OP Christmas

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There are some things in life I really enjoy vicariously.  As in, I don’t own them, I just appreciate someone else having made the investment I’m not willing to make.  Two things that fall into this category for me are boats and Christmas decorations.

I really love Christmas decorations, but I hate getting them all out, putting them up, fixing what doesn’t work, and then taking them all down again and storing them–all when it’s really cold out.  The amount of time you get to enjoy them seems disproportional to the amount of effort and space they require both during and after the holidays.

Hence, I decided to pursue OP Christmas lights this year.  OP as in  Other People’s.  Fortunately for me, there were lots of opportunities to see Christmas lights.  There was the Mainx24 event and parade.  The Starlight parade.  The Lighted Boat Parade.  Rock City.  And, now, the Chattanooga Zoo.

Rock City was a trip.  We drove up to Lookout Mountain to see this popular Christmas destination.  We got there before there was a line to drive into the parking lot, but there was already a 30 minute wait to buy tickets to get in the door.

When at long last we got through the gate, there was another 30 minute wait to get from the entrance gate to the main path.  We found a way around to the upper trails, but Pat and Tisen hung out in the courtyard and waited for me so they didn’t have to fight the crowds.  I took my camera and tripod and managed to politely force my way through the line to the alternate path.

After getting a few decent shots, but nothing really exciting, I was more than happy to call it quits and head back to Chattanooga.  On the way back down, we passed bumper to bumper cars for at least 5 miles straight, all stopped as they waited to get into the parking lot for Rock City.

By comparison, I got a preview of the Chattanooga Zoo after hours.  The reason why is too long a story to tell, but let’s just say it pays to know the right people.  They stayed late after the zoo closed to let me in after dark so I could shoot their lights.  It was the absolute opposite experience of shooting at Rock City.

Instead of long lines and jam-packed crowds, I got a personal guided tour, shuttled around on a maintenance truck, and was given plenty of space and time to shoot.  I felt like a famous person or something.

While the Chattanooga Zoo would probably need to add at least 3 zeros to their bulb count to get to the number of lights at Rock City, I preferred the Chattanooga Zoo experience.  I have a few more shots to share from the zoo tomorrow, but today’s shots were from the entry area.  I had a particularly good time trying to capture the hippo’s head moving.

Stream of Unconsciousness

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It’s 11:08PM EST. I’m falling asleep as I type. I’ve been up since 5:00AM. At the end of the day, I pulled up the photos I’d processed for tomorrow morning’s post. They are from Rock City when I went up to shoot the Christmas lights.

Several things occur to me as I start typing. First, approximately 3 people will read what I write tonight. Odds are in favor of me being able to get away with saying anything.

In the interest of saying anything, here is an experiment in free writing when one ignores constraints such as basic grammar rules, logic, and even consciousness–who says you have to be awake when you’re writing? Instead, I’ve decided to see what happens when I write while I’m falling asleep.

A black and white dog approaches. The girl squats to get get down to his level.

The dog approaches and feels a pretty special in the most obvious of spots. He doesn’t growl at her–a first in his shot history of co-existing amongst higher-class humans than he was used to.

Instead, the dog takes his place in line, making a formidable barrier between those who would take what they need and those who are happy to earn it. Tisen is all about earnings. He has no comprehension of what we decided years ago for on prem licenses. But we are trying to accommodate.

I have to stop here for a moment, shaking my head trying to clear it of cobwebs to determine if I can possibly finish this point–or, more accurately, to determine if I had a point or if this is just random talk popping up as I nod off while typing. It’s mostly just random.

As I sit with finger tips hovering over key board, I start typing in a stream of consciousness fashion that won’t impact the embarrassment in honor of Christmas.

I imagine telling a partner that we’re releasing a small number of parts and contract agreements .

I re-read and realize I’ve just typed a series of sentences that make me think of collecting automated data details from the set top box of the cable solution. Oops–I’ve done it again–written in a way that sounds like one of those spam comments on wordpress. All this time, I’ve been wondering how they come up with the wording for those. Apparently, all you have to do is type while you’re nodding off.

My back is aching. My hips have had enough. I learn that only FedEx and UPS are handling these expert deliveries. I decide that Santa must have had enough too. After all is there enough “common caring” oil that a grower might be able to offset right before Christmas. Oops, I must have started to nod off while typing again.

Well, this post makes no sense. But, I’d love to know if you noticed. Leave me a comment or a like if you read this.



Lighted Boat Parade

A long exposure of the lighted boats circling in front of Ross's Landing

A long exposure of the lighted boats circling in front of Ross’s Landing

The Lighted Boat Parade is a Chattanooga tradition, if a relatively new one.  Boaters decorate their boats with thousands of Christmas lights and then parade down the Tennessee River to Ross’s Landing where thousands of spectators watch.  Here, they are joined by the Southern Bell–a longer-lived Chattanooga tradition that offers boat cruises to tourists.  Then, they form a giant circle.

The Southern Belle provides the center of the boat parade circle.

The Southern Belle provides the center of the boat parade circle.

Since the boat parade immediately follows the Starlight Christmas Parade, we had to high-tail it back across the bridge to find a spot I could shoot from in Renaissance Park.  Having walked Renaissance Park 3x a day for nearly a year now, I feel like it’s really my yard.  And what a lovely yard it is.  While I’m not into yard work (making a park the perfect yard), I do pick up litter.  Part of me thinks this small contribution to keeping the park clean should entitle me to first choice of places to shoot from.

I love this look--who can resist Santa on a Harley?

I love this look–who can resist Santa on a Harley?

Plus, I really thought I had the insider’s track on a good spot to shoot from–the launch ramp under the Market St bridge.  After all, how many people even know the launch ramp is there?  The kayakers, a few fishermen, maybe a stray cat or two.

This boat was tough to keep up with while panning with a telephoto lens

This boat was tough to keep up with while panning with a telephoto lens

No.  As it turns out, about 5000 people know about the launch ramp and they all showed up there to watch the Lighted Boat Parade.

There probably would have been fewer people on the boat ramp if the park itself hadn’t been closed off along the riverfront.  The fireworks were fired from there, so this forced the crowd off to the edges of the park.

I set up my tripod somewhat precariously on a rock retaining wall held together by chicken wire.  This allowed me to get the long exposure shots I so love.

The lead boat caught me off guard, but I got this light trail from my camera on the tripod

The lead boat caught me off guard, but I got this light trail from my camera on the tripod

I also borrowed my husband’s new Rebel, unashamedly put my 70-200mm lens on it (I really should post a picture of what that looks like–it’s pretty humorous to see this big, heavy, amazing lens stuck on the tiny body of the Rebel).  I used that for panning with the boats.

This clean-lined boat slightly resembled a shoe

This clean-lined boat slightly resembled a shoe

I am getting better at panning.  Considering how dark it was and how slow a shutter speed I was shooting at, I was pretty proud that I got any closeups of the boats at all.  You can tell which ones were shot while panning because the background lights have a bit of a trail.  I especially like this effect on the candy-cane lighting the Tennessee Aquarium opted for in honor of the celebration.

Panning with the boat caused the candy cane lights on the aquarium to gain a trail

Panning with the boat caused the candy cane lights on the aquarium to gain a trail

The best boat in terms of entertainment value was one that had spot lights that would turn on, revealing a group of women in santa’s helpers costumes doing a dance to very loud music.  It was great.  I think they may have set a new bar for the other boats for next year’s parade.

This boat really went all out on entertainment value

This boat really went all out on entertainment value

It's not entirely clear what the dancers are doing, but it's funny

It’s not entirely clear what the dancers are doing, but it’s funny

As for great decorations, I think this boat takes the prize:

I think this boat's decor was a really crowd pleaser for anyone looking for tradition

I think this boat’s decor was a really crowd pleaser for anyone looking for tradition


After a long first day back from a week’s vacation, I look up from my work and see it’s pitch dark both inside and out.  I look at the clock.  It’s 7PM.  Rain streaks the glass on the windows.  I pause long enough to wonder how long it’s been dark and raining without me noticing.

I realize I haven’t thawed Tisen’s dinner yet.  I dump some frozen nuggets into his bowl and set them out to thaw.  Twiggy, visiting for a few days, dances at my feet, her butt wiggling back and forth with the force of her wag.  Tisen jumps at me.  Both are impatient to go out.

I put Tisen’s rain jacket on (he hates to walk in the rain) but he won’t hold still while I zip it.  After the 3rd attempt, Tisen is zipped in and I grab the leashes, checking the poop bag holder to make sure there are at least 2 bags.  I grab an extra roll just in case.  Then, I head out into the dark leaning back against the leashes like a water skier.

As we walk around the park, I think of what I want to shoot tonight.  I decide I should take advantage of the rain and see if I can capture rain drops.  This is something I have failed at so many times that I have no problem failing once more.

But this time, I am armed with a flash.

Back home, full of optimism, I walk out onto the balcony, attach the flash, position a reflective wrap to bounce the flash, find something to focus on, and take a test shot.  Nothing.

I decide it’s not raining hard enough and sit down to wait.  My glass of wine makes the time pass.  The rain picks up and I try again.  I try focusing close and far.  Repositioning the reflective wrap and shooting without it.  I get a few shots that have some white dots in them.  Nothing very exciting.

I try another round, this time, including out-of-focus street lights to add a background.  I manage to get a few more dots and I kind of like the blurred balls of colored light.  Not exactly what I was going for, though.

The rain slows and I look for something else interesting to try.  I decide to try panning with passing cars to see what I get.  This is just good fun.  Don’t ask me why I have so much fun creating completely bizarre images that really don’t work well, but I do.  I particularly like the one shot of the car crossing the Market Street bridge off in the distance.  Maybe it’s the blurred Christmas lights in the foreground that I like so much?

I am reminded of a photography workshop where the instructor talked about how at least one thing must be in focus for a shot to work.  He’s probably right.


It’s February, right?  I’m prone to confusion on these things, sometimes mistaking Friday for Monday, or, far worse, mistaking Monday for Friday.  On the rare occasions when I still write a check, I often have to ask someone for the date, but I don’t usually mix up which month we’re in.

This year, I have to double check.  The weather feels like April and sometimes even May (in Columbus) but when I look out the window, I see a giant Christmas tree and holiday tinted lights on what are normally golden fixtures.  I suppose if I average December and April, I get to February, so maybe that’s how I can keep track.

I don’t mean to be snide–I still like to believe with childlike naiveté that it’s possible to keep the Christmas spirit alive all year–but I tend to think of the trappings of Christmas like trees and lights and giant blow-up Santas as not having so much to do with the Christmas spirit.  They do, however, take a lot of extra electricity.

I find myself wondering why this town that prides itself on cleaning up its river and developing in environmentally friendly ways supports keeping this all-electric decoration going for nearly 2 months after Christmas.  I wonder exactly when they will turn off the Christmas tree?

It’s actually not a tree at all.  It’s really many strands of lights hung in the shape of a Christmas tree.  Which I like better.  I feel bad when I see a tree that will die soon.  The lights may be killing thousands of trees via strip-mining for coal, but it’s kind of like buying chicken free of feathers, blood, beaks, and feet and all neatly packaged in cellophane.  It allows me the fantasy I’m not responsible for the death of a chicken.  Similarly, the lights-only tree allows me to fantasize I’m not responsible for the death of a tree.

It’s funny how the removal of responsibility allows us to walk away from things, to think “they” should do something about that.  Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do.  Other times, I feel like it’s not my place.  But a lot of the time, I simply fail to do what I believe is right because I don’t want to be the nay-sayer–the pain in the rear who always complicates things.

What is that quote?  “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Apparently it’s a fake quote.  Regardless of whether Burke said it or not, the meaning rings true.  I would not, however, argue that leaving Christmas lights on constitutes the triumph of evil.

In lieu of civic action, I decide I will shoot these remaining Christmas lights from our balcony.  They are approximately a 1/2 mile away on the far side of the river.  I shoot with my 100-400mm lens with the 1.4x extender on it (left over from trying to get a shot of the moon several nights ago).