A Missing Dog (or, Gratitude, Part II)

I feel bad that I only made it through 3 things I am grateful for in last week’s post.  Last Monday night, I found myself thinking about this while I was sitting in a running mini-van with the brights on, pointed down railroad tracks.

I watched my husband disappear from sight with my window cracked in spite of the cold, listening in case he was attacked.  He headed beyond the reach of the headlights to an abandoned homeless camp in search of an abandoned dog.

A homeless couple we often see in the park had recently disappeared.  Supposedly, the man was arrested and the woman found a job and is living in a motel.  Rumor has it they left their dog behind.

With temperatures dropping into the low 20’s and arctic winds making it feel like the teens, my husband was determined to rescue this dog.  It was his second of 3 trips down the railroad tracks–so far, no sign of the dog.

How can I not feel gratitude for having the kind of man in my life who is both brave enough and compassionate enough to wander into potential danger to save the life of a dog?

I should mention that this couple has always seemed both lucid and happy.  We are under the impression they have chosen a homeless life for their own reasons and that they are capable of choosing a different course.  The dog, however, has no choice.

And so, I sat in the van on that cold night poignantly aware that I have much to be thankful for:  a reliable vehicle kicking out hot air; my own cuddly dog, healthy and happy beside me; a husband both strong and gentle; a hot meal to return home to; a comfortable bed to sleep in; hot running water; the list goes on and on.

But in the end, it’s the people who have been part of my life and/or who are part of my life now that I am the most grateful for (and yes, I include animals when I say “people”).  While mountains, clouds, and oceans provide much needed respite from time to time, it’s the people that keep me going day in and day out.

From passing acquaintances that make me laugh in the middle of a tense moment to friends who know me well enough to ask the most pertinent questions that allow me to see a situation in a new way, I don’t know what life would be without all of them.  Even the strangers who fail to acknowledge my “hello” remind me that I have been there, making me feel connected to them in an odd sort of way.

The people who ultimately made all of this gratitude possible are, of course, my parents.  I am grateful they were flawed human beings who made remarkable parents.  Of course, I didn’t think they were remarkable when I was growing up.  I’m also grateful that perspective changes.  🙂

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.

Fall Impressions

With no yard, no rake, and no worries, I was feeling a little detached from the experience of fall.  But a long walk up to Stringer’s Ridge, currently peaking in color, got me back to a childhood full of crunching through leaves.

As Tisen and I made our way up to the ridge, I looked up and there was an oak tree shaking its top like my grandmother shaking out a rug.  It looked like it was trying to shake its loose leaves free like a dog shaking water out of its fur.

By the time I was ready to shoot, it stopped.  I stood still and waited.  I could hear the wind, I figured it would start again.  I just had to be patient.  Tisen pulled at the lead, catching a new smell just out of reach.  I took a step forward to give him something to do and then stood still again, waiting.

We were still at the edge of urban neighborhood and nature preserve, standing in the middle of a residential street.  I had to step to one side when I realized a car was barreling down the hill.  We walked a little ways further and I stopped again, Tisen stopping and giving me a puzzled look as I once more turned my eyes to the tree top.

Eventually, I turned and shot some brilliant leaves across the street until I realized there was a car stopped, waiting for me to finish so it didn’t drive through my shot.  I smiled and waved and turned back to my tree.  It was starting to wear me out.  I checked my watch and realized I couldn’t afford to stand there waiting much longer; we were going to run out of time for our walk.  I sighed and off we went with no shots of the swirling cloud of leaves.

Somewhere between that uncooperative tree and the start of the Stringer’s Ridge trail, I thought of trying to pan with a falling leaf.  I don’t know exactly what made me think about trying it, but I sure did amuse myself in the process.  It’s not easy to pan in general.  You have to start the motion of the camera so you’re smoothly following the thing in motion, then press the shutter while you continue to smoothly pan.  This is more difficult than it sounds.

A falling leaf is not predictable.  It gets picked up, shot off course, and suddenly picks up speed when the edge starts slicing through the air.

I didn’t think a single one of my panning shots turned out when I was standing there reviewing my shots.  But when I looked at them on the computer, I was actually quite pleased.  These are minimally processed, although in some cases I brushed in adjustments to the single leaf I was panning with to make it more noticeable.

I am beginning to see a wall covered with images of falling objects in my future.

Last Chance

Now that we’ve passed the autumnal equinox, all the signs that summer is over have become more prevalent.  Of course, there are the birds, having shed their breeding colors and stopped their incessant singing.  But, there are many other signs.

For one, the nights are cool and crisp, the air taking on a taste (or is it a touch?) that snaps as I move through it.  And the nights come faster, the sun setting earlier each night, while the mornings drag along, the sun too sleepy to rise.

Leaves have started blowing along the paths in the park, crunching underfoot and crackling against concrete as they dance in the breeze.  The leaves that remain on the trees have shifted from deep green to something a women’s clothing catalog might call chartreuse.

As I walk Tisen longer and longer before dawn, Venus continues to shine brilliantly as if it’s late at night.  Combined with the waxing moon, I find myself confused as to whether I’m getting up or going to bed.  With the morning temperatures calling for a fleece, I’m tempted to go to bed.


The pots of summer flowers on neighbors’ balconies have disappeared and been replaced with mums in fall colors.  Some even have pumpkins and halloween decorations displayed.  The stores have already stocked halloween candy (betting on compulsive sugar-eaters like me buying early and eating what they buy and having to replenish before trick or treat).

Yet, there are still persistent remnants of summer.  The Tennessee River remains the temperature of a warm bath (how I know that is a subject for another blog post).  The late afternoon temperatures still reach the mid to high 80’s.  And, on weekends, local families still gather on the sledding hill.

Just over a year ago, I did a post called Southern Sledding.  This was the most fascinating tradition to me.  It struck me as odd that up North, it had never occurred to us to sled on grass.  We waited around for 10 months out of the year day dreaming about when we could go sledding again, hoping against hope that we’d get enough snow over Christmas vacation (which never happened).  And then hoping for enough snow to close the schools so we could go sledding instead of going to school (which rarely happened).  Perhaps we liked the idea of sledding more than the reality of sledding and that’s what kept us from thinking of sledding in warmer weather on the grass?

Whatever the reason, the sledding hill seems to be more crowded now as if everyone who never got around to grass sledding during the summer is trying to get it in before the weather changes.

This is one tradition I have yet to try.  I keep waiting for someone to offer a class on proper technique.  I guess I, too, will have to try to get it in before the rains start.  Perhaps I will take a lesson from one of my subjects and wear a helmet.