From the Archives

Craig Duff at 25 years old in the Daily TexasLast week, my friend Brian gave me a gift that was a blast from the past. While cleaning out his parents’ house, he found some old articles he had saved from our days in graduate school. This photo is from an article in The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin.

It discussed my thesis documentary project, an hour-long film that chronicled the work of a couple who were fighting a quixotic battle to repeal the death penalty in Texas.

I barely recognize the man in the photo. But, luckily, Elton John and I have the same prescription, so I could wear his glasses.

Rediscovered Photo

Craig at ruins near Luxor

I just found this photo on my hard drive as I was cleaning out some space for other files. It was taken by the father of a visiting student at the American University in Cairo. She was studying Arabic for a semester in a study abroad program from her college in Michigan. I met the family when we shared a table on the Nile cruise I took with my mom and sister. The student’s mother wore a hat with a propeller on it, so I could always spot her in a crowd. In fact, I used it to navigate my way back to our group, when I would ditch the organized tour to take photos on my own. The father was very kind to send me several photos he had taken, including some with a fish eye lens. Unfortunately, his original email got deleted somehow, and I’ve completely lost touch.

But I love this photo, taken at one of the ruins in Luxor. I think it’s at the mortuary temple for Hatshepsut.

Congratulations Peggy & Bud

Peggy & Bud and groupThis afternoon, I joined my father for a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for his cousin Peggy and her husband Bud. In a community hall in San Miguel, California, Peggy and Bud’s children and church members planned a lovely afternoon celebrating a half century of marriage.

It was a pleasure to meet them. Of course, I went into documentation mode, snapping photos like a mad man, and I’ll share all the images with them.

Tomorrow, I hope to see my great aunt Ruth, who I only met once when I was a year old. She is frail, in her nineties, and lives on the olive ranch with Peggy and Bud out here in San Luis Obispo county.

Peggy & Bud

50 anniversary party for Peggy & Bud

Opposite San Francisco

One of my favorite places to view the city of San Francisco is from the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

It’s just across the Golden Gate bridge to the north the city, and a quick turn under the highway and up the cliffs leads you to some amazing sights. There are WWII-era bunkers with extraordinary views, and former barracks turned into park buildings.

I’ve been coming here since the days when I produced an environmental TV series for CNN/TBS. Peggy (reporter), Greg (photographer) and I would come up here to shoot pictures, do on-camera stand-up segments, and hang out for sunset.

The air is crisp. the Pacific waters mighty, and you can forget you’re only a few miles from town.

Yesterday, I parked the car and walked down to a beach where I sat for an hour and saw nearly no one until I left, when I noticed there was a naked guy doing tai chi near a cliff on the opposite end of the beach, and a guy with a bicycle was heading back up the steps.

Not sure how he got down to the beach — on wheels or on foot.

The bicyclist, I mean.

I assume the naked guy got there on foot. And in pants.

Here are some shots of the Point Bonita lighthouse on a craggy outcrop of the headlands, a view of the bridge from the Sausalito side, and a rose in Golden Gate park near where my friend Brian lives.

rose in Golden Gate Park

Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun…

…on the bayou.

Bayou tree & moss in black and whiteOn Facebook yesterday, I twittered a dilemma I had about what to do that afternoon. Should I go to the French Quarter to find the blind man who uses a pony instead of a guide dog, or should I go to the bayou on an air boat?

Since I had no idea where to look for the blind man, I opted for the air boat, and some nature time away from the city.

Captain Kevin — a mid-twenties Cajun kid with an infectious, high pitched laugh — took six of us out from the docks at Jean Lafitte, Louisiana, to the backwater bayou, where canals were once dredged for the lumber trade that harvested cypress trees in the early 20th century.

The canals make great pathways for the air boats, with a canopy of cypress limbs and spanish moss, and some wildlife — gators, egrets, cranes and turtles.

Within a few minutes we spotted our first alligator, a three foot critter, ambling near the bank. Kevin says he estimates a gator’s length by gauging the distance between its nose and eyes. If it’s three inches, then the gator is about three feet long. That’s about how long this one was.

Kevin and Gator“Alligators grow about a foot each year for the first six years,” Kevin said in a thick Louisiana drawl, “then they slow way down and only grow about an inch each year.” Which means the record alligator to be seen in these parts, which Kevin said was 13 feet long, must have been plenty old.

“They can live to be 70 or 80 years old,” Kevin said.

I have always wanted to ride on an air boat. I have mental images, from TV in my youth, of Marlin Perkins of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or Jacques Cousteau gliding across the everglades in search of charismatic megafauna. What I wasn’t expecting was the noise. The ear protection was a necessity; the revving of the V8 engine and the roar from the prop were deafening.

Captain Kevin and a gatorKevin paused in the bayou and the engine sputtered to a halt. A gator came toward us. “We got this one on the payroll,” Kevin said as he pulled out a bag of marshmallows. He smacked the marshmallow on the water’s surface. The gator sensed the vibration and came toward him. A few marshmallows later and Kevin got a little bolder with the animal, lifting it out of the water by a fold of skin under its chin.

With that gator getting a little tired of being teased, and its belly full of marshmallows, Kevin led the boat further down, then stopped and ran the nose of the boat up onto the bank. He had spotted another alligator, about six feet long, and he lured it to the bank, where he did a few more antics with it, getting his hands near its mouth, trying to get it to crawl up on the bank.

Later, he pulled a young gator out of a little red cooler he had on the boat. It was about 8 months old and less than a foot long. The group took turns holding it.
The skin was softer and dryer than you’d imagine.

I’m not much for the gator handling. I’d prefer they let the animals be and just let us enjoy the ecosystem. But in spite of it, I did like being out in nature, viewing the marvelous environment, the bright green of the trees and water plants, the chocolate brown tannins in the canals, the cypress knees and mossy islets.

Kevin fired up the engine and we glided out of the bayou canal, into a larger waterway, and out through a marshland covered green in irises and lotus plants. He stopped the engine, which spat and choked for a few minutes before finally halting, and then we could hear crickets, cicadas and bullfrogs.

He told me he takes groups out bow fishing in the evenings. They hunt red fish and gar with arrows tied to strings. I’d done it before in Texas, when I worked with the filmmaking division of the parks and wildlife department there. When I make it back this way again, I might give Kevin a call, pick up a bow and try my hand at it once more.