May 2006

Mirror, mirror

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any reflective photos, but a mirror sale at a downtown frame shop gave me the impetus to get back into self-photographic gear.

It’s not like I haven’t been taking reflective photos: over a month ago, on a trip to Northampton, MA to meet Rachel for a concert, I snapped a slew of ego-obsessed pictures in a shop hawking mirrors with funky, New-Agey slogans. But for some reason, I haven’t taken the time to re-visit and share these month-old images.

Reflective photography

Philosophers of all stripes agree that the unexamined life is not worth living, but I’m not convinced that physical self-inspection is a necessary ingredient in self-knowledge. Did Narcissus know himself in a truly philosophical sense? Wouldn’t we agree that an ancient sage like Tiresias probably knew himself deeply even though physical blindness precluded him from using a mirror in that pursuit?

Reflective photography

The journey toward self-discovery begins with a single step…but I don’t think a trip to the mirror is absolutely necessary. Looking at these images, I’m not sure who it is exactly I see peering from behind the camera: is it me, or is it a persona I project in both world and blogosphere, a protective shell hiding the True Self within?

Reflective photography

It seems to me that words, like pictures, can be used both to reveal and conceal. The more you read of these words, can you be any more certain of who it is who composes them? Seeing the face behind the pictures, do you know “me” any better, or have you caught only a glimpse of the body that shades my soul?

Reflective photography

The mirror’s art notwithstanding, it seems one’s True Self is the universe’s most slippery creature, even more elusive than the Divine. Are there any words or cameras quick enough to catch it?

Spotting a bullfrog sunning in the shallows at Goose Pond is no suprise: this morning as I walked the muddy shore, startled squawks and squeaks accompanied a series of sudden splashes as bull- and green frogs fled from my approach. Of all the sunning bullfrogs I’ve seen over the years, though, I can’t remember one that seemed so perfectly posed, not moving a muscle as he sat in the sun atop a rock. Shouldn’t you be on a lily pad or at least in cooling mud, Mr. Froggy, rather than baking your brains on a hard, hot rock?

The natural world is full of surprises. As soon as you set foot from your securely locked door and venture beyond your carefully tended yard, you enter the world of serendipity. Seeing pink lady’s slippers at Goose Pond this morning wasn’t a complete surprise: I’d seen them at the Massabesic Audubon Center in Manchester on Saturday, and several weeks ago I’d photographed in this very spot what I suspected were lady’s slipper buds. Even given promising harbingers, though, you never know where, how, or whether flowers will unfurl, and even given the surety of a non-moving target, you never know how photographs of flowers will develop. Will a translucent and veiny blossom glow in the gleam of backlighting, or will it eclipse and blur?

Whenever blog readers ask my “secret” to taking photographs, I tell the truth: there’s surety in numbers. Of some half dozen photos of lady’s slippers I snapped at Goose Pond today, only the one above turned out; I also took four pictures of a starflower nestled in the nook of shady stone, and none of those were satisfactory. Luckily, the name “starflower” alone is evocative: you don’t really need a picture to imagine its delicate beauty, and in truth there will be other starflowers to photograph on other days.


Today’s true serendipity was the painted trillium I spotted right after Reggie flushed an alert-tailed deer–another surprise–from a cobwebby coppice. In my mind, it’s too late for trilliums, and it’s true this one looked worse for wear, its leaves having been nibbled by some unseen nuisance. Calendars and leaf-eaters notwithstanding, today placed an unforeseen trillium in my path, and an unforeseen deer in Reggie’s. I’ve almost come to expect the unexpected when I walk anywhere these days, and I haven’t yet been disappointed.

Tree swallow with tepee

I could have titled this post “Home, Revisited” since most of the tree swallows that A (not her real initial) and I saw today at the Massabesic Audubon Center in Auburn, NH were perched on bluebird boxes, which make tidy homes for swallows. But this particular swallow was sitting pretty on a directional sign, not a bluebird box…and we never figured out who lives in the tepee. (I quipped that it might be the home-away-from-home of the last American man, but we sighted neither hide nor hair of such a mythic beast.)

If you take a brisk walk through wood and field on a sunny Sunday morning, you’ll be rewarded with leisurely looks at a variety of creatures: bluebirds, kingbirds, great crested flycatchers, goldfinches, painted turtles, and bullfrogs. And better yet, when you finish your brisk walk and head into town, you won’t feel a bit guilty partaking in a fat- and flavor-rich breakfast at the local greasy spoon. When you do your aerobic workout first thing, you have the luxury of sitting pretty the rest of the day.

    If you want to see a spring-green version of the Airport Road vista I’ve blogged in all four seasons, check out my latest post on Area 603.

For rent

Yesterday’s Photo Friday theme was Home, and although this isn’t my home, I couldn’t resist the urge to snap a picture of an orange “For Rent” sign on an orange-and-mustard house.

My time, energy, and mental bandwidth are still devoted to the Integrative Studies “Thinking and Writing” institute I’m attending this week at Keene State, so while my mind is occupied with thinking about writing, here are some images from this morning’s dog-walk.





Sunrise over Beaver Mills

Yes, I’m back in New Hampshire, having arrived home in Keene on Sunday night. This morning I walked Reggie along the downtown bikepath first thing, and soon I’m off to campus, where I’m participating in a week-long institute on the teaching of Keene State’s new “Thinking & Writing” integrative studies course.

Making the 700-mile drive home only to dive right into a week-long seminar hasn’t given me much time to find my feet here again: my mind is still buzzing with images from Ohio, New Hampshire, and the many points in between. But on a partly cloudy morning with the early morning sun peeking over Beaver Mills’ roof and smokestack, it feels good to come home, even slowly.

Today’s Photo Friday theme is The Road, which is appropriate since I’ve been on the road this past week here in Ohio, land of wide highways leading to expansive parking lots: paved paradise.

This morning I’m hitting the road again to leave Findlay, where I’ve been visiting Gary, to go to Columbus, where I’ll be visiting family. My folks live far off the Information Superhighway, so I won’t be online until I return to New Hampshire on Sunday night. So in the the interim, here’s one last image as my way of saying “Happy trails, and be safe.”

    For another photo-rich post on the theme of “The Road,” check out this entry from two years ago. Regardless of all the time and all the miles between then and now, my wanderlust hasn’t changed much after all.

Back in New Hampshire, every other car you see is a Subaru: for folks who don’t want to drive a pick-up truck or SUV, Subies with their all-wheel drive and drive-’em-’til-they-drop reliability are a safe bet. But here in Ohio, folks prefer large domestic cars like Fords, Buicks, and Cadillacs: land-yachts that are perfect for cruisin’ the flatlands.

I was surprised, then, to see at lunch today a police Subaru: something I’d never seen before. Gary was the one to notice this wasn’t an ordinary police cruiser, but a Parking Enforcement vehicle. Downtown Findlay doesn’t have parking meters, so there’s no need for meter maids. But since signs proclaim a two-hour limit on downtown street parking, the Parking Enforcer apparently cruises town in his right-drive Subaru (designed, presumably, by the same folks who make the right-drive Subarus used by mail carriers for rural delivery) in order to mark the tires of street-parked cars with a long-armed marker. If you’re still parked with your marked tire in the same position when Mr. Enforcer rolls by in several hours, you’re presumably getting a ticket, buddy.

And indeed, when Gary and I returned to Miss Bling after lunch, her driver’s side tires were dotted with multi-colored spots: some from today, and some from other days I’ve parked downtown. Apparently if I lived in Findlay and made it a habit to park downtown, my good ol’ Subaru tires would eventually become completely polka-dotted with multi-colored spots: an alarming case of parking pox.

But then again, I should be grateful that the worst thing to happen to Miss Bling while parked downtown was a tag or two from the Parking Enforcer considering that this is what happened to my pre-Bling rental car the last time I visited downtown Findlay:

Although I’m no fan of the fuzz and the parking tickets they bestow, I really wish the long arm of the law had been near when local punks slashed all four of my rental car tires back in March. This trip, I’m parking Miss Bling in a garage out in the suburbs. Between you and me, I have no use for parking pox or punctures.

    Belated thanks to Gary for taking picture of my punctured rental car tires while I filed a police report with a member of Findlay’s Finest. Months after the vandalism, there’s still no word on who did the deed, but I’m grateful the damage was covered by my credit card’s rental car protection.

Table for two

Yesterday in Findlay there was a brief break in this week’s rain, giving me the first chance since I arrived last week to walk around with my camera.


The last time I was in Ohio, the fire-gutted building at the corner of Main and Sandusky Streets in downtown Findlay was still standing. On the sidewalk outside was a plastic bouquet of flowers with a note mourning the three men who died in the February fire that destroyed the first floor offices of the A.G. Edwards Investment firm and several upstairs apartments. (Gary already blogged pictures of the fire and subsequent demolition.)

No parking

There’s something more than a bit morbid about snapping pictures of a building gutted by fire, demolished, and now bared to rain and sun. Like Ground Zero in New York City, this urban intersection is a place where people made an unforeseen crossing to the Hereafter: surely none of the three men who fell asleep the night before had any notion that they’d not wake up the next morning.

I guess there’s something more than a bit morbid about any sort of photography, at least if you see pictures as slowing the hands of time by freezing particular moments for eternity. Photography doesn’t make sense in a world where people are immortal and nothing ever ages: why snap a picture of a baby or a brand-new building if you didn’t know the child would grow and the edifice settle? Now that there isn’t a building at the corner of Main and Sandusky Streets in downtown Findlay, I wish I had snapped a picture of the structure that once was; had this week’s storms in New England ventured slightly more westerly, dousing Keene with a unwelcome repeat of last October’s floods, I would have cherished the months’ worth of pictures I have of what Keene used to be.

Entryway mailboxes

Both fire and flood come suddenly, like a proverbial thief in the night, to lay bare that which was previously hidden: how eerie it is to see locked mailboxes that once lined an apartment entryway now exposed to the elements above a now-invisible stairway to heaven. The Postal Service doesn’t forward mail to where those three men relocated; what sort of broken dreams and foiled promises are contained within these dead letters?

Not knowing where fire or rain will next strike, we’d be well advised to pay attention always, taking mental snapshots of buildings in our midst as well as the people who pass us by. Investment advisors would be the the first to intone that past performance does not predict future results, so why do we blithely assume today’s buildings will be here next time we pass by and people who fall asleep tonight will be alive to awaken tomorrow?

You don’t need an investment banker to remind you that NOTHING IS GUARANTEED, and yet we so easily forget, sinking our trust if not our treasure in the things of this world, where moth and rust destroy, thieves break in and steal, and fire and rain inevitably point to the impermanence of all things.

I certainly know how to time my out-of-state trips. I haven’t been barraging you with photos from here in Findlay, OH (aka Flag City) because it’s been raining ever since Reggie and I arrived last Thursday to spend a week visiting Gary. While it’s been overcast and drizzly here in Ohio, back in New England it’s been raining–and flooding–ever since I left. When I visited New York Citylast October, Keene and parts of southwestern New Hampshire nearly washed away, so I’m beginning to believe all it takes to trigger a natural disaster in the Granite State is for me to leave town.

As far as I can tell from national and local news coverage of this weekend’s floods in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire, Keene wasn’t severely impacted. In New Hampshire, the worst of the drenching seems to have affected coastal regions and areas along the Merrimack River in the south-central area of the state: early reports suggest that my own southwestern Monadnock region has been thoroughly soaked but not flooded. Still, this weekend’s flooding feels like deja vu all over again since I’m once again trying to figure out how things are back home based on sporadic and sensational reports on national TV, mentally mapping every mentioned town in an attempt to chart which parts of the state are higher and drier than the soggiest spots.

After last October’s rain-soaked weekend getaway to New York City, I rode the bus back to Keene not knowing what I’d come home to; only en route did I learn via cell phone that Reggie’s kennel had stayed dry, the basement but not the first floor of my apartment had flooded, and my driveway-parked car hadn’t swamped and floated like cars parked on my street. This time around, both Reggie and my car are with me: this time around, I planned for a working vacation by bringing my laptop, textbooks, and Vonage phone setup with me to Ohio. With all the “stuff” I need to do my usual online teaching, blogging, and coaching here in Findlay, I feel oddly detached from the news from New England: while folks there are quickly gathering the essentials they need for last-minute mandatory evacuations, here I am in Ohio with everything I need (and then some) to keep comfortable.

I guess you could say I’m sitting pretty here in Ohio, not unlike the slightly damp robin fledgling I saw perched on a bench under the umbrella of a spreading maple tree while I walked Reggie in a drizzling rain this morning. (Click here to see a cropped, enlarged image of young robin.) Rain seems like a real nuisance when it comes down for days on end during a week when you’re supposed to be on vacation…but considering the damage that flooded basements and swamped streets cause, I’ve once again gotten off lucky, having already effected my own voluntary evacuation a weekend before the worst of the rains hit.

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