Free Photo of the Day 5/29/14

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Nikon D40, 1/250 sec; f/8; ISO 400, 18mm. Taken 9/26/10.

I’m taking a hiatus from the floral portraits today. Here is a view of Pachaug State Forest from the summit of Mt. Misery. An approaching thunderstorm made for a very gloomy and overcast scene. (I have added some cyan to the original shot and made some gamma corrections to make the cloud cover stand out.) I mostly like the feelings associated with this photo, and hope as you look at it you too feel the sudden drop in barometric pressure, hear the distant rolling thunder, and enjoy the stillness as the forest environment goes silent in anticipation of the storm’s arrival.

 

Free Photo of the Day 5/26/14 (with a Memorial Day Bonus!)

Canon T3i; 1/640 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200; 55mm wide.
Canon T3i; 1/640 sec; f/4.5; ISO 200; 55mm wide.

Two free photos in honor of the holiday, today! Both of these were taken at the Richard D. Haley Native Plant Wildlife Gardens. Above, a clump of Houstonia caerulea or bluets that I shot at ground level in extreme closeup, with a narrow focus.

The gardens had a stunning patch of golden ragwort (Senecio aureus, below). I set the focus to a small cluster of plants against a backdrop of others falling away into the distance, with a wide aperture to throw them out of focus. I think it creates a lovely tableau even if it’s not quite a perfect composition of the subjects. What do you think? I took some more standard portraits and a wider shot that I may share, too.

Speaking of editorials, I simply must comment on how unappreciated this free resource to the public is. In many years of hiking and photographing the outdoors, I’ve become accustomed to the fact that our state and federal parks and forests are barely used. But this little gem and the nearby conservation center are just so well attended and arrayed that I really wish more people would visit.

Enjoy the photos, and please consider linking to my blog or donating to my college fund. Thanks!

Golden Ragwort
T3i, 1/320 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200; 40mm

Love is the Only Answer

“Daddy, why do wolves howl at the moon?”

“What kind of bugs can bite us?”

“Who lives on Mars?

River asks a LOT of questions. My family teases me about it, wondering how I never tire of the endless flow of “why?” that comes from my daughter’s mouth. But I have only myself to blame.

From a very young age, I told her “Being curious is a very good thing.” I never dismiss her questions, and if I don’t know an answer I’ve shown her how to look for information in a book or on the computer. When she’d been told “No more whys” by one of her daycare teachers, I shook my head and insisted “You can always ask why.” Admittedly, some of the more persistent lines of questioning can feel like this Louis C.K. sketch (NSFW), but I endeavor always to provide complete explanations when her little mind is searching for understanding (and if you’ve ever had a toddler, you know this is almost all the time).

But some questions are harder than others to approach. This weekend, she asked me “Daddy, will you get married again?”

Hmm. “You know, sweetie,” I said cautiously, “I don’t really know. I’m not planning on it right now.”

“Why? You should just get a wife,” she advised.

“Finding a wife is a tricky thing, though,” I explained. “Besides, I’m more focused on other goals in my life right now.”

“Well, when I’m a grown-up you can marry me,” she decided. I laughed. Toddler logic is cute even when it’s completely inappropriate.

“That’s a very generous offer, but parents and their children can’t marry,” I said.

“Well, can you and mommy be married again?” she said.

Yikes. Can we go back to the questions about the water cycle and if it’s ok to kill animals, please?

I wondered what had prodded her to be ruminating on this awkward topic. She’s known for some time that her mother and I were married and aren’t any more. (When River asked why in this instance, my ex and I decided we’d give her a simple explanation she could understand: “We wanted our own houses.”) But why the sudden renewed interest? I had a feeling the events of the previous evening had something to do with it.

We had gone to the local drive-in movie theater to see Frozen. On the way, I texted River’s mom to let her know where we were for the evening. Turns out she was out for a jog anyway, just a few minutes from the drive-in.

We stopped off to get some dinner and snacks and then drove into the nearly empty field and set up blankets and pillows in the front seats. The sky was overcast and rain was predicted, so we had the place almost to ourselves. Just before the previews began, the sky opened up and it began to pour. My cell phone buzzed in my pocket.

A message from my ex: “I just saw lightning, and I’m over on Route 169. Can you come pick me up?”

What kind of question what that? When someone needs help, even your ex-wife, you get up and give it.

“Well, River,” I told the little girl in the passenger seat with cheesy popcorn all over her face, “We’ve got to go pick up mommy.”

“Why?”

“So the lightning doesn’t give her a really big boo-boo!”

After we got my ex out of the rain, we all drove back to the drive-in and watched the movie together, River scrambling back and forth to cuddle with both us until she finally dozed off for the night.

I could tell River was very excited to have “mommy time” and “daddy time” simultaneously. I was also pleased to be reminded again of how fortunate I am – and River too – to have a positive relationship with my ex-wife. (I’m afraid I know quite a few people who would rather be hit by lightning than ask for help from their ex.) But that time in the car gave her a glimpse of her life had her parents not divorced, and I think that’s why River was inquiring about marriage.

My therapist once told me that “divorce is crazy-making business.” He is absolutely right. There can’t be a more trying process than severing ties from someone you once pledged to love for life. Divorce is the excruciating process of learning that marriage is an all or nothing deal: you can’t put away the bad things and retain the good, you can’t remain close to your ex based on the friendship and memories you’ve worked so hard to build. No, the person who occupied the central place in your life must become like a business acquaintance at best, a bitter enemy at worst. The complete inversion of one’s values and disposition toward their former life-partner, I think, is the “crazy-making” part of a divorce.

It’s an experience that only the word devastating can accurately describe. My divorce was hands down the darkest era of my life, a time when every morning brought a difficult decision about whether life was worth enduring for another day. But my ex and I had experienced divorced before as children, and we made a vow – even smack in the middle of our worst private hells – that River would never be a casualty of our uncoupling. We never wanted her to feel that she couldn’t openly and proudly love one of us while in the presence of the other. We wanted her to see her parents interact with one another positively and compassionately.

So we drafted a parenting plan that put River’s happiness above any other consideration: no speaking ill of the other parent in front of her, never deny access, celebrate birthdays and some holidays together, create opportunities for joint activities, communicate frequently on important matters of child-rearing. In the years since we made that agreement, we’ve both been at all of her birthdays, called, texted, and e-mailed about colds, discipline, diets and everything else. We’ve put our child’s success first.

No, my ex and I will never re-marry, but we have built something extraordinary together on the ashes of our marriage. We’ve chosen to co-parent, not be parallel parents. It’s not always been easy and certainly I have made some stupid mistakes. But my ex summed it up very well in a text she sent me on River’s third birthday: “We did it! We’ve raised a happy and intelligent child through her most formative years. We should be proud of ourselves.”

“Mommy and I aren’t getting married again, Rivs,” I finally answered. “Your mommy and I don’t love each other the way married people should. But your mom is awesome, and you know that I love her the same way I love all of our family, right?”

“Yes, I do know that.”

Without a doubt, the most important thing I have ever taught her.

 

Free Photo of the Day 5/24/14

Yellow Impatiens
Camera Info: Canon T3i, 1/800 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200; 55mm.

A little late, but here it is!

Taken on 5/23/14 at UConn’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology greenhouses. I can only speculate as I’m no botanist, but I believe this is a yellow variety of impatiens. Perhaps someone with greater knowledge than I can confirm? 5/27/14 UPDATE – A staff person from the greenhouse has informed me that this specimen is the shieldbract monkeyflower (Mimulus glaucescens). Pretty cool!

I got some great portraits of a carnivorous yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava) and an Ozark Everlasting Strawberry (fragaria sp.) blossom, too. One of the most fascinating species of pitcher plants, incidentally, was only discovered a few years ago in the Philippines. Growing to almost 4 feet in size, the Nepenthes attenboroughii (named after naturalist Sir David Attenbourough) can devour animals as large as a rat!

River enjoyed some of the indigenous flora – dandelions, clover, and buttercups. (Turns out I do like butter.)

Today I had the great pleasure of spending a few hours at the Richard D. Haley Native Plant Wildlife Gardens in Hampton. I snapped some lovely photos of their collection, which is truly an overlooked gem in Eastern Connecticut.  I’ll be posting those throughout the week.

Enjoy – as always, free to use but do please link here to the blog, or better yet make a donation to help me become a nurse. Thank you!

Heroin Town

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April, 2004. I was living in Willimantic CT in an apartment in a converted municipal building, I had a job at the downtown grocery store. I was about to start a new career as a minister and due to start classes at Andover-Newton Theological School in the fall. I was dating a young singer/guitarist, a wonderful person who was also an aspiring teacher and passionate Quaker.

May, 2014. I’m moving to Willimantic to be closer to a new assignment for work. I’ve applied for a part-time job at the same downtown grocery store to supplement my insufficient income. I’ve been accepted to a community college and hope to start a new career in nursing in the fall. The woman I was dating, now my ex-wife, lives just outside of town; our daughter splits her time 50/50 between the two of us.

Yeah, it’s definitely funny how so much changes and so much stays the same.

I took River to the public park yesterday as we did business in town. The playground was inexplicably placed next to the sewage treatment plant. The ground was littered with beer cans and broken glass, and a homeless man screamed at no one in particular from the nearby woods.

Willimantic was once a thriving mill town that imported immigrants to work in the textile and dye plants. My grandfather, who worked in the mill at 14 and later became the town’s mayor, spoke of the time with great fondness. But the social divisions of that era are still apparent in the town’s layout: high on the hill on the north side of the town are grand Victorian homes, while close to the valley floor and the filthy Willimantic River public housing complexes abound. When the mills closed, the wealthy departed and the immigrants, with no work to do, sank into bitter poverty. Crime and drug use soared to such an extent that even Connecticut’s largest newspaper, The Hartford Courant, dubbed it “Heroin Town.” The final blow to the town’s once vibrant community came when the big-box stores moved in. Main Street, once dotted with locally-owned shops like Nassiff’s, The Victorian Lady, and The Bench Shop is a long stretch of boarded up storefronts and empty windows. No one can compete with Wal-Mart in a town where 56% of the residents are on SNAP or other government assistance – and I say that without judgment; after all, I shop there to save money, too.

I suppose it would be easy to view my return to Heroin Town as a defeat. Yet there are positives. I’ll be minutes from work, and with gas at $4 per gallon in my area that will save me quite a bit of money. I’ll be closer to River and her mother than I ever have been. And best of all, I will be poised to begin this new and exciting chapter of my life. Naturally, I wish I’d known in 2004 that ministry would not be a good fit for me or a sensible career for someone who likes, you know, food, shelter, and the ability to provide basic necessities for his child.

But it’s never too late to begin again. Stay positive, friends.

Free Photo of the Day 5/21/14

Free Photo of the Day 5/21/14

I found myself in New London on business this afternoon, and decided to pay a visit to one of my favorite state parks on the way home. The long and frustrating drive out to Pachaug State Forest proved unfruitful, however – despite the assuring promises of the DEP website, the rhododendrons in the sanctuary were not in bloom. Still, I snapped a few photos of the cedar bog and got this serviceable portrait of a sprout nestled in peat moss. Free for my readers – please link to my blog if you use it.

I used the Canon T3i today, 1/100 sec; f/4.0; ISO 100; 28mm.

UnReturned

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This is a photo of a three-story house where I spent many days of my youth.

Or rather, it’s a photo of the space that house once occupied.

I took a drive to snap a few photographs of spring arriving in Connecticut and on a whim turned down Depot Road, where the little white building had spent many decades reclining on the shore of Millbrook Pond. I knew that it had been abandoned some eight years ago: I was there to pack the boxes, haul the refuse, sweep the brick patio beneath the mulberry tree one last time.

We had held a tag sale. Together with my old friends, I removed the steel bathtub, the fine crystal, the antique Frigidaire; I helped remove its vital organs and put them on card tables. We sealed the septic system that emptied into the pond, and with a final twist of the key in the door we made a mummy of our home.

I knew the house had died a long time ago. I expected shattered glass, rain gutters enlaced with ivy; I expected a derelict. I did not anticipate negative space.

One hot July weekend in 1993, four of us gathered to perform our artist’s rituals. Barbara, matron of the house she’d acquired through divorce, spread her acrylics across the living room floor. I swiped a broad brush across stretched canvas and streaks of daisy yellow appeared. Bob plied his field with refined dabs, as painfully chosen and achingly sparing as his words. Justin released his psychedelic fever and sprinkled the easel with misty pastels.

I finished my painting with four parallel lines – blue, crimson, emerald, and orange, tucked away to the bottom left of the painting. I titled it “Oasis.”

I don’t recall the full agenda of the day. But I’m sure we withdrew to the pond to swim in the afternoon sun, as almost every weekend we did. We hiked the railroad tracks past the shit pits where Kelly’s Septic dumped their harvest. We asked each other earnest questions about love, the soul, and god – the kind of painfully optimistic inquiries that only the young can entertain.

I have no doubt that, as evening came, we dined on something Barbara had whipped up with chicken, garlic, garden herbs, and an ingenuity born of poverty. I bet we watched Jesus Christ Superstar or The Emerald Forest. Around midnight, as Barbara smoked cigarettes and read books in a warm glow by the grand picture window that overlooked the water, we three friends departed for the cemetery nearby. Upon a sarcophagus we declared that, no, we weren’t afraid of zombies or ghosts or getting old.

In the middle of a hellish adolescence, the little abode astride a pine forest and beside an industrial watershed welcomed my wild ideas and erratic brush. I was free to cry and rage, to gaze at nebulae, where stars are born, from a graveyard. To adumbrate a better me.

The house is gone, and I cannot go back to it. The friends have long drifted away.

That house worked magic in us. The earth and the water and the austerity of our accommodations (would we have ever done so much dreaming with video games or cell phones?) kept us grounded in the vital things of life. And that little space, that jiffy of time, seemed only to ask that we go out and announce our insights on living fully loved and loving fully to anyone willing to listen.

I wish that I could give back to this lonely little spot, where a grand mansion once stood, a little of the sorcery of those days. I hope, as more buildings fall, to send some of that magic to the world.