I spend so much time on a river, or out in the woods, I get a lot of good photos by accident. In my files are hundreds and hundreds of color slides taken in the 70’s and 80’s. Then in the 90’s we started taking nothing but color prints, so in another part of my office there are hundreds more of those. I have slides or photos of everything in the outdoors that you can imagine, from duck hunting to drum fishing, from woodcock to walleye, from bobwhites to bass, from gooses to goggle-eyes, from… well you get the picture. In addition, I have photos from 28 different Ozark float streams; most every high bluff and a thousand gravel bars.

Truthfully, the camera is becoming more important to me than the rod and gun. I guess that means I am getting old. There was a time when I sold a ton of photos to outdoor magazines I wrote for, and a score of cover photos as well. It helps when you are a free-lance writer, to have pictures to back up what you write about. If you write about catching a fifty-pound catfish or a ten-pound bass, you’d better have photos.

When Sondra Gray began working as editor for the Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing Company, I could see she knew what a good photo was, and I told her how we could float down the river with a blind on the front of a camouflaged boat and sneak up on all kinds of wild creatures, anxious to pose for photographs. Few of today’s outdoor photographers do that, most float the river in a yellow or red canoe and bang around on it trying to get it to go straight. If you can paddle from one side, and slip down the river noiselessly with a blind of oak, maple and willow boughs on the front of your boat concealing it and its passengers, think of how close you can get to migrating waterfowl, and all other creatures that live along the rivers.

Last week, with the river full, Sondra and I took a little short float trip down the river to see if we could perhaps catch a fish and get some photos. The fishing wasn’t much, but right away she got a good shot of a drake and hen woodduck. There’s an eagle’s nest along that stretch, and we were surprised to see a new nest being constructed downstream about two hundred yards from the first. That’s an odd thing. I know where there are seven eagle’s nests, but never saw two within miles of each other.

We didn’t photograph any eagles. I have so many photos of eagles I doubt I ever take anymore, unless we find one flying along carrying a pig, or something of that sort. You will notice that every newspaper photographer nowadays who tries to bring the outdoors to suburban readers, photographs eagles and great blue herons. They are so numerous that you can get photos of either on almost any trip to a lake or river. Recently I noticed photos in one of those “outdoor sections” of crows and buzzards. The same old photos of bluffs, canoes and gravel bars too. I figure the next focus of their photos might be coots and cormorants, maybe a pelican or two. There are a ton of them today. It makes me want to write to those guys and tell them that I will take them down the river and see to it they see things they never knew about, for only 100 dollars. Maybe, with today’s economy, I ought to just ask for 50.

I didn’t charge Sondra anything. The agreement is, I paddle the boat and sneak up on stuff… therefore I can use any of her photos in my newspaper columns or in my Lightnin’ Ridge Magazine. And it paid off last week, because we came upon an old mama goose preparing a nest inside a hollow sycamore a few feet above the water. She had a downy feather stuck to her cheek. Obviously she had been pulling them out of her breast and back to line her nest. Her mate was out in the river, and he was hesitant to leave. They say that geese mate for life, and I think that likely is not always the case, but it usually is, it seems.

But if you stop and think about it, all female geese look alike, so the gander can just pick any of them. It isn’t likely he will come across a better-looking female somewhere else. It may be though, that among geese, some females are harder to get along with than others, as it seems to be amongst female humans. But I digress… the male goose finally flew off, hesitant to be photographed, and giving us no more unusual photo than a million other geese would give us. But the female, following Sondra with her eyes, had personality. I didn’t make any noise with the paddle, and we didn’t startle her. If you can’t see motherhood in the face and eyes of that old goose, you will never see it in any wild creature.

While it is true that males, or ganders, will often sit on the nest, and will incubate the eggs a bit, I could easily tell which of the two was the female from the size of the neck, and I can’t say for sure, but I would bet that only the female pulls down from her body for the nest.

Last year, a mile or so upstream, I saw something I never thought I would see… a goose nesting in a hollowed-out sycamore limb a good thirty feet above the river, as if she thought she was a woodduck. Geese usually nest on the ground close to water, or in hollow stumps a few feet above the water, even in washtubs set on a short pole above the water, but if you ask a prominent gooseologist if they ever nest in a tree thirty feet high, he will laugh at you. Still, I have the photos showing that one did. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t the same one Sondra photographed last week, because I remember they both looked so similar. And while it was Sondra who photographed the goose, it was me who done the paddling.

If you are an aspiring photographer wanting photograph the river and it’s life, you might hire me to paddle if you bring a really, really good lunch with a strawberry pie for me, and let me have it all. If you want to see Sondra’s goose photos, just go to my website, www. larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com where you will never ever see any photos of crows, eagles, blue-herons or pigeons… unless they are carrying a pig!

You can bring your camera and come along on the day-long trip we are going to take to a wilderness area on Truman Lake next Saturday, complete with a fish fry dinner and two three hour hikes through some of the prettiest woods you’ll ever see. Details of that trip are also on the website, or you can call our office, 417-777-5227.

Our swap meet was a great success, the biggest crowd we have ever had, about 2,000 people from five states, and one lady who came all the way from Tennessee. I want to thank the people who donated to the church that day, who will use the $476.00 collected for the needs of children of that area. It was great getting to meet so many of you. Thanks too, to Southwest Baptist University for allowing us to borrow 40 tables, as they have for the last five years. Without their help there would be no swap meet. And of course, thanks to the people of the Brighton Assembly of God Church for providing their gym, and their help. Assistant Pastor Mark Cross is the secret weapon we have, that means there are no problems which arise that can’t be solved.

Write to me at Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or e-mail me at lightninridge@windstream.net.