Walking. With the Silent Generation.

I counted him out yesterday morning. There was light drizzle from 5:00 am to 6:20 am, and it continued for my entire 5 mile loop around Cove Island Park. But he didn’t disappoint. There he was.

We intersect most mornings.

Never met him. Don’t know him. Never spoken a word to him.

But I imagine his life.

He’s a member of the Silent Generation, following his Parents, who were members of the Greatest Generation who survived the Great Depression. Waste not. Want not. Sacrifice. Freedom. God. Country. (I’m consciously leaving out ‘Guns’.)

He didn’t come from the Privileged. He was drafted, he didn’t seek medical deferment, he fought in the Vietnam War. Memories haunt, Demons always in pursuit. Jennifer Pastiloff’s: “Get out of your head. It’s a bad neighborhood.”  So he walks.

There’s no Apple Watch tracking his steps. No iPhone pumping in music or books on tape.  Nothing to shake that gnawing, that scraping…

There are two flags that hang on his house; they are worn, the whites have long lost their sheen.  They don’t just make their appearance on July 4th, they hang 365 days a year.

The homes around him, one by one, are torn down, rebuilt, taller, larger, and fill with young families fleeing Manhattan. Property values have soared, his taxes have followed upward, and now pinch. He could flee to Florida, land of no State income tax, but that has never crossed his mind. He was born here, and will die here, his home town.  He completes his own tax returns, reports his modest pensioner’s income and pays all of his taxes, because that is what has to be done.

The curtains are always drawn. He’s a Widower, married for 40 years, and then lost Her to Cancer.  No one to open the drapes.  No dog to keep him company. No cat to nestle next to his feet, purring, as he watches The Evening News. Income is tight, he can’t afford the expense. He misses his Wife.

The lawn is cut, never shaggy. A fence, freshly painted brown, provides token separation from the neighbors, with toys strewn all over their front yard.

His Story may be entirely different. But it’s what I see. What I need to see.

Yet, what doesn’t require imagining, is this.

I’ve come to look for him each morning. I round the turn to walk up Anthony Lane and there he is.

No matter how far up the street I am, he looks for me, and always throws up his hand to wave Hello.

Because that’s what he was taught.  And that’s what he Believes. Character. Honesty. Decency. Be a good neighbor.

Some day, I’ll either tire of this same morning walk, or he won’t be there. One, or the other.

And, I’ll miss him.


Notes:

  • Photo: DK, Saturday, Aug 30, 2020
  • Inspired by: “If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.” — David Foster Wallace, from “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace” by David Lipsky (Broadway, April 13, 2010)
  • Inspired by: “We may be in the middle of a story we don’t know how will end, or even whether it will end, but we are not helpless characters created and directed by an unseen novelist. We have the power, even in this Age of Anxiety, to enfold ourselves in small comforts, in the joy of tiny pleasures. We can walk out into the dark and look up at the sky. We can remind ourselves that the universe is so much bigger than this fretful, feverish world, and it is still expanding. And still filled with stars. —  Margaret Renkl, “A Reminder to Enfold Yourself in Small Comforts” (NY Times, August 24, 2020)

Monday Morning (Epilogue)

Yesterday’s post, yesterday’s comments. Loved them. Link here.

The ask was: “Two different cameras, shot taken 1 minute apart, two different perspectives. What’s your favorite?” Same photos above.  Here’s my take.

  1. I didn’t really See them until I was at my desk, at home. Wow. What a difference!
  2. One taken with a camera that had dials for aperture, for shutter speed, for exposure compensation.  So it had to be better.
  3. One had a separate, expensive zoom lens. So, it had to be better.
  4. One camera was so much bigger than the other. And was made for still photography. And was so much more expensive then the other. So it had to be better.

Photo 1: Came from an iPhone, zoomed 2x. No other alterations.

Photo 2: Came from a Fuji X-T4 with a 50mm x 140mm zoom lens. No alterations.

I stared at the iPhone photo.  I wasn’t there. Not with this scene. Not with these vibrant colors. Yet, I was drawn to this photo. “Warmer” (Beth, Darlene, Jnana, Michael, yes.) “Better composition with light and dark contrast.” (Jnana, Lori, yes.) “Bright, depicts the awakening of life…under the kiss of blush” (Christie, Louise.  Yes.)

No. No. But it just can’t be.  It had to be an aberration.

So I did it all over again this morning. Except this time, I took 20 shots with each camera.

Result: Same.

Can’t be the camera. Can’t be. Has to be the Operator. What an amateur.  Can’t be the camera. Not with the money sunk into this device.

I’m standing under a hot shower a few minutes later, thinking about the photos.

I think I need a Canon.


Inspired by Jnana Hodson‘s review of my shots —  some day I hope to see and be 50% as good Jnana.

“The top one, though I would try to level the water to flat horizontal rather than its current slight tilt. It’s warmer and speaks of sunrise. The bottom photo is tonally too muddy. There’s no light detail and no distinctly dark contrast. Also, the right side of the shot lacks the compositional closure the bit of land gives the top shot, balancing the land on the other side, even though the power lines are a bit of clutter. That detail invites the eye out into the bay beyond before returning to the heron or egret in the foreground.”

Walking. To Unclenched.

3:50 a.m.

I’m up.

Groggy from Tylenol PM. I stare at the clock, do the math, a whopping 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Whaddya know! 1 day in a row! 

The euphoria burns off quickly. An 8 a.m. appointment weighs heavily. I punch out a few notes for the meeting on my laptop, close the lid, needing at least a full hour to prep for the call.  Unfinished. Unprepared. Anxious. I drag the three horsemen with me as I head out the door.

I’m off.

The Head is not in this game this morning.  That is, my 5-mile walk around Cove Island to start the day. It’s Month 4 of day after day after consecutive day of 90-minute twilight walks. You could have passed on the morning walk, finished your prep to take a load off, but Nooooo. That’s not how you roll.

I’m rushing.  I’m not Here. I’m not There. I’m a bit everywhere. I need to cut my loop short and hurry back.

I tuck the camera away, I’m half way home. I pick up the pace.
[Read more…]

Walking. One Short. From Wing to Wing.

He has to be in his late 70’s, maybe early 80’s, but he’s out each morning walking, in twilight. There’s a handful of us obsessives out at this hour, including me, that strange guy, always in black head to toe, The Camera Guy (as Jim calls me, grateful he’s left ‘Creepy’ out of the prefix).

He has a severe limp when he walks, his right side slumps with each step. Retired Vet, would be my bet. Large, hulking man, must have been fierce in his day. (vs. me still pretending to be fierce, a younger old dog with false teeth, literally and figuratively. At least they don’t clack, yet. Something to look forward to).

We’re on Month 4 here with the morning walks, and despite the crossing of our paths each morning, he would not lift his head to acknowledge me. Perhaps stuck in his head. Perhaps wanting to leave me stuck in mine, which was exactly where I prefer to be. We all send off our own scent don’t we, mine a ‘Black Prickly de Chanel.’

Last week, he broke the silence.

“Do you know if the other Swan is still around? My wife and I were worried.”

I paused for a minute, and not sure exactly why I lied, but I did. I did notice her partner had been absent for a week or so, but I just didn’t have it in me to tell him. Or, perhaps I didn’t want to believe he was gone. Like Gone, Gone.

“Yes, he’s down by the bridge at the end of The Cove.” [Read more…]

Walking. My July 4th.

Twilight. August 7, 2020. 5:32 am. 67° F. Cloud Cover: 86%. The Cove, Stamford, CT.

90+ min walk. 100+ photos.

It was Amateur Hour (or hour and a half).

Hand shake. Blurry shots. Crooked shots. Underexposed shots. Overexposed shots. Dark light. Bad light.

Rain drops on lens. No pink or orange hues lighting up the cove. Dense cloud cover.

Hide tide. Birds in hiding.

But…

as I rounded the corner at Cove Island Park, there it was. The American Flag. Softly flapping in the breeze.  I pause to watch… listening to its rustling, as it folded and unfolded. No press briefings. No shameless politicians.

Just the American flag, the silence of the daybreak and me.  And an intense and overwhelming feeling of gratitude for this Country and it’s great people…and what you all have given my family and me.

Walking. In Twilight.

75 minutes before sunrise, I start out in darkness, and slide into Twilight.

90 consecutive days, same loop, 5 miles, Cove Island Park and back.

I had to Google it, because I didn’t know what it was called, the in-between time between night and sunrise.

Twilight: “the soft glowing light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon, caused by the refraction and scattering of the sun’s rays from the atmosphere.”

I have no clue what all that means —  and no interest in learning more.

I’m deep into Kate Zambreno’s new book: Drifts: A Novel. My kind of book. She describes it as “Prose, little things, I stammer out.” (I wish I could stammer, spit and cough out anything close to this.)

Her words: “A shock of color out of nowhere.” And that’s exactly what it was. Look at it. The photo above, taken @ 5:24 a.m. 24 minutes before sunrise. 24 minutes before sunrise. Where does this light, this ‘shock of color’ come from?

In a different time, a different scene, she goes on to talk about “the light of Vermeer’s paintings. Their silence and mystery…So often the painting seems to be of the same room, at the same picture window… whether the sun floods in directly or diffusely.”

And so here we are. 90 consecutive days on this same walk. The same room, the same picture window, a new Vermeer each morning.

I tuck my camera into my bag, and head home. I twist in my earbuds and listen to Audible pumping in the narration.  She closes out her book on an Albrecht Durer quote, back in the 1500’s (before the internet, before digital cameras):

What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many things.”

And so it does Albrecht, so it does.


Notes:

  • Photo: 5:20 a.m. The Cove, Stamford, CT. July 30, 2020.
  • Inspired by: “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” ~ Eden Phillpotts, from “A Shadow Passes
  • Book Review of Kate Zambreno’s book “Drifts: A Novel”: “Locked in a Creative Struggle, With Rilke as Her Guide” by Catherine Lacey, NY Times.

Miracle. All of It.

It’s 5:52 a.m., yesterday morning.

I’m done with The Cove Park portion of my 5 mile walk, and it’s the last 7/10s of a mile in the home stretch. On asphalt. Through the side streets. Heading home.

I’m tired. I’m dragging. And my head has shifted to Work.

I slip the cap on the lens while I’m walking (because one cannot waste precious minutes).  I tuck the camera into the sling, zip up the bag, and swing it over my shoulder. I accelerate my pace. And practice my breathing as instructed by James Nestor. (Because he’s so deep into my consciousness, I can’t take 10 breaths without thinking about his instruction.)

I round the corner onto Anthony Lane and hear a rustle.

And there they are. The two of them. Staring at me.

I freeze.

They freeze.

Please. Please don’t move. I slide my sling from back to front, and start unzipping the bag. I don’t take my eyes off them.

Please. Please don’t move. I don’t know anything about shutter speed. Continuous bursts. Or whatever-the-Hell-else I need to catch you in motion.

I grab the camera. My hands shake, the lens hood flies off and hits the ground. The lens cap follows and rolls a foot or two on the shoulder. My God Man. Get a Grip. You’re going to blow this.

Jack turns to his brother: “Is this amateur hour?  Can you believe this guy?”  “No sh*t. I’m getting tired of posing here.”

I raise the camera.

I see a thin film through the view finder. OMG, the humidity is fogging up the lens.

It clears.

And then comes the camera shake. I tuck my elbows in tight to my body. My breaths are short and quick, hot little puffs.

I move my index finger to the shutter, ever so gently.

I zoom in on my targets.

Now!

And Bam! I got it!  And another. And another. And another. And another.

They turn to walk to the woods.

I watch them disappear.

Wow, so Beautiful.  Miracle, all of it.


Notes:

  • Photos: Mine! A Miracle! July 27 2020.
  • Post Inspired by Kiki. She told me that if I didn’t share this story, she would send the Dale and Sawsan posse after me. So here it is.
  • Post title Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Walking. In Search of my Spirit Bird.

4:25 am. I’m out the door. Dark Sky app recap: 74° F, 100% humidity, cloud cover 89%.

It’s dark. A wafer thin haze hangs below the street lamps.

I walk.

A firefly flickers, gets caught up in a light wind gust, and disappears. And at that moment, unexplainably so, I felt Small, Little, against the backdrop of the World. This flickering, illuminating, little miracle. “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” (Crowfoot, the Blackfoot warrior, 1890)

Me and Crowfoot?  Crowfoot and me? Crowfoot and I? Oh, for God Sake, let it go.

I walk.

Same route. 5-mile loop. Since May 5th, daily, without interruption. Same camera bag sling, slung over my right shoulder, camera affixed with strap to right wrist. The Autonoman

Raccoon up ahead, picking away at the remains of road kill. He skitters away as I approach. Sprinkler systems fire off at 4:30 am, hissing as water hits the street.

I walk.

I note the silence. This narrow slice of time, before daybreak. Nocturnal creatures and me. Afraid of horror movies, the dark and tripping in a pothole and taking a header, I march through the suburban streets on my way to the waterfront.

I take my first shots of The Cove, high tide.  And 78 additional shots that morning.  Little did I know, that 90 minutes later I would learn that all but 10 photos, would be blurry because of some dial I inadvertently depressed. Fuming, at my desk panning through the photos, rubbing my eyes, thinking it’s my f*cking eyes going, because it just can’t be this expensive camera. I move closer to the screen. It’s not my eyes.  My God. You are an Amateur. What a waste. [Read more…]

Walking. Anybody Can Do This. (Not)

2:30 a.m., I’m wide awake, ready to start the day. Hello Day!

It’s a few hours before I set off on the 55th consecutive day of a five-mile walk to greet the sunrise at Cove Island Park.

I’m anxious to see what’s in store for me this morning. And worried that I might sleep through the 4:55 am to 5:15 a.m. peak feeding time for the waterfowl. Normal people set an alarm. I have four gadgets on the night stand next to me ready to jump into action. But for some reason I can’t explain, I don’t. I can’t. A life time of never needing an alarm to get up, I’m not going to start now. I don’t change. And, let’s face it, You don’t either.

4:25 a.m.  I gather up the camera gear. I double check to find the memory card is in its place — the recollection of backtracking 1.5 miles three days ago, getting soaked by a sprinkler system that turned on at 5 a.m., cursing the rest of the way home, and needing to take the car to the park for fear of missing feeding time. All of this is fresh. And it ain’t going to happen today.

I throw the sling around my shoulder. Take a long swig of ice cold water. And I’m out the door.

Photography.  Camera. New hobby thing. Mixing it up a bit.

I’ve watched hundreds of instructional videos on Youtube. Paged through the camera user manual – a lot of damn good this did.  Texted back and forth with a buddy who gave me some tips.

ISO. Shutter speed. Aperture.  Exposure Compensation. Continuous tracking. EVF. LCD. Autofocus. Manual Focus. Single Point. Zone. Wide Angle. Tracking. Single shot. Burst. Still. Video.  Good God. My Head is spinning.

Then add to the soup, small (very) buttons. A small, sensitive touchscreen. Clumsy, large hands. Not yet arthritic, thank God, not yet anyway, something to look forward to. Throw in farsightedness, and you have menus and pop-ups jumping in and out. And blood pressure surging. Jesus, I’m of average intelligence, it just can’t be this hard.

And forget the quality (and breathtaking expense) of the camera equipment, lenses, battery (and back up), and memory cards, there’s so much more to this Photography-thing that was lost on me. [Read more…]

Walking. With On Golden Pond.

3:30 am: Up. Six hours of sleep, easily two short. Two shots of Tylenol PM won’t keep this guy down. I think about amping up the dosage to three, soft baby blue, colored pills —  bad idea Doctor, bad idea.

3:35 am: Skim morning papers. RSS reader feeds. Blog Posts. Emails. Texts. Read a passage from Joyce Maynard’s At Home in the World where J.D. Salinger tells her: “Some day, Joyce…there will be a story you want to tell for no better reason than because it matters to you more than any other…You’ll stop looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re keeping everybody happy, and you’ll simply write what’s real and true. Honest writing always makes people nervous, and they’ll think of all kinds of ways to make your life hell. One day a long time from now you’ll cease to care anymore whom you please or what anybody has to say about you. That’s when you’ll finally produce the work you’re capable of.” Hmmm. Not ready for ‘real and true.’ And ‘honesty’ makes me nervous. But Salinger does offer sound reasoning for the mediocrity that spills out onto this page. There’ll be time enough to chase the written word that I’m capable of.

4:25 am: Strip, including Apple Watch. Ounces make massive differences. I step on the digital scale, and inhale. The figures race upward, like slots in Vegas, having similar odds.  It stops hard on the Score. I exhale.  Wow, good result. Space for large breakfast.

4:35 am: Check temperature. 60° F. Put on long sleeve shirt. 60° F and I need long sleeve shirt. For some reason this triggers a scene from “On Golden Pond” where Katherine Hepburn shouts: “Don’t be such an old poop Norman.”

4:40 am. 38 consecutive daybreaks in a row. On same walk. same location. same loop. I know precisely what time to leave the house to walk the mile to Long Island Sound and arrive ten minutes before Sunrise. I make a point to google WebMD when I get home to diagnose my form of OCD. I pack my camera bag, take 3 large gulps of water, and head out the door.

5:10 am. I’m on shoulder of Weed Avenue. The geese, 50 or so, float ever-so-still, catching their last bit of shut eye before the day starts.  There are two swans, with their heads tucked under their wings. Must be cozy in there. And mallards interspersed among the others in the sleepover.

There’s no traffic. Long Island Sound is quiet. The World gives Sun its moment of silence.

5:25 am. Here comes the Sun. The World stands still to watch the spectacle. I snap a few shots, put the camera down. And watch, the Sun, in all its glory, with gold and orange hues.

A loon, with its long, curved neck, breaks the silence with its call.

And this triggers another line from “On Golden Pond“. “Come here, Norman. Hurry up. The loons! The loons! They’re welcoming us back.”

Yes, they welcome me back. Thankfully. Again.

Each breath, a Gift.


Daybreak. 5:25 am. June 13, 2020. 60° F. Wind: 9 mph. Gusts: 22 mph. Cloud Cover: 3%. Weed Ave, Stamford, CT.

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