Spending Time

Another week gone by.  The weather changed from highs in the 80’s to highs in the 50‘s.  What is most shocking about the change in the weather is the sudden awareness of the passage of time.  This never fails to surprise me:  “What?  Is it really late enough in the year for frost???”

Every year goes faster.  This is an inevitable effect of aging–the older I get, the smaller the portion of my life a day represents.  The perception of time is relative.  Ironically, the more I want to slow the clock down, the more it speeds up.

Time has become my most cherished commodity.  There is so much to do and so little time in which to get it done.  I have come to long for sleep with the same nostalgia I once longed for Christmas–it always seems far off and then disappointing when it’s over.

In choosing to spend more time on enjoyment, I have seem to amassing a time deficit.  Even when having a great time, I wish for long nights of solid sleep and slower days with less to do–is it possible to just enjoy without wishing for something more?

I seem to vacillate between exhaustion and hyperactivity.  Exhaustion leads to periods of time of keeping to myself, not socializing, not taking on extra activities.  Boredom and frustration sends me back into hyperactivity.  Doesn’t it seem like by now I should know how to strike a happy medium?

Of all the things I have going on right now, most of them are fun.  Other than our dog who has horrible allergies that keep him scratching and licking himself all night, disturbing our sleep, I only have my usual complaint, which is work.

I’m staying up late Friday and Saturday nights volunteering for the Acres of Darkness haunt.  It’s so much fun, I can’t complain about that.  I’m also having a ball preparing to teach my first photography workshop.  No complaints about that time spent.

Work is work.  It’s hard to let go–it haunts my dreams far more than the ghouls and zombies found along the trail at Acres of Darkness.

I gave up on keeping up on my other blog this week, opting to skip many days of posts on snapgreatphotos.com in favor of getting to bed before midnight.

Social engagements and early morning yoga on Friday’s are really the only other things occupying my time.  These are energizing and balancing activities for me–they keep me centered.

So, what do I give up?  The things I love doing?  The things I do to pay for the things I love doing?  Or sleep?  I am reminded of a quote from Carl Sandburg:

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.

How do I decide if I’m spending my coins or someone else is?

Fear of Fear

*Photos from 2012 Acres of Darkness

I have spent the past two evenings hiding in the woods trying to get pictures of terrified people in complete darkness.  Darkness is a funny thing.  We talk about it like it’s a bad thing.  Analogies about being in darkness and being brought into the light start with the notion that we hide in darkness and we are seen in the light.  After all, there is nothing inherently bad in darkness–it just makes it harder to see.

But why is darkness required to make something scary in the first place?  If we had the night-vision of owls or the sonar of bats, would we find the dark so frightening?  Is it only because darkness provides a “cover” for what frightens us by tucking it away where our human eyes can’t penetrate that we’re so startled when someone jumps out from behind a tree and says “boo!”?

Recently, I walked through the living room while thinking about something intently.  I passed my husband, who claims I looked right at him.  I went into the kitchen, poured myself a glass of water and then turned around to discover him standing behind me.  I screamed and threw up my hands, throwing water all over the kitchen.

I believe this incident proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that darkness is not a requirement for fear.  Rather, our history as a species dependent on detecting threats and potential meals largely based on the detection of movement causes us to be largely rational people who suddenly jump out of their skin if they failed to detect there was something present that might move.

Interestingly, expecting someone to jump out at you can actually serve to make it more scary when they oblige.  I frequently startle during movies and TV shows when suspense is climbing and then the bad guy suddenly jumps out at the hero(ine).  This startles me so much that my husband has taken the tactic of forewarning me.

Warning me seems to have quite the opposite effect.  The expectation that someone is about to jump out only increases the feeling of suspense and anxiety, making me jump even higher than I would have with no warning.

What is that mechanism?  At the haunt I’ve been volunteering at, we had two young girls who went through our haunted trail with a young man who was apparently one of the girl’s boyfriend.  He was walking ahead of the girls asking the actors not to scare her because she was really upset.  We found out later she’s actually got sick earlier on the trail because she was scared so badly.

I found myself puzzled as to what is the difference between a girl who gets physically ill from the fear of a staged scene in the woods while another person of the same age and experience may walk the same trail laughing at all our attempts to scare her/him.

Like so many things, fear is, in fact, all in our minds.


Right now, a group of us at the Chattanooga Audubon Society are planning a Halloween haunt called “Acres of Darkness.”  For 4 nights, a ¼ mile trail will be haunted with all kinds of terrors to raise money for the organization.

Last year I did some shooting at the event, but I wasn’t involved in planning it.  This year, the planning committee asked me if I would help after we completed the Birdathon event in April.  How could I resist?

I love Halloween.  You can try out an alter-ego, eat endless amounts of candy, and experience whatever level of terror you’re comfortable with.  It’s just fun.

Saturday morning, I went out to setup one of the stations on the haunted trail.  I realized several things about myself.  First, although I have worked on things from setting up campsites to roofing to changing the oil in my car to repairing garbage disposals, I have never done them alone.

When we decided to each take a station and be responsible for setting it up, I experienced sudden panic.  I realized these are the kinds of jobs where, if pointed in the right direction, I can be helpful, but I’m not adept at deciding what needs to be done.

It was a strange sensation.  Most things I do, I am perfectly able and willing to decide how to go about doing them.  I am not shy about telling other people what to do, either.  Yet, when faced with the simple problem of how to hang some tarps and other props, I found myself at a loss.

Fortunately for me, a far more experienced person was there when I arrived who was willing to help me.  I walked out to the site ahead of him, having been told that everything we needed was already at the site.  There was one, long, yellow nylon rope, two large tarps, and a length of misting hose.

This is when I (re)discovered a second thing about myself:  I really only know how to tie one knot.  That’s the knot I use to tie my shoes.  I learned it from a book of knots my nephew got when he was about 10.  It prevents your shoelaces from untying, but you can still pull out the knot with one pull.  It’s a great knot for shoes; not so great for tarp hanging.

In spite of my years in the Camp Fire Girls, even a basic square knot comes out a tangled mess.  This made me feel especially grateful for the Eagle Scout and long-time Scout Master who was helping me.  I would still be there trying to tie up that tarp if he hadn’t been there.

While I was there, I did a little shooting of a River Rescue volunteer crew picking up trash in the creek that runs through Audubon Acres.  I got to wade through the creek, see a Belted Kingfisher, and hear a Red-shouldered Hawk.  Great start to a Saturday morning!


You Get What You Pay For

Remember what it was like to be really scared?  Scared when you knew there was nothing to be afraid of, but you were scared anyway?  What is it that’s fun about that?  Yet we seek it out from the time we’re little.

Like hide-and-seek.  We know the people are out there, but when we find them, we’re often startled or even terrified when at last we stumble across those we seek.

Going to a Halloween haunt is a return to our childhood roots.  We know we are safe.  We know no one is going to hurt us.  Yet we go to be scared.  There’s an underlying hysteria to the whole process of gearing up for a haunt.

It starts with the gathering of the group.  And the group psychology is important to the whole experience.  There’s an optimal group size.  If the group is too big, there’s too much safety in numbers.  You can hide in the middle of the bunch.  If the group is too small, the contagious nature of fear is lost.  I think 4-6 people with a couple of total scaredy-cats is perfect.

It’s small enough that the fear of 2 can spread to the rest of the group vs. the swagger of several buoying up the rest of the group’s courage.

And, let’s be honest, as much as I hate to admit it, there’s a gender difference.  We women haven’t spent our live pretending to be brave.  We’ve been taught to be afraid for our safety in so many subtle ways; we’re more likely to be startled, frightened, and even terrified than our male counterparts.

We’re also more likely to fully enjoy the experience of a haunt.  This is also true of children–the younger, the more disbelief is suspended.

I ponder the attraction of being scared.  It’s a reminder of our vulnerability, a feeling of helplessness.  Why do we enjoy this feeling of not knowing what’s going to jump out at us?  Is it the rush of having experienced terror and having survived?  Is it significantly different from the rush of thrill seekers who sky dive, climb Mt. Everest, or go cave diving?

These images were taken on the haunted trail at the Acres of Darkness event.  I was hidden in the shadows, waiting for the moment when the victims were suddenly startled by the various actors on the trail.  While I can’t claim there great images in terms of lighting, framing, or composition, they captured a moment of true fear for at least some of the guests.

I laugh when I look at their faces.  I laugh because of the complete abandon of their expressions.  Is it macabre of me to enjoy having captured fear?  In my own defense, if they would have been in real danger, it wouldn’t be funny to me.  But these are “we got you!” moments.  They came to be scared and they were.

It’s photographic evidence that the haunt achieved what the audience paid for.

Show Me Terror

While shooting the Acres of Darkness haunt, I wanted to get shots of people while they were waiting in line.  This was truly shooting in the dark because I literally could not see them in the view finder at all.  Unfortunately, I had a single flash unit attached to my camera and was trying to light groups of people, so it was a bit tricky.  The lighting is, well, shall we say “not dramatic”?  But, the assignment for this series of shots was fun and the participants nearly made up for the bad lighting.

The assignment I came up with for the attendees was to show me their most scared face.  I asked each group waiting in line to show me absolute terror.  I got some mixed results, but overall, I was impressed with much of the acting!

Some people were immediately into it.  Like the ladies in the 3rd shot.  They really got a kick out of how scared they could look.  We actually did 3 shots because they were having so much fun.

The larger groups were fun because they would have some people who were really into it and others who really just wanted me to go away.  Like the family in the 8th image–the teenage girl in the background looking utterly bored spoke volumes about adolescence.

But even some of the pairs were a 50/50 mix on willingness to act.  One of my personal favorites is the 6th shot where the guy is totally acting scared and the girl is looking like she’s not really sure she wants to be seen in public with this guy.  Made me wonder how long they’d been a couple and how much longer it would last.  🙂

Then, there’s the image immediately after that one with the three guys.  The one on the far left said he imagined he was writing an alimony check to inspire his expression.  I thought he looked more like he’d had an accident in the restroom, but I appreciated his effort.

The two young girls in the 11th image cracked me up.  The one on the left gave a pretty realistic scared look.  The one on the right, who appeared to be the younger of the two when seen in person, seemed to think throwing up her hands was all it took to look scared.  Maybe she has yet to experience real fear?

This assignment, by the way, only worked well because I could show the subjects their picture immediately on the LCD of my camera.  They looked at the result and immediately wanted to try again to make it even better.  They all laughed and made fun of each other’s faces in the shots.  Who knew photography could be so entertaining for the subjects?

Afterwards, I had several people approach me and ask if there was somewhere to view the photos so they could decide if they wanted to buy them.  Maybe next year.

Fright Night

Halloween is perhaps the most magical holiday there is.  After all, you get to transform yourself into a princess, a witch, a football player, a horse, or whatever your imagination can come up with.  People hand you goodies.  It’s suddenly socially acceptable to scare the pants off of everyone.  And best of all, you don’t have to struggle to figure out what to get in the way of gifts–candy comes in fantastic variety packs that pretty much provide something for everyone.

And, it’s at the best the time of year in the US–the leaves vibrant in the golden light of the sun and the air dry, crisp, and cool–refreshing as a dip in the ocean after a day on a hot beach.  And the harvest moon lighting the night sky with a brilliance not often seen in the summer time.

When you combine all that with bonfires, haunted mazes, s’mores, and scary story telling, there’s just no beating Halloween.

My husband and I have been debating on a costume for Tisen.  We’ve never costumed a dog before, but there’s an upcoming dog party.  I want to dress him as a cow.  Pat wants to dress him as a poodle.  Pat’s idea has two advantages:  first, there are no logistical issues involving an udder and boy-dog naughty bits; second, it’s funnier.  However, neither of us knows how to transform a pit bull into a poodle.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten into the spirit by volunteering at the annual “Acres of Darkness” event at the Audubon Society.

My job is to greet visitors at the entrance to the haunted woods and attempt to scare them with the history of how the woods became haunted, and then send them on their merry way into the pitch-black of the woods at the right time.

It’s a fun job.

Since the first weekend the event ran was a little slow, I took my camera and tripod out with me to see if I could get some pictures of the trail.  It was really dark, but with the ISO set on 25,600 (every time I type that it still blows my mind–I remember when people used to talk about 800 ISO film being really fast), I managed to capture a few images.  In fact, some of them were over exposed.

Capturing the glow-in-the-dark faces on the trees was easy enough–I could shoot them from my position at the entry to the haunted woods.  The rest of the images required walking through the haunted woods.  Since I couldn’t leave my post until after we closed for the night, I was wandering down an already dark trail turning off lights and stopping to shoot every once in a while.  Fortunately for me, the zombies and monsters has worn themselves out on all the earlier visitors, so I made it through the trail unmolested.  Unfortunately, that made for less exciting photos than I was hoping for.

Halloween Moon

It’s 5AM on Monday morning.  The horizon gives no sign that the sun will rise again today.  I have to remind myself that the sun isn’t rising until nearly 8AM these days.  I have not yet adjusted to the fact that daylight savings doesn’t end until November–although I wish it didn’t end at all, preferring the extra light at the end of the day.  I have three hours before Pat will be up and ready for our morning walk.  That means plenty of time to “putter.”

Although I am not a morning person (or maybe because), I like to have time alone in the morning to do the things that I never think about once my day starts.  Having been able to sleep until 6AM fairly regularly of late, I’ve lost about 2 hours of putter time, although the extra hours of sleep are welcome.  Today, after taking care of the most urgent work emails, I empty the dishwasher and refill it.  I scrub the counters, stove top, and sink, trying not to make so much noise that I wake Pat.  Then I take my laptop and sit outside, writing my blog, checking Facebook, doing the things that I think take 10 minutes each, but can erode hours on the clock before I realize it.

I watch the clock on my computer carefully today and stop myself when it gets to be 7:30AM.  I check in with Pat to see if he’s awake and if he wants to walk today.  Getting an affirmative, I finish my coffee and get myself cleaned up and dressed.  I am ready to walk out the door 10 minutes early.  I try to find something to do while Pat finishes his morning routine.  I make the mistake of logging into work’s instant messaging and answering more emails from my laptop.  Before long, Pat is waiting for me.

But, I tear myself away, taking my phone in case I can’t stand not checking email again, and we head out the door for a quick walk along the waterfront, our preferred way of starting the day.  The sun is just now easing it’s way over the hills to the North.  The first rays shoot across the Tennessee River at a steep angle.  The mist blowing around just above the water is so dense, it looks like a frozen tundra with snow blowing across it.  I try to get a shot of this with my iPhone, but the effect is lost.  Always a conundrum–to bring the camera or not to bring the camera–today I kick myself for being lazy.

We continue our walk and the mist breaks up gradually and disappears as if it’s melting in the increasing light.  The water reflects like a mirror, setting off the swirling remnants of mist perfectly.  I could stand and stare at the changing scene  forever, but I do have a day job and we haven’t had breakfast yet.

We take a turn at the Walnut St Bridge and head towards a local coffee shop that serves bagels with smoked salmon for breakfast.  It’s quick and healthy, although not cheap.  We sit inside, but at a table that faces the windows that overlook Coolidge Park.  It’s a view of trees, mostly, but it’s still nice.

We head back to the apartment via the shortest route, now, since it’s already 8:30 AM and the flow of incoming emails is getting difficult to keep up with from my phone.  We walk between the buildings to get back to Frazier St, following the footsteps of a toddler we had seen the other day.  He had run out from between the buildings towards the street.  We might not have noticed him except that his mother, still out of sight from our vantage point, screamed like someone getting stabbed in an effort to stop him in his tracked.  Her ploy worked–he froze in place.

We continue down the sidewalk past the shop with novelties in its window.  The Librarian Action Figure we laughed about a few weeks ago is long gone.  She, and all the other familiar objects, have been replaced with a halloween display.  We are reminded that in spite of all the weekend Halloween events, today is the actual day.  We discuss whether there will be any need for candy at our apartment.  Deciding that trick or treaters probably don’t wander up and down our busy street and, even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to get in our building after 6PM, we agree not to buy candy.

Part of me is happy about this descision–for 10 years we lived in a “haunted” ravine in Columbus where the only kids that came were teenagers trying to frighten one another.  Yet, for 10 years, I bought halloween candy “just in case.”  This led to many binges and regrets.  So, I am happy I will not be tempted by bags of candies hanging around the house.  At the same time, I am sorry that I will miss my fix this year and have nothing to gorge on.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Between costumes and candy, what’s not to like?  Even as a young adult, I used to decorate my work area with extensive halloween decorations and take candy into the office for co-workers.  First I gave up costumes, going only to a 1/2 dozen costume parties in the past 20 years, and none in the last 10.  Then I gave up the decorations.  Now, it seems I have given up the candy, too.

A father with his son appears beside us at an intersection.  His son is wearing an eagle costume.  When the light turns green and the father gives the OK to cross, the son flaps his way across the street.  I smile, but I am struck by a sudden sense of loss.  While this boy looks forward to parading in his costume with his classmates and collecting gobs of candy, I look forward to getting through a few hundred emails.  Why is it that being an adult so often seems to suck all the imagination and sparkle out of life?

We return home with me suddenly craving mini Kit Kat bars.  At the end of the day, I watch out the windows to see if there are any trick-or-treaters in the streets.  My co-workers are begging off early because they have to go hand out candy, but I see not a single child in costume.  As the sun sets and the moon rises, I get out my camera and set aside my nostalgia for Halloween.  Tonight, I will focus on shooting the Halloween moon.