Imagine I just got an envelope of photographs from the drugstore that sent away the film to get negatives and prints - negatives, lost forever, sad that - and I'm showing you some of them. I'm not really sure what's here, I haven't seen them yet. One at a time I show you some of them. Talking as we go, a picture held in the space and time between us, my hand and yours on it together.
I wish there was more of that these days. Something about holding the prints, sniffing a vague hint of the chemicals. The colors so bold, the lines of black and white and gray so crisp. The corners of the photo-paper are sharp and aggressive. Each print has a bend to it, either arching up to you, or recoiling from you, lens-like. The finish makes you want to stroke it, especially images of loved-ones or familiar scenes of youth.
There is a power that is in a photograph. You can sense the urgency or spontaneity or necessity or tenderness the image maker felt. You connect to them, you engage them, interact with them, cherish them. Sometimes the are laid out in front of you on the coffee or kitchen table, a story board jumping through time
That doesn't really happen much anymore. I'm just as guilty of the next guy. I see almost exclusively digital imagery. But, I'd like you to imagine the image in your hand, imagine I handed it to you, imagine our fingers touched and you smiled up at me and said thank you.
There is a trail not far from us where we've been walking around since the boys were three I'd say. It is a loop through trees and hills. A couple of bridges cross over a creek that meanders through. There are a lot of brambles and downed wood and muddy creek banks. Mostly oaks and a few cedars and elms, the undergrowth is thick and mean in the summer, but in winter it has fallen away.
We've been there dozens of times or more, in every season and all conditions. We've seen it blanketed by eight inches of snow, we've smelled it in a spring rain and heard a cold autumn wind whistle high in the naked trees. We've picked uncounted bouquets of wildflowers, collected pockets of acorns, spotted possums and, allegedly, a fox. Deer have run in front of us, leaping impossibly over the path, as startled to see us as we them.
For the past several years now they've been allowed - encouraged - to roam freely through the roughly two and half acre woods. (In fact, that's what I'm gonna call it, The Two and A Half Acre Woods, Pooh-like.) I went with them early on, teaching them the wily ways of the brambles and Poison from other ivies. But now they just take off into the woods to make their own adventure...
Oh, I'm sorry, look at me holding these pictures and not showing you a single one.
This is just along the path on the right, or left, depending on which path you traveled off the parking lot. It has been a source of endless fascination to the boys. Agreeably it is an odd sight and I am not sure of the circumstances which brought a substantial pile of blocks a quarter mile into the woods. The boys think was a fort, or a "prairie house," or "home for hurt animals during the war" (I'm still wondering about that one, which war, was it just to recover or was it a residential place, did animals die there, was there a separate carnivore wing? - all this we've discussed). My guess is an out-building.. Oh, Jeez, sorry:
That's how it looks from the path. It looks as though you could walk right in there but the leaves are just covering up more blocks, unstable, crumbling blocks. Don't try to walk in there...
When you get up closer, you can see how it looks like it was a building that fell, with perhaps a garage door on the wall facing us.
What's that? No, no, don't worry about keeping them in order...
Here is what's interesting, at least to the boys, and me, well, us, I guess. Initially, there wasn't any moss on them, it's come with time. The age-old story of decay and our inability to do a thing to forestall it. I'd say in another twenty years there won't be much but a pile of mossy sand and blackberry bushes. And an oak tree or two, we always throw the acorns we've collected into the blocks and like to imagine a sapling struggling its way up through the blocks, you know, right up through the center.
If you'll look closing in the first one I handed you - I think it's in back there, isn't it? Well, just around that bend is a creek that winds through The Two and A Half Acre Woods. It's a fairly healthy creek I'd say, no crawdads, but plenty of tadpoles and minnows.
One of the first times we walked through the woods we found an old park-style picnic table half buried in the shifting bed of the lazy creek. We sort of tried to get it out, but it was stuck pretty good.
In fact, here in this one, you can a see a part of the table, I think:
But that isn't why I took the picture. No, it's that damn tire right there.
It was, is still, may be always, buried in the frozen mud on the banks of The Creek That Runs Through The Two and A Half Acre Woods.
Nick and Zack and a good buddy of theirs spent upwards of two hours trying to get that tire out of that mud. Now, this cannot be understated, they did everything possible to get that tire out of there. Does it look to you like that's gonna come out of that sand and muck there anytime soon?
They tried everything they could think of. They dug with flimsily gloved hands in the cold mud at first just figuring they'd dig it out. When that didn't work, they decided to dig along one edge so they could get under it and lift it. When that didn't work, they decided they needed a fulcrum and a long pole. Here you can see it better in this one:
No, you can see it better in that first one, the one you just had. It should be in back or is it just under this one. The one where the four-by-four is in the top of the frame. See how the managed a little hole there and stick is in it and a log is under it, yeah, a fulcrum. They placed that log just so and found a good long stick. For a while Zack even filled a water bottle over and over again pouring it in around the hole they were making to soften the dirt.
A few times they came to us, asking that we come down and help. Inherently we both knew this was not our tire, not our fight, not our quest. We'd had ours, we were still having ours - but this was theirs.
Oh, here, sorry, take the lot of them... just lay them out on the table if you need to.
I listened to the remnants of their conversation as the buddy's dad and I sat on a bench absentmindedly talking about this or that but really thinking of our own boyhoods. You couldn't hear the words exactly but the tone was clear. Earnest. It's a funny word. There is no better one. You could hearts bits of commands and ideas and light-hearted banter. Two wandered off to pee and keep talking the whole time. They were comrades-in-arms up against it bad. They were the bonding brothers of history, the alliance of the yet-to-come, they were the essence of the moment.
They were boys.
They were boys doing the essentially stupid things boys need to do. The blind hope and passion of boyhood is blinding sometimes.
What's that? Whaddabout which one? What, a toaster? Hand it to me...
Oh, yeah... believe it our not, the picture of the toaster started all this, I'm glad you asked.
Initially, I had a very bad idea for a post which compared cleaning my very used and dirty but reliable toaster-oven to the recent journey I took back into the archives here. Ostensibly, I went back to "tag" my many posts here so things would be easier to find and there was some sort of a way to navigate around here. I ended up reading the majority of the posts here and it was helpful. I saw my journey. I saw where I'd faltered or succeeded. I was going to, hell, I don't even remember... I never cleaned the toaster, and it was a bad idea. I took several pictures of the toaster, do you want to see them?
No. I don't blame you.
When I took the pictures I got to thinking about some of the snapshots from my youth. Pictures of any youth, really. I got to thinking about the backgrounds in some pictures, thinking when I see an an old photo from a holiday or party how often I look behind the subject matter. I see an old cutting board or a can-opener, a lawn mower or tree lost in a tornado just a few months before the picture of a new car was taken. I see the old green couch behind the shiny Christmas presents, a painting above the fire, the old pop-up camper behind the smiling, tanned faces. It's almost like you are peering around the people in the way of the good stuff just behind.
It's those little bits back there that add the verisimilitude to our memories.
I think a lot about all this being really just a scrapbook for the boys. Ultimately I think it is, was, will be. I thought, well, I might as well stick a picture in here of the toaster. The toaster that's toasted thousands of bagels and muffins and, well, toasts, and tater tots and pop-tarts and pizzas. In a few decades they may see that toaster and remember the breakfasts, snacks, dinners, the past. They may see beside it the cookie jar they made when they were two, they may remember that the fruit bowl was always full - hell, they may remember that the toaster was always old and worn out - I'll probably still have it. I don't know.
But because I got to pondering a toaster I got to thinking about a tire, and moss-covered blocks, and a trail through yellow woods and I had to go there and take these pictures.
Oh, thanks for straightening them all up. It's fine if they're all jumbled up, life's like that...
From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
"Can I get paid for eating donuts?"
I've always wondered that...
I wish you could hold these pictures, I wish you were right here with me. Thanks for indulging me, I appreciate it.