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Senior Picture Shoot: Heeere's Liam!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


 Senior pictures. Lots of people spend a lot of money on senior pictures. Which is nice, because photographers have to make a living, too. The best photos of humans, in my opinion, are not the ones that are produced in a ten-minute session in front of a rolldown screen, when the subject is bathed in the glare of  hot klieg lights.

Formal photos have one thing going for them. They produce predictable results. You're going to get a kid in a borrowed tux with his head slightly canted and most of his teeth showing. He's enduring the experience, doing what he's told, holding a grin until its freshness date has passed.

As for formal school photography, I side with Dwight. 
"I never smile if I can help it. Showing one's teeth is a submission signal in primates. When someone smiles at me, all I see is a chimpanzee begging for its life."  -Dwight Schrute, The Office

But what are you going to do? You're batch-processing high school seniors. You can't follow each one around grabbing candid shots. But psst!  Mom can...

 I've never been much on studio shots. Yes, each year, for both kids, I dutifully bought the smallest possible package of school photos, feeling I'd be somehow remiss if I didn't. For the big stuff, though (senior photos, prom, homecoming), I've always taken photography of my kids into my own hands. What I lack in technique and fabulous portrait lenses, I make up in sensitivity to who they are and in which settings they look their best. Which would not be against a mottled gray screen under floodlights. It would be in what nature gives us at the moment: low late winter light, weathered barn wood and the landscape in which they have grown up. I shoot them with my old Canon 7D, fitted with 70-300 mm telephoto, the same rig I use on Buffy and Flag, Jolene and the birds. This lets me get the photos I want without sticking a camera right in their faces. I'm standing 30' away; he's just doing his thing, and we get along fine.

 I give him a coat (Mine, a men's Kuhl) that I think will work with the hues of the timeworn wood.  We try a bunch of different settings. That's not the best, but it's already a lot better than the frightened chimpanzee.

We're both hugely enjoying ourselves, expending nothing but photons in a quest for a good shot.
 I'm being horrible, and he cracks up.

 I've seen something interesting in his direct stare. "Look at me like you're p-ssed off at me."
"But I'm not! I can't!"
I forget what I said to get this look out of my loving boy.  Probably something awful.

 Ooh. Now we're getting somewhere. Gravitas suits you, Liam!

I've always talked to my subjects. I talked constantly to Chet Baker, often mentioning animals with which he was acquainted. The ears would come up, the light would come into his eyes, and click!

We keep moving. The light keeps changing. I love his straw-colored hair against the hills, covered in fading little bluestem.

"Hey! You! Turn around!" Sometimes he takes my breath away. From whence came this creature?

Turn your collar up! Work it!


We keep walking to the old barn that used to shelter cattle.  I have the windows in mind.

I love the glimpse of pines and sun through its dark interior, as warm as his smile. 
In this setting, I feel I'm finally getting through to his Liamness. He's relaxed, enjoying the shoot
and all the different places we're exploring. 

And being Liam, he throws me a curve or two. Eeeek!! It's Pennywise the creepy clown!

And then he goes all Broadway on me, throwing those amazing hands wide. Hellooo world!

I ask him to pause in the doorway. "I have cow poop on my shoes."
"Nobody's gonna see that."
I struggle with the exposure. The camera's freaking out, and I'm not able to conquer its desire to expose on the velvet black interior. So they're all overexposed. I take a bunch of shots and finally give up. This is the best I could do. Gotta give that another go. There has to be a way to compensate, because I love this off-kilter shot.

The light is fading fast. We have to work our way back to the hillside where there's still a little sun. I can't resist working the Toothless Lady into a couple of shots. It's cooled down a lot, and we're fighting the natural tendency of one's nose to turn red in the cold. I'm sure it even happens to models. I forgot to bring face powder. Oh well.
I love the juxtaposition of my favorite barn, deliquescing rapidly, and this vital young sapling of a man. It would be hard to find a nicer setting. This is not the first time I've thanked the Providence that led me here, that opened my eyes to the landscapes all around me, that made me take the dirt roads and start a heart collection of such things and places.

I need a little bit of the road ahead of him in this shot, to give him somewhere to walk. The sun catches his eye, colorless but for the light refracting in it, scattering to blue.

"Stand up against that particle board there."
"But it's ugly!"
"It won't be in the photo."

If I haven't made my point yet about taking the time to let a person relax, so you can coax out his true beauty...

This one settled out as my favorite, but I love them all for different reasons. I can't pick just one. Do click on it and you can quickly scroll through them all at a larger size. So much is lost in the blog version.

 When we were all done, Liam jumped for joy! And so did my heart. Laughing my head off, feeling like the luckiest mom in Whipple, or the world.

What a guy, what a day, what a sunset, what a shoot!  This Do It Yourself Moment brought to you by Low Spring Light, Weathered Wood, Beautiful Youth, and Poverty.

Back at It

Thursday, March 15, 2018


A collapsed field sparrow nest from 2017 along the driveway. Japanese honeysuckle, already leafing out. Spring is coming, I think. The daffodils are in suspended animation, leaning into the biting wind.

I raised the blind yesterday on two inches of fresh snow. No matter how many times this happens, I am still surprised. Oh! Snow!

Not as surprised as they are in the Boston area I'm sure. An Ohio March snowstorm is a joke compared to what the North Atlantic can hurl at the New England coast.  I feel for them. So much.

I surprised myself a second time by lacing on running shoes instead of Keen boots, and heading out for a run. You would think that, having not run since oh, August 2017, I might have trouble. The only trouble I had was working up to doing it, getting my mind ready to run. The actual doing is no big deal. I don't have to stop; I don't get terribly winded on the hills; I just chug along. I really expected to be a wreck, but I wasn't. When I think about the first time I ever ran, I stopped eight times in the first mile! Most of it is pacing myself. I didn't know then that it wasn't a sprint; it was a jog. Or maybe it's because I've been hiking most every day since I stopped running. I don't know. I'm just grateful I can still run.

Is this thing working? Can't tell... Typical Zick selfie. They're rare, because I usually look like a possum in them. Headband is pure alpaca--best ear warmer I've ever owned. Hair, styled and colored by Old Man Winter and Father Time. I'm kinda digging the steel coming in. I'm going with steely.

All I know is I've got to keep moving. Running gets the blood going to my brain like nothing else. My brain gets ideas when it's got enough oxygen. It gets inspiration. Best of all, it stops feeling sorry for itself.

Because I needed a lesson in gratitude this day, I brushed the snow off the Congletons' stone. I read it whenever I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself. I think of Thomas, oly 25. And I think of Ida B., born one day after Phoebe, albeit 119 years earlier, and gone by the time she was six months old. Just when she was getting really fun to hold and play with. If ever there were a great name for a baby, it's Ida B. I imagine her parents calling her that. Ida B what are you doing?

OUR LOVED ONES AWAIT US. Oh Osborn and Adaline, if you only knew how that simple line tears my heart up.  If you only knew how reading your stone and musing on your too-short lives can realign my thinking, again and again, more than a century later. For what it's worth.

 And there are the Long girls, who I'm assuming must have died very young, for the way they're all ganged on the same stone. Jane, Emma, Delia and Ora Lee. Such beautiful names for those babies. Oh, the tears shed over that little tablet.

And this one haunts me, because nobody knows who lies there. I think it's probably Civil War era. There are a bunch of these, all in one part of the cemetery toward the back. I honor you, whomever you may be.

I ran to this cemetery nearly every morning for four years at least. I always found something interesting, inspiring, sad, intriguing or wondrous here. I still do. I wish I could still meet my friend Clarence here, and hear his stories of life on an Ohio farm, of fighting in Viet Nam. Oh, the stories he tells. But he quit driving school buses years ago.

So I stop and look at what the snow did to Father overnight.

And Mother.

This post is me, telling y'all to get outside. If you can walk, hike, run, you should be getting out and doing something every single day. Mobility's a gift, and you don't truly realize that until it's taken away. Humans were not built to sit all day! We stand. Walk. Run. Stoop. Squat. Crawl. Nothing physical really happened to me to make me stop running. I just lost the heart to do it. I missed my little black inkblot. Things happened. Well, things happen to everyone.

 My challenge now, taking it up again, is not to do too much, too soon. That's how you hurt yourself. Keeping it under 3 miles to start, and I'm going to make myself take a couple rest days each week, too. Riiight. No, I will. Wiser than I used to be. The stakes are higher.

I'll leave you with this little barn and its artful tic-tac-toe junkpile, which never looks better than in a new snow. I think that cool dark crimson might be the perfect color for a building. It seems always to complement the sky, whether it's cerulean or Payne's gray. If the new neighbors mind my walking up their unmarked driveway to take these photos, they haven't let on. People around here just have to put up with me, my relentless pursuit of beauty, and my utter disregard for property lines. Somehow, it works. Probably because I wave and say a few kind words as I go by. Being kind is a passport you carry.

The beauty here is so sharp it sometimes sears me. It's good to start your day that way, blinded by grace.

Plucky's Gift

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What ever happened to that half-winged mourning dove?
You know I wouldn't leave you hanging if I could help it.

I had this whole post written on a plane. And the Internet swallowed it. The photos stayed but the text disappeared. Never had that happen before. Now I'll probably say something completely different than I did while hurtling over Kansas at sunset. One of the things I like about blogging is that I have no idea what's going to come out when I sit down. I started this one, and what came out was "One Day in Light" (the last post). When I'm blogging, I enter into a conversation with you, and it can go anywhere.

I saw the ghost of Ellen on March 11. I'm at the point where I can recognize certain deer naked eye at rather long distances. I raised the blind in the bedroom and saw Ellen against the west border of the meadow. The camera revealed that it was actually Flag, her daughter. All the little Elleny things in her gestalt at several hundred yards, that added up to Ellen for me, made me smile so big. It was like a visitation from her mama.

Nobody would give a passing glance to a small plain doe like Flag, unless they had known her mama, and come to love her so. I grow fonder of Flag every day.

I almost never see Flag without Buffy. Doughty little Buffy. I'll always wonder if she was related to Ellen, because they were always together, too, though they didn't get along very well. 

I have watched Flag take corn right from under Buffy's nose, and have never seen one iota of aggression between them. That's saying something, because I've seen Buffy fight.

Here's Buffy kissing Flag back in January 2017. Flag was still a little fawn. She'd just lost her mother in November.

Buffy, left, Flag right, today. See how much warmer-toned Buffy's hair is?
Buffy's also got tear tracks from her weepy left eye.

Buffy gave me a good laugh on March 8 when she stamped me. Deer stamp when they see something they don't like. Which would be me, through the window, at my drawing table.

 She stamped me with both front feet!

 Come on, Buffy. You know me. Stop punching more holes in my poor mushy lawn.

I do notice a difference in these two (the only ones who come in to clean up the jays' corn) and the other deer at Indigo Hill. Buffy and Flag are much more approachable in the field, more likely to watch me pass at a safe distance than the others, who all bound off. They know the Corn Lady, know my schedule, know my voice. It feels good to be recognized, even if I can't throw my arms around their necks.

Speaking of recognizing...A small gray female mourning dove, the avian equivalent of Flag, came walking in from the direction of the trumpetvine tangle on March 1. 

 Nothing to distinguish her on the left side, unless you were to notice the fresh white edging on her secondary wing feathers.

But on the right side...oh yes. Hello, Plucky! Look at that regrowth! There's still a lone black primary exposed, one of the two that remained after the hawk attack. But here come the primaries!

Luckily, she gave me a closeup.  It took only two weeks for all those feathers to regenerate. That, to me, is amazing.

In a few more days, she'd be virtually indistinguishable from the other doves.That won't stop me, and hasn't. I'm still looking for a small, grayish dove--probably less than a year old-- with a pale cheek and fresh wing feathers. So far, I haven't seen her again. But I take that to mean that she no longer needs to hide in the vines and gobble down grain at my feeder simply to survive.

As is so often the case,  I find myself scrutinizing groups, looking for one special creature. It may seem silly to some, but for me it's time well spent. Looking for Plucky taught me that each mourning dove has a unique spot pattern on its wings. Like this one--likely an immature, who is sprinkled with small dots.

And this mature male, with his iridescent neck and large oval spots on his coverts and tertials.

 I'd never realized that about mourning doves before Plucky came into my life. And I will recognize her should she appear again, as her wings are very lightly spotted.  And that's something to be able to say, that you could pick one special mourning dove out of a flock. That's the gift of close observation.

When Plucky finally took flight March 1, she corkscrewed as she went, but not nearly as badly as she had before. No longer would she have to walk from the tangle to the feeders and back.

Plucky had gotten her second chance.

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