After some hesitation, pondering, figuring, worrying, and wrangling, Abby and I finally replaced her Jeep, which was something of a lemon, with a new Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 4×4 pickup. Abby seems incredibly happy with it. Nissan calls the color “Knight Armor,” which is their sales code for dark grey, the only color on their list Abby liked. I think it’s exactly what she wants and needs.
Like a lot of ordinary, healthy boys, when I was growing up, my friends and I played a lot of war. By “war,” I mean we would choose up sides and pretend, almost exclusively, that it was World War 2. The process started by “calling” our ranks, which works the same way that “calling” shotgun in a car full of teenagers works; first come, first serve. The idea was that if you “called” a higher rank, you could boss around the other kids. Early in the process of deciding to play, you heard, “FIVE STAR!” That kid got to be the five star general, and so on. Once, I decided I wanted to be a buck sergeant, for no other reason than I wanted to be different. The hierarchy was fairly meaningless anyway, since the game of war was controlled by a very specious honor system.
My war play peaked right around the time of the real peak of the Viet Nam War, about 1972, so my parents, while not hippies, were disinclined to buy me realistic toy guns, so I mostly made do with old west style toy guns, or lacking that, a backwards tennis racket. (If I could have picked back then, like a lot of kids I would have picked the Thompson sub-machine gun; Dad watched a lot of cheap war movies on TV, and the Thompson was often glorified in them.)
The action of playing consisted of hiding behind the bushes at Johnny Hughes’ house, popping up to fire of burst of .45 cal from the butt of tennis racket by making a machine gun noise in my throat, followed by a volley of, “I got you,” “No, you didn’t,” “Yes, I did,” “No way!” etc.
Johnny seemed to be the leader of the neighborhood platoon. He was the one who told us that “take five” meant that we should take five deep breaths, and that to “die in cold blood” meant to die with your eyes open. I lost touch with Johnny right around that same time, and hooked up with new friends in junior high, when playing war fell away into my past.
Anyone who has ever lived in the country knows that it can be a little wild at times, and by wild I mean that the wildness of nature is always close.
When Matthew and Michelle were on their way to visit this weekend, I warned them that a handsome green frog had appeared in my toilet, and while I was photographing him, he hopped out of site, and that they shouldn’t be too startled by the appearance of said reptile. They did not happen to see the frog, but this morning they urgently summoned me into the guest room to deal with, “Something. It’s really big.” It was an impressively large wolf spider, which I captured using a mixing bowl.
Matthew, as I mentioned in my last entry, took a liking to our goats, who are, by any measure, very likable. This morning he asked me to take a picture of him with them, and while he didn’t say exactly why, I imagine it’s the same way my sister wanted a picture of herself in the pasture down by the pear tree because her friends in New Orleans just “didn’t get” what the country life was like.
I thought of all this tonight after seeing our little green frog in the bathtub. He hadn’t gone anywhere; he had just hidden while the house was abuzz with visitors, and came out tonight to keep us company and eat a few bugs. I’m thinking we should name him.
Our longtime friend Michelle Bullard and her new beau Matthew White came to see us from their home in Houston on a weekend whirlwind visit to Oklahoma. They arrived Friday afternoon in time for Matthew to hitch along with me to shoot my Friday night football, since he is, as I am, a news and sports photographer by trade. We worked the first quarter in Holdenville’s neat old rock stadium, then came back to Ada for the second half of the Cougars football game at Norris field. It wasn’t much of a game, and when we met up with my friend Jeannie Neal, Matt decided to let her use his Canon 1DmII with his 300mm f/2.8, much to Jeannie’s amazement and delight.
While we were gone, Abby and Michelle had a grand time catching up, since they hadn’t actually seen each other in the flesh since early 2004.
Saturday morning we got up, shared a big breakfast, then loaded the Jeep with some of our various firearms and drove them down to the pond. One reason Matt was so easily enticed to make this trip was the fact that he could shoot his guns out here all he wanted. We were able to play around with several types of weapons and target setups. It became obvious early on that Matt is a talented marksman.
The heat took its toll, and by 2 pm, we were drenched in sweat and exhausted, but we all had fun. Abby made enchiladas and we shared another great meal, after which everyone took a long nap.
As evening approached, we ventured out again to make some pictures in the maturing light, particularly of Matthew and Michelle together, since they actually had very few of those images. Matthew had commented several times that he didn’t exactly understand why I was so excited about owning goats, but after just a few minutes he took a liking to them, particularly Buxton (the tan one), and ended up making lots of pictures of them.
The four of us ended up staying up past one in the morning, laughing and joking. Everyone had a great time. Matt and Michelle left this morning, but we know they will be coming back, and they know they are welcome.
Dateline 1977: In those dark days of junior high school, one day I was at my locker in the eighth grade hall. Two lockers down was Jena Owrey’s locker. Jena was beautiful and popular, but unlike a lot of the “proud crowd” (as they were known at my school and in my day), she was always incredibly sweet and nice to me.
It was between classes in the hall. 300 kids were struggling to get to their lockers, switch books, and get to their next classes. Jena was in a hurry too, and opened her locker too fast, causing its metal door to whack into the open shoe box she was carrying, tossing its contents, about $15 in change and about 30 spirit ribbons, to the floor.
In the awkward moment of silence that immediately followed, I instinctively said, “Smooth move, Ex Lax!”
In some ways I get the feeling that all the ill that has befallen me since that day has been a karmic kick in the nuts for my inconsideration.
It wasn’t a one-way street, however.
Also during junior high, one day I was riding the sixth-hour bus home because I stayed late to help a teacher move some chairs. There were only a few of us on the bus. Two rows behind me were two girls my age, about 12 or 13. I could hear them talk, and I heard one of them say, “Look at that guy’s hair. It’s so pretty!”
This got my attention, since they were undoubtedly talking about my hair, so I turned my head slightly so I could hear a little better. She obviously got a glimpse of my face at that point, because she immediately added, “Oh, but he’s ugly.”
I don’t know who it was, but if I had to venture a guess about how her life turned out, I’d bet it wasn’t happy. Karma kicks people like that at least as hard.
I was thinking about a friend of mine the other day, a friend who struggles with depression. The more I thought about her, and the more I thought about her feelings and difficulties, the more I wanted to write down what I was thinking, so in the middle of rush-hour traffic, I whipped out my notepad, fumbled around in my center console for a pen, and steered with my left knee while I wrote my thoughts somewhat illegibly.
What you are thinking at any particular moment colors your outlook. When you’re sad, it’s hard to imagine being happy. When you’re alone, it’s hard to imagine being together with someone. When you are in love, it’s hard to imagine being heartbroken.
In the heat of summer, it’s hard to imagine snow. In the cold of winter, it’s hard to remember spring. But spring always comes. Always.
One time, lots of years ago, a close friend and I were driving around late at night. A friend of ours had killed himself a few days earlier, and it was so much on our minds that in the consuming silence, interrupted by the drone of the engine, he blurted out, “When do you think we’ll stop thinking about it all the time?” To us in that moment, it was hard to imagine a time when it didn’t consume our thoughts.
I am with Abby now, my wife of nearly six years. It’s hard to imagine life without her, life without being married to her. When I was single, it was hard to imagine being married, or even just not being lonely. All I could imagine was that my life would be lonely forever.
But spring always comes. Always.
That, then, is my message to my friend who suffers and struggles right now. It won’t be easy for her to believe, but in the end, she will believe it. Spring always comes.
Tonight I worked at a chore that I routinely put off because it is so unpleasant, and unpleasant on several levels. The chore was the removal of about 20 volunteer trees that had grown up in the middle of Abby’s Rose-of-Sharon bushes that line our driveway. I find this unpleasant because I have to kill perfectly healthy trees, mostly elms, and because the foliage of the Rose-of-Sharon puts up quite a fight while I try to do this.
There are a couple of positive notes. The goats love elm, so I throw it over the back yard fence to them. Also, it’s a damn challenging workout, and it really gets my heart pumping.
After I was done, I walked around the patch with a camera, seeing what I could see. I ran into a huge, perfect argiope spider in its web on the walnut tree, but I had the wrong lens with me, so I scampered into the house and grabbed my 100mm, then scampered outside in time to catch the very last light on it.
As I rolled down the news feed on Facebook this afternoon, I came across a post by my longtime friend Pam, who spoke of the “magnificence and beauty” of watching nature on this late-summer afternoon. She is in northern Arkansas hill country, so the days and the scenery are a little different than my slice of bucolic splendor here in southern Oklahoma, but we do share the same blue skies today, the same warm breeze, the same signs.
Those signs say that summer is ending.
When I read her post and a couple of comments, it inspired me to go outside again, this time with the intention of photographing one of the most comical signs of the end of summer for us, the huge, chewy, spotty pears that fill our de facto mother-in-law Dorothy’s oldest pear tree down by the barn. Unlike the peaches that I snag in June when I mow, the fruit of this tree isn’t pretty. Still, I have fun eating them, or trying to eat them, at this time of year. Fortunately, I have strong teeth, because these things are like concrete. Once I actually get under the skin, the flavor is pretty good, and the meat is snow-white. It crunches like Styrofoam as I chew it.
There are other fruit trees on Dorothy’s end of the patch. There is an apple tree nearby that makes giant, flavorless, mealy green apples, and next to that is another pear tree that makes bitter, brown pears. A little farther down the driveway is a tiny cherry tree that makes incredibly sour cherries. Out in the woods are wild plums, and of course the insanely brambly blackberry patch on the west end of the property.
After photographing the pears and eating one, I checked on the goats (who won’t even look at those pears, let alone eat them), and picked a nice bundle of green peppers from the garden. I looked around again and saw the signs: summer is ending.
As some of you may have noticed, on all six of my “blogs” (the completely ubiquitous shortening of “web log,” which itself is latter-day code for “online journal”), I have installed plug-ins so that whenever I write something and publish it on one of my blogs, it also publishes to my Facebook wall. At first I thought this was going to work out great, since it would widen the scope of my readership. I liked this idea not just because it would be fun to share, but also because I thought it would help remind my possible photography clients and students to check the appropriate blog periodically for relevant posts.
Sadly, it was not to be, and here’s why: Facebook bears the wrong name. The truth is, Facebook isn’t a place to share and have fun. It’s a place to shout and shout over and over again, “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!”, and should thereby be more aptly named Egobook. As you read your friends walls you will see that they don’t usually contain conversations, dialogs, Socratic forum sessions, or cogent opinions, but short, shallow jabs meant to garner a tiny fraction of their 15 minutes of fame.
And yes, I am aware of the irony that this post and many others like it at richardbarron.net fall to some degree in the category of “look at me.” In my own defense, however, I would add that I have always made an effort, and not a small one mind you, to populate my journal entries with more substance than typical Facebook wall posts. After all, a blog entry like this almost certainly has more to offer than a Facebook status update simply because the status update is limited to 420 characters.
Substance. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I want to give more to my readers than just “at sea world lol,” or that I clicked on the “Like” button somewhere. In fact, I’ll say right now that I don’t give crap one what you like, and I seriously doubt that you care what I like. To that end, of course, I don’t click the “Like” button.
Some people tell me they don’t have time to read my blogs, or any blogs, but then I see them on Facebook, spending literally hours doing nothing more than looking to see if anyone is paying attention to their posts, which are almost always bullspit, something so vague and incoherent that they think it will provoke you to respond so they are at the center of it all just for a few seconds.
Some of my friends who were excellent bloggers, who had something to say, who I read and encouraged others to read, have stopped posting altogether, under the assumption that they can say what they want to their friends through Facebook, when in fact their voices are lost in this constant stream of noisy, irrelevant egochatter. I wish they would come back. I know at least I would very much enjoy hearing their real voices again. In fact, I challenge all my friends to renew their blogs, or even start blogs, and make them full of insight and valuable messages that bring us all closer to understanding the world around us. Do it now. I’m not too busy to read them.
We’ve all had our share of escaping-water emergencies, as well as our share of uncontained vomit calamities. Tonight we had one of the former, caused by the washing machine hose slipping out of the drain pipe. As I discovered this and told Abby, she casually said, “That happens sometimes.”
I got the shop-vac from the garage and sucked up all the standing water, then got the carpet shampooer out of the “terrible room” (sidebar: Abby nicknamed it that because it was the dumping ground for all our junk, but recently we’ve been trying fruitlessly to call it the sewing room) and suctioned on the carpet for half an hour. So now while it’s wet to the touch, at least it doesn’t squish out loud when we step on it.
One mistake I made in this semi-comical procedure was that I didn’t empty the shop-vac before I slurped up all the wash-water, so its container created a slurry of water and grit from previously vacuuming our cars, and when I went to dump it in the bathtub, it immediately clogged the drain with a grey substance that looked very much like a prop from a horror movie, possibly titled, “Oklahoma Septic Terror.”