Friday, December 22, 2017

by Roy Inman

I did not do well in fourth grade. We had made one of our many moves at midterm and I began the January semester at yet another grade school, Rollins, on Main Street between 40th and 41st in Kansas City Missouri.

The majority of students were from the silk stocking district of the Country Club Plaza or Brookside. We were in the “lower socio-economic demographic” as we say now, so I was not a part of the in crowd. And because I jumped around from school to school I was behind academically as well. For instance, my previous school taught long division in the winter term, which I missed, and Rollins taught it in the first term, which I had also missed. So in that fourth grade year I had to come in after school for several weeks to get caught up in math and other subjects.

We lived in an old carriage house on Warwick Boulevard about six blocks from my school, and only about four blocks from the auto repair shop where my dad worked. Like most families in those days, we had only one car and felt lucky at that. The fact that my dad could repair it himself made it affordable.

Anyway, suffice to say that I had no real friends at Rollins. One of the kids in my class was having a birthday party and went around the room and personally handed out invitations to everyone in class except me. The teacher did not like me very much either it seemed. I always was a pretty quick study and comprehended what I read, so most of the time I knew the answers to the questions she asked in class. Even when I would give her the correct answer, she sometimes would not acknowledge it.

Fortunately, the next year we moved to Kansas and I changed schools yet again, but this time to Abbott elementary, where I found myself among boys and girls of similar circumstances: poor. So we all got along together very well. Had a blast we did, actually!

But I will never forget that one Christmas we spent in the carriage house when I was at Rollins. I can recall it as clearly now as when it happened those many decades ago.


We always set up the Christmas tree either just before Thanksgiving or immediately thereafter.

And of course we always ran the Lionel Santa Fe passenger train around in a circle under the tree. Bubble lights were clipped to the branches, and were tilting at odd angles as bubble lights were wont to do; never could keep the things up straight and proper, which as I look back on it, added to their charm. A Christmas tree, glowing with lights and ornaments always lends a warm and homey atmosphere to otherwise pretty basic living conditions.

One night just before I went to bed I was lying beside the tree, sort of dozing, watching the lights bubble, and noticed out of the corner of one eye a fleeting blur of movement. Was it real or was I dreaming? But there it was again, and this time I was certain it was something real, and it was alive!

I crept over to just behind the manger scene, poked my head around the corner and was startled to see a tiny white mouse with pink eyes and a pink nose standing on his hind legs just looking at me, wriggling his nose and whiskers. He couldn’t have been more than five inches tall. I tried not to move to see what he would do next, but he just held his pose. In a few seconds he sat back on his haunches. For some reason I got the feeling he was hungry. I whispered to him so that mom and dad in the next room wouldn’t hear “I’ll be right back.” It seemed perfectly logical to me at the time that he would understand what I was saying.

I walked as nonchalantly as I could to the fridge and got a few scraps of cheese and grabbed some soda crackers, casually munching on one so as not to arouse suspicion as I again passed mom and dad.

I half expected him to be gone, but he was still there. So I made a little trail of cheese and crackers; I watched him gobble them up, progressing right around the back of the tree, just next to the toy train track. I then realized that he was probably thirsty as well. But what to use to give a mouse water? I found a small paper plate that my mom had used to sprinkle some sugar on a cake and I put a few drops of water in it. And sure enough, he was able to reach over the edge and slurp. 

Then he looked up at me one last time and disappeared back into the darkness of a small spare room that held boxes from our last move.

My mouse and I repeated the ritual almost nightly. I had to be very careful to keep mom and dad from finding out of course. I knew by heart the usual adult admonishments that would come: “Mice belong outside.” “They carry germs.” “They bite.” Over the years whenever I heard all that stuff, I thought to myself, “So do people...”

Then one day my little Christmas mouse made the mistake of sitting up right and proper directly in front of my mom as she was fixing supper. She turned to put down the stack of plates and there he was, reared as though he was begging for some supper.

Mom was quite startled to see a mouse in her kitchen and she shrieked and dropped the plates, shattering them on the floor. My dad ran into the kitchen wondering what the commotion was all about, but by now my mouse had vanished.

The next day before my dad went to work he put out two mousetraps and baited them with cheese. As soon as he was gone and just before I had to leave for school, I carefully sprung the traps and took the cheese, leaving small bits to make it look as though we had one smart mouse, which of course we did indeed.

This game of “cat and mouse“  (so to speak) that I was playing with my dad, went on for several days. Then as I came home from school one cold December afternoon, I was horrified to see my mom chasing my mouse around with a frying pan, intent on smashing him flat.

I jumped in front of her, pleading, tears streaming down my cheeks, “Mom, please don’t kill him. He’s the only friend I’ve got!” For an instant I thought my plea had been for naught, but then she seemed to soften her expression and I thought I saw a tear come to her eye. She knew how alone I felt at school but it took that moment for her to fully comprehend how desperate I was to have just one friend, even if it was only a mouse.

I rapidly explained through the tears about my unbaiting of the traps, and all the rest.

She put down the frying pan, my mouse scurried away and she said that when dad got home we would talk about it.

It took considerable discussion, but at length we settled on a compromise: I would make a nest for the mouse in the crawl space under our rented carriage house and take food and water out to him every day. 

For several months this arrangement actually worked.

Then one day when I went to feed him, there was another mouse, but this one was not like him. This new mouse was the more typical gray color and slightly smaller even than mine. So now I had to care for two, which I did not really mind at all. I did not tell mom and dad about the new addition.

It was a several weeks later, with springtime approaching. There were now three teensy, bald baby mice, eyes closed and nestled in the straw I had put down. Now I knew I had to tell mom and dad.

After another long discussion, it was decided, and I reluctantly agreed, that we would drive the mouse family out to the western edge of Wyandotte County, find a good spot and release them. Besides, we would soon be moving to Kansas City, Kansas and sharing a house with Grandma Miller, Uncle Roy (my namesake) and Aunt Mary Miller, Cousin Cheri and uncle’s dog Blackie. There would be no real place for the mouse family and Blackie would probably eat the mice anyway.

On the ride out to the edge of the city, the mouse family traveled well in the shoebox my mom gave me, my white Christmas mouse occasionally looking up at me as if wondering what was happening. I brought along some bits of cheese to feed them all and they seemed content.

At length, and at the curve of a gravel road, we found a small meadow, lush and green with the beginnings of spring. At one side was a small creek and just beyond lay dense woods. The mouse family would have plenty of grassland to scamper in; there would be plenty of cover in the woods and a water supply.

I wanted to go out in the meadow all by myself and release them, so mom and dad stayed in the car watching. For a very long time, I just looked at the tiny creatures moving around in the shoebox.

At last, I carefully tilted the box on one side, and they slowly crawled out, somewhat unsure, sniffing the air and the new grass as they went. The little ones by now had their eyes open and could scamper almost as fast as their parents.

I turned around, tears welling up, and even though I didn’t really want to, I looked back just one last time. There in the middle of the field, standing up on his hind legs on a small rock was my Christmas mouse watching me leave.

I cried softly all the way home.



After we moved to Kansas, I learned in school that my Christmas mouse must have been an albino, relatively rare in nature. And I also found out that sometimes albinos sometimes possess unusual perceptions or gifts. I thought that my Christmas mouse must have been one of those special little creatures so blessed. Why else would he have just stared at me that first time from under the tree, not moving a muscle even though his life could have been in danger?

Just last December I had a photo assignment at the Legends shopping center in western Wyandotte County. As I left by the back entrance it struck me that the place where I released my mouse family was not far off, very close by in fact. I took that same narrow road we traveled those many Christmases ago, now paved, and came upon the very meadow that was etched in my childhood memory. It had matured as all meadows do, but I recognized it just the same. Small trees and bushes had spring up, but the stream was still there, just off to the side, and dense woods lay beyond. About a half-mile away a new subdivision was almost completed. The city was slowly gobbling up the prairie. But on that day the meadow was safe.

Mom passed in 1969, dad in 1988. I am sure that my little mouse family is gone by now. But as I stood there in the fading, golden light of a chilly December day, I liked to imagine that many, many descendants of my little mice friends had scampered to and fro on this Kansas field. And maybe, just maybe, one of the offspring was a tiny, white mouse with pink eyes, and a curious nature, just like my Christmas mouse from so long ago.

I cried softly all the way home.



Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amelia and her human

She trotted up to me just as would a dog. Sniffed around my ankles and looked up to get a petting. Been a while since I had touched a pig and I was a bit surprised at the rough texture of Amelia’s fur.  I was there to interview her human, Sabrina (Brie) Henderson, actress, producer, writer and all ‘round creative person. 

Brie said she had a few things to do inside (I was early) so she left me with Amelia. I bent down to more closely engage the little critter. 

I was taken AWAY back when Amelia asked in a whisper, “Is she gone?”

“Wha…what..pigs can’t tal..!” Interrupting, she launched into an obviously well-rehearsed monologue. 

“She had another pig before me, but Clarissa unexpectedly died very young. I understand she was a handful-sassy and difficult."

“But, but, you can’t tal…”

“And no,” Amelia went on, “I am not named for the famous Aviatrix from Leavenworth. You know, the ‘when pigs fly’ association. Brie just thought I looked like an Amelia.

“I can tell you all you need to know.”

"The FIRST thing I want to know is HOW DO YOU TAL…”

“Brie grew up in Independence, Harry’s home town, with goats, chickens and of course pigs. She is one of those adorable animal lovers, you see. When Brie and Andrew-her fiancé- came to the farm to pick me up, it was love at first sight. Andrew was hesitant about getting a pig back before they got Clarissa, but the two became as close as two pigs at the trough, so to speak. I don’t let Brie know this, but he is actually my fav. You won’t tell?”

“Uh, no, BUT….”

“LOL, dogs are so gullible ☺ And stupid. I steal his toys and then hide them in exactly the same place in my bed every time. He never figures it out.  Have a bluff on him: it is all about the attitude. I just snort and paw the floor and boy, does he get spooked! It is fun to watch.

“The two cats? Well, let’s just say that after Andrew or Brie rub me with coco butter to keep my skin soft 😆 , the two cats LOVE me! They snuggle up, start purring and carefully groom me, licking my fur all over, in my ears and around my snout. Sometimes I fall asleep it is so relaxing.

“Oh, but you came to talk about Brie, didn’t you?”

“She is a lovely, ambitious young lady, a bit full of herself, but that is to be expected in an actress."  

(I had figured out I was not going to get THE answer, so I just let her ramble, incredulous though I was).

“Brie has this ulcerative colitis stuff. Nasty, nasty. Messed up her large intestine.  About the time it got really bad she was already doing a one-woman show about her, ah, pooping experiences from the condition. It is a comedy. Really. She had performed the show in NYC, so when she got the California gig you might say she was a bi-coastal promoter of poop, or something like that. Anyway, her gut got so bad during the LA show that she came home, went straight from the airdrome (always loved that word!) to the hospital. Doc says 'remove the large intestine.' It was shot anyway. Three operations later, I guess she is on the mend. She sure seems chipper anyway ☺ 

“Uh, oh, I think she’s coming back, so I gotta be quick. She doesn’t know I can talk. And don’t you tell her! Oh, and  and she wrote and co-directed another poop play, called “Taming of the Poo” and there are like 16 other actors that tell the stories of people who wrote Brie after seeing her performances in NY or LA. Brie talks about her own poop too. It was at the Fringe Festive in KC this summer.Seems everyone is anxious to talk about poop. Who knew?”

Brie reappeared.

“So how have you and Amelia been getting along?” 

Brie must have seen how weirded out I appeared and with a concerned look asked “Are you OK?”

“Sure, I replied. It isn’t every day one gets to interview a pig.” We both laughed and Brie motioned for me to sit down to begin our conversation. I did not let on that I already had enough info. 

Amelia snorted, and apparently irritated that I would joke about her pig English, took a little nibble on my ankle.

-Roy Inman

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My family

My first family group photo c. 1957

"Who are all those funny-looking people and where did you get those weird clothes?"

"Those 'funny-looking people'" I replied, with a distinct touch of self-righteous indignation,
"are my mother, my father my paternal grandparents and me. Those 'weird clothes' were what we wore in the 1950's."

I couldn't blame her, actually. She was probably no more than a high schooler and this was the 1980's. The location was one of those early 1-hour labs where you could get really, really lousy quality prints that were worth far less than the 15 cents they cost. I was hanging this photo along with 19 others in the small gallery in the shop on the Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri.

The camera was my first "real' one: A German-made 120-film size, twin-lens Reflecta as it was called, and had a remarkably good lens for a $55.00 box. It was a Rolleiflex wannabe.

The likeness was struck by available light, mostly from the lamp just visible in the upper left of the frame. I was enthralled with the ability to shoot indoors without flash and took every opportunity to do so. I had no tripod so the camera rested on a chair and I used the self-timer. Three images were exposed, and this was the best, even though grandma Inman moved slightly. Good old Tri-X was the film of choice.

Note the dynamics of the posing: It is most typical to put the women in the center. I don't know for sure what that is all about, but it persists even today as I shoot fancy benefit events. Maybe it is a protection thing. Probably goes back hundreds of thousands of years, way before photography was invented. You know, like keep the females safe in the center of the pack to protect them from saber-tooth tigers. We were posing in my grandparents' living room. Don't you just love the wallpaper?

What is going on here is that my mom and grandma hated each other, so they had no intention of sitting next to each other. Grandma always thought that my mom was not good enough for my dad. And grandma took every opportunity to tell anyone and everyone. Mom responded with anger and resentment.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Along about 1949, my dad went into partnership making boats in Michigan with an army buddy from World War II. We lived in a lake cabin right near the water and about 25 miles from Three Rivers. Clear waters back then, clean air, northern lights, it was pretty cool. Every week we would drive into town for groceries and supplies, have lunch at the Woolworth's (great chocolate sodas!) and catch a movie. There was this old cowboy serial and I got to see all but the last episode before we moved back to KC. I have wondered to this day how it came out.

Anyway, after the boat business sank, we headed back to KC, our entire belongings in and on top of a 1939 Plymoth. I had found and kept a turtle and we put him in a pail with a little water and strapped down the bucket to the roof. Amazingly, both turle and bucket made it all the way back.

Problem was, we arrived in Kansas City flat broke. Zero. Ziltch. Nada. My dad suggested we move in with grandpa and grandma, our only close relatives that had enough room. My mom absolutely refused. Mom and grandma under the same roof was not going to work.

The first winter living in the car was pretty mild. We had a regular parking space at night in Swope Park on Gregory not far from the Union Pacific tracks and the Little Blue River , so we had water for the occasional bath. Old stone park cookers were handy so when we were able to come by some meat, we had a place to cook it. We appreciated the outdoor toilets in the park. 

My dad eventually found a job at a service station on Troost about 49th street. It was a tiny, tiny stone building which stands even today and is some sort of a storage outbuilding for UMKC. In the daytime my mom and I hung out in the car, which was parked a half-block from the station. That was a brutally hot summer, and more than once mom and I were overcome with heat. My dad was now bringing in some money, but we did not have enough for the first and last month's rent on an apartment nor enough for utility deposits.

But that fall, the living-in-the-car experience got a bit dicey. It was cold at night and weathermen predicted a particularly bitter winter. The night we all got frostbite on our toes and fingers was the final straw. We HAD to move in with grandma and grandpa.

As we all expected, it was a tense situation from day one, and things only went downhill from there.

The animosity erupted into violence one Saturday afternoon when mom and grandma got into a heated argument, I don't remember what it was about. But at the outcome, grandma picked up the iron she had been using to press clothes and when mom turned her back, grandma hit her full force in the back of her head. That was when irons were really made of iron, as in heavy.

Mom was out about 20 minutes. She never went to see a doctor, but had headaches the rest of her life, every day.

Moral of the story: There is lots more to a family group shot than meets the camera. And it isn't always pleasant.



Dad was an auto mechanic until he developed a brain tumor at age 54. Then he worked as he was able pumping gas at filling stations. He died of a massive heart attack at 70. Mom, like many women of the era, neither drove a car nor worked outside the home. She developed what we now call COPD after the surprise birth of my brother in 1957. She died at 54. Grandpa was custodian/engineer at Hale Cook Elementary in Kansas City, Missouri. In those days the school district provided a house for the CE right across the street from the school so that the boiler and plant could be maintained 24/7. He died of prostate cancer at 83. Grandma, God love her, was a long-time practioneer of yoga and all things spiritual. She talked a lot about the various planes of consciousness. She live to 93 and died of natural causes with a smile on her face, about as you see in the photo. I am still kicking :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Hayden and his wife in his UFO library

Hayden with two of his many UFO

Polaroid image of a poster depicting a captured alien
on a wall in Roswell, New Mexico

Early digital reconstruction of a photograph
of a purported UFO


"Do you believe in UFOs?"

I will answer that question later...

It was one of those hot, midsummer evenings back in the day when few homes and no cars had A/C. As was the fashion of the era, people would go driving out in the country on a sweltering night in hopes of catching a cool breeze before turning in. Many times on a particularly humid night "turning in" meant that my family would sleep on the screened-in back porch, sounds of the animals, birds and insects in the darkness helping to create an hypnotic, restful state. Even in the heat, I always fell asleep quickly when we slept on that old back porch.

On such a night in my ninth year, mom, dad, grandma Miller and I were riding with unca Roy (my namesake) in his old Plymouth. We were somewhere west of town on old K-32 highway in Kansas. We were still sipping our milk shakes from Dairy King. (Another sure-fire cooler-downer.) My father preferred them to those of the recent upstart, Dairy Queen. Mom called it a "dad thing."

Sure enough, as we meandered along the two-lane blacktop, rolling up and down the slightly hilly terrain there were distinctly chilly spots, especially in places where the road dipped. Everyone would let out a collective "sigh" when we came upon such a spot.

Then as we approached a little berm on my side of the car I noticed a glow of light from behind, the small hill hiding whatever was producing the light. I watched, riveted, as the glow intensified, and then something shot straight up from the bright light behind the hill and was gone in a split-second. It was all dark again.

My nine-year-old mind was quite excited at this and I started talking, almost screaming, "Wow, did anybody else see that!!? It was a big ball of fire and something took off and I saw it! Did anybody else?"

Nobody else did of course.

After I calmed down, my dear, now departed grandmother Miller said "That's OK Roy. I believe you" and patted me on the hand.


Some twenty years later there was a movie. Made by the master himself, Steven Spielberg, it was an epic work of early digital blue screen magic. It was called "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

The title reflected a way of referring to human-UFO interaction: A close encounter of the First Kind is a sighting. A close encounter of the Second Kind is physical evidence. A close encounter of the Third Kind is contact. Now, some UFOlogists (yes, there really is such a thing, but the term won't be found in any scholarly tome-unless it is used in derision) are calling an alien abduction a close encounter of the Fourth Kind. Speilberg's movie included all four but only alluded to the three that had been codified up to that time

But I am getting ahead of myself...

The movie generated lots of press and lots of spin-off stories. Always having an interest in the mysterious and unexplained, I pressed the editor of Star Magazine, Howard Turtle, for an assignment to do "some sort of UFO piece." I guess he finally became weary of hearing me yap about it and relented. He had not much interest in the subject.

I called authors who had written books on the subject. I talked to local UFO enthusiasts. I called one writer who specialized in debunking UFOs.

At length I discovered Hayden Hewes.

He lived in the Oklahoma City area and was president of the Midwest UFO Network (MUFON), which was a clearing house for people wanting to make UFO reports.

Hayden, an avid UFO-olgist, worked as a manager at a TG&Y store (a national chain general store type business that went away in the 1980's) in Oaklahoma city.

He met me at the door, offered tea or coffee and introduced me to his wife, a pretty, petite woman with long blond hair and a few years his junior. I was to find out later that she was a fortune teller.

Hayden excused himself to gather up some papers and photos he wanted me to see and left the room.

At this point I realized that the snow storm that was just hitting Kansas City as my flight left had made its way to Oklahoma City. The wind began to howl and whistle around around the corners of the Hewes' apartment and for a moment caught the attention of both his wife and myself.

"Looks like it's blowing in," she said.

"I must have brought it with me because it was right on my airplane's tail all the way here."

"Thanks a lot," she retorted with feigned sarcasm.

When we both brought our focus back to the room she told me of her life-long natural talent for fortune telling and asked if I would like for her to give me a reading.

Sky blue, cows moo, grass green, Pope Catholic. Sure, I wanted her to read my fortune.

This was a serious session. She had a genuine, fortune-telling crystal ball and kept wiping it with a black cloth, as if trying to see more clearly.  She gazed steadily into the crystal ball and was very quiet for several minutes.
                                                                                                                                                                               She asked me if I had any plans to go to Africa.

No, I didn't.
She rubbed the crystal ball some more.

She kept seeing me walking along a path in the deep jungle, black, large-toothed leopards and other beasts clawing at me and trying to attack me. She said that it seemed as long as I stayed on the gentle, winding path the fierce animals could not harm me.

Let me digress for a moment: While I did not go to Africa, not ever, I did have an assignment a few months later to shoot the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Chanute, Kansas. The explorer couple recorded the very first sound film in Africa and this museum was full of thousands of artifacts they had brought back from the continent. Fortunately, none of them were reaching and clawing for me. But it sure LOOKED like Africa. How could she have known, or at least have come so close to predicting...

Anyway, by this time Hayden had returned and the storm outside was getting worse.

We talked into the teens about grey aliens, Area 51, and also Big Foot, another of Hayden's interests.

The very fascinating evening concluded, and as I walked to the car through the pelting snow/sleet or whatever it was, I imagined I saw a Big Foot or grey alien behind every snow-draped bush...

"Roy, you've never met me, so let me describe myself. I am 6'5" and over 250 pounds. There is not very much that scares me. But that night, I swear my hair stood on end!"

The man on the other end of the phone was a deputy sheriff in North Dakota. He formerly worked for the Coffeyville, Kansas sheriff's office, where his UFO encounter of the First Kind occurred and ultimately was the reason he wound up in North Dakota.

He went on to describe what happened: "It was a Saturday night and all of a sudden the radio started chattering about people seeing a strange, luminous object in the sky, scaring the heck out of kids, adults and especially the farm animals. Another deputy and I were able to make out the light in the distance and with one other part-time deputy, we triangulated our positions by radio relative to the object. We figured that I was closest so I would take the lead and follow whatever it was.

"When I approached the light I saw that it was huge, hard to say just how big in the darkness with no ground reference point, but my best guess was maybe 100' in diameter. It actually wasn't perfectly round. More diamond-shaped. There was a row of white rotating lights around the edges.

"It flew about 50' high and headed pretty much straight down the dirt road right in front of me.
After a few minutes, it stopped over a pond at the end of the road. That was when I got out of the car and realized that I wasn't exactly sure who had cornered who. I called for backup and have to say I was pretty shook up. It slowly moved toward me, shined a reddish light on me and my patrol car, stopped, then shot straight up and was gone.

"Then I began to shake. I was about as scared as the time when an escaped prisoner somehow grabbed my gun, held it up to my temple and said 'I'm gonna blow your brains out!' And he would have if my canine hadn't got to him first."

I will not use the deputy's name because of what he told me next.

"After the incident I wrote up a full report and went about my business. The next day I was inundated with media attention. It got to be a real circus and I could barely do my job. Then the harassing phone calls and the snickers behind my back started. There is a mind set that says that anyone who sees something unusual in the night sky is a nut case. It is now pretty obvious to me that the Air Force has promoted this idea, why I can't say."

The deputy had apparently not read any of the reports about numerous pilots who had seen UFO's. In the fullness of time, when pilots all figured out the reaction of most people, especially their bosses, they simply quit filing reports. Some commercial pilots who reported seeing UFO's lost their jobs.

I did some background checking on the deputy and nothing in it would have led anyone to think he was one of those nut cases. He received a number of commendations for his work, did not drink or smoke. The guy was an adult Boy Scout for gosh sakes.

But even given his exemplary record, that one close encounter of the First Kind on an otherwise deserted dirt road near Coffeville, Kansas led to his having to resign his job and move far from his hometown. The public pressure was just too much for him and his family to bear.

Final note on the interview: It was recorded, with his permission of course. As I listened over and over again to the tape (pre-digital) something struck me as rather odd. When we first began the conversation he definitely had a Kansas accent, that sort of "twang" that we locals don't usually notice. But as he related the incident his voice lost virtually all of its regional characteristics. He was accent neutral. A while later, in an interview with a professor about the psychological implications of UFO encounters, I learned that my experience was not unusual. "Most people," he went on to instruct, "when describing a first time ever experience will lose their colloquial speech patterns. It is as though they are a child, seeing something for the first time and have no frame of reference to accurately describe it. Children are born with the ability to speak any language, any dialect. The theory is that a completely new stimulus somehow triggers that early, intuitive instinct."

It was a little over my head, but I caught the drift...


The last days we spent in the bakery that I opened in Colorado in a fit of midlife crisis were long, hectic and stressful. We had the sale of the business to finalize, the move back to KC to arrange, new schools for the girls, etc. So, we decided to go to the dollar movie in Aurora to escape reality that Friday night. Not much more than the few movie dollars left after dropping the quarter million dollars in the big hole in Denver called The Great Harvest Bread Co...But, that is another story.

The movie I would rate as about a grade B+, but entertaining. I recall still the name: "Under Fire" starring Nick Nolte. He was a photojournalist covering some South American war. He shot the old manual Nikon F cameras.

After we got home I was reminded that the two daughters were having a couple of friends over for a slumber party (boy, there is an oxymoron!). The wife and I made snacks while the four girls made up their beds.

The rental house in Parker, Colorado had a walk-out terrace kind of basement, so that our rear window gave us a spectacular, panoramic view of the Front Range, from Long's Peak to the north, all the way to Pike's Peak in the south.

As I glanced up from popcorn-making I noticed that there was what appeared to be a lighted radio transmission tower off to the south-south west and near to the ground,  that I did not recall seeing before. I remarked as much to my two young daughters, and they took a look as did their two overnight friends. As we talked about where it might be and how far away it was, a strange thing happened: The five red "radio antenna" lights began to peel off, the top one starting a circle to the right, followed by number two, three, four and five. Now the five lights, instead of standing up straight as a radio antenna would, were going in perfect circles. After a short time, they then went in random directions, all the while keeping a fairly close pattern. Next they would form a static, horizontal row of all five lights. This display, back and forth, up and down, sideways and all ways, went on for the better part of an hour. This was no radio antenna. Oddly, my wife refused to look. No amount of persuasion would change her mind. She just wasn't going to look, an attitude which puzzles me to this day.

At one point the girls became frightened and ran over and hugged me, as if I would have been any help.

"I think if they meant us harm they would have done so already," I told them, trying to reassure myself as well.

At length the lights just disappeared.

Not long before that incident I started freelancing for the Denver Post, so as an integral part of that gig I had the name and direct number of the Parker cop shop dispatcher. I called and asked if he knew what it was. "Oh, I wouldn't worry about it Roy," he said. "You see some funny things up here in the mountains. It's not like back in Kansas."

I hung up, a little puzzled at what he meant by that...

But unlike my initial First Encounter, this time I had witnesses. Young witnesses, granted, but all of perfect eyesight and with all the curiousity of ten-year-olds and twelve-year-olds.

And no, I did not get any pictures. I had already sold my long lenses.

So, the answer to the question: "Do you believe in UFO's?"

That isn't even the right question.

The real answer is far more complicated than a simple matter of belief or non belief.

Instead of the term "UFO sightings" I learned from my research that the phrase "UFO phenomenon" more precisely describes what we are talking about.

The UFO phenomenon is a complex interaction of human perception, man-made structures and flying objects, celestial convergences and many, many as yet unexplained, naturally occurring electrical, chemical and optical events. Throw into the mix the ridicule that attaches to those who have admitted to sighting a UFO, and you have a veritable witch's brew of electro-chemical-optical-psychological-physical manifestations. That is the consensus scientific explanation. In short, the "UFO phenomenon" contains many more elements than just unknown objects in the sky.

Let me give you a for instance: Decades ago many reliable observers reported seeing blobs of lights racing along above high-tension power lines near coastal areas. Close scrutiny proved that the phenomenon was a sort of plasma being created by just the correct amount of humidity, barometric pressure, temperature and fog. Not unlike the centuries-old tales told by seafarers who saw what they called St. Elmo's Fire, an unearthly glow of light that would suddenly appear, jumping around on their ship's masts and sails. That had to be scary.

Further for instance: In the 1970's there were a series of loud booms from above heard at various times all over the country. Thousands of inquires from citizens in all states. What was going on? The government said "We don't know." Well they DID know. It was the secret SR-71 Black Bird bomber making supersonic runs. The truth came out years later.

When I asked Hayden Hewes what UFO's were, he said "Our best thinking is that they are other-dimensional craft from an alternate universe that have developed the capacity to cross over between our world and theirs. Or maybe there are more than just two realities. Maybe there are multitudes, perhaps an infinity of such realities."

Shades of Star Trek.

Are there really little grey, super-smart women who pilot intergalactic craft from planet to planet, or from one space-time continuim to another, abducting beings for study or God only knows what purpose? I shudder to think...

What exactly was the US Air Force spokesman telling us when he responded to the question posed by a reporter: "Sir, how do you reconcile the fact that high altitude weather balloons were't operational until 1949, and yet you are saying that what crashed near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 was a high altitude weather balloon?"

"Compression of years" was the spokesman's response.

How's that again?

I do still wonder what it was I saw as a nine-year old and again as a starting-over photographer some twenty-five years later. And I still wonder about the mystery of why my wife wouldn't look...


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Missouri Town

Smoke from the fire mixed with a ray of sunshine to
create beam particles of light in the blacksmith shop
run by Don Bailey.

Stark, simple structures.

Lots of great angles and props at Missouri Town.

'Ol daddy rooster posed perfectly
in the doorway of the chicken

Judy Rains planted herbs.

Judy Rains also fed the chickens.

King of the barnyard protected his turf.

Pete the ox loves human attention. He
gave me large, affectionate licks all over the
front of my shirt and enjoyed having
his chin petted.

Volunteer Jody Watkins pulled weeds from among the
onion plants.

"It's de ja vue all over again"-Yogi Berra.

And it was when I revisited Missouri Town this week.

Three-plus decades had passed since I first shot at this Jackson County Parks and Recreation department's depiction of a typical Missouri town of 1855.

And, appropriately enough, things hadn't changed much.

The first time 'round was for a story about the living history class from UMKC that spent a week on the grounds working, living and dressing like folks did back in the 1850's. They even overnighted. I did not stay over, but spent almost the entire week traveling between the city and the site.

If you have not been to Missouri Town 1855, I would highly recommend it.

"It's like going back in time" is one of those phrases that wire service and newspaper style books say to avoid. Bromides they are called if memory serves. But in the case of Missouri Town, it is absolutely true.

Unlike a museum inside a building, the experience at MoTown completely immerses one in not only the architecture of the period but the sounds (rooster crowing, sheep blaring) and smells (there is nothing quite like fresh manure).

The most powerful impression I got from that first visit, however, was the pace of life. Time seemed strangely warped. It was as though I had suddenly gotten off one of those moving sidewalks at airports and was now walking at a leisurely pace, noticing the flowers, the starchy-white simple houses and the animals.

That first day I had brought all my lighting gear, which required a 110 volt power supply. "Where is your outlet?" I inquired of the person leading us around. "About a half-mile that way," he said, gesturing towards the front gate. So much for wrap-around umbrella light. And a good thing as it turned out actually, because I was forced to shoot at the same speed as the surroundings, with slow, thoughtful deliberation. Remember that I was using FILM-color film , which meant using a tripod and asking the subject to hold very still, just as in days of yore. The photos you see here were done with a digital camera and pixels.

So it came to pass that at the conclusion of the week, on a Friday late, sweet summer evening, that I had an epiphany of sorts.

The sky was turning the deepest blue and way off in the distance I could see the glow of the lights of the frenetic metroplex that was and is Kansas City. I had always thought that it was just about my favorite place to be, right in the heart of the action in the middle of what I thought of as my personal, home planet.

The students from UMKC were settling in for the night. The young women were in typical, long cotton dresses, the guys in overalls or jeans with suspenders. They all moved as though soft shadows. And they all carried lanterns or candles to see their way. Everyone talked in a hush. The humans were in synch with their world, and like the other animals, were taking their cue from the Earth: when the sun set in 1850, life quieted down. It was a natural rhythm of life unfolding before my eyes.

I then realized that I had grown so fond of this languid, lush, spot of warmly sensual existence that I didn't want to go back.

And it was a scary, almost terrifying feeling. I mean I REALLY didn't want to go back to the bustle of the city I thought I loved. My known world was shaken.

I had never experienced this before on an assignment , and never have since.

Everything raced through my head at once: What would I do? I would not be a photographer any more, at least not one who got paid. What would be my goals? Could I really find fulfillment just taking care of crops and animals, chopping wood and tending fences?

You can see I was getting into the fantasy of a total reordering of that I thought was important and significant.

It took probably a week for me to fully return, mentally, from that sentimental journey.

Maybe I never came back completely...I had the same feeling this time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Scary Prairie, or Kansas in proper focus

Fences create a barrier between neighbors, keeping
cattle in and keeping strangers out. Try hopping over this

A wall cloud is best seen on the prairie. In the city
buildings hide the mass of the phenomenon. On the
open prairie there is no shelter, no protection for a
tiny human in this vast landscape.

On the edge of the city where one can
see the full openness of the prairie sky,
the awesome power of a lighting strike
can be more fully appreciated.

Cousin Lonnie Miller recreated a scene from Nancy
Picard's short story of a terrified woman trapped in
the Flint Hills and an ominous stranger on a Harley.

What if that car in the distance carries a drunken or
drugged driver? What if the single cotter pin holding on the
wheel breaks and the vehicle comes lurching into your
lane? Distances close so rapidly on the prairie, especially
on a narrow, rain-slicked two-lane road. Whoosh! and the
car is past. You are safe until the next set of headlights
looms in the misty darkness...

Cows really are kind of spooky when they look at you.
Especially when shot on infra-red film. Will it clear up
or become a torrential downpour? Will there be time to
dash back to the car for some semblance of safety?

Another former photo assistant, Kathy Wismer, agreed
to hike this hill in the Kansas prairie. No matter how
much weight one puts on, the mere human is but a spec
in this world. I hasten to add that Kathy is actually
rather skinny, at least she was the last time I saw her...

Ah, the final resting place on the prairie. Some of the
grave stones had dates in the 1800's

"Let's get out in the country away from it all" is a typical
urban dweller cry. Yes, far away from neighbors and
most crime. Yet also far away from vital services, like
hospitals and police. How long would it take the
sheriff to get to this cozy spot on the edge of the wood?
Remember Truman Capote's In Cold Blood?

The essential prairie since the white
humans took over: their ubiquitous fence,
frames the eternal sky and the earth.

The American Bison, or more commonly known as the
buffalo, are "just plain dumb and mean by any
human standards" I said in the Star Magazine piece.
One, solamente uno, person wrote a letter to the
editor proclaiming that their bison "Were tame and
loving. One even comes to the back door for hand-fed
treats." I was, quite frankly, hoping for a little more buzz...
Where is the ASPCA when you need it?

Of all the photos I shot in my quest for
scary, this one I can most relate to.
There has always been something a little
menacing about bare trees against a bald,
grey sky.

It is, after all, the sun and sky that drive life on the prairie.
Massive momma clouds portend a greater danger-
maybe hail, strong winds or even a tornado.

The concept of "The Scary Prairie" evolved during a conversation with local internationally-acclaimed, award-winning book author Nancy Picard. I was photographing her for some magazine, don't recall which one... She is a mystery writer to her very soul; I am fascinated with strange stuff, and so our talk naturally drifted in the direction of ghosties, things that go bump in the night, and the psychology of fear.

At length we wandered into the subject of some sort of a possible collaboration of her words and my photos.

She had written a short story years back that told the tale of a woman who had moved to the solitary, wind-swept, bleak world of the Kansas Flint Hills. I don't recall why the woman was there, but I imagine that if you check Nancy's web site,, there might be a link to the story. It is a real page-turner.

Anyway, to give a synopsis: The woman was terrified of the vast, open prairie. Something about the empty space created a feeling of dread. She kept having this fantasy nightmare of a menacing stranger on a motorcycle. The figure and his Harley were roaring down the gravel road in front of her fragile wood frame house, which on the infinite prairie was obvious, exposed and vulnerable. Just like her.

The dark, foreboding image came to reality one day and.... I will not spoil the ending for you.

So, why not do a series of my photos and Nancy's words about how frightening the prairie can be, maybe even making it into a book?

We both loved the idea, and in fact I began to shoot, all black and white, as I traveled dusty, dry, stark Kansas on other assignments. This went on for more than two years. By then, Nancy had gotten involved in other more pressing work and I figured I had done about all I knew how to do with the subject.

It took a little research. What was in that woman's mind in Nancy's story that made Kansas so frightening? Most find it merely boring, the state that most perfectly defines fly over country. As I searched I found some pretty strange phobias. There is one for fear of anything new, Neophobia; fear of dark or night, Nyctophobia; fear of dirt, Rhypophobia; fear of frogs, Batrachophobia; fear of open spaces, Agoraphobia-that one was a bingo!; fear of trees, Dendrophobia, and on and on. I reasoned that if I could somehow visually interpret some of those phobias, I would be on the right track.

"The Scary Prairie" subject and the negatives (yes, it was all film) were filed away with the contact sheets for nearly a decade.

Then one day as I was discussing possible photo exhibits with Sabrina Staires, the idea popped into my alleged mind: Why not do "The Scary Prairie" on the wall instead of on the pages of a book?

Sabrina, one of the most talented young photographers in town, by the way, ("and a former photo assistant", he said with considerable pride) graciously allowed me to display the mini-photo story of the prairie in her Landon Gallery and Sabrina Staires Studio at 329 Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City.

A number of talented photographers have rendered Kansas The Bland State with the touch of an artist: delicate spring wildflowers flutter in the every-constant prairie breeze, clouds of all variety in unlimited colors hover above the gently rolling Flint Hills, a solitary old wodden windmill is occasionally included in the landscape for visual relief. Yes, folks like Wes Lyle, Patricia Duncan, Kevin Sink and others have seen beauty where others have seen only dullness.

While I have tremdous respect for these image-makers and their work, I submit that making Kansas look really good is akin to creating an appealing still-life photo of, say a slice of bread. There is little inherent loveleness in either the bread or the Kansas landscape. There is in fact, a certain raw ugliness, both in the bread and in Kansas.

That is what I was trying to capture-the raw ugliness of the Kansas prairie. The sullen greyness of the continuing, overwhelming presence of the open sky. The danger just under the surface, as seen in the piece of sharp barbed wire or the unseen rattlesnake crouching under the limestone rock. It may all appear serene, even peaceful, but it is in reality just the opposite.

Some psyches, either over tuned or somehow cross wired can pick up on the two faces of the state: the safely of the sheltering sky that can turn to dread in a powerful thunderstorm or tornado; the restful and endless vistas across the rolling hills, hills that are filled with things that either bite or sting; and finally, the sense of solitude from the aloness of it all, to the sudden, violent interruption by another human, far from what urbanities call law and order.

Whew, that IS pretty scary...

The exhibit was great fun to produce and it is always a kick to meet and greet the friends, friends of friends, family and just passers-by.

Some of the photos from that show are presented herewith.