The notion of the knights of the ancient European world is something that warms every ounce of the average westernized male.  We have visions of knights riding on beautiful steeds with large glistening swords at their sides as they fight dragons and save damsels.  There is nothing wrong with these images of knights as they help to solidify a sense of valor. There is an idea embodied here of fighting for a cause and saving humanity from the horrors of evil.

There is something else that belonged to these knights of old that seems to be largely forgotten.  They had a great deal of faith in God.  Make no mistakes, this God was not Buddha, Ganesha, Allah or the Great Spirit.  This was the God of the Christian and the Jew.  His compound name is El Elohim or Yahweh (the unpronounceable name).  The name was considered so sacred that no one was allowed to pronounce it and to this day no one even remembers how it was pronounced.  This is the God the knights worshiped.  The God who freed the Jew and the Gentile.

We can argue about the Crusades which followed later in the knights evolution as not being of God and there is certainly enough blame to be cast there but I would like to suggest that we take the best of the knights of old and make them our own.  I would like us to start a new era of morality based on the knights inner code of Christianity. This is what drove them to fight for those who could not fight.  To be the savior of the peasant and the king.

I want us to cast off immoral thoughts, pornography, adultery, lying, jealously and hatred.  I today, make this vow that I will do everything within the power of God and the power he has given me to never partake in these behaviors.  I vow to not drink alcohol or use profane language.  You are my God and I will be your knight and servant.  I will bring my sword of scripture to bear on your enemy Satan and his followers.  I will share my faith with others and make a difference for you.  I will exercise my mind an my body to be stronger. I will be a better father and husband.  You El Elohim are my God and there is none to compare!  I will worship you and cast off the sin around me every day.

I trust and hope that everyone who reads this will do the same. Join me in taking back the western culture for Christ, the Son of the Most High God!
It was a crisp, fall morning and my brother Rick, Mom, Gram and Gramp were off to pick some apples at the local orchard.  This had become quite a tradition for the family every fall.  We would often pick several bushels which would eventually turn into apple pies, apple sauce and apple grunt.  This morning was different from other apple picking ventures, because in the open trunk of our car, in a basket sat a new puppy.  A Brittany Spaniel (now called a Brittany) my brother had named Brandy because of her orange colored spots and ticking.  This brit was unhappy at recently being taken from the company of her  mother's warm protection and was letting us know by yelping at the top of her lungs.  Needless to say my brother and I took turns trying to comfort the poor dog but on she yelped.

We didn't know it then, but that morning would start a relationship that would change our lives in many ways.  Rick spent hour after hour training this dog to sit and lay down and retrieve birds.  Brandy loved feathers naturally and would immediately get excited whenever a pheasant tail was presented for play.  There was something happening here that I don't know if any of us intended.  Day by day this dog became less of Rick's hunting dog and more like the Cuda family dog.  Day after day this dog played with socks, feathers and swam in our pool with us.  She had a look of complete intelligence I have never seen on a dog and don't know if I ever will again.

Did she hunt you may ask?  I think she did go on a hunt or two but never went on many.  She was too involved in being a pampered family dog to dream about hunting.  She had it made.  All she had to do was flash those eyes and she melted our hearts.  She was the type of dog who would sit at your feet and respect you.  She was not prone to growling or biting and was always happy to see Dad or Rick come home. By the hour she would sit at the front window waiting for any sign of them.  She would only take time to eat and play a bit and back she was at her post.   She died of diabetes many many years ago but her memory lives on in each of us.

I thought I would just write down these thoughts as I think back on our childhood pets.  All I can say in conclusion is there will never be another dog like Brandy. She was the true embodiment of the notion of "mans best friend."
As I look out the window, I can see how the leaves are mostly fallen from the trees and I know that the best of the 2013 landscapes and outdoor photography are behind me.  Although North Carolina does offer the occasional snow, it is really not something the average photographer here can look forward too.  This year I spent a great deal of time hiking the mountains of North Carolina and enjoyed every minute of it.  Yes, even the day it poured rain on me.   So I guess today is a good day to show my top photos of the 2013 season.

Coming in at number one is "T-6 at Sunrise."  I really enjoyed shooting on this early Friday morning back in September at the Smith-Reynolds Airport in Winston-Salem, NC.  I enjoy this photo because it was the photo that almost wasn't.  The morning was rather dark and dreary and only one pilot had shown up to uncover his T-6 and hang around for interviews.  About 30 minutes before I was about to leave, the sky opened up and lit the aircraft perfectly. As a side note this appears to also be the "people's choice" on my Flickr account.
T-6 Sunrise - T-6 Texan at the Smith-Reynolds Airport - © 2013 Matt Cuda

Next at number two is "Moravian Falls." This is one of those locations that has been photographed many many times, but I believe I managed to capture the falls in a more unique way.  I arrived very early on this summer morning just as the sun rose. The lighting in this little cove was so soft and calming that it seemed like every shot spoke to me.  I chose this one as the final shot from the day as it emphasizes the cascading creek in the foreground, tapering back to the actual falls before your eyes leave the photo.  This shot was featured as a winner in a KEH photo contest and won best in show at the Stokes County Fair.

Moravian Falls - © 2013 Matt Cuda

Number three is "F-86."  I like this image first because it is an iconic aircraft from the 1950s.  It was made famous shooting down Soviet made aircraft during the Korean War over "Mig Alley".  Beyond that the aircraft is interesting in that it is in a nice knife edge set against the contrast of the clouds and blue sky.

F-86 Sabre - © 2013 Matt Cuda

Next at number four is "Titmouse."  Although the name is very odd, I find the Tufted Titmouse a very inquisitive and spirited bird.  This image seems more striking than others I have taken of the Titmouse because first, it shows the bird perching on a vertical surface, and secondly it has a spider web spread across its head. The spider web shows just how much this bird forages through underbrush to find other food sources such as insects and spiders.  The photo is not technically perfect but I really enjoy it from a journalistic perspective.

Titmouse -  © 2013 Matt Cuda

At five is another waterfall that seems to keep grabbing my attention. Maybe I am a sucker for fall color or maybe I just like the serenity of cascading water.  From a technical perspective, I do like the rushing water in the foreground and the strong yellow color of fall contrasting against the soft lighting on the falls.  This photo was featured as a KEH photo of the month for October 2013.

Triple Falls - © 2013 Matt Cuda

Water was certainly a big theme this year.  At number six is a stunning falls I found in the South Mountains of North Carolina called High Shoals Falls. Photographs cannot do this falls justice in scale and beauty. Surrounded by beautiful boulders and awesome greenery, it is a symbol of total relaxation. Forget about the horrors of life because here you enter the presence of one of God's best paintings.

High Shoals Falls - © 2013 Matt Cuda

There were several others I would like to put out here but I guess I should just end it here.  What a great year of photography.  I can't remember having this much fun with photography since I was back in college.  Special thanks to my friend Buck, who went out shooting with me a couple times this year.  Also thanks to my brother Rick and his son Thomas for some good photo ops in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. I really enjoyed it.  God's creation has been a special theme in my photography and he doesn't disappoint me with his never ending canvas of color we call nature.  It is so easy to forget just how stunning our God's artwork really is.  See how intricately the feathers of the bird are woven together. This is not only so it can stay warm and fly but so it can show God's artistic side.  The raw power of water as it drops 60 feet into a dark pool, surrounded by giant boulders. Contrast that scene of rugged beauty against the soft sounds of a babbling mountain brook.  We can never accomplish this kind of art.  All we can do is capture it on canvas or film or some other medium and hope that somehow it can be done a fraction of the justice the real scene deserves.