Solo Snaps: A Slice of Sky

Welcome to a new series I’m calling “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings on being solo that sometimes come with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. If you’d like to buy customizable notecards featuring this image, click here.

There are some – a very few – photos that I know are going to be amazing the moment I press the shutter button. This was one of them:

Here’s the story:

My travel friend and I were on a short visit to Canada in April 2018. Winter still had a firm grip on the landscape. We were on our way to the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, Canada, and found ourselves on a very back-ish of back roads. As we came into this marshy valley, the light seemed unreal. Metallic silver and gold that made the entire world shimmer. I almost leapt from the car.

We spent most of the stop shooting on the other side of the road, at a little dock that jutted into a swampy pond/very large puddle. The silvery light turned out to be terrible for taking photos. My friend took a few shots and then climbed back into the warmth of the car, leaving me alone in the cold. The wind was bitter, the kind that numbs ungloved photographing fingers.

I’m not sure why I decided to cross the street and check out the other view, but once I spotted that little strip of water, my heart gave a skip. I looked up: blue sky. The sun was behind me…perfect. Could it be that the sky was reflected in that strip of water? Maybe? Please?

It was, and I laughed out loud as I lined up the shot and snapped. I knew I’d gotten something wonderful. Here it is again.

I climbed back in the car with a warm glow in my chest. Later that night, after an exhausting day, this was the only photo I pulled from my camera. When I shared it on my social media, we discovered it had another gift to give. My travel friend had a friend who grew up in this part of Canada, and her grandparent’s house is visible in this photo. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

I’m an amateur, and I can always do better, but there isn’t much I’d change about this snap. I did a little post-processing: a minor crop, and applying one of my favorite Lightroom filters to increase the saturation, and the result is what you see here.

I love that this would be a totally nothing photo without that little strip of water. Why did I see that when my friend didn’t? He asked me why I was so excited when I got back in the car, and I pointed to the strip of water. I’m pretty sure he looked skeptically at me as we drove off. I guess that’s the beauty of photography; sometimes it just takes one person, alone and shivering in a Canadian marsh, to see something special.

NOTE: This photo was taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T5. I used my 24mm prime lens. Settings were ISO 100, f/9, 1/400.

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Introducing a new series of blog posts: Solo Snaps

Photography is a solo activity. Sharing a photo is a social activity, and photography can be done with others around (and its often fun when that happens), but at it’s core, most photography is done by one person, looking through one lens, trying to capture her unique view of the world. Maybe that’s why I love it. It’s one of the few things in modern life that doesn’t require a partner.

I am intrigued by how much we like to look at photos. And I’m more intrigued by those who want to look at MY photos. I suspect those folks love my snaps because they know me; if I was just another photographer they’d probably skip right over my stuff. But they know me.

They also know that, for better or worse, I will likely tell them a story to go with my photo.

Truly remarkable photos can, occasionally, tell a story without needing a description. None of my photos are thank remarkable. And I love stories. To me, they are essential to understanding and enjoying art, especially visual art.  Even when the photo is incredible, I usually want to know how the photographer made it, what she was thinking, what tricks she employed, and how she feels about how others react to it.

(It’s worth noting that this need for story has gotten me in trouble with classical music conductors in the past, and might get me in trouble with visual arts curators in the future. But I digress.)

This blog series will be about my photos, and their stories. And it’s likely those stories will involve some confessions about navigating my world solo.

Just as everyone else’s kids and marriages and partners shape their worlds, so does my status as one who exists outside of those institutions. Being solo infuses all that I do. And while some may find my musings incomprehensible or uncomfortable, you will find me working hard not to apologize for them. See, there are a lot of solos out there in this world, and we are making and doing and living and figuring it out. Most of these posts are for them. But I hope non-solos will enjoy them too.

solo |’sōlō|

ADJECTIVE for or done by one person alone; unaccompanied.

snap |ˈsnap|

VERB To take (a photograph). 

NOTE: Many of my photos were taken when I was not alone, so don’t believe every definition you see.

Thanks for reading.

Solo Snaps: A rainbow in a Virginia swamp

Welcome to a new series I’m calling “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings on being solo that came with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. 

It was January 26. For weeks, I’d been fighting a persistent cough and annoying lethargy; I was starting to think that my body was in revolt after I put it through a fairly stressful last half of 2018. The beautiful treks of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, my last real hiking experience, seemed far away and out of reach. I needed to get into the woods, and the sun was out that day. So I stocked up on tissues and headed into First Landing State Park with my dog, Sadie.

The trails in this swampy, sandy park are flat, which means that they get a lot of use. It seemed like everyone was out that day, and I enjoyed the smiles and nods of the passersby as Sadie and I stretched our legs with more miles than we’d done in a while. We did enough distance that I counted the hike as hike 36 of my #52hikechallenge, which is now in its 2nd year.

Right around mile 4 of our 5.5 mile loop, we hit a long, flat, wide, and usually dull section of the Cape Henry Trail. Runners and bikers started to replace walkers and hikers. As Sadie and I strolled along, I caught a shimmer of something purple-ish out of the corner of my eye. I gave it no thought other than to figure it was my polarized sunglasses filtering the light. Then something blue flashed, and I slowed down and looked into the swamp, lifting my sunglasses to be sure I wasn’t dreaming it.

This is what I saw.

IMG_0909Not much to write home about, right? But then I remembered an article I’d read weeks before about some kind of rainbow in a swamp. Since this was a swamp, and that appeared to be a rainbow, I looked closer, and kept walking.

Soon, I came upon this:

IMG_0916

Hold the phone. This was for real. I looked around; a couple was walking by, engrossed in conversation, and I made some kind of vague, stunned gesture at them to try to get them to look, but they just rambled past. I walked a few more feet, and then…there it was:

IMG_0918

A perfect rainbow…on the swamp. In..or on? the water. All of the colors. Laid out like something from a daydream. I turned again to look for someone to tell, but all I saw was a biker zooming by without a glance. I held up my phone and snapped, looked at the result, and then snapped again, because I was convinced it wasn’t real. I even took a video so I could prove to myself there were no filters involved.

At the beginning of this hike, I’d started at a new trailhead, and within the first few steps, came upon a hollowed-out tree with a gaping hole shaped like a perfect heart. As Valentine’s Day was looming, I rolled my eyes at the universe for taunting me with such symbolic reminders of my singledom, and then promptly forgot about it.

4-ish miles later, I stood gazing at this rainbow swamp that no one else seemed to see, gawking, taking pictures and wistfully wishing someone other than my unappreciative dog was with me. Then something happened.

I decided to take it all for myself. I drank in the otherworldly colors and stopped looking for someone to share it with. It became a sign meant just for me: the universe reminding me that even though I’m far from the mountains, there are still magical things to be seen in the woods, that I can see just fine on my own. Others may have seen the rainbow that day, but for just a moment, all that glorious magic was all mine.

The last mile of our hike went by quickly as we headed for the car; I couldn’t wait to read more about what caused the rainbow. Turns out it has to do with chemicals in the water, and a lack of wind that causes them to build up and refract the light…that’s about as far as I got in my research. Others saw this phenomenon before me, in other swamps; they even became Reddit famous, I discovered.

But none of that matters. I was there, I saw it, and I enjoyed the heck out of sharing it later. And I hope you enjoyed looking at it now. Unless you come visit me in Virginia, and it happens to be 2:45 on a windless day in January, and the chemicals are just right, it’s not something you’re likely to see in real life. So yeah, I’m bragging a little. That’s what’s happens when the universe manufactures a rainbow just for me.

NOTE: The photos above were taken with my I Phone 7. I didn’t edit or crop them, as I normally would; I wanted them to be as close to my memory as possible.

Why can’t it be Scout’s story?

Let’s start with one clear, unalienable truth: I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing.

I love SportsNight, A Few Good Men, Studio 60, and of course, The West Wing Seasons 1-4. I haven’t seen The Social Network, The Farnsworth Invention, or Steve Jobs, but I’m sure I’d love them. I mean, this is how much I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing: when I am re-watching The West Wing, which I have done many, many times, I find myself falling into Sorkin-esque speech patterns, so much that I have to stop myself lest my friends think I’m a pompous erudite with way too high an opinion of myself, like so many Sorkin characters. When I heard he was going to write To Kill a Mockingbird for Broadway, I was thrilled.

101032-11And then, I read this article. In his lovely, self-deprecating way, Sorkin talks about how terrifying and difficult it was to write the play, for all the reasons you’d expect when you’re trying to remake something that never asked to be remade because it was epic all on its own. He describes the moment when he figured out how to do it – he decided that Atticus Finch needed to be a protagonist of the story.

I haven’t read the book in a while. After I finish my current book, I’m going to. Because all I remember about it is that it was Scout’s story, and her dad, Atticus, was almost too perfectly heroic. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t an accident on Harper Lee’s part.

So when I read that Atticus needed to go on a journey that he didn’t take in the book, at first, I said “ok, sure, that’s storytelling 101.” And then, Sorkin wrote a couple of casual, almost flippant sentences that made something uneasy creep into my stomach.

In the book, Atticus isn’t the protagonist — Scout is. Faced with the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South, Scout loses some of her innocence. Her flaw is that she’s young. But for the play, I didn’t want Scout (or Jem or Dill) to be the only protagonist.

Later that day, I was walking my dog through the neighborhood. Apparently the article was in my subconscious, because suddenly, I stopped walking and said to myself:

WHY THE HECK CAN’T IT BE ALL ABOUT SCOUT? WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE ABOUT ATTICUS (OR JEM OR DILL)?

As I’ve done all my life when experiencing such feminist flareups, I shoved it away as being “too reactionary.” And then, I stopped myself, and allowed myself to really think about it: Why can’t it be Scout’s story? I would LOVE to see what Aaron Sorkin would do with this story, framed by the innocence of a child, in today’s America. Why can’t he write that?

I don’t know the answer, and I’m not going to pretend to try. It’s a free country, and Sorkin can write whatever he wants and I will definitely go see it, and likely be swept away by his words and storytelling.

But I’m not ignoring that little voice that stopped me in my tracks.

It’s the same voice that popped up when I first heard the Hamilton soundtrack, and despite how much I adored it, wondered if the women had anything to do other than be in love with their men.

It’s the same voice that wishes Lin-Manuel Miranda had chosen to cast one of the founding fathers as a girl in drag. He broke tons of barriers with that show, so why not that one?

It’s the same voice that wished the Fellowship of the Ring had included a couple of Female Fellows.

It’s the same voice that has made me always want to play the role of Enjolras in Les Misérables, (other than that brief phase where I was convinced I was Eponine), or at least see some fabulous female play it.

It’s the same voice that wonders what the impact would have been if J. K. Rowling had created Hannah Potter, the Girl who Lived.

Today, also while out walking my dog, that voice piped up with the perfect encapsulating question. Aaron Sorkin begins his essay by sharing that a famous Broadway producer called him when he got the Broadway rights for To Kill A Mockingbird, and asked Sorkin if he wanted to write it. If we’re being honest, we all know that producer was not going to call any of the young, brilliant, not-famous playwrights out there today. He was going to call one of the best and most beloved writers of our age. I get that.

So why didn’t he call Shonda Rhimes? Now that’s a play I’d like to go see.

 

Throwback Thursday: Dusk hike to Grotto Falls, #hike30 of the #52hikechallenge

So yeah, it’s been a little busy around my life, y’all. Finding/securing/moving in to a new apartment, figuring out a new job, hunting foliage and views in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s all good stuff, but it means I’ve had little time to do more than experience whatever event or emotion is right in front of me before moving on to the next…not a lot of time for blog-worthy introspection.

This is why I decided to force myself to write tonight. Because amid all the wonderful, I worry that I will forget the lessons and discoveries. So without any more ado, let’s dive in.

Exactly two weeks ago I was in the Smoky Mountains with a friend, enjoying one of our twice/thrice yearly adventures. It was day 7 of 12, but it was only our 2nd full day in the Smokies. Until the day prior, we’d been adventuring amid waterfalls and caves, but we hadn’t done any real hiking up anything worth writing home about. It’s worth noting that there had been a few uphill sections and those had pretty much kicked my ass, because, you see, I have been living at sea level for several months now. Not just on flat land, but literally next to the sea. I hadn’t been up a real hill since I’d left Boston back in the summer. Plus, living in a place where the only real way to get around is to drive, I’d let myself get out of shape. No doubt about that.

So, it was Thursday. The day before we’d done our first real “hike” in the Smokies, a relatively easy 4ish-mile trek that nonetheless killed me. On that Weds hike, I’d had one of my moments where I had to send my friend ahead because I was freaking myself out: about how slow I was, how tough the uphills were, how much of a loser I was. It got to the point where the anxiety in my head was defeating my determination to be cheerful, and my body was threatening an onslaught of tears that really had no basis in reality. I told my friend (who, incidentally, had been living and hiking in the Western mountains for the past 6 months, and thus was barely even breathing hard) to walk ahead for 5 minutes and wait for me, and I stopped and gazed, mostly unseeing, out at the gorgeous mountains, willing my throat to relax and my eyes to dry.

I have come to recognize that these moments are likely to happen any time I take myself out of whatever routine I’m in, and jump feet-first into adventure; they have happened on every trip and I’m sure they’ll happen again. That doesn’t make it any easier to cope with in the moment. After all, I’m supposed to be a fierce and strong and independent woman who can do anything, right? It’s tough to claim that when you can’t breathe after walking uphill for a barely more than a mile.

Anyway, I got myself together, set the slowest pace I could manage, and plodded on. I eventually found my friend lounging on the side of the trail. He gave me a smile and said “pull up a rock” as if absolutely nothing was wrong in the world, and I knew it would be ok. I would make it up the hill and through whatever else we planned to do. Maybe slower than I’d like, but I’d get there.

The next day, Thursday, I was feeling better. I had to work that morning, so that afternoon, we did a wonderful – and again relatively easy – trek up to a gorgeous place called Alum Cave Bluff. I’ll share pictures when I get them off my camera; that’s how busy it’s been around here! Anyway, I felt good about the hike – we weren’t speedy, but I didn’t suck wind quite as much. The views were lovely, and we enjoyed a leisurely journey down, stopping to take pictures of the river and the just-beginning-to-turn leaves. At the end of the 4ish miles, as late afternoon was turning to evening, we weren’t ready to be done with the day. So we decided to find a hike we could do in the dark.

My friend, fearless one that he is, would have been fine tackling another 5 miles or so of mountain, but I knew I needed to treat my newly-found confidence with care. So we hopped in the car and drove out a long, winding, one-way road to Trillum Gap, and the trailhead for Grotto Falls. By the time we got there, dusk was falling.

The whole reason I wanted to write this post can be summed up by the first few minutes of this hike. As we started up the trail, 2-3 groups were finishing up, and they all looked a bit askance at us. After all, it was getting dark. But you see, this friend and I have figured out the night hiking thing. Our first hike together ended as an unexpected night adventure, where I was so slow coming down from a NH White Mountain that we had to hike our last 1.3 miles out via one measly flashlight. We’ve climbed to the top of canyon overlooks to take star pictures, and there was that time we got separated, at night, in the middle of Arches National Park (a story for another time). We are prepared; we have headlamps, layers and batteries, plus a healthy appreciation for the invisible power of hidden tree roots.

So as one outgoing hiker suggested we bring carrots to help our vision, and another asked warily, “Um, do you have lights?”, I felt a sense of tremendous satisfaction that we never broke stride, just smiled and said “yes, we do”, and headed off into the evening. How far we’d come…how far I’d come in the years since we started these adventures, that I was actually planning on and really looking forward to a hike up a hill in the dark.

Because, you see, we were heading for a waterfall, and I’d never seen a waterfall at night – at least not one that I’d hiked to. The trek was easy, muddy, and quiet…I don’t remember talking much. As always, I watched my feet and concentrated on breathing. Before long, we could hear the rush of tumbling water, and a few careful steps on slippery rocks later, we glimpsed Grotto Falls. It was lovely, and after a few moments of looking, we both agreed that we needed to get closer, so up we went, this time over some slightly more serious wet, rocky terrain. In fact, we went all the way up and UNDER the falls, and had a riot shining our headlamps on the water to try to take pictures. Well, my friend did, at any rate. For some reason, I left my fancy camera in my bag and on a whim, just held up my iPhone to see if I could capture the contrast of white water reflecting the last smidgen of light left in the day.

I got this:

IMG_0385

When I looked at it on my phone, I gasped. Magical, I thought to myself, then tucked my phone away and headed back to the falls to run my hands under the water.

Then, it was back down the hill by the light of our headlamps. I joked with my friend that this was one time I would not ask him to go ahead of me. I wanted to lead the way down, to enjoy knowing he was right behind me and not likely to wander off, to appreciate the feeling of dawning strength in my legs, and to ponder how incredibly lucky I am to get to see waterfalls in the dark.

When we got back to the car, I didn’t really want to drive away. I stood for a moment, looking up at the black sky, smelling the trees, and wishing I could freeze time so I could always feel how I felt at that moment. But we did have to leave, back down into the reality of what to cook for dinner and the knowledge that life can’t be entirely about wandering in the woods. That’s ok, really. I’m just glad I get to have moments where I know for a fact that no one, other than us, got to see the world as it was on that night. That night, the world was nothing but a waterfall and some rocks to clamor over, and it was more than enough for me.

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