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Ken Proper was born in Ketchikan, Alaska in 1950. He helped built the cabin he was born in. (joking) His family moved to Colorado in 1952. After attending Colorado State University, he graduated in Microbiology from the College of Veterinary Medicine. Ken owns a commercial photography studio, the Proper Exposure and co-authored Then & Now: A History of Steamboat Springs, Colorado with Harriet Freiberger. Through the years, he worked as a mineral surveyor, a chemist, an accountant and a construction worker, but always had his photographic studio which became his primary source of income in 1990. He enjoys reading, writing, fly fishing, skiing and brewing hand crafted beers. Archival black & white photography continues to be his art form and fascination.
It’s strangely quiet in the back yard. Snow falls gently adding to the glacier on the metal roof of the back building. With each thaw and freeze the mass moves slowly earthward. Icicles hang precariously until the weight calves a section to the ridge-like mound building below. Running parallel with the wall a hidden valley is forming as well. In noisier times, perching birds fight for position on the feeders hanging from the roof soffits.
Poking, pushing, and brawling for a chance to eat some seed they spill a great amount to the narrow valley below. Gravity bound squirrels run over the snow mound to pick up an easy meal. Older, tired, birds avoid the battle above by feeding in this bountiful haven as well. It is a valley with risk, but with immense reward.
Only a magpie is in the tree adjacent to the building. The black patches on a white field hop down a branch for a better view. White swirls of snow spin to the snow packed path below. It flies to the roof edge loses its footing with a cascade of snow and returns to a tree branch. This black & white bird has no interest in seeds. It prefers to dine on left over French behind L’Apogee or abandoned burgers in the Old Town Pub dumpster. It is a scavenger rarely waiting for something to die. Two trees away, a sharp shinned hawk, veiled in the branches stares at the scene with unblinking red eyes. This predator, a bird eater is similar in size with the magpie but with entirely different motivation. They are aware of each other. Moments pass in silence as snow falls uninterrupted. Steel gray clouds obscure the sky. A red car drives up the alley and turns at the corner. Silence continues with an occasional twitch from the magpie. The hawk slowly lifts his wings and dives with sudden speed into the narrow snowy valley immerging with a hapless sparrow clutched in his talons. The hawk banks an effortless 180 degree turn and wings past the magpie which is leaping from the tree in blistering pursuit. Predator, prey and scavenger fly as a formation through the trees, dipping left to right, over the fence and disappear. They are gone.
The silence is broken by a chirp, then two. The bravest flies to the closest feeder quickly followed by a dozen of his brethren of the feather emptying the bushes and filling the air with calls of hunger and fearless satisfaction. Two squirrels race over the snow bank to scavenge the falling waste. They scratch the snow and pick up the sunflower seeds with two paws, cracking, chewing and spitting the hulls with seemly one motion. Birds land near them bobbing their heads for the round seeds and occasionally snatching a sunflower treat. In a strange swirl of hops, jumps and turns they dance in the valley of death. The snow falls, the glacier slowly moves and the surviving seed will grow green in the spring.
Ken Proper 2011