Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Inside the box~

At Thanksgiving time, I always think back to my years as a young teacher. It was traditional to have students list all the things they were thankful for. But I was a think-outside-the-box teacher, and I urged them to think beyond what I thought were the obvious things to be thankful for.

Yes, yes, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, I'd think, as I listed their comments on the board. Sure, food and pets. Yes, of course, your house.
"But what ELSE?" I'd ask.

They were silent.

For these seven- and eight-year-olds there really was nothing else. What they were thankful for fit neatly into the box.

And I've come to realize this is true for me, as well. My box is full of the obvious blessings. What ELSE could I ask for? What else really matters?

The blessings outside my box--and there are plenty-- are mere frosting on the cake...or should I say, stuffing in the turkey?

Happy Thanksgiving. May your boxes be full. May all your thorns have roses.


Giving Thanks For *You* (2007)

Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.
Alphonse Karr

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Just for fun...

Sometimes it’s fun to photograph something different, something playful,  to take a break from  landscapes and sunsets, as much as I love them. Fun to shoot something I could never do on my own.  So I was happy to have the opportunity through the Plymouth Digital Photographer’s club to do just that. 

Roy Marshall, a member of two local camera clubs, did the prep work, setting up a sophisticated system that relies on perfect timing, with strobes designed to flash in time to catch the split-second of action--in this case,  a splash of colored water.

Roy partially filled three brandy snifters with colored water and set them on a platform. About twenty of us stood behind our cameras, which were perched on tripods, and focused on the glasses. Then Roy pulled the platform up a short incline, and lights were turned out.   

In this pitch-blackness, we clicked open camera shutters, using "bulb mode," which allowed the shutter to stay open until released. We waited for the platform to be released to slide down the incline and come to an abrupt stop. This triggered the high-speed flash to light the snifters so we could capture the resulting slurp of the colored water.

Fun. Different. Pretty cool!

Roy's Suggested Camera Settings
• ISO 200

• F Stop: about f/11 to f/16

• Manual focus

• No auto focus and Anti Vibration off

• Camera on Blub or able to have a 2 to 4 sec. exposure.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cause and effect ...

A local man, Michael, was killed when the North Tower of the World Trade Center, where he worked on the 105th floor, collapsed on September 11, 2001.

For the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, a monument in Michael’s memory was designed and built by an architect from his town, and was to stand somewhere in the section of the town cemetery dedicated to veterans. 

The architect wanted two things: granite of a certain grey color that to him signified somber respect, and granite that was quarried in America.

He searched for granite wherever it is architects search, and eventually found just the grey he’d envisioned. And it was quarried in America -- Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to be exact – a perfect and symbolic touch for a 9/11 monument.

It didn’t take long for those in charge of the 9/11 ceremony to pick the proper spot for Michael’s monument.  It was placed just behind the Iraq memorial … because the attack on the World Trade Center had spurred another man from this town, Shayne, to enlist in the Marines.

Shayne served in Iraq, where he was killed, in effect, because of the attack that killed Michael.

I don’t know why it is that these connections have stayed with me since September 11th, when I covered the 9/11 ceremony for the paper.  But I keep thinking about the links people share.

Sometimes, as with Michael and Shayne, the connection is tragic. But I’d like to think that more often good comes to others through the unseen threads that stretch from person to person.

Then there are the coincidental connections that tie up the ragged ends of loose threads in a more satisfactory way -- such as finding the perfect granite from a town that serves as a burial ground for passengers of United Airlines Flight 93.

This story, of course, begs for further examination of cause upon cause, decisions upon decisions, going way back that ended with these men, and so many others, in a cemetery.


"A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one." ~Heraclitus

The rest of the story...


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Timing is Everything~

I was in Rockport recently, a picturesque North Shore coastal fishing town. It’s got a small artsy village where tourists roam the narrow street that leads to Bearskin Neck and a view of the ocean.

Bruce and I stopped to watch a cat hunting a grasshopper in a raised flowerbed, that  bordered the roadway. The cat was quick. She darted and leaped, following the erratic hopping of the insect.

When the cat looked right, the grasshopper leaped left,  perching triumphantly on a zinnia. I thought briefly of scooping it into my hand and moving it farther away from the cat, who was still searching.

Then the grasshopper hopped onto my foot, but before I could walk away--taking it with me out of harm’s way--it made a dynamic leap into the street ... where an oblivious tourist immediately stepped on it.

The crunch--like biting into a potato chip—stayed in my ears. The unexpected unfairness of it still lingers.

The man continued walking; the cat went on hunting. And I was left to think that surely there was a moral to the story. Or at least a lesson.

But all my lessons seem too grim. This was only a tiny slice of a grasshopper's life, and why should I expand it to mean more than just unfortunate timing? A little good luck followed by bad. 

Timing is everything.


Monday, May 9, 2011

A bird in the hand~

Recently I had the privilege of going with a group of photographers to a bird banding station in Plymouth—Manomet Center ForConservation Sciences.  In the roughly forty years the center has been operating, the center has banded more than 350, 000 birds.

The coastal acres are thickly wooded. Fine mesh nets edge trails and capture low flying birds. Volunteers check the nets hourly and gently extricate any birds that have become entangled, then band them and send them on their way. 

Because the staff knew we were coming—twenty of us with our cameras—they had held onto a few birds for us to photograph up close. 

What became quickly apparent was the personality of each species. Some are cooperative and preen for the camera, some are flighty and flustered at being the center of attention, some peck at the handler, and others resort to unusual postures, like the blue jay who bent its head at a ninety degree angle to its body and stuck his beak in the air, resisting gentle "rearrangement" attempts for the camera .  Some just patiently await release.

The birds were in the care of volunteers who know just how to hold them and what to expect. They are calm and measured and make no sudden moves to startle the birds. In fact there are several previously banded chickadees who’ve discovered that the food placed in walk-in traps is worth repeated capture and release from such kind souls.

But as much as I appreciated seeing the birds up close, and as much as I recognize the value of the ongoing study of migrant birds, I couldn’t shake an uncomfortable feeling at seeing such wild creatures in human hands.

How would I do if a being many times my size clamped an ID to my ankle and then said, “Go in peace?” I'd probably be one of the species who peck at the handler. The birds seem none the worse for their momentary fear. I’d still be having nightmares…unless I was in hands as gentle and caring as those at Manomet. 


I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will...~Charlotte Bronte

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sunrise... my new friend~

Since I retired, I don’t often see the sunrise—by choice. No more setting my alarm. I wake when I wake, and it's usually well after the sun has broken the horizon.

As a photographer, I know this cuts out the best light of the day, but what's wrong with sleeping late and going after the sunsets? 

Recently, I joined Plymouth Digital Photographers, an online photography club that has frequent live meet-ups to shoot at various places in the area.

A twice a year opportunity arose this week to photograph the Bourne Bridge and the Railroad Bridge with the sun rising beneath them both! The same alignment happens again in August, so I’ve been told.

So when my alarm went off at  4 a.m., I dressed quickly, got my camera and tripod, and set off for Wareham, a town on the "mainland" side of the Cape Cod Canal-- a forty minute ride from where I live. 

The forecast was iffy;  it had rained off and on in the night. Who wants to wake early if the sun might stay in bed?

Still, I made myself go. And the sun more than rewarded me and the one other lady who showed up. Not only did we get some beautiful shots, we chatted over coffee and bagels afterward.

This early morning trip revived my love of early light.  I just may set my alarm now and again. In fact, I'm sure I will.
Click on photos to enlarge.

"The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once..." ~John Muir

Friday, March 25, 2011

Winter's just pouting~

You think I LIKE working overtime?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Going, going, almost gone!

Winter on the way out?

Vote yes!

I always toss my camera in the car, so when I parked in Ikea's parking lot this past January I took a picture simply because I liked how it looked. Reviewing shots today, I thought the picture used its 1000 words to say exactly what I'm feeling.

Good bye winter. Hurry spring.
Springtime is the land awakening.  The March winds are the morning yawn.  ~Quoted by Lewis Grizzard in Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You


Sunday, March 6, 2011

That voice we all use~

 As I walk down the carpeted hall of the assisted living facility to visit my mother, I notice several new “welcome” signs hanging on the doors to other rooms. Residents have died and left a vacant room. There is always a waiting list.

My mother’s door is ajar and I peek in.  She’s on her couch watching TV. How small she looks, and how alone!

I tap several times before finally walking in saying, “Hello--oo!” in that cheery voice we all use in such situations—the ones the nurses use upon entering to give her her pills.

She turns to look. No expression.  And then, like an iron that has been plugged in and slowly warming up, I see a puzzled look in her eyes, then a glimmer, a spark of recognition, and then she smiles.

“So good to see you,” she says.

She’s good at this game, my mother is. The one where she’s lost in time and place, but manages to fall back on social niceties, the right words, the right expressions, so that no one suspects she has no idea who she’s speaking to.

And because this might be the case, I say, “It’s Ruthie, Mom.” I add “mom” for additional information to help her place me. Just in case.

“I know who you are,” she says firmly.  “How could I forget?” And I believe her because I need to, although once she told me that her memory of my father had slipped away.

She flips off the TV, a politeness she’s retained from a time when people never entertained visitors with the TV on. Then it is up to me to fill the silence. Conversation that is mostly questions asked while I water her withering plants and read the cards she’s received: Have you been playing Bingo? Have you been exercising? Have you met your new neighbors?

“No,” she replies to all.

But, I think, she must still play Bingo. I see new prizes --stuffed animals-- on the back of her couch.  And I hope someone makes her exercise, other than the walk to the dining room three times a day. And surely she would have been introduced to the new residents at dinner. 

But she doesn’t remember so the answer is no.

I see on her daily schedule that there is a man who will entertain on the piano soon. I think she’d like the music, the time away from the TV.

But, no, she tells me. She doesn’t want to go listen to the man play the piano. 

“I’ve heard him,” she says dismissively, making piano playing motions with her fingers.

“I used to have friends here,” she tells me, “but they’ve all moved.” A pause, “Or they may have died.”

“I guess it’s not as fun doing things without them,” I say.

“No, it isn’t.  But I have my TV,” she hastens to add, “and I can choose any channel I want.” My mother so seldom complains and when she does, she finds a silver lining…even if it is lead grey.

“You know, Mom, I’m sure that the new people want to make friends.  They must be lonely, too. You can do things with them.”

“They’re younger,” she tells me.  So she has met them.

As the conversation limps on, she tells me four more times that she used to have friends here. 

It makes me sad that she doesn’t remember that’s she’s said this, but that she remembers the loss.

Soon she says in that voice we all use when we want to bring a visit to a polite close, “So good to see you. Do come again.”

“I will,” I say, giving her a kiss goodbye.

I cannot forget my mother. She is my bridge. ~ Renita Weems

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Egypt in our living rooms~

I met an old friend I hadn’t seen for years—decades, actually—in the supermarket today. We talked about life: snow, more snow coming, husbands, husbands shoveling, and, of course, our kids. And snow!

Not once did we talk about the situation in Egypt, although I went home to the constant news coverage; maybe she did too.

It’s so odd:

… to think about filling the bird feeders because another storm is coming this weekend—another!—while watching the footage of cars mowing down people in Egyptian streets.

…to compare prices of vitamins, knowing that shops have closed in Cairo. No food, let alone vitamins for sale.

…to drive down streets narrowed by snow, knowing people narrow Cairo's streets.

…to watch my son toss in free throws in his college basketball game, while other mothers' sons toss Molotov cocktails.

…to live an everyday life, while, right in my living room, I see others, miles across the world, living their not so everyday lives, wanting what we all want: happiness for their loved ones… and freedom.

But happiness isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition. It never was and never will be. What makes one group happy makes another miserable. Yet, we’ll all choose sides. It’s what we do.

Some, of course, think they have all the answers. But that’s nonsense. It’s all a house of cards that stands or falls depending on any number of possible events, and none are predictable. It’s like driving in the fog. Who knows what will appear on the road ahead?

There’s enough analysis to sink a ship. But after watching the same footage over and over in our living rooms, to think we have a grasp on the bigger picture is foolish.

And so it goes. Everyday life. Chaos. Violence. More snow… and feeding the birds.

Those who hate most fervently must have once loved deeply; those who want to deny the world must have once embraced what they now set on fire. ~Kurt Tucholsky

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The groundhog says...

Drum roll, please!

Phil, the famous weather prognosticating groundhog of Punxsutawney, PA, will be closely watched on February 2, as he has been for 120 years. Not the same groundhog, of course, although some say he is: magic punch fed to Phil each summer lengthens his life by seven years. 

And who knows? Maybe. Sometimes it seems like meteorologists may have been sipping some sort of punch…although, I must say, they’ve been accurate about the snowstorms this winter.

If Phil sees his shadow when he pokes his head out of the burrow, he'll scurry back inside for six more weeks of winter. 

But given the current weather across much of the country, sun and shadows seem unlikely. That would mean an early spring!

Except that, while Punxsutawney Phil has forecast an early spring 14 times in his 114 recorded predictions to date, his predictions have been correct only 39% of the time.

So we might be better off if he does see his shadow.

But don’t tell poor Phil that spring--the vernal equinox--is a fixed date based on when the sun is directly over the equator. This year it will arrive officially on March 20, at 11:21 p.m. So there’s a bright light at the end of winter’s six-week tunnel no matter what Phil does.

Whether the mounds of snow we have now will melt by then is another story. And I’m betting we’ll still have mounds of it left.

But in any case, even for those of us who like snow, doesn’t it feel good to know that spring is only six weeks away?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Old man winter...I kind of like him~

I wished the recent snowstorm had hit during the day so I could have watched it unfold. Instead, I woke four times in the night and moved from window to window to watch the snow pile up. My husband slept through the excitement—not that he considers a snowstorm exciting.

He doesn’t share my love of storms. Not many do, it seems. They wreak havoc, of this I’m aware, and I don’t want to have people or their homes harmed. But still, I look forward to storms from the moment the TV meteorologists begin their warning hype, and I feel gypped somehow if they fizzle.

When the power went out in a recent storm, my husband gave me a grumpy look, as if my love of storms somehow had the power to stop electrons from flowing through wires.

“And you like this?” he says.

I do!

We shoveled, kept the woodstove burning, lit the gas burners on the kitchen stove with matches, so we were warm and well fed. But by afternoon the power had been out for 12 hours, and it seemed less and less likely that it would be restored before dark with so many outages across the region to be dealt with.

We could live without the Internet and TV for a while, but we decided to brave the slippery roads to get some batteries so we could at least read. Sharing the lantern wouldn’t work, and candles are hard to read by--Abe Lincoln and Laura Ingalls Wilder not withstanding.

Off we went to Home Depot where my husband discovered near the battery display some LED lights on head bands, perfect for reading because there would be no need to hold a flashlight and book at the same time.

We pulled into our driveway, but before we got out of the car, the lights went on in the house.

My husband looked disappointed. He wouldn’t get to try his new light.

Although it seems that this winter we may get several more chances.

Just a minute ago a TV announcer said, “Old Man Winter is showing the Northeast no mercy. Another storm is on the way.”

Then he entreated us to stay tuned to “find out how bad it could be.”

I will!

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm. ~Willa Cather

Monday, January 17, 2011

Oh, that old thing?

Last March I had a freelance photography assignment in Gloucester, MA. When I was done, I headed up the coast to take some shots of the waves crashing on rocky shore, windswept beaches, and the beautiful homes in the area. I drove to Rockport because I wanted to get some shots of Motif #1—the “most often-painted building in America,” according to Wikipedia.

I’d know it when I saw it, I’d thought--a red fishing shack built in the 1840s, the subject of so many paintings from the artist’s colony in Rockport that painter Lester Hornby dubbed it Motif #1.

But, like overlooking a celebrity walking the dog without her hair and makeup done, I dismissed the old fishing shack I saw as a second rate look alike. That faded, old thing? Couldn't be. Where, oh, where was the real Motif #1? 


Recently I had my chance to look for the shack again when a group of photographers met to shoot some winter pix along the rocky North Shore coast. Rockport was on the agenda. And what do you know?  The "faded, old thing” I’d dismissed last year turned out to be Motif #1-–a celebrity sans makeup. Or not without makeup, actually. It turns out that the paint used to maintain the shack is formulated to look weather beaten even when freshly painted.

Our expectations play such a role in what we see ... or think we see ... and what we dismiss as "that faded, old thing."


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The soul of a tree~

Sometimes a thing can be right in front of you, but you just don’t notice it for some reason—too busy, too distracted, or maybe there is something else that catches your eye instead.

I’ve driven by this willow countless times in the past thirty years… and never once noticed it—not enough to have it register ... as anything special, anyway. Just an ordinary weeping willow among others on the edge of a lake.

If I saw it at all, I looked beyond it at the view of the sparkling lake, reflecting the life on its shores, the island in the middle, and of course, jet skis, motorboats, and kids fishing on the banks.

But in the midst of a recent snowstorm that was busy erasing all familiar landmarks--including the lake--the tree stood alone against a background of white. I saw it—really SAW it--for the first time. How had I never noticed this tree with its delicate, graceful branches spread protectively over its two small companions?

Despite the fact that it was snowing heavily, and plows were fighting to keep roads clear for those of us who needed to get batteries because the power was out, I slowed, then turned around and went back to look … and of course take pictures.

The next day I drove back to see my tree, but the lake was back, and there was a car parked at the end of the driveway. The tree was nothing special. Just an ordinary weeping willow among others on the edge of a lake.

But I know it’s not ordinary. I’ve seen its soul. I'll look for it now whenever I drive by. It'll join the rest of MY trees that I "visit" as I drive or walk through town.


I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Setting my mind to it~

Here it is again. That turning point called the NEW YEAR, the start of which is considered a perfect moment to try, try again to do whatever it was you’d vowed to do at the start of last year, but failed to maintain for 365 days.

Why is it so hard to stick to goals? Especially when they are good for you? And even when you really WANT to stick to them?

I don’t know.

When I was slim and trim (and young), exercise was a reward in itself. I loved the relaxed feeling after working up a sweat in an aerobics class, the feeling of power after weight training, the slim, trim body with defined muscles. I exercised routinely for years and years.

Then, when I was forty-six, I had some minor surgery and had to stop working-out for a while. I discovered how nice it was to come straight home from work and sit with a cup of tea and the newspaper. Somehow I never got back into consistent daily exercise. I'd start and stop, start and stop, with longer and longer times before I started again.

After I retired, I determined to get back into shape. I searched for something that would keep me invested, even when results were not immediate as they were in the days when I could skip lunch and lose five pounds. I thought I'd found it.

When Chicken Soup for the Soul sought essays--true stories by men and women who found a way to make diet or exercise work for them--I wrote up my tale and sent it in.  It was accepted, and SHAPING the NEW YOU was published more than a year later.

When my copies arrived in the mail recently, my husband read my story. Then he looked at me and asked, “Is this true?”

“Yes, it’s true,” I said, somewhat indignantly.

“I don’t remember you going to the gym,” he said.

“Well, I did.”

It can take more than a year from submission of an essay to publication of the book, and although I’d been exercising consistently at the Y, sometime in that pre-publication period, I’d quit.  Again!

My husband asked, “Why did you stop going?”

I don’t know.

I need to let the memory of a formerly buff body fall by the wayside, and view exercise as a health insurance policy. Keeping my bones and heart strong, getting rid of evil belly fat should be front and center. I won’t ever look twenty again, or forty for that matter, but I can set a plan in motion that will keep me in good health.  But how do I jump-start the desire to do what it will take?

I don’t know.

“You just set your mind to it and do it,” says my husband.

But my mind doesn’t set so well any more. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What I need is someone to make me do what I can.”

Now who would do that?

I don’t know.

Actually, I do. Me. Who else?