SAYING GOODBYE TO A FURRY FRIEND

There was a very poignant post on Facebook today showing police officers bidding farewell to one of their own, a K-9 partner. You could see the sadness in the eyes of the otherwise stoic law officers. It struck home.

One of our furry kids is in a bad place. The big dog, the affable enforcer in our canine family which includes a Scottie, a Norwich Terrier and a mini Dachshund. We call him Bubba because of his lovable personality. He’s our big, huggable Australian Shepherd.

Painfully shy when he came to live with us, he has gradually become part of our family, both human and 4-legged. Bubba used to be afraid of his shadow, but Bonnie, our unflappable Scottie – ring-leader of the fur people, took Bubba under her wing. Bonnie made it clear shyness doesn’t get you anywhere in our family. It certainly doesn’t get you attention. More importantly, it doesn’t get you those extra biscuits.

Bubba learned. He learned so well he began showing up in my office as I worked on my first cup of coffee in the morning. Not my best time of day.

Bubba’s finest moment came recently when Marilyn was taking pictures. Bubba wasn’t in the shot, but decided he wanted to be included. He just poked his head into the shot making it clear he wasn’t going to be left out of the festivities. Bubba had arrived!

We have a lot of strong personalities in the house. We’re not camera-shy or modest. Bubba made it clear he wanted billing above the title in our family soap drama.

dogs with bishop and gar

Something went wrong in the last couple of weeks. Bubba, not the most agile of dogs, has taken several tumbles on the stairs. We thought he had shaken them off but we were wrong. Bubba sustained a back injury while simultaneously has been developing his own serious case of arthritis. Arthritis is something of a plague in this household. Quite literally, everyone’s got it.

Now he’s dragging his rear end. The stairs are impossible for him. It’s painful to watch our big guy struggle to move around. Marilyn says big dogs are more prone to this kind of injury than small ones.The vet says there’s nothing to be done for him but to give him pain-killers and make him as comfortable as possible. Maybe he’ll get better. We can hope.

Bishop

Bubba is now living downstairs with the junior members of our family. He is actually their dog even though we feel he belongs to all of us. Bubba is still eating well and responds quickly to offers of biscuits. But something is different. It’s clear his energy is sapped. He moves slowly. Hard to believe, but we miss his baying at the moon and those furtive three o’clock in the morning shadows.

It’s about quality of life. Some family members are hoping for a miracle. We’ve all been down this road before. It’s not about us or our feelings. Saying goodbye will be difficult and we’ll hold off on it as long as we can. But, in the end, it’s about Bubba.

Image

BLACKSTONE CANAL, SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON

A couple of hundred years of polluting the river nearly killed it. How fortunate for us that nature is resilient. Today, The Blackstone Canal is in recovery but it’s slow. The fish are back, though weather or not it’s safe to eat them is a matter of controversy.

Blackstone river and canal divide

This is the early autumn, mid-September. Barely a breeze. The canal is as smooth as glass and reflects like a mirror.

75-ShadowedCanalGA-HP-1

CHARGE! – Marilyn Armstrong

To keep the world running, I have to charge things that recharge and keep a stack of AAA and AA rechargeable batteries ready to go.

75-PowerNIK-CR-70

My world — the entire world and now, my heart too — runs on batteries. Mostly rechargeable batteries, except for my pacemaker which needs new batteries every 4 or 5 years (I think) and I do hope the batteries are very high quality.

Add 3 laptops, 2 Kindles, a couple of tablets, cellphones, 5 (6?) cameras, voice recorders, mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), a wireless keyboard, a GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand.

I have never lived in a house that had enough electrical outlets for things like lamps and televisions, much less a way to accommodate these chargers. So, I own power strips.

They are everywhere, snaking around corners, between dressers, behind the sofa, on each side of the bed and of course near each computer. They are also hiding in a lot of places you might never think to look. Throughout the house, in every room, power strips keep chargers charging and electrical devices functioning. From high-end hubs with surge protection to whatever was on sale at Walmart that day, every one is full or nearly so.

75-Wires-57

Most power strips are designed by people who don’t use them. I have reached this conclusion based on the design that presumes you will never have anything larger than a lamp plug that needs a socket. Not even a vacuum cleaner cord fits properly, much less a power supply.

Typically, power strips don’t leave room to fit more than 2 or 3 chargers in a strip designed for half a dozen plugs. There’s no allowance for odd-shaped power supplies that will use half a strip.

 

75-GearNIK-CR-72

I don’t understand why chargers have to be so inconveniently shaped, or why they can never make a 3-pronged plug that will fit into an outlet without a fight. Why do most chargers require that you insert them at the end of the strip. No one ever seems to consider that there are only two “ends” and only one without a cord in the way. There’s some kind of Murphy’s Law that say if you are going to need two wall outlets, both devices will need to be on top or on the bottom.

I have 2 electrical sockets in the bathroom and 2 devices that require electricity. Only one can fit. The other socket is always unusable. The one charger blocks both outlets. Always.

The first day we moved into this house, two events occurred that have since defined our lives in the Blackstone Valley. The toilets backed up and the power went out. The toilets backed up because the crooks who sold us this house parked their van on the septic system’s outflow pipe and crushed it. The power went out for the usual reason: heavy rain, high wind, and lightning. Getting to know my neighbors meant figuring out how to find an electrician and plumber before I’d unpacked.

I don’t notice how dependent we are on batteries until I’m packing for a vacation. Half a carry-on is allocated to chargers … just for things we use while we travel: laptops, accessories, a pair of Kindles, his and her cell phones, mouses, portable speakers and more. I used to pack this stuff carefully. Now I just shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

High tension wire, golden maple leaves framed by an azure sky.

If you think our civilization can survive anything, ponder this. All our stuff depends on batteries and electricity. Without electricity and batteries, life as we know it would end in about a week or two, at least in cities. It might go on a little longer in rural areas. After that?

Life will be a jungle in where every man, woman, and child will fight to the death for a working AA battery.

 

Gallery

SHINY STUFF

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Shiny

There are so many kinds of shiny. The reflections on glass, water and steel. The shine of the sun, shiny headlights in the night. Shining rivers and lakes, the shine of a sunrise on the sand on the shore. Here’s a selection. The motorcycles are my favorites :-)

Image

TIME AND HISTORY IN YOUR HAND

I collect very old Chinese porcelain. I used to have a lot more of it, but in the name of de-cluttering, I divided my collection and gave the other half to my best friend who I knew would appreciate it.

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD

Han Dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD

The Chinese government has not always been diligent in managing their national treasures. Sometimes, it was a political decision. Many times, foreigners have stolen the best and most beautiful, which is why you will see so much Chinese art in English and American museums. They didn’t give it to us. We didn’t buy it. We stole it. What a shock they aren’t as in love with us as we think they ought to be.

Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain.

Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain.

In recent decades, the issues have been pragmatic — lack of money. There is so much that needs preservation. The U.S. has difficulty preserving our 250 years of history. Imagine how hard — and expensive — if your nation’s history goes back thousands of years. And your country is huge and densely populated.

Suddenly, preservation becomes more than slightly daunting.

Counter point - Modern Limoge ca 1965 alongside Song dynasty vase (China Song Dynasty 960-1279 AD). I use the vase for single roses. Perfect size.

Counter point – Modern Limoges ca 1965 alongside Song dynasty vase (China Song Dynasty 960-1279 AD). I use the vase for single roses. Perfect size.

Private collectors — like me — who have become custodians of some of these very old things have an obligation to care for them. We have to make sure they will be inherited by others who will treasure them. That’s not as easy as you might think. Not everyone “gets it.” And many people have no room; they have their own stuff and can’t help with yours.

I could have sold my pots but I didn’t want them to go to the highest bidder. I wanted them to be where they would be loved. If that sounds weird, you have never collected antiquities.

Jun vase (Northern Song on through the Yuan) holds a fresh rose

Jun vase (Northern Song on through the Yuan) holds a fresh rose

When you hold one of these pieces, you hold history in your hand. Imagine how many people have held this vase, this statue, this oil lamp. How many lives this pot has touched. Imagine!

THE PORCH – Marilyn Armstrong

Across from the old barn is the house. Fully restored, it dates to the mid 1700s. The owner painted all the rocking chairs herself.

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT – Marilyn Armstrong

Why do you take pictures? What makes you pick up your camera? Is it just the beauty of the scene? Or the smile on someone’s face?

chewy 52

I’m sure it is different for each of us, but this morning, I remembered what it is for me. Because even before I turned on the coffee machine, I grabbed my camera. The light was coming through the window and the Dutch door and I saw something. I remembered abruptly that this is what always grabs me. Of course I take pictures of my granddaughter, my dogs, friends and sometimes total strangers because they are important to me or just because, though I can’t always say what it is. Spectacular scenery is inevitable. Like any photographer, I’m going to try to capture it. I’m as much a sucker for a pretty picture as anyone.

But that’s not it. In the final analysis, for me it’s about light.

It has always been about light. My very first roll of film, in black and white, about half the pictures were of light coming through trees.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to show just how light filters through leaves or the way it shines through a window. Reflected light on water or wet sand. The sun as it rises or sets. I love the subtleties, the minute by minute changes of color of the sky.

Tide Sun and Sand

That’s why I almost never raise saturation in a photograph and probably why I don’t much like HDR photography. I’m looking for shadings and delicate colors. I don’t want everything more vivid … so when I post process, I am far more likely to turn the color and contrast down than  I am to push it up.

96-SunsetZS19-5

The changing colors of the light through the seasons: golden in autumn, nearly white in winter and how these annual color shifts change the way the world looks … so ephemeral, so fleeting and delicate. I love shadow, the brother of light and how these change with the time of day and the seasons. I can watch for hours the changing colors of the sky while the sun moves across until it finally sinks below the horizon to full dark.

96-Moon-Small-34

Have you ever watched a sunset from late afternoon until full dark? Light lingers long,  even after the sun invisible. The further north latitude you are, the longer light remains. Everyone shoots brilliant sunsets or sunrises. I favor sunrises, but I realize that may have something to do with living on the east coast. Facing east makes sunrise more accessible.  A brilliant arrival or departure of Apollo’s Chariot is spectacular. Yet even the most ordinary dawn or dusk contains an equal amount of beauty. It’s harder to capture it. Brilliant color is easy compared to slight incremental pastels. You don’t get nearly as many “oohs” and “aahs” from a photo composed of soft pastel tones.

96-Watercolor-Pops2013_084

I’m fascinated by the way shadows shift with time of day; the colors of the world as the sun sinks; the way various kinds of artificial light — street lamps, candles, neon signs — each have their own spectrum and effects.

For me, it’s all about light.

SO MANY MONUMENTS, SO LITTLE SPACE

Monument

Small town, overly fond of monuments has turned the town common into marble clutter. From the civil war, through all the other wars in which our soldiers have died. Perhaps smaller monuments more in balance with available space?

The photographs were taken by both Garry and I over the course of a couple of years using a variety of cameras and covering all seasons.

 

The Party: Taking Pictures When There’s Nothing to Shoot – Marilyn Armstrong

Sometimes, there’s really not much to shoot.

Here’s the story. There I am at a party. I’ve brought my camera, because hey, why not? I’ve been taking pictures of people doing what people do at parties. Talking. Eating. Sometimes laughing. A few loners. People talking in pairs, in groups. And I’m trying to find a new way to do something at which I’m not particularly good while finding a way of making pictures that are inherently dull, not so dull.

Tall pines from the deck.

The host, a retired photographer and videographer, hates parties and was hiding. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t appear until his wife rousted him from wherever he was holed up.

This is a group dominated by professional media people, some retired, many still working. So there were a lot of cameras, mostly Canon, a few Nikons. I’m the only one with one of those funny little cameras, having brought my Olympus PEN E-P3 and a spare battery while leaving the rest of my gear home.

The man with the Canon.

In this crowd, pictures are not taken on telephones or tablet computers. It’s not that kind of crowd. This is not a group in which anyone suffers from techno-envy. We all have equipment. Lots of it, our own and stuff that belongs to the television stations for which most of the guests work. Oddly, no one is doing video. Too much like work.

A hallway.

I didn’t actually know more than a handful of the people at the party except in the most general way. I know the host, the hostess, a few other people here and there. Pretty much everyone is a former colleague of my husband or related to the birthday boy.

One way or the other, I’m not sure I could get most of the names straight. Even if everyone was wearing a name tag it wouldn’t help much. The problem is partly because I didn’t know most of the guests. It’s also that I am terrible with names and faces. I’m nominally better with faces, but hopeless with names.

Still life with cheese remnants.

You can tell me your name and within a breath, I’ll say, “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?” and if it happens more than twice, I’ll be too embarrassed to ask again, so I’ll smile and nod. Life can be a bitch. Parties are worse.

So it’s me and my camera. It’s an event and besides, what else am I going to do?

This is not a really exciting experience for me. About an hour into the event, my boredom exceeded my tolerance, so I set myself a challenge. Find something to shoot in a lovely, but architecturally ordinary, suburban house.

In the corner.

In the end, the choice was simple: play “Word Mole” on my telephone or find something to shoot. I went with photography, although I’m a world-class “Word Mole” player.

Reflections in a high window.

Here are the results. “Seek and thou shalt find” should be the motto of all photographers. I looked. I didn’t just look around, I also looked up and down. I looked in corners, I peered through banisters. I tried natural light and flash, wound up using both.

Kitchen talk.

Motto of the story? There’s always a picture somewhere. Somehow. You have to look for it, sometimes very hard, but it’s there.

 

Woodcleft Canal – Marilyn Armstrong

Freeport, Long Island. It’s in Nassau Country, the closest county on Long Island to New York city. I grew up in the city … in Queens, which is a borough of New York. Each of New York’s boroughs has its own character and in many ways, is a city in its own right. Certainly people who grow up in Brooklyn identify themselves as Brooklyn-ites and if you come from the Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx, you will always identify that as your “home ground” rather than just “New York.”

Colorized postcard of Woodcleft canal with houses visible on the right side of the photo. Postmark: “” Merrick, N.Y, September 3, 1907″ Addressee and Address: “M.A. Hansen, 791 59th Street, Brooklyn” Message [on front]: “” Sept. 1, 07. Have a good time. May” – From the Freeport Historical Society Postcard Collection

Between the picture postcard and our visit lay almost exactly a century.

People from Manhattan have a strong sense of superiority because they come from The City. For reasons that are hard to explain, but perfectly obvious to anyone who has lived there or even visited for any length of time, Manhattan is the heart of New York in ways that cannot be simply explained. It’s not just because it’s the center of business. In fact, that really has little to do with it. It just is what it is. Even when I was a kid growing up in Queens, when we said we were going “into the city,” we  meant Manhattan. If we were going anywhere else in the five boroughs, we said we were going to Brooklyn or the Bronx or some specific neighborhood … but the city was Manhattan and no doubt still is.

I moved to Long Island in 1963 when I was 16 and had just started college. I never moved back to the city, though for many years, we went there for shows, museums, all the things available in a city and not in suburbs or other outlying areas. And of course, work.

A few years of my childhood, before I was 5 and moved to Holliswood, we lived in an apartment house — really, a tenement — on Rose Street in Freeport, near Woodcleft Canal.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area near the canal was decrepit. Living “near the docks” was not a good thing, certainly nothing to brag about. My family was going through hard times and it was the best we could afford.

My mother hated it. It was the middle of nowhere and she didn’t drive. For her, born in Manhattan, a lifelong resident of New York, what was Freeport? Long Island? That was farm country where you went to buy vegetables at farm stands. My mother, an urbanite to her core, understood poverty but being poor in the country was her version of Hell.

My memories are limited but I see in my mind a big white stucco building with no architectural features. A large white box that didn’t fit into the neighborhood. It stuck out so that even by the less stringent standards of 60 years ago, it was an eyesore. It hasn’t lost that quality. It is still an ugly building, but I expect the rent is higher.

We drove down Rose Street to look at it. I was curious if I would recognize it, but I did. Instantly. I think early memories are deeply embedded in our psyches. Then, having satisfied curiosity, we found out way to the canal.

Reflections in the canal.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the canal lined with marinas and yachts. The road along the canal has the usual expensive restaurants featuring faux nautical decor. It was a trifle weird.

There were many huge Victorian houses in Freeport back in the 1970s that you could buy for almost nothing. A great deal if you had a lot of money with which to fix one of them up. Those grand old houses … there are still a few around there and here too, but restoring one is big bucks and maintaining them, even if you can afford the initial restoration, out of the range of most people. I’m glad that some have survived. They are magnificent, though even thinking about the cost of heating one is frightening.

Everything changes.

You can’t go back in time except in your memory. Sometimes, if you treasure the way it was, how you remember it, it’s better not to revisit places. Keep your memories intact because then, the places you remember will always be the way they were.

The 12-Foot Teepee by Marilyn Armstrong

Once upon a time, I built a teepee. I painted the door and filled it with things I loved. I made the poles, sanded each by hand, peeling the bark from each 16-foot sapling we had cut in our own woods.

Then I wrote a book about building it, and about life, transformation, and other things, some funny, some sad, some just whatever.

The manuscript for The 12-Foot Teepee took me about 7 months to write, almost as much time to edit, then a few more months to design the cover and the book. Getting it published, well … that’s a whole other story.

In winter.

This was my teepee.

It stood, through all seasons for five years. This summer, the poles could no longer support the canvas, and the canvas itself was mildewed. Its time was over and it came down.

I don’t think there will ever be another. Building it was a rebirth. A physical teepee is nothing but a bit of canvas and sticks, the rest is spirit, love, and hope. I knew it could not last forever, and it lasted as long as any teepee could in this climate … especially since I left it up through the winter … but I miss it and always will. I had some of my best hours in my teepee … the only place in my world where I could always sleep.

My favorite time in the teepee was when the snow was falling and I was cozy by my fire. It was the most peaceful place in my world.

You can find the book on Amazon, both as a paperback and in Kindle format. It is “The 12-Foot Teepee,”  by Marilyn Armstrong. You can read excerpts from it online. Eventually I’ll post some pieces of the book here. Just not tonight.

My life has moved on considerably since then but writing it was a turning point in my life.