photography

Being Led

hello there friend

I find him asleep on our bed. The sun flooding the window, picking up the range of brown, orange, and golden tones in his soft coat. I stand there a moment just watching him with his leash in my hand.

“Do you want to head to the river?” I ask.  

 For a ten-year-old beagle, who is a smidgen overweight, his response time is stellar.

He dances around me, not leaving my side as I gather our gear: his leash, poo bags, camera, wallet, phone, and the tiny green tin where I keep a few treats. I grab a jacket and we head to the car. He jumps into the Forester eagerly, bouncing from the front to the back several times before settling in beside me up front. The Cedar River is only a five-minute drive away, and he looks straight forward, watching. Although he knows the word river well, he has been fooled before.

He talks to me as we pull into the gravel parking lot, excited, and I have to use a stern voice to leash him up and get him safely out of the car, along with our stuff.

Under the bridge, just ahead, the river flows on both sides of the road, and I have my choice of parking on either side. On the east side of the road, the small dam built for the salmon slows the flow down, coming almost to a halt in places. Occasionally we picnic here in the grass among the tall evergreens and he gets to wade. When my boys were children, we often came here to cool off, sometimes meeting friends for a spur of the moment picnic dinner. It’s calm here, and I like that we can get right down to the river bank. Here I can let him run off leash a bit, and he loves that.  

 But on this glorious late-fall day we choose the other side: the long, gravel path that follows the river for miles.

I have to coax him to get him out of the parking lot as his nose goes into action. He has a routine, smelling the log ahead of the car and the signposts with information about the salmon that call this river home, lost items, and bear sightings. Once inside the gate he picks up his pace a bit. But this is not a walk for exercise per se; it is a walk for noticing.

It is not long before we both want to stop. He catches the scent of something intriguing and I notice the color of the maple leaves, how they sparkle from the glow of the river behind them. I spot a feather and tuck it into my pocket and see that he has found something less precious: deer droppings. He marks them and off we go.

This dance goes on for a little over a mile. We stop, we notice, I take photos, and he sniffs. Soon we come to a little spot where the river curves a bit and we lose sight of it. But I can hear it rolling, its soft voice a constant on these walks. Here under the tall cedar trees, there is a patch of grass and a picnic table. We stop, and I allow him to roam free a bit as I hit the review button on my camera. Bicyclists pass and another couple comes by with a chocolate lab. I grab his leash as they stop, and we all get acquainted. More sniffing, some circling, untangling of leashes, and talk about the glorious weather.

Before long he leads me to a trail off to the left. I can see it heads down toward the river and, like him, I am a bit curious. He is insistent and, because I trust his instincts and know if it were a bear he would be baying, I let him lead and we step off the main path. We find steps that lead down to the river and what looks like an old rock slide. The slope is overgrown and there is no bank or any way to get to the water without being in it. He does not hesitate as he steps right in and grabs a cool drink. I stomp hard on his leash and snap some photos. The light is beautiful, and the leaves reflect their vibrant colors in the water. We both turn and head back up the stairs.  

Instead of heading out to the main path, he heads down a tiny overgrown trail. Blackberries catch at my pants, and I notice that the trees overhead are dripping with moss. I can see light and the promise of fall colors ahead, so I follow. We wind around a bit, maybe a quarter of a mile or so, both of us stopping to look more closely at what draws our attention — a patch of mushrooms for me and some mysterious smells for him. The trail takes a turn towards the river and suddenly we find ourselves in an opening where we discover more of the rock slide. The river curves and we have a beautiful view of both sides.  

I go a bit crazy with my camera, rushing here and there, wishing I had my wide angle lens. I get down on my knees for closeups and a few macro shots. I pose him in all kinds of different ways, wanting so badly to get him and that glorious view behind him in the frame. But no amount of treats persuades him to give me his full attention, and soon I give up and sit down on one of the flat rocks, thinking about the shot I failed to get.  

I find a safe place to set down my camera and look up. And, then I see it. I see the trees behind the river, gigantic cedar trees and pines that go on for miles interspersed with colorful vine maples in every shade of red, orange, and yellow. I see the blue and green of the water as it flows downstream and how it turns white as it hits the boulders in its way. I think back to the time we floated this river with our boys, who were probably too young at the time – both my husband and I a bit scared as we worked hard to miss those boulders, while the boys laughed and loved every minute. I sit back, take a few deep breaths, and relax.  

Soon he snuggles in next to me, nosing my pocket, wondering if the treats are still open for discussion. I slip a few out of the green tin and he eats them out of my hand. We sit there for a minute or two, both of us looking out at the beauty surrounding us – him feeling pretty pleased with himself for finding this place and me so very grateful I followed.  

 

Words and image by Cathy Sly.

The Photos That Cheer Us Up

hello there, friend

On my refrigerator is a photograph I took of my daughter Lily right before she turned two. A few months ago, while my husband Adam was cleaning out the basement, he found it and handed it to me, a big smile on his face.

“Do you remember this?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I said, taking the photo in my hand. “I took this at that restaurant on the Causeway. We were sitting outside, but they made us move in because it was too windy and the umbrellas were almost bending in half.” I looked closer at my daughter’s toothy little smile. “But we left and ended up going somewhere else. I can’t remember where.”

“I don’t remember that,” he said. He stood at the sink washing his hands, and I placed the photo on the fridge under a magnet.

“We were only there for, like, five minutes,” I went on, examining the photo again. “And look at this light. Look at the sun in her curls.” I sighed.

The photograph is a portrait of my daughter. She’s smiling with her big blue eyes and chubby cheeks, perfectly content and used to having the camera in her face often. Behind her, the sun is glowing, the light glinting off the wispy curls of baby hair she’d have snipped away a year or so later.

What I remember about that day is we had driven across the bay to the beach and walked along the sand. We were just looking for something to do, and I had off-handedly suggested a little adventure. I had packed two cameras – one digital and one film – because I could never make up my mind beforehand about which one I’d want.

I’d often take a photo with my digital camera, then try it again on film just to feel the difference. The digital camera was bulky and heavy, but film felt light. The lens I had was manual, so I took care to focus precisely, twisting the ring left and then right. I realized I liked the way it slowed me down, like an old friend tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me to pay attention.

I looked more closely at the photo on the fridge. “It’s like I had it in me all along,” I said.

“What’s that?” Adam asked.

“A knack for this stuff,” I said. “That was such a hard time, but this – this was here all along.”

My urge to take pictures came from a place of observation. I wanted so badly to love my life. I’d keep my camera nearby in the house, I carried it with me when I went out. I was constantly hunting for something beautiful, even in the most ordinary of places. I took photos of whatever interested me – sometimes my little daughter, sometimes something else.

What I knew was that the process of taking a photo made me feel something, and at that time in my life, I needed to feel something good. I didn’t care about perfect light or composition; I cared about moments and what I could see.

One afternoon, while I was still very pregnant with my son, Lily climbed up on the bed with me after her nap, her blond curls longer by then, spilling over her shoulders. I had spent all of nap time lying down, trying to rest but instead sorting through my feelings about bringing another person into our family.

I asked her how she felt about the new baby coming, but she was three years old and ambivalent to anything not directly in front of her. I grabbed the computer from the other room, and flipped it open on the bed. “Let’s look at photos of you when you were a baby,” I said.

A friend of mine had suggested that, on particularly bad days, I look through old photographs to cheer myself up. She insisted it works even if the photos aren’t very good. They bring back all those good feelings, she said, because you rarely take a photo of something you don’t want to remember.

I sat with my daughter, browsing through picture after picture. There were more than I remembered, but each one called me back to the moment I pressed the shutter: the time we went to the park and laid on the blanket I made, my husband holding our baby while he studied for his paramedic exam at the dining room table, going to the pumpkin patch or the beach for the first time. It all came flooding back, crashing over me and washing away the overwhelm.

Everything was going to be okay.

It’s a late afternoon in October, and I take my kids to a park by the lake. The sun will be going down within the hour, the golden hour when the sun is soft and low as it nears the horizon. I have no clue what to expect – we’ve never been to this park before and, though I’ve shot my camera at golden hour hundreds of times before, I want to try something new.

The edge of the park, near the water, is filled with smooth, flat rocks. Both kids stand there, throwing rock after rock, giggling as they kerplop into the water. I snap photo after photo, the light behind them, to the left of the frame. Lily’s hair blows back from her face and lights up, gold in the sun.

“Mom,” she calls, waving me over. “Come here!”

I walk toward her and she puts out her hands. “Look, it’s a heart,” she says, and she shows me a pink and gray rock with a dimple at the top. “Take a picture,” she insists.

I take more photos. I put my kids in the pretty light and sit back and watch. For a moment, I think of that photo on the fridge. I can still see that little girl in the big girl my daughter is becoming – the blue eyes the same, the golden hair, the smile. She is taller now, and slender, but that little girl is still inside her, standing in the same light. And I’m still here with my camera, taking photos that will someday cheer us up.

 

Words and photograph by Lindsay Crandall.