Sunday, August 28, 2005

Looking For

Where, what, could it be ?

I look up into spiraling green.

An accident of digital optics makes this ailanthus' late summer ascent into an electric-blue petitioning of heaven. I would like such a blue nimbus. Are there practices one can do for the attainment of such a thing ?

I look down. The path, as usual, is littered.

In classic black-and-white, ants swarm over a frosting-encrusted cake packet. What good fortune they have encountered ! How sweet life is !

At eye level I find drama. Life-and-death.

A wasp struggles to free itself from a spider web. One foot is stuck in gluey, elastic silk. It hurls itself forward over and over. The tenacious tether will not give.

Anthropomorphizing, heartsick, I watch.

I can't help myself. I put the camera down, pick up a twig, brace the leaf and saw. A frenzied vibration -- the furious buzz of survival -- travels up the stick into my fingers. It is startling as as electric shock.

Finally, it is free.

It remains motionless on the leaf as if stunned. It is probably dying. I walk away. What have I done ?

I look ahead.

New milkweed -- low,second growth after the field's recent mowing -- wears a carapace of yellow. I'd seen this before, last year, and concluded it was a fungal blight. I crouch and look. The blight is moving. Wiggling. Waving tiny black appendages.

So it's a nursery, then.

I remember a picture I'd taken a few days prior --

-- two perfect campions, blooming fresh among others already gone to seed. The green and white blousy flowers reminded me of bonnets, or leg-o-mutton sleeves. Of youth and beauty and innocence. Of times gone by. Of courtship. Of being adored.

Later, elsewhere, falling to my knees in shady pine woods,

I found what I was looking for.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Eyed Eye

I returned from an errand yesterday to find a message on the answering machine from DK, aka bicycle man, informing me, aka camera woman, that there was a new stretch of the river path open on "The Island" that I should check out. The Island is actually a peninsula, a little Waltham neighborhood surrounded by a wide and serpentine section of the Charles River. I'd been intending all summer to revisit it, ostensibly to photograph water lilies which, on my accustomed stretch of the river, are maddeningly far offshore. For all its macro-and-resolution talents, the little point-and-shoot Powershot A80 simply cannot zoom. It's not wired for it and that's that.

Of course it's past water lilies' prime season, and, to boot, The Island's lilies, what's left of them, were also out of macro range. One whole bay, though, was a floating carpet of lily pads. I stood staring across it in the hot sun and suddenly saw the graceful, unmistakable silhouette of a great blue heron. It was maybe 100 yards away and tiny. I pointed the Powershot in its general direction and squinted over my glasses at the LCD -- where was the thing ? I looked up into a myopic, astigmatic blur of untidy green, pushed up my glasses, sighted it behind a stump big enough to appear on the screen, focused on the stump, crossed my fingers and shot. It's called presbyoptics.

It was easier to photograph what was at my feet -- a worn, involuted, dirty lily pad whose granular encrustation turned out in post-production to consist of dozens of tiny bugs.

I'd last been to the Island about a year ago, mid July 2004. I remember that walk. It was the first time I'd seen dodder, familiar to me from the magnificent Weeds of the Northeast. The dodder -- that sci-fi, promiscuously tangling, orange filament, that bull goose looney of tendrils -- was threading riotously through the weeds beside a small pump house and sluiceway. I remember how excited I was to encounter this thing I'd only seen in pictures. It was like spotting a celebrity.

These were camera woman's analogue days, her days of photo albums and blurry, scanned and digitized film images; her days of photolab mailers, and pictures shot in stingy multiples of 24 through a lens clever enough to do both zoom and 2:1 macro. And I did, somehow, get close enough to a lily once to capture its yellow, flaming heart.

I could frame this past year with two shots of an Island pickerelweed, the first a dreamy, translated film image

the second, a hyper-real digital close-up.

Now what of this progression ? From unfocus to clarity ? From the embryonic to the fully developed ? From benightedness to enlightenment ? From muddle to crystal clear epiphany ?

Or maybe it's simply a technical issue ? All the better to see you better, my dear ? A confession: I slipped into Ritz Camera and asked to hold a Nikon D70 , the digital analogue of my old film camera. It was substantial, almost heavy. I peered through the viewfinder and focused. Zoomed in and out. There was the SLR world I'd cut my photographic eye-teeth on, not just the tight, compressed imago in the LCD screen. I sighed with greed-tinged nostalgia. Sweet, as the kiddos say. Swee-eeet.

I'd need about a gig of memory, right ? I said to the clerk. I'd done my homework. It's true. I wanted the thing, and had been wanting it for a while now.

I felt like the fisherman's wife. I was in serious flounder, flounder territory. From a hand-me-down 1960's Minolta 7s, to the Nikon N75 DK got me for Christmas, to the Powershot A80 I got DK for Christmas the next year and, well, have taken over and now what -- I would be emperor ! Pope ! God himself !

I handed the weighty thing back to the young man, thanked him and left.

Weighty. Weighty as what ? An ego ?

What is all this picture taking, anyway ?

Why, for example, was a middle-aged man in a bad suit and a worse haircut filming a pretty young woman and a chicken ? And why was a gray haired woman in muddy canvas sneakers taking a picture of them ?

And who's taking this picture, Flounder ?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Weeds At Last

Our closely scheduled, driving-intensive family visit in Kansas had me squirming for long hours in the back seat of the rent-a-car as vast fields of intriguing weeds flashed past. Finally, one hot, bright afternoon, we pulled up to a field beside the Kansas Historical Museum and I hopped out, camera in hand.

"I won't be long !" I called, and headed down a dusty little path. Dozens -- hundreds, even -- of grasshoppers leaped into the air ahead of me. The air, as usual, was thick with the buzzing screed of locusts and their kin -- a sound so loud and penetrating it's even audible in a speeding car with the windows up.

Local Color Local Colorless

The outskirts of Topeka are encrusted with mile upon dizzying mile of generic, geography transcending, could-be-anywhere mall commerce.

Walmart, Walgreen, Denny's, Chili's, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Outback -- the list is familiar, endless, and could be compiled in just about any American city.

Among the familiar, bland, corporate faces are smaller, local businesses -- maybe not beautiful in any conventional sense, but at least interesting. Well, I found "raw catfish nuggets" colorful, anyway.

If we'd had a hankering for corn dogs and satin freezes we could have stopped in at Bobo's Drive In, just as DK did with his family over 40 years ago. And if we'd wanted steak, we'd come to the right place. We counted four or five steak houses at a single intersection, including a "steak buffet." Steak was everywhere. Bobo's would probably have whipped us up a steak flavored satin freeze if we'd asked.

I contemplated doing a whole photo essay on the faux mansard roof, an architectural detail -- that's spelled a-b-o-m-i-n-a-t-i-o-n -- that enjoys a robust popularity in Topeka. But, to be fair, I've had the same thought here in Waltham. More than our share of roofs sport this depressing little add-on -- an attempt at elegance that falls so far of its mark that it seems the epitome of architectural pathos. I can't pin the faux-mansard on Topeka.

The Kansas City Airport Econolodge was the acme of our trip through the nadirs of midwest commerce. From the pasty, sullen young woman in the lobby's plexiglass booth, to the plate of stale doughnuts that had probably been sitting on the lobby countertop since the "Continental Breakfast" 12 hours before (and that was still there the next morning) to the aspirin-comb-and-condom vending machine in the stairwell that led down -- yes, down -- to our room --

it was a strangely grayscale, practically film noir experience.

And what were those giggles we heard through the wall ? The giggles in one male and two female voices. The strangely non-erotic giggles that seemed to go on for hours and hours. The giggles that never rose to frank laughter and that seemed uncoupled to any television sounds. The giggles that seemed more akin to snickering than to merriment.

The giggles that were still there whenever the jet-engine-loud air conditioner cycled off. The giggles that followed me into a nightmare of being tailgated so closely by a redhead in a convertible that I could feel the pressure of it -- improbably and terrifyingly -- on the small of my back. The giggles that were still there when I woke, screaming, half impaled on an econobedspring.

Are we home yet ? I muttered to DK.

The Rain The Plain

It grew dark

then darker.

The birds gathered far above.

"Look," I cried. "A tornado !"
"Oh, pshaw," replied DK.

Well, it DID rain.

Even on the Governor's mansion and beautiful sunflower gate.

We did NOT, however, need this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Fuck You Fred Phelps

Hatemongering homophobe Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church is in a quiet suburban neighborhood of old, small houses in Topeka near where my husband grew up. The church itself is a tacky little job, little more than a house gussied up with some stuck-on faux tudor details; his parish, it is said, consists mainly of his extended brood of children and grandchildren with a few others from Topeka's lunatic fringe thrown in to add variety to the inbred, slack-jawed clan of crazy fanatics. Fred's apparantly even a sicker puppy than his bizarre and loathsome public actions would lead one to believe.

Phelps is infamous for picketing Matthew Shepherd's funeral, but his Topekan picketing goes back decades -- he'd picket a restaurant, for example, on the merest rumor of a gay employee. About 10 years ago my husband and I drove through a Topeka intersection where the Phelps clan, small children and all, were parading about waving their awful signs. Stokey, his parents' large, placid French poodle, was sitting quietly in the back seat, enjoying the ride. Suddenly he reared up and began barking wildly. He'd clearly picked up on some primitive vibe of hate filled menace.Or maybe there was some sulfurous stench that hit his doggy wave-length. We only knew that we were proud of him. Good dog. Very, very good dog.

The Westboro Baptist Church, these days, is draped with a huge banner that reads signifying that Fred's formerly monomaniacal homophobia has taken an unusually psychotic political turn, one that celebrates the deaths of 9-11 and of soldiers in Iraq as a well-deserved consequence of America's tolerance of gays. He's picketing soldiers' funerals now. He's also concluded in a breathtakingly unhinged bit of "reasoning" that last year's 100,000 tsunami deaths also represented an instance of God's anti-gay wrath.

So take that, Fred, you stinky, despicable troll, you pathetic, hatemongering buffoon. If my mother-in-law hadn't been in the car I might have mooned you.

Not In Waltham Anymore

Grid, not gridlock.

"The sky IS bigger out here." -- DK

Sign courtesy of the Kansas agri-women. Not a vegan in the lot.

Lawrence, KS. -- a sweet little University town. DK lived here (and in a dozen other little bungalows in hippie town) when he went to KU.

This was his own, personal grain elevator.