Wednesday, November 26, 2003


I returned to the riverwalk and, on a whim, brought my camera.

I felt rapacious.

I rationalized it: I wanted an image of the beautiful nameless grass so that I could continue my botanical taxonomic search through the winter. Plus, storing up images mentally and writing about them is just as rapacious, so why NOT photograph ? After all, I don't physically collect attractive botanicals for Martha Stewartian purposes. My rule: no picking allowed. I winced, last weekend, when DK plucked an strikingly cobblestoned, still-green leaf from a bush. Ouch.

Photo: Jack Dykinga usda

Today I thought of the Ray Bradbury story that I read probably 35 years ago -- the one where a small boy gets a camera, and proceeds through his beautiful world taking picture after picture, then eagerly awaits the developed prints. He is wild with anticipation -- imagining he's captured and will own that beauty -- and is bitterly disappointed when the blurry, badly exposed photographs arrive.

Or something like that.

I'm no photographer. I have an old Minolta 35mm, and, a long time ago, taped a reminder on its back:

f1.8 lg. ap., narrow field
f22 small ap., deep field

I'm on my own when it comes to remembering to take the lens cap off, remembering to focus and deciding on the shutter speed.

My pictures are often, can imagine.

But nonetheless I snapped away: the pale ruddy-brown, ocrea encased seeds I originally thought were wild buckwheat; the tangled masses of dead burcucumber between the footbridge and the railroad bridge; berries -- waxy red ones; larger, soft, orange-red ones; berries in bright red clusters. I shot several magnificent tree trunks, the railroad bridge close up and the footbridge from the riverbend -- its gentle arc and sole pedestrian reminded me of the Floating World of Japanese prints. I took a picture of a still-green broadleaf bush with dusty-blue juniper-like berries, also unidentified. And, of course, several pictures of the beautiful nameless grass: chest high, pale brown, tall spare seedhead panicles, airy and graceful.

I wanted to take a picture of the tent person's campsite, but I didn't. I feel intrusive enough when I peer into the brush and locate it. A voyeur. A trespasser.

A woman walking a beagle stared at me as I blundered out of the underbrush at a particularly tangled and thorny spot.

Which brings me to the second theme of my walk.

There's seeing, of course. Camera and all.

But then there's the matter of being seen.

Having a cracked neck and being in a hard collar has thrown my body into the foreground -- the already-aging, plunging-headlong-into-menopause, scrawny, osteoporotic body. With its grayer-by the moment hair, and saggier-by-the-second skin. Last time my hair was this long my colleague -- a paragon of bluntness -- took me aside and used the word "disheveled." Another colleague, more tactful, once left an LLBean catalogue on my desk, a gentle reminder that perhaps a few new outfits might be nice.

(Literary aside. About eleven years ago, on my 40th birthday -- go ahead, do the math, I dare you -- I was reading the last volume of Updike's Rabbit books. I came across a paragraph in which he describes the texture of the buttock skin of middle-aged women. Rough and sandpapery, if memory serves. It set the tone for the next decade.)

Then there's the matter of the collar itself. It's not a small thing. It pushes up my chin and cheeks into jowls. No, let me rephrase that: into fucking jowls. The bad hair conceals the collar a little, but it's still evident. And it makes me feel conspicuous in a way that disconcerts me. It draws attention to me. People look -- some overtly, some stealthily. I feel like a freak.

Before the accident I'd begun to tell myself, with some chagrin, that aging was rendering me invisible. I no longer have that probably-imaginary refuge. I am old AND visible now. An object. The opposite of a sex object, which incites attraction. I am an aging, broken, mortal object, kindling repulsion. Memento mori.

Excuse me, would you ?

I think I need to go read "Sailing to Byzantium."

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