Snow Shoeing with a Camera (and a hangover)

And I mean a hangover. My head was the floor of the busiest airport in the world during tourist season, a train pulling into the busiest station in the world during rush hour. The Titanic sinking…twice. But this was the first day I had to get out into our freshly fallen white stuff and get some images of all that beauty you don’t find in places where they plop down malls and traffic signs.

Took a while to get the snow shoes on. Not used to things with cantilevers on my feet. Not used to having to bend down when my personal sense of direction is still trying to scrape itself off the floor of the busiest airport in the world. Fucking gravity.

But I finally got them on without doing facedown angels in the snow and headed into the woods.

Had to cross an open field that would be a marsh area in every season but winter. Winter-hater that I used to be, now converted to snow and scentless air, I had to admit, there’s something mesmerizing about large patches of snow framed by hibernating plant life. Patterns become more pronounced. Contrasts flare up all around you. All the beauty is stripped down to structure…the essence of the beauty we see in summer.

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Found some deer tracks leading into the woods and followed them. Learned something here: when venturing into the woods when the plants have no cushioning leaves…where sunglasses. This was an ouch lesson.

Followed the tracks into the woods and every step was magic unleashed. How could I have gotten so far away from all this beauty that I loved as a kid?

Oh…right…six years in Winnipeg.

Here’s what I saw in the woods:

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Best of all…this giant spider web:

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How terrifyingly big was that spider? Fortunately, spiders, unlike foxes, hibernate. At this point, I stopped and did the poetry thing. I took a poem out of my pocket, one that I wrote in college 150 years ago…my way of saying thanks for all the beauty to the woods, even though it wasn’t the most beautiful of poems, but the woods appreciate being read to.

“That’s right,” said the woods. “We like poetry. Let’s hear what you wrote 150 years ago.”

So I read:

night

so weak is the spell of suggestion
between these carefully projected walls

aligned
straight

with just enough trees and shrubbery
to ward off the slightest amusing danger
the twig snaps from dryness only

there’s no comfort in the tungsten and sodium glow
of too many windows and too many street lights
illuminating this corridor just enough
to show its bare affinity with the stars

and if I were to suddenly scream
IT’S A GODDAMNED SHAME
would they rush out here and feel
the fluctuations of whatever dark is left
the tense grip of breath
the bristle of fur
as legions of magic bubbles shake in the shadows
or would they just stare from their windows
annoyed
fearful
blind
to the asphalt and concrete girdle
choking the guts out of night

“Not much of an optimist, are you, Biff?” said the woods.

“I’m learning,” I said.

On the way back, I got this image:

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Lesson learned: Take a happy happy joy joy poem into the woods. And return the beauty.

Searching for Peace (with my camera)

“That was a pretty wild time in India, Biff,” said the fox. “And you seemed a little confused.”

“There was a time when I wasn’t confused, fox,” I said. “And then I was born.”

“Not gonna get all melodramatic on me again, are you, Biff?” said the fox.

“Hey, fox,” I said. “I don’t know who, or what, let you in here but this is my blog and I’ll write whatever I want.”

“But you always tell your students to get someone to look at their work before they send it off…to get that OBJECTIVE perspective before a heartless editor like J sees it,” said the fox.

“This is my blog, fox,” I said. “I’M the editor.”

“Ooookay, Biff. So what’re you going do with that camera you’re holding?” said the fox.

“Take some pictures, fox,” I said.

I squeezed the cool metal and plastic body of my 5D2 and gave into the will of the camera to take me anywhere, anytime, anyplace in my search for peace. I knew that if I left this up to the camera it would think, Cool. Biff’s going to shoot Auto for a change and trust me to get the settings right.

No bloody way.

I was standing in my hovel at the edge of the world about to break my camera’s heart, but I wasn’t telling the camera that yet. I closed my eyes and a moment later opened them with my head inside the mouth of the biggest animal I’d seen in my entire visit on this planet. It was a tiger and it’s mouth was big enough to fit both my head and camera inside and still have plenty of room for condiments.

“Gonna fiddle with the settings,Biff?” said my camera. “Or just leave it on Auto?”

Guess I’ll settle for composition, I thought. I took the shot. On Auto. Don’t know how it got on that setting. Suspect the camera had something to do with that. And I closed my eyes.

Shithead camera.

I opened my eyes and I was floating a few feet above a window with a huge beautiful spider web in one corner.

“Get the shot, Biff?” said the camera.

“Dunno,” I said. “I was just about to have my head bitten off by a tiger. Not much time to think.”

“Which is you at your best, Biff,” said the camera.

“I’d think about that, camera,” I said, “but I guess that would be me at my worst.”

“Ceeegar for the bald guy,” said the fox.

“I recognize this place,” I said. “This happened years ago.”

“Just watch,” said the camera.

So I watched.

And watched.

And watched.

“Still watching?” said the camera.

“Yeah…not much happening,” I said.

“Look,” said the camera.

A wasp, one of those ones with a waist every man and woman wants, flew right into the center of the web and was totally stuck there. And it was a big wasp. The kind you don’t want to see coming out of your beer can when you’re camping and it just crawls out all pissed off and drunk. And you don’t dare move because you know that’s just going to piss it off even more. So you try to be invisible and think happy thoughts like, nice wasp, beautiful wasp, happy little animal of my sweetest dreams…please don’t sting me. Would you like another beer? I have more. I hope.

Big. Motherfucking. Wasp.

Stuck in the web. Flailing and making lots of motion. Too much motion. Be still wasp. Do you have any idea where you are? What’s waiting for you?

Too late. The biggest meanest big brown spider in the world shot out of the side of the web and zeroed in on the wasp with hungry fangs dripping venom. It was on that wasp like a mule kicking a piñata.

But wait.

Something unexpected happened. Suddenly the wasp was stinging the hell out of the spider and it broke out of the web and flew off with the spider.

“See that, Biff?” said the camera.

“Yeah, I remember that. Watched it through the window a few years ago,” I said.

A few days later, a new spider had taken over the web. Not as big as the last one, but big. And the wasp returned, got stuck in the web, the spider came down like a mule kicking and the wasp flew off with it. Somehow, it had learned how to get its next meal by pretending to be the meal. It acted out a scenario that kept itself fed.

“So, Biff,” said the camera. “You saw this. Now, what does it tell you?”

“Spiders are dumber than wasps?” I said.

“Think, Biff,” said the camera.

“Naw…think I’ll just feel this one,” I said. “If that animal with that tiny mind can learn, then we with out big minds can learn.”

And I was back in my hovel with my camera, now silent in my hands and the fox said, “Getting any closer in your search, Biff?”

“Big minds, fox,” I said. “We need big minds. Each of us.”

“Any hope of that, Biff?” said the fox.

“Let’s look into that,” I said. “Let’s just keep looking into that until we find a way into it.”

(To be continued. Until we find a way.)

“Shit,” I said. “I don’t have a picture of a spider web.”

“Yeah, you do,” said the fox. “The one you took under the bridge. You gave Dwight a print of it for his birthday. Find it.”

“OK,” I said. “Somewhere in the half million images I have, I’ll find it. Actually, I think I have that one on my Facebook. I’ll look.”

“Hurry, Biff, you’re running out of wine,” said the fox.

“Got it! A little over sharpened and over cropped, but it’ll do.”

HDR stuff