Home is Where the Holstein Is

I spent four days back in Columbus for both work and personal activities, although I’m afraid I had too tight a schedule to see everyone I wanted to see.

There was one “person” who was particularly upset that I didn’t manage to work him into my schedule for four days straight:  Tisen.

My poor boy suffered greatly from the lack of a mother.  No one told him (in a high, happy voice) he’s the best dog in the whole world for four days.  No one rubbed his armpits in the exact spot he likes so well.  He didn’t get to take any of his toys with him on walks. And no lap was acceptable to rest his head on while mine wasn’t an option.

In spite of all our efforts to create a bond between Tisen and Daddy so that Tisen would be OK without me, he was a very sad boy indeed.

Over the past few weeks, Pat has become the sole feeder of the dog.  The good news is that even though Tisen was depressed, he kept eating for the most part.  But, he wouldn’t cuddle with Daddy on the couch.  As long as I was gone, if Pat called Tisen to come lay with him, Tisen would run and hide, sometimes even going to the bedroom and getting in his crate.

Pat was worried enough about Tisen’s strange behavior, including sleeping most the day, that he didn’t take Tisen to doggy day care, thinking Tisen wasn’t up for it.

As I drove home, I could think of little else besides my poor boy suffering from my absence.  I confess I may have driven a little faster than was prudent.

When I got to our door, I knocked loudly, but I heard nothing inside.  I dug out my key and swung the door wide, calling “Hello?” No one.  I walked the rest of the way into the apartment to discover it was empty.

Two friends I didn’t get to see in Columbus had stopped in to see us at home.  Pat was out walking with them and Tisen and hadn’t heard his phone buzzing when I’d called.  So much for my emotional homecoming.

Instead, I drove over to where they were to pick them up.  Tisen seemed not to recognize me at first, but then he started running at me and licking my face.  Later, our friends commented about how much perkier he seemed now that I was home.

Currently, I am laying on the bed typing this.  Tisen dozes on a blanket on the floor right next to the bed.  He dozed off for a while, but then started awake and immediately lifted his head to check and see if I was still here.

Since I didn’t have a chance to take any new photos tonight, I pulled together a montage of Tisen photos.  While many are not such great images, they all helped get me through the four days of separation.

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Come Sail Away

I once worked with a man who told me about an airport North of Columbus where they have a sailplane club. He told me that in exchange for paying the $10 cost for the tow plane, you could fly as a guest with a member. I immediately put this on my list of things I wanted to do.

Over the years, I periodically drove by the club location. It was far enough out of the way that I probably went by it only a couple of times a year. But each time, I was always in too much of a hurry to stop and see if I could get a ride.

The years went by.

A few years ago, I learned my husband was enthusiastic about flying in a sailplane, too. After a couple of years of occasionally talking about it, we finally decided we were going to stop at the club to see if we could ride.

Nearly 20 years had passed since I had originally heard about the club. Yet, the website indicated it was still possible to take a guest ride. We took our road trip and arrived at the field, excited that at last, we were going to have this adventure.

Unfortunately, there was no one else around to participate. By this, I mean the tiny airport was so abandoned looking, I expected tumbleweeds to go blowing by. We got out, walked around, and peered through windows trying to find someone. Either the weather was bad for gliding or there was some kind of event that had taken them elsewhere. We found evidence that the airport was still active, but no sign of current activity.

It was such a let down after taking so many years to get around to stopping.

But, last June, while out in Portland, OR, I took Pat to the Mt. Hood area to go for a flight. It wasn’t quite the same as flying with a club, but it was a far grander view than a flight in Marion, Ohio would have been.

Having planned poorly, I didn’t have enough cash to pay for the ride. Poor Pat ended up paying for his own birthday present.

When it was my turn to go up, I climbed into the cockpit armed with my camera and watched as the guys rolled the sailplane out to the runway and hooked it up to the tow plane. The pilot climbed into the cockpit, sealed us up inside a plastic bubble that immediately made me feel claustrophobic, and gave the signal.

There was nothing to but take pictures. It’s not that easy to shoot from inside a plastic bubble. Although the rapidly moving air blowing through the cockpit prevented suffocation, the mid-day light bounced back at me, ruining most of my shots. A polarizer might have been helpful.

Soaring over the farmers fields below with Mt. Hood looming in the background and the Columbia River rolling by underneath made the two decade wait worth it.

Itching to Hike

Back when I was a Camp Fire Girl, I accepted a dare to roll in a patch of poison ivy. 24 hours later, I showed no reaction. Even three days later, there was nothing.
Fast forward about 15 years.

I was working in the garden at our first house, removing the crazy plants that had taken over in front of the house. I noticed about half way through that some of the vines I was attacking were poison ivy. I shrugged and thought, “Good thing I’ m not allergic.”

By the next day, I had a horrible itchy mess. A friend told me running hot water on it would help shorten the length of the reaction by stimulating the histamine response to happen faster (or something like that). I decided to try it. By the following morning, I had an enormous welt at least 5 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. It was oozing so much fluid, a stream was running down my arm.

Ever since, if I so much as see poison ivy (and perhaps more often, when I don’t) I end up breaking out. Thankfully, having learned a few things since then, not like that first time:
1) I watch out for it and avoid it as best as possible.
2) If I do come into contact, I wipe off with alcohol and wash thoroughly at the earliest possible moment.
3) I treat my clothes as hazardous and throw them into the wash in hot water immediately.
4) If I start to itch, I take an anti-histamine.
Above all, I do NOT run extremely hot water over the area!

As we picked our way along the Cumberland Trail last Sunday, all of these memories flooded into my head. The poison ivy grew so prolifically all along the trail, it was impossible to avoid contact. Even of I could have successfully cleared every leaf, vine, and stem, Tisen simply plowed right through it.

After all, Tisen doesn’t have to worry about being allergic to it. But dogs are great transferrers of poison ivy oils from plant to human. So, Tisen got treated like my toxic clothes and went straight into the tub when we got home. He was not very happy about his bath afterwards, as you can see from the last photos.

In spite of the poison ivy, the trail was beautiful. Because it was up high on a ridge, the wind blew through the trees almost constantly. The sound of wind blowing through trees always creates an inner stillness for me–even when I’m watching Tisen run through hundreds of poison ivy plants.
When a grove of older trees started creaking with an almost mechanical noise, I had to laugh–they sounded a lot like my knees.

After winding our way along the ridge listening to the woods being played by the wind like a strange instrument, we decided to head on back. After all, we had eight creaky knees reminding us not to overdo it.

Tennessee Hocking Hills

Hocking Hills is . . . An area? A collection of parks? A collection of hills? Perhaps all of the above. Whatever the name refers to, for me, it a part of growing up.

Something that my friends in Tennessee might not quite understand about growing up in Ohio is the experience of growing up where the land is flat. While Ohio has its river valleys, in Central Ohio, they tend to create long, slow slopes that are barely noticeable in a car.

The steeply angled streets of Chattanooga that climb, descend, and climb again seem as foreign to me as a river that flows North. When I was growing up, we had to drive somewhere to experience substantial hills and, more often than not, that somewhere was Hocking Hills.

Hocking Hills is about an hour or so South of Columbus. It marks the edge of a glacier that planed down the irregularities in the landscape to the North, leaving behind what was once plains and then forests and is now some of the flattest farmland around (except maybe for Kansas). But just beyond this geological boundary, the land rolls. The hills are high and cut deep by ancient rivers, leaving fascinating ravines with sandstone outcroppings and lush ferns.

It’s the kind of place that brings people from several states back over and over to experience in every season. In the spring and fall, it’s hard to find a parking place in any of the state parks if you get there after late morning. Flat landers rush to the hills in droves, seeking the experience of driving the winding roads as well as hiking the ravines.

On Sunday, Pat and I took Tisen for what may have been his first hike in the woods ever. We went to a section of the Cumberland Trail and picked our way through incredibly large and voracious looking poison ivy plants.

As we entered the woods, the bright sunlight dimmed under the trees and we had to blink, waiting for our eyes to adjust.

We started near the top of a large hill that would put Hocking Hills to shame and ascended several more times until we were walking along the very edge of the ridge line of the slope. As we worked our way along the ridge, the large outcroppings of stone protruding from the opposite side of the ridge immediately made me think of the kinds of formations we would see at Hocking Hills. It’s funny how you can hike to the top of a mountain and find only what you brought with you.

Tisen, having never seen Hocking Hills, cannot appreciate the similarity, but he appreciates being allowed to run ahead on the trail–something he could never be allowed to do in the crowds at Hocking Hills. Today, we are the only car parked at the trailhead and we neither see nor hear any other hikers on the trail. This solitude makes the walk that much more satisfying.

Skinned Knees, Wuthering Heights, and South Korea

While shooting wildflowers up close may invoke yoga muscle memory, shooting a landscape of not-so-wild flowers from the ground invokes many childhood memories. First, there is the memory of scraped knees as I kneel onto the sidewalk with my older-than-their-years knees and feel a stab of pain. This is a different stab of pain than the feeling of having your flesh grated by concrete (an all too familiar feeling for me). But being outside fascinated enough by the way the sun hits different flowers as it pokes through holes in the clouds to set up a tripod flat to the ground and then kneel down to look through the viewfinder to see what I can see, that feeling invokes the feelings of exploring and trying something new–a feeling my childhood was full of.
My photo album from my childhood is full of pictures of me in dresses with both knees scraped, bruised, or stained white from climbing a big white fence in our back yard.
I could never get away with anything on today’s world–I left way too much DNA evidence behind everywhere I went. This is still true today. It’s hard for me to make it around the park without a single stumble. At least I outgrew the desire to wear dresses all the time.
I try sitting all the way down to the ground on one hip. My knees are grateful, but my neck kinks as I twist to look in the viewfinder. Is getting older really better than the alternative? I would prefer a just staying young choice.
As I look up the slope with its long grasses and mixed flowers, another memory comes to me. It’s a memory of reading Wuthering Heights. I don’t know what a landscaped slope in Chattanooga, Tennessee has to do with an English moor, but I am suddenly reminded of the Monty Python skit where Catherine and Heathcliff are running towards each other across the moors and inevitably pass each other (since it was a Monty Python skit).
But the memory of Wuthering Heights takes me to another place. It takes me back to South Korea where I spent 4 months when I was 18. I bought a bunch of books there. They were pirated classics, poorly copied and poorly bound, but they were the only affordable books in English I could find.
In a place where everything felt different and strange, I found a little slice of “home” by reading stories that took place in England, where I’d never been. I wonder why that felt familiar?
Today, I wrap up my shoot and slowly stand, testing my sore knee gingerly before putting weight on it. I try to imagine Heathcliff and Catherine with my knees running across the moors. If it would have been me, I would have tripped at the last second and cracked heads with Heathcliff. I should have been on Monty Python.

The Importance of Yoga

The most important thing I learned from my mother is to allow myself to experience awe and wonder.  To experience the feeling of wonderment is to experience a sense of delight with what is.  It’s a moment of rest for the brain where you just accept and feel the feeling of “wow.”

As someone who is overly analytical and who could keep up with a three-year old on the frequency of uttering the word “why,” I particularly appreciate these moments when I’m simply too awed to think.

Today, I want to experience the joy of exploring beautiful flowers.

Instead of picking flowers, I photograph them.  One would think that photographing flowers would be a relatively easy task.  They are, after all, not going to run away.

However, given the flowers I most want to photograph are growing in colonies on a hillside, getting into the flowers with my big feet and a tripod turns into quite a feat of athleticism.  I carefully plant the toes of one foot and balance like the karate kid on one leg as I try to gently create a space for my other foot; I am painfully reminded of how long it’s been since I last went to yoga class.

Once I get myself in a spot where I can put both feet on the ground without crushing anything, I bend down and look through the viewfinder to focus on the flower.  The wind is blowing so hard the the flower is literally blowing completely out of my frame.  I have to hold the flower gently with one hand while I move the camera a bit with the other.  And, it turns out, I’m not close enough to the flower to focus.

I must stand, lift the tripod, find another clear spot for each of its legs and repeat the process of focusing and framing without moving my feet.

When I bend back over the camera again, desperately wishing for a place to rest a knee, my hand is shaking–I can’t keep the flower still enough to focus.  I have to straighten up, shake out the soreness, and try again.

In the end, I am grabbing snapshots of a flower as it waves by my lens in the wind because I cannot stand the pain of the position I have to stand in to do otherwise.

While I suppose I could buy a bouquet at the store or even start growing flowers in a pot, one of the things I like about shooting flowers up close and personal in a park is the feeling of surprise.  The first time I look inside a blooming flower with my macro lens, I see something I never expected to see.  Going to the park and exploring flowers I can’t identify and have never seen before keeps me in a state of wonder.

I just didn’t expect photographing flowers to have a prerequisite of regular yoga classes.

Loitering and Licorice

A friend of mine recently said to me (roughly):  there is something about a walk by a river that makes all right with the world.  I understand this.  There is something inexplicably soothing about walking by water.

I am reminded of walking by the Scioto River with my grandfather when I was very young.  I remember walking down to the river with him and stopping to get licorice along the way as if it was something we did often together.  In reality, it probably happened only once–we lived three states apart.

We walked slowly together, talking very little.  There was something about Grandpa I liked.  I have so little memory of him that it’s hard for me to remember exactly what it was.  Something went quiet inside when I was around him.  Like I needed to listen very carefully for something important.

When we stopped at the grocery store, the plastic packages of licorice hung from metal rods pointing at me, demanding my attention.  I will forever associate black licorice with my grandfather–he was one of the few people I’ve known in my life who would go out of his way for it.

With our brown paper bag full of licorice, we made our way across the busy road I was never allowed to cross on my own.  We walked across the bridge, back when it had a steel arch capping it.  The pedestrian walkway separated us from the traffic, but I remember it being all metal–our footsteps generating a soft metallic clang as we made our way across.

About halfway, there was a sign that said “No Loitering.”  I asked my grandfather what loitering meant.  He made a garbled explanation, and then said “like this” and he sort of shuffled around in one place.  For months, I thought it was some kind of dance step.  I couldn’t quite figure out why you weren’t allowed to dance on the bridge.

We made our way over the river, stopping to look down at the water periodically.  We were probably loitering.

When we eventually made it to the other side, the water lapped slowly at the bank.  The ducks paddled towards us in the water, hoping for a handout from our mysterious brown bag.

We walked slowly, listening to the water, watching the light bounce off of it and the rest of the world disappeared.

Now, when I walk along the Tennessee River, the world gets bigger, brighter, and quieter all at the same time.  I look at the clouds that decorate the river valley.  I watch for the heron soaring along the banks.  I watch the people crossing the Walnut Street Bridge, silhouetted against the setting sun.  I listen to the water, the birds, the insects, and even the occasional shout from an exuberant teenager.  As a I look for images I want to frame with my camera and keep, I am in that moment enjoying the river and all is right with the world.

Broken Heart Birdsongs

When Tisen and I go to the park, the Cliff Swallows buzz over our heads.  I took my binocs over with me one morning to figure out what they were.  They gave me quite a run for my money making me chase them with my lenses, getting just enough of a glimpse of their details to know for sure what category to place them in, what name to give them, what song to expect from them.

There is something about swallows diving through the air that makes me want to forget all about what kind of bird they are and simply join them in the freedom of flight.  The level of emotion I feel watching them is inexplicable except maybe, at an unconscious level, they connect me to my mother.

It was, after all, my mother who first introduced me to the wonder of birds.  Although the most exotic bird I remember my mother identifying was the American Goldfinch, her fascination with them was contagious.  My mother wasn’t really about identifying them or photographing them or getting up close to them.  She was all about birdness in its purest form.

She just felt joy when she saw a bird.  Any bird.  As long as it wasn’t in a cage.

Perhaps that’s what the swallows remind me of.  Because I was unsure of what name went with them, for weeks I watched them swoop and dive with the kind of delight my mother would have taken in seeing them.

I am reminded of a reoccurring dream I used to have as a child.  In it, I was running down the street I grew up on.  Running as fast as the wind.  Then, my steps would grow longer and I would soar through the air further and further between foot falls.  The feeling of flying between foot steps was so profound that when I woke up, I could feel the remnants of the dream physically in my stomach.  I so loved that feeling.

I wonder if my mother used to dream about flying?

There are times when her absence is still so painful I cannot bear to think of her.  Even though it’s been 13 years since her death, I so wish I could take her to see the swallows across the street.  I so wish I could point out the Eastern Towhee calling from the tree tops.  I so wish she could see the Eastern Bluebirds nesting in the bird house.  As if showing her birds might somehow make up for all the times I broke her heart.  As if a birdsong might heal the remnants of the hurt.

In lieu of sharing these birds with her, I share them with you.  Unfortunately, the swallows are too quick in flight for me to photograph.  But, having discovered their nests clinging to the Western side of the Market Street bridge, I can capture them there.  Frozen in a frame–I hope it’s not too much like a cage.

Booth Babe

While sitting in a booth on a Saturday may not sound like fun to a lot of people, consider the following:

  1. I work from home.  The only “person” I see during the day is my dog.
  2. My knee is troubled.  Hang gliding really isn’t an option.
  3. 10AM-4PM makes for bad lighting for photography
  4. The only people I know in the area are all busy doing things
  5. My husband has been working weekends.

So, when the opportunity to set up a booth for S.O.A.R. at an Outdoor Expo in Coolidge Park presented itself, I was more than happy to set aside a day to do it.

John and Dale and their cast of characters were busy performing at Rock City Earth Dayz and couldn’t join me, so it was just me representing the organization.

The event was not just an Outdoor Expo, but also a Green Expo and an Adoptapalooza.    The Outdoor Expo part attracts groups related to fun things to do outside ranging from kayaking to simple picnic games.  The Green Expo focused on environmentallly friendly ways to live.  The Adoptapalooza was all about getting homeless animals adopted.

As it turned out, all three events fit into one section of Coolidge Park.  This meant dogs were wandering by the tent all day.  Since birds of prey are not fond of dogs, it was a good thing they were busy performing at Rock City.  Since I didn’t have any birds of prey with me in the booth, Tisen got to spend the day with me.

In spite of the bad lighting, I was hoping to get some interesting pictures of some of the characters in the park while I worked the booth.  Whenever I could, I would jump up and snap a few quick shots.  The booth next to me was an ongoing source of interesting subjects.  They were all dressed like their favorite Star Wars characters.  I didn’t quite get the connection between outdoors, going green, or pet adoption, so when Pat came to give me a break, I walked over and asked them what they do.  They explained that there are three separate clubs, one for the dark side, one for the good guys, and one, well, I lost track.  They are into professional costuming.  Quite honestly, I walked away still puzzled about what they do, but they clearly take it very seriously.

I also discovered there was a horse in the park.  At first, I thought they were referring to a very large great dane that had walked by earlier, but it turned out there really was a horse running around in the park, giving children rides.  How cool is that?

In the end, I got to talk to a lot of nice people about what S.O.A.R. does, I got a few photos that are, well, fun if nothing else, and I even collected enough donations to more than cover the cost of the booth.  Oh, and Tisen got to hang out with Mommy all day.

Tilt

One of the things we enjoy about Chattanooga is the surrounding mountains.  They may be smaller, rounder and greener than, say, the Rockies, but they introduce a lovely, rolling feel to the area that only ancient mountains can create.  They also make for a lot of nice views.

Point Park offers spectacular views in three directions.  Lookout Mountain Hang gliding gives you a completely unimpeded view if you’re willing to run off a mountain or be towed up in a hang glider.  And then there is Rock City, famous for its view of 7 states.

Rumor has it that you can, in fact, see 7 states from the overlook at Rock City.  However, it requires a scope and an extremely clear day with no haze.

I find myself wondering how one knows when one is peering into a new state?  Is the state line superimposed on the landscape like a giant yellow line showing the next down in an American football game?

Having gone to Rock City to take pictures of the birds performing in S.O.A.R.’s bird program, I figured I might as well check out the view.  I even brought my wide angle lens and a tripod so I could capture that fantastic view.

Given my timing was around the bird programs and not around the sun, I, of course, ended up on the overlook at precisely noon.  I decided to wait until after the second show to try to get any pictures, thinking maybe 2PM would be better than noon.

When 2PM came, I headed back to the overlook feeling rushed because Pat was picking me up and wanted to get back to work as quickly as possible.

Instead of setting up my tripod, I hand held and took advantage of the bright sun with fast shutter speeds.  I would have loved a polarizer, but this lens is too big for my polarizer.  Another item for the wish list.

On my way to the overlook, I see a manmade waterfall cascading from underneath the walking path.  There is a bridge that spans the space in front of the waterfall that would probably make a great spot to shoot from.  However, I have my limits.  I may be willing to launch myself off a mountain in a glider, but I’m not about to walk on some skinny little bridge that spans a 1000 foot drop.  Not even for a better angle on the waterfall.

Instead, I grab a couple of shots that give me a headache to look at.

One of the consequences of the rolling mountains in this part of the country is that I can never decide where level is.  90% of my landscape shots have to be straightened in post production because they were shot at an angle.  At least, I think it’s due to the terrain.  I once learned that when I thought I was holding my head straight, I was actually holding it at a tilt.  Seems to have spread to my camera.