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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Photographic Enigma

I am not new to photography, the science of Daguerre, Eastman, Wheatstone, Fox Talbot, Claudet. I am capable in dark rooms, which is the best that can be said of anybody. But with the advent of digital cameras my experience does not apply; I am once again an ignorant primitive. Why do I find that refreshing?

It is the Computer Age. This means one can find out anything and clear things up. Above is a picture taken with a digital camera of my stunt double holding one of our grandchildren. By way of clarification I have called my wife Stunt Double for many years for some reason --perhaps because she steps in when babies need proper holding. I forget her real name. But, point is, with a computer I can find out important stuff about her.

For instance, I can type "My Stunt Double" into this computer and translate it into Russian: 2 времени мое затруднение роста. Then I can translate "2 времени мое затруднение роста" back into English, which is "Twice my growth obstruction." Learning doesn't get more exciting than that. But there are drawbacks.

My 35mm Mamiya/Sekor 1000TL SLR camera is only 50 years old and now collects dust. It and the skills it required are obsolete. My wife could never master its intricacies but bought a computerized digital camera and takes perfect pictures every time she uses it. I, on the other hand, have trouble.

Consider the photo above, which I took because a baby needed holding in its composition. This is not a thing one leaves to chance (me), so my Stunt Double stepped in and I was given the digital camera. As you can see, it would have been a perfect photo had not two things happened suddenly: house tilted to 45-degree angle; someone detonated an Atomic Bomb right outside the window.

So, wasn't my fault. 50 years ago my elders used to ask me,"Why are you so serious? You are young and should be making an idiot of yourself!" To which I would answer, there will be time for that when I'm your age. And induced the beautiful low tones,"Ah malnino, no facies!" Obsolete? I think not, neither is the old Hollywood addage obsolete:"There's no economy in a cheap 2 времени мое затруднение роста."

I'm right about idiocy being more refreshing NOW too!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crowing Decoded

, [carving on kitchen cupboard]

When I was little my world was full of chickens. One of my jobs as a five-year-old was dragging a gunny sack under a tree collecting walnuts. Once I got a few dozen in the sack I'd swing it round in front of me and kick it with every step. It made such a satisfying crunch and it attracted chickens. Chickens would follow me around and say, "buck, buck, buck."

I was sure the chickens thought my name was Buck and were trying to get my attention. But, by and by, and because they seemed to call each other Buck and mutter it about everything, I considered other possibilities. One day I tried stiffening my lips in approximation of a beak and found it impossible to pronounce the letter F. Mystery solved, and I learned something of the general disposition of chickens.

But this is not intended to become an autobiography. Typical of boys and girls my age I have an aversion to the finality of the form. After one experiences a few blows in life, one feels a bit vulnerable and impermanent and shies away from writing it up. This is instead a personal essay which, although containing some historical exposition, is another sort of thing entirely.

If I was writing an autobiography I would have begun,"I am the fourth of two children." It would be met with suspicion and I would have to admit many of my siblings and cousins are remembered only as undifferentiated protoplasm. So was I, and will restrict my comments to barnyard animals.

Childhood observation was recalled to me recently as I sat in the back porch with one of my grandsons. We heard roosters crowing to the west, then to the south, then more distantly to the east. Once those in all directions knew of each other, they crowed back and forth incessantly.

Benny asked what they were saying and I said, "cock-a-doodle-do."

He didn't think so. I listened. He was right, cock-a-doodle-do has five syllables and these roosters were crowing only four. The rise in pitch toward the end was right, but was revealed now as interrogative. A question?

"A riddle?" asked Benny.

A riddle with no answer, or a riddle whose answer was so obvious as to need no articulation besides silence. We listened carefully, trying to fit lyrics to their four notes. Finally we heard it together: Where's-the-bathRRROOOM? Where's the bathRRROOOM?

We got the answer simultaneously too: for a chicken, anywhere.

I post this personal essay in hopes that others will explore the language of chickens and contribute to the humble beginning of this lexicon. Remember to consult children in this endeavor, especially if you can't remember being one --or aren't one-- yourself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Persistence Of Enigmas

The attraction of riddles has to do with our minds trying to organize things. Mind senses and, where it encounters mystery, tries to make sense. It reckons, calculates, culls clues, learns method and solves. Where it cannot solve by other means, Mind imagines.

It imagines the riddle alive --an enigma, the universe speaking, inviting. A story unfolds. Consider this photograph recently sent me by Daughter, who knows my recreational affliction of making stuff up, and I suspect inherited it.

It is bare, snow and shoes. Mind must populate it: a curious crowd at the sawhorse barricade; a weary, stodgy, square-toed inspector looking out of place in city derby and raincoat with raglan sleeves. He sees the snow disturbed by hundreds of footprints and wagers they match the discarded shoes. Good old slow, solid police work ahead, he thinks, and sets about measuring them. But then he sees a figure peeking shyly from behind the dumpster.

A little maid, neatly dressed in cap and apron, motions to him urgently. He dusts the snow off his wool trousers and plods over to her. "Here now," he says. "What's all this?"

She looks up at the inspector with rosy cheeks and round eyes the color of forget-me-nots, takes a deep breath and says, "Oh sir, haven't you heard? Ever-so-sudden-like it was!"

You are quite welcome to continue this scenario or make one up of your own. It's what we do. Riddles, mysteries are enigmas certainly, but are they not psychopomps also, assisting us through a larger world? One gets stuck in routine, everyday things, but from time to time our universe springs an enigma upon us and we must answer.

When I began this adventure, so long ago, I thought I was an explorer, that all risks were worthwhile and around every corner a new world waited. I no longer wave a hansom down with extra fare and shouts of not a moment to be lost. I take the train now. But I am still an explorer.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Clowns, Gowns, Blackbirds and Bees

[photo credit: Daughter]

I think this investigation began when I turned five years old. There were rewards in 1954. You'd go to a school carnival, throw a beanbag into the mouth of a cardboard clown and by golly you won something. You scampered around among legs in slacks and dirndls and saw beanbags in a big box back there --saw them returned for the next throw and learned things never end. Yes, I believe it began there.

Cloth, beans, cardboard. Clues come from within. When you decide to seek the truth, be sure truth is really what you want because it will not leave you alone, not ever. Half a century passed. I read a news item about 39 wedding gowns found abandoned early one morning on a lonely Kansas highway. Some things you never get over.

County sheriff prodding limp lace, making thoughtful notes at dawn --cold satin, chiffon, weeds disturbed, matted. Elsewhere, 39 brides cried, naked --tears lit by ebbing stars, falling like unbagged beans-- on their wedding day. And yet ELSEWHERE, a tempera-painted, crudely-cut cardboard clown blended back into the crowd, immortal, laughing maniacally, totally unnoticed, waiting his chance to strike again.

Dawn comes, we wake. Does sleep tell us what waking is? Days come and go. School carnivals end. Kansas sees summer again and the stoats turn brown. One pattern I have observed to be constant is life is not cycles, it is one damn thing after another. Sometimes long after. Whether this is a universal axiom extending beyond life, I do not know, but it shows promise.

Consider today. This morning I read an AP story about 1000 blackbirds found dead within a square mile in the town of Beebe, Arkansas. It's really raining here so I've been investigating those poor broken birds in Beebe. Arkansas governor, Mike Beebe (yes, Beebe like the town he was not born in, and preceded in office by Mike --another Mike!-- Huckabee) has requested federal aid in repairing New Years Eve tornado damage in his state. Since blackbirds are short-migrators, returning to thawing feeding grounds earlier than other birds, they seldom fly higher than 1000 ft., certainly prime altitude for encountering an undescended cyclone and getting beaten to death in the sky. Also, as may be surmised by their coloring, they avoid predators by generally flying at night.

So it was weather that got them. I had to come up with a different theory about the uncanny repetition of the word "bee" in Arkansas towns and governors. Beebe, Huckabee, even blackbirds' initials --if you get a note signed B.B., it's probably from a blackbird, especially if it makes no sense.

I don't know why so many Arkansas governors are named Mike, but that too might be the work of the cardboard clown. The clown's purpose is to get us all to believe events are cyclical, that what goes around comes around and means something within a geometrically closed system, which is the bunk. The universe is enormous and you get to decide! Just remember to be terribly nice to one another. Happy New Year!