Returning Home

Trips to Columbus, Ohio are always confusing to me. I never know which direction should be referred to as “going home.” I once wrote that home is where your bed is. By that criteria, I guess Chattanooga is our home destination. However, having spent nearly 40 years living in Columbus, the paltry 3 we’ve lived in Chattanooga have not been enough to erase the feeling of returning home when we head North on 75.

This last trip North ended the longest stretch I’ve gone to date between trips to Columbus. It’s been long enough that I can’t actually remember when my last trip up was, but I know it wasn’t in this calendar year. With my remaining family all living elsewhere these days and many of my friends having moved away as well, it sometimes catches me off guard how much Columbus still feels like home. When I think about what makes it feel homey, here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. I know how to get to every place I want to go without using GPS. If one route has traffic, I know another route, also without GPS.
  2. I can come up with restaurants I want to eat at based on style of food, quality of adult beverages, particular favorite dishes, or outdoor ambience. (I confess, I did have to check with several restaurants on whether they allow dogs on their patio or not–Tisen came along on this trip.)
  3. I know where the “bad” parts of town are.
  4. I know where the best camera shops in town are and which ones carry Canon gear.
  5. I have a doctor and a dentist there.
  6. I know where to go for a safe pedicure without an appointment.
  7. Graeter’s Ice Cream is available just about everywhere–even Costco.
  8. The biggest problem is trying to fit everyone we want to see into a few days and realizing we’re not going to be able to get to see many of the people we’d love to catch up with.
  9. We have a place to stay where there is a room just for us and our dog is welcome (and offers from several other friends to stay with them)–I guess we do have a bed in Columbus.

This trip was timed around the Columbus Guitar Show. It was my first time working a show (although I’ve attended a couple before). Manning the booth and giving away T-shirts to people who participated in my marketing campaign turned out to be both fun and exhausting.

One of the best things about our timing was that we were in Chattanooga for the beginning and end of the Riverbend Festival, but missed the middle of the 9-day event. This means we didn’t get tired of the extra people and traffic in the downtown area. And, we were home in time for the fireworks–out of all the fireworks in Chattanooga, the Riverbend fireworks are by far the best and longest display.

‘Fraidy Cats

Bonnie trying to hide herself in a too-small corner

Bonnie trying to hide herself in a too-small corner

While staying with a friend in Columbus over the weekend, I pulled out my big hulkin’ DSLR with a 24-70mm lens on it and added a big hulkin’ speedlite along with an even bigger hulkin’ softbox made for speedlites.

There were 2 dogs and 1 granddog in the house when I got this piece of equipment out.  No one would have guessed that from the looks of the place.  All the dogs disappeared as soon as my camera came into view.

This was definitely a sign that my flash and modifier were an especially intimidating combination.  Although Bonnie has always been terrified of cameras (or any similar looking soul-sucking device), Paris and Elliott are normally posers.

Paris trying to blend in with the wall

Paris trying to blend in with the wall

I got down on all fours to better discover the hiding places of my four-legged friends.  I found Bonnie hiding behind the fireplace–she paused just long enough for me to get one shot and then she scurried off to some hiding place far more effective, not to be seen again until long after my camera had been put away.

Elliott was frozen under the coffee table, convinced he had become invisible until the flash fired the first time.  Paris, one who normally lounges in the open and gazes wistfully at the camera as if to say, “Oh yes, another paparazzi lurking about waiting to take my picture,” was stuffed under the side table, behind the cords for the various electronics in the vicinity.  Far from looking ready to pose, she looked nearly as terrified as Bonnie normally looks.

Elliott frozen in position

Elliott frozen in position

I got only one shot each of the dogs before they disappeared until little Elliott, fooled by the camera being placed on the coffee table for a while, decided it was time to reclaim his favorite spot on the sofa.  He curled his tiny body into a tight ball on the top edge of the sofa pillows.  As soon as I grabbed my camera, he hunkered down, attempting to hide himself behind the pillow fringe.

All I can say is he must have been really comfortable on that pillow not to jump up and run for cover.

Elliott curled on the couch

Elliott curled on the couch

Cow Tipping and Sky Scrapers

As the holidays approach kick-off, I find myself searching through old photos more frequently.  I’m thankful for old photos–they remind me of where I’ve come from and refresh the memories I’ve taken with me.

These images are from a photography workshop I went to back in Columbus, Ohio (I have to add “Ohio” now because when you live in Chattanooga, they usually assume you mean Columbus, TN or Columbus, GA).

As I review the images and look at the metadata, I realize just how many mistakes I made.  That, too, is a reminder of where I’ve come from.  Sometimes it’s nice to realize I am learning even if the process seems slow.

I ponder why these images all seem to have been shot with a wide open aperture, resulting in out-of-focus foregrounds and/or backgrounds.  These days, I like to see the entire scene in focus in most landscape shots.  The difference between having lots of depth of field and the images in the gallery probably comes down to the want of a tripod and low light conditions.

But what jumps out at me as I peruse these photos is that in over 40 years of living there, I had never really seen downtown Columbus before this day.

I had walked the streets more times than I can count.  I’d been to theaters, restaurants, shops, meetings, museums, and even two courthouses.

But I walked the streets with purpose, my mind busy with the reason I was there or the things I needed to do, focused on what was ahead or behind and not on what was around me.

I wonder if I returned to my home town how I would see it differently.  I think back to vague memories of the Columbus skyline from my childhood.  There was one sky scraper then, the Lincoln LeVeque Tower.  It remains the most interesting of the tall buildings in the Columbus skyline even though its height has been eclipsed for many decades by its neighbor, the Rhodes State Office Tower.

As I look at these images and see blocks and blocks of big-city buildings, I realize how much the town and I grew up together.

My family arrived in 1970 when Columbus was still called Cow Town.  In fact, even when we left, there were still cows grazing on the OSU Agriculture campus pastures well within the city limits.  It would be hard to grow up in Columbus without knowing what cow-tipping was.

At the same time, Columbus invested in revitalizing some of its worst neighborhoods, developing its downtown riverfront, creating an awesome metro park system, and attracting large businesses that built up the Columbus skyline.  In retrospect, I realize that Columbus grew up without me noticing.  It turned into a real city with real attractions.

None of that makes me regret our decision to move to Chattanooga, however.  Perhaps a mid-western metropolitan lifestyle is less important to me than views of Lookout Mountain.


One of the hazards of having a 2TB hard drive is the immediate accessibility of old photos.  There is something about fall that causes me to review.  With 9 years of photos on my hard drive, this can be quite a journey.

Along with review comes a sense of nostalgia.  As much as I appreciate my new life in Chattanooga, there are things I miss about my old life in Columbus, Ohio.

I try not to think about how much I miss my friends.  Although I have made a dozen or so friends in Chattanooga now and I would miss them, too, I don’t find that friends are replaceable or interchangeable.  Each is a unique relationship and each relationship is something I value.

I don’t need old photos to remind me how much I miss my friends.  What the photos do remind me of is there are other aspects of my old life that I miss as well.  Being within an easy 1/2 day’s drive of family is a big one.  Going from a 3 hour drive to a 7 and 10 hour drive is a big difference in how frequently we see family.

But there are small things I miss as well.  For example, I miss my gallery wall from our former living room.  Given that we somehow lost the prints on that wall in one of the two moves after selling the house, I miss the art as much as the wall to display it on.  It was one of those little pleasures I enjoyed everyday.

I also miss playing in the snow.  Although, I guess I would have missed that had we still been in Columbus this past winter given it was unusually warm.

Perhaps a bigger gap for me is the feeling of being part of the community.  Although I’ve found volunteer gigs I enjoy here in Chattanooga, it’s a little less immediate than being part of a neighborhood group that invests time and energy in improving the street we live on.

Along with changes that came from changing states, I also miss some of the things we left behind when we sold our house.  Like the raccoons on our deck that would eat peanuts left out for the birds.  Or being able to look out the windows and be eye-to-eye with birds ranging from Red-shouldered Hawks to Scarlet Tanagers to even occasional warblers.

I guess I am really missing living in a wooded ravine that not only brought the birds up close to our windows, but also allowed for a woodland garden, intense fall colors along our street, and a hummingbird nest above the deck in the summer time.

But even as I miss these things, I am also relieved.  After all, as much as I enjoyed life in the ravine and life in the house and community there, giving up those things has created an uncertain future that brings with it a sense of endless possibility.

Wild Things

One of my favorite past adventures was in Columbus, Ohio shortly before we moved to Tennessee.

One of the curious things about living in a place the vast majority of one’s life is the propensity to take it for granted.  For me, making friends with someone who was more connected to the Columbus scene introduced us to some experiences we would have missed completely.

These images are from one such experience.  Our friend learned of a behind-the-scenes tour available at the Columbus Zoo and organized a group of people to divide up the fee.  Even better, much of the money went to a Cheetah rescue program.

The animals we met were the animals who travel with Jack Hannah when he appears on television.  Jack himself was off at his Montana home, so we didn’t get to meet him.  I don’t think any of us felt like the experience was diminished by his absence; after all, it’s the animals who are the stars.

What was so cool about the experience is that these are animals who are used to educate people about endangered species and who have been handled enough to be touchable.  How often do you get to go to the zoo and pet a Lemur or cradle a baby Wallaby?

There are two things about the program I particularly like.  First, they are very serious about trying to save the extremely endangered Cheetah.  Not only do they operate a breeding program, but they also use the funds raised to donate Anatolian Shepherds to farmers where Cheetahs are still wild.  The Anatolian Shepherds protect the farmers’ flocks from the Cheetahs and, inversely, protect the Cheetahs from being shot by the farmers.  It’s a novel approach to solving a root cause that’s win-win.

At the Columbus Zoo, you can buy a children’s book about an Anatolian Shepherd raised with a Cheetah and those funds go to help save the Cheetahs too.  This is a somewhat ironic twist on the plot.  At the Columbus Zoo, instead of scaring the Cheetahs, the dogs provide comfort and confidence to otherwise skittish cats.  I don’t recall the story of what made them decide to raise the first cheetah-dog pair, but the result was a happier cheetah, so they have been raising puppies with the captive cheetahs ever since.

The puppy friend we met along with the cheetah babies there that day was a frisky yellow lab who didn’t seem to quite understand his place in the food chain next to his best friends.

The second part of the program I particularly liked was the number of rescues who were part of it.  The tortoise, the puppy, and the Python were all rescued critters.  In the case of the tortoise and the python, the Humane Society wasn’t equipped to deal with them.  The python had been released in a Columbus Metro Park and was at risk of freezing to death when it was rescued.  What a beautiful snake it is!

Mimosa Anyone?

For those of us who appreciate an excuse to drink champagne for breakfast, a mimosa is a tasty beverage that someone invented most likely because they spent too much money on a bad bottle of champagne (my apologies to any French readers, I really mean sparkling white wine that may or may not be from the Champagne region of France) and didn’t want to waste it.  Sweetening up sparkling wine with orange juice was a stroke of genius in my opinion.

But it does not explain how it got its name.  For that, I am forced to google.  Apparently, I have never had a mimosa that was made correctly–they are supposed to have a foamy head that resembles the flower on the mimosa tree.

In Ohio, the crabapple trees bloom fantastically in the early spring.  But I can’t remember ever being over powered by their smell.  And they burst into blossoms that seem to disappear within a week.

This is my first spring where mimosa’s are common.  In Ohio, you might discover this strange tree tucked into a protected corner of someone’s garden, but I can’t recall ever seeing one in the wild.  Here in Tennessee, they start a sneak attack with their sweet scent.  I walked through the park smelling the perfume in the air for days before I finally figured out what it was.  That was at least 2 weeks ago–they are still blooming like mad.

Unlike the crabapples, the mimosa trees tend to be tall, keeping their blooms out of reach.  This makes them a bit of a photographic challenge.  And, as you may know by now, I seem to gravitate towards challenges.  But it’s not the challenge of capturing them from a distance that attracts me, it’s the way the light hits them in the evening, suddenly spotlighting their pink foam flowers in golden light.

I may have to get a ladder and go back for some close-ups.  I wonder what the maintenance crew would do if they saw me carrying a step ladder?

I spotted a small mimosa tree down by the river.  The best time to shoot it would be around 8AM when the sun is still low but high enough above the Eastern horizon to send a few rays over the steep bank above the tree.  But, I decided evening would be a good time to experiment with my flash outdoors.

I set up my flash on a stand so I could put it as close to the tree as possible while I shot further back and to the side enough to keep the flash out of my frame.  However, if there is any light on the mimosa, it’s because I lightened it in post-processing, not because the flash threw so much as a single random shiny spot on it.  A disappointing experiment.

The good news is that the mimosas seem to just keep on blooming.  Maybe I’ll get a chance for that close up over the weekend.

First Flash

I finally got caught up on post processing photos from my whirlwind trip to Columbus.  These photos are from the baby shower I attended.  Rule one:  decide if I want to shoot or attend a party.  When I’m trying to do both, I don’t do either well.

There’s a certain geek factor about walking around a baby shower with a big lens and a flash on a stand with a funny looking box over it.  Now, imagine if I would have added my loupe hanging around my neck.  Would that really have pushed me over the line between overly enthusiastic and completely socially inept?

I’m thinking I crossed that line the moment I decided to put my flash on a stand.  And as one guest pointed out, people will put up with my flash because they want the pictures.  This only holds true if you do a really good job on the pictures.

In any case, I discovered several things my first time out with my new flash.

First, I understand why event photographers often put the flash on the camera even though the lighting options are limited.  Having the flash on a stand in a relatively small space with a lot of people was a bit awkward.  It was often difficult to find a position for the flash stand without asking someone to step out of the way.  There were many times I didn’t bother to use the flash at all because I didn’t want to disrupt the whole room by setting it up in the middle.

Another thing I learned was that since I was working without a tripod (not something I do too often these days), I needed to have a fast enough speed to not get blur from movement but also slow enough not to exceed sync speed with the flash.  I ended up with a shot where the shutter speed was too slow for my hand-holding ability when I was using flash. Seems like it defeats the purpose of using a flash.

I was pleased with the effect of using the flash to light the shot of the gifts.  Although there is a bright reflection in the piano, it’s not actually from the flash–it’s just brighter because of the flash.  There seems to be a pretty even light.  Of course, the ambient light from the windows helped with the fall off.

While an umbrella might have been even better light, we decided it was too crowded to have a big umbrella sticking out of the stand.  That was definitely a good decision!

Another thing I learned was the challenge of lighting multiple people.  Especially when the people don’t know each other that well enough to get into each other’s personal space.  Or, when there is a huge height difference between the subjects.  Shadows get exponentially harder to control.

All in all, given it was my first time using a flash, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself.