Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

The One That Almost Got Away

Monday, February 20th, 2017

 Dan Echols shares the story of his grandson’s big catch

For some, little compares to the sight and sound of an early morning top water explosion, administered by a giant largemouth bass.

It was just getting daylight in mid-March last year, a little foggy with a slight chill in the air, as my grandson Louie, his buddy Simon and I quietly eased into one of our favorite fishing spots on Lake Istokpoga. The water was mirror calm. It was one of those quiet magical times as nature was just beginning to wake up.

Louie was standing next to me at the bow and Simon, who was relatively new to bass fishing at the time, was in the back of the boat. I quietly let down the trolling motor as we approached a large area of flat lily pads and immediately heard that familiar zing of Louie’s swim bait rocket past my head and out into the fog and into the middle of those flat pads.

This was where the calm serenity of the early morning was suddenly changed to absolute chaos. As Louie began his retrieve across the top of those pads, there came a huge wake up behind his lure followed by one of the largest explosions I think I’ve ever seen in all of my 65 years of bass fishing.

As he set the hook on this monster, and began what was to be an epic battle, suddenly his line snapped. We all just stood there in silence for a moment. We could not believe what had just happened. This was 65 lb. braid! Suddenly, Louie started yelling, “There’s my line, there’s my line!” I looked down and sure enough there was his line moving across the top of the water. I put the trolling motor on high and headed for the line as Louie was stretched out as far as he could trying to reach it. Simon was still standing in the back of the boat in what seemed to be a trance as he watched all of this unfolding.

As we reached the line, Louie snatched it up and began pulling.

“She’s still on there,” he yelled as the giant leaped out of the water like a missile. “Get the net, get the net!”

I ran to the back of the boat past Simon and grabbed the net. As I made my way back to the bow, my feet went right out from under me and I found myself on the floor of the boat, flat on my back looking up at the sky with the net across my chest.

“She’s wrapped up in the trolling motor,” Louie yelled.

I remember looking up at Louie’s backside as he bent over trying to untangle the monster from the trolling motor. As I made it back to my feet, with the net in my hands, the next thing I saw was Louie, with a bloody finger, pulling the behemoth over the bow of the boat and right into his lap.

What a fish! Twelve pounds and twelve ounces of bucket mouth fury. We weighed her, marveled at her, took some photos and set her free right back where she came from. She turned out to be the largest bass registered with TrophyCatch Florida from Lake Istokpoga during their 2016 season. This was surely one for the journal and one that Louie, Simon and I will never forget.

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Oh, Deer! What’s Eating You?

Monday, February 20th, 2017

A fawn ignores pavement to feed on an especially delicious grassy lawn.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Implement three primary strategies to keep those four-legged interlopers from feasting on your foliage

The succulent plants you so carefully tend in your garden are like an oasis in a desert—a feast for the eyes and stomach, waiting to be harvested at just the right time.

Sometimes, though, the fruits of your labor are prematurely usurped by a garden intruder impressed by what it sees as a gourmet, all-you-can-eat buffet.

“Deer are looking for the highest-quality food, and our yards often offer the best smorgasbord,” says Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist for Oregon State University Extension Service. “When taking loving care of our plants—watering well and fertilizing—we’re producing a really superior plant compared to what’s in the natural environment. They are more tender and have more nutrition and water content.”

How do you keep deer from feasting on what you want to enjoy?

According to nationally recognized gardening expert Joe Lamp’l, creator and host of the award-winning PBS television series “Growing a Greener World,” there are three primary strategies: exclusion through physical barriers, repellents and making appropriate plant choices.

“There’s no foolproof method for keeping deer from eating your landscape if they’re hungry enough, but there are some ways to minimize the damage,” says Joe. “It takes persistence and a few tricks, but you can keep deer at bay.”


Fence Them Out
The most reliable way to address a deer issue is to create a physical barrier or a way to exclude deer from your landscape, Joe says.

“Building a fence around your vegetable garden will do a great deal to reduce deer damage, but not just any fence will do,” he says.

Joe suggests building a double three-strand fence, like those used for livestock protection. Mount plastic insulators on 36-inch wooden, fiberglass or metal stakes. Make two concentric circles around the area, 3 feet apart. String together the stakes in each circle with wire strands, placing the wire in the outside circle, 18 inches from the ground. Then put two strands on the inner stakes at 10 and 24 inches.

“A deer’s depth perception is not good, so they will sense the presence of the two fences, but will be very unlikely to attempt to jump both,” says Michael Mengak, wildlife specialist professor at the University of Georgia. “You’ve created a visual and physical barrier against them without putting up an unsightly stockade-style fence. A deer may try to jump the fence, but it won’t be able to clear both circles. It will most likely jump back out than attempt to cross the inner fence’s 24-inch barrier.”

Electricity—either through solar power or a battery-operated source—can be added, but Joe says that is not necessary in most cases.

If a double fence is not practical from a space standpoint, he suggests building a standard fence from posts and chicken wire, woven field wire or welded mesh wire at least 8 feet tall. Make sure the fencing is tight against the ground. Deer will not burrow, but they will look for an easy way to go under it.

Individual plants or smaller plant groupings can be protected by draping them with lightweight netting. Loosely secure the netting around the base of the plant to prevent the deer from nibbling on the leaves.


Carefully Consider Repellents
Frustrated gardeners have resorted to a variety of techniques to try to deter Bambi and friends from foraging and grazing on prized roses, vegetables and hydrangeas: human hair, Irish Spring soap shavings, aluminum pie pans suspended on string, motion-activated lights and water sprinklers.

Others have tried crushing garlic, concocting a mixture of fragrant herbs or spraying capsaicin oil onto plants to keep the deer away.

“Some of these methods may work for the short term, but deer are creatures of habit and they’ll adjust to these attempts to add a human scent to frighten them,” says Neil Soderstrom, author of “Deer-Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 Other Pesky Mammals.”

“We’ve heard of people using powdered baby formula, homemade concoctions that contain rosemary or other herbs, hot sauce, and even human or animal urine,” he says.

Neil says commercially available repellents have a higher success rate, but the key is to alternate their use.

“The odor will dissipate over time, so you must be diligent in applying them every 10 days or so, and after it rains,” he says.

Recognized brands are Liquid Fence, Deer Away, Deer Out, Deer Stopper and Hinder. They are applied directly to leaves and the stem to create smells and tastes offensive to deer.

Repellex offers two types of repellents: a liquid spray applied to the plants and leaves, and systemic tablets or granular forms put into the soil, then absorbed into the plant, making it bitter to animals.

The process takes several weeks, so it is important to use a spray on the foliage the first few weeks.

Most box retailers and nurseries offer a choice of products in liquids, concentrates or powders. Completely read the labels, including cautions, before using to ensure the product is safe if used on fruits and vegetables.

For an organic deer-repellent that is marketed as fertilizer, try Milorganite—a wastewater treatment byproduct that has been produced by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for more than 90 years.

Milorganite is the result of recycling nutrients in the city’s wastewater by using microbes that are then kiln-dried, bagged and sold. The organic nitrogen-based slow-release fertilizer produces an odor offensive to deer.

“I’ve seen it used as a fertilizer and deer repellent, and the deer don’t seem to browse in areas treated with Milorganite,” Joe says. “I find it to be very effective.”


Pick Native Plants
In the wild, plants develop defenses such as waxy leaves or prickles that make them more adapted to surviving grazing. Even when they do get nibbled, natives are more likely to survive than the succulent plants in our gardens.

“We’re often selecting plants from other parts of the world that didn’t get to learn through evolution about the herbivores in our ecosystem,” says Dana. “They’re naïve. Even roses that have prickles don’t have them around the beautiful blossoms, which the deer just snap off. They easily take what they want.”

Choosing the right kinds of plants—those deer typically do not like—can reduce the likelihood of free-range foraging in your landscape.

“Native plants are among the best bets for your garden and landscape,” Joe says. “Native plants evolved at the same time as your area’s wildlife and developed their own resistance to deer feeding to survive.”
Some plants are more appealing to hungry deer than others.

Daylilies, hydrangeas, hosta, azaleas, rhododendron, roses, fruit trees, arborvitae and Leyland cypress are ready-made food sources. Garden experts recommend not planting these if you have a high-traffic deer area.

Instead, look for plants and trees on the less-likely-to-be-eaten list, including boxwoods, hollies, ornamental grasses, hellebores/Lenten roses, ferns, butterfly bushes, cedar trees, redwoods and hemlocks. Consider planting them in the outer reaches of your landscape.

“Deer are determined and persistent when it comes to filling their tummies,” Dana notes.

Sometimes combining deer-desirable plants with those deer do not like can reduce the chance of having your colorful flower beds mowed to the ground. Mixing marigolds with pentas or lantana or Angelonia with impatiens tends to keep deer from grazing. Some gardeners intersperse pansies with spring onions to make deer work harder to sort out the plants they like to eat.

“Use ‘decoy plants’ around your landscape to attract deer away from your valued plants,” Joe says. “For instance, give up part of your property to deer-friendly plants in hopes that they will focus on this readily available food source. However, if the deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything, so no method is completely effective.”

As creatures of habit, deer tend to feed in the same areas for generations—which can be problematic when invading their territory to create new neighborhoods, compromising their food and water sources.

“The key is making sure we have a way to live with wildlife,” says Michael. “It may mean habitat modification, but it’s important to strike a balance between the needs of people and the needs of animals.”

Check your local county extension office website for plant recommendations specific to your area.

Simplify Your Routine With Innovative Tools

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Pop-up covers protect plants from weather extremes.
Photo courtesy of Gardener’s Supply Co.

Gardening is a wholesome task of manipulating the soil, planting favorite flowers and vegetables, and watching nature take its course—with plenty of nurturing in between.

While the process of gardening may be the same, the tools used continue to improve. Stay true to your love of weeding, watering and reaping, but make the process easier with these innovative tools.

Easily Protect Plants
Keep spring plants and vegetables safe from cold temperatures and wind with pop-up plant covers. The covers pop open and close for easy use and storage. Gardener’s Supply Co. says its product can help plants grow 25 percent faster, leading to an earlier harvest. | $13 to $20


The Ultimate Leaf Rake
Say goodbye to straight wooden hand holds and inflexible rakes, and hello to ergonomic, lightweight and flexible, specially designed tines. Fiskars’ 24-inch leaf rake makes sprucing up your yard a breeze, while getting optimal results with every swipe. | $20


Water When You are Gone
Take the stress out of watering your garden with a water timer. The Orbit Single-Dial Hose Faucet Timer has a large dial that allows you to easily program it for your watering needs. It is battery operated and weatherproof. Orbit also has models with multiple hose valves for large-scale watering. | $30


Keep Your Wheelbarrow Organized
Make one trip with the Little Burro wheelbarrow organizer. Multiple partitions and rack and shovel rests allow you to keep all your gardening tools organized and safe when rolling into your garden. Your keys, phone and sunglasses make the trip in a closeable compartment. | $60


Garden Know It All
The Edyn Garden Sensor lets you know what is going on with your garden at all times. The solar-powered garden sensor connects to your home’s Wi-Fi to send you data on your garden via the Edyn app. The sensor tracks garden light, moisture, humidity and nutrition. | $100


Compost Organic Matter Faster
If your compost pile is not producing fast enough, try a tumbling composter. The Yimby composter’s dual chamber allows for fast and efficient homemade compost. Turn the tumbler every few days to break up material and help speed up decomposition. | $90


A Better Shovel
Much like the handy rake, a shovel is an essential gardening tool. The Radius Pro-Lite Shovel has a round point, ergonomic handle and works in all soil types. Along with being sturdy, it comes in multiple colors such as green, purple and blue.
www.radiusgardencom | $31

Up in the Air

Monday, February 20th, 2017

The B-17G, nicknamed Aluminum Overcast, draws a crowd at a previous Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo. Bought as surplus from military inventory for $750 in 1946, the plane has flown more than 1 million miles. It has been restored as a tribute to World War II aviation. During airshow tours, visitors can walk through the plane or pay for a half-hour flight.
Photo courtesy of Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo

Spread your wings and head to one of the many springtime airshows in Florida. From the TICO Warbird Airshow in Titusville to the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and Expo at Lakeland’s Linder Regional Airport, vintage planes, high-tech warbirds and thrilling aerobatics paint the skies with excitement.

Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville (www.valiant brings back vintage warbirds that took to the skies in time of conflict and in peacetime.

The three-day 40th annual TICO Warbird Airshow is March 10-12. See a World War II Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, the U.S. Air Force 2017 Thunderbirds and World War I’s colorful Fokker and Sopwith Camel aircraft.

Florida’s Panhandle hosts the 7th annual Marvel of Flight Fly-in and Expo ( March 31 to April 1 at the DeFuniak Springs Airport.

Three-time National Aerobatic Champion and Aviation Hall of Fame member Patty Wagstaff is featured, along with the TigerFlight Foundation demonstration team and youth motivational program, and a re-enactment of the Vietnam-era “Rescue at Dawn” mission. Helicopter rides, entertainment and a chance to mingle with pilots round out the event.

Lakeland’s Aerospace Center for Excellence hosts the Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo April 4-9 (

Become immersed in all things flights with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, night-time air shows, the French aerobatic display team’s first U.S. appearance and Ace’s Flyin’ Flix with some of the best aviation films of all time each evening.

For airshow events in Florida this year, visit


On the Rails
Test runs are in process for Florida’s first high-speed passenger trains, with routes between Miami and West Palm Beach possibly as early as this summer.

Headquartered in West Palm Beach, private company Brightline eventually will bring five trains to run between Miami and Orlando by sometime in 2018.

According to USA Today, the first train, “BrightBlue,” will have two locomotives and four passenger cars, and can travel as fast as 125 mph—although laws limit the top speed to 79 mph.

That is a relatively quick trip between south and central Florida.

Cheap Destinations Available Abroad
MSN recently ranked the top cheapest destinations to travel around the world, and you may be surprised.

Ecuador and Peru in South America, and Cambodia and Vietnam in Southeast Asia all received excellent marks for affordable accommodations, food and activities.

If you are interested, periodically check for airfare deals on airfare discounter websites. Be flexible on your travel dates—particularly if you want to use airline miles. Travel on certain days of the week requires significantly fewer miles.

Florida native Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality profiles and feature writing. The avid traveler also is a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is

Lipizzan Legend Lives On

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Gabby Herrmann trains Argento at Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions near Myakka City.

Following a family legacy, Gabby Herrmann makes her life mission to care for and show the regal horses

America fell in love with Lipizzan stallions—aristocratic performance horses rescued from Austria during World War II—thanks to a Disney movie, “Miracle of the White Stallions,” released in 1963.

Marguerite Henry’s children’s book, “The White Stallion of Lipizza,” furthered their fame in 1964.
But Gabby Herrmann, a descendant of a family that helped save the horses, has loved them her entire life. She continues to train and perform with them from her base in Myakka City, east of Sarasota.

“Toward the end of the war, my father and grandfather rode at night and hid by day with a handful of the family’s horses, keeping these treasures alive,” says Gabby. “They covered the horses with mud so their white coats wouldn’t give them away.”

At the same time, U.S. General George Patton initiated Operation Cowboy—a clandestine mission to smuggle Lipizzans from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Colonels Ottomar Herrmann and Ottomar Herrmann Jr. and other rescuers feared that hungry Russian soldiers might eat the Lipizzans as they advanced into Austria. They delivered the horses safely to sections of Germany held by the Allies.

After the war, the Herrmanns transported them to the Caribbean. In 1962, they relocated to Sarasota, drawn by temperate weather and the opportunity to join circuses that winter in the area. Circus-goers raved at the stallions’ “airs above the ground”—classical dressage moves like the capriole, a leap with all four feet.

Eventually, the Herrmanns took their own show on the road.

Gabby’s grandfather and father have died, but Gabby carries on the tradition at Herrmann’s World of Lipizzan Stallions, where 16 stallions live on 200 acres of lush, year-round green pasture and live oak trees with a few mares to produce enough colts to sustain the business.

“Lipizzans have been part of my family for 300 years,” Gabby says. “These horses are people-oriented. They love attention and love to perform. They’re good boys, but they will test you. We always respect that they are stallions.”

Only stallions perform, since mares and neutered males—called geldings—don’t have the same spirit and fire.

Each summer, Gabby and her daughter, Rebecca McCoullough, tour the country with six other riders and 12 stallions. December through April, bleachers at the Florida farm’s outdoor arena fill for shows Thursday through Saturday.

Lipizzans are late bloomers. Born with dark coats, the colts turn white at age 7, when their training begins. The stallions often live to the age of 40.

The Herrmann barn is a vibrant place. Stallions whinny loudly to each other, but a stern word from Gabby quiets them.

Signs in front of each stall list names such as Apollo, Magic and Duke. Daily duties for each stallion, including training and pasture time, are listed on a whiteboard.

The royal Hapsburg family developed Lipizzans from Arab and Spanish horses in 16th century Europe, making the elite line available to generals and royalty. They designed the breed’s heavy bone structure and muscle mass for battle. When guns replaced swords and warhorses were no longer essential, their maneuvers became the foundation for dressage.

Through the decades, the horses have been rescued from war-torn countries such as Croatia and Yugoslavia, but only about 3,000 registered Lipizzans exist today, with just half of them in America.

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna leads the way in keeping Lipizzans and their graceful, athletic moves alive.

Gabby’s lifestyle seems far removed from a Hapsburg palace.

“My friends can never understand why I clean stalls,” she says, “but that’s when you bond with the horses and the crew. It’s also good exercise.”

Young apprentices who want to master dressage and become part of the show help her. Gabby’s husband, Jerry Caudill, runs concession stands.

“Keeping this operation running is a financial challenge, but the horses are my passion,” Gabby says. “The big reward is the people’s faces in the audience. Our horses love an audience, and the audience loves them.”

Gabby dreams that the family business will continue. Rebecca works another job, but spends much of her free time training and performing. Rebecca’s daughter, Sydney, 7, already handles stallions.

“We watch Sydney carefully, but working with the horses is already second nature to her,” Gabby says.

For information about Gabby Herrmann’s shows, search Facebook for Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzan Stallions, visit or call (941) 322-1501.

Power of Contrast

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Watching for contrasts adds life to your photos while helping viewers understand what you see. Above, a contrast captured on the streets of Florence, Italy.

Contrast is a powerful teaching tool and important player in writing and photographic composition. Contrasts come in shapes, colors, tones, sizes of subjects, even emotions.

Though most of us seldom stop to analyze or internalize all the contrasts offered to us daily, they help us process visual information instantly.

Just as our perception of color changes depending on the colors around them—red against green looks and, more importantly, feels different than red against gray or white—the way we perceive a subject often changes with the environment surrounding it.

Contrast in tone is a way to create an instant focal point. For example, a white horse against a shadowed or dark background draws immediate attention, just as a dark horse against a white, snowy backdrop tells our eyes what is important. When everything is white except for one dark subject, we see the subject first because it is in contrast to the overwhelming white space.

But there are other, often subtle, contrasts to be used as clues to help the reader or viewer see the picture you saw.

Contrasting actions or emotions in a single photographic scene can be a powerful communications device.

A photograph showing a person crying while someone nearby is laughing grabs our attention. The contrast is striking and disturbing—like a needle sliding across the vinyl grooves of record. We want to know more about the context of what our eyes are seeing.

I remember doing a fashion shoot using several beautiful models, dressed in sheer, flowing white garments in a dark, greasy junkyard. The mounds of twisted steel and smashed car bodies provided a stark and effective backdrop to the flowing lines and shapes of the models and garments.

I once gave an advanced photojournalism class a semester-long project, “Rich man, poor man.” Students documented individuals of similar age in different socioeconomic classes, making photographs of the subjects’ environment and possessions, housing, job, workplace and transportation.

The contrasts were shocking. One student showed a young man with a pool on the roof of his penthouse and another man’s tiny shack in a government housing project.

Seeing the man in the small apartment would not have had the same impact if not paired with the man relaxing in the pool holding a drink.

I am always on the hunt for visual contradictions—scenes like a cold, hungry homeless person looking through a glass window while the wealthy eat their fill in a warm restaurant.

One of my favorite pictures made by the late Margaret Bourke White shows people standing in a food line during the Louisville, Kentucky, flood of 1937 with a billboard backdrop of a happy family riding in a fancy car with the heading “World’s Highest Standard Of Living.” The contrast is immediate and unmistakable.

Remember, pictures with contrasting emotions often need words to explain them. Without proper context, we can arrive at inaccurate conclusions. We must be careful when contrasts become unfair or inaccurate judgments.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Five Tips for Catching Big Bass

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Louie Echols hefts a 12-pound, 12-ounce largemouth bass to document his prize catch before releasing it. Louie caught the monster bass while fishing with a friend and his grandfather at Lake Istokpoga in south-central Florida. It was the biggest recorded largemouth caught at the lake in 2016. For a blow-by-blow account provided by his grandfather, visit
Photo submitted by Dan Echols of Sebring, Florida

Generally, there are two types of fishermen: those who fish just for fun and those who fish for bragging rights. Folks in the latter category take their fishing very seriously. Every outing is a quest to catch more and bigger fish.

If you share that mindset, here are five bass tips sure to improve your odds.

• You have to find them first. Not every body of water harbors big bass. The most popular fishing holes are often the least likely to contain big fish, since those spots tend to be overfished. Keep in mind the most promising places may be those with the fewest fish. That’s because there is less competition and more food, which fosters growth of mega-sized fish.

• Fish smarter. There is something to be said for fishing longer days and more often. However, fishing smarter saves time, money and aggravation. Do your homework. Talk to other Louie Echols hefts a 12-pound, 12-ounce largemouth bass to document his prize catch before releasing it. Louie caught the monster bass while fishing with a friend and his grandfather at Lake Istokpoga in south-central Florida. It was the biggest recorded largemouth caught at the lake in 2016. For a blow-by-blow account provided by his grandfather, visit Photo submitted by Dan Echols of Sebring, Florida fishermen, bait store owners and guides. Read fishing columns and blogs, and study the record books to see where the big ones are being caught. Also, take advantage of the latest developments in rods, reels, lures and other tackle to improve your odds.

• Go high tech. Use GPS and depthfinders to locate the best habitat. Look for changes in the contour of the bottom, such as dropoffs, undercut banks and submerged objects where fish like to hold.

• Timing is important. Time of day is not as important as time of year. Late winter through early spring provides the best opportunities to catch big bass. That’s because they are in pre-spawn mode, and hormonal changes make them more agitated, aggressive and less cautious than normal.

• Size matters. Big bass like big meals. They are less likely to waste energy going after small morsels. Adjust your tackle accordingly. Use larger than normal bait and lures, and 4/0 and 5/0 hooks with a wide gap between the shaft and tip.


Outdoors 101: The Proper Way to Discard Fishing Line and Unwanted Tackle
Monofilament line can be recycled at designated bins found at most boat ramps, piers and tackle shops. These bins are meant for this type of line only. Braided line and wire should be cut in short lengths—no more than 12 inches long—and discarded in a covered trash container. When disposing of hooks and lures, be sure to clip the barbs so they don’t stick humans or animals who may come in contact with them after being discarded.


Panther Watch
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking for your help with panther research by reporting sightings to the FWC. Photos of panthers or their tracks are especially welcome. To report a sighting, visit The webpage also has information about how to identify panthers, what to do or not to do if you see one, and a Google map to pinpoint the sighting location.


Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to info@


Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 35 years.

Giving Voice to History

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Deb Burdick with the “Pensacola: City of Five Flags” exhibit she and the Alvaré Design team created for the T.T. Wentworth Museum several years ago.
Photo by Michael Duncan

With each project, exhibit creator Deb Burdick strives to offer an experience as her team tells a story

Exhibit master Deb Burdick is part Disney and part historian.

As one of two professionals of the Alvaré Design team in Pensacola, Deb is responsible for many familiar exhibits at the National Naval Aviation Museum, the Flight Academy, Voices of Pensacola, the Appleyard Storytelling Cottage and the recent Trader Jon’s exhibit at the T.T. Wentworth Museum.

Deb says it is a challenge to describe what she does.

“When someone visits a completed exhibit and asks me, ‘What did you do here?’ the answer is, ‘Wherever you look, there is likely not much I haven’t helped measure, visualize, demolish, install or finish,’” Deb says. “I put the emphasis on helped because as part of our small-by-choice exhibit design partnership, I get to experience the whole creative process from start to finish.”

Originally from Michigan, Deb and her husband moved to the area to pursue work opportunities.

Deb wasn’t sure what she would find.

She got her start by joining a Pensacola-area museum exhibit designer seeking research and writing help 17 years ago. Working as an advertising copywriter at the time, Deb’s project-based work gradually grew into what is now the partnership of Alvaré Design.

Deb says designing and creating exhibits draws from a broad range of skills, including subject research, presenting concepts, drawing and reading construction plans, finding and hiring subcontractors, graphic design and production, installation, woodworking, metal working, sewing, cleaning, organizing and writing.

The team does not just tell a story. It creates an environment for the viewer to experience compelling stories in unexpected ways, Deb says.

“When we create an exhibit, our first question is always the one we anticipate prospective visitors asking: ‘What is this, and why should I care?’” Deb explains. “When you experience one of our exhibits, I hope we’ve managed to give its subject a voice. That might be, what was Pensacola’s role in the Civil War? How does the weather affect the Navy? And most recently, who was Trader Jon? We thrive on the challenge of creating genuine, lasting interest in whatever the subject of our current project might be.”

Deb comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. For several generations, her family owned and operated a Christmas tree farm and landscape company.

Although she has done many other things through the years, the time spent working in the family business in her youngest years left an enduring imprint.

“The value of working hard—doing whatever needed to be done, having a good attitude, attending to even the smallest details—those seeds were planted very early and they took root,” Deb says. “All the skills, habits and values picked up from childhood and through the years resonate in the work I’m doing now. I cannot imagine a life that doesn’t include words and stories.”

Deb enjoys the variety of subjects and people she gets to know. Each project is unique: different space, different subject, different approach, different timeframe, different budget and different client.

Yet with everything that is different, she says some things are the same. Regardless of size or scope, every project follows a similar progression.

“Initially, all we’re looking at is thin air, or construction drawings, or a space that needs to be demolished and reconstructed,” Deb says. “Based on years of experience, that’s the time we listen most carefully to the space and the subject, and visualize how something will look long before it ever exists.”
Since 1994, Alvaré Design has collaborated with a broad range of clients, subject-matter experts and other exhibit specialists to create world-class exhibits that travel around the world aboard U.S. Navy ships and have gone into space on the International Space Station.

Students from Alaska to Florida are learning in immersive classroom environments at the National Flight Academy, where Deb has given a four-story building the look, sound, feel and even smell of a modern U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.

“This work has given me incredible opportunities—things I never imagined getting to do, like a tailhook landing and catapult-assisted takeoff aboard the USS Enterprise, and meeting people I never imagined getting to know, like one of the original Tuskegee Airmen,” Deb says. “I’ve asked a million questions, and learned there is so much I still don’t know. I’ve learned the importance of being generous with time and resources and wisdom and encouragement, and of giving those who will follow in our footsteps the benefit of all those things.”

Unscripted ‘Real Life’

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Fans of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” have witnessed the personal ups and downs of Captain Keith Colburn of The Wizard—including the stresses of running a business and his struggles to save his 25-year marriage, which ultimately failed.
Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel/Jason Elias

Being cast on a reality television show offers participants a chance at fame and fortune

Keith Colburn makes his living as a crab fisherman, spending weeks, sometimes months, at a time battling the elements on a quest for the catch that will financially make or break his next 12 months.

“What we do is one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet,” says the 53-year-old captain of The Wizard and one of the stars of “Deadliest Catch,” which is in its 13th season on Discovery Channel.

The television show portrays the real-life events aboard fishing vessels in the Bering Sea.

“We’re all about trying to catch crabs, not be TV stars, but now I can’t go anywhere without being recognized,” he says.

Since Keith has been featured multiple seasons, his moment in the spotlight is longer than most. Competitors on shows such as “Survivor” and “The Voice” usually have one shot at notoreity.

Whether a contestant wins big money or becomes a household name, merely being cast on a reality show is life-changing—and the format is incredibly popular with those in the TV business.

“I think reality programming’s growth is partly related to the increase in entertainment channels and platforms,” says “Big Brother” Executive Producer Allison Grodner. “There is a growing demand for new content, and unscripted is generally faster and cheaper to produce than scripted.”


Challenging Times in Front of the Camera
Being part of a television show is challenging, and that is magnified when space is tight and at a premium. Keith and the other captains have work to do, and everyone on the crew has assignments.

“Add a producer and a camera person, and the crew has to learn to adjust to more bodies on the boat who are trying to capture the best shots while they’re trying to do their jobs,” Keith says. “It can be tough.”

He says the biggest surprise for him has been how much people respond to the show.

“What I do, how scary it is, it’s what really happens out there,” says Keith. “It’s our lives. I think people are intrigued by the danger.”

When not working, he retreats to his 36-foot Sea Ray cabin cruiser.

“It’s a nice diversion,” Keith says. “I named it ‘Esperance,’ which means ‘hope.’ I just like to disappear on it.”


Surviving Trials and Tribulations
Kail Harbick had no place to hide as a contestant on CBS’s “Big Brother” Season 8.

She says she had a target on her back from the minute she set foot in the house.

“When I overheard a couple of the guys say, ‘Let’s get the old lady out,’ I knew—once I figured out that I was the second-oldest at 37—my days were limited,” she says. “They wanted it to be a real party house, and they were certain I wouldn’t fit in. My original strategy was simply to not rock the boat, but after hearing that I went on the offensive.”

Contestants are monitored with microphones and cameras 24 hours a day. Each week, a head of household nominates fellow houseguests for eviction until only one remains and wins $500,000.

Kail won the head of household contest the first episode, but it was downhill from there.

“Later, someone told me that being head of household is the kiss of death,” says the former real estate agent and the fifth houseguest voted out. “I never recovered.”

Kail had dreamed for years about being chosen for “Big Brother,” applying three times.

“I was so excited, but I didn’t really know what to expect, even after watching the show for so many seasons,” she says.

Before entering the Big Brother house, Kail and 13 strangers each had to spend a week alone isolated in a hotel room with no phone or television.

“I was homesick from the beginning,” she says. “It was so tough. All I could think about was my husband and my children back home. The isolation was terrible. It was such an emotional roller coaster.”

Today, 10 years later, Kail is pursuing another dream: earning her ministry leadership degree at New Hope Christian College in Eugene, Oregon.

“I’m giving motivational biblical speeches,” she says. “I’m completely content about where I am now.”


Second Time is a Charm
With two chances at big money on CBS’s “The Amazing Race,” Eric Sanchez of South Florida knows what it is like to finish second and win it all.

On Season 9, Eric and race partner Jeremy Ryan were runners-up in the around-the-world trek, dividing $25,000. Two years later, Eric partnered with another Season 9 competitor for Season 11 All-Stars—his then-girlfriend Danielle Turner—to take home and share the $1 million top prize.

Eric bought a nice house and a new car, and gave some of the money to his family.

“I moved to California for a year, just because I always wanted to live there, and the rest I used for adventures and good times, including some travel,” says the now 38-year-old who works in general aviation sales. “But looking back on it, I wouldn’t be doing anything differently today if I hadn’t won the money. I did get to see the world and make good friends, so I guess in some ways it changed the course of my life. For me, the biggest takeaway was realizing that the world is not that big a place and there’s really lots to see and do.”

Idaho’s Jon Peter Lewis, who now lives in Los Angeles, landed spots on “American Idol” in 2004 as a solo performer and on “The Voice” as half of the duo “Midas Whale” with friend Ryan Hayes in 2014.
His finish in the top 10 of “American Idol” led to a spot in the 50-city American Idols Live tour.

Jon Peter met Ryan in 2010 and the two of them launched “Deep Love: A Ghostly Folk Opera” in Idaho. The show was part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2015.

“With these competitions, you really need to have some music ready within a couple of weeks of being on the shows,” Jon Peter says. “That’s about the best way that you can convert that national exposure into something consumable.

“Right now I’m very happy, and music is taking me where it wants to take me. I’m grateful for having been on these shows. It was well worth it for me.”


Post-Reality Success
Few reality TV participants achieve international fame and long-term recognition.

“People on reality shows bask in their 15 minutes, but it takes someone with branding and marketing savvy to prolong their fame into long-lasting success,” says psychologist Michael Gene Ondrusek, who was a consultant to the producers of CBS’s “Survivor” during the program’s early seasons. “You’ve got a short time to build your brand and get traction.”

Such is often the case with talent competitions. Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Jordin Sparks have had commercial success after winning “American Idol.” Others who appeared on the show but did not win—including Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson—also made a name for themselves.

But they are the exception, not the rule.

Sam Woolf, who grew up in Bradenton, Florida, is working to establish himself after competing on “American Idol” in 2014, finishing fifth. He said he wanted to be a performer from a young age, and his time on the show helped solidify his dream.

“‘Idol’ was a turning point for me,” says the now-20-year-old, who lives in Boston. “I realized that I’d have to work very hard, and that’s what I’m willing to do as I’m focusing on my songwriting and guitar playing. I’m doing what I want to do for my career. ‘Idol’ helped me grow as an artist and as a person.”


A Life-Changing Opportunity
Fame can be fleeting, but it does offer a platform.

“I was bullied as a kid,” says 29-year-old Nick Hanson of Unalakleet, Alaska, who has competed on “American Ninja Warrior” the past two seasons. “That’s where my competitive spirit comes from, so I work with kids to help them be strong. It was hard for me because when I came here, I didn’t look like a native. I took up sports to try and fit in.”

The show allows him to share his message.

“The momentum from ‘American Ninja Warrior’ has helped me dive even deeper into who I am,” Nick says. “I love my culture and where I came from. It has opened doors for me to tell my story.”

Lindsey Richter Voreis of Portland, Oregon, who was on “Survivor: Africa” in 2001, says what producers don’t tell you is, “When you’re done, you’re done.”

“But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Lindsey says. “For me, it was a real wake-up call, a life-changer. It was the best and worst experience of my life.”

Lindsey admits her self-esteem took a big hit.

“For one thing, I was pretty naïve and clueless back then,” says the longtime athlete who began mountain biking in the mid-1990s. “A lot of my drama was based on my fears and insecurities.”
Lindsey says the broadcasts were not accurate as far as what went on during the tapings.

“I was made out to be the villain,” she says, noting producers definitely encouraged bad behavior. “It was very malicious and manipulative. In a way, it’s kind of sad that with all the hard things happening in the world that we participated in this trivial human experiment.”

Lindsey says her time on “Survivor” opened her eyes and started her journey toward being a positive influence on people’s lives. Several years ago, she launched LIV Ladies AllRide mountain bike camps for women, using her lessons learned for good.

“I had the gift of seeing behaviors that weren’t serving me well, and took the opportunity to change them,” Lindsey says. “The show did a number on me, but, yes, I’d do it again, even knowing what I know now.”

Seeing the Unseen

Friday, January 20th, 2017

A young couple looks at wedding rings. No words are needed to understand the scene. The picture on the wall is a visual clue to help us quickly guess what is happening.

I have a student, Brittany, who desires to make a career of forensic photography. She will likely be required to document many crime scenes, making detailed pictures of both victims and evidence—small clues that may lead to solving big crimes.

After all, crime scenes are puzzles, where often what is not obvious—or even what is absent—might speak loudest about what happened.

I have always felt the best documentary photographers are part detective and part social worker, learning through observation and practice to see what is not obvious to most.

This may sound like a riddle or a paradox, but it isn’t. It is about slowing down, observing and photographing clues—small pieces of a scene—to communicate a story. It is the practice of learning to see what is not there.

Just as scratch marks high up on a tree trunk in the woods warns there might be a mighty big bear around, noticing visual clues in a scene can help a reader or viewer understand a story more clearly. This can be as simple as the expression on a face, a gesture or a piece of yellow tape at a crime scene.

A discarded costume and piles of candy on the living room floor says a child had a big night trick-or-treating. Similarly, a lapel pin or patch on a jacket can speak of military service.

I do a presentation titled after the children’s book, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see,” where I project images and ask students to read the details, the clues and tell me the story of what happened—the who, what, where, when and why in the picture.

Like a hound dog sniffing the ground and bushes and gathering the scent of an animal, we gather clues from a scene to help tell the story of the unseen. As I learned years ago, things implied (unseen) are often much stronger than things stated (visible).

My illustrative hero and influence, Norman Rockwell, often used visual clues to tell his stories. A discarded sign, an opened letter with a foreign postmark, a magazine with a movie star’s face (in the girl in mirror)—each helps tell the story.

Just as foreshadowing in writing can clue a reader to a plot in a written story, a small visual clue in a photograph can help a viewer grasp the overall visual story. Visual clues help bridge the gap between what is obvious to the eye and what is not seen, the implied story.

Sometimes the absence of something—the silence—speaks loudest.

Photographs rich with visual clues that do not reveal all of the information or the whole story allow us to use our imagination, to become detectives and complete the pieces to the visual puzzle.


David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit