At certain times in my life I wanted to think we ought to have the right to decide when our life should come to an end. Acute, chronic pain.Terminal illness. Alzheimer’s. There’s a whole host of nasty, hideous ways to die that when confronted with any number of them, the ability to choose a tidy, medically assisted death seems like a better option. But if living with animals has taught me anything, it’s that knowing with absolute certainty when to let go isn’t nearly as easy or simple as one thinks. Do you continue to make adjustments, accommodate advancing age and all the complexities that come with it, or do you draw a line in the sand and wait? Easier said than done. When does modern medicine become more of a hindrance than a help? Where does hope morph into wishful thinking or grasping at straws? Does having the option to choose death make dying any easier, and if it does, easier on whom?
I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I do know that if euthanasia was a choice we’d struggle with that too. You don’t think so now because it’s not a legal option, but if it was I’m pretty sure there wouldn’t be any clear-cut guidelines for it’s use. We’d still waffle. Because difficulties aside, I think there are some pretty important lessons to be learned through our experiences with death.
I was out doing barn chores this morning when my nose was suddenly assaulted by the strong pungent smell of fabric softener. That’s right, fabric softener. How on earth a fake floral scent can waft through the air and completely override the earthy smell of horse poop, hay and damp horseflesh is beyond me. And this isn’t the first time this has happened. Like clockwork, every two or three mornings my neighbor does her laundry, and I guess her washing machine doesn’t work very well because she thinks she needs to coat her clothing and a half-mile radius of the neighborhood with a “flower on steroids” chemical stink.
I simply don’t understand this mindset, but it appears clever marketing has won the war to convince the general pubic that we wreak. We’ve been brainwashed to think our house stinks, our clean clothes stink and even our clean bodies stink. I mean, why else would we feel the need to spritz ourselves with perfume after slathering ourselves with heavily scented body wash, throw perfectly clean clothes into a dryer with sheets that are chemically loaded with phony perfumes and “clean” our houses with chemicals that tout hyper-powerful scents ?
I think this is going to become what the war on invasive smoke was to the last two decades. Sure, you have every right to smell like a floral polecat in the privacy of your own home, but when your fake chemical stink starts to seep into my open windows and linger over my back yard and barnyard then it’s not just YOUR problem anymore. These products are known to make people and animals sick. They’re made to adhere to our skin and clothing and penetrate the surface of inanimate objects, where they can linger for days. Don’t people see the connection between chronic illness and the crap we’re breathing and cleaning and bathing with day in and day out? Enough already! Please, folks. Spend a few pennies more and buy unscented, chemical-free dryer sheets or vent your dryers into your own damn basement … I’m sick and tired of the chemical assault every wash day.
Gus is doing a fine job of blending into our family. After months of being a demur, goofy little tyke, he’s just now starting to grow into his adult personality. Gus is still sweet as the day is long, but he can be determined and even a little pushy (in a totally different way than I’m used to seeing) when he wants something. Gus always has a big grin on his face and he just loves to snuggle. This is a dog who wants to be right where the action is, but doesn’t create his own drama. And he’s QUIET, which after living with Hazer the last eight years, is a Godsend. If I could clone Gus I’d take another Rat Terrier just like him. I can’t wait to see how his hunting skills develop as time goes on. Right now he’s very fixated on all the bird feeders that attract droves of pesky red and gray squirrels. Hopefully, it won’t be long before he catches his first varmint!
I got out to shoot twice yesterday, a rarity for me. At 4:00 PM. I was vacuuming like a crazy lady, trying desperately to get a few last minute chores done before the evening routine of feeding animals and people got underway. But I kept glancing out the front window at the setting sun. I’ve chosen to miss shooting some nice sunsets only because our house sits in a valley where I don’t really get to see the sun set until it’s too late to do anything about it. I know, I know …. a good photographer would be in place well ahead of time, ready to capture that perfect shot. But I’m not that photographer. It’s pretty darn hard to feed a handful of hungry critters and get a meal started if I’m out shooting at that time of day. So instead of making a full commitment and getting out there where I need to be ahead of time, I play the Race Game.
The Race Game involves keeping one eye on the sky for an hour or so before I’d need to dash out if I want to try to catch a nice sunset. I have a small Rolodex of sites that will offer a pretty decent view and that I can reach from my house in about five to fifteen minutes. The trick is not cutting myself short on time, which I’m apt to do. It’s amazing how fast the sky can change. A sky that looks like it’s going to be great when viewed from my living room can easily tank by the time I arrive at my chosen spot. This photo was one of those times. The sky was probably stellar ten minutes before I arrived. I saw glimpses of it, but before I could get there the wind moved the clouds off the map. This cemetery is one of few places nearby that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon, but as I quickly discovered, it’s bitterly cold and windy. So I shot a dozen frames or so and headed back home. I’m not displeased with the results, but I’m not thrilled either. I guess this will have to be filed under the category of Ones That Got Away.
Fall to winter, day to night, mild to cold. Last night change rolled in on a magenta sunset. As we finished up a nice trail ride the sky started to form what l though might shape up into a nice sunset. I grabbed Gus and hit the road with my camera and gear, thinking that if I got lucky I might find a nice shot lurking not too far from home. I thought I had at least a good forty minutes to get someplace and set up before the sky started to really put on a show, but much to my dismay a front decided to come in riding low, dark clouds. Not quite ready to accept defeat, I kept searching. My local region doesn’t have the long, wide vistas one needs to catch the sun slipping over the horizon. Instead, we have nooks and crannies and deep valleys that hide the setting sun, and offer only a hint of a spectacular scene …. someplace else.
They say you should always wait until the final curtain goes down, so with darkness moving in I quickly searched for a sweet spot that might offer one last glimpse of what should have been a gorgeous sunset, but was fast turning into vivid ribbon of color against a dark sky. In a last-ditch effort I pulled off the main road onto a seldom-traveled side road that runs parallel to a big swampy area. I’d driven this road months before, hoping to find better access to shoot the swamp, but I never found the right vantage point. I kept one eye on the winding road and glanced at the setting sun every few seconds. I knew I didn’t have a minute to waste: I either needed to find a magic opening in the trees right now, or turn around and go home. I slowed the car as I drove into a sharp bend and suddenly, there it was, the picturesque view I wanted! The spot wasn’t anything special and in fact, I’d have to do a bit of creative maneuvering to work around some junk in the foreground, but if I could manage to do that then it just might work. In the five minutes that it took for the sun to slip below the treeline I shot a handful of pictures, then blowing on chilly fingers I packed up my gear and headed home. Not too shabby for ten minutes work!
This Land is Mine by Dido from the Life For Rent CD
Freedom: Enjoy it. Celebrate it. Never take it for granted
It’s seldom that I blog about people. Being a bit of a recluse, I don’t think talking about others is my forte. But today I’m going to break out of that mold and try my damnedest to say something nice about someone I’ve never met. Last night as my husband and I were eating dinner a special program appeared in the slot that’s normally reserved for Jeopardy! Disappointed, my husband started to flip through the channels, searching for something to watch (another Seinfeld rerun … again?) as the special program ran in the small view box. As I watched, I began to realize the special was about a dearly beloved Connecticut meteorologist, Dr. Mel. Had he died? What was going on? I told my husband to put the special on and we proceeded to watch as we ate.
I’ve been living in some part of New England all my life. I settled in Connecticut somewhere in the late 70’s and have been here ever since. To say I’ve grown accustomed to the ups and downs of New England weather should go without mention except for one minor little detail: I haven’t. I used to joke with my siblings and friends that the first sign of “old age” was to start every conversation with an assessment of the day’s (or week’s and month’s) weather. If that’s still a barometer of where I am in my life journey then consider me old, because my fascination (and frustration) with the weather has grown exponentially with age.
When I first moved to Connecticut there was a young(ish) meteorologist who presented the nightly weather with uncanny accuracy. He was a tad geeky, a major criteria for any weatherman, but always optimistic and full of good cheer. It takes a special kind of talent to predict another week of rain (or snow or heatwave) and sound encouraging and upbeat at the same time. But Mel Goldstein had that ability, and his even-Steven, happy-go-lucky temperament wasn’t fake. At first I made fun of him and his goofy grin, how he always smiled as he delivered yet another gloomy report. But as time wore on I began to realize his love for his job was sincere, and his concern for the anonymous mass of people who made up his audience was indeed genuine.
As news and weather reports began to evolve into the frantic, hyperbole that we typically see today, Dr. Mel continued to deliver his message in a calm, conversational tone of voice. He was matter-of-fact, but serious when the need arose, and never gave way to the kind of excessive hype and sensationalism so commonly seen now. That’s not to say Dr. Mel didn’t get excited about his job; he did. In fact, he practically oozed enthusiasm and excitement about even the most ordinary weather. But he didn’t use his forecasts as a platform to win station ratings or popularity contests. He took his job seriously, but was always willing to take a back seat to other important events of the time.
As the special played on I got a glimpse at the many different sides of a man I only knew as the weather reporter. Mel, the husband, father, co-worker, mentor, educator, musician and patient was every bit as caring and gregarious as the man who shared my living room every night. He had an infectious zest for everything he did and his desire to help and encourage others knew no bounds. While he often came across as nerdy and brainy (he admittedly was), he put 110% of his best effort into every assignment, every project he did. When Dr. Mel was sent to report on location he didn’t just look happy to be there, he looked THRILLED …. because he was!
I knew Dr. Mel had been sick for many years, but his drive to keep delivering his weather reports often disguised the seriousness of his illness. By the time I evolved into a weather nerd myself, Dr Mel was gravely ill and battling cancer. I didn’t expect he would live … I don’t think anyone did. But he survived. And where many would have quit their job, wallowed in misery or tried to work their way down their Bucket List, Dr Mel soldered on with his customary optimism and joy. The illness took it’s toll and Dr. Mel aged horribly in the short span of several years. But appearances aside, you never would have known how sick he was. He had the same gusto and charm as always because that’s just who Dr. Mel was. He was Mr. (well, Dr.) Happy To Be Alive!
Dr. Mel never “officially” retired until this fall, and even then he continued to file his personal reports and forecasts. Why? Why would someone who probably had no real need for monetary compensation keep working right up until the day they die? I think it was because we were Dr. Mel’s Bucket List. That’s right. Dr. Mel truly loved what he did so much that he never dreamed of a day when his job might be done.
God broke the mold when He made Dr. Mel. Today, weather reporters masquerade as actors and actresses. They “land planes” as they gesture toward maps they don’t glance at and they hype every event in hopes that we’ll sit glued to our TV instead of our computers. (Yeah, right) They’ve had boob jobs, nose jobs, hair plugs and dental veneers, but their concern for their audience is about as authentic as their Barbie and Ken doll looks. This new breed of forecaster tries to forge a connection with their viewers by babbling at us 24/7 instead of simply reporting the facts and supporting data with clarity and precision. The chances of a meteorologist like Dr. Mel ever getting in front of a camera today is slim to none. Apparently, authenticity is taboo.
I’ll miss Dr. Mel and his nerdy, goofy smile. I’ll miss the gentle, humble Renaissance man who had the natural ability to influence a whole generation of viewers and weather enthusiasts without really trying, but mostly I’ll miss him because he was a truly fantastic human being.
Goodnight, Dr. Mel.
No, that’s not a bird or a plane.
It’s a bat!
First of all, I didn’t adjust the color in any of these photos! They were taken on an unseasonably warm, beautiful day that evolved into a stunning, glowing sky as the sun began to sink over the treeline. I was out playing a little end of the day Frisbee with the dogs when I noticed what I thought was a barn swallow darting about in the evening sky. It stood out against the warm tones of the clouds as it swooped lower and closer, almost dive-bombing straight for us! Seconds later another “bird” appeared and I suddenly realized they were not birds at all, but bats darting to and fro! They flew fast and furious, honing in on insects too small for the naked eye to see. Several times they dove low to the ground, nearly colliding with me! Normally I’m not afraid of bats, but it was a bit unnerving to see how close they’d come to hitting me before pulling up or swerving to one side at the last second. I didn’t think I’d be able to catch their antics with my camera, but I decided to give it a try. If nothing else the sunset was stunning and the bats literally glowed from the reflection of the pink-orange sky. I watched the bats feed until the fiery sun sank below the horizon and I lost them against the darkening backdrop of the woods.
I don’t know what kind of bats these were, but I’m hoping they were Brown Bats. The Brown Bat population has been ravaged by white nose disease and nearly decimated in our area. I’ve seen several bats around the farm this summer, but none quite this bold or engaging. I hope they’ll be back again come spring!
I didn’t know it at the time, but last year was the perfect fall for taking pictures. My camera was new and I was completely inexperienced, but the conditions were stunning. This year …. not so much. I’ve been very unmotivated to get out before the crack of dawn and go hunt for that great shot. The fall color has been nothing to write home about and the fantastic light I had almost every day last year has not made much of an appearance. Being a rookie, I thought every fall would be like last year. Apparently not, and I’m very disappointed.
I’ve taken several pictures of this tree, but this was one of the nicer shots that I got after we had about three and a half feet of snow on the ground. Getting to the spot where I took this picture was a workout in itself: a steep uphill climb through butt-deep snow drifts while carrying a camera and tripod was a little nutty, not to mention the fact that (as usual) I was trying to beat the sunset. Oh, and it was single-digit, bone-chilling cold.
I used PS5 HDR toning to process this because it helps make the margins of the clouds pop a bit more. So far I’ve played with the HDR toning settings a lot more than the basic HDR program. That’s because I don’t take a lot of bracketed photos, which you need for the HDR program. HDR toning uses just one photo and the results are a bit less extreme, but that suits me just fine for right now. Perhaps if it wasn’t so darn cold I might have been more inclined to tinker with my camera settings and take some bracketed photos, but I could hardly manage to take the few pictures that I got.
Color-wise, I left things exactly as I saw them. I don’t like to punch color or vibrancy up unless I really have to, and in this case there was enough contrast in the sky to keep things interesting without playing Mother Nature. The wind was howling, making the sky change from moment to moment and it was one of those times when I found myself questioning my sanity and wondering why I was out there … until I saw the results. Sadly, there isn’t much interesting to shoot up on that ridge. The lone pine tree is nice, but unless there’s something brewing in the sky, it’s rather ho-hum.
Below: The trail back down.
Jan 30, 2011 5:47 PM EST.
Canon EOS 7D
ISO: 100, 19mm, 1/4 sec, f/25
Lens: Tamron SP 10-24mm 1:3.5-4.5
PS5: HDR toning
Lightroom3: brightness/contrast adj.
5:49 PM. EST.
ISO: 100, 11mm, 1/4 sec, f/16