The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

This week’s Lens Artists Challenge is hosted by Anne Sandler and she has chosen the topic, Wildlife Close To Home.

I’m choosing home as what’s known as the entire Greater Bay Area, so I’m reaching out to the Pacific Coast.

Half Moon Bay is about 45 minutes away. That’s close to home. Right?

The Pacific shoreline teems with birds. Below is a flock of fluttering plovers (say that fast three times).     

Below, a posing black oystercatcher.

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A chapter in an occasional series of posts documenting an autumn 2021 road trip through the Midwest. A continuation of the post, Highway 52 – Southbound To ‘Heaven’

“The people who come here will be drawn…” He stops, searching for words. “Have you ever been walking down the street and stopped in mid-stride and turned in at a bookstore or a gallery you never knew existed?” People will decide to holiday in the Midwest for reasons they can’t fathom or express. ~ J.D. Salinger in the book Shoeless Joe.

Isn’t that how it goes sometimes? You find yourself drawn to a small town that you wouldn’t have known existed if not for some haphazard, disjointed string of events that happened over the course of nearly half your lifetime. Okay, maybe that’s how it rarely goes.

In the autumn of 2021, I found myself in Dyersville, a small town in eastern Iowa. A few months prior I didn’t know there was such a place. And yet my visit wasn’t a random event, one of those, ‘Oh look, Dyersville. I think I’ll jump off the highway and look around,’ sort of things.

Dyersville could have been just another one of the thousands upon thousands of small towns, dots on a map all over America that most of us have never considered visiting, never even heard of. We might, on occasion, take a second’s note of some random, tiny burgs. Maybe the name catches the eye and we wonder how there came to be an Accident in Maryland. What’s so cheery about Cheer, Iowa? Would I want to live in Boring, Oregon? Why is there Hell in Michigan and from what seed did Weed sprout in California? Maybe they’re little places we breeze past, on the way to somewhere more important. Mostly though, those small towns, those little black flecks on the map are the ciphers we ignore – cartographical white noise.

Dyersville could be one of those places but it’s not. Dyersville sucks people in because Dyersville is an example of life imitating art. Like most of the Dyersville pilgrims I wouldn’t have visited had it not been for a movie and a book.

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A chapter in an occasional series of posts documenting an autumn 2021 road trip through the Midwest.  A continuation of the post, “The Road to Lansing and the Divine Revelation”

“I just feel like the most important conversations I’ve had in my life have been at a diner counter.” ~ Ramy Youssef

October 23rd, Lansing, Iowa.

It was a sparse crowd in NutMegs when I walked in for breakfast and to figure out what to do with my day.

NutMegs. It’s a proper coffee shop. When you walk into a proper coffee shop you see stools in front of a counter; you hear chatter; you likely hear an argument or two, local gossip, local politics and naturally, sports; you hear the clink of a spoon on a sturdy white coffee mug; the sizzle of a flattop hard at work. And the smells; breakfast meats and strong coffee. On weekdays, old timers finish a light breakfast and then hang around chatting with other old timers seated nearby or, hell, even across the room. Weekends bring the families, before a sporting event or after church. The moment you walk into a proper coffee shop, even on a chilly Midwest morning, you feel its singular warmth.

Yeah, NutMegs is a proper coffee shop. At least it seemed so to this stranger from the Pacific Coast.

Plain, straightforward, knotty pine walls, maybe fake knotty pine walls. I can never tell the difference. Walk in, and to your right is a display case overloaded with empty but still delicious calories; donuts, fritters, bars and assorted pastries. To the left, a set of shelves holds some prepackaged cookies and porcelain likenesses of milk cows – Midwest kitsch.

I took a seat at a counter that was worn and shiny, the erosion of scores of satisfied elbows.

A few stools over a burly man, an empty plate before him, sat nursing a few final sips of coffee. He wore the vestments I’d become used to seeing in small town middle America; faded denim work pants (preferably overalls) a flannel or denim shirt and work boots.

This attire was always topped off with a faded, sweat stained well worn cap, sometimes pulled low, other times, like in a proper coffee shop, worn back on the head, the better to look people in the eye when chatting. Never though, is the cap worn backwards (a good friend of mine holds the firm belief that only baseball catchers and submarine commanders should wear a cap backwards. Being a photographer, admittedly one of no repute, I firmly disagree. Try aiming a camera with a brim fighting your hands for space).

Worn back or pulled low, these caps are usually emblazoned with some farm equipment logo; John Deere, Case, or Tractor Supply.

It’s a raiment I came to call, Midwest business casual. I’d yet to see a suit but I hadn’t yet visited a church and didn’t figure to. I imagined that even attorneys, accountants, bankers and the undertaker must wear some form of this Midwest business casual.            Continue reading

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