Blue 56

Over the last year and a half, I’ve made an effort to write more by hand in my journal.

When I first started keeping a journal, I married it to a rigid style: date and day at the top of the page, standard block paragraphs, at least a page a day.

I tried to break out of this mold in my 20s by allowing myself to draw, write poetry, and be more abstract, but the one thing I wish I’d done more is make notes about life.

During my recent push, I have done exactly that. I note everything in my journals these days, and use them as more than journals, but also as records of events, travels, media, vaccinations, gossip, weather, entertainment, notes for stories, photos, and columns, and even medication notes.

In the next day or two, the purple journal book, number 55, will be full, and I will start writing in number 56, which is blue.

Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.
Journal 55 is full. Journal 56 sits on top of it.

The Golden Age of the Internet

No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can't make people put down their smartphones.
No matter how many laptop computers you have, you can’t make people put down their smartphones.

In the last 15 years, we have all witnessed the internet deteriorate. What at first seemed like a gleaming futurtopia of the “information superhighway” has become a place for intellectual and spiritual poison.

I’ve been getting nostalgic recently about that golden age: Nyan Cat, Amber Lamps, Double Rainbow All the Way, Badger Badger Badger, Salad Fingers, The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, Teen Girl Squad, and others have served to remind me that there was a time when the web could entertain us without the appalling obsession with money.

Black box warning: clicking on any of the above links may be preceded by, or contain, advertising.

A recent trip down the Wikipedia rabbit hole on various subjects brought me to this article: the digital dark age. I hate to say it, but I tend to be right about stuff a lot, and I was always right about this one. I tell my students to keep migrating their data to newer technologies, or they will lose them forever.

And of course, you know where I am going with this: it’s all about money. There’s no money in being brilliant. It’s not socially-piercing poetry that gets 10 million likes. The likes, and the money, go to intellectually numbing crap on sites like Tic-Toc.

Of particular annoyance is that so many (probably the majority of) websites have some kind of nagging beg for money. Pop-overs, pop-downs, ads that take forever to load, all make those pages insufferable. Even the Associated Press home page nags us every time with a pop-over that you can’t not see…

You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.
You know what, AP website? Go f*ck yourself.

This web site, richardbarron.net, has been online since 2004, and I am keeping it up. A downside to that is that viewers gloss over links on social media, and seldom navigate to websites based on searches or bookmarks. I sometimes think that no one ever clicks on links when they browse social media because, to be kind, they are brainwashed into consuming their reality in tiny, salty, sugary, cheesy little bytes.

Part of what we web old-timers liked was the idea of flowing freely from one page to the next, following suggested links or search results, in a fashion that made the internet a bit like a scavenger hunt. In 2021, many, maybe most, users, follow only what one app offers them.

The most obvious solution to you and your digital footprint is to find a way to express it non-digitally. Write or type on paper. Print your photographs. Hold on to your phonograph records, audio tapes, and CDs. Yet I remain pessimistic when I see more powerful and complex smartphones used to create mediocre photos and video, open to one app, used for bottom-tier entertainment only.

In conclusion, if you sprinkle Ivermectin on your Tide pods, it works twice as well to prevent the Rona.

Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.
Tiny monsters loom large if they are close enough.

Two Decades Since 9/11

In some ways, the era before 9/11 was an age of innocence.

Just prior to 9/11, I was flying a lot, like in this image of my friend Michael and me flying a cranky Piper Tomahawk (known to aviators as the "Traumahawk") that I rented at Max Westheimer Field in Norman.
Just prior to 9/11, I was flying a lot, like in this image of my friend Michael and me flying a cranky Piper Tomahawk (known to aviators as the “Traumahawk”) that I rented at Max Westheimer Field in Norman.

I have written many times over the years about where I was when 9/11 happened. Since Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, an entire generation of people, some my friends and relatives, have little to no memories of that day.

The World Trade Center in New York City is shown in this March 1985 image from the Empire State Building.
The World Trade Center in New York City is shown in this March 1985 image from the Empire State Building.

So today I’d like to share not where I was or what I was doing, but who I was on that day.

I was still flying all the time. I earned my pilot certificate in May 1993, and flew a lot in those years. There were a couple of nice, affordable airplanes to rent at the Ada and Norman airports, and I was building hours by flying and training. 9/11 had a chilling effect on this, since, only marginally related, the terrorists involved had a small amount of general aviation training.

I flew to Florida in the late summer of 2001 to see my parents. My mother made this image of me on a pier at Flagler Beach, Florida. The next time I took a commercial flight in December 2001, the Orlando airport was packed with armed National Guard troops.
I flew to Florida in the late summer of 2001 to see my parents. My mother made this image of me on a pier at Flagler Beach, Florida. The next time I took a commercial flight in December 2001, the Orlando airport was packed with armed National Guard troops.

I was unmarried and wasn’t dating anyone. This wasn’t for lack of trying, but more about how difficult it is to be in a good relationship or in a good marriage. From the moment of 9/11 to my first date with my wife Abby in January 2003, it seemed like an eternity, but of course it was just 16 months.

I lived in a very small downtown Ada apartment. Because it was near the college, my apartment tended to be more culturally diverse than most neighborhoods, and I really liked that.

I still had a darkroom at our newspaper, so I was still very active in film photography, especially black-and-white photography.

On September 12, after more than 24 hours of watching the news about the attacks, a friend told me on the phone that, “I’m really brain dead. I wonder if it’s information overload. I feel like the wheels are just whirring away inside my head.”

9/11 changed us all in some ways.

Just a few days before 9/11, I photographed Ann Kelley with her dog Cookie at their home in Shawnee. Sadly, Ann passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer.
Just a few days before 9/11, I photographed Ann Kelley with her dog Cookie at their home in Shawnee. Sadly, Ann passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer.

The August That Lost Us

“Everything wrong
Gonna be alright
Come September…” ~Natalie Imbruglia

My wife Abby and I were lulled into a sense of optimism, both external and internal. SARS-CoV-2 pandemic numbers were in freefall. We were both excited to finally be able to travel out west to some of our favorite places. Work was going well. In June, we felt confident enough in the situation to go on vacation to Taos, New Mexico.

First week in August: there was a huge spike in COVID-19 cases.  August 7: Abby broke her shoulder. August 11: we learned that Abby’s former brother-in-law Tim died in July. August 13: Dorothy, Tim’s 95 year-old mother, Abby’s former mother-in-law, died. August 14: Abby was admitted to the hospital with a urinary tract infection.  August 23: a relative of mine had unexpected diverticulitis. August 24: Abby’s sister Inez died. August 29: Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans, including my sister, her husband, and his mother.

August 2021.

I usually feel like a fortunate, and optimistic, person, but this August has left me in doubt.
I usually feel like a fortunate, and optimistic, person, but this August has left me in doubt.

Another Reason to Vaccinate

A friend confessed to me just today that he was “afraid of shots,” but was seriously considering getting his COVID-19 vaccination. He said he’d seen that I got vaccinated Monday Aug. 23. What he didn’t realize is that I got my third, or “booster”, dose of the Moderna-made vaccine.

Update, August 25: a day after I talked to my friend and posted this entry, I got a text message from my office showing his CDC vaccination card with his first vaccination, with the text message below it, which said, “Tell Richard that’s for him.”

For the first 24 to 36 hours after receiving my third, booster, dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, August 23, I was achy and just a tad feverish, but it was tolerable, and even encouraging that my body was mounting an immune response.
For the first 24 to 36 hours after receiving my third, booster, dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, August 23, I was achy and just a tad feverish, but it was tolerable, and even encouraging that my body was mounting an immune response.

My sister thinks the entire “vaccine hesitancy” issue is exactly that: fear of needles and injections. I think that is probably an issue with many, but I’m willing to say that it is more dynamic than that; that people are afraid of their bodies, afraid to put things in their bodies that they don’t understand, afraid of trusting others.

For me: there has never been a more important time to be as immune as possible. I am in a hospital setting every day right now as I visit my wife Abby, who is recovering from a very serious non-COVID-related illness, and bringing COVID to her would be a serious setback.

I was born in 1963. I have been vaccinated against polio, smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumococcal pneumonia, shingles, hepatitis A, hepatitis B,  yearly influenza and, now, SARS-CoV-2, and have never, even once, had any significant complications from any of them.

I hope my friend gets his vaccines, and I hope many other follow my example and do the same.

Of all the vaccinations I have gotten, Shingrix, a two-shot shingles vaccine, hurt the most, and was sore the longest, about a week. You what it felt like? It felt like not getting shingles.
Of all the vaccinations I have gotten, Shingrix, a two-shot shingles vaccine, hurt the most, and was sore the longest, about a week. You what it felt like? It felt like not getting shingles.

Report on Abby

Final update for this situation: Abby has been home since Friday, Sept. 3. She continues to get stronger and more alert, she expresses a healthy appetite, and she is eager to do the exercises the physical therapist showed me. There is always a potential for a setback, but I will care for her and nurture her recovery from this difficult, complicated medical situation.

Updated to include that Abby is home.

Updated September 1 to include that Abby is eating more, and is doing her physical therapy. Her friendly physical therapist, Melvin, was very pleased with her progress.

Update September 1: Abby’s pain is much better controlled, her level of consciousness is improved, and the nurses said she had a “good morning.”

Of all the things Abby misses when she is not home, Summer the Chihuahua (in her arms in this image) is the one she talks about the most.
Of all the things Abby misses when she is not home, Summer the Chihuahua (in her arms in this image) is the one she talks about the most.

Update, August 30: Abby didn’t have physical therapy over the weekend, but will have it starting this morning. No progress to report.

Updated August 26 to say that Abby is feeling, and sounding, much more like herself, and is physically stronger.

Updated August 25 to include that Abby’s older sister Inez died yesterday. Link to obituary here.

Updated Tuesday August 24 to include that Abby seems more responsive and more determined to go home. She is not well enough to come home, since I can’t care for her in this state, but she sat in her chair for a while, had some physical therapy, and had a nurse-assisted shower.

My wife Abby is currently hospitalized.

Her current health situation began Saturday night, August 7 when Abby fell on her shoulder while coming to bed. Sunday the pain became acute enough to take her to Mercy Hospital Ada’s Emergency Room, where she was x-rayed and CT scanned, determining she had two contained, non-operable breaks in the head of her humerus. They gave her a sling and told us to contact our primary doctor about increasing the dosage of her pain medicine.

Sunday August 8 she became weak and disoriented, so EMS had to transport her, again to Mercy ER. They gave her intravenous fluids and the antibiotic Rocephin for a urinary tract infection, and she felt well enough to come home.

As the week went by, she seemed to be better able to stand and move, and required less effort from me when I lifted her. It seemed like she was recovering. We worked out a system for me to help her stand and walk that kept away from her very painful left shoulder. I administered the oral antibiotic cephalexin and her pain medication every six hours on the dot.

Saturday, August 14, things took a very steep turn for the worse. She awoke weaker and more disoriented. She complained of stomach pain and was sick all day. She rapidly degenerated into dehydration-fueled confusion, and became increasingly combative.

She didn’t want to go to the hospital, and I was leaning that way, but honestly thought of it as a last resort. I bought some Pedialyte and had her drink an entire container of it, but she didn’t improve.

EMS transported her to a very crowded ER, where she sat unattended in a hall for a while. There she was diagnosed with a worsening UTI, but continuing to resist my reassurances. I was relieved when they gave her half a grain of morphine for her shoulder pain.

She was admitted through some herculean efforts of ER staff, since there is currently a shortage of beds due to the coronavirus pandemic. I went home.

For a while during the week of August 16, she seemed to get very slowly better while I worked from the room using my laptop. I couldn’t stay the night (nor did I want to, since there was nowhere to sleep, and I needed to take care of the dogs), so I would time things so I could do at least some work on the way to or from the hospital.

On Tuesday August 17, she was given an e-neurological exam, and passed perfectly. Analysis of her CT and MRI scans were unremarkable.

On Thursday, August 19, a hospitalist named Weidong Zhao told me she was  medically well, and a social worker recommended transferring her to the “swing bed” care level in a smaller area facility. Sulphur rejected her because they were short a staff member, and I rejected Seminole because they aren’t allowing visitors. We settled on Coal County Memorial Hospital, which required a negative COVID-19 test, which she passed.

On Friday, August 19, we loaded Abby into our truck and drove her to Coalgate, where she is, as I write this, hopefully resting comfortably and recovering.

Tuesday, August 24: Abby seems more responsive and more determined to go home. She is not well enough to come home, since I can’t care for her in this state, but she sat in her chair for a while, had some physical therapy, and had a nurse-assisted shower. She correctly remembered my t-shirt today, which she gave me eight years ago, and was also able to accurately relay to the nurse the story behind her father’s wristwatch that is covered with pock marks from when he welded.

Wednesday, August 25: Abby’s sister Gail called to say their older sister Inez died in nursing care in Arkansas.

Updated August 26 to say that Abby is feeling, and sounding, much more like herself, and is physically stronger. She might come home tomorrow. She talked to her sister Gail about the death of Inez.

Update, August 25, to include that Abby’s older sister Inez died yesterday. Link to obituary here.

Sisters Gail, Inez, and Abby are pictured in 2003. Inez died August 25, 2021. The youngest Shoffner sister, Gwyn, died in 2000.
Sisters Gail, Inez, and Abby are pictured in 2003. Inez died August 25, 2021. The youngest Shoffner sister, Gwyn, died in 2000.

Update, August 26, to say that Abby is feeling, and sounding, much more like herself, and is physically stronger.

Update, August 30: Abby didn’t have physical therapy over the weekend, but will have it starting this morning. No progress to report.

Update September 1: Abby’s pain is much better controlled, her level of consciousness is improved, and the nurses said she had a “good morning.”

Updated September 1 to include that Abby is eating more, and is doing her physical therapy. Her friendly physical therapist, Melvin, was very pleased with her progress.

Updated to include that Abby is home.

Final update for this situation: Abby has been home since Friday, Sept. 3. She continues to get stronger and more alert, she expresses a healthy appetite, and she is eager to do the exercises the physical therapist showed me. There is always a potential for a setback, but I will care for her and nurture her recovery from this difficult, complicated medical situation.

Abby Shoffner Milligan Barron
Abby Shoffner Milligan Barron

“Oink!”

By the time I was a senior is high school, I was hanging out with some people who might not have been the best influences on me.

One thing we did all summer long after graduation was to “cruise.” Younger readers might not exactly understand this activity, since it seems so lame, but essentially, we drove around in big circles, showing off something – how cool we were, how much cooler we were, how much cooler we were than (insert other kinds of people like “goat ropers” or “proud crowd”), and, in the case of the people I cruised with, how cool their cars were.

I recently watched a video on a YouTube channel called Audit the Audit, which is about “the right and wrong of police interactions.”

The video that prompted this entry (link) was one about police detaining a group of young people because one of them shouted “f*ck the police” at them from the passenger side of their vehicle.

A nearly identical event happened to me in 1981: I was riding in a vehicle with two other teenagers when one of them spotted a cop and called “OINK!” as loud as he could from the passenger window.

The police weren’t very happy hearing that, and immediately pulled us over. I understand now, as an adult, why this is so offensive, but at that time in my life, steered by the influence of kids with too much money and huge egos, it felt rebellious and event righteous.

The police called us back behind the car one at a time, and I was first. They asked me who yelled at them, and I told them it was my friend in the back seat. Our driver was next, and he also told them it was our back-seater.

The kid who oinked was back there along time, and the driver and I heard raised police voices. When he came back to the car and the police told us we could go, he was visibly shaken, and told us it was because he recognized the officer as one who had allegedly shot a teenager while working as deputy in a nearby small town.

I thought of this encounter and similar ones from my youth after watching the Audit the Audit video, which concluded that the police officer in the video, who was fired from the force after the incident, acted wrongly, and that criticism of the police, even vulgar, puerile criticism, is a right protected by the Constitution.

Tennagers are children in adult bodies, and can often be arrogant, selfish, and short-sighted.
Tennagers are children in adult bodies, and can often be arrogant, selfish, and short-sighted.

Sidebar: this is a separate entry I have been holding for a few years, but it seems connected to this item in many ways…

I took up with the wrong people in late high school and college, not by virtue of them ruining my life or getting me in trouble, but because they were assholes.

  • J, who moved into my dorm room by trading with my assigned roommate while I was away, without asking me, was something of a sadist, took pleasure in making people look foolish, and constantly made fun of music I liked even though I never asked him to listen to it.
  • A, who set some sort of “trap” to find out if I’d been sleeping in J’s bed, which I had not, and took great pleasure in accusing me of it.
  • On the first day of my sophomore year, A and C brought a dog to our room while I was away, and asked me if they could keep him. When I said no, A said, “See, I told you so.” No you can’t keep a dog in student housing, you four year old.
  • C and J once accidentally skipped the check at a popular Mexican restaurant, and upon discovering how it happened, repeatedly skipped the check in the same fashion.
  • C kept a pistol in his car, and routinely parked in the tow-away zone. Once he fell asleep and his car was towed. About to be arrested for illegal possession of a firearm on campus, his father intervened, possibly with a bribe, to make the charges go away. C had the gun in his car as soon as it was returned to him.
  • C and J made it the duty of passengers to throw any fast food packaging onto the road from the moving vehicle without regard for littering in any way.

 

We Were Lines on a Map

In 2000, I joined a Yahoo! group associated with my high school’s Class of 1981 20th reunion. I got really interested in it for a while. It was like a forum or chat room, only with people who, mostly, attended Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma with me. Like most Yahoo! groups, or anything else from the internet in 2000, it has long since died. It was unsuccessfully replaced for the 30th reunion by a Facebook page, and now is two Facebook pages, Eisenhower Class of 1980 and 1981 class reunion, and Ike 1981 40th reunion. Both sites appear to be hosting the same event.

(Note to self: blog later about the failure of social media to actually be social.)

Ann Kelley made this image of me at the Blue Ice Cream Social. The guy in the center of the frame is Dray, one of the few people who hung out with me in tenth grade. I have no idea who the woman is.
Ann Kelley made this image of me at the Blue Ice Cream Social. The guy in the center of the frame is Dray, one of the few people who hung out with me in tenth grade. I have no idea who the woman is.

In early July 2001, I attended that reunion. I admit that I really just wanted to see a few people, all women, and that the event was awkward and disappointing.

The only real thing I had in common with most of these people is that I lived within the same boundaries on a map as they did. We owed any “friendship” we had to school board members and the economics of home ownership.

You lived in that school district, so don’t fudge your Huggies because you were a Hokie or a Gamecock or a Trojan or a Tarheel or a Pug. It just happened to you.

Most of the people at my high school, and by extension my high school reunion, were complete strangers, and even the people I sort of knew back then turned out to be as boring and ordinary as I thought they would. Some were, just as they had been in high school, complete assholes.

The reunion was a two-day affair. On that Friday, I attended the Blue Ice Cream Social. It was named after a non-sanctioned event on football Friday nights, held at a different rich kid’s house each week, called Blue Ice Cream. It sometimes involved drinking, but always involved a pool party. Except for one time I was assigned to shoot it for the Talon yearbook, I never went to Blue Ice Cream, for both the fact that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and that I was never invited.

With me on that Friday night in 2001 was Ann Kelley, who seemed to have a lot of fun making video from the affair. On the drive home to Ada, after an odd silence, she said, “Richard, I can’t believe someone as interesting as you went to school with those people.”

In all fairness, I am pretty sure none of them really care about me, either, and if they thought I was an ass in high school, they still thought of me as an ass. Except for their efforts to populate the 30th reunion, almost no one from the class has made any effort to maintain any kind of friendship with me. In fact, looking through my contacts list, I only find Anna and Michael, who were two of my closest friends in high school, and the only genuinely loyal ones.

This is a previously unpublished overview I shot on the patio at Eisenhower High School during the Blue Ice Cream Social in July 2001. I swear, I couldn't give you the first names of more than five people in this image.
This is a previously unpublished overview I shot on the patio at Eisenhower High School during the Blue Ice Cream Social in July 2001. I swear, I couldn’t give you the first names of more than five people in this image.

Goodbye Mac, Hello Mackenzee Ellen

Mackenzee Crosby and I visited and photographed the old Ada News building one day. I worked there for more than 30 years.
Mackenzee Crosby and I visited and photographed the old Ada News building one day. I worked there for more than 30 years.

Early in her internship, Mackenzee Ellen Crosby was using the moniker “Mac,” both personally, and on social media.

Mackenzee Crosby photographs some of her Polaroid images in a windowsill in an alley as she and I were on a "photo walk" on a rainy day in May.
Mackenzee Crosby photographs some of her Polaroid images in a windowsill in an alley as she and I were on a “photo walk” on a rainy day in May.

As she grew up, her identity matured and she felt more distance from who she had been as a child and as a young teenager, and she struggled with her identity. We all do that. My sister Nicole wanted to be called “Nicci” for a while. My friend Kaitlyn went by “Katy” for a year or so. One of the Ashford cousins used the last name “Smashford” for a while.

Mackenzee and I made this ghostly self-portrait in a puddle in downtown Ada.
Mackenzee and I made this ghostly self-portrait in a puddle in downtown Ada.

Then one day I told Mackenzee that I liked her name, especially when paired with her middle name, Ellen. In another conversation around that time, I brainstormed some title ideas for her column, and they included Eye Opener, Truth and Coffee, Dear Ellen, Something to Say, Inside Out, This Reclusive Silence, Between You and Me, Journal of Secrets, Thin as a Ghost, This Mortal Coil, Ellipses, A Woman Alone, Hide and Seek, Rough Draft, Morning Light, and Ellen in Grey.

She loved Ellen in Grey, and for the entire summer, that was the name of her column.

Also for the entire summer, she fell in love with journalism.

Mackenzee and Ashlynd Elizabeth "America" Huffman wear news t-shirts at the Oklahoma Press Association's annual convention in Oklahoma City in June.
Mackenzee and Ashlynd Elizabeth “America” Huffman wear news t-shirts at the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention in Oklahoma City in June.

Mackenzee and I seem to have connections. Photography and journalism are the obvious ones. The next layer is social and religious. At our cores are writing, expressing ourselves emotionally, and a sense that we are outcasts, that people see us as “weird.”

Mackenzee accepted an award for Sports Editor Jeff Cali at the Oklahoma Press Association's annual convention in June, do the "finger 'stache" gesture.
Mackenzee accepted an award for Sports Editor Jeff Cali at the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention in June, do the “finger ‘stache” gesture.

I read things she wrote in tenth grade, and they could have been my very words when I was in tenth grade.

On one of our first assignments together with Ashlynd, we stopped to photograph clouds I spotted through my sunroof, and that really made an impression on her. This image of Mackenzee photographing a fairy ring reminded me of that time.
On one of our first assignments together with Ashlynd, we stopped to photograph clouds I spotted through my sunroof, and that really made an impression on her. This image of Mackenzee photographing a fairy ring reminded me of that time.

Mackenzee says she’d love to work for us part time during the upcoming academic year, but wants to leave Ada when she graduates from college. I can’t say that I fault her for that; I despise my former hometown so much I actually don’t call it my home town any more.

I have discovered that Mackenzee is not a “hug”person. I have hugged her on three occasions, including when her internship ended, and they all just kind of bounced off. I have tons of “hug” friends in town, and we fall into each other’s arms like we never missed a beat.

I am far-sighted, and Mackenzee is near-sighted, so each of us always had to reset the diopter every time we traded cameras.

Mackenzee already had some impressive skills when she started her internship, but is so bright and easy-going that she soaked up journalism like a sponge. I feel like she grew a lot in the weeks we had her on staff.
Mackenzee already had some impressive skills when she started her internship, but is so bright and easy-going that she soaked up journalism like a sponge. I feel like she grew a lot in the weeks we had her on staff.

We had another great intern in 2019, Ashlynd, and she became one of my best friends. Ashlynd and Mackenzee became better friends this summer, especially after attending the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention, but it’s worth noting that they are quite different from each other:  Ashlynd is into journalism at the street level. She loves ambushing criminals getting arrested or going to house fires in the middle of the night. Mackenzee’s journalism, on the other hand, seems focused on social issues and injustices, although in her goodbye column she said, “Some of my favorite assignments to cover were spot news. I love the exhilaration and adrenaline from working a car accident or crime scene, even though they are often heartbreaking.”

When Ashlynd saw a photo of Mackenzee running across the street at the scene of a car crash with her camera, she told Mackenzee, “I feel this on a spiritual level.”

Mackenzee makes pictures at the scene of a car crash near Ada High School in June.
Mackenzee makes pictures at the scene of a car crash near Ada High School in June.

There are people in our lives who we are always glad to see, people with whom we have lifelong conversations that we can pick up after five minutes or six months without missing a step, and I hope Mackenzee and I have that kind of friendship.

“I will cherish the memories made alongside my friend and mentor, Richard Barron,” she wrote. I hope she and I continue to curate memories no matter where our lives, and our journalism, takes us.

Mackenzee and I pose for a selfie at Ada High School graduation in May. She graduated from Ada in 2017. Covering graduations were among the first assignments I did during my own internship in 1982.
Mackenzee and I pose for a selfie at Ada High School graduation in May. She graduated from Ada in 2017. Covering graduations were among the first assignments I did during my own internship in 1982.

Some Fun Travel Notes and Observations

Abby and I were finally able to travel again after a 20-month hiatus due to the pandemic. We chose the beauty of northern New Mexico.

I wrote a comprehensive trip report, The Summit, here (link), but here are a few extra thoughts.

Taos is a mess

It has been my displeasure to watch charming towns grow up, and as they do, “grow” economically, meaning that they get more businesses, and in turn get more infrastructure. Taos was once small and charming, but it now has a super Walmart, a sign that it has changed into an emotionally dead suburb. Santa Fe and Moab, Utah, have both died in my eyes in this way.

I'm sure this butterfly was meant to brighten up the route through Taos, but now it is graffiti tagged and ratty.
I’m sure this butterfly was meant to brighten up the route through Taos, but now it is graffiti tagged and ratty.

Poverty due to the virus

It was pretty clear looking at the number of closed, and even abandoned, businesses that towns that rely heavily, or even exclusively, on tourism and recreation fared worse than most because of the pandemic.

We saw many locations in Taos and through much of New Mexico that had been struggling before the pandemic, only to be finished off by it in the past year.
We saw many locations in Taos and through much of New Mexico that had been struggling before the pandemic, only to be finished off by it in the past year.

Church protest

On at least two days in Taos, I saw a car legally parked in front of First Baptist Church, covered in blaze yellow signs criticizing Vacation Bible School as “brainwashing.” It’s a pretty strong statement, and many people I know would probably find it offensive, but however you feel about the statement, you have to admit that making it was free speech in its purest form.

I know more than a few people who would actively advocate banning such displays, while at the same time saying they believe in freedom. To them, freedom is the freedom to be like them.
I know more than a few people who would actively advocate banning such displays, while at the same time saying they believe in freedom. To them, freedom is the freedom to be like them.

Food and more food

We had several great meals on our trip, from an amazing pizza in Taos to a great veggie burger and sweet potato fries in Madrid, but honestly, I don’t understand people for whom the best part of travel is the food. The best meals in our lives are usually at home, and I can get a great meal anywhere. I drive to Utah or New Mexico to find things we don’t have in Oklahoma, like mountains, deserts, and canyons, not overpriced appetizers.

We had a wonderful $22 pizza for dinner one night in Taos, but the truth is that I can make a pizza this good at home with ingredients that might cost $1.50.
We had a wonderful $22 pizza for dinner one night in Taos, but the truth is that I can make a pizza this good at home with ingredients that might cost $1.50.

 

More Green, More Grey

Early May was sunny and perfect for the baseball, softball and tennis playoffs I covered, but by the middle of the month, a consistent rainy pattern had set in.

I made several photo walks around the patch after walking the dogs.

I mostly planted these cherry trees for the fun of watching them grow.
I mostly planted these cherry trees for the fun of watching them grow.
Little green tomatoes on the vine are such welcome visitors.
Little green tomatoes on the vine are such welcome visitors.
Deep, contrasty late-afternoon light shines on my garden hose.
Deep, contrasty late-afternoon light shines on my garden hose.
Abby got this coffee mug from her daughter this week.
Abby got this coffee mug from her daughter this week.
Is a pasture selfie a thing?
Is a pasture selfie a thing?
My marigold seeds got scattered by a heavy rain right after I planted them, so they are coming up all over the garden.
My marigold seeds got scattered by a heavy rain right after I planted them, so they are coming up all over the garden.
A Virginia creeper vine reaches for the light earlier this week.
A Virginia creeper vine reaches for the light earlier this week.

At work, I’m shooting and writing well, and feel like I am succeeding in mentoring our intern, Mackenzee Crosby, well. I have a pretty versatile skill set, but I don’t do everything. I couldn’t tell you, for example, the first thing about covering a court case as a reporter.

At my suggestion, she called her column “Ellen in Grey.”

She came with me to document me donating blood this week, and wrote her column about it.

By Mackenzee E. Crosby - You host prepares to squeeze out a pint.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby – You host prepares to squeeze out a pint.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby - Mac got a Nutter Butter as a reward for blasting through her fear of blood and needles, and I got salted peanuts for donating my blood.
By Mackenzee E. Crosby – Mac got a Nutter Butter as a reward for blasting through her fear of blood and needles, and I got salted peanuts for donating my blood.

A High School Graduate

A portion of this was my column this weekend. I added some less-palatable bits to this entry.

This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.
This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.

As I cover graduations this year, as I do every year, I think of when I walked the same walk.

I graduated from Lawton’s Eisenhower High School on May 31, 1981. If you subtract, yes, that is 40 years ago. Wow.

For some people, high school is a cherished part of their lives, and while I have some great memories from that time, I have to say that I didn’t remain connected to very many people from my graduating class, which, at about 640, was quite large compared to the graduations I cover in the Ada area.

On the day I graduated from high school, President Ronald Reagan was still recovering from an assassination attempt. I didn’t own a computer. Cell phones weren’t a thing yet. MTV had not yet been launched. The first space shuttle had just launched. CDC scientists reported the first five observed cases of AIDS.

It was, as they say, a different time.

I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.
I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.

From my perspective as a photographer, I can tell you that “different time” doesn’t begin to describe how much imaging has changed since that warm day in May 1981.
The 1980s saw a lot of important growth in photographic film. In black-and-white, Kodak’s Tri-X ruled at the start of that decade, but by 1987, Kodak reinvented black-and-white with this T-Max films, including T-Max P3200, which changed my world as a news photographer. In color, we saw 400-speed and 800-speed films go from exotic high-sensitivity film with sharpness-robbing grain to the films we reached for every day.

Photographing graduations themselves has changed tremendously as well. On the day I graduated, my parents might have shot five frames of my friends and me, and me in the unflattering powder blue cap and gown. As I walked across the stage, the photographer made exactly one direct-flash shot of me receiving my diploma.
Today’s world of digital imaging means a senior might be photographed hundreds of times at every event, including their walk across the stage.

To me, though, that photo of me isn’t particularly meaningful. Sure, it’s a moment in my life, but it is emotionless and unengaging. I have tried, as years have gone by, to make my photojournalistic efforts at covering graduations more emotional, more engaging, more memorable.

On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.
On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.

Here is the part I redacted: my posse in high school and I haven’t spoken a word to each other in decades. Part of that is because I was so hard to get along with, but a bigger part of it is that I went to high school with a bunch of turds.

I talked about this at greater length in an entry called We Were Lines on a Map (link.)

That's me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, "You look about eight." I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don't know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey "Chip" Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren't a good fit.
That’s me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, “You look about eight.” I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don’t know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey “Chip” Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren’t a good fit.

In 2001, I attended a high school reunion, mostly just to see one girl, and was very disappointed by who these people had become. I don’t expect to attend another one.

It’s pretty clear also that many of them are contemptuous of me as well, since they refuse to add me to their friends list on social media.

Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.
Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.

Internal Memo

This was my column two Saturdays ago, but I rewrote it a bit for the blog.

I am pleased to welcome my long-time friend Mackenzee E. Crosby as  the summer 2021 intern for The Ada News. I lobbied for her to get this position, and so far, she has delivered.

Mackenzee E. Crosby goes by "Mac" on social media and in public, but uses her full name in bylines. Her middle name is Ellen, and at my suggestion has begun writing a column for us called "Ellen in Grey," to reflect her imaging, including her love of shooting in black-and-white.
Mackenzee E. Crosby goes by “Mac” on social media and in public, but uses her full name in bylines. Her middle name is Ellen, and at my suggestion has begun writing a column for us called “Ellen in Grey,” to reflect her imaging, including her love of shooting in black-and-white.

I believe I first met her when her eighth grade class at Ada Junior High won a bet to collectively give over 100 units of blood products at blood drive, and was rewarded by being allowed to shave Luke Penrod’s head.

Mackenzee Crosby shaves the head of Ada Junior High science teacher Luke Penrod Thursday, March 8, 2012, as a reward for collectively giving over 100 units of blood products at the recent AJH blood drive. Assisting the seventh graders was beautician Kourtnie Rhodes.
Mackenzee Crosby shaves the head of Ada Junior High science teacher Luke Penrod Thursday, March 8, 2012, as a reward for collectively giving over 100 units of blood products at the recent AJH blood drive. Assisting the seventh graders was beautician Kourtnie Rhodes.

As the years have gone by, our paths crossed at events like Open Mic Nyte, graduations, and, in early 2020, Mackenzee interviewed my wife Abby and me for a college class assignment.

Mac photographed Abby and me for a class project just before the coronavirus crisis hit.
Mac photographed Abby and me for a class project just before the coronavirus crisis hit.

Mac comes to us with a rich history of imaging, especially for someone so young. Her images are fresh and innovative, yet have a “shoot from the hip” rawness about them that I find intriguing.

Mackenzee Crosby, right, photographs Malli Pingleton for The Cougar Call at Ada High School, April 11, 2017. It's absolutely amazing to see how different educational photojournalism has changed since the film era.
Mackenzee Crosby, right, photographs Malli Pingleton for The Cougar Call at Ada High School, April 11, 2017. It’s absolutely amazing to see how different educational photojournalism has changed since the film era.

Her work reminds me that I need to embrace that rawness in my own work, which can sometimes be too safe and habitual.

On a more personal note, which I didn’t include in my column, Mackenzee has endured some devastating tragedies, such as the debilitating traumatic brain injury to her good friend Avery Anderson in 2016, and the suicide of her father in 2018.

I told her recently that I find her a lot like I was when I was her age, especially when I read her personal writing; it is a lot like the things I wrote when I was 22.

Mackenzee is always a natural both in front of and behind the camera. I made this image at Open Mic Nyte a couple of years ago.
Mackenzee is always a natural both in front of and behind the camera. I made this image at Open Mic Nyte a couple of years ago.

I expect great things from Mac, and, in fact, have been very impressed with how quickly she caught on to the daily flow of news and newspaper. I think this summer is going to be a great learning experience for both of us.

Mac moved into a vacant desk in the newsroom and instantly made it hers. I think she's going to love real world journalism.
Mac moved into a vacant desk in the newsroom and instantly made it hers. I think she’s going to love real world journalism.

The Patch in May

Here are a few images from our home in the bucolic splendor of southern Oklahoma.

A wine cup wildflower sits tangled in other wildflowers in the west pasture.
A wine cup wildflower sits tangled in other wildflowers in the west pasture.
I spotted this tire track full of rainwater yesterday.
I spotted this tire track full of rainwater yesterday.
I had just hooked Hawken up to his retractable leash when he spotted a rabbit across the yard and tore out after it, breaking the leash.
I had just hooked Hawken up to his retractable leash when he spotted a rabbit across the yard and tore out after it, breaking the leash.
With the pond about as full as it's ever been, this grass peeks above the waterline. Normally, I would mow it.
With the pond about as full as it’s ever been, this grass peeks above the waterline. Normally, I would mow it.
Wires hang on a tree branch in the neighbor's yard.
Wires hang on a tree branch in the neighbor’s yard.
This is one of my shirts waiting to be ironed.
This is one of my shirts waiting to be ironed.
I had good cherry blossoms in April, and I now have lots of cherries about to ripen.
I had good cherry blossoms in April, and I now have lots of cherries about to ripen.
Irises only bloom for a short time in the spring.
Irises only bloom for a short time in the spring.
Hawken looks at me from under the back deck, which gives him plenty of shade.
Hawken looks at me from under the back deck, which gives him plenty of shade.
These bearded irises are my very favorite flower.
These bearded irises are my very favorite flower.
I bought Abby one of these recently, and it is now her new favorite drink.
I bought Abby one of these recently, and it is now her new favorite drink.
Lilacs take on evening light.
Lilacs take on evening light.
I made this image of a gate in our front yard right after a thunderstorm rolled through.
I made this image of a gate in our front yard right after a thunderstorm rolled through.
A small redbud blossom gathers vanishing evening light.
A small redbud blossom gathers vanishing evening light.
Reinventing the selfie? I made this after a thunderstorm. The water was cold.
Reinventing the selfie? I made this after a thunderstorm. The water was cold.
It has been cloudy and gloomy for over a week.
It has been cloudy and gloomy for over a week.
My first marigold of the year appeared recently.
My first marigold of the year appeared recently.

Picking Up Some Slack

I apologize for not posting more often. May is always like that – playoffs, proms, graduations – there’s lots of stuff to cover for my newspaper in a very short time.

But I am not dead or in a mental institution. I’m right here, and here are some images from what’s been going on.

A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don't care, because they are fine.
A late frost hit the garden, but I was able to cover most of it with borrowed tarps. I was not able to cover my radishes, but apparently radishes don’t care, because they are fine.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I grow radishes mostly because they are so fun to grow and so neat-looking.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
I addition to two large tarps and a couple of towels, I put a red heat lamp in the middle of the garden. It was a late-April frost, and a hard one.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
Mackenzee Crosby, who goes by Mac socially and Mackenzee E. Crosby in her bylines, starts her internship this week. She came in last week to find out where to put her stuff and how to log in to the server, and made this image of me while we talked.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
A long-time friend of mine, Kaitlyn Redman, spotted me as I covered ECU graduation Saturday, and waved me over, so I made this image of her. I have known her since she was just a kid, and am friends with her whole family.
That's me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
That’s me in the middle, making a team photo of the Roff Tigers after they claimed another state baseball championship trophy Saturday.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.
As the Roff baseball game progressed, the mood became very jovial, so I snuck in with some of my young fan friends for a selfie.

The Eyes of Age

This was my column for Saturday, May 8

A confluence of conversation this week got me thinking about aging.

“You never change,” someone told me as I was covering a playoff softball game earlier this week.

Wes Edens spotted me doing my thing at the state softball tournament last week.
Wes Edens spotted me doing my thing at the state softball tournament last week.

It’s true that I haven’t changed all that much in the nearly 33 years I’ve been at The Ada News. Some of that is by chance, and some is by choice.

“You kept your hair,” a friend told me recently. Yes I have, though I can’t take credit for that. Baldness is genetic, and I guess I got the lucky gene, because I have young-man’s hair. I have also been lucky so far that it has mostly kept its color, but those days are numbered. I already color my beard twice a week, and I am starting to notice my temples are greying.

Wait, Richard. You color your beard? Yes, I do. I got the idea from a years-ago co-worker whose beard turned grey in his 20s. It’s an easy 15 minute chore twice a week.

Is coloring my beard an indulgence? Vanity? Ego? Yes, all of those.

One thing by choice is that I have kept my weight very consistent over the years, through a combination of smart dietary choices, and remaining physically active. Also, I don’t smoke.

The eyes are the biggest tell when it comes to age. Older people’s eyes tend to wrinkle and sag, and look less bright and intelligent. That’s unfair, of course, since the cosmetic appearance of cognitive deficit is different from real loss of mental function.

As a photojournalist, eyes are, of course, my living. You may have seen me wearing glasses. Those are reading glasses, which as anyone my age will testify, need to be stronger and stronger as we get older.

These conversations culminated late this week when I was on the phone with a fellow photographer who lives in Tulsa. As we talked, he walked into a bright patch of light just as he came across a mirror, and was suddenly taken aback by his self-image.

“Wow. Richard, I am so grey!” he told me.

Maybe age is sneaky that way, creeping up on us until we are suddenly old.

So, Richard, how old are you? That 33 years in Ada I mentioned earlier kind of gives it away, but my age isn’t a secret. I’ll turn 58 in July.

A week after I originally wrote this, a friend who had moved away some years ago, and hadn’t seen my column, told me, “You never change.”

It was so good to see Brenda Wheelock, and, for the first time since September (except for very-socially-distanced Rotary), sit down and eat in a restaurant.
It was so good to see Brenda Wheelock, and, for the first time since September (except for very-socially-distanced Rotary), sit down and eat in a restaurant.

Yes, She’s Better

Abby and our Chihuahua Summer pose for a photo this week.
Abby and our Chihuahua Summer pose for a photo this week.

Thank you everyone who asked with concern about my wife Abby. She had a rough winter and spring, but seems to be very much back to her usual self lately. This morning, for example, she asked for grits and runny fried eggs, which is a long-time favorite or hers.

Hawken the wolfhound pants after taking a big drink from his water bucket recently.
Hawken the wolfhound pants after taking a big drink from his water bucket recently.

I am fine as well.

I ate the last of my pinto beans a couple of days ago, so today I made anasazi beans.
I ate the last of my pinto beans a couple of days ago, so today I made anasazi beans.

“Everything Richard Eats is Healthy”

A really good meal starts with color.
A really good meal starts with color.

I was at a public gathering recently, and someone in the group said she’d lost 30 pounds recently, 30 pounds she said she’d gained during the lockdowns associated with coronavirus. She told us she lost the weight using the Optavia diet. I was impressed by her achievement, but that diet involves lots of cabbage and broccoli, and she said she had run out of ideas about how to cook them.

“Those are two of the most nutritious foods you can eat,” I said.

“Everything Richard eats is healthy,” she said to the group. I wish that were true. What is true is that I try to be aware of the nutritional content of everything I eat.

I have really been enjoying oranges lately.
I have really been enjoying oranges lately.

When my wife Abby wants a baked ziti from our favorite Italian place, for example, I usually get a veggie pizza while I am there. The fact that it’s a “veggie” pizza doesn’t change its nutritional content much. It’s an indulgence, but I always make sure not to overeat. Pizza keeps well and reheats easily, so I usually make three meals out of it.

I did myself the favor of buying these organic rainbow baby carrots the other day.
I did myself the favor of buying these organic rainbow baby carrots the other day.

Here are some additional thoughts about diet and health…

  • Refined sugar isn’t really a nutrient. How I feel when I eat sugar? Since I eat refined sugar so infrequently, its effect is very evident: rising heart rate, a subtle feeling of anxiety, marked mood elevation followed by a classic “sugar crash.”
  • I stopped drinking sugar drinks like soda decades ago, and if I have a sip of one now, it doesn’t taste appealing in any way.
  • Why do I like what I like? I never get tired of broccoli and cabbage, beans and rice, fresh fruit and whole grains. I admit that some of this is by choice, and some of it is how I am constituted genetically.
  • Counting carbs is off base; that’s how we got here in the first place. I believe the answer lies in a more fundamental behavior: eating less, eating real food, and moving more. The minute you look at a real food like a peach or a cantaloupe and assign a number to it, you’ve lost your way.
  • I ponder this one all the time: nobody wants to be obese or diabetic, so why is it so prevalent? Is it that the machinery of industry makes too much money too easily selling sugar and fat to us, or is it that we are too easily tempted by these things?
  • Stop thinking of food as a reward, and start thinking of food as a choice.
  • On weekends or other days off, the next thing I do after a meal is walk our dogs.
  • One trick that works for me: if I don’t think it should be in my diet, I won’t bring it into my house. When I have a desire for a mid-afternoon snack and look in the pantry, I find what I brought home from the grocery store. Is it apples and steel cut oats, or snack cakes and doughnuts?

I want to end this on a positive note: everyone and anyone can eat a healthier diet, it’s easier than you might imagine, and it has the potential to turn your health and your life completely around.

This is the end result of my go-to stir-fry: Gardein Meatless Chik'n strips, broccoli, carrots, and red cabbage, stir-fried until brown and tender, served over a bed of rice/quinoa mix. I have been eating this dish for 30 years, and I never get tired of it.
This is the end result of my go-to stir-fry: Gardein Meatless Chik’n strips, broccoli, carrots, and red cabbage, stir-fried until brown and tender, served over a bed of rice/quinoa mix. I have been eating this dish for 30 years, and I never get tired of it.

Miracle on Main Street, or The Mystery of Lake Milligan

One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.
One of our plumbers holds a PVC-pipe joint that had been leaking. You can see the hole above his index finger.

For the past few years I have observed a mysterious puddle come and go near my orchard south of the house. I suspected it was a leak in the main water line leading from the water meter to our house, but as the years went by, it didn’t seem to be getting worse, and would sometimes disappear entirely.

Then in February, we had the worst winter storm in recent memory. A foot of snow covered the ground, and temperatures dipped below zero on two nights. We were careful to open the cabinets to allow warm air to circulate around our water pipes, and, unlike hundreds of area residents, we avoided a messy and expensive plumbing problem.

The extreme weather was not without consequence, however. The mysterious puddle at first shrank to insignificance, but in the last few days, it got much large, and I dubbed it “Lake Milligan,” after George Milligan, Abby’s first father-in-law, who installed the water line when Abby moved back to Byng in 1993.

It grew so quickly this week that it was apparent that the water line would have to be repaired, and Abby and I were certain it would take forever, and cost a fortune.

Enter Nickerson Plumbing. They were able to send out a friendly pair of young plumbers, one of whom remembered me from when I covered his Ada Cougar basketball games, and the other recalled being bitten by our neighbor’s dog last year.

The two determined that we did have a growing leak, and set out to find it. At this point, Abby and I were sure we would be leasing a backhoe for days, and this repair would completely consume our income tax refund.

Then, the Miracle on Main Street.

“We found your leak,” one of the plumbers announced after a 20-minute search. It was right where the puddle had come and gone over the years, and at this point, the leak had gotten large enough to see and hear. One of them showed me the joint that had cracked and leaked very slowly, but had, in the last few days, turned into a pinhole, then a larger hole.

They patched it up and buried it, and turned on the water. One of them had a billing app, and added it up: $204. Wow.

This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.
This image shows the two ends of the water line with the leaking joint removed.

Early Girls and Big Boys

Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.
Our windblown Irish wolfhound Hawken keeps an eye on me last night as I plant my garden.

I know it seems a little early to be getting the garden in the ground, as in years past I have frequently dealt with mid-April frosts and freezes, but if you can get plants in the ground early, then have a little luck with the weather, you get a longer growing season, and a better yield.

I might have to replant some if we do get a freeze, but it’s only about $20 worth of plants.

My soil has gotten depleted over the years, so prior to planting, I tilled in a large bag of organic tomato/vegetable garden fertilizer.

Yesterday I planted…

  • Ten Early Girl tomato plants
  • Three Big Boy tomato plants
  • Five red bell pepper plants
  • One green bell pepper plant
  • One orange bell pepper plant
  • Three Sun Sugar cherry tomato plants

My variety selection was based entirely on what was available at the garden center Sunday.

That leaves cucumber, radish, and marigold seeds to plant, hopefully tonight.

One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.
One of my tomato plants sits in the garden last night.

Nature Fighting Back

I got my second coronavirus vaccination this week. My arm is very sore and I have some muscle aches, but that tells me it’s working.

My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.
My second dose of Moderna-made coronavirus vaccine goes in my arm yesterday morning.

I posted on social media this week that my peach trees had gone straight to leaves this year, and did not appear to be making blossoms, which, according to my photos from previous years, almost always happened before the first day of spring. I was convinced that I wouldn’t have peaches, though I was encouraged to see that I did have plum blossoms.

A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.
A peach blossom clings to a branch on the largest of my peach trees this evening.

Then today, as I walked Hawken, I caught sight of a few peach blossoms on a couple of my trees, and I felt encouraged, both because I might actually get peaches, but also that it seemed to me that nature, after years of cruelty to it by humans, seemed, in the last 15 months or so, to be fighting back.

I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.
I have more than one variety of peach trees in my orchard, and they make slightly different blossoms.

First Day of Spring

Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.
Redbud blossoms sway in the spring breeze at last light.

I have been on vacation all week, and Abby and I have really enjoyed being together all the time.

The weather turned warm, and for the first day of spring, I chased down a few images of our redbud tree.

Also of note, my plum trees are putting on blossoms, but my peaches are going straight to leaves, which might mean I won’t get peaches this year.

Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.
Snow-white plum blossoms take on warm tones at sunset tonight.

Tyler the Tiller

Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.
Tyler the Tiller gets its tines in the game for the first time yesterday.

My readers might be aware that I previously owned two small gasoline-powered tillers, also known as cultivators. The second one, Tilly, was purchased exactly eight years ago, worked properly most recently three years ago, meaning its useful life was five years. I consider that a complete rip-off, since that boils down to about ten hours of actual garden tilling, since I only need it once a year.

I thought about last year, when I dug the garden by hand. Not only was it slow, back-breaking work, it didn’t get the soil really chopped up like a tiller could. I am all about working hard, but I was not looking forward to another five-hour hands-and-knees session.

Local retailers had that exact model for an insulting $300, so I poked around on the interwebs and found an electric tiller for just $133, minus a small discount from rewards points. “Buy Now.”

My Sun Joe TJ604E 16-Inch 13.5 AMP Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivator arrived in just two days. It was easy to assemble and ready in minutes. The question would be one of electric vs gasoline, which is why I opted for the more robust 13.5 AMP plug-in model.

At the first turn of dirt, Tyler dug like a champ, including some very rough areas that had gone to grass several years ago. We’ll see how long it will live, but so far, the newest tiller in the family is working well.

I asked Abby what I should name it, and she said, “Tyler.”

One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.
One month ago today there was 12 inches of snow on the ground, and the high temperatures hovered around zero.

Home, Well, and Back to Work

I missed my Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting two weeks ago due to the snowstorm, and last week because Abby was still in the hospital, but today I returned, and had what has become my favorite, and most indulgent, meal of the week for me, a veggie omelette, hash browns, toast and coffee.
I missed my Ada Sunrise Rotary meeting two weeks ago due to the snowstorm, and last week because Abby was still in the hospital, but today I returned, and had what has become my favorite, and most indulgent, meal of the week for me, a veggie omelette, hash browns, toast and coffee.

My social media followers know that Abby was released from the hospital last week, and while she was sketchy for a day or two, it seems like she is fine now.

It was nice to return to work, and a normal life. The stress of missing Abby and not knowing the outcome of her illness was overwhelming.

Christy Lucas Sheppard and I wait for the start of the Roff Tiger's state playoff game in Oklahoma City Wednesday. You might know Christy because she was in the Netflix Miniseries The Innocent Man. She was the cousin of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada Dec. 8, 1982.
Christy Lucas Sheppard and I wait for the start of the Roff Tiger’s state playoff game in Oklahoma City Wednesday. You might know Christy because she was in the Netflix Miniseries The Innocent Man. She was the cousin of Debra Sue Carter, who was murdered in Ada Dec. 8, 1982.

From social media…

Also also, thank you technology! Abby lost her iPhone on her way to the hospital in the ambulance, which I didn’t know until today. I went to iCloud and the Find My iPhone feature, put it in lost mode, pinged it, found it at another hospital, the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, where it was in lost and found. My guess is that she dropped it in the ambulance, and someone found it and turned it in on a later EMS run.

Abby and I are watching the Bourne film series. We think the sixth installment should be, “Bourne in the USA,” followed by “Bourne on the Fourth of July,” “Bourne Free,” and “Bourne to Run.” The final installment? “Natural Bourne Killers.”

Dream: we had a house full of teenagers, some of them drunk, when I discover a bloodhound has scattered hundreds of pounds of popcorn through the house over a period of weeks, and everyone was simply pushing paths through it like plowing snow. We decide to make pizza, then decide it would be easier to order pizza, but every time I lift my phone and look at it, it is a different brand or ever from a different era.

For us, this was the day the Rona started, this week last year. Schools got together to send off their teams to the state basketball tournament. Some of them got as far as the gyms where they were going before they were turned away. I got about 20 minutes west of town on the way to cover them when an editor called me and told me everything was canceled.
For us, this was the day the Rona started, this week last year. Schools got together to send off their teams to the state basketball tournament. Some of them got as far as the gyms where they were going before they were turned away. I got about 20 minutes west of town on the way to cover them when an editor called me and told me everything was canceled.

I’ve Been Vaxed!

Good news: today I got my first coronavirus vaccination. I received it at a vaccination event sponsored by The Clinic and the Pontotoc Technology Center where I teach photography. It was the Moderna brand. So far, the only side effect has been the most common: soreness at the injection site.

I feel very fortunate to get my coronavirus vaccination today. Maybe we are finally on our way out of the dark pandemic tunnel.
I feel very fortunate to get my coronavirus vaccination today. Maybe we are finally on our way out of the dark pandemic tunnel.

Abby is still in the hospital, but fortunately got vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer brand weeks ago, so hopefully she is protected in her situation. She sounded much better on the phone, and might be able to come home in a day or two.

In the meantime, her Chihuahua, Summer, is still moping.

Summer the Chihuahua lays on one of Abby's afghans yesterday. I tell her she's a good girl, but she still misses Abby.
Summer the Chihuahua lays on one of Abby’s afghans yesterday. I tell her she’s a good girl, but she still misses Abby.

My Turn to Wait

Abby is in the hospital, and she and I are both very stressed by the fact that I can’t join her. Like people across the globe, including Abby’s daughter just two weeks ago, hospital stays are in isolation due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (a phrase I have learned to type in my sleep.)

I'd like to think I miss Abby more than anyone, but her tiny Chihuahua Summer has been curled up on one of Abby's afghans all day.
I’d like to think I miss Abby more than anyone, but her tiny Chihuahua Summer has been curled up on one of Abby’s afghans all day.

Abby is not in any immediate danger. It became necessary to call EMS this morning when, after several days of difficulty, she was unable to walk or even stand on her own. The initial diagnosis is hypercalcaemia (link)

The Wikipedia article says, “The neuromuscular symptoms of hypercalcaemia are caused by a negative bathmotropic effect due to the increased interaction of calcium with sodium channels. Since calcium blocks sodium channels and inhibits depolarization of nerve and muscle fibers, increased calcium raises the threshold for depolarization. This results in diminished deep tendon reflexes (hyporeflexia), and skeletal muscle weakness.”

She was tested for coronavirus and flu, and does not have them.

As she got sicker, she experienced some cognitive difficulty, but, as is often the case with her, intravenous fluids bring her right around, and on the phone just down she sounded clearer-headed, and aggravated with the situation, which I take as a good sign.

I’m not really eating or sleeping, which is what I do when I am stressed, though as I wrote this I made myself eat a bowl of soup.

She said a doctor said she might be there three days, so that tired clichéd Tom Petty song lyric, “the waiting is the hardest part,” is mine today.

That Dark Winter

Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.
Ice clings to a dormant morning glory vine in our front yard this morning. I made this image with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens I bought in the summer of 1978.

Today’s bleak winter weather is bringing back a dark winter for me, 1979.

I was a tenth grader, writing in my embryonic journal, making embryonic images.

The two images I posted with this entry are very much like the images I made back then, in part because I dug out the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 lens that came with the Fujica ST-605n I bought in the summer of 1978 with some of my allowance and a $100 gift from my paternal grandmother.

I sold the Fujica decades ago, but a couple of years ago I found an identical one on eBay and got it. The lens is mostly plastic, with a five-bladed aperture, but it is remarkable sharp, and gives a look, today mounted on my Fujifilm X-T10 mirrorless camera, identical to the film images I made all those decades ago.

Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.
Ice on our fence reminds me of that dark winter of 1979. I photographed it with the Fujinon 55mm f/2.2 that I used to photograph that winter all those years ago.

In the Midst of the Rona, I Got My Shingles Vaccination

Great news today: my wife Abby was able to receive her second dose of Pfizer-made coronavirus vaccine Friday.

Across the country, health departments, hospitals and clinics have been struggling to meet demand for vaccines to address the historic coronavirus pandemic. I know that I am grateful for every effort they have made, and I am aware that something on such a scale is sure to be difficult, but we as a nation are on our way to taking our lives back from this disease.

Abby is a little older than I am, so she was eligible to receive her vaccine in the first phase of Governor Stitt’s four-phase plan for vaccinating Oklahomans. But I am in phrase three, so I won’t be eligible for some time yet, and while I wait, I remain aware that there are many other health issues that didn’t go away just because “the Rona” is here. For example, Abby and I both got influenza vaccinations last fall.

So it was that a television ad caught my eye: Shingrix, a vaccine against shingles, is now recommended for adults 50 and older who had chicken pox when they were young, which is most of us.

I’ve known people who have suffered through shingles, an awful, painful illness, and even someone whose shingles damaged her vision, so when I heard it was available, I couldn’t wait to get Shingrix in my arm.

Social media informed me that this vaccine would rough me up a little bit, and they weren’t wrong: just 24 hours from the first of two shots, my side effects were pretty textbook: my arm is super sore, and I even had a little bit of fever, both of which made it difficult to sleep, but which responded to Tylenol.

I am a proponent of vaccines, since I am old enough to know people who had diseases like polio, diphtheria, mumps, measles, whooping cough, tetanus, and smallpox, just to mention a few, which plagued humanity for centuries until being brought under control, and in the case of smallpox, eliminated by vaccines.

I would also encourage my readers to have some common sense when it comes to vaccines and the absurd conspiracy theories surrounding them.

When I become eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, I will take it, and hopefully one fine day this year, we can reclaim our lives and routines, thanks to the science of vaccines.

Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.
Abby gets her follow-up coronavirus vaccination today.

A Legacy of Dignity

What if, after your political career, you could depart the landscape of history with dignity?

What if you could be known as someone who learned from the First World War and brokered a brilliant solution at the end of the Second World War?

What if you left with a spotless record of dignified speeches, a humble social servant and family man, whose administration remained unstained by scandal?

What if your legacy was to challenge America to a difficult and complex task that seemed insurmountable, but one to which America rose?

What if, despite an unimpressive political career, you went on to a long legacy of statesmanlike service to your nation and humanity?

But instead…

“Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election.”

“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.”

“You can do anything. Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything.”

“They should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part)…”

And what if, instead of standing tall and speaking to the people of the world, from University pulpits and hallowed hall of mighty nations, you did it all from Twitter at four in the morning?

Is our flag fading?
Is our flag fading?

Short Story: Breakfast

I wrote this after challenging someone to write a story in which nothing actually happens.

Short Story: Breakfast

” … but she just drops her pearl-black eyes
and prays to hear him say
‘I love you’
but he tells no more lies … “
-Robert Smith

They sat in total silence. With the windows closed, no sounds of the morning outside could get in. Breakfast was already on the table. A moment ago it sizzled, but now was quiet. Even the radio, usually blaring rock and roll from her favorite station, was soundless.

She simply sat, staring at her bacon and eggs. She made them over-easy because he liked them that way. She didn’t care how they were cooked; she didn’t like eggs at all. She had lifelessly gnawed on a piece of bacon which turned out to be overdone, the way he liked it.

He read the newspaper. About midway through the sports page, he discovered that the Blue Jays had beaten the Royals again.

He took a breath, the kind one takes just before he speaks, but then had nothing to say, and let it out. She heard him breathe and waited for his words, but was filled with the sorest disappointment when he said nothing. She felt angry … no, mad as hell when he did that. What was that supposed to mean? she wondered. Why doesn’t he ever talk to me?

She tightened and took the same kind of breath into her own lungs, but then held it for a protracted moment as she realized she had nothing to say either. Maybe it had all been said. Maybe he wouldn’t understand. Maybe he didn’t care.

After another tense moment, she relaxed her breath in such a way as to be totally silent. She didn’t want to give away her secret. She didn’t want him to think she was doing what she thought he was doing.

Over his newspaper she could see the stove and sink, all covered with the by-product of making breakfast. Skillet, empty egg carton, half-empty bacon wrapper, uncapped milk jug, and spatula all had to be cleaned up, in addition to the dishes on the table.

She’d have to do it. Somehow he was always out the door one second before it was time to do dishes.

She felt the same as she had the night before, when she’d gone out of her way to make his favorite dinner: Swedish meatballs. He piled them on his plate and disappeared into the living room to watch professional wrestling. She was furious.

He found the comics page, and read them in the same order as he always did. When he got to Garfield, he felt like laughing, but instead he just heaved his head slightly, the hint of a grin on his face behind the paper.

She didn’t see it, though. Her gaze was locked on an unoccupied area of the table about six inches to the right of her plate.

Her eyes were glued to that spot as her thoughts slowed down.

Finally they crept to a halt. To her there was for a moment only that dusty brown empty area on the table. It felt good to her for it to all go away like that.

In her head there soon came a song…

” … I dreamed you had left my side
No warmth, not even pride remained
And even though you needed me
It was clear that I could not do a thing for you…”

She took in another breath so she could hum a bar or two of it, but again her voice was silent. If he heard her, he might recognize it, and put with it the same significance she did.

She sat motionless, locked in an embrace with the lover she had made of silence.

He didn’t notice any of this, for he wasn’t watching. Even if he had been, he wouldn’t have seen it. The drama was all going on in her heart.

At last, after her sight had begun to fade, she slowly let out the breath that would have sung. She looked up. Without her even noticing, he had left, and it was time for her to do the dishes.