The Perfect Storm

The 2017 Scarborough High School Girls Softball Team

I don’t follow professional basketball very closely but I had been keeping an eye on the Golden State Warriors to see if they would become the first NBA team to go undefeated in the playoffs.  They ended up winning the championship but along the way they lost Game 4 of the finals and finished with a record of 16 wins and 1 loss.  It brought back memories of the 2007 New England Patriots team that ran the table with a 16-0 regular season record, but lost the Super Bowl to finish at 18-1, thereby missing their place in the history books as the “greatest team ever”.  Of course, all that pales in comparison to the U-Conn women’s basketball team that won 111 straight games spanning several years before losing an overtime heart-breaker this past April.  As the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end”, and it did.

Enter the Scarborough High School girls’ “Red Storm” softball team that recently chalked up several consecutive undefeated regular seasons only to lose in the playoffs and be denied the state championship.  They’re back with a vengeance in 2017 and have racked up eighteen straight wins towards a bid for the regional crown against Portland and – with a victory – a shot at the coveted state Class A title.  With a possible perfect season in the making, I packed up my camera gear and headed up to St. Joseph’s College in Standish to photograph the game and cheer for my hometown team.

It was a perfect evening for a ballgame
The grounds crew at St. Joseph’s College did an excellent job preparing the field
These umpires looked like the real deal
The girls were fired up to play

The Storm had already beaten #2 seeded Portland 9-0 during the regular season and so expectations were high that Scarborough would move on to the state championship game.  Yet, despite the confidence exuded by the players during the warm-ups, I sensed some degree of nervousness based on the knowledge of past playoff failures.  As the sun slowly began its descent towards the horizon the umpire’s shout to “play ball” couldn’t come too soon.

During my twenties and thirties, I played softball in a men’s “recreational” (code word for beer drinking) league. I managed the company sponsored team and I was even league president for a year.  My brainchild as president was to schedule the opening day of the season on a Sunday with each of the sixteen teams in action.  Everybody got to play.  Problem was, that Sunday happened to be Mothers’ Day.  The irate phone calls – from both husbands and wives – didn’t stop for at least a week.  Needless to say, I didn’t run for re-election.

Slow-pitch (also code for beer drinking) softball that I played doesn’t require the skill level of the fast-pitch version.  In slow pitch, strikeouts are practically non-existent since the ball is gently lobbed in high arc fashion to the batter.  Not so in the fast pitch sport.  Even at the high school level, that ball is humming as it streaks towards the batter’s box.  I only wish I could “throw like a girl” after watching these young women pitch.

Scarborough pitcher, Abbie Murrell
Ready, aim . . . . fire!

Facing an outstanding pitcher at any level is a daunting task and I expected the ferocious Portland Lady Bulldogs to quickly be reduced to a much meeker Golden Retriever status by Scarborough’s hurler, Abbie Murrell.

Portland’s base runners were few and far between

That didn’t happen and when the first Portland batter launched a solid base hit, I feared bad things might be forthcoming.  Abbie settled down and got out of that first inning jam and in the bottom half of that frame her teammates put up a BIG crooked number and they never looked back.

The Storm kept their eye on the ball and it paid dividends
Celebrating a home run that was icing on the cake

Portland made things interesting in the final inning but it was way too little, too late.  Final score: Scarborough 8 – Portland 3.

The intensity of the players and umpire speaks for itself
A good example of being “handcuffed” by the ball.  Error.
You make the call:  safe or out?
Scarborough had lots to cheer about
The Red Storm outhit the Lady Bulldogs by a wide margin
Portland’s frustration grew as the game progressed
These girls mean business!
The victory game ball now destined for the souvenir case

Scarborough (19-0) will now play Skowhegan (17-2) for the Class A state title on Saturday.  Based on their performances all season, it may take a “perfect storm” to topple them.

Skowhegan?  Bring ’em on!
Raising the South Conference championship plaque

Where Does The Green Go?

One bright, crisp October morning about twenty years ago my young daughter awoke to discover that most of the trees in our backyard had turned a vibrant red, orange or yellow.  That prompted her to ask me “where does the green on the leaves go, dad?”  I tried my best to describe the photosynthesis process to her by explaining that the trees stop producing the green chlorophyll pigment that tints the leaves in the summertime, thereby revealing the underlying hues of the now bare leaves.  It sounded like a good explanation to me, but she wasn’t buying it.  “If the leaves were green yesterday, and today they are red, the green had to go somewhere.  Where did it go?”  I contemplated my next response very deeply and finally replied “better go ask your science teacher”.

I may not know where the green goes, but I do know when it comes back, it returns with a vengeance.  Just before Memorial Day in Maine, the state sheds its drab brown winter coat and dons its St. Patrick’s Day wardrobe. The abundance of rain cranks up the saturation level and lawns and forests magically re-discover their emerald-like vibrancy.  It’s a great time to be outdoors.

One outdoor place that my wife, dog and I like to visit is the Ovens Mouth Nature Preserve in Boothbay.  This 146 acre parcel is formed by two peninsulas – separated by a wooden foot bridge – that border the Sheepscot and Back Rivers.

The preserve is very dog friendly and is reportedly home to deer, otters, osprey and bald eagles.  Although I’ve yet to spot an eagle there, I remain hopeful.  A well-marked and maintained shore loop trail takes visitors to either peninsula named West and East.

I highly recommend a visit to Ovens Mouth.  Just minutes from Boothbay Harbor the place is scenic, interesting, and as unique as its peculiar name implies.

I Didn’t Have the Foggiest

The camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera” – Dorothea Lange

I recently stumbled upon another inspiring photographer who publishes video blogs.  His name is Sean Tucker and he is a former priest turned professional photographer at the age of 30.  His videos focus more on the philosophy and art of photography rather than its technical aspects.  He submits that even a novice with entry level gear, but who has artistic vision, will make more captivating images than a person armed with the latest technology but who lacks such vision.

I think I have better than average artistic vision – as long as I can see where I’m going – and that has been a challenge along the Maine coast the past several days.  Early mornings have been shrouded in fog and yesterday was particularly “soupy”.  I drove out to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland twice just after sunrise and learned at least one valuable lesson: don’t forget to put a memory card in the camera.  On Thursday I arrived at the lighthouse just as the heaviest fog bank began to dissipate, put my photographic vision into high gear, composed the shot and pressed the shutter button only to receive the dreaded error message “no card in camera”.  I had been traveling light as I was on my way to work and left my full camera bag – with a stack of memory cards – at home.  No time to double back and get to work on time, I rescheduled the shoot for the next day and Mother Nature obliged by turning on the fog machine one more time.

As the bicycling season gets ready to kick off, I hope to do plenty of riding and “seeing” in the upcoming months.  Maybe I’ll stash an extra memory card in my bicycle tool bag – just in case.

Can’t We Just All Get Along

Ducks have taken up residence at the pond near my home.  Neighbors have reported sighting some baby ducklings and so I took a walk over this morning hoping to spot the happy family.  It appeared that mom and dad were home but I could not locate their offspring.  Perhaps they were packed off to ducky daycare so as to give their parents a brief respite.  Perhaps they were still asleep and tucked away quietly in amongst the shoreline weeds and cat tails.

Other birds frequented the pond as the early morning sun began to warm the cool morning air.  All seemed to be existing in perfect harmony until one “bad hombre” showed up and rocked the boat.  His presence was immediately detected by the daddy duck who claimed first “dibs” on both the pond and the mama duck.  Invoking the Stand Your Ground law inherent with nature, the resident male confronted the unwelcome intruder and after a brief stare down, fisticuffs ensued.

The action was fast and furious and lasted all of about three seconds.  I fired off about 25 frames in rapid succession but never captured the knockout blow.  Maybe it was a phantom punch reminiscent of the Ali-Liston fight held in Lewiston, Maine over 50 years ago.  Regardless, the intruding menace flew off, ego bruised, and peace was restored.

How Not to Photograph Bald Eagles

In my previous blog article I stated that the “cardinal” rule of bird photography is to have the eyes sharp.  I forgot to mention that there is a secondary axiom that maintains that at least SOME part, ANY part, of the bird must be in focus.  Unfortunately, I have experience violating that second law “BIGLY”.

In 2002 my family and I spent a week in Alaska and we had the pleasure of taking a rafting trip down the Chilkat River as it flows through the Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines.  This sanctuary is home to the largest concentration of bald eagles in the world with between 200 and 400 taking up residence there year round.   The population swells to over 4,000 during the Fall Congregation.  It’s where most National Geographic photos of eagles are taken and I have very fond memories of that amazing evening, but no photographs that I am proud of.

The excursion started with a brief rain shower but by 9:00pm the precipitation ended and, being Alaska in early July, there was still about 90 minutes of daylight remaining.  The river was fairly calm – this wasn’t billed as “whitewater” rafting – and within the first few minutes several eagles were spotted.  Keep in mind this was 15 years ago and camera technology wasn’t what it is today.  I thought I could easily hand-hold my 2 megapixel Olympus digital camera with built in 20x zoom steady within a moving raft as five other people jockeyed for position, but boy was I wrong.   I couldn’t have done any worse had I been on a roller coaster.

Photographers will tell you that equipment doesn’t matter but don’t believe it for a minute.  If you don’t have the right gear for the situation, you’ll go home disappointed. Had I had the camera I own today, I’d likely have some bald eagle photos hanging on my walls instead of in a box in my basement marked “junk” and filled with Jpeg files on CD-ROM.  (Yes, I could have deleted those out of focus files but I just can’t bring myself to do it.  The memories are still there for me).

I plan to return to Haines as part of my world-wind bucket list tour someday.  The good news is that Canon is now offering free shipping on their marquee, top of the line, camera body – the 1DX-Mark II.  The price is only $5,999.00 which brings to mind what photographers fear most.   They have nightmares that after they die their spouses will sell all the camera equipment for what they were told it cost to purchase.  Somebody will be getting a good deal!

Don’t Shoot Until You See the Yellow of Their Eyes

The Osprey have returned to Goggin’s Island off the shores of Wolf Neck State Park in Freeport.  How they manage to find their nesting spot year after year without using Google Maps is beyond me.

This pair of Osprey is particularly industrious.  Not only do they have a comfy nest, but they’ve added a 3’ x 3’ deck fabricated out of quality lumber to enhance their homestead.  Now don’t be fooled into thinking that these birds built this deck all by themselves.  No doubt they purchased it at Hammond Lumber Company and took advantage of the pre-assembly and “free delivery within striking distance” options offered by this Maine lumberyard.  What’s surprising is that the Freeport code enforcement officer didn’t require the birds to install a railing around the platform since it sits about 75 feet off the ground.

There’s a cardinal rule in bird photography (no pun intended) that the eye of the bird nearest to the camera must be sharp.  Not such a big deal when the birds are out relaxing on their deck but a YUGE challenge when the bird is flying.  Osprey can reach speeds of 30-40 mph and although their bright yellow eyes are impressive, they’re not so easy to follow with a high magnification lens.  My “keeper” rate for this shoot was extremely low.  Thankfully, pixels are free!

I plan to return to Wolf Neck again soon but first I think I’ll sharpen up my bird in flight tracking skills by practicing on seagulls.  They’re plentiful and make easy targets – especially when they’re clamming.

It’s Official

I now deem springtime officially here as I saw the first Snowy Egret in Scarborough Marsh bright and early this morning.  It’s in for a BIG surprise overnight as the forecast calls for up to a foot of heavy, wet snow.  Then again, it is called a “Snowy” Egret so it just might welcome this uninvited April Fools storm.

I’ve been studying up on the art of bird photography.  I’m presently in the “I don’t know that I don’t know” stage but I am having fun learning.  The best advice I’ve been given so far is “walk softly and carry a big lens”.  Bigger may be better, but it’s also more challenging.  Getting tack sharp bird images requires good technique, the right equipment, and lots of practice.  I’m not there yet so I don’t’ expect National Geographic to be calling me anytime soon.

Fortunately, I have a bird haven just down the street from my home – as well as a very active feeder in my backyard.  There’s no want for subject matter in this neck of the woods.  In fact, my backyard feeder is swarmed with birds daily and their healthy appetites require constant replenishing of the seed.  Somehow the word must have spread throughout the feathered community that the party is at my house.

I look forward to honing my skills in this very popular genre of photography.  If the snow ever stops, maybe I’ll get a chance to practice some more soon.