Finding the pot of gold means a bit of good luck. And keeping your eyes open. And having a camera in your pocket 24/7. And stopping in the rain to step out of your car in the middle of a county road to save the moment.
I once reflected on the place of photographs in my life:
“Film became a way to preserve present moments in a clear resin of recall. Every photograph set a benchmark in time, held a unique instant in the emulsion of memory, captured in perfect synchrony that vertical line of precise moment that intersects the coordinates of particular place.”
It may be maudlin and saccharine, but Kodak moments anchor us in person, place, space and time. And I am thankful to have had more than my share of them.
And a bit more of the reflection on time (from What We Hold in Our Hands):
“No two photographic markers were the same, and there was no going back. With my lens, I fished from the moving stream of time as days flowed through the faces I knew, past the places I loved, leaving the lived, the known moments bobbing on its glassy surfaceÑdeeper down, farther back, receding Doppler-like across a realm that I could photograph, could know just once, just now.
I have spent decades more behind the camera, no longer wishing I were older, happy for the past, but savoring photographic instants in the present when one face or one flower, one sunset, yet another family pet or one more grandchild’s candle-covered birthday cake fills the viewfinder and moves on downstream.”
Once upon a time, there was a strange farmer of Erehwon. He gathered his curiosities, his precious things–momentary objects that held his attention and delight–and hoped others might wander down his lonesome road and share his fascination with the ordinary.
They came at random, sometimes rather sizable crowds of them, and a few exclaimed and were delighted, and some returned often and regularly. Some where changed by having seen up close the myriad works of nature and light, of clouds, of storms and seasons that the farmer set before them.
He laid these things out expectantly-mere things, some onlookers imagined–but each was a story, and each story was a memory and a meaning to the foolish man.
And so, over the years, when fewer came, and then none, it was not the same of a morning. He still wandered among his amazements but he did not often gather them, and of those, he almost never laid them out for others to see. For there were so few that he felt alone, and his stories and meanings for him only. Life was good, but it was diminished, because he still remembered the gifts he once gave, so appreciated and approved, once upon a time. He thought of the friends he had made, whose names he could barely now remember.
And yet, now and then even today, some pattern in tree bark or glint off moving waters or bird call or memory of the smell of earth will urge him to lay out his boards again along the creek road. And has done so this morning.
He had come upon a wonderful village of threaded webs, separate but close, isolated but connected by the thinnest of dew-beaded tightropes. In the wet grass, as he so often did, he imagined. He saw in these tattered webs tight aggregates of neurons, each synapsing cluster a concept, a siloed understanding, an aggregate idea or realization. He so often searched for those almost invisible threads that, discovered, would make him shout AHA! in the thrill of creative connection.
It was the possibility of sharing creative connection between disparate things on his roadside bench that woke him up each morning, expectant and hopeful of the alchemy of object and language, searching among his curios to find what he called the “so what” in everyday things like spider webs and blossoms and one more picture of a familiar light-and-shadow turn of his road or creek.
And so life goes on, the buzz of conversation barely audible to him in some distant tavern in an altogether different kind of stopping place for travelers along the loud and hurried webs of surface travel and talk.
Winter is coming. It is the time for the old farmer to draw the curtains on the chaos and confusion beyond Middle Earth and to go back over all his klediments and commonplace jottings and scraps of wonder, revisiting like old friends the emulsions of light and memory he has stored and saved, stories unspoken.
He lives on. And with what is left of his bones and his wits, he will weave what he might from the webs of wonder his eyes and his ears and his heart have laid out for him, even so, on his slow road. And we shall see what lies around the bend.
One of the things I hope to reflect on in this would-be third book (that I sometimes think about and less often actually add material to) is the topic of aging, from a personal point of view of course.
I took this image yesterday of Ann at the crossing, following the waters of Nameless Creek as it flows away towards an unseen destination. This might become a possible image for use if one of those passages on growing old and moving on would benefit from a symbolic visual.
You can’t really tell it very well in the small image here, but there is a dividing line between sharp and clear in the foreground and wavy-diffuse, not-quite-real and flowing (via Photoshop edits) seen in the early morning foliage and the water downstream beyond Ann’s boots. Hence, the “threshold.”
The answer to writer’s block, I’m afraid. Trolling through the few images from the past month this is the one that was by far the most unusual.
I confessed a few blog posts back (which at one time would have meant a few days and lately a few weeks) that I had pulled the guitar out of moth balls. I’m pulling lyrics and chords of the Internet. That’s the easy part.
But remember chords and words at the same time–a bit more of a challenge. So I need memory aids.
I won’t make you suffer by tying to guess what these quick crude scribbles represent the words for. Let’s just say the iPad, the app called ProCreate and a few minutes of time have worked together so that I’ll never forget the words to “I’m So Lonesone I could Cry.”
Whippoorwill | too blue | midnight train
Night so long | Time crawling by | moon behind cloud
Robin Weep | Leaves die | Will to live
Falling star purple sky | wonder where you are
I could have used the word prompts, but my brain–and apparently many folks–remember images easier than mere words.
So now all I have to recall is the blue whippoorwill, clock at night, crying robin and purple stars. The second part of each verse springs automatically from the first.
So: We started joking about “playing the back nine” when we turned 50. The half-century mark is no trivial milestone in our brief animation on Earth. After all, while it represents exactly HALF a century, actuarially speaking, the odds increase that it could be 100% of an entire lifetime.
One of my best friends died a few years after we both celebrated the half-century mark. He was 52. He died with his boots on, literally. He was backpacking in Pisgah with a group of guys that could easily have included me. It was a horrible experience for them. He would have wanted to go that way.
Meanwhile, I have hung on another 17 years, and the back nine is moving on towards the 18th hole. And frankly, here lately, I feel it. If I started riding the golf cart for a few holes instead of carrying my own clubs at 50, I’m about ready for somebody else to do all the swinging and taking the ball out of the cup at the end. After all, the ground gets farther from my fingers every year. Ya know?
At 50, while we joked about being old, honestly, we were not touched noticeably by age then. At 51 we undertook the remaking of this old house over the course of a year. We held down our regular jobs all day and came over here from Walnut Knob every night and worked three or four more hours–scraping paint, burning demolition debris, doing the heavy lifting–whatever needed doing, and doing it without limits until it was done.
Ah, limits. They loom large now. And it’s the simple things–raking leaves, splitting firewood, even putting dishes in the high cupboard–stuff I could have done for hours on end–where I notice the quick ramping up the fatigue curve that used to come late or never for these menial tasks. What’s going on here?
I used to tell Anatomy and Physiology students that “things we say about our SELVES are really statements about the condition of our CELLS.”
When you say “I’m hungry” you’re reporting from your cells that they need more fuel.
When you say “I’m cold” it isn’t your SELF that’s cold. You’re cells are saying they need more heat to work at their best efficiency.
When you say “I’m tired” you’re giving an account of your brain and muscle cells’ using more energy than they can get from your blood, and when you say you’re exhausted, your cells are saying stop! The lactic acid is making us gag!”
So maybe–if I can muster the energy and finish the job–over the course of the next little bit I will take a look, organ or organ system at a time, at what’s going on as these personal Goose Creek clumps of cells play through the 9th hole and work their way towards the clubhouse.
Totally opposed to my notion, nay my resolution–to use my time more wisely in the mornings, I once again found myself browsing at random by way of Google Earth. This is a lens on the planet through which I could gaze–and learn–for entire days if I (or she) let myself.
Thankfully then I suppose it was a good thing that my old computer was sluggish touring the world through Google Earth. Unfortunately then I suppose it is not to my advantage that the new iMac with much more internal memory and much faster video card makes Google Earth seem a spontaneous extension of my hand – – as if I were in real time traveling along one of the world’s great rivers or over its highest mountain peaks.
The latest exploration this early morning arose out of my curiosity about the filming location for a Netflix series we have been watching called Broadchurch. [Rated 8.4 on IMDB.] I was able to find out that Dorset on the coast of Great Britain was one of the filming locations, and that is what I plugged into the location bar in Google Earth. The experience of traveling the Dorset and adjacent coast has been strangely bittersweet.
The bitter bit of this experience is acknowledging that I will never be on the ground to explore the territory, and only know it from the map. Walter Mitty experiences remorse on accepting as real the fact that he has been pretending. In particular, it is the South West Coast Path that has caught and held my attention this early cold morning, and created a feeling I can only describe as longing.
[I’d be shocked if anybody did, but just as a starting point for exploring this trail, you can input into Google Earth the following: Start Point Lighthouse, Dartmouth, United Kingdom. ]
Of course you know if you have visited this blog many times at all over the past 13 years that I am very happy to be where I am. And yet, there is a part of me that grieves and regrets that it is so very difficult to avoid ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial in eastern half of this country. Frankly, I’m ashamed and disappointed in what we’ve done to both natural and built environments. No wonder we are held in low regard by so many in other places that have honored their history and the land. But that’s another riff.
I hold no illusions that the southern coast of Great Britain is pure and devoid of such things. And yet, the very fact that this footpath courses through mostly small villages across 630 miles of countryside, close enough in most places to see the sea, often from the very bluff’s edge–this is quite different, you likely agree, from east-coastal America–which is for the most part rather newly “developed” and ugly, busy, overbuilt and artificial. I know there are exceptions, but you’ll be hard pressed to travel two miles on the eastern seaboard south of Maine without asphalt, neon and traffic. Except in remnant snatches, we gave that kind of coast away a century ago.
I guess I always imagined that the time would come when I would travel. Now would be that time of life I imagined. There will not be the hiking and climbing and sleeping on the ground I found no challenge at all long years ago when I was imagining knowing the world upon retirement. We could still be tourists somewhere I suppose, but that does not conform to Mr. Mitty’s travels into his future. Imagination’s current abode is in a different chassis with worn wheels and shocks, and small gas tank.
I realize every day some new “never again.” The fact that I have just discovered but will never set foot on the South West Coast Path is, oddly, just one newly-plucked item fallen through the wide wicker of my bucket list.
But you, dear reader who has stumbled here by accident just to find this post–check it out. Maybe this is one you can both imagine and do. Tell me about it when you return, won’t you?
As a blogger over the years, I’ve generally avoided sharing the nuances of bodily state or machinations of marital war and peace. (If there are regular readers out there, even on a Friday, you’ll have already nailed me as a liar on both counts. There are even several pieces about the spousal unit in Slow Road and What We Hold in Our Hands. So sue me.)
I don’t think, however, with the exception of the selfie from the dentist chair in the nitrous oxide clown mask (which I would have linked here but cannot locate), I’ve not talked teeth very much. Thankfully, the choppers have held up pretty well to the daily grind. This morning however, we have an Oral Code Red Alert.
And as you are certainly aware, such emergencies unfailingly happen while out of town on a weekend over a holiday while expected for an important meeting. Or some combination of two or more of these ingredients. Today’s crisis qualifies, so in my own mind at least, this is a big deal:
My upper incisor (that would the front toof to you lay-persons) calved the entire back side like a melting Arctic glacier. The face of the tooth remains, fragile as gramma’s crystal gravy bowl, and with one vertical edge gone black, just enough to suggest a hint of Jethro Bodine.
The sleep-robbing part of this just-before-bedtime breakdown in the status quo of my personal body is the inconvenience and “unexpected” expense here in the early months of fixed income. I can’t say I didn’t see the threat on the horizon. Let me quote myself from less than a week ago, where I failed to acknowledge the looming threat of Dental Disaster:
“But the unexpected, inevitable death of major appliances, of vehicles or for home repairs–all live inside a black hole. And of course we face the increasing probability of medical expenses over and above what the best combination of SS plus Supplemental will cover. We’re quite healthy at the moment. But…
These leaks, the Great Flushing, can happen as quickly as the Titanic hitting an iceberg–and so it makes those of us in the Jacuzzi of the Golden Years necessarily cautious about what would once have been significant but not sleep-depriving decisions.”
Yes, I could just have the stump of the tooth pulled and be content to lose the ability to whistle ever again. At the same time, I would gain status as featured personality in town with some of the tourists of a Friday night who may have come to see stereotypical Appalachian edentulous half-wits.
But no. I’ll pay the thousands out of retirement-shallow pockets (and in the absence of any dental version of Medicare) over the course of who knows how many 4 hour visits to Blacksburg. This is what it will cost to return to cosmetic integrity–an imagined personal state of rugged good looks whose ship has sailed if indeed it ever docked. At this stage of life, self-image and ego whimper from under the front porch and a body learns humility, with daily lessons and homework.
So folks, the Titanic has hit the iceberg–on a day the dentist office is closed, while we are six hours from home, herding cats. I will be meeting numerous organizational associates at an important meeting. Without smiling. Or whistling. And all I want for Christmas is…well, I don’t generally blog about such personal matters.