Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nyung Nes

I was talking with two of my friends from the Seattle area Tibetan community recently, telling them how much I’d like to visit Tibet. In particular, I told my friends, there is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Rongbuk (I have seen it in pictures) right at the base of the amazing north wall of Mt. Everest. I would like to sit there at the monastery, I said, perhaps listening to Tibetan monks chant their mantras, and look up at the highest mountain on our planet, the peak the Tibetans call Chomolunga, “Goddess Mother of the World.”

My friends grew very quiet and seemed sad. “We miss our country very much,” one of them said, and I saw that she had tears in her eyes. “My home village is not far from the Rongbuk Monastery. I cannot call there and talk with my family; the Chinese will not allow my calls.” Looking at me, my friend added: “Even you, an American, could not go there now. The Chinese have closed Tibet to tourists.”

I felt guilty and selfish for talking about my dream trip the way I had. I know my friends well (though I was unaware that the one had grown up near Rongbuk.) I know they miss Tibet. If I never get to travel to the Rongbuk Monastery, well, so be it. I can go to India, or Nepal, or Bhutan. There are beautiful mountains and peaceful monasteries there. But if my friends can’t visit or even telephone Tibet, they have no contact with family, or friends, or their history.


I spent all day Saturday and Sunday last weekend with the Seattle Tibetans at their monastery as they (and a few of their American friends) did a Tibetan Buddhist practice called “Nyung Nes” (which roughly translates to “less remaining.”) Through repeated recitations of prayers, mantras, chanting, and silent meditation, the practitioners worked to reduce or eliminate negative thoughts and emotions. Interestingly, the lama leading the practice stressed again and again that the prayers were being offered selflessly, for the benefit of others, not for those in the monastery that day.

It was an amazing thing to see and to photograph, so, for me personally, Saturday and Sunday were full and intense.

Monday morning dawned, and I realized: I may never get to Tibet, but my life is richer for having known Tibetans.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Picky, picky

Friday dawned sunny and clear, a nice change after several days of gloomy skies and rain. I had an obligation that would take me to Bellingham that day, about 90 minutes north of Seattle, and I cooked up a plan that looked like this: I’d take care of my obligation during the afternoon, then drive to a nearby viewpoint I know to photograph the sunset over the San Juan Islands.

The sky was so clear I actually found myself hoping a few clouds would develop, just to make the sky a bit more interesting. Mother Nature accommodated, and also gave me this teaching:

Be careful what you wish for.

Clouds began to build in the early afternoon, and by the end of the day the blue sky was pretty much gone. Things got so socked-in that I figured the sunset would wind up being drab, and I considered just driving home and bagging my plan for a sunset photograph. But a plan is a plan, so I drove to the viewpoint, set up my tripod, and waited.

You can see above that I was rewarded (sort of) for being a True Believer. A bit of sunset light did paint the sky, and I was able to make a reasonable image (click on the pictures to see them at a larger size.) The photographic experience reminded me of a similar evening about a month ago, the night of the rising of the big, “super-moon.” Clouds were something of an issue that night as well...and I guess I must make this admission to Mother Nature:

Sorry my lady. We photographers are a tough audience.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Trip Back Home

It’s a little difficult for me to believe -- though the year 1972 is clearly written on my negative filing sheet -- that it was 40 years ago now that I shot the photograph you see above.

I was a freshman at the Ohio State University, already wildly passionate about taking pictures, and certain that photography was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was taking all the photo and journalism courses the school offered, shooting for the OSU student newspaper, and working part-time for the Columbus bureau of the Associated Press. But, more importantly (I know now with the benefit of hindsight,) I was also giving myself personal assignments, like coverage of a Memorial Day parade in my small Ohio home town.

That practice -- to see and document everyday life around me -- was the best photographic education I could have gotten...and it has become a lifelong habit.

I was in Ohio last week visiting my mother. I planted flowers in her yard and did other odd jobs around my childhood home. Since Mom no longer drives, I also took her places she wanted to go.

It happened that my week back home coincided with the Memorial Day holiday, and, though I always want Mom to set the agenda for what we do when I visit, I hoped that one of the things I’d be able to do would be to revisit the Memorial Day parade.

For my post today, I decided I’d share a photo diary of my trip, with short captions.

Thanks for coming along.

My mom is of a generation that sometimes refers to the Memorial Day holiday as "Decoration Day." She had me take her on a two-day road trip to the part of Ohio where she grew up so she could visit the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, and place flowers on their graves.

There was a Civil War reenactment going on in one of the small towns Mom and I visited, and this fellow was one of the participants.

I took Mom to the Sunday morning service at the church she and my grandparents attended for many years, and, just before the service began, I quietly made this photograph of a sweet-faced child in the congregation.

My mom gets a good-natured kick out of my photo habit, and when she and I travel together, Mom has become accustomed to me suddenly pulling the car off to the side of the road and jumping out, camera in hand, when I see the elements of a photograph....which is exactly what I did when I saw this sunset.

Monday morning, Memorial Day, I was up early and out on quiet, deserted streets for an exercise walk when I came upon this scene near the old post office in my home town. Several hours later the high school marching band, veterans groups, and other participants in the Memorial Day parade would pass this same spot, bringing noise and human energy to the place I had first experienced in silence.

I loved the wonderful light on the face of this somber gentleman at the Memorial Day ceremony.

Lots of the folks who attended the parade were dressed in star-spangled costumes, and that included four-legged, furry types.