Since joining our family in 1997, he has been one of the best Retrievers to be a Golden, but not one of the best Goldens to be a retriever; he always loved chasing anything you'd throw, but was reluctant to give it back.
Though he started slowly, Dakota became a great source of joy to my family. These are my five favorite memories of our buddy:
1. My family owns a lakeside house in North Branford, Conn. The house looks over the water from a small, steep hill, about 30 feet up from shore. During an evening snowfall in January 2001, I made one of my final visits to my family before leaving for a two-month trip to Australia. About five inches of snow covered the hill and the frozen lake. Spontaneously, my brother and I carried a sled to the top of the yard and began taking turns down the hill. We gained so much momentum that the sled glided 50 yards out on the ice.
On each run, Dakota followed. He ran next to the sled, panting, racing us down the hill. At the bottom, on the ice, he lost his traction and his legs spread in random directions as he tried to remain upright. Dakota was not a dog that would let gravity and ice interfere with fun, so he tried the descent again and again. He fell more times than not, sliding on his rear, or on his shoulder, or on his side.
Each time again he stood, gingerly, awkwardly, like Bambi learning to walk, and shook the snow from his fur. Then he trailed us on the ice, dashed back up the hill, and began the game again.
2. Shortly after Dakota joined our family, he vacationed with us at a beach cottage in Cape Cod. We hunkered indoors on a Friday evening, shuttering ourselves against a violent Atlantic storm. When morning dawned, the sun shone bright, the sky was perfect blue, and a gentle breeze rolled over the waves toward the sand.
My brother, sister and I walked Dakota to the beach and unleashed him. He ran, kicking sand in the air behind him, running circles of a hundred-yard circumference, chasing sticks, chasing gulls, chasing us.
I had wanted a Golden Retriever for years, and this was exactly how I imagined having one would be. A ideal morning with an ideal dog.
3. Though a typical Golden in most ways, Dakota was atypical in others: He hated riding in the back of my roofless Jeep. He buried nothing, ever. And even at two years old, he wouldn't go in water. The latter problem was unacceptable.
After my mother and step-father bought the lake house in 1999, my brother forced Dakota to learn to like swimming. He carried Dakota into the lake, farther off shore each time, and Dakota skittishly swam back to land. But before long, something changed: Dakota started to enjoy his retreats, and those retreats soon ceased. From then on, Dakota would swim whenever someone gave him the opportunity. (Whether the opportunity was deliberate was irrelevant. More than once a freshly washed and dried Dakota slipped from someone's grasp and promptly plunged back into the lake.)
Unfortunately for me, I didn't witness the success of the swim lessons firsthand.
The following weekend I was treading water at the end of the dock when my sister called to me from the house. When I turned, she released the hound. Dakota, seeing me in the water, hurried off the deck, sprinted down the hill, and, never slowing, ran onto the dock and launched head-first over me, landing six feet out into the lake.
Dakota rarely walked into the water from shore; he dove from the dock. And when Dakota swam, he didn't just swim in the same water as you. He swam with you. He rarely had more joy on his face than when sharing the lake with the humans he loved. When swimming, I swear that dog smiled.
4. Dakota and the lake seem inseparable. If an animal can be soul mates with a geographical feature, then it can be no less than destiny that Dakota befriended that body of water.
In January 2004, on a dark, moonless night, my brother and I skated onto the ice. Dakota and my sister soon joined us at the far end of the lake. I don't know how she discovered Dakota's love for towing, but I turned toward a laugh and saw my sister holding the dog's hips as he trotted along the ice, pulling her, on skates, behind him. We each took turns enjoying a ride, all the way back to the house.
5. We saved Dakota. I don't know what from, but he was in trouble – I believe as a product of a puppy farm and a neglectful pet store.
We adopted Dakota from the group that rescued him. He came to our home, but was reluctant to come into our house. Outdoors he was a furry vessel of vigor. But indoors he sulked. He found a chair to hide behind, a corner to cower in, a table to vanish under. He refused to interact with anyone, even the cats that, outside, he blissfully chased through bushes and around the yard. He lay motionless, expressionless, wary, weary and despondent. I don't know what trauma he experienced in the weeks before he came to us, but it left him unsociable and dysfunctional.
His first night in the house, I knew that the only way to truly rescue this dog was to love him. Though we did not discuss a collaborative effort, each person in my family embraced Dakota with continuous affection. Within days, all signs of sadness were gone. He came to trust us and to love us in return. He became a different dog – a saved dog.
Henceforth he led a life that was happy, playful, spirited and fun. Not only did he welcome affection, he craved it and gave it.
I like to remember how Dakota found joy from our family, and how he returned so much of it to us.
I started shooting with Nikon cameras when I was in college, in about 1992. For the very first time since then, I am seriously thinking about switching brands.
I thought I would stay with Nikon for my whole career. I like their equipment, I'm accustomed to it, and I've spent more than ten years building a system around it.
But now I have to switch to digital. And seeing as I'll be switching about half my gear anyway, it wouldn't be that much harder to switch all of it.
I'm not crazy about how Nikon has been handling their migration to the digital world. I've had trouble with their scanning software, which is why I spent about $400 on a third-party application. I'm disappointed that they've been so steadfast about not developing a 35mm digital sensor. And now reports are coming out that the new Nikon digital cameras produce RAW files with proprietary coding (making it very difficult to work directly on them with third-party software, such as Photoshop).
I've recently become aware that the Canon D1 Mark II costs 30 percent less than Nikon's top-of-the-line digital camera, the D2x. So I'll look into Canon, of course. Also, a few professional photographers have reported (to my surprise) that the Olympus E1 is an excellent pro digital camera.
I don't mention it here often, but I also work as a writer. Yesterday I was putting together a magazine article about tennis photography, and I began to reminisce about a piece I wrote for Tennis magazine in 1997. It's one of my favorite published works from early in my professional career.
The article was part of a special anniversary issue of Tennis that focused on the "best of" the previous ten years. My piece covered photographs submitted by some of the top professional tennis photographers in the world, telling the stories behind how each image was made.
In addition to the landscape and travel work you can see on this website, I've also done work as a sports photographer, including shoots at pro tennis tournaments in the United States and Australia. When I was working on the article for Tennis, I had met only one of the photographers I was interviewing. Since then, I've developed friendly relationships with several of them, including Caryn Levy, Fred Mullane, Michael Cole and Michael Baz.
Also mentioned in that piece was Carol Newsom, another person I became friendly with over the years. Unfortunately, Carol, the first female photographer allowed to shoot at Wimbledon's Centre Court, died of cancer in 2003.
Amid my reminiscence, I decided to take a break today to type the old story into Word, format it in an HTML document, and upload it to my writing website. The article is titled "Shooting Stars."
The premise of the flick is that there's a huge (or, rather, super) volcano simmering under Yellowstone National Park. That premise happens to be scientifically accurate. Buried under Yellowstone is a pocket of potential energy that, if released suddenly and completely, would change the landscape of most of the northwest United States and alter global climate for years. It's a big volcano.
However, evidence strongly suggests that this will not happen in our lifetimes or in the lifetimes of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great ... you get the idea.
To preempt fears about that evidence being wrong, the National Park Service (one of the more useful departments of the government) has created an informational page about Yellowstone's liquid geology. See Supervolcano: Possibilities and Realities.
The world's first solar eclipse of 2005 will take place today, though the complete annular eclipse will be visible only from a 17-mile-wide section of the Pacific Ocean.
Partial eclipses will be visible in New Zealand, the South Pacific, and parts of North and South America. The best spot for photographers will probably be in Venezuela, where the partial eclipse will come at sunset.
Adobe has announced the release of a new version of Photoshop, CS2. It will retail for $600 ($50 less than CS1), or as part of the Creative Suite 2 for $900 (or $1,200 for the Premium Edition, which I suppose is chrome-plated).
As a photographer who's traveled around the United States and Australia looking for unique landscapes to photograph, I'm facinated by the aesthetic possibilities that lie beyond our world. Is the natural beauty of Uluru, the Pinnacles Desert, Santa Elena Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains significant compared to what we'll one day find on Mercury, Venus, Neptune or Pluto? Or compared to what we're finding on Mars right now?