Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tour de Ohio

I spent the Memorial Day weekend in Ohio with my Mom. I did a few fixit jobs in Mom’s house, planted flowers in her yard, and Mom and I took mini-roadtrips together through the Ohio countryside.

Mom no longer drives, yet she loves getting out and going places. Whenever I visit, I get into what I think of as my “Driving Miss Daisy” frame of mind, taking Mom wherever she wants to go: The town where she grew up; the cemetery where my grandparents are buried; the small town where Mom and Dad lived when they were first married; an Amish village where Mom and I enjoy stopping for lunch. This past weekend we also took in a Memorial Day parade.

These are nostalgic trips, and sweet.

I know I'm fortunate to have such a swell traveling companion.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Green Stuff

This is the time of year when my To-Do list of outdoor jobs grows as fast as the weeds that we’re struggling to keep out of our garden...and believe me, that’s FAST!

The weather is slowly -- painfully slowly if you ask me -- beginning to warm up. We’ll have several days of cool-ish, wet weather, followed by a day or two of sunshine and mild temperatures. This weather cycle seems to be just what plants like the strawberries and lettuce in our garden (and the grasses in the pasture of Pumpkin the goat) need to go into mega-overdrive growing mode. I go outside thinking I’ll spend an hour picking weeds from the vegetable garden, only to find that the herb garden too needs work. Then I notice that nettles are out of control near the wood pile and I’d better do something about that. And so the tasks just go on and on...

It’s hard for me to grasp, but stuff in our garden -- and in the gardens of our friends who sell produce at our town’s Saturday Farmers Market -- is growing so fast that we’ve already begun the process of harvesting and canning (“harvest” feels to me like a word that should be used in October, not in June.) Leah spent a day last weekend canning asparagus, and life had a decidedly green feel to it.

Though I’d promised weeks ago that I’d pitch in and help with the canning this year, it turned out that Leah did the asparagus herself...while I worked outside, trying to stay ahead of weeds and nettles and other plant life that’s so out-of-control pumped-up on the growth hormones of spring.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seeing Climbers

In the 35 years I’ve been working as a photographer, many of the events I’ve photographed are things I can’t personally do.

--I’ve shot more major league baseball games than I can count, yet I can’t throw a hardball, laser-beam straight and without a hop, from right field to second base; and I can’t hit a 95-mile-per-hour fastball (both are impressive enough skills when you watch a game on television, but they are freakish -- and also poetic -- when you see them, as they say in sports, up close and personal.)

--I’ve covered political campaigns, though (thank gawd) I’m not a politician. I've seen the passion that human beings bring to the free exchange of ideas.

--I’ve even photographed food, beautifully prepared and artfully arranged for the pages of gourmet magazines, yet my own cooking abilities in the kitchen don’t extend much beyond scrambled eggs.

Empathy is what matters in photography.
If you can feel it, you can photograph it.

Several days ago, however, I did pictures of something I have actually experienced firsthand, something I know and personally enjoy doing, and I could barely contain myself and stay on my side of the camera. Kids from the Seattle-area Tibetan community were taking a rock climbing class, and I photographed the event (on a volunteer basis) for the community’s web site, as well as for my own long-term documentary project.

Watching the movements and faces of the novice climbers, I could see moments of grace and exhilaration, but also expressions of anxiety and even fear. I took pictures reflecting the range of emotions that I myself have experienced when tied onto a rope and moving up a rock.

Yes, it might have been fun for me to join the kids in the class and do a little climbing, but the truth is that over the years I’ve learned to “participate” by watching and seeing. Antsy though I might be sometimes, my best role most days is to be the man behind the camera, not up on the rock.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Buying a Phone

Though it seems that every one of my friends has an iPhone or an Android or some other breed of hipster Smart Phone, I have been a holdout, limping through life with a beat-up, 10-year-old dumb phone that doesn’t connect to the Internet, play music, or mix margaritas. Even folks I know who rail against consumerism and reject better-living-through-technology got swept away by the cultural/consumer tidal wave that is the Smart Phone. And still I resisted...to the point that I was beginning to expect that Steve Jobs might personally show up on my doorstep and ask how it could be that I could live without an item that has become a perceived essential of human existence in the developed world.

I can be contrary that way: The more a thing becomes accepted, the more I sometimes reject it.

Thus, if you felt the earth quiver a bit under your feet this week or experienced some other disturbance in The Force, it might have been the result of a trip I made to the Apple store to purchase, at long last, an iPhone. Now, finally, I am one of the Cool Kids. The $300 I spent on my phone means I’m doing my part to support the American economic recovery. And I won’t have to explain to clients or potential clients that I’m late returning their email because I was away from my office computer.

Now I can, if I chose, always be connected...though don’t count on that to happen, as I suspect I’ll leave my phone behind as often as I carry it with me. I am, after all, a contrarian.

The pictures I’m sharing today, shot in our kitchen, are examples of things that matter to me much more than even the most wondrous of gadgets: Vision. Imagery. Exercising my way of seeing.

The marbles are among the items --found objects, mostly, like shells and empty bird nests and drying flowers -- that we collect and keep on our kitchen window sill.

I might add (with apologies to Mr. Jobs) that I did not use the camera in my new phone to take these pictures.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In the Garden

I’ve got Big Plans for growing and foraging for food this summer, and Leah has said she’ll allow me to assist her in what we both know will be a huge job: The eventual canning and preserving of everything we hope to put aside to eat next winter.

It is a shift of mega proportions in the way things are done here that permission has been granted for me to be Leah’s sous-chef, because, in the 30-plus years we’ve been married, Leah has always been Empress of all things Kitchen.

Yours truly, the Knight of No Cooking Skills, has known better than to trespass in Her Highness’s domain in this particular castle.

We have three gardens outside -- separate plots for vegetables, strawberries, and herbs -- and, despite a cool and wet spring, all three spaces are already off to a promising-looking start. I dug out winter’s weeds and debris, turned over the soil, and we put up new fencing to keep the chickens from nibbling away at our foodstuffs. The strawberry plants are lush and will be blooming in no time. Leah has so far planted peas, spinach, salad greens, and onions in the veggie garden. The herb garden has parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (we are, of course, gardeners who came of age under the influence of Simon and Garfunkel.) And there are other, less lyrical herbs as well.

Beyond the confines of the three produce gardens, fruit trees -- apple and plum, mostly -- are in full-out bloom, a profusion of spring’s exuberant excess. Ornamentals like the magnolia are a visual temptation, luring me away from my work in the gardens (I always keep a camera nearby for these kinds of welcome distractions.) And there are visitors too, mostly little green ones, like the fellow I photographed on a tulip petal.

Spring is a pretty swell time of year, and I’m jazzed too about a summer and fall when I’m finally allowed to learn the secrets of what goes on in the kitchen.