify dangerous thinking along with a prescription for each to avoid trouble before it starts. Do you recognize any of these in yourself?

  • Anti-authority: rejects advice, doesn’t follow the rules, and is proud of being a non-conformist—better to listen to the voice of experience or remember that the rules are there for a reason.
  • Impulsivity: acts first, thinks later—slow down and think before you act;
  • Invulnerabiity: believes it can’t happen to him or her,  that they carry a special shield of invincibility—remember that the worst really can happen to them;
  • Machismo: is the show-off, the pilot who declares, “If you think that’s good, watch this!” And yes, it’s not just men but women too—in the interests of safety and responsibility substitute pride in following guidelines and obeying rules;
  • Resignation: gives up too easily when confronting a challenge and is willing to leave it to fate—be like The Little Engine That Could and say instead, “I won’t give up. I can do this!”

Never risk a higher value for something of lesser worth!

Attitudes like these may cause less dramatic or violent outcomes, but they also result in loss of respect and opportunity. Cut corners, hurt feelings, lack of respect for others, arrogance, self-importance, failure to anticipate unintended consequences–they break other things that could help us run more successful businesses, have happier families, or live more satisfying lives.

Make every risk to benefit trade count! Among the greatest treasures of life are interpersonal peace, personal pride, getting the most from effort spent, earning respect, enjoying life, gaining happiness, having a loving home. Let’s be smart and don’t trade them for anything that’s less valuable.

Wishing you wind beneath your wings

John Skattum in this month’s Air Facts Journal says you know you’re a pilot when you start pre-flighting your car. It’s true! But flying isn’t the only way to learn good management practices about the rest of your life; if it’s not flying, find something that works for you. As for me, I’ll always choose safety over convenience. The hangar may be dark and cold but the runway is long and plowed. Spring will come!


Happy New Year

New Year blessings

As last year turns into 2016, once again we’re struck by how fast it went, a reminder to celebrate each day with joy, be grateful for our blessings and for all those with whom we share our lives. May your 2016 be filled with love and laughter, may your trials be light and few, may you have your heart’s desires fulfilled.


Tomorrow begins the work of putting our holiday treasures away. If you haven’t already done so, consider cataloging the small things that reflect your family’s history, that carry holiday stories into the future, that bring you, your children, and your grandchildren joy when the boxes open, the tissue comes off, and the scene is set for another celebration of Christmas or whatever your family enjoys at year’s end.

A small boy looks at Christmas at Nana’s and Grandpa’s house!

There’s an eager, cheerful child in our lives who gives us a special reason to begin cataloging our seasonal treasures. The song is very familiar to him from Knutsen and Ludvigsens Beste album that helps put him to sleep each night. Apart from the happy lilt of the music, it says “Hallo! Hallo!” to each of you from both of us. So here are some of the Christmas treasures most meaningful to our family! It’s a mix of several cultures collected over a lifetime. Each item has a wonderful memory attached or several. There’s a book for a boy in the making with more to add, much to improve, a beginning . . .


Best photos come from best practices

The photographer in me shares a quick list of best practices:

  • Indoor photos in low light pose challenges to photography. Tack sharp comes from using a tripod, a chair back, a table top, whatever works to stabilize the camera. It matters! The eye is drawn where the focus is sharp so use it to emphasize the most important details. The opposite is also true; soft focus can be used to minimize the background and/or less important features;
  • Good light and saturated colors can be used that way too as the human eye is drawn first to brighter and more saturated areas of an image;
  • People are interested in other people! Children are always intrigued by faces even–and maybe especially so–when they belong to caricatures;
  • Move in close to your subject; walk to zoom so the subject fills the frame;
  • Before you click the shutter, check to see if you’re reflected in the shiny surfaces you’re shooting and move or adjust if that’s not intentional;
  • It’s always best to get color right in camera rather than afterward. Auto white balance works well in most modern cameras, but the mix of indoor lighting–incandescent lamps, compact florescent bulbs, and modern LED decorative lights–compounds the trouble. If your photos look weirdly color cast, perhaps overly blue or orange, you have a white balance issue that can be improved either by pre-selecting a camera program like tunsten or florescent or after the fact in software where temperature and tint sliders can work well;
  • Let your shots tell a story. Most of all be creative and have fun.


To each of our family members and friends, here’s a wish for a very Merry Christmas! May you be surrounded by those you love–present at your table, connected by phone or email, or in special memories.

Christmas Inspiration

Each year we look for inspiration from the trees and decorations of others. Our children are grown and, as we’ve seen most of them at Thanksgiving time, there’s a luxury in decorating or not. Today I’m posting my favorite Christmas tree of the 2015 Christmas season as seen in the foyer of Swan House, an elegant, late 20s neo-classical home designed by architect Philip Trammel Schutze for the Edward Inman family of Atlanta. Inspired by this lovely scene and in an excess of exuberance, we went all out in our own Christmas decorating here in Richwood Valley. Tomorrow I’ll post our own Charlie Brown tree for a smile! But for now there’s Christmas Eve supper to prepare.

May all the best and your hearts’ desires come to each one of you!

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

My favorite 2015 Christmas tree in the foyer of Swan House, Atlanta, Georgia

Looking forward when you’ve lived more than one hundred years!

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

Happy birthday, Paul Johns at age 102

If you have good genes and reasonable health, your age is just a number.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, centenarian plus eight

For the last twenty years of her remarkable life, I was special assistant and friend to Marjory Stoneman Douglas who wrote the book on the Florida Everglades, was its feisty Evangelist, earning kudos from presidents, queens and princes! I asked her at the occasion of her 100th birthday celebration, how old she’d think she was if she didn’t actually know and she answered, “Interesting question! Age thirty-five, I’d think.” Now at the time, she was both blind and deaf and couldn’t see the etching of old smiles lined across her face, so she chose the age at which she was most vigorously alive, pursuing goals, writing passionately. She was always a bit embarrassed by the fame and fuss advanced age delivered her though she used it to advance her cause. Born in 1890 she lived purposefully until the age of 108 years–just a number after all! It was my happy privilege to help her navigate the high expectations (her own and those of others) on declining energy through those last years of her life.

Paul Johns, centenarian plus two

We have another centenarian friend, Paul Johns of Iola, Wisconsin, in whom it’s easy to recognize several common traits with Marjory. He celebrates his 102nd birthday today! Paul looks and acts years younger, has a valid driver’s license–no restrictions and a current ham radio operator’s license good for another decade. With enough electronic gear for someone half his age, he stays in touch via email and Facebook. In his nineties he enrolled in technical school to learn how to repair computers. A few years later he designed and still builds arguably the best radio antenna for small, fabric-covered airplanes.

While others struggle with names and memory, our friend seemingly remembers everything. No problem meeting someone he hardly knows; even out of context he’ll call them by name. Engage him in conversation and you’ll learn interesting details from long ago and as recent as yesterday.

Paul Johns is a pilot’s pilot and an engineer’s engineer. An anecdote told by a friend reveals a small detail from a long and amazing life. As a nurse adjusted Paul’s blood pressure cuff, with humble tone he spoke a startling sentence that began, ” When I invented that . . . .”

Paul Johns first learned to fly in 1929 when he was fifteen years old followed by another 66 years of active piloting. In his mid-seventies he built an airplane that he flew into his eighties. Some years ago he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Recently he was surprised and delighted by the renaming of Central County Airport near his hometown of Iola, Wisconsin, to be known as Paul Johns Field, an honor from the Central County Flyers and dozens of friends who join him on Fridays for the regionally well-known Lunch at Iola.

How to live to one hundred!

From these two I’ve learned that luck is another name for diligence and productivity. Both Marjory and Paul built purposeful lives that compelled them always onward and upward. Yes, they had luck on their side, but they also persevered through the challenges. Each of them collected a lifetime of unique experiences along with friends of all ages. Marjory never gave up and Paul still lives fully engaged, with a vigorous mind and plans for the future; there’s too much to do and a life to live. It reminds me that life is short no matter how long you live, that there is no do-over, that you’ll regret more what you didn’t do or try than what you tried and failed. Live!

Happy 102nd birthday, Paul! And thank you for these lessons.



A recent article by Jane Myhra in the Waupaca County Post highlighted select others of his lifetime achievements:

  • piloted the Boeing 314–the Flying Boat or Clipper–for Pan American Airways;
  • set up an instrument training program for Navy pilots in 1939;
  • recorded over 220 Pacific crossings during World War II for the Naval Transport Service, navigating the distance only by following the stars;
  • engineered, designed and built testing equipment to measure sound waves with laser light decades before most of us had even heard of lasers.

Playing in the cemetery

Playing in the neighborhood cemetery was a normal part of my childhood, a wooded place where my best friend Barbie and I played with our dollies among fabulous castles. Adults knew them as headstones and stately family crypts though to us they were exotic places for imaginary play. From time to time we were chased away by workers in the interests of decorum but most days we participated in the respectful quiet of the place. Summers were too-short seasons of playing with ball and jacks, jumping rope, hide-n-seek, swinging and sliding and teeter-totters, running through the sprinkler, outdoor activities that started early and ended only when called to supper.

My career in the theater ends early

At eight years old we weren’t yet insecure about our talents. Barbie and I wrote a play, costumed it from our attics, sold hand-stamped tickets to the neighbors—a dollar’s worth at a nickel a piece, a princely sum to us. On the appointed Saturday only one ticket holder arrived to sit in the grass at the foot of the cement slab that was our stage. Burr Tillstrom (1917-1985), creator of Kukla, Fran and Ollie, lived four houses away and was generous and genuine in his encouragement of future thespians. My character was an Indian princess who was struck suddenly stage-frighted and mute. Barbie was a pirate similarly afflicted. Were we inspired by having just seen the Disney moviePeter Pan? Perhaps, but specifics are lost to the years. Our parents required us to return all of the money we’d collected, embarrassed of course, but our biggest disappointment was that motherly Fran Allison didn’t come along with Mr. Tillstrom.

A childhood of freedom and choice

It was a different world for a child then, with freedom to explore, make independent decisions, live the consequences, and where anyone’s parent was a trusted caretaker. At the age of eight we knew about violence, even death, and that bad things occasionally happened, but it didn’t color our basic perception of a benevolent world full of good people. And we knew whose mother made the best cookies! Those of a certain age will remember.

As grownups we set our own fieldtrips! Thus last weekend at the Oakwood cemetery in Dixon Illinois memories of childhood adventures came flooding back. Hover for slideshow controls:

Finding family in Dixon Illinois

We’d been meaning to make the trip, a bucket list item, for years. Paul and I flew the Husky to Dixon Illinois, on a mission to locate the family plot of Aunt Allie and Uncle Albert Richardson and their daughter Alice where personal memories mixed with family history and associations to a larger world. Paul Albert was named for great Uncle Al who served in Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War and whose grave is marked with the honor. A graduate of the first electrical engineering class at the University of Michigan, he made his career at the Rock River hydroelectric plant on River Street, built in 1925 with five generators producing all the power the town of Dixon needed. Cousin Alice was a first year teacher when young Ronald Reagan was in her study hall class at the South Central School. The Reagan family home is four blocks south. Years later Alice was asked about her famous student and recalled only that he was a quiet boy.

Walgreen drugstores began in Dixon

Small Midwestern towns have historic charm, typically wide streets to match generous attitudes, neatly maintained centennial houses, clean cafes and friendly people. We came and went from the Dixon airport and were given a City of Dixon official vehicle to drive for the day. The airport was renamed in 1964 Charles R. Walgreen Field and dedicated by Merrill C. Meigs to honor the Dixon pharmacist/entrepreneur who was first to carry household goods alongside prescription drugs in his stores, to serve good, inexpensive food at lunch-counters, and invented the malted milkshake made with ice cream from their own factory. From the first tiny store in 1901 Dixon, Walgreens grew by 1927 to 110 successful stores across the Midwest and became the standard by which retail drugstores are still judged.

Repurposing iron trolley tracks into an airport hangar

Back at the airport the barrel-roofed Reinhard Schnell Memorial Hangar has its own unique history which you will recognize once you know the story. Near the Dixon airport in the roaring twenties there was a dance hall at the end of a trolley track that brought customers from town center. When the dance hall era ended the brick road was pulled up along with the iron tracks and, as we’d now say, the materials were repurposed. The exterior buttresses and interior roof trusses of the airport hangar are the actual trolley tracks and the walls are built from the street bricks! And as always seems to happen we talked with pilots from other places with missions of their own. This time it was a light sport Remos G-3/600 Mirage with instructor and student practicing crosswind landings. We wished each other good flying and CAVU (pilot shorthand for ceiling and visibility unlimited) as both airplanes prepared to depart.

The summer sky is a wondrous place. Respect its power and it can safely become your magic carpet.

What pilots (and others) do for summertime fun!


Cessna 140 from Iola

A summertime Fly In is a wonderful  thing

We’ve been to two of them in the past month. The Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association are two of the largest advocacy groups working to keep general aviation healthy and vibrant, protecting your* freedom to fly. This year AOPA held five regional fly ins and we attended the one in Minneapolis at Blane-Anoka Airport. There were safety seminars, good food, lectures, updates on the rules, sales, free ice cream, friends both new and old, and lots and lots of airplanes on static display and in the air.

Forrest and Pamela Bird

One of only two Howard 500s still flying. Learn more about this airplane and its owners in a new post In Memorium here in the Light Pixie Studio blog.

AOPA Fly In at Blane-Anoka Airport (KONA) our EAA chapter Fly In at Mauston-New Lisbon Airport (82C)

Pilots tend to be welcoming, generous people and they love any excuse to fly. At Anoka we chatted with Julie Clark who started her amazing aviation career as a flight attendant, then progressed to Northwest Airlines A320 captain, and is now one of the world’s top airshow performers in her T-34 Mentor powered by a 285-hp, 24-karat gold plated, horizontally-opposed six cylinder engine. At our own EAA chapter fly-in at the Mauston-New Lisbon-Union Airport we met a German couple seeking the real America on a cross-country car tour. There was no common language except that of flight but it just worked! (Pilots are naturally pretty good at talking with their hands and waving their arms.) A Chicago-area couple stopped to fuel their home-built Marquardt MA-5 Charger bi-plane on Friday night and found themselves guests at our chapter party, borrowed the loaner car** to find a local hotel, and returned the next day for our fly-in. They planned a quick breakfast and departure but spent the entire day!


Helicopter rides in a 2006 Robinson R44 II

What’s the attraction?

Besides all the aviation talk, lots of non-pilots come too. What do these children and adults of all ages find so appealing? You don’t have to be a pilot to appreciate that airplanes are compellingly beautiful, strong enough to lift you into the sky, and as delicate as an eggshell. Some people come for the lovely handmade quilt and afghan, or the bent wood rockers and bookcase on raffle. A big country breakfast and the hearty brats or Italian beef lunch served up by the local Lions Club draws many. Prizes are given for the finest vintage cars and they come by the dozens. There’s a huge display of farm equipment–old-fashioned and high-tech. I saw a monster tank-transport truck that dwarfed everything around it. The field of community cows are new each year to support local businesses. There are helicopter and airplane rides. Don’t forget chocolate root beer floats–deliciously unusual! All the hangar doors are open and questions are encouraged. There are games for children. Live the Dream flight training based at Mauston-New Lisbon Airport (82C) is here to answer your questions. What more perfect way to spend a summer day could you have?


A sectional map can take you almost anywhere

Your freedom to fly

*There are 5,200 general aviation airports, heliports, seaplane bases, and other landing facilities in the United States, representing four of every five landings. Canada has 1,000 general aviation airports and Europe has 4,200. AOPA estimates that general aviation provides greater than one percent of the US GDP and accounts for 1.3 million jobs. It’s a privilege to be able to fly and a great pleasure. You never know what you might find at a fly in and you too might discover a passion for flight. Regardless, it’s your freedom to fly as much as it is your neighborhood pilot’s.

**Many general aviation airports have a free loaner car, keys available on request. We’ve found them to be reliable, older model cars in clean and safe condition. We’ve borrowed many of them all across America and only once did we have a problem: a weak battery that died while we were at dinner in western Nebraska. The restaurant owner sent a young employee to help us on our way; it took a lot to persuade him to accept a twenty dollar bill as thanks. The generally accepted practice is no charge for the car but to return it to the airport with a full tank, ready for the next person who needs it, a part of a simpler, more innocent world of trust and decency. 

Click for full screen versions:

Meijer Botanic Garden, rooted in a royal past

In the Far East, Asia Minor, Europe, and Meso-America the first botanic gardens emerged from royal pleasure gardens. In the modern sense of it, a idea for a botanic garden developed during the Classical era from the cultivation of medicinal herbs, later to include monastic gardens and orchards. During the Renaissance formal secular gardens attached to universities emphasized teaching and research conducted by professors and their students. In the past two centuries increased access to the rest of planet Earth has led to public gardens as collections of living souvenirs of exploration and travel. Visiting any one of them is your chance to enjoy a “royal afternoon” or learn firsthand the landscape of a far-away place.

From one of the newer public gardens, here is some of what can be seen at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Public gardens in the United States were developed along with the country

In the United States the first such gardens were founded near Philadelphia in the late 18th century. The farmer-statesmen who founded the nation including Washington, Jefferson, and Madison all supported the creation of a national garden which eventually came to be in the early 19th century (1820) in the middle of Washington DC.

The Huntington

The Huntington’s Cactus Garden

As individual and unique as their environment

When I first moved from Michigan to Florida I was astonished at the variety, even the oddity of so many of the native plants. Plants adapt to survival requirements so the difference between temperate Grand Rapids and subtropical Miami was significant. Stunningly weird plants grew side by side with the magnificent, the gigantic, and the nearly invisible. Plants that eat insects, some that mimic their pollinators, look dangerous to eat, with bark that peels like sunburn or flowers that smell like rotting flesh (there’s a Corpse flower at the very end of this post waiting to surprise you) or others whose smallest parts could poison an army–they and others turned my ideas of trees and flowers completely upside down.

Leaving Miami for a return to roots

Miami is a crossroad of the plant and animal worlds where luxuriant life meets the challenges of harshest survival. I grew beautiful flowers on my windowsill and had colorful crotons in the yard. At first I learned hundreds of plants by their common names. It’s better to spend that effort learning genus and species names as they’re unique to one plant type, a surer way to identify them, so I relearned them all by taxonomy. Some roll off the tongue like liquid silk and others still stumble their way out my mouth. When I returned to the Midwest, I chose to learn the plant names that way and it’s saved lots of trouble at the nursery.

A few of the finest American gardens

I’ve been thinking a lot about gardens after enjoying for the very first time with my high school classmates Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (Grand Rapids, MI opened in 1995)–it won’t be my last visit as I didn’t see The American Horse with its amazing 500 year journey from daVinci to western Michigan and so much more to explore there. The opening slideshow above includes some of those memorable moments and vistas.

Though it was never my intention to collect gardens, it seems to have happened anyway. While it’s not a definitive or world list, in addition to the Meijer my favorites are Longwood Gardens west of Philadelphia (founded 1798) which provided many butterfly favorites here in Richwood Valley; Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum (Boston – 1872); both The New York (1891) and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens (1910) for a cool escape from summer-hot Manhattan; Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (Coral Gables, FL – 1938) where once I had a key to the side gate for student groups and regular meetings of Friends of the Everglades (I wrote about FTBG and its butterflies along with iconic Marjory Stoneman Douglas in a 2013 post–the first photo is still in my top ten; Huntington Botanical Gardens (east of Los Angeles in San Marino – 1906) known familiarly just as The Huntington for photo sessions and happy family afternoons. Farther afield is Mexico City’s Chapultepec Forest (Bosque), one the largest city parks in the world; nearer is Canada’s Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, at the west end of Lake Huron. These are only a few of many great gardens in North America. Use the links to check them out.

Living museums of knowledge, art, and pleasure

Dedicated to the collection and display of specimen plants, botanical gardens are living museums that afford the chance to see rare or exceptionally beautiful plants cultivated for your knowledge and pleasure. These institutions contribute to scientific research and conservation but offer the general public other values too. By grouping plants by their historical-cultural, climate or species types, they are of great interest for backyard landscape design along with tourism and recreation.

The Huntington

The Huntington’s Asian Gardens

A fine botanical garden may be close enough for your visit. Spend a satisfying afternoon enjoying what’s offered and you will surely want to return as they change with the seasons and mature over time . . . and to satisfy curiosity, here’s the Corpse flower with its terrible smell.

Corpse Flower

Corpse Flower