Quicksand

Last Monday, my course veered undetectably by me. Until the moment my body slammed to the ground–rudely snapped against a boardwalk much like a rag doll without consideration of human bones, ligaments, tendons, organs, and blood–I thought I was simply out riding my bike.

A simple swerve to the right–or was it to the left?–over mist-covered algae growing on a wood boardwalk changed the course of my wheels, my day, and perhaps even my life. The loss of traction was immediate. There was no skid, no slow motion fall, no time to realize I was under attack by the forces of physics that remain as undeniable as death and taxes. I found myself on the ground, shocked.

A tiny version of myself stepped outside my body and tried to make a video of all it could see, but my tiny self’s view was obstructed by the giant helmet on my banged-up head, the bars and shafts that made up my bicycle, my Gulliver-sized legs, and the shadows cast by all. Yet my tiny self was amazed to watch my big self rise up to a seated position and do its best to be sociable with a woman who had stopped to help.

Smiling, making a joke even, denying any serious injury. Above all else, protecting self by refusing to admit any vulnerability to a stranger–even a lone mother walking her infant in a stroller.

All pain was pushed aside. The knot of confusion was barely hinted at in the statement, “I hit my head.” I stood. I walked. She rolled my bike along. I sat on a bench, she parked my bike next to me, assured me she would be back shortly to check on me and disappeared both visually and in my memory until hours later when I suspected I’d dreamt her. Then, later still, the video my tiny self made was unlocked from some deep archive and returned to my big self for viewing.

Yet, I remembered I had a phone. I remembered where it was. I remembered the password to unlock it. I remembered how to call my husband. I asked him to come and get me. My tiny self was fully back onboard with my big self at this point–there was no video for me to return to later.

I still cannot recall the conversation with my husband. Nor can I recall the quarter-mile walk I undertook to meet him at the nearest street–I had fallen on a pedestrian-only portion of the Tennessee Riverwalk.

What I do recall is a moment of utter panic. Of being uncertain that I was going in the right direction, uncertain of where I was, uncertain as to what was happening. I choked down an urge to sob. I gave up crying long ago, after my mother’s funeral. My mother was the only person I ever knew with a healthy respect for a stranger’s tears–the only person I knew who was comfortable to just allow them. For everyone else, they are at least a source of discomfort if not disgust.

I keep mine close. Occasionally, I allow moisture in deep empathy for someone else’s pain. But if you see a tear for my own pain, it’s either a once in a decade occurrence or you’re someone I trust with my life.

To be standing on a street corner lost and confused and blubbering would be the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt in my life. Standing on a street corner lost and confused was close enough. I swallowed hard, choked once, blinked away any tear that had dared to form, and recalled my phone.

I scoured my muddled mind for a memory of having spoken to my husband recently. A vague impression of having had a conversation formed much like a shape bubbling up briefly from under quicksand, then sinking and disappearing again. I wanted to reach for the memory, but feared grabbing it would mire me in muck so deep I might not surface again. I let it go.

I dialed my husband again. The words that came were, “Are you coming to get me? I’m so confused.” And I choked back a sob for a second time.

He talked to me from that moment until he arrived to pick me up. His voice my lifeline through the quicksand of my mind. Then, he scooped me safely into our van where a wet muzzle reached from behind my seat to check on me, reminding me my boys will protect me and care for me when I will let them. It’s the letting them that’s always the hardest part.

In the ER, I learned I had a concussion. Nothing dangerous or permanent, just scary. I was sent home to heal with instructions not to watch TV, use any electronic devices with a screen, or read any non-fiction. Thankfully, I was allowed to sleep.

I thought I would be fine in 2 days. I was not. The more I learn, the more I realize this isn’t something you recover from at the same rate as the 24-hour flu.

I’ve also learned that bike helmets don’t offer much protection against concussions. I’ve found one that promises a novel design technology called MIPS that’s supposed to have slightly better protection than traditional bike helmets against concussions. At $219, it seems pricey. When I get the ER bill, it will seem like a bargain if it works.

I will heal and I will ride again. But the experience of temporary dementia haunts me. I find myself wondering if more than my tires veered.

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Night Moves


Friday evening I was running late. I needed to finish photographing some guitars for Coop Guitars before I could head out the door. Isn’t that great? “Oh, I’m sorry I’m late. I had to finish up some shooting before I could call it quits tonight.” (I wonder if someone who’s been a full-time pro photographer for a couple of decades would find it amusing to have this as an excuse for tardiness: “Oh, I’m sorry I’m late, I had to finish up a conference call.”)

Even better, what I was running late for was another shoot! A group of adults got together on the riverfront to play with their very expensive toys–or, as I like to think of them, our boxes of crayons.

We met at 7:45 and shot through sunset and twilight and then really went nuts after dark.

Do you remember summer nights when you were a kid when all the neighborhood kids would get together and play hide-and-seek when it finally got dark? We would swear we’d only been playing for a few minutes when parents would suddenly appear out of the dark saying things like “Where have you been that you couldn’t hear me calling you for the past 10 minutes?”

Friday night, no parents showed up to tell us it was getting late. By the time people started realizing they needed to leave, it was after 10PM. Several of us shot on. “Just one more shot” we said to our internal parents reminding us we had other responsibilities.

We swapped tips on getting night time effects. We threw around words like “high-speed sync,” “hyper-focal distance,” “aberrations,” and “stopping down” and we understood each other. We zoomed our lenses at bright bridge lights during long exposures and giggled at the results. We got out flashlights and created ghosts and swirls just for the fun of it.

Suddenly, without warning, it was 11:30PM. I realized I was cold, I’d had no dinner, I’d had nothing to drink for at least 5 hours, and I’d told my husband I’d get home before 11PM. Yet, I still had to convince myself that those were strong enough reasons to pack it up for the night–there were so many more ideas I wanted to try!

Oh, there was also the fact that I needed to get up at 6AM the next morning to teach a workshop.

But feeling that creative spark and losing myself to it for a few hours was a great reminder of what I love best about photography–and life. Getting out and shooting with a bunch of people had the added benefits of both learning from each other and getting to socialize with people with a similar vocabulary.

Finding a View

There is a beam of light above the aquarium that didn't quite come out the way I wanted

There is a beam of light above the aquarium that didn’t quite come out the way I wanted

Since moving, I have been longing for a view of the riverfront.  Since this is achievable, I decided to take a few minutes away from Tisen (who has been a very clingy dog since Twiggy went home) to walk to the end of the hall where there is a common room with a balcony that overlooks the river and downtown.

The lighted tree reflects merrily on the water

The lighted tree reflects merrily on the water

I still missed sunset because I worked too late, but it’s possible the sun didn’t actually set today anyway–or, if it did, no one saw it.  Our weather has been shockingly like Seattle of late.  I fear my ties to Columbus, Ohio have somehow drug the weather down to Chattanooga.  The sun rises, but no one can tell if it’s risen or not.  The sun sets and no one notices much change in light.  We are on about our 4th straight day of such weather.  What is it about overcast skies and drizzling rain that becomes so depressing so quickly?

In spite of the dreary weather, the riverfront always looks cheerful

In spite of the dreary weather, the riverfront always looks cheerful

On the plus side, it’s warm.  It feels like a late spring day when summer is just around the corner.  The birds were singing so loudly this morning, they startled Tisen.  They are not the only ones confused–the shrubs are showing signs of recent new growth as if they suddenly burst into a mid-January growth spurt.

But in spite of the cheerful birds and warm mist, I am still hoping for the sun.  As a substitute, I did my best to shoot the mist.  It turns out it’s harder to get mist to show up in night time photos than I expected.

The Bluecross building bounced light into the fog on top of the hill above 27

The Bluecross building bounced light into the fog on top of the hill above 27

Long exposure times seem to make it disappear as it swirls in the wind, moving too much to leave an impression.  Short exposures make it too dark, blending in with the river, a pool of blackness except where it reflects light.  I finally went for high ISO settings to get more exposure out of shorter shutter speeds.

I like the fog at night.  It captures the city lights and reflects them back down in  night-time version of the sunset I missed.  While the colors and contrast in the sky may not be quite so obvious, I still enjoyed the view.

Fog rose off the river and swirled around the Southern Belle.  As I waited, the fog increased.  I might have waited longer to see what happened, but a group of German men gathered to play cards and I felt like I might be intruding.  That’s the problem with a common area.

At the start of my little shoot, there was a hint of fog around the Southern Belle

At the start of my little shoot, there was a hint of fog around the Southern Belle

By the time I stopped shooting, the fog was getting thicker

By the time I stopped shooting, the fog was getting thicker

 

Besides, I’d left Tisen at home alone and I knew he was waiting patiently by the door for my return.  I’ve started putting a sleeping mat by the door when I leave.  Otherwise, he lays on the floor and I’m sure it’s hard on his elbows.  He seems to always pick the position he believes is the closest to wherever I am.  I am alternately honored and worried–time to take him to doggy daycare.

 

The fog reflects light creating an interesting effect over route 27

The fog reflects light creating an interesting effect over route 27

Foggy Moments

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

–Carl Sandberg, 1878

Fog whispers secrets in barely audible hisses

Hinting of terror shrouded in its mist.

I watch as it crawls and creeps

Rises and disappears

Revealing nothing.

I love fog.  Now that the weather has been cool long enough, the water temperature has dropped.  This results in a giant, natural fog machine running through downtown.

At sunrise, if I happen to be down at the river at the right time, I love to watch the tiny wisps of fog swirling off the water’s surface, rising and joining the large cloud of fog above.  It’s so fascinating to watch the formation of a cloud that I may have to figure out how to make a video of it.

Eventually, a large cloud forms over the river, with strands of fog still connecting it to the river like a balloon vendor at a carnival with an endless collection of monochromatic balloons.  From up high, the fog looks so thick you wouldn’t be able to see your own hand in front of your face.  But when you’re actually down on the ground, the fog just looks more like an low-lying cloud.

On this particular morning a day or two ago, I had been meaning to go up on the roof to try to shoot some of the fall colors at sunrise.  When I saw the fog, I figured it would be a good morning to go shoot.  I shot from 3 corners of the roof.

I’m still trying to figure out how to shoot Stringer’s ridge well.  There’s a lot of crap between our building and the ridge that I can’t quite figure out what to do with.  I also seem to end up with more sky than I want in the frame.  I’m talking myself into shooting it with my 70-200mm so I can get in much tighter.  I’ll have to try that before the leaves fall.

I’m amazed how long the leaves are lasting down here.  They just keep getting brighter and brighter in color (still not as bright as midwestern color, but getting pretty close).  I keep thinking one morning I will wake up and all the leaves will be gone.

Of course, I couldn’t stay on the Stringer’s Ridge side of the roof for long.  Switching back to the opposite side of the roof, I tried to get an angle on the smoke monster crawling up the river.  It almost looked like it had a head on the other side of the smoke coming out of the chimney.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great angle.

As I watched the fog shift, the BlueCross/BlueShield building peeked through a sudden window that appears in the fog.  It looked like it had been hung in the sky and was floating on a cloud.

It was a lovely morning.