Time Out

This is my last day of a one-week vacation.  Instead of going somewhere, a friend came down for a week of hiking in the area.  I managed to disconnect from my day job completely.

The reality is that work is going on without me.  I may have a few messes to fix when I get back, but those messes probably would have happened whether I was there or not.  And if I weren’t there, someone else would figure out how to clean them up.

I choose to take from this the lesson that if there is time for me to take a week away, there is time for me to take a breath during the day.  There is time for me to stop at a reasonable hour and pick up again the next day.  There is time for me to take care of myself regardless of what messes come up.

I re-learned the truth of how important unplugged time is to me.  Going out into the wilderness where there were no sounds besides the wind blowing through the trees, water tumbling over rocks, and occasional conversation with my friend brought with it a sense of connectedness with the world around me that hours in front of a computer cannot achieve.

The computer, whether for work or just for fun, takes me away from the here and now.  Choosing footholds along a rocky trail puts me intensely in the present moment in a way that’s hard to achieve typing on a keyboard or reading an email.

I also re-learned the power of physical exertion.  The sense of aliveness and appreciation for every bone, muscle, blood cell in my body intensifies as the trail becomes more challenging.  The ability to move myself rhythmically up a steep rocky climb turns into a sense of power and wonder.  The body is a marvelous thing to inhabit when it’s working well.

And, I re-learned the joy of pushing limits just a little.  Hiking with a friend who hasn’t hiked much helped keep me from over-doing.  It kept the soreness to a minimum and allowed me to enjoy what I was capable of without suffering what might otherwise have been the pain of over-exertion.  Happy medium is called “happy” for a really good reason.

Taking time away also gave me the time and energy to consider alternative possibilities.  The freed energy led to imagination and my imagination went wild.  At the end of a week of time “off”, I find myself full of hope.  Hope that I can make time for what is most important to me.  Hope that anything truly is possible.  Hope that life can be joyful on a daily basis.  Hope that I can return to my “normal” life and make it a little less normal and a little more peaceful.  Hope that if I can do that, the world as a whole can be more peaceful, too.

It was a good vacation.

Shots Not Fired

There are so many things to do within an hour’s drive of Chattanooga.  It’s hard to imagine ever running out of new things to show people.  However, it’s a little different when you’re thinking of things to do with children.

On day 3 of our friends’ visit, I recommended we go where there were cannons.  After all, if there was one thing that fascinated the four-year-old, it was guns.  The bigger the better.

When we arrived at the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, we thought we’d hit the mother lode.  A group of people were out by a row of cannons loading them.  We were all sure we were about to witness the firing of several cannons.  I’m not sure which one of us was most excited.

Unfortunately, it was just a training session for volunteers who would be firing the cannons at a future event.  Today was not the day.

There’s nothing worse than disappointing a child.  I try so hard not to let a child hear me when I make suggestions so they don’t get their hopes up.  I don’t know why I think children shouldn’t have to deal with disappointment–maybe it’s good for them to start preparing young.  I just don’t want to be part of the preparation.

I’m sure I get this from my mother–she was always one to avoid getting our hopes up.  If she thought we might get to do something special, she kept it a secret until the last possible moment.

For example, the year they decided to take us to Disney World, they never mentioned that we might get to go because they didn’t know if there would be enough money to pay for the trip.  I don’t think my brother or I had even dared to dream about going to Disney World because it seemed so far out of reach.

Not until we opened our Christmas presents and found airplane tickets (which had to be explained to us since we’d never been on an airplane) did we have any idea our parents had even considered taking us to Disney World.  To this day, I still remember the excitement of that surprise.

I always appreciated that about them–we always knew we could trust them to deliver on their promises.  It’s something I try to emulate–especially with children.  I don’t want to be that person who gets a child all excited only to find out it’s not going to happen after all.

I felt like our visit was like that a lot for our four-year-old friend.  We didn’t go on a boat ride because the stroller wasn’t allowed on the boat.  We didn’t go on the merry-go-round because wet clothes weren’t allowed and he was wet from playing in the fountains.  And now, the cannons were not actually going to be fired.

I feel like I may be first on the list of people who will disappoint him in his life.

Cloudland Canyon

Before we left this morning to watch the hang gliding, I did a little research on Cloudland Canyon, a park we keep passing signs for between going out to the hang gliding park and my bike trip to Chickamauga Battlefields a few weeks ago. I try to talk Pat into planning a hike there while we’re out that way when I see that it’s supposed to be one of the more scenic places to hike in the US. I find a short, 2-mile round trip trail and think I might have a shot at talking Pat into that one, but when I mention that it has about 1600 steps because it goes down to the base of a waterfall, he vetoes immediately. Unfortunately, the hamstring he pulled the last time we went hang gliding is still giving him troubles and he doesn’t want to risk pulling it again when we have our next hang gliding lesson scheduled next weekend.

However, after realizing there aren’t going to be any mountain launches today at the hang gliding park and seeing all that there is to see there today, we decide to make a detour to Cloudlands Canyon and walk out to whatever overlooks are convenient from the parking lot. I suggest that there may not be any, but Pat laughs at this. “We’re Americans. We always have to have a view accessible from the parking lot–think of all the people that won’t walk to see a view!” I have to agree. There are a lot of people who go to a lot of really beautiful places in this country without ever realizing that hiking to even more beautiful places is a possibility.

The park is a state park, it turns out. And it costs $5 to enter. I guess that’s the downsize of going to a park that’s listed as a top 10 destination. We drive in and find the first overlook. I decide to take my camera with me as the leaves are beautiful and the sun is getting lower in the sky, making for better lighting than my hang gliding shots earlier today. Pat takes my still-assembled tripod out of the back of the car and carries it over his shoulder. The legs are still extended and it hangs out far behind him.

As we cross through the grassy area on the path between the parking lot and the overlook, we pass amongst a group of teenagers playing a game of tag or something. They appear to be Mennonites or a more relaxed derivation–the girls all wear skirts with heavy stockings and have a cap covering their buns, but they have less of a uniform look than the Mennonites I’ve seen in the past. The boys could be mistaken for mainstream boys from their attire, although they don’t seem to be wearing anything with logos. They are so intent on their game that one of the boys nearly knocks his teeth out on my tripod–Pat moves it out of his way just in time.

We make it to the overlook without injuring anyone and I set up my gear. It’s an amazing view from here. I had no idea that Northern Georgia has such incredible terrain. The canyon is deep and rocky, but sill mostly tree covered. The fall colors are far brighter than I expected to see in Georgia as well. Unfortunately, the setting sun creates deep shadows that contrast sharply with the brightly lit parts of the canyon and I struggle to capture just how amazing this canyon looks with my camera. After doing my best, we return to the car and, once again, the same boy nearly knocks his forehead into the end of the tripod. I suggest to Pat we need one of those orange flags used when driving with something hanging out of the back of the car. He suggests that the boy just needs to start paying attention to where he’s going.

We drive further down and find another parking lot at the far end where we can walk to the next overlook. There are fewer people here and we make it to the overlook unimpeded. A couple stands at the railing of the overlook trying to take a picture of themselves. I help out by taking a shot of the two of them. They hand me their cell phone and I take a picture for them. It’s kind of funny to have someone hand you a cell phone and ask you to take their picture, but I guess it’s common enough these days that it won’t be funny much longer.

The view from this side is just as beautiful, although there are fewer red trees on the slope across from us. We can hear a waterfall in the background. Stairs continue down from the overlook and I wonder if this is the trailhead for the walk to the waterfall I’ve read about. However, we are not prepared to hike–I’m wearing a pair of Italian boots comfortable for walking around in, but not safe for steep descents to waterfalls–and I don’t even broach the subject with Pat. Instead, I enjoy finding different angles to experiment with and shoot away.

Before we leave, I decide to take advantage of having the tripod and set up a shot of the two of us. Using the delay on my shutter, I give myself 10 seconds to get from behind the camera to in front of it. It takes two tries and using some flash because we’re back lit, but it’s kind of fun to actually have a record of me having been there instead of only having shots of everyone else.

Next, we walk along a paved path that takes us up to one more overlook. Here, a family is trying to get a group picture and they’re taking turns shooting. When they see me, they ask if I can take a shot for them. The mother hands me the camera. I think it might be a Canon Rebel, but I’m not sure. It’s considerably smaller than my old 40D and the lens on it seems miniaturized somehow. In any case, they tell me it’s all set and I just have to push the button. I compose and shoot, but the family is backlit and the exposure is set for them, overexposing the entire picture. I show it to the daughter (who appears to own the camera) and she changes a few settings and hands it back to me. She really needs some fill flash to get a good shot, but I decide not to comment. I take the shot again and ask her to see if it’s OK for her. She likes it, so I move on to set up out of their way so I can shoot the canyon.

While I’m shooting, the father of the family apparently stepped in dog poop left behind by an earlier visitor. He leaves along with one daughter to go remove poop from his shoes. The remaining mess on the rocks stinks something awful. The mother and daughter remain and the daughter seems to be playing model while her mother shoots using the daughter’s camera. I’m a bit confused because the daughter has to keep setting up the shots that her mother takes, and from her comments, she seems to want to learn how to shoot. However, one of the reasons why I’m rarely in my own shots is because composing the shot is the part I like best about shooting. To me, the composition is the most important thing that a photographer can individualize. While I suppose that’s not strictly true, it’s the part I understand enough to individualize. In any case, it’s not something I like to hand off to someone else to do.

I work my way around the rail of the overlook, avoiding the dog poop in the process. As I am finishing up with my final round of shots, another man joins the group on the rock and starts up a conversation with the daughter and mother. When they leave, he starts talking to me. He asks me what my intentions are with my photography. While this seems like an impertinent question for a stranger to ask, Pat happens to have asked me the same question on the way over to the park. I inform the stranger of this as a response rather than answering his question. But he probes further. When I say my intention is to get better at it, he dismisses this as vague. Finally, I tell him that I publish some of my shots on my blog. This somehow satisfies him, but he won’t stop talking.

I make all the physical signs of wanting to leave possible. I remove my camera from the tripod and hang it around my neck, I compact my tripod into its smallest form. I stand there holding my equipment with a lean towards the stairs, indicating he should start moving. He stands there between me and the steps like a wall. I take a step forward and he simply turns like a weathervane to maintain eye contact. I am at a loss. I finally interrupt his diatribe about his father and say I need to move on before I lose the light. He follows us up the stairs, still talking. When we get to the top, I start to go right and the man goes right. Then Pat steps back and says, “Honey, the car is this way.” Fortunately, the man continues off the other way instead of changing his mind, but I have now lost the opportunity to go shoot from the last overlook. Oh well, I have more photos than I can process anyway and we will be back another day.

We drive home in the fading light and I get home in time to do a little more shooting from the balcony. It’s funny how once I get on a roll, I don’t want to stop. Maybe that’s where the expression “get on a roll” comes from–back when photographers used rolls of film?