During a spring of pandemic, Texas wildflowers were epic.
Thanks to plentiful late winter and early spring rainfall, they bloomed wonderfully in all the favorite places frequented by photographers.
Bluebonnets, First Place and Best in Show (Photo: Suzan Newberry)
"They were beautiful," said Suzan Newberry, this year's Best of Show winner in the annual Reporter-News/Doug Hodel Wildflower Contest. Hodel, who died suddenly in March 2017, enjoyed entering the annual contest and was a frequent winner.
Newberry also took first place in Bluebonnets (her Best of Show winner), Landscapes and Pets/Family, and was second in Color Mixes.
For grins, this year's contest added a category, for those who may not have been able to unshelter: Backyard photo.
MaryRuth Grose scored first place with a photo of a stuffed bear looking out of a window. She also won for Detail.
One entry in this category was a weed. The ample rainfall also contributed to an abundance of Taraxacum officinale, which is considered to be an herb by some and a nuisance by others.
Newberry and Grose were the only multiple winners in the seven contest categories.
Roads less traveled this year
Pets and Family, First Place (Photo: Suzan Newberry)
While many Texans hunkered down at home due to health concerns, some ventured afield to find something to brighten their lives. Perhaps these were more of a long drive than full weekend outings to stay on the safe side.
"For us, it was day trips," said Newberry, whose husband, Bob, drives and looks.
"I get the good part. I get to sit and look," she said, laughing. "We followed the wildflowers. We just started driving south."
Traffic was light on their routes, she said.
"We were careful and in the vehicle to ourselves. We were isolated, even when we got out," she said. "We never saw that many people.
"We picked the perfect weekend to go. There was hardly anyone else out."
Their route took them to the Fredericksburg-Johnson City area, and looped to Kingsland, which is about 20 miles southeast of Llano.
Newberry submitted several entries but her favorite was a spray of bluebonnets against a wood fence with sunlight sparkling through the branches of a tree.
The tree provided the shade needed to bring out the color of the bluebonnets.
She is partial to bluebonnets, Newberry said.
"I do like them," she said.
To those to who make the effort often comes the reward.
The Newberrys — she works for O'Kelley Office Supply; Bob is retired — were on their tour near Fredericksburg when they spied bluebonnets a-plenty along a dirt road. Bob was game to exit the highway and they came across a line of fence posts topped with upturned boots. They'd never seen that.
Landscape, First Place (Photo: Suzan Newberry)
Newberry picked a boot with a Texas design as her focal point. There was a windmill nearby, "but I couldn't get that boot, the bluebonnets and the windmill in the same picture. The boots went in both directions."
She has been taking road trips with Bob to photograph wildflowers since a granddaughter was 4 and a subject for photos.
"She's 11 now," Newberry said.
Budding photographer bears with it
"I enter every year. One year, I got mixed up and sent them in a day late," said MaryRuth Grose, who moved to Abilene in 2009 after 22 years in Temple. "It''s just plain fun. There are some incredible photographers in Abilene.
"I love taking photographs."
This year, she joins those ranks as a double winner.
Her bear photo captured the spirit of the Backyard award.
She joined the effort promoted online to display a bear in a street-facing window as a game for kids passing by in vehicles or on bikes. They could count the bears they saw on a particular trip.
Backyard, First Place (Photo: MaryRuth Grose)
Grose was worried that her bear could not be seen through the newly screened windows.
"But it made me smile," she said.
One morning, she was headed to the porch with her coffee and camera when she drew open the drapes. Beyond the bear she saw flowers blooming in her yard.
"I just thought, 'This is my shot,'" she said. "The poppies this year were incredible."
The bear is known as ... Bear.
"He doesn't have a name," Grose said, laughing. She explained it's a bear used to teach hearing impaired children. She has had Bear for about 30 years.
"He's very friendly," she said.
Grose also won for her shot of a poppy. She didn't even notice the buzzing bee until after she took a few shots on, of all things, her iPhone.
Her father was an amateur photographer, she said, and tried to teach her the ways of the Nikon. Now armed with a Canon PowerShot, she remembered only a few things he said.
Detail, First Place (Photo: MaryRuth Grose)
"He said, 'Take a bunch of shots and you'll find one you like,'" she said. "When I have a shot, I know it."
She grows wildflowers at her home and said they dress up the yard.
"People see my photographs and say, 'Your yard must be beautiful,'" she said, laughing. "You have to focus on something that's beautiful."
A chronic illness has kept Grose from a teaching career but, she said, she employed what she learned when helping a refugee family down the street.
Special efforts work out fine
Another winner was Troylene Stewart, who took a photo of Indian Paintbrush south of Abilene. She said the flower was so vividly red that she was inclined to tone it down to keep if from being "glaring."
She tried a variety of Photoshop tools, and got the combination she wanted with Poster Edges and Film Grain effects.
"I messed around with it," she said of her entry. "They seemed to make it perfect."
The result is an eye-catching presentation that won the Most Creative category.
Most Creative, First Place (Photo: Troylene Stewart)
"I take lots and lots of pictures," she said. "I love wildflowers."
Especially Indian paintbrush.
"Bluebonnets are so iconic but paintbrushes are every color you can imagine," she said.
She has a favorite place to take photos, just south of the downgrade of Ranger Hill.
Stewart didn't go there this year, though.
"I hope they're still there," she said.
She took her photos this year in the Buffalo Gap area and farther south of Abilene.
Born in Fort Worth but an Abilene resident since 1963, Stewart held several jobs before being employed by the Abilene ISD as a teacher and a librarian.
Stewart today works part time at P&L Office Supply.
She is, however, considering a new "job."
For years, she was involved with Girl Scouts and Camp Fire youth organizations. Her passion for photography was born as she documented events and outings.
She said she has "boxes and boxes and boxes" of photos from way back when, and she ought to launch a Facebook page to post those as a throwback project for those kids not grown up.
Color Mixes, First Place (Photo: Gary Westbrook)
And while outdoors, she said, she began taking shots of wildflowers.
"I used to get down on my knees" for photos, she said, "but I can't do that anymore."
She laughed, adding her winning photo was taken looking straight down at the flower.
No bent knees, just a winning photo.
More winners, all photos online
To see second- and third-place winners, honorable mention selections and all other entries, go to reporternews.com.
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