The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Prior to 2015, it had probably been more than thirty years since I’d seen my cousin. When I was a kid we used to see each other nearly every other summer. Either her family; her parents, two older brothers and little sister would visit us in the San Francisco Bay Area or we, my mom and dad, with me in tow, would visit them in Salt Lake City

Her brother and I, the second son were about the same age and we played when we were little, and hung out, as the saying goes, when we were older. She was the awkward tag along, wanting to join but getting shooed off like an annoying stray.

While much is blurred by years, there are a few things that stand out.

The time her family visited and we all went out to the beach, when she saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, her thrill of wading into the chilly giant water.

She had an undying love of animals, particularly horses. She used to collect little plastic toy horse statues.

One year, when I was nineteen or thereabouts, I joined her family and another family for a summer camping trip. It was a two car caravan. I was in the lead car and the car she was in had fallen miles behind. We came to an intersection in some now nameless town where a horse had been run over by a truck. The poor beast was still alive, but trapped between the wheels. It was a sight that every now and then returns to trouble me.

Almost immediately our concern turned towards my cousin. The scene, horrifying for us, would be traumatizing for her. My recollection is that the two drivers communicated via CB radio and the car she was riding in detoured around the scene, sparing her the sight.

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Sometime this summer, a leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito will be finalized and what many thought as unthinkable will shortly come to pass; Roe v Wade will be overturned.

Many who support choice feel blindsided. But should we?

I was exchanging texts with a friend about random things, nothing serious, when she went off course and texted me the breaking news of the leaked opinion.

I was stunned.

And then – I wasn’t.

Of course Roe would be overturned. Overturning Roe would be consistent with every heinousness we’ve witnessed over the past seven or so years.

It was the ending that many on the pro-choice side knew was coming and yet shocked when the news broke. We all suspected that it was on the horizon. We just didn’t realize that the horizon was so damn close. Going into the boxing match you know you’re going to be hit but you still find yourself stunned when the first punch lands.

We’ve always known that the “religious” right and the Roman Catholic Church were never going to throw up the white flag on this issue – never -ever. We’ve seen the machinations and mischiefs, the challenges, the laws passed and then overturned and we’ve watched it all for fifty years. Certainly we had another fifty years.

And then Donald Trump happened. After seven years of Trump  as chief barker of his carnival of the damned I suppose that we were lulled to sleep. Every outrage, no matter how big or how small became business as usual. Alternative facts, name calling, kowtowing to dictators, weekly golf outings, covering up a Saudi murder and all the daily bullshit just became commonplace. Every morning I would wake up expecting some kind of fuckery, cuss about it, issue the usual,”oh well,” and go about my day.

After the election we hoped for some relief but it was in the end, a false hope. The phantasm that won’t be exorcised still haunts the nation. He’s like Jason Voorhees, he just keeps coming back.

Probably most damaging though are the three landmines that Trump planted during his administration; Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett.

But the whole story began long ago, before Trump mattered to anyone but Trump.

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This week’s Lens Artist Photo Challenge, hosted by Tina Schell of Travels and Trifles, is all about the Rule of Thirds, a theory of composition which divides a photo or a painting into horizontal and vertical thirds, forming a grid of nine equal segments (Picture the opening credits of The Brady Bunch or a typical Zoom meeting).

The rule suggests (stress, suggests) that the central point of interest is not placed centrally but off towards a side or corner, optimally where grid points intersect.

But for one exception, I’ve not really paid attention to the Rule of Thirds when actually composing a shot. That exception is when I’m shooting sports or some kind of action which, for me, demands that the photo shows some space for the movement, whatever that movement is, to go to.

In the photo below Javier Lopez is winding up to throw a pitch. The scene asks for a big section of space for the pitch to be delivered through.

Likewise, the hockey players should have someplace to skate to,       

the surfer some water to surf towards,         

and the wave a place to break.

The “empty” space in front helps to convey the feel of action taking place.    Continue reading

September 23rd, 2021, driving southbound in Eastern Iowa. Off to my left is the Mississippi River and somewhere deep in the river bottom is an imaginary line, the boundary between Iowa and the Badger State, Wisconsin.

I’m on U.S 52, a winding highway that puts the lie to the notion that Iowa is tedium; flat as old beer, and with as much pizzazz as soggy white bread. The story has it that the Hawkeye State is nothing but cornfields and hicks, and if you took out the grain elevators, barns, silos and homey farmhouses, the whole thing would be featureless. That’s the version pushed by high brows on the right and left coasts.

From my motel in Lansing to the Field of Dreams baseball park in Dyersville, it’s a seventy-two mile drive, most of it snuggled up to the big river’s western shore. This seventy two miles is a mere hyphen in America’s longest scenic byway, the Great River Road. The complete journey begins at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, and ends three thousand miles later at the Gulf of Mexico, passing through ten states while following the course of the most celebrated of America’s grand rivers.

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This week, on her site PHOTOGRAPHIAS, Sofia focuses on the unfocused or, more formally termed, bokeh.

Bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to blur which serves to enhance the subject of a photo (as opposed to motion blur as one might see in a photo of a race car in action).

Photo Techniques magazine introduced the word in 1997 and since then blurry backgrounds have been all the rage. As you’ll see below, I like to use bokeh as a background, a frame and a subject.

It’s a cool aesthetic that I just discovered a few years ago. I always wanted every millimeter of my photos to be crystal clear (with the exception of portraits).

One day I was out taking photos in the garden and I thought it might be interesting to take some pictures of our big cactus and took some shots of thorns, through a hole in one of the cactus pads.  Below, the blurred pad provides a frame for the thorns.                                   

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young woman with sticker showing cross on mouth

“It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.” ~ Judy Blume

I just recently finished reading Art Spiegelman’s, Maus, a graphic novel that, in January, made national news – for the worst of reasons.

Maus is Spiegelman’s memoir that recalls interviewing his father Vladek about his experience as a holocaust survivor. Maus is two troubled stories; one is the uneasy relationship between a modern day son and his grouchy, set in his ways, father and the other, Vladek’s holocaust story, presented in the book as flashbacks.

It was all hands on deck last January when the board of trustees of McMinn County Schools in Tennessee, convened a meeting to express its righteous indignation over eighth graders being exposed to Maus.

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I was browsing some interesting photo blog posts and, while I wasn’t particularly lost I did find a provocative challenge – lost. Debbye Smythe hosts the the Sunday One Word Challenge and one could get lost in all the possibilities. And so…..

I hear the word lost quite often in our house. One of my grandchildren might ask, “Have you seen my backpack?” Or, “I lost my sweatshirt at school.”

I might tell my wife, “I think I lost my glasses.”
“They’re on your nose,” she says.
“Gawd. I think I’m losing it.”

During my travels though, I’ve seen other examples of “lost.”

I’ve seen things and places lost in time.
“Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not.” ~ Stephen King, The Green Mile
Route 66 was once a vibrant highway. It was the way to get from west to east and vice versa. Progress took over and bypassed once thriving towns and businesses and they found themselves lost and abandoned.   .

A sign is all that’s left of a motel in Southern California along Route 66

A filling station in Adrian, Texas. Note the gas prices also lost in time

Nevada City, Montana was once a booming mining town. As happens with many mining towns the mines were played out, the boom went bust and the remnants were lost to the ravages of time. Below is what’s left of an old railcar.

When I was in Virginia City, Nevada, a once thriving silver mining town, I walked through the old cemetery and captured a metaphor for the notion of an era lost in time – a wild horse grazing near a 19th century headstone. It’s a photo symbolic of America’s Old West.

There’s an old, old graveyard on the grounds of Mission Dolores in San Francisco. It’s a fascinating place, gray with age and lost in history. Markers here date back to 1830. I happened upon a marker leaning against an old gnarled tree. The inscription on the tablet is illegible – a soul whose identity is lost in time.

 

Being from the San Francisco Bay Area it’s not uncommon to be lost in the fog. In the image below the Golden Gate Bridge is partially lost from view.

The Quincy Copper Mine in Upper Michigan operated between 1846 and 1945. During a recent road trip the ruins were lost in fog and in time.

Please visit Debbie’s site, Travel With Intent (link here) to see her take on “lost” and those of other talented photographers.

“Plans should be ephemeral, so be prepared to move away from them.” ~ Anthony Bourdain.

Nine o’clock on a weekday morning is never a good time to get on the road in a major metropolitan area. But, instead of following my instincts and getting out of town early I decided to thumb my nose at the traffic gods, and luxuriate in the plastic, faux opulence of the motel breakfast room, indulging in free yogurt and cello wrapped muffins. Through a layer of spilled yellow crumbs and an occasional blueberry I loitered over my complimentary copy of USA Today and swilled tepid, dishwater coffee.

To those who might call me ungrateful in my sarcasm over breakfast freebies, let’s not fool ourselves. The yogurt and muffin are not free, they’re built into the price of the room, as are the sundries you find in your room. That’s why my wife has managed to assemble the fine basketful of mini-bottles of shampoo, conditioner and skin creams and little patties of soap that adorns our bathroom counter at home.

I’d resigned myself to a long sojourn in highway purgatory and when I merged onto gridlocked Interstate 35 out of Minneapolis I was not disappointed

Google Girl warned me of traffic congestion. “No shit,” I countered. “Can’t slip anything past you, huh?”

Google Girl couldn’t come up with a response. She’s like that.

My stay in traffic perdition turned out to be surprisingly short. In a mere thirty minutes the freeway was again free and I was back in farm country.

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This week’s Lens Artist Challenge hosted by Ann-Christine is curves.

Looking through the archives, I found that I wasn’t at all thrown for a loop.

So allow me to throw a few curves.

A bend in the road always adds some drama to a photo. The viewer is left to put the imagination to work. Where or to what does that curve in the road lead to?

Autumn country road, Wisconsin

At this curve in the road in Shipshewana, Indiana, the old (an Amish carriage) is followed by the new.   

In the mountains of Montana a dirt road curves into the distance.  To where?   

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The COVID Chronicles is a series of posts relating my experiences and observations during the pandemic. I hope that this will be the final post in the series. 

March 12, 2022. My wife Cora and I are having lunch at Caffe Sport in San Francisco’s North Beach, the City’s Little Italy.

Caffe Sport is a little trattoria on Green Street, half a block from busy Columbus, the main avenue that slices diagonally through North Beach.

This part of the City is a favorite of ours, a merging of Asia and Italy.

East of Columbus is most of North Beach, while to the west is about a quarter of the district, where North Beach and Chinatown coalesce in a delicious, colorful fusion. At one time the boundaries between the two districts were distinct, but over decades Chinatown expanded into North Beach so that nowadays you can hear a conversation in Cantonese while enjoying cannoli at A. Cavalli Café.

Walk half a block south from A. Cavalli to Little City Meats to buy some blood sausage and scaloppini and then cross Vallejo street for dou sha bao, at Fancy Wheat Field Bakery.  Another short walk across Broadway and you’re smack in Chinatown.

Normally there wouldn’t be anything significant about a garlicky Sicilian lunch at Caffe Sport, but today, March, 12th, 2022, it’s an anniversary of sorts.    Continue reading

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