Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thank You, Hawkeye

When I was in high school in the early '80s, WSB-TV, Atlanta's Channel 2, showed back-to-back episodes of "M*A*S*H" every afternoon at 5:00 and 5:30. My brother and I watched them nearly every day; it was, and probably still is, my favorite show. Now, more than thirty years later, I have every season on DVD, and still watch episodes from time to time.

But I watch it now, not so much because it's a great show, but because when I start an episode and hear the first strains of "Suicide is Painless" and see those images of the 4077th with helicopters landing and doctors and nurses rushing around, I am again fifteen years old, with a life that stretches out before me filled with hope and excitement and possibility. I am, for the length of an episode, young again, with novels in me dying to come out and adventures waiting to be had.

For me, the hardest part about being middle-aged is not the gray hair or the thickening middle or any of the other concerns, some of them very serious, that come with growing older. It's the realization that many of the things I dreamed about when I was younger, the things that filled me with hope and excitement and possibility, just aren't going to happen.

There are many wonderful things about the life I have now; I love my wife, I am absolutely thrilled by my daughters, and I even like the job I have (at least enough of the time).

But I miss the feeling of potential and unexplored possibilities that young people have, and which life and the aging process do so much to squelch.

I wish I had known it at the time: It really was wonderful to be fifteen years old, sitting down on the living room floor in our house in Lilburn to watch "M*A*S*H" with my brother.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Red Velvet Ant

Tonight I took something out to our backyard--a garden gnome that's been in our bathroom for the last seven years, if you must know--and as I did I happened to glance over at the ant hill that's cropped up in the last couple of days just at the edge of the patio. There I saw the biggest, most unusual ant I'd ever seen. It looked to be a full inch long, and was bright reddish-orange. It was huge and bright!

I looked around for something to capture it in, in case Fernbank was interested, and found a half-crushed plastic flower pot. I managed to corral the little guy into it, but it just fell right out of the drain holes in the bottom. (They were pretty big drain holes.) The little guy was scurrying around our patio, fleeing from me as though I wanted to eat it, which I most definitely did not. I got a little green plastic container and put it over the little critter, which trapped it. A lot of other insects would just crawl under such a thing, but this one was too big for that.

I ran into the kitchen where my wife and daughters were preparing for evening snack. "You won't believe this ant out here!" I said. They came out to have a look, and I lifted the plastic container and we watched it scurry around for a couple of minutes.

I tried to catch it again in a shoe box, but my youngest daughter didn't want her shoe box used that way--"Don't put it in there!" (They are brand new shoes with Merida from Brave on them, and she's still attached to the box.) So I gave up and let the giant little critter flee off into the grass.

Here's the thing, though: As I was trying to get the bug into the shoe box, using the green plastic container in one hand and holding the shoe box with the other, I accidentally trapped its hind legs under the green container, and it gave a high-pitched scream.

This insect shrieked in pain. Probably a little frustration, too.

I've never heard an insect cry out like that. It was unsettling and surreal, like something out of a "Twilight Zone" episode. I was suddenly aware of our shared sentience, and the life force and struggle for survival that we have in common. "All creatures, great and small..." and all that.

However, it didn't seem to be permanently hurt, though, and I let it run away and I came inside to research what this thing was on the Internet.

It's a female red velvet ant, which is actually not an ant at all but a wingless wasp. They're about 3/4 of an inch long, and not aggressive--however, when they aren't able to run away, they can give a very painful sting. Fortunately, I didn't feel that sting tonight. (I know it was a female, by the way, because males have wings.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Senior Citizen Portraits

When I was first learning about commercial portrait photography, I saw lots of references to "senior portraits" on the blogs of photographers I liked. At first I didn't realize they were talking about portrait sessions with high school seniors; I thought that they were referring to pictures of senior citizens. It's an assumption that makes sense, I think, when you realize that most of the time when you see references to seniors--the senior discount at the Kuntry Kitchen buffet, for example, or seniors' shopping day at the Piggly Wiggly--it does refer to those who are old enough for full membership in the AARP. Nobody who ever describes themselves as having a "senior moment" is likening themselves to an eighteen-year-old.

Well, I've never done a "senior portrait" session, but today I did a senior portrait session at an assisted living facility not too far from where I live. I hope I captured some images of these men and women at this stage in their lives that will mean something to their families for many years to come.

Here are some of my favorites from that session:

* * *

As I look at these portraits and reflect on my experiences at the assisted living home, I find myself a little melancholy. I know--it's just the way life works, even with all its beauty and wonder: people get old.

But there's something poignant about knowing that that woman up there, the last one in the sequence, however old she is now, was once this age:

And if she's anything like me, she sometimes finds it hard to believe she isn't still that age, that so many years have gone by without her realizing it, without her giving her permission.

She can't remember it, I'm sure, any more than any of us can, but not so long ago she was this age:

It goes by so fast, doesn't it? That beautifully-smiling lady is probably forty years older than me, so she surely knows it even better than I do. There are so many wonderful things about this life we human beings have, but sometimes it just seems so sad.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bitten by fleas and lice

I just finished reading Basho's travel sketch "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." I enjoyed it; it both inspires me to more of my own travel, and helps me appreciate the comforts of modern living:
Bitten by fleas and lice,
I slept in a bed,
A horse urinating all the time
Close to my pillow.
He wrote this after spending three days in the house of a gate-keeper, held up on his travels by storms, as he approached the province of Dewa.

(from The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Basho, translated by Noboyuki Yuasa; the poem appears on page 120)