The day of the wedding dawned wet. Throughout the morning thunder grumbled through the mountains. Most of the guests stayed huddled under eaves and out of the rain, though one group went ahead with a hike to a swimming lake. “We got to the lake, and BOOM. We didn't go in.”
The sun came out in time for the ceremony, and everything was beautiful. But the line of storms set off over 800 fires across California. There are 137 fires in the Mt Shasta-Trinity National Forest alone.
These are from our drive. At one point along Hwy 299 we could see five separate blazes.
I have a untapped ability that I never suspected I possessed. I am good at hacky sack.
I am at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa this week. I became infatuated with the place last fall when I started work on their admissions viewbook, but with this visit the relationship has turned into a full blown affair (Robin is asking, "Do I have to move back to Iowa?). There is a Brigadoon quality to this corner of northeast Iowa, a self-aware earnestness among people who live here about the special quality of community and landscape that exists in this corner of the state. The college is the core of the community, of course, and exerts the dominant cultural influence on the town. There are several good restaurants and at least one place with passable (it is still the Midwest) coffee. But add to this the communitarian/populist history of the Scandinavian/German/Czech settlement enclaves, and there's something special that has arisen here. That it is truly in the middle of nowhere, hours from the nearest airport (according to my GPS, the nearest Starbucks is 74 miles away), only adds to the utopian sensibility.
Almost unique among the many colleges I have photographed, the kids here are curious about me. They ask me questions, they want to know what I do and what I think and they embrace me, insofar as it is appropriate for a 52 year old to be embraced, into their world. Which is how I got into a hacky sack circle.
This has been the easiest campus ever to walk up to a group of kids, start a conversation, and start making photographs. I worked the hacky sack game until I beat it pretty much to death, then I stood up and gave it a whirl.
And you know what? I nailed that thing. I bounced it from my knee to my foot, and passed it on. Consistently. Back when I was in college, playing hacky sack marked you as a stoner slacker type, neither quality I was able to generate much enthusiasm for. But as a boomer playing with the kids, I had cred, mostly because of the novelty. They were amazed. Never mind that, later that evening, I only wanted to ice my hip.
Another qualitative difference with this school. Last fall I photographed a rehearsal of the Nordic Choir, a world-class group that tours regularly. I don't much care for choir music, but hearing these voices in practice moved me to tears. When they asked what I thought, I couldn't speak. I was totally choked up.
Ever since, I've been That Guy Who Cried At Our Rehearsal. They've been talking about me all year, using me as a reminder of the meaning their art has on an audience. A half dozen students now have come up to me to tell me that.
Next time I expect to come back and have them come up to me and say, “Hey, hacky sack guy!”
The Minnesota Public Radio station interrupted All Things Considered with a severe storm warning. “Vicinity of I-90 and Co Hwy 12 in Winona County. Damaging hail possible.”
I was driving a remote circuitous route that my GPS unit determined for me (I never carry maps anymore), so I pulled off the county road on a wide shoulder by a farmhouse driveway. The storm in question was several miles to the northwest. Thunder growled continuously from all directions. Occasionally I'd see a clear bolt of lightning hit the ground, but mostly I saw flashes behind roiling dark clouds that look lifted from the stained glass windows of my hometown church.
I adore the Midwest, for just this sort of spectacle. Where I live has no discernible weather. One season blends weakly into the next and, except for the occasional November windstorm, nothing much happens in the sky. Here, the weather can kill you any month of the year.
I've lived in this part of the country at various times—college in Ohio, a year in Kansas, a winter in Minneapolis, a spring in the Michigan north woods—and I miss this drama. After I had my fill of the sky show (and as the rain started splatting), I got back on the road and appeared to drive into a car wash. The boundary between road and air disappeared into a violent wet smudge. Then, in a sudden instant, I crossed a boundary and the deluge became drizzle. The sky ahead was a benign pastiche of pastels, but in my mirrors it was a solid black.
A notable sensation when whizzing down Washington, DC streets is the catch in the throat as you glimpse iconic national landmark after iconic national landmark. Oh, there's the Capitol Dome, there's the White House, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial. The latter we took a cab to in order to photograph some students admiring the cherry blossoms, which are at their peak this week. We had to share the path with 80,000 other people however--finding a spot with any semblance of serenity took some doing.
While waiting for our couple to show up (it took them a half hour to park), I visited the Jefferson Memorial. Despite the Boy Scout troops and school groups and throngs of tourists, I found a kind of serenity in this rotunda. And then I read the words inscribed in marble, and I was moved to tears. “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...” And also, “...I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate that these people are to be free...”
On the west end of the reflecting pool is the Lincoln, even more moving in its simplicity (it is unfortunate the same cannot be said for the monstrosity at the other end, the WWII, which reeks of triumphalism and heavy-handed symbolism). On one side is inscribed the Gettysburg Address, on the other, his second inaugural speech. This one completes the sentiment in Jefferson's, only now Lincoln avers that God has seen fit to wreak his judgment upon the nation for our stain. It is a moving speech, worth the effort to plow through the nineteenth century syntax.
Visiting these pilgrimage sites I feel powerfully stirred in my patriotism, and my devotion to my identity as an American. Our country has an exceptional status in the course of human history, and these ideals, particularly when we are not living up to them, are worth fighting to preserve. These monuments of Washington, DC, they are the temples for our American secular religion.
“There's a Second Line funeral parade that's going to come down Poydras in about five minutes.” Most of us abandoned our computers and rushed to the corner. Sure enough, there were two feathered and bedecked figures leading a brass band and a funeral procession. Dancing and joy, down the main street of downtown New Orleans. The clutch of us circled the front of the parade with our pro cameras, and another dozen tourists took pictures with their small camera and their phones.
I felt the rush of joy and energy as I danced in the street. Then the funeral procession came by. My heart was open, and I felt the wallop of grief from the back half of the parade. This dancing is commemorating a death, and I teared up instantly. I had to turn into the parking lot behind me, where no one would see, and openly weep.
I am emotionally labile these days. Last night I reveled (how many mood swings can I fit into a single day?) in how the opening two scenes segued perfectly. I started to see the rough outline of my piece, with what remnants I could scour that were actually held still for more than 2 seconds. I did my interview and one musical piece on tripod, and everything from Tipitina's on Sunday was on sticks. There's a sweet clip of Bruce playing accordion with his third grade daughter, on guitar, with 10 usable seconds. Now though, I've been at it for 13 hours now, and I am starting to make significant errors. I'm trusting that my sleeping self will tell me how to fix all the problems with the piece by morning, and it'll be in some form resembling finished by the 4pm screening.
It is beginning to dawn on me that I may spend my entire New Orleans sojourn without ever having had a decent meal.
We begin our days at 8:45 after having scrounged a breakfast from within downtown hotel dead zone that we're in (our shabby hotel does not provide any food). At 12:30 or 1 we break for our two or three hour shooting assignment, during which we scarf down some fuel. We meet for critique, take a 45 minute break, then convene again until 9 or 9:30pm.
And these are the light days. We're about to go into editing mode.
In Mary Lee Lyke's living room, I was a spectacular dancer. I had booked a couple of private lessons with her before my trip. We seamlessly two-stepped together and pulled off every hotshot move in the book. Cajun dancing never felt so free and joyful.
Something must happen to the Northerner's brain when they cross into Louisiana. What moves? Do I know anything? The two step rhythm was natural enough, but for the life of me, nothing else would come.
The cliquishness from the Rock and Bowl zydeco evening was absent, replaced with a warm, welcoming community. I had barely stashed my gear and changed my shoes before a woman asked me to dance. At the end she handed me off to another. I never lacked for a partner. It felt like a friendly contra dance gathering.
That I still couldn't remember how to do anything didn't detract from having a fun evening. At the break I spoke to Bruce Daigrepont, the accordianist, got permission to video, and made a date with him for Thursday, my final project shooting date. He loves to talk about the music—he's going to be a great interview.