True Colors

As Tisen and I stroll along Stringer’s ridge, my feet drag through a thick layer of leaves.  As they crunch and swirl in front of my feet, I remember what fall meant to me as a child.

Halloween was, of course, central to the fall experience.  Dressing up in some costume that never quite looked as glorious as I expected it to (except the year my mother cut and sewed her wedding dress into a Cinderella gown for my costume), parading through the yards of our neighbors to go door-to-door for halloween candy.

Even though it was a special occasion, we were only allowed to walk through the yards where adjacent neighbors had their porch lights on and were giving out candy.  Some yards, we got to crunch our way through un-raked leaves while other yards were sparsely dotted only with leaves that had fallen in the past hour.

Stringer’s ridge has no gardener to obsessively clear the leaves away.  They fall and create a weaving of color over the broken and dilapidated asphalt that marks the ridge’s recent history.  As we leave the nearby urban residential area and enter into the preserve, the leaves become denser and the views become more colorful.

Tisen has taken his time getting here.  Me with my camera stopping to shoot frequently had nothing to do with how long our walk has taken, I’m sure.  Tisen needed to sniff and mark every mailbox on the way through the neighborhood.  I tried to coax him on his way, but he insisted in at least making an attempt to leave his mark, even if it was only a gesture by the time we got to about the 10th mailbox.

As we crunch our way through the leaves now, I don’t hurry him, but I do occasionally try to get him to sniff a yard or two in one direction or another so I can shoot while he sniffs.  I wonder how many photographers struggle to get the angle they want because they are walking a 70 pound dog who doesn’t always cooperate?  Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m the one on the leash.

Given the slowness of our progress and my need to be somewhere in the near future, we take the shortest route to the overlook.  It’s not an overlook in the sense that anyone built a structure or anything.  But, they did clear a few small trees so the view of downtown was unobstructed.

I love this view.  You can see the best part of the riverfront as you look across a sea of colorful trees.  It’s hard to believe there are so many trees between me and home as I look down the ridge and across the neighborhood Tisen and I have just walked through.

I say a silent thank you to the good people of Chattanooga who had the foresight to make this a preserve and then we turn to walk home.

Quiet Giants

Even as a dedicated tree hugger, I never thought going to stare at trees was particularly exciting. Arboretums, for example, fail to move me.

But, several years ago, after 6 days of backpacking in Yosemite, it was a nice respite to head to Mariposa Grove and see the giant sequoia there.

In the same inexplicable way in which the mountains evoke a quietude, these giant trees spoke to me like individual mountains standing amongst a forest of tiny hills. They are the largest living things on the planet by volume.

I once read a historical novel about the settlers of the Pacific northwest in the 1800’s. In that book, they had an intense hatred of trees. The trees stood between them and fertile farmland, sustenance, and shelter.

When I saw the sequoia looming down, as they had in some cases for over 3000 years, among some of the world’s oldest living creatures, I found myself wondering what the early settlers thought of these giants. The Sequoia survived in part because they were fire resistant, bug resistant, rot resistant, and not particularly useful for building anything.

The settlers couldn’t burn them–in fact, fires are quite helpful in promoting Sequoia reproduction and over-controlling forest fires led to a demise in their population.

Their seed cones are tiny pods that pop open and spread seeds when properly dried. The heat of fire, which has the additional benefit of clearing out most of the Sequoias’ competitors, dry out the cones and allow the seeds to disperse.

The Chickaree squirrel can also help disperse sequoia seeds. This little guy will eat sequoia cones and help spread the seeds in part by storing the cones.

Luckily for both the sequoia and the Chickaree in Mariposa Grove, controlled burns are helping to restore the natural ecosystem of the area, encouraging new generations of giant sequoia trees.

The famous “California Tunnel Tree” in the middle of the park probably serves as the best representation of how the early settlers felt about these giant trees. They cut a big hole through the middle of a tree wide enough to drive a wagon and a team of horses through it. Not exactly a sign that they had a sense of awe and wonder about the trees. Seems more like a Graceland tourist trap than a healthy respect for the diversity of life.

In any case, we are all fortunate that Galen Clark did come along with a healthy respect. He saw the testament to grace these trees represented and managed to preserve them.

I imagine life from the trees’ perspective, in which thing move at a pace proportional to a 3000+ year life expectancy. I imagine what a tree “sees” in the course of 3000 years as the make up of the air, the water, and even the very soil at its feet shifts and changes. I wonder if the older trees complain about kids these days or if evolution occurs at an altogether different pace?

Monkey Feet

It all started on the hike to Grinnell Glacier in Montanna.  Pat and I were working our way up the mountain trail with me in my hiking boots that felt like giant led-filled balloons when we passed a couple on their way back down.  They looked impossibly fresh.  They weren’t limping.  They looked relaxed and comfortable.  As I looked down to find footing, I noticed their feet.  Low and behold, they were wearing fivefingers shoes.  I had heard of fivefingers before, but it hadn’t occurred to me people would wear them on the trail.

After limping our way back at the end of the hike with me barely able to put weight on my knees and hips, I found myself wanting to try fivefinger shoes.

When we got home, I bought a pair like the ones we saw on the trail–black neoprene.  Although I didn’t give them a true trail test for many months, they turned out to be a miracle on the treadmill.  My knees and hips felt better than they’d felt in years after the initial adjustment period.

There definitely is an adjustment period!  A whole bunch of tiny muscles in my feet and ankles had to be reborn and developed before I could walk as fast or as far as I had been walking.  But, once I’d adjusted my stride and footfall and developed weakened muscles, I was pretty sure I could walk forever without getting the shooting pains I’d become accustomed to.

Alas, the neoprene was hot.  It was hot indoors and hot in the fall and spring, but not warm enough for the colder temperatures I’d hoped to wear them in.  That led to the trekking pair.  They have a mesh weave that breathes.  Unfortunately, they weren’t made to be drug across the ground on their tops, which is exactly what happens when one is learning to hang glide, resulting in excess wear and tear.  My feet also do not like the tread on those shoes.  If I walk on hard surfaces in them, I get blisters on my big toes.

This led to the much softer and cushier black and gray pair, which I love.  However, they are a little too soft for the trail, which brings us to the orange pair.  They are supposed to have some extra support to protect against rocks.  I’m testing them tomorrow for the first time on the trail.

There are definitely tradeoffs.  Kicking a rock or stepping on something sharp feels a lot different (and not good!) in fivefinger shoes than in hiking boots.   They are also not good in cold and/or wet conditions.  My feet turned to blocks of ice on a short 2 mile walk that started off slogging through mud last November.  I was glad I’d brought my boots for the longer hike we did right after that.  For this reason, I bought a new pair of boots, too, much lighter than my previous pair.  I wish I didn’t need them.

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.

Foot Loose

If yesterday felt like spring, today felt like summer.  I start off the morning taking Tisen for a long walk.  Tisen and I have been walking a mile less daily than I thought we were.  Since we are both getting thick through the middle, I up our mileage to avoid cutting back on food.

I start off in a T-shirt, light-weight fleece, and rain jacket.  By the time we make it to Walnut St, I tie the jacket around my waist.  As we work our way across the river and back to Market St, I tie the fleece and jacket together.

When I get home, I lure Tisen into the bedroom with my sleeping husband and rush off to the gym.  When I get back, my husband tells me Tisen laid on the floor by the door whining the entire time I was gone.  He apparently never realized my husband was in the room.

Tisen has been getting more and more aggressive with strangers.  When we walk at noon, I practice having him sit when another dog approaches or when people are going by.  I am trying to assert myself gently, but when I correct him with the ever-so-effective “neh-eh-eh” noise, he cowers enough to make me feel bad.  Surely he knows by now I will never, ever hit him?

In the evening, the three of us walk to the grocery store and my husband stands outside with Tisen while I run in.  Tisen stands on the sidewalk so intently watching the door that he doesn’t notice when another dog passes him within a couple of feet.

As we walk home from the grocery store, we notice the moon.  A tiny sliver of a new moon, just a narrow slice of light.  It’s setting already.

I rush up to the roof to see if I can get a decent shot before it sets.  The last thing I see as I rush out the door is Tisen running after me with his Puppy Love heart in his mouth.

It’s so windy that the lens (at 400mm plus a 1.4x extender) bounces around making it hard to focus.  I tighten everything that turns.  The lens still bounces.  I set up for a shot and then step over the tripod to block the wind.  Except, instead of stepping over, I trip over it.  I start over setting up the shot.  Things get only worse.

I do what any woman whose husband is cooking a quick dinner downstairs would do, I pack it in for the night.

When I pick up my tripod, the camera swings around and smacks me in the head.  It should not do that.  Inside, after being attacked by a frantic Tisen, I discover the foot plate on my lens foot has come completely loose.  No wonder my lens wouldn’t settle!

In the meantime, after a happy dance, Tisen settles down and is so darn cute, I stop worrying about his anxiety issues.

Blowing Out the Whites

Once again, my intention to shoot in the park goes by the way side.  I plan to shoot after walking Tisen.  There’s a new sculpture in the park that lights up at night.  They installed a solar collector along with it–it collects sunlight all day and then powers the lights in the sculpture at night.  Add that to the list of things I love about Chattanooga.

As Tisen and I cross the street, I see a tripod on top of the “sledding” hill.  A young guy is sitting on the ground next to the tripod, presumably waiting for the sun to set.  The clouds are in perfect shape and position to create a really great shot if the sun will just hit them right.  I’m with the kid that he should wait to see if it gets more interesting as the sun sets.  It doesn’t look too promising, though.

When I return home, Pat is also home and is adjusting our audio setup.  We’ve been struggling with hearing our TV.  This is not an age issue (yet).  It’s an acoustics issue.  We have a pair of old Bose speakers designed to bounce sound off walls in square rooms.  Since our room is not square but wide open with lots of hard surfaces like a metal ceiling and concrete floor, the sound goes everywhere except towards us.  If I go to bed before Pat, the TV sounds like it’s blasting into my ears in the bedroom while Pat struggles to hear from the couch.  So, we are reverting to a couple of small satellite speakers we had in storage to see if we can better direct the sound.  Pat is now on the floor trying to figure out how to set the receiver.

I go around to the other side to see if I can help and Tisen squeezes his way underneath Pat, wiggling his way up under his chest, and then starts growling.  We both stare at him and roll our eyes.  The shelter warned us that he’s growly but he just seems to be talking.  I suspect he doesn’t like that he isn’t between me and Pat–he’s gotten quite possessive of me–but it’s funny that he put himself where he is and now he’s grumbling about it.  I guess that’s not so different from us two-legged folks.

After the speaker adjustments, Pat wants me to help with some software he needs to learn how to use for work.  He wants to create a file for a CNC machine to carve a logo.  Logo photography is becoming a trend for me!

I shoot his logo for him, but have trouble removing the paper from the shot cleanly.  I think I am going to have to reshoot the logo so that it’s so overexposed, the white is completely blown out.  It’s funny when I think about all the times I was trying to avoid blowing out the whites.  Sort of ironic.  Sounds like a song title:  Blowing Out the Whites.

Night Walks

I love walking at night, but I also apply lessons from self defense class and pay attention to what’s around me.  Had I not been listening carefully, I might have missed the calls of the nighthawk or the yips of what I suspect is a family of foxes.  I would have been mystified by the sudden sting of a mosquito’s bite had I not heard one buzzing moments before.  Yes, there really are mosquitos on January 31st.

I listen to small rustling noises in the brush and try to imagine the size of the creature causing them.  I’ve learned that small things make big noises in the dark.  I imagine a tiny mouse scurrying under layers of leaves. Then, the sound of a small bird startled from its roost is followed by the vague impression of a shadow diving through the foliage.

This is when Tisen stops to poop.  Pooping is not my favorite subject, but this dog does the strangest thing.  He lifts his leg to pee on something and then he swings his raised leg around like he’s getting on a horse or a bicycle, but goes straight into poop position.  Whatever his target was ends up pressed up against his bum.  He often deposits his poop in out-of-the-way places like among tall grasses or weeds.  I am getting a little tired of trying to figure out how to remove semi-liquid dog poo from strands of grass and shrubs without ending up with it on my hands.  Tonight, I fail and after wiping the worst of it in the grass, start heading towards the restroom so I can wash my hands.

As we return from the darkest part of the park, we see two silhouettes coming towards us.  Perhaps the combination of being backlit and uphill from us is what makes them seem like they are giants.  Tisen freezes in position.  I freeze, too.  I watch the pair of ambling shadows approach, trying to get a make on them.  I get the idea there is a dog with them, but I cannot see the dog in the dark.  As they get closer, I realize the dog registers about the same color as the concrete sidewalk below him, giving him great camouflage for walking in a park on a sidewalk at night.

I also realize that the pair is a normal-sized couple out for an evening stroll with their dog, but the dog is the giant.  If you kept the basic outline of an irish wolfhound and colored it in like a golden retriever, I think you’d end up with something that looked related to this dog.

Tisen lunges.  I grab the middle of the leash with my clean hand and hold him back.  Then, I start walking away, shortening the leash by increasing my distance.  I somehow manage to keep Tisen under control without getting poop on anything.  But, to be safe, we head straight for the bathroom sink and anti-bacterial soap.