Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Simple Gifts

I suppose it might sound a little surprising when I say that I admire the craftsmanship and art that can be created by someone who is skilled in fine woodwork, since my own abilities are pretty much limited to what I learned in Shop Class way back in seventh grade. Yes, I can handle a power saw and most basic hand tools. I can usually fix stuff that breaks around our house. But fine woodworking? No way.

Mostly, I have to admit that I just don’t seem to have the patience to shape, sand and finish a piece of wood to make it a thing of beauty, something that one could call “art.” Yes, I can and do work for hours or days or weeks on a photograph -- no problem for me in showing patience there. But could I ever make a piece of furniture or construct even the most rustic of dwellings? Nope. ‘Fraid not.

I made a trip to Ohio last week to visit my mother, and one of the things I proposed she and I do was to take a road trip to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, because for some time I’ve wanted to photograph the furniture and clean-lined dwellings of the Shakers. Mom loves “Early American” furniture, and is always up for anything that sounds like an Adventure. So off we went, leaving Mom’s home in Northeast Ohio and driving in the general direction of Lexington, six hours away. We listened to CDs of the music of Aaron Copland on the car stereo, since that composer incorporated a number of Shaker tunes (like the hymn “Simple Gifts”) in his works.

" 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right."

When we arrived at Pleasant Hill, Mom and I wandered around the village and were gently, visually transported back into the 1800’s. Though the Shaker community of Kentucky died-out in the early 1900’s and for a while Pleasant Hill fell into disrepair, the village has been restored by hardworking locals. There are tours of the Shaker village buildings and demonstrations of craft-work like handmade brooms and classic Shaker bentwood boxes.

After making that long road trip, it seemed that Mom and I did indeed “find ourselves in the place just right.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Batting Practice

I bought a new camera this week...which, to be honest, is a happening about as unusual as Lindsay Lohan getting arrested. I mean, truth be told, it seems to me like I purchase a lot of cameras. I have Work cameras and Play cameras; cameras that help me earn income; but other cameras that, unfortunately, prove to be mere indulgences -- image-making tools that seemed promising in camera review scouting reports, but struck out when life started throwing fastballs my way.

The camera I bought this week -- a Fuji X10 -- is HOT. Only recently released in the US, it is already sold-out and on backorder at most camera stores and on photographic retail web sites. I placed an order for my X10 months ago when I first read about it...and I’ve been waiting and waiting for delivery.

When the camera arrived this week, I charged the battery, skimmed a few pages in the Owner’s Manual (no pro photographer that I know would be caught dead actually reading a camera instruction book -- only geeks do that.) Then I headed out to the pasture and barn to hang out with Pumpkin the Goat (she is always a willing model.)

I don’t intend for the X10 to be a Work camera. It will be a tool I’ll use for my just-for-fun shooting. Nevertheless, I think my heart was beating a little extra-fast as I began to work with the much-anticipated camera. Without getting too technical or too inside-baseball here, there is a coming-together of several features in the new X10 that previously has been available in one camera or another, but not really in one package.

My verdict? Well, like a baseball player tinkering with a new hitting stance, X10 and I need more batting practice before we perform up to our full potential. I have a feeling, though, that soon we’ll be swinging for the fences.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Picnic & a Prayer Service

About a year ago Leah and I invited some of our friends from the Seattle Tibetan community out to our place for a picnic. Our adult guests that day came bearing gifts of Himalayan-grown tea, traditional Tibetan sweets, and prayer flags. The Tibetan children brought exuberant energy and curiosity for exploring the woods around our house, and playing in the pastures with Pumpkin the goat and Smokey the sheep. The kids’ centuries-old culture might be that of herders and traders, but these Tibetan children live in Seattle and live city kid lives.

“Eeewww, POOP!” they screeched when they saw the raisin-like droppings that Pumpkin leaves in the pasture.

When I consider the volunteer photography I’ve done at now-countless Tibetan events over the last three years, I know I’ve gotten much more than I’ve given. Last week one of my Tibetan friends whose young wife has just passed away called to invite me to a prayer service in her honor. My photographic work has led me to an ever-widening circle of human beings, and my life is richer because of them.

As I guess happens for all of us when we experience the death of a loved one or friend, the prayer service last week got me thinking about how quickly time passes and things change. Just a month ago I made the photograph at the top of this post, and this morning I shot the image below. Same tree, same string of prayer flags, but see how much has changed.

One of the lamas at the prayer service reminded us that each day of life is a gift. I hope you don’t mind that I’m using today’s post to pass his teaching along.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pumpkin Place -- NOT!

There are six families with homes or small farms on the primitive, country lane where Leah and I live. The lane is gravel, maybe 3/4 of a mile long, and maintained, quite informally, by the folks who live out here.

The lane is humble -- so humble that, for the 15 years we have lived here, it has had no name.

Recently, however, the county sent a letter to everyone who lives on our lane, stating that this no-name situation needs to be rectified. The letter said that the neighbors could get together and propose a name (subject to county approval.) Or the county would choose a name for us, and we’d be stuck with it.

We wondered: Would some county landuse/planner-type come out, look around at the six homes, and decide to name our lane “Poverty Hollow”? Or maybe “Recluse Road”? We neighbors decided that we’d better take on the naming responsibilities ourselves.

And so one evening a couple of weeks ago four families came together to brainstorm monikers for our lane (two families couldn’t make it, but said that anything we came up with would be fine with them.) We chatted about the character, the feeling of where we live. We made lists of the trees that tower over our houses (words like Fir, Evergreen, and Maple were suggested.) We also talked about animals, both domestic and wild, that live around us, so coyote was added to our list; and we wrote down the names of the horse called Wildfire, and the neighborhood dog, Yogi...though we doubted the county would approve of “Yogi Lane.”

In the end, we all agreed that the spring peepers that serenade us on mild evenings are a wonderful part of life where we live, so we settled on the name “Frog Song Lane.”

Leah and I came home from the neighborhood meeting and I stood outside the barn, looking through the barn doors at the sweet-faced goat, Pumpkin. It was my job now to explain to Pumpkin that, though she is without a doubt queen of both barn and pasture at our place, the neighbors had nevertheless given a polite thumbs-down to my suggestion that we name the neighborhood lane “Pumpkin Place.”