Tuesday, April 28, 2015

pictures through the glass

It is hard to sum up a trip isn't it?  I just spent a good amount of time poring over my photos, and then the kids' photos, of our recent trip to Washington DC.  It's all a bit overwhelming, finding the story to tell about the trip.  The story of our family time that I want to, choose to share.  And the parts that I want to hold just for us.  I find myself comparing this trip to our trip to the same city exactly one year ago, and my thoughts then about how we were just beginning to enter the world of social media with Nicholas, and watching the city, our trip, as viewed through our children's eyes.

But what I am realizing, as I look through all of these photos, all of the conversations and quiet and chaos in the car on the drive south, traveling from damp clammy sucking mud up here through rain showers and emerging into warm sunshine, mostly, down there, all of the moments and activities we had together down there, is just how many photos we took.  At some point during the trip I noticed this.  Well, I know exactly when I noticed it.  We were in the car on the way south, and Julia said she wanted to learn how to take better pictures.  And we began to talk about this

Julia listened for awhile and thought for a while longer.  Oh, road trips are so very good, for all the being together and talking and thinking.  And then she reached for her camera, and started snapping away.

Julia's photo, New York City in the rain 
from the backseat of the minivan

 She used that camera relatively nonstop for the duration of the trip after that.  I even convinced her, as I have not been able to do before, thank you again for the captive audience of a minivan, to just snap away with her camera, not to edit, or delete entire visits, as has happened in the past, because she us unhappy with the results.

And as I did last year, more with Nicholas than with Julia that time, I enjoyed watching what she was noticing, what she was documenting, what she stopped and took note of.

I am not deleting Mommy.  Just looking.

I am not photographer, but I do enjoy taking pictures.  And she kept asking questions about how to get better pictures.  Looking at the pictures, I think I need to get her a better camera at some point.  And it was fun to try things together with her, such as experimenting with angles and cool shapes.

Julia's photo, the hallway in the pizza shop

My picture of Julia taking the above picture

 And my picture of the hallway

We talked about how sometimes you take pictures of something that is happening that is funny.

Julia's picture of the man changing the lightbulbs in the fancy lighting near the Mall.
He's got a very big job, she giggled.
 Or interesting.

Julia's picture in the Smithsonian's museum store.
It's a picture of Lincoln, made of pennies!

And sometimes you take pictures of things that make you think of things you love back at home, like your typewriter.  The one that always works, even when the power is out.  And never accidentally erases all of your work.  And has buttons that make sense.  Like this typewriter brush in the Sculpture Garden in front of the National Gallery of Art.

by Julia,  giant Typewriter Brush 

And that pictures can be not artistic at all, but a way of documenting information.

We talked about framing, I think you would call it. 

And how sometimes it is worth taking those steps toward what you are photographing.  And waiting either for unknown people to walk out of your shot.  Or for creatures to enter it.

It wasn't just her, or me.  It was all of us.

Nicholas' panorama

Jonathan creating this Instagram of Washington in bloom.

Snap happy we were.  And very pale.

All this talk about photography, and I began to worry that somehow, this picture taking was just another distraction in what can be an oh so distracted life.  That somehow, this was just another device in my daughter's hand.  That she was missing the true experience of being fully present, the glass lens between her and the place, between me and our children.

But then, there were moments, when I realized that the photography was getting us out in it.  That through the glass, we were having experiences that we would not otherwise have had.  And that the way each of us use the cameras are still reflective of who each of us are as people.

We happened upon a protest on the lawn in front of the capital.  We were taking our now traditional late evening drive around the city, as the light falls, the traffic is gone, and there are parking spaces everywhere around the Mall.  This is a hilarious time for us, the kids with wet hair from the hotel pool and in their pajamas, a bowl of ice cream in each of their laps and a camera in each of their hands.  We drive around.  Get lost.  Circle and drive and try again, while peeks at the Washington Monument keep us from getting too far away from where all the action is.

We pulled up in front of the Capital.  Rolled down the windows to snap the dome under construction.  And realized that there, below the illuminated dome, was a protest underway.  And a speaker was being amplified so we could hear him.  Which led to a very interesting conversation in our minivan about race and education and inequalities and the power of protest in our country.  All because of our pulling in closer for the shot.

I noticed our cameras come out as we entered the Butterfly Pavilion at the Museum of Natural History.   Images of us standing under the dome, hands free looking up and breathing, while gazillions of butterflies miraculously descended and landed on our eyelashes were honestly what I was imagining before we entered.  Instead, of course, the butterflies were more drawn to the feed and to the not stomping less dangerous plants than to the humans.  And the kids, and I as well,  snapped pictures of the butterflies, zooming in on their markings and coloring.

The first thing Elliott noticed was eyespots.  Look!  It's like we studied when I was in preschool!

 Julia's picture

We were in that hot little space a good long time.  Looking with our eyes through the glass of our lenses, but also looking around us.  And I realized, though our faces were often obstructed by glass, we were still making connecttions to things we have learned, and we were making connections to people, observing and noticing in our own ways.  Nicholas was drawn to the large and ugly with the tattered edges, telling stories of how they came to be damaged quietly under his breath.

And then he became very hot, and headed out grumpy and ready for lunch.  Elliott tried to get one to land on his finger.  And Julia walked around trying to snap the more colorful, and exclaimed each time a glimpse of blue flashed by.  I was quite amused by the intelligent butterflies, standing in line, waiting for their possible opportunity for escape near the door.

I looked around for Julia at one point and found her over near the back door to the enclosure.  She was sitting next to an older woman, a volunteer at the museum.  And she was smiling a small smile and talking quietly with the woman.  

The woman held out a paint brush while several brown rather drab looking butterflies flitted around her.  

And she was telling Julia why.  Sometimes they need a bit of texture to land on.  

Before long, she had a butterfly on the brush.  And she was telling Julia to wait.  

And when it happened, she smiled, Julia gasped, and the woman held the brush out for Julia to snap the blue.

Julia's picture

She was there to catch that momentary glimpse.  And thanks to Julia's sense of people, appreciating the quietest, she had found just who was the person to help her capture blue.

 My picture

The next day at the National Zoo, cameras were again at the ready, between our faces and the animals, those animals already behind the glass of their cages.  Another degree of separation.

We visited the panda area again, eager to see the small cub we had seen last year up high in a tree.  Surely the adult pandas and that cub now much bigger were too big to climb trees now.

I snapped the above pictures of that tiny branch supporting the enormous panda bum.  Elliott did a dramatic reciting of Chicken Cheeks due to its obvious relevance here.

And I looked over, and Julia was shooting this.

Put it all together, and that's a very good story, and documentation of the story.

The humans amongst us mugged for the camera at times, certain children enjoying photobombing at just the wrong moment or breaking into a funny expression.

Nicholas and his impression of a meerkat.

it was pretty good, right?

As we entered the Ape House, I saw him.  The giant male gorilla, over in a small shaded corner, off to the side, right where I had had a moment with a female gorilla last year.  He was over there, munching on something, but I could not quite see him.  

Julia's picture, his position before he noticed us noticing him

I leaned against a railing and craned my neck out and around a crowd of small children so I could see him better.  He munched, looked at me, and I swear, he reacted and copied my position.  

He then laid down on his side, stretching his enormous body out of the shady corner and posed for me, as if to say, how's this.  Is this better?  He looked at me out of the corner of his eye.  He was mugging too.

He sat still for a bit longer, and then was off.  A lady gorilla had entered the space, no glass between them.

I think he is posing for us!  Julia whispered to me.  I think he is putting on a little show.   See him grinning?

And there was this little guy.  Whose fuzzy little hands had us all captivated.  And Julia pointed out that he kind of looked like he was imitating us with our cameras and cell phones as he gazed at (and nibbled upon) the wood chip in his hands.

So maybe it was okay, all the picture taking, because it got us to stand still for a bit and really try to capture something, and see how movement, sound, and reactions to us as picture takers affected our experience of it.  And it opened conversation about all this between us, and gave us more moments of reflection and realization of how others perceive our behavior.  How our modern human behavior affects the other beings here on earth.

And it is certainly a perspective I have carried with me as we reenter home life this week.

me, watching Julia's lacrosse practice
from the minivan, in the rain

Friday, April 17, 2015

spent more time looking

It's that strange time of year.  It's melting and brown and not quite green yet.  I find myself stepping outside the house and just standing there for a few minutes, listening, watching, and feeling the return of warmth, sound, and movement.  

A day can be so warm, and then suddenly, when the sun gets to a certain angle in the late afternoon, so very cold.  Then the cold from the ground overpowers the warmth in the air.  During those warmer hours, we are pulled to do things we have not done for months, and therefore, we spend a great deal of time digging around the barn, looking for missing items.  Like bike helmets.  And one lost knee pad.  And cleats.  Lifting bikes over a pile of tipped over snow shovels and sleds.  Discovering our dog has chewed every right handed beekeeping glove I own, but none of the lefts.  Encouraging children to at least take a fleece with them in case they get cold.  Any activity undertaken involves a process of preparation for, searching for, wondering about just where or how or when.

And because of the quickly changing light and temperature and frustration levels and fatigue, I feel as though some days I am spending more time looking for things than actually doing the activity that we need the items for. Then I begin the activity already exhausted by the searching.

After rooting through, tripping in, and lugging out of the barn the things children need for a bike ride, we headed off.  Bare skin saw the sun for the first time in forever, and these pale and bruised and dry skinned legs wobbly whizzed past the last snow banks.  Remembering how to keep one's balance. Where the brakes are. How to turn.

It was wonderful.  And fun.  And had us all laughing and planning to do this every afternoon.  And then so suddenly, it was cold.  Someone had fallen and needed a bandaid.  It was time for homework and dinner.  And quickly the breathless joy ended with a quick retreat.  And I wondered, was the time spent preparing for the ride worth the brief minutes out there?  I think so, seeing the pink cheeks, bodies more open and movements more fluid, their sleep deeper.

Another example, from the early spring chicken coop clean out while the chickens roamed in the garden.  Our flock is healthy and they all survived this cold and snowy winter.  And they are so eager to be out and about, digging in the thawing dirt, looking for bugs and bits of green shoots.  And they are getting the garden turned for us all the while.

But the time it takes me to convince them to come to me and then carry them from the coop area to the garden, moving, slipping, falling in the squelching mud back and forth, back and forth.  Well, just that was exhausting.  And then the lugging of seed and bedding and tools to follow.  But I did manage a full cleanout of the coop, breaking up the last of the snow piles down there.  Hauling the winter's bedding and compost from the coop area up the hill and spreading it in the garden for the chickens to work into the soil for us.  I spread fresh straw in the coop area, took out and coiled up the electricity for the warming light and water feeder.  Emptied and then refilled the coop itself with fresh bedding.

During my work out there, I discovered a place in the garden fencing through which chickens were escaping.  I collected them three times and put them all back in the garden, a rather comical scene I am sure if anyone had been watching.  We hand raised these hens, but given a chance for freedom and bugs they are not at all interested in letting me pick them up.  And they can fly.  One chicken in particular, Tiny, was quite persistent about breaking out of her terrible grub, worm, and bug infested prison, what we call the garden, and seemed to be more interested in heading straight toward the road, and those curiously shiny moving objects upon it, and so I caught her several times and returned her to the garden.  On her fourth escape, I decided that I could not put her down until I took care of the fencing issue, so difficult to catch was she.  

Which was fine.  She's good company and very gentle and calm.  As far as chickens go.  But she and I had quite a walk around the inside of house, to the kitchen, basement, and even the attic, looking for the tools I needed to fix the broken fencing.  There I was, with a chicken under my arm, roaming the house, looking for a hammer.  Singing a don't poop in my house song.  It was...pretty funny.  

And having spotted ducks and beavers and three energetic and skittish river otters a few days ago, I am back on river watch, sneaking down there as the light begins to fade each evening.  Trying to catch a glimpse of the otters, which I have not again, yet.  But the beavers are out, doing their own beaverish version of rooting around the barn, of just needing to collect a few sticks to shore up the lodge and dam.  Chew, slide, splash, paddle while holding a very long stick in mouth.  Pant.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Though I have yet to snap a good enough picture of them, I am watching the ripples, as they move slowly away from me and my clumsy tripping noises.  

Having a few minutes of quiet down there while the homework and dinner and music swirls around up at the top of the hill.  A few night owl honeybees are down there with me having their last sips of water for the evening.  I can hear the chickens hopping about the coop, fluttering and settling into their roosts.  Different bird chatter, evening bird calls, replace the songs of the daytime.  I sit and take a few deep breaths.  Force myself to sit quietly and wait, hoping my stillness will be rewarded.  Which it is each night, sometimes with a beaver swimming by, or a pair of ducks landing right next to me on the water, or a spectacularly colorful sunset.  And always, I am rewarded with feeling calmer, noticing more, feeling more open to the sounds and sensations around me as I walk back up to the house and enter the kitchen cacophony, step over the lacrosse sticks and mud covered cleats and bags of seed starting soil and muddy snow pants that need to be washed and I return to the stove where something is simmering.  Listen to the mommy I just need a and a mommy can you just help me with's with a bit more patience and openness and see it all as a part of the transition to the next season.

And so, in this wonky in between time of warmth and cold, changing activities and remembering skills, feeling the warmth of the sun on bare skin while partially covered in fleece, I am going to accept the time it takes waiting, watching, and searching for the things we need to enter this new season.  I am going to spend the next week, a school vacation week for us here, enjoying it all, taking a break from writing here.  Because it really does pass so very quickly.  It will all look quite different soon.  And the watching for a glimpse of the return of the warmer months ahead, actually, the time spent searching, waiting, and hoping is certainly an important part of it all, and almost as much fun.  And has a rhythm and a beauty all its own.