Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/29/12)

Rather than tromping in, assaulting nature, Tom Bean, the renowned wildlife photographer, slips in to find his place, sensitively becoming aware of the scene before observing it. One can never understand anything, much less portray it, unless one understands it from within.

Setting out to photograph wildlife in a thicket of Russian sage in my front yard, Tom quietly walked through a throng of bees, looking for that moment when a grasshopper and the purple of the Russian sage coalesced, forming a frame. He almost became a part of the thicket, waiting for a vibrantly colored grasshopper to settle on a succulent tidbit. He set up his equipment, moving cautiously and gently, and then he awaited the moment. Click, click, click, and it was all over. It was a moment of stealthy gentility. Tom is a gentle man.

In an odd way, he has made his name for his work amongst the mountains of the west and their flora and fauna, but his favorite landscape is the prairie’s undulating hills and grasslands. It is almost as though he were a seafarer searching the furthest horizons beyond the rolling seas, letting his imagination “dance the skies,” or as the Psalmist wrote, “take the wings of the morning.”

Perhaps, his favorite experience is the morning after a rain storm when the skies are still clearing with dark and light clouds drifting through the sky. He likes to stretch his imagination, but then, of course, he is an artist and that’s what artists do. His imagination takes him beyond the “surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

Another of his favorite experiences is on one of those rare days in the high country when there are mists in the meadow. He sees them first in the draw below his house. He immediately races over the few miles to the upper reaches of Walnut Canyon to experience those mists in the deeper and bolder canyon. He likes to immerse himself in the experience. He does not just “get a picture.” He waits to experience the picture before photographing it.

It’s the horizon and what’s just beyond it that draws his attention, but it’s also the tiny and the particular. His mind seems to vacillate between the two, at once talking about the sky and then in the next minute talking about the composition of a bee, a flower, and a bush.

A tall man with a full head of wavy grey hair, a splendid mustache, and a magnificent set of eyebrows hovering above inquisitive grey eyes, he is from the prairies. A graduate of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, with a degree in wildlife biology, he began as a naturalist and interpreter with the National Park Service in the Black Hills of South Dakota. What better place for a plainsman to become a mountain man than the Black Hills, that curious anomaly of a mountain range smack dab in the middle of the plains. At the park there was a camera and some film, and thus began by fits and starts his life as a photographer, making slides for the presentations to park visitors at what were called “campfires.” So a wildlife biologist begins to become a photographer of wildlife and the wilderness.

Eventually, he roamed around most of the National Parks in the west from Alaska to Arizona, photographing as he went, learning from other photographers and the wildlife he photographed. He says that he always focuses on the eyes of his subject, be it a grasshopper or a human being. After that he sees the composition of the photograph even moving his stance to eliminate things like tree branches that don’t belong in the photograph. In addition to becoming familiar with the scene, he waits until the wildlife feels at ease with him.

Married to the well-known nature writer, Susan Lamb, he has a soul mate on his pilgrimage through the wilderness.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012

Photographs courtesy of Tom Bean. Dana Prom Smith edits Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared on 3/3/12.  His email address is

Saturday, February 11, 2012

THE ANSWER MAN: What's your problem?

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D.

Q. Hi! I’m Willard. I’ve got a problem. I moved here from western Illinois, right along the bottom lands near the Mississippi River, where all I had to do is stick a plant in the ground, and it’d grow like crazy, and I’ve been looking for something I could stick in the ground in Flagstaff that would grow like crazy. Can you help me?

A. Ah, Willard, you’re a man after my own heart. I, too, miss places I’ve lived, especially the mosquito infested, heavily silted flood plains along the Mississippi. I think it’s called the American Bottom. We don’t have much silt in Flagstaff. We ship it down state; however, we’re also short on mosquitoes.

Also, if there is one thing I hate, it’s excessive movement: the buzzing about, high metabolism type A, the kind who gets things done that don’t need doing. I’d like just to stick plants in the ground and watch them grow like crazy. What you want is slothful gardening.

I would recommend the onion, the second most popular vegetable in the world. Just stick in the ground and watch it grow like crazy. The tomato, a snooty vegetable, is the most popular of home-grown vegetables but, sadly, requires special attention in Flagstaff. However, that second banana, the onion, is easy to grow in the North Country. Also, the onion is the most popular underground vegetable, beating out by several furlongs the rutabaga, an ugly vegetable.

I’m a tomato aficionado, fancier, and grower with all the heartache that entails. However, I must admit that the lowly onion is as dear to my heart as is the tomato. The high metabolism, type A, get-up-and-go species are good at onions. To do the job right, you need short-season tomatoes, pricey containers, measured watering, careful fertilizing, and special soil. Also, they sometimes suffer fatal air and soil borne diseases. Not to discourage you, however.

Ground is the key as it is with everything else. Onions require a soil in which they can expand, friable, loose, flowing through your fingers. If it’s clay, they have a hard time expanding. Clay when fired is pottery. If it’s sand or volcanic ash and cinders, they can expand easily, but water flows through the stuff like a sieve. The trick is to blend clay with sand or cinders. Happily, we have plenty of both clay and cinders in Flagstaff. Then to make a more perfect union, lots of organic matter should be added to the mix, like horse manure and compost. It may not be Mississippi silt, but it’s a damned good substitute. However, making this soil requires physical activity which you may find offensive.

Being a bunch of leaves, onions require soil with nitrogen which means that it’s smart to grow onions in a bed that had beans the year before. Not only is crop rotation wise, but beans leave nitrogen in the soil. You can also dig blood meal and coffee grounds and tea leaves into the soil along with a nigh nitrogen fertilizer.

Also, onions are water hogs so it’s best to plant them in a furrow, the better to save water. We’re not cheek by jowl with the Mississippi. The easiest way to grow onions is with sets. Seeds are iffy and tedious. Sets are really new onion plants. You can buy them locally at commercial nurseries or from Brown’s of Omaha at which sells sweet onion sets. The sets can be planted as early as the middle of March, right in thawing mud and snow, which means a six month growing season, and they can be stored a couple of months afterward.

If you’re given to sloth, you may have an iffy ticker. Onions are good for the heart. In addition to requiring modest physical activity to keep your ticker tuned up, they’re jammed with heart healthy minerals, magnesium and potassium, folate, omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber. They don’t have salt, cholesterol, or saturated fat. Grow and eat onions to stay healthy. A delightful side dish: onions sautéed, alas, in butter accompanied with sliced home-grown tomatoes sprinkled with sugar. Délicieux.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012

Dana Prom Smith edits GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article was published on 2/11/12.  His email address is stpauls@