31 July 2012

Foundation


If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost;
that is where they should be. 
Now put the foundations under them.

-- Henry David Thoreau

30 July 2012

Could have been worse

To catch you up.  Here at the first of a new week Tal and I are in a cool house, breathing deeply of  well conditioned air -- and of relief.  Our Friday triple threat could have been so much worse.

So, first, the dishwasher.  Yes, indeed, it has to be replaced.  The plumber gave us that news late Friday afternoon.  He and his assistant took it to the recycling dump, saving us the task of (somehow) getting it into the back of the truck -- and out again.  For now, I'm washing dishes by hand.  The leak was a slow drip; the hardwood floor will dry.

The HVAC technician arrived Saturday afternoon after the air temperature in the house passed 90 degrees.  Our hero.  Talk about appreciated!  The system is fine.  A failed condenser in the compressor was all it took to send us into the sweltersphere.   I watched Tal's whole being relax as that news was delivered.  Several hundred dollars sure is better than several thousand.  Two down.

And, third, the car.  Specifically, that little pool of pink on the garage floor.  We dropped the car at the Ford dealership early this morning.  I know it's time to replace it, but I'd so been hoping to make it to 200,000 miles.  But, a new transmission isn't in its cards.  Sorry. 

The road home
The call came before noon.  As I answered, caller ID having given me a heads up, my heavy heart was in direct contrast to the cheerful voice of the service manager.  Nothing more than a couple of loose bolts at the transmission pan.  It took only $35.00 to reclaim that pretty spruce green vehicle.  I loved driving it home.  That 200,000 mile goal is looking pretty good again.

29 July 2012

Flutter by, butterfly

Granny Tarbox always -- and I mean always -- called butterflies "flutterbys." 

Think about it.  What do they do?  They flutter.  Flutter by.  Don't they?  Lillie Marguerite Hodgson Tarbox was an observant women. And she was rarely wrong, let me tell you.

Despite today's heat I took the camera out into the yard during the afternoon.  There's little in bloom, but always something interesting to see and to photograph presents itself to me when I go on a slow stroll.  To my delight -- and I'll add reassurance -- a tiger swallowtail flew into sight and put on quite a show.  I probably don't need to say that I thought about Granny.  I knew she would be right there with me on the delight meter were she suddenly and somehow to arrive on the scene.

This gorgeous creature did not stop the entire time I watched it.  For some 15 minutes.  I set the camera's shutter speed at 1/125 of a second and hoped for an in-focus shot.  That I got more than a single is pure bonus. 

While these three images were made at the abelia, this flutterby went halfway to Country Club Road (about 150 feet), returned to the area right in front of the house, visited the cryptomeria, checked out one, two, three, four crape myrtles, hovered over a couple magnolia blossoms and returned to the abelia.  Moving.  Fluttering. Rising.  Falling.  Flitting.  I could not keep up! 

Have you read the funny story about the woman who, say, stops washing the dishes to get the mail that's just dropped on the hall floor?  She reads one of the letters, a treasure from a college roommate.  That takes her to a photograph album.  The shelf where the album resides needs to be dusted, so she goes for the dust cloth.  But, there's a leak under the sink where the dust cloth resides.  To the garage for a wrench.  Through the garage window she notices that the bird feeder is empty.  Once in the yard, bird feed in hand, her neighbor calls to her for a conversation at the fence.  And, so it goes through the day.  The next time she enters the kitchen, it's time to start supper and the breakfast dishes are half washed and the water's cold.

It would be safe to say that's sort of how flutterbys go through their brief lives.  Always on the move -- and to my eyes anyway -- not finishing very much.

Finishing is my thing.  Needing to finish is my thing.  Butterflys probably don't have that need.  One of the responses Tal hears the most often when he suggests some activity or asks me to do something either with or for him is "just let me finish ... whatever -- this paragraph, this upload, this sink of dishes.  I resist fluttering.  I write out schedules.  I highlight items on my lists of things to do as they are completed.  So many people I know would ask me what was wrong were I to flutter or flit.  I don't know very many people who would judge flitting to be a wholesome thing.

How to allow myself time for both the head-down drive to accomplish and the unstructured and even aimless pursuit?   After all, with its relentless flitting, the yellow and black focus of my lens today did end up nourished. 

Inspire me flutterby.



28 July 2012

Six degrees

There's an idea, called six degrees of separation, which suggests that everyone of us is only about six steps away in terms of acquaintance from any other person on the earth.  Sounds far-fetched, maybe, but I understand that in many instances it works.  We've all had the experience of meeting someone who knows someone we know.  We've all though or even said, "It's a small world."  And, now with the likes of Facebook ...

In this post I am not referring to that theory.  Rather, the six degrees has to do with the difference between the temperature inside and outside our house.  It's late afternoon and we're still waiting for the HVAC technician.  He has called several times.  Sounds pretty frazzled.  We're mostly cheerful.  But, it's 90 degrees inside and 96 degrees in the shade of the screened porch.  Only six degrees of separation. 

It's not the most pleasant Saturday we've ever had.  We have stayed quiet.  The less movement the better.  All our meals have been cold.  The best part has been our mutual reminiscing about childhood and the unairconditioned summers we've known.  Good memories, funny stories. 

A very warm, but satisfying day.  We can survive another one if we have to.

27 July 2012

The rule of threes

Is it really a rule?  The thing about threes?  The first time I heard it was in reference to deaths coming in threes.  Made me shudder and dismiss the entire idea -- entirely.  Silly superstition.  Nothing more.

But, then there's the Trinity, the faith's one god in relationship with itself .  There's water, ice and vapor.  Most decorators would tell you to group things in threes.  Well, at least in odd-numbered groups.

Today I thought about the rule of threes.

We've had a little leak in the kitchen for the past several days.  Just a little bead of moisture along the toe-moulding between the dishwasher and the angled counter.  The offender?  Number one suspect: the dishwasher.  After some delay (and a time of hand-washing dishes), the plumber arrived this afternoon.  We were right.  The plumber and his assistant hauled the guilty appliance out of the house for us.  They will return when we have its replacement on the premises.  In the meantime?  Suds and hot water for me!

The car needed to be moved so they could get the dishwasher through the garage.  Oh, dear.  A telltale little pool of pink where the car had been.  Transmission fluid.  The car has an appointment with the Ford dealership on Monday morning.

Deep breath.  So far so good.  It's all OK.

After supper, though, I thought it seemed unusually warm in the house.  Thermostat set at 78 degrees.  81 in the house.  The HVAC folks -- called on a Friday evening -- will get here when they can.  It's going to be warm here for the next little while.

Surely there won't be anything else ...  Ending with three will suit me just fine.  

26 July 2012

More than meets the eye

This photograph of Lake Erie was made in the early afternoon from the mouth of the Welland Canal at Port Colborne, Ontario.  Most of the day had been overcast, but not gloomy.

I don't know what I'd expected the view of Lake Erie to be when we exited the canal.  Probably sparkling, bright water, high billowing clouds in a clear blue sky, lovely houses dotting the shoreline.  Whatever those expectations, an expansive wall of grey had not been among the options I'd considered. 

I stood on the upper deck for a long time -- watching, straining my eyes -- having trouble distinguishing the horizon line.  The occasional ship in the distance was a help.  I made several images, wondering what I'd get and how the various shades of blue grey would be seen by the camera's sensor.

It was only this week that I began looking at the photographs from that day.  Pretty subtle.  Lots of layers of grey.

As I began developing the image, however, lovely things began to happen.  Normally, I wouldn't push the post processing quite so far, but, oh, the intricate colors and textures that emerged.  The nearest water looks a little like a beach (which it isn't).  There is a ship out there.  The clouds are a bit billowy.  I especially like the wisps of cloud descending on the right side.  Clearly, the camera saw more than I did.

How often that is true.  And, not only the camera.  I simply don't see.  I can stand on deck, as it were, looking, watching, peering into the gloom -- seeing nothing, thinking "there's nothing here."

I so it with ideas.  I do it with people.  Dismissive.  Because ...  Because of what?  Hair style, grammar, interests that don't jibe with mine?  Without benefit of interaction I seem to feel free to categorize, to judge, to exclude.  Snobbish and conceited, without doubt.  I almost despair thinking about it.  But, I also understand that my tendency doesn't have to be absolute.  Seeing, seeing differently and deeply, is my choice, a choice I can -- and even sometimes -- make.   

This image, however over processed, reminds me that there is more than meets my oftentimes haughty eye.  There are layers and colors.  There is depth and interest.  Almost always, there is much to learn and to appreciate.


25 July 2012

So simple, part two

It's a little thing.

Wednesday is laundry day.  I actually look forward to it.  The only thing that is difficult about the entire process is folding the sheets.

Mind you, I do know how.  There is something ever so satisfying about a folded, squared up, finished set of sheets and pillowcases ready to be put away.  But, of all the actions that give my back a fit folding the sheets has come to be the worst.

A solution (which is now into week three)?

As soon as the dryer finishes, I put the freshly laundered sheets right back on the bed.  Still warm, they smooth ever so nicely.

I may grow tired of this set eventually and decide on a change of color.  But, for the moment this shade of cream is just fine.  And, until then I am grateful to be less uncomfortable come the end of laundry day. 

Trouble is, the longer I do this the more likely it is that I will end up wondering why I thought we had to have multiple sets of sheets for each bed.  The "more is better thing," I suppose.

24 July 2012

This morning's trees

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live
than other things do.
-- Willa Cather, 1913

Trees are the earth's endless effort
to speak to the listening heaven.
-- Rabinbranath Tagore, "Fireflies," 1928


23 July 2012

I see it backwards

It's a long story.  Left handed.  That's part of it. 

Before I learned better, I used to open books from the back.  My piano teacher was a little surprised when I tried playing the treble line with my left hand and the bass with my right.  And, my poor mother will never forget discovering "TENAJ" written in crayon on the paper box at the head of the driveway.  (I won't go into how energetically I denied having done the writing ...)

Lots of times I see things backwards.

so -- end of introduction -- on to this morning

I woke up right on time and knew in an instant that I wasn't quite up to par.  Nothing in particular wrong.  Didn't feel sick.  Just didn't feel good or energetic.  Talking myself out of the almost daily walk turned into an unexpectedly divisive internal battle.

Eventually, the walker in me and the photographer in me won.  The camera and I made the walk, but with a twist.  I would ride to Pine Ridge Club when Tal went over for his 9:00 tee time.

When we arrived, the parking space next to the golf pro was open.  A staunch Clemson fan, he drives an open Jeep which declares, coming and going, his devotion to South Carolina's major upstate school.

And, this morning, it happened again.  I saw it backwards.  I was delighted.  I felt better.




22 July 2012

I scream!

It's not what you think.  I'm not having a meltdown kind of a day.

My brother shared a photograph on Facebook.  That's what set off this one-thing-leading-to-another line of thought.  The title of the image is "Ice Cream!"  So, the title of the post could be nothing else, could it?



My siblings and I didn't grow up with this being a sight we beheld or an experience we had often. But, when we visited Mom's parents in Milford MI each summer, we came to recognize the sound of the ice cream truck long before it appeared.  I'm thinking "Turkey in the Straw," blaring tinny and ever closer.

Most evenings after supper thin dimes (how many depended on how many grandchildren were present) appeared on the kitchen table.  One for each of us.  That's all it took in the late 1950s.  Waiting on that paved driveway (a big deal to my mind, a paved driveway) was such a time of anticipation.  An ice cream truck just had to be one of the wonders of the world!

Children have their own wonders now.  I'm too out of touch to know what they are.  But, I hope some old photograph -- in whatever form images take, say, 50 years from now -- or a few bars of a song will transport them back to a simpler time the way this fuzzy picture did me. 

I returned to a sweet scene in my memory -- the street where my grandparents lived and where my mother grew up, a street where there were other children to play with, a street where, even though I was a visitor, I felt known and welcome. 

I returned to a moment of sterling security when the sight of dimes on a kitchen table equated to permission, to invitation and to unquestioned love.

Thanks, Paul.



21 July 2012

In my dreams

I had a dream in the night.  Must have been sparked by a graveside funeral Tal and I will attend later today.  But, the service I attended in the dream was inside, not outside.  It was in a large church, but it wasn't a Methodist Church.  The deceased is Methodist.  It was in an Episcopal Church.  Not too surprising, I guess. 

There was a huge choir and I knew the choir director. Had to stop myself from waving.  But, when my friend is not in my dreams, she doesn't "do" music. 

The choir sang a familiar hymn, what I would call a big hymn -- good harmony, one people will really sing.  (You have to include hymns like that at funerals).  Well, the choir sang the first verse.  Then, the congregation joined in on the second.  Not very Episcopalian, if you ask me.

My friend who was the choir director, who isn't really, explained that we were supposed to read the words to the final verse and think about them.  The guy sitting next to me had a camera with him.  He didn't meditate.  He fiddled with the camera controls instead. 

In the middle of all that I woke up before the alarm.  Not rested.  I think I'm worried.  Dying's on my mind.  The guy whose funeral is this afternoon.  All those people in Colorado.  People who are closer to me.  And, of course, me too.

My friend who doesn't do music.  What was she doing there? 

What do I not do that I should?  I wonder.

20 July 2012

A lament

It would be pointless to write about today's news from Aurora CO.  It's too staggering to take in.  And, we will be bombarded with opinions, images, gut-wrenching stories, pointed fingers soon enough.

It's all about loss, seems to me.  I go to bed with this touching expression of love and loss on my mind -- a portion of a tweet by Jay Meloff about his girlfriend, Jessica Ghawi, who did not survive the movie screening.

Never wanted to fall asleep because it meant missing time with you.
It might be a good idea to look at the people we love through the lens of those words.

19 July 2012

Form

Tuesday was a tough day.  Facing the truth is oftentimes very hard.

In the conclusion to my post that day I wrote this:
All I really want to do is ... feel proud of the handful of images that are really good -- and there are a few.

This what I am talking about. 



A pitcher. Yes.  Part of an exhibit at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse NY.  That, too. 

Are there things wrong with the photograph?  Yes, again.  The object is too close to the right edge.  There's a paint brush on the flat surface along with the pitcher.  I could go on.  But ...

What's right?  For me?  The way the light falls on the pitcher.  And, on the left edge of the handle.  AND, along the closest rim.  It seems to glow.

I like the curve of the pitcher, the out of focus curtain letting the viewer know the proximity of the window. 

It's all about the form.  The curves and the light.  The actual object could be anything and it could be anywhere.  Why it's part of an exhibit in a museum in Syracuse doesn't matter at all.  (A good thing since I recall none of those details.) 

A photograph doesn't have to be "of" something and it doesn't have to be static.  This one captures a moment during which I, myself, was captivated.

An image can extend a experience.  I am satisfied.


18 July 2012

So simple

The author of a blog I follow joined Toastmasters earlier this year.  Last week it was her turn to make an introductory speech.  When it was over, she posted the text to her blog.  It made for interesting, even entertaining, reading.  I wish I'd heard her deliver it.

She works full time.  Her husband is in graduate school.  Together they run a small farm and are raising four children.  In her speech she matter of factly referred to all that activity and responsibility as comprising a simple life. 

Are there challenges?  Of course.  Does she have her moments?  Without doubt.  Does it sometimes not feel so simple?  I would imagine. 

But, as I read it, she -- and they -- have sifted through all the stuff of life and have concluded that this is what we are about, this is who we are: making their work meaningful, nurturing children to adulthood, loving where they are.  Their activities are chosen pretty carefully to fit, sometimes loosely, within those parameters.  Looked at that way, it is, indeed, pretty simple -- even while cars give up, bills pile up, children (and adults) mess up.

I am glad for her clarity and wisdom.  I'm glad she gave that speech.

17 July 2012

Back from the brink

It has been a difficult day.  Nothing earth shattering.  Just what has felt to me like a long slog.  The house is clean, so having to try ignoring dust on the lamps and dog hair on the floor (for a change) isn't what has been gnawing away at my equilibrium.  Almost everything on the drafted-this-morning "to do" list has been highlighted.  I'm not beating myself up for having procrastinated.
Actually, the problem is no mystery.  It's just that I have been resisting owning up to it.

Here's the deal.  I have finally begun work in earnest on the photographs from what I'm calling the "Waterways Trip."  While we were away I did manage to download images every day, but I did nothing to or with them.  No key words, no captions, no editing.  (I described the current process of doing that in the post for July 11th.)  Until today, things have hummed along.  Today I met up with disappointment.

Many and I mean many of the photographs I made on May 23rd, our first day on the Erie Canal, are just terrible.  The composition is OK, but they're either muddy or slightly out of focus.  Initially, I tried "fixing" some of them, a process I don't actually know how to do, a process very different from what it takes simply to "develop" an image in the software program I use.

Gradually, I realized it wasn't worth it.  That the images themselves weren't worth the time and the energy I was expending.  And, beyond that, that they weren't worth the sadness and the sense of failure I felt building up inside me. 

My friend Sarah to the rescue.  No.  Not a visit or even a telephone call.  For Christmas Sarah gave me a page-a-day calendar written for busy women.  It didn't take many days into January until I began looking forward to the morning ritual of tearing off the old page and reading the new one.  About every four-to-six weeks the author, Anne Wilson Schaef, makes a distinction between perfectionism and excellence.  I have kept a few of them to ruminate over:


Excellence is being willing to take risks.  Perfectionism is being overly cautious and fearful.  (February 20th)



Excellence results in feelings of personal power.  Perfectionism results in anger and frustration. (March 31st)



Excellence is spontaneous.  Perfectionism results in control and conformity. (April 11th)



Excellence results in giving.  Perfectionism results in taking.  (Didn't write down the date for that one.)


And, here's today's page, that one brought me back from the brink:


Excellence results in quiet confidence.  Perfectionism results in doubt.


All I really want to do is put my photographs in order.  All I really want to do is (1) be happy with the memories they bring back of a marvelous time Tal and I had together and (2) feel proud of the handful of images that are really good -- and there are a few.

With all that in mind and with great calm I returned to my task, assessing what I had before me and simply deleted what I could not save.  Dozens.  It was like ripping off a band-aid, to use an over-used expression.  But, it's over.  Well, at least for that particular day.  I've not looked ahead ...

I don't know what I did wrong halfway through that pretty day, up through the Waterford Flight, the clouds puffy-white and huge, the sky a bright blue.  But, something was amiss with me or the camera.  The truth is, though, it doesn't matter.  The lost photographs don't matter at all.  Being miserable about it isn't going to help anything or anyone, least of all me. 

Yes, I want to make pictures I like.  I want to enjoy the process.  But, I'm not going to obsess over getting it right all the time -- or ever, come right down to it.  I will strive for the best I can do.

So, I'll end with one more quote.  This one -- from Maria Schriver -- a little less heavy than those from Ms Schaef.


Perfectionism doesn't make you feel perfect.  It makes you feel inadequate.



Amen to that.

16 July 2012

Sun stars

Yesterday morning dawned soft, the sky a rich shimmer of sherbet orange.  This morning was simply brilliant.  As I walked through the first curve on Woodridge Road, the low sun's rays pierced the trees.  Dazzled, I was grateful for the billed cap I was wearing and wished, although briefly, for my sunglasses.

It was only a thought, really ...  Sun stars.  Could I remember how to set up to make one with the camera?  A small aperture -- f16 or smaller. The most important thing.  I focused on the clouds, metered off the sky and recomposed. 

Ta da.



For another and slightly later effort, check out this link:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/tarboxje/7583772228/in/photostream

15 July 2012

Go, Ronnie!

Not until the local evening news did I have any idea of the honor held by the third Sunday in July. With six hours still to go before the day ended we jumped right in. Spoons poised.



It's National Ice Cream Day!

Seems Ronald Reagan's sweet tooth was not limited to jelly beans.  He declared the third Sunday in July to be set aside to honor ice cream.  Who knew?  In fact, the entire month of July is ice cream month!  I'm pretty far behind, it being the 15th already.

According to NBCNEWS.com it's also National Gummi Worm Day and National Tapioca Pudding Day.  Do you see any photographs of those two delicacies?  We're letting those two go.  Completely celebrationless.  Not making any promises -- not even a maybe -- for next year either.  It's ice cream or nothing.

14 July 2012

Define art

Somewhere over the past several days a quote skittered before my eyes.  Had to have been on a computer screen, come to think of it, part of an email message.  Finger poised, I'd had to stop myself from pressing DELETE.  In fact, I stopped all together for the time it took me to decide not only not to delete the page but to reread, to really read the quote.  I wrote it down.  Then came the click of death.

Today.  Going through the images I made while Tal and I traveled earlier this summer.  Images of the Hudson River.  I thought of that quote again, now several pages back in the journal.  Find it.  Find it. 

And, get this, 9th grade English at Winyah High School in Georgetown SC came to mind.  Our text book was "American Literature," a 1965 Houghton Mifflin publication, edited by Schorer, Jewett, Havighurst and Kirschner.  I know that because, moments ago, I plucked it from the shelf above my desk.  I could make such an easy grab because I loved that volume so much my mother gave me the money to buy it at the end of the school year.

Photographed at the Hudson River
Maritime Museum, Kingston NY
It was that delight-filled class period which introduced me not only to the likes of James Fennimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving, but to the Hudson River artists of roughly the same era -- Frederic Edwin Church and Asher B Durrand perhaps the most recognizable names.  I remember being smitten with the quality of the light in their paintings and wondering if it really could be so.  I didn't see the Hudson River in person until the mid-1990s.  The light they depicted some 150 years earlier was just as I'd held it in my 9th-grade memory.

So, this week, today.  Holding in tension a quote, my memory of some 40 years ago, images from late May just passed.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.  -- Seth Godin

Art.  I grew up in a fabulous place filled with art -- representative American sculpture.  None of those 300+ works changed me, inspired me like what I saw in my treasured textbook.*  Part of that is the fact of living with all those bronze, aluminum, stone sculptures.  Too familiar.  And, for a creatively, artistically challenged child, completely out of reach.  Those hugely idealized landscapes (also unattainable for someone like me), on the other hand, were of places I'd never been.  There's a certain amount of romance in the faraway. 

What's ultimately true, however, is that one changed me, another didn't.

That's why there's all kinds of art, I suppose.  The creators -- courageous as they are -- produce something that is part of themselves and put it out there for others to look at, to like or not, even to disparage.  I think that is the reason Godin's definition of art kept me from an hasty delete.  There's nothing about beauty in it, or it having to be aesthetically pleasing or to be generally within some set of rules.  Art, whether it pleases or not, has the capacity to change. 

Recall that scene in "Mona Lisa Smile" when Julia Roberts' character, teacher Katherine Ann Watson, introduces her students to a Jackson Pollock painting.  It's wasn't of something, so it was somehow wrong, even unacceptable.  Look closely at the scene.  The students look confused.  Their lips even curl.

Art can change the viewer, changes us.  It's no wonder controlling art and the tussle over who controls art is such a hot (and grim?) topic.

The Hudson River at the Storm King

13 July 2012

Still wandering

Since I wrote the post about Sunday's hymn and my response to it, a friend sent me a cheerful message on Facebook.  She referenced a photograph of a woman walking away from the viewer with the caption "Not all who wander are lost."  Made my day!

Off and on since then I wondered about that affirming caption.  Had I heard it before?  Where?  When?

Well, it comes from JRR Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings."  Ah, that explains all the niggling, restless throat-clearing in my subconscious ... 

So, here's the the poem from whence the line came:

All that is gold does not glitter,
not all those who wander are lost;
the old that is strong does not wither,
deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
a light from the shadows shall spring;
renenwed shall be blade that was broken,
 the crownless again shall be king.

Reintroduced


When Sarah called this week to remind me that the sunflowers at White Oaks were in full bloom, I had a moment.  It was more than a just moment.  For a vivid split second I felt myself -- I was -- probably younger than five and standing near my father's fenced garden.  So tall sunflowers bloomed along the fence.  Dad's voice was saying something about how large the flowers are and how they keep their faces to the sun.  Before I recognized what was happening I was back.  Wow.

Early memories are few.  I do in a vague sort of way actually remember the garden and the sunflowers and my father's explaining.  It must have been very early.  Time for leisure activities like a vegetable garden and sunflowers didn't last long in my father's life.  But, after that encounter I could recognize a sunflower when I saw one.

So, today, while on errands along "the Ridge," I stopped at White Oaks to make pictures.  Alone in acres of yellow saucers, loudly a-hum with bees, I let the 55-or-so years compress, stepping back and forth between locations, realities, looking at sunflowers as though I'd never seen one before. 

Wondrous.  Simply wondrous.

11 July 2012

Keeper of the light

Rose Island Lighthouse, Newport RI

If I were to try to describe this day, I'd use the term "mixed bag."  Today at long last the blocks of time I try to set aside each day for ongoing projects were for the images I made while Tal and I sailed the great American waterways a couple months ago.  This is a task I have so wanted to tackle and I am glad to have it now at the top of the list and to have begun. 

As pleased as I am, however, I have to admit that it is an incredibly tedious process.  Analyzing every individual image -- all 2000 of them.  For quality, usefulness.  Keep or delete.  That's the first decision.  Applying key words.  Who.  What.  When.  Where.  Adding a caption.   Performing a minimal edit on nearly every one.  Cropping.  Correcting color.  Dodging, burning.  Sharpening.  Again and again and again.   

I am tired.  Fortunately, the images are in folders by date.  So, I'm pacing myself.  One day at a time.

Two days done.  Fifteen to go.

10 July 2012

New eyes


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
-- Marcel Proust


My daily walk follows pretty much the same route.  To get to any of the circuits I've devised I have to pass thruogh our gate, cross the highway and go about half a mile along a street that is pleasant enough, but that I don't particularly like.

Last night there were thunderstorms all around us; before midnight we had a few minutes of rain.  Today I found the tall, overblown grasses along "the" street transformed -- heavy with water drops and backlit by the early morning sun.

The landscape hadn't changed all that much.  But, gladly, I saw it differently. 

09 July 2012

Prone to wander

I am amused by how my mind can do two things at once.  Not multi-tasking.  Multi-thinking.

During church yesterday the choir sang "Come thou fount of every blessing" for the offertory.  I'd finished preparing the altar for the communion and was standing to the side of the chancel listening.  The third verse includes a phrase that set my mind off along an unexpected track.  "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it ..."  I continued listening, but part of me had stopped and, delighted, was agreeing.

I am prone to wander.  Now, I do know that Robert Robinson's poetry is a warning about lessening one's faithfulness to God.  I am being far more literal.  To me wandering is a good thing.  I love to wander. 

What my mind did during the offertory anthem is a case in point.  I don't, physically, have to go anywhere.  In the time it took the choir to finish that third and final verse and for me to step back into my official role, I'd drifted from "prone to wander" to "I wonder as I wander out under the sky," a Appalachian folk song.  How I managed to drag myself back to Greenwood for my next line is a wonder.

This morning my Girl Scout camp experience of the early 1960s resurfaced.  How I hated that place.  A mosquito and snake-infested, muggy hot, regularly flooded plantation-turned-camp near Cordesville in the South Carolina lowcountry. 

Some positive memories do endure.  Camp songs for one.  One included a lilting polka melody and the declaration "I love to go a-wandering."  That one gave me an introduction to my true self.  I am only now at nearly 59 beginning to understand.

I found the words to "The Happy Wanderer" on line.  Like with the phrase from yesterday morning's hymn the single phrase refreshes me.  While on line I also discovered many YouTube renditions.  Concertina.  Accordion.  Fast.  Slow.  Grade-school chorus.  Lawrence Welk.  Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.  Even the Muppets (resist this link if you can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&v=YhI4q1savV0&NR=1).

A wandering mind.  A wandering heart. Wandering feet.   Not an entirely negative personality trait .  I think I'm supposed to enjoy it, actually.

Prone to wander.  'Tis I.

08 July 2012

Oh no, not a prophet

I served as supply priest at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Greenwood SC this morning.  What follows is the sermon -- and the wrenching process of composing it --  I wrote about in yesterday's post.
          It would be hard to escape the theme of the scripture readings this morning.  To use a carpenter’s imagery, the unifying idea is, “hammered home” – again and again and again.  The only reprieve from it came in the psalm, a sweet plea for mercy.  And, given how much the “P” word scares us 21st-century-Christians, looking to God for reassurance and aid and courage seems just the right thing.
          So.  Prophets.  Prophecy.  If I were to tell you the absolute truth, I probably don’t want to preach a sermon on prophets any more than you want to hear a sermon on prophets.  We’ve all experienced some pretty crazy stuff from people claiming to have prophetic power, enough that we simply don’t spend much time thinking about the topic at all.  We don’t know how to sort out what’s really prophecy and what’s not.  The last thing we want to do is believe the wrong thing or to follow the wrong lead.  I’m with you.
          That said, however (there’s always an “however”), prophecy is a component of our tradition.  We avoid it or we don’t come to terms with it or we refuse to get at its essence, we fail to clear away all the static and the half-truth and false claims to our peril.  Having an idea what is prophetic and what is not prophetic can enrich us, can even empower us.
          What do we know about prophets?  Let’s start there.  We know some names from Sunday school and major religious holidays:
·         Isaiah – For many of us Christmas isn’t complete without “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”[1]
·         John the Baptist – Remember that wonderful line?  John saw Jesus “heading toward him through the tall grass along the river-bank” and his “heart skipped a beat when he heard himself say,”[2] “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”[3]
·         And, Amos, whose most famous line might be this:  “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”[4]
Good!  We know some names and recognize some of the words.  What else do we know?
·         Let’s start with the most obvious.  Prophets seem a little bit odd, maybe crazy.  John the Baptist was a sort of survivalist loner who ate bugs.  Ezekiel, just before this morning’s reading, saw “these gleaming wheels with spokes and rims and things that looked like eyes built into the rims” and “creatures who flew around with the wheels and made a noise like thunder or a sonic boom.”[5]  It’s no wonder we steer clear.
·         Prophets were human.  Let me rephrase that.  Prophets ARE human.  Every one of them.  In the past and in the present.
·         “No prophet is on record as having asked for the job.” [6]  Ever.  Isaiah wanted to know, “How long, O Lord?”[7]  Jeremiah told God he was much too young for such duty.[8]  Moses, full of but-what-ifs, didn’t see himself as much of a public speaker.[9]  Reluctant, all of them.  Full of excuses.
·         The word “prophet means spokesman [or spokesperson, but it does not mean] fortune-teller.”  In their unfathomable audacity the one for whom the prophets claim to speak is God.  They speak at God’s behest.[10]  They are not clairvoyant; they do not proclaim themselves.
·         Prophets can seem angry with the world, railing against what they see as being wrong.  But … one writer I really admire says this.  “A prophet’s quarrel with the world is deep-down a lover’s quarrel.  If they didn’t love the world, they probably wouldn’t bother to tell it that it’s going to Hell.  They’d just let it go.  Their quarrel is God’s quarrel.”[11]A prophet, when all is said and done, wants the best for the people whom he – or she – is addressing.  If the words are bitter and the demeanor is vengeful, it’s likely not prophecy.
·         Finally, prophets are not generally treated very well.  “They are ignored, forgotten, berated, mistreated, tortured, killed.  And nobody listens to them.”[12]
During the time Jesus lived on this earth most of the people he encountered saw him as just another prophet.  In a lot of ways he experienced what other prophets did.  Take this morning’s reading.  Having returned to his hometown, he’s teaching in the synagogue, speaking to people he grew up with, to people who know both him and his family.  And, no one seems particularly happy with what he has to say.  They are scandalized; they take offence.  “What does he know?  Just who does he think he is, preaching to us that way?”
     Who do you think you are?  What a universal and enduring line.  It’s used to put people down, to put them back in their places.  It’s used to rein people in when they seem to be developing delusions of grandeur, when they seem to be getting too big for their britches, as it were.  To think that Jesus himself got that reaction …
     Human nature being what it is we don’t care much for people who think they have a corner on the truth or who act as though they know “God’s will.”  In many cases our suspicion and skepticism is valuable.  There are just too many instances of people being led astray by self-proclaimed experts, usually with bad results.  We’re right to be careful, to remain unconvinced.  Most assuredly, it can be dangerous not to be. 
     But, how can we tell a real prophet from a fake?  Who is telling us what we want to hear?  Who is telling us what they want us to hear?  How do we tell who is telling us the truth? 
     Paul points out one way in this morning’s reading.  He says he will not boast of what he has seen and heard.  He’s not going to promote himself or his experience.  So, if the words seem to be aimed at increasing the speaker’s own power, to be a way for him or her to get attention, for promoting personal beliefs, it is best to be skeptical.
     And yet … it’s important for us to remember that oftentimes the truth comes from sources we might never anticipate.  We expect people to fit a certain mold, to look and sound a certain way, to be of certain social status.  Who among us wants a hometown boy or girl, one one hand, or some undesirable misfit, on the other, offering observations about that we’re doing, how we’re acting, the choices we’re making?  We don’t.
And, very often it seems to me, the truth is inconvenient.  In our culture, the truth has become less important than what sells, less important than the sound bites and twisted rhetoric that push a particular point of view.  The truth, the real truth, the truth God will inspire someone to speak, generally disrupts our carefully crafted view of the world, our carefully guarded opinions.  A prophecy that is real will challenge our convenient, comfortable belief systems, will challenge the way we’ve ordered our personal little worlds.  No wonder we harrumph and cross our arms and mutter, “Who does she think she is?”
     We are here because we believe in Jesus, because we believe Jesus had it right.  We’re here because we believe that Jesus spoke – and was – the truth.  And, we are here because we don’t believe we can sit back and assume that everything we do day in and day out is right or pleasing to God.  We know ourselves to be people of self-examination and confession.  We know ourselves to be people who are granted forgiveness and who can be changed.
Now, I cannot tell you how to determine who is speaking the truth to you – or to us, to our country, our world.  I have a hard enough time of that myself.  But, I will tell you what I think.
I think that really and deeply hearing the truth – from among all the opposing voices and out of the endless din that comes at us, that hearing the truth starts with our telling the truth to ourselves.  When and what do we hear or refuse to hear?  When and what do we speak or refuse to speak?  Who gets our backs up, every time?  What are our pet peeves?  When do we catch ourselves judging and finger pointing.  What ideas do we strive most passionately to protect?  Take a good, long look.  Tell yourself the truth.
In our deep inviting quiet that still, small voice that dwells in the depths of our own hearts may venture a word with us.  God does speak.  It will take trust and courage to begin examining – and in some cases even dismantling – the carefully built walls of convenient assumption and half-truth that govern our lives.  Once we begin to tell the truth to ourselves, maybe we will be better able to hear the word of God all around us.  Once we begin to tell the truth to ourselves, maybe, just maybe, we will find ourselves inspired by God to speak a prophetic word from our own lips.
We can always hope …


[1] Isaiah 9:6
[2] Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who (HarperSanFrancisco, 1979) 71.
[3] John 1:29
[4] Amos 5:24
[5] Buechner, Peculiar 36.
[6] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (HarperSanFrancisco), 1973/1993) 90.
[7] Isaiah 6:11
[8] Jeremiah 1:6
[9] Exodus 4:10
[10] Buechner, Wishful 88-89.
[11] Buechner, Wishful 91.
[12] For this quote and several other points that follow I am indebted to Kathleen L Wakefield, sermon for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9(B) – July 9, 2006, “Sermons that Work,” http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work.htm.

07 July 2012

Fifty tons of sermon

The sermon is printed, folded in half long ways, tucked in my prayerbook.  Six days in the making, its finished state is pleasurably unusual.  All it took was a schedule.  Research Monday and Tuesday.  Three hours a day for writing, Thursday through today.  Hard work.  Labor.  Like pushing something, awkwardly, uphill.   I'm not struggling with it tonight.  Blessedly.

That sermon intention this week wasn’t the only going.  Visiting with family for the Independence Day holiday, getting the camera out every day, meals, walks, our wonderful dogs, a needlepoint project I really dislike and a book I’m determined to finish all went into the mix.  The book is Walter Havighurst’s “The Long Ships Passing: The Story of the Great Lakes.”  It was suggested reading before our May/June historic waterways trip from Warren RI to Chicago IL, which – no surprise – I didn’t get done. 

The chapter I read on Thursday, “The Fleet that Sailed on Land,” was about ships moving between Lakes Huron and Superior before the rapids of the St Mary’s River were bypassed by the locks at Sault Ste Marie in 1855.  The first one was the Algonquin in 1838.  Here’s Havighurst’s description:

The portaging of the fifty-ton schooner was done by Achille Cadotte who went to work as though he was moving a house.  With a set of rollers, a horse and a capstan he hauled the Algonquin out of the water, cribbed her up in timbers and started her on her slow voyage over what is now Sault Ste Marie’s Water Street.  The vessel moved five lengths a day, crawling along in snowstorms and bitter weather past the houses, shops and taverns of the little town.  She took three and a half months to make that mile-long portage.  But with the break-up of ice in April the Algonquin dipped her hull in the cold blue waters of Lake Superior and began her historic voyages. (163)

Between that 1838 accomplishment and 1855 when the locks were completed fifteen vessels, totaling 3000 tons, had been portaged that mile along Water Street. 
Dragging 50 tons of schooner a rocky mile through town.  Funny, I'd liken that to what Monday through Saturday with a sermon in tow feels like to me.

06 July 2012

05 July 2012

See her as she flies

4:30, Sunday morning, 3 June
enroute to Manitowoc WI
I have to laugh at myself.  For several nights this week I have come awake enough to acknowledge that our bedroom was bathed in a soft light cast by the setting moon.  It never crossed my mind to get up and go outside, much less to find the camera as I went. 

Last month's experience was markedly different.  For June's full moon it didn't occur to me not to go out for a better look.  Aboard the Grande Mariner sailing Lake Michigan I couldn't get out on deck fast enough.

Lake Michigan versus Country Club Pond.  Being away versus being at home.  The novelty of places I've not been before versus a certain nonchalance, even a dreariness, for the familiar. 

No laughing matter really.  I think like myself more when I'm away from home.  In fact, I know I do.  I feel more interesting and interested, and maybe I am.  An experiment seems in order.  To look at my everyday surroundings with the same energy I do the places we explore in our travelers.  Something just might come of the effort of seeing home through a traveler's eyes.   

2:30, Monday morning, 4 June
approaching Chicago