Instead of writing these words, I might have been driving around taking photographs today, but the weather would not cooperate. It is very rainy and thundery. Instead, I’ll catch up a little bit on this blog, which, it turns out, I started four years ago this month. In April 2013, blessed with a new camera, newfound knowledge of WordPress, and a new vehicle with 4-wheel drive, a navigation system, and satellite radio, I got the idea of turning a fond indulgence of mine—driving around backcountry Ohio—into something of a hobby, documenting the things that I saw and posting them on-line. Here.
Once upon a time, before thumb drives and smart phones, people actually had to remember things. Do you remember that? No? Look it up on your smart phone; I’ll wait. The ancient Greeks and Romans sometimes used a technique called the Method of Loci (i.e., places). It’s more commonly called a memory palace. The idea behind a memory palace—an idea stolen by the movie Inception—is that you create in your mind some sort of reality, like a house or museum or row of shops—or a palace. When you want to remember something, you “store” it in a particular place in this mindscape. For example, you may remember your locker combination by “storing” it inside the disgustingly pink vase on the mantel over the fireplace in the living room of your mind mansion. It is the combination of the item and its virtual surroundings that create a memory connection for you. It’s kind of like a mnemonic only in space rather than via words or sounds.
Sadly, a large part of my life has consisted of impatiently lusting after some material object, driven by an ever increasing desire to have it, only to experience great disappointment and letdown upon finally obtaining—usually at great cost or effort—said object itself. Even when the item lived up to its allure, the wait—that damnable, endless wait—was torture. I remember as a kid in the early 1980s when I did my first mail order. I ordered the wargame Pearl Harbor from Wargames West in Albuquerque. UPS only took a few days to deliver from Albuquerque to El Paso, but it seemed like an eternity to me and every time I heard a vehicle coming down the street I would rush to the door to look for the UPS truck.
Sadly, decades later I have not changed a bit. So when camera lensmaker Tamron announced an upcoming new lens, I was hooked.
“Some fifteen miles north of Athens on the Kanawha and Michigan railroad,” reported the Athens Messenger and Herald in 1894, “is situated the thriving little city of Glouster in the center of the rich mining region of the Sunday Creek Valley. It may not be generally known that Glouster claims a population of about 3,000 and is therefore entitled to a greater degree of distinction than is usually accorded the ordinary mining village. The reporter predicted great things for Glouster, based on the below-ground mountains of coal: “The development of the Sunday Creek Valley coal field is yet in its infancy and the field is practically inexhaustible.” Sadly, the truth turned out to be otherwise.
In which our intrepid hero contemplates nature and navels…
One of the things I love about my driving excursions in Ohio is the feeling of freedom that they give me. I can drive anywhere, do anything; I have no deadlines or schedules or things I must do. The only pressure at all in that regard is the pressure to wake up early enough in the morning to catch some good light. Sometimes it seems to me that this sort of freedom is disappearing in modern society. I don’t mean this in any sort of Glenn Beck/right-wing/libertarian way at all. I am not talking about politics but personal freedoms.
Let me illustrate what I mean. I think far fewer children simply play than when I was a child. These days, it seems that all too many parents channel their children’s “playtime” into organized activities, like team sports and day camps and so forth. I have to say that when I was a kid, if you wanted to play, you walked down the block and knocked on the door of some other house and got the kid who lived in that house to come out and play. We played “cops and robbers,” or “pirates” or “cowboys and Indians,” and we played games like hide and seek, and we played sports, like baseball or basketball. We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood. I never once was on an organized soccer team or anything like that. We didn’t need those things to have fun. These days, however, it seems like organized activities are all parents think about—this is certainly true for the parents I know. And those few parents who do seem to allow their children the chance to simply play do so like they were East German border guards. One set of parents I know would never let their children play outside—on their own block!—unless one of the parents was outside watching them.
I confess that I get very crotchety about this. My parents would set limits, which varied as I got older, typically making sure I knew when to be back, what geographical limits I had, and so forth. But then they would simply let us play. To me that seems to superior to choosing an organized activity for your kids and making them engaged in that supervised, constrained activity.
Where has that freedom gone? The freedom to simply be a kid?
In which our intrepid hero finds himself homeward bound as a long day winds down…
This blog is all about journeys and explorations. Most visibly, it is about me exploring different parts of Ohio and recording what I see. It is also about me exploring photography itself and trying to become a better photographer, despite my inherent limitations (such as considerable impatience). I have been trying to educate myself on cameras, on photography, and, more recently, on post-processing and HDR. From the vantage point of this writing, in early February 2014, some six months after these photographs were taken, I have seen improvement on my part and I hope there will be more.
Landscape photographers like to refer to the early morning or the time around sunset as “golden hours,” because the light is a soft, warm light that lends itself to attractive photographs, and because the dynamic range of light at those hours is close to what cameras can naturally reproduce. An alien anthropologist who studied Earth only through its landscape photography might be forgiven for thinking that Earth was a planet of perpetual sunset.
In which our intrepid hero encounters the ghost of a Confederate general…
The Civil War has long fascinated me. Of course, on one level it should, as I have a Ph.D. in American military history. But it began long before that. I probably have my grandparents to thank for that, because at some point they purchased American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War (1960) for my uncle Dennis, when he was a child. This amazing book, containing fascinating diagrammatic paintings of battlefields and text written by famed Civil War historian Bruce Catton, remains today about as perfect an introduction to the Civil War as I could imagine. I soon discovered that they had related gems on their living room bookshelves, including Reader’s Digest abbreviated versions of some of Catton’s histories. These were among the earliest books I read on military history and certainly had a lifelong influence on me. They also produced another effect on me that still lasts, too—a wistful realization of the immutability of history. Sadly, no matter how many books on the Civil War I read, no matter what new material they may uncover, McClellan never manages to take Richmond; Hooker always loses his nerve. It is Groundhog Day, but where Bill Murray never changes.
In which our intrepid hero looks at some ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…
A few times when I was a kid, a neighbor of ours took his kids and me and my sister out into the desert outside El Paso to go “sand surfing.” This involved taking the wheels off of a kid’s red wagon and tying the wheel-less wagon to the trailer hitch of a truck with four-wheel drive. The truck would then go up and down some of the dirt roads and arroyos, dragging the wagon behind it, and you would be standing on the wagon, holding on to a rope also tied to the truck, hanging on for dear life and hoping that when you were finally bucked from the wagon you would not land on a cactus or rattlesnake or sharp rock.
Many years later, I reminisced about this to someone, who let me know of her sharp disapproval. “Don’t you know how fragile the desert environment is? Don’t you know how much damage you did to that ecology?” Not being from El Paso, she didn’t understand, so I had to explain it to her. “This was the desert right outside El Paso,” I said. “That desert was only going to be there for a couple more years before development would swallow it up.” This was because, thanks to geographic and other conditions, the tide of growth in El Paso is overwhelmingly in one direction, to the east. And I was right. What was desert for me back then vanished in the blink of an eye, to become three and four bedroom ranch houses. And then the desert beyond that. And the desert beyond that. The rate of change in that place at that time was incredible. Where I used to have to go to get out of the city into the desert is now miles and miles within the city itself.