what do we do?

Seriously.

What do we do? What do we write, or say, or create? Are we allowed to be happy amidst the misery and uncertainty of a global pandemic? Can we make plans for the future?

I haven’t written since early February and while I was already feeling plenty of uncertainty then, now everyone, everywhere, is feeling a level of uncertainty. Unprecedented. My husband chides me for using this word. “If I have to hear ‘unprecedented’ or ‘the new normal’ again…” (he finishes this statement with various and sometimes dramatic endings). We are all tired of the commercials, the corporate messages, the politics, and yet they continue.

And we are the lucky ones, with a house and food and jobs to busy ourselves, for now, anyway. When my mind wanders to those without these things, I don’t know what to do with the ache.

There is a pause happening in the world–a musical conductor with her baton poised, ready to begin the piece of music that just isn’t written yet, with instruments and musicians not yet materialized.

I shot a few rolls of film in February and early March, and then as this pandemic grew I froze. I put the cameras away, stopped writing. And that didn’t feel right, or make any sense, and I still have a shoebox (well, a hiking boot box) full of film, so the cameras have come out again. And the watercolors. And the pens and notebook. And I’m venturing into creative outlets again, and even if sometimes for a moment I feel selfish about that, it feels right and it makes sense out of the things that don’t make sense, and for that I’m grateful.

For those of us that have a strong need to feel control over things, we will have to learn to give up some of that in this new world. We still have to be strong for others, and we have to plan for futures that may or may not materialize, and we have to be okay with not knowing.

Right now, little white flowers called sand cress are blooming all over the open dunes. Fresh green shoots of dune grass are popping up amid the pale yellow grasses from last summer. The fern shoots are shoving their way into the sunlight and I will be here to hike on the ridge and watch them unfurl in the coming days. The trillium, I hope, will not have suffered from the recent polar vortex and will carpet the forest floor soon. Pandemic or not, overfull Great Lakes or not, these things continue. There is reassurance in this.

In February, when we were not worried about a virus but were very much worried about Lake Michigan’s rising waters, our diminishing protective bluff, and the impending decisions to be made about saving the cottage, I shot a few rolls of black and white film in the Minolta SRT-102, experimenting with some old Cokin filters. I shot the lighthouse with this ridiculous filter that has pink and yellow and red dots all over it and an eye shape in the center, with a clear “iris.” I tried to find samples on flickr and elsewhere but I don’t think anyone has found a good use for this filter, at least not with color film, so I tried it with black and white film and, well, I kind of love what it did to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse, black and white film, and Cokin spot filter

I still have decisions to make about the cottage–big ones. The Great Lakes are still rising, and the future is pretty damn uncertain. But, I’m going to keep searching for ways to move through this.

redwoods and northern California

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I went to San Jose for work in November and then drove north from there with my friend (and coworker) Rachel where we got spoiled rotten by her super interesting aunt and uncle and we did some redwood therapy in Hendy Woods State Park in Mendocino County. I shot this roll of black and white film and then it sat kind of hidden behind a few things on my office desk and I although I didn’t totally forget about it, by the time I sent it to The Darkroom with two other rolls of film a week or so ago, I’d actually completely forgotten what was on it. And because I don’t have the actual film back from the lab yet (I have the scans) and I’m completely useless with note-taking on my photography, I honestly cannot remember what film this is. Maybe I’ll update this post next week when the film comes through the mail, but knowing me, I’m not going to remember.

All I know is these shots are super contrasty and I’m really digging them. Mostly I remember the smell of the forest as we were walking through, but because those redwoods are so massive, I think even on a very sunny day it’s just always dark in a redwood-heavy forest. I loved the occasional spotlights of sun that burst through, though, and I was trying to capture that where I could.

I have everything I need to develop my own film except the chemicals. I’m procrastinating because although I do have a scanner, it’s a royal pain in the ass to use and I haven’t gotten one decent scan out of it yet. I’m not blaming the scanner–it’s probably my fault but I’m running out of patience trying to figure the damn thing out. But I do think I’m closer to pulling the plug on buying chemicals, and I either need to have a local lab scan my film or I need someone to show me how to use my scanner. With a tighter budget coming up, I should save money where I can and develop my own film. Right?

Anyway, here are some shots from Hendy Woods, all light and dark and contrasty-yummy, from a gorgeous day last November.

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You can see a few more from the roll here.

frozen

I’m a little frozen, and not in the “it’s winter in Michigan sense” but in the sense of being overwhelmed with all that is life. This isn’t uncommon for me–I’m fairly easily overwhelmed outside of my professional life.

I’m not sure why, but work is the easy part. And, my work is busy–sometimes crazy busy–but it comes innately to me. Life is a different story. When I have too many balls in the air, so to speak, I have a hard time managing. I’ve had too many balls in the air for a few months now. Emotional balls, big life decision balls, money balls. I am realizing that I’m most content when things are humming comfortably along, with no crises to manage or fires to extinguish. I like comfort, probably too much. Being so drawn to it has made me near incapable of managing the zingers anymore.

Life lessons don’t fit into that comfort-seeking behavior, however, and here I am staring down the barrel of taking on the financial obligation of the cottage that I love so much. That part I’ve been ready for, the ownership and what comes with that. The part I was not prepared for, but that I feared was coming and is in fact here, is the expense of saving the house from becoming a victim to the rising lake.

I spent the summer stewing about this, worried and waiting for neighbors to catch up with me on the worry front. The very bottom section of our beach stairs, a temporary and cheap homemade build as the low bluff began to disappear and the first cliff appeared, needed to be pulled up as there was no safe place for it. The low stairs we built in the 1980s (after the record-high water level began to subside) appeared from beneath the sand and I hoped we could use those all winter. But the next storm in October swept those away. The next section of stairs disappeared in the wild waves later that month; a mid-section in November, and by late December the upper stairs were loose and then gone in January.

The platform that was the top of our beach stairs remains now, with nothing beneath it, in a lopsided half-hold, its last gasp.

I know about coming and going. I know about the Great Lakes and their interconnected nature, the ebb and the flow. I know about the Army Corps of Engineers and their monthly reports on the water levels. I know about the news stories and the houses that have fallen in, or are torn down just before they are about to plummet. The desperation of homeowners trying to subdue something that cannot be subdued.

The predictions for the lake levels are dire for 2020. Many cottages along the shoreline are in trouble. Did we court this by building so close to the water? Maybe. We tempted the lake, and in repayment for our enjoyment of her shoreline, she is knocking on our doors. Some are building seawalls, walls of cement, layers of giant boulders. I would rather get out of her way, and that’s where my decision leans. With such an unstable bluff, however, and not much room to spare, my hope is that we can hold on until spring, when a move can happen.

2017
last week

Even with the upheaval and the concerns about finances to pay for this move, a friend asked me to go with her to Sedona in the spring to hike and commune with nature, and I said yes to red rocks and desert air and sights I’ve never seen. This is something to look forward to. And my cameras have been a little lonely, so I’m excited to choose one or two to take with me.

I’m sending two rolls of film off to the lab on Monday and I can’t even remember what might be on one of them. The other I shot of beautiful ice formations on the beach last weekend. There is beauty even in the devastation, at least.

I don’t know where I am when I wake up sometimes

I’ve meant to get back to those last rolls I shot on the west side and I’ve just been so busy. Busy at work, busy being busy, busy avoiding things, busy with things I don’t feel like doing but must do. You know. Or maybe you don’t (lucky you).

I’ve been missing my dog. I know it takes time, but I miss having her near me. I miss hearing her breathe. There is a lot I don’t miss about how her last several years were, but I feel a bit lost without her. There are moments of tears that surprise even me.

Last week was a whirlwind of work meetings in California, then a long weekend on a mountaintop near Ukiah, spent with an old friend plus strangers who now feel like family. I felt mothered for a weekend, and I haven’t felt mothered in a long time. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed this, either. Maybe it’s not true for everyone, but to be cared for is such a treat. I want to have this and to provide this. If you come to stay at my house, I want to make you feel this way. It was nourishing, and I am grateful.

I still feel like I’m recovering from the trip. I left a sunny, hot mountaintop to come back to an early winter and six inches of snow. This week in Michigan was gray, dull, cold, a sharp contrast to the sun and brilliant colors of the changing leaves on fields of grapevines blanketing the valleys and hillsides of California. It’s been a rough re-entry. After travel and several beds, and the summer at the cottage and the fall back-and-forth from home and the cottage, I often have to get my bearings when I wake up each morning. I’m not quite sure where I am for a minute or two. And I’m enjoying that, really. There’s a moment of dream state and a realm of possibilities before I know where I am settled.

But I meant to get back to those rolls of film I shot in September, and so here are some photos I took on the I guess not-so-newly released Kodak Ektachrome. Gosh, it’s pretty, the cool, saturated colors of this slide film. I walked through the woods with it loaded in my favorite camera, the Minolta SRT-102, and took my time with it, waiting for colorful sunsets and clouds over the lake.

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You can see a few more from the roll here, if you like.

rising waters

Both literally and figuratively. I’m paddling hard here.

Lake Michigan is high. I mean, all the Great Lakes are high. Polar ice caps are melting, oceans are rising, we’re toasting up this blue ball we live on here and the news isn’t good. But I’m not tackling all that. I’m just one person in one little cottage atop a bluff on Lake Michigan, and that lake is getting closer.

That’s the literal bit.

The figurative bit is that it’s been a rough summer. It was different, sharing close quarters with my dad. I think we did ok but there were bumps for sure. And, I lost my sweet old dog in early September. It was for the best, but I’m still bruised and missing her. Things are going on with my kids and my husband, too, but those aren’t my stories to tell. It’s interesting, parenting grown people. The things I worried about when they were little make me laugh a bit now. If I’d known the challenges of parenting adults I might have softened up a bit back then.

Hindsight is 20/20 though, right? Or so they say.

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Anyway, I sent seven rolls of a variety of films off to the lab a bit more than a week ago. Here are images from one of those rolls, Ilford FP4+ shot on my Mamiya C220.

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Silver Lake State Park is just a few miles from me. Most people think of the park as a place to go dune buggy riding, and that’s probably what it’s most known for. But I like it for the landscape. And I like it best off season when I can hike all of it, not just the areas relegated for foot traffic. Plus, I feel like I’m the only one out there off-season–just me and 3,000 acres of dunes and woods. The dune buggy season ends at the end of this month, so I’m really looking forward to visiting again soon.

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I love shooting here. I can shoot the same piece of driftwood a hundred times or year after year–I swear it’s different every time. The sands shift, the wind covers one piece and unearths another. These skeletons of old trees are gorgeous sculptural elements on this vast, shifting landscape. I can never get enough and so I will keep going back.

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high summer blooms

goatsbeard
goatsbeard

The month sort of slipped by me. Late July blooms on five rolls of film here, and an August that seems to be moving the way August’s do, hot and too fast and suddenly you’re looking down the barrel of September and wondering where the time went.

I had plans and ideas and projects. Most of which I only half carried out. I love September and October, don’t get me wrong. And it’s not like I’m starting school (oops, wait, I am starting one class but I’m not in school) or have kids in school anymore–nothing really changes in that respect. But yesterday I went back to the garden that I love, the garden I shot some of these blooms in (the black and white images), and it’s in its last hurrah. That’s the part I’m having trouble with. So many beautiful blooms in so many shapes and colors, and they’re nearly done. I know, there are fall colors to look forward to until next summer. But, I could stand a few more months of blooming things.

queen anne's lace in sunset
Queen Anne’s lace, sunset

I’ve fallen into a bit of malaise, too. More of a longing, or a need for a change. A road trip or a weekend away, a surprise, just something outside of my norm. I know it’ll pass, but it’s where I am.

Anyway. I have a shoebox full of film that I decided I should make a dent in this summer, so from that shoebox I shot three black and white rolls (one TMax 100, one TMax 400, both 35mm, and a 120mm Fomapan. I also shot a roll of 2018 formula 35mm Lomography Lomochrome Purple and a 2006-expired roll of Kodak Ektachrome. I used my Minolta X700 and Minolta SRT-102, and the 120 film went through the Mamiya C220. I used a cheap long lens on the Minoltas and some cheap macro filters to get really close on some of these, and I love how ethereal and dreamy they came out.

milkweed flower
milkweed flower
roadside wild berries
wild roadside berries
wild roses, spider
spider on a wild rose
black eyed susans
black-eyed Susan’s

Really, if I’m being honest, I’m tired this summer. I feel the weight of some heavy responsibilities and even though my dog is still with me (snoring, heavily, on the couch as I write this) I am already mourning her. Her personality is gone; she flinches at shadows and at my hand as I reach to pet her. She nips me when I help her onto the couch, up the steps to the deck, or up from the floor if she gets stuck. There’s an evening routine of panting and pacing, around and around the dining room table, only stopping to stare at me until she decides to go around again. Today I think the last of her hearing went. Still, she eats, goes out (mostly) to go to the bathroom, still likes treats from the neighbors, still gets around (not very far). So it’s still not time yet. I feel like we’re in a holding pattern. I’m not great at the unknowns, but I’m working on working my way through this.

indian blanket
Indian blanket in my neighbor’s driveway
fleabane
fleabane
sweetpea
sweetpea
lily
a neighbor’s lily
goatsbeard
more goatsbeard

I don’t think about black and white film when color is raging all around, but geez, I’m not embarrassed to admit I’ve had it all wrong! I was really excited to get the three black and white film rolls developed, and they didn’t disappoint. They didn’t disappoint me, that is. I can’t speak for anyone else here.

echinacea/purple coneflower
echinacea
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(not sure what this is, but an herb of some sort)
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borage
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(not sure on this one, either)
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more echinacea, I think
jasmine nicotine
jasmine nicotine
caterpillar on milkweed
caterpillar munching on milkweed leaves
tiger lily
tiger lily
lily
day lily
phlox
phlox
queen anne's lace
queen anne’s lace (bud)
queen anne's lace
queen anne’s lace (bloom)
bladder campion
bladder campion
echinacea/purple coneflower
echinacea
anise flower
anise flower
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(not sure, but an herb of some sort)
anise flower
anise, or possibly dill…

You can see a few more from these rolls here. And, I’ve managed to further dent my film shoebox and have three rolls of film ready to develop so far this month. Not a serious dent, but I’ve still got some summer left, I suppose.

Friday night, and it’s August

moonflower, Kodak T-Max, Minolta X700

I am not quite sure what it says about me that I’d rather lay in bed tonight with the windows and doors open and listen to my dog snore loudly and the intermittent call of an owl in the woods behind the cottage and the constant chirping crickets, than go over to the neighbor’s bonfire. I love my neighbors. I can be social and I love being social. But it’s Friday night, it’s the beginning of August, I don’t know how much longer this dog will be around and oh, the owl and the crickets sounds are intoxicating.

Today I got the scans from five rolls of film; three black and white, one Lomography Lomochrome Purple, and one Kodak Ektachrome that expired in 2006. I don’t think I’ve been so happy with images since the photos I took in Iceland. Primarily July blooms, some macro, with a cheap macro lens I bought decades ago as well as even cheaper macro filters. I make no apology for my use of cheap tools–I love the outcome.

I’ll upload them all to flickr over the next few days and write more, but here’s a moonflower for now.

late July and I’m thinking too much, maybe

private property
PRIVATE PROPERTY

I’m pretty sure my husband does not read this blog, because a) I don’t know him to be the blog-reading type and b) I don’t write about bikes or cycling, which is pretty much the thing that he loves best (and I have no issues with this–we each have our “things”). And I don’t talk about him here because he’s a private guy and he’d think it’s cheesy and all that. Maybe I’ve written about him once or twice in the context of us being married for a really long time and that we might know a little something about being married a long time. Or maybe that he’s good at a lot of things. And smart. But that might be it.

But things are changing in our lives, and some of those changes have been challenging but some have also been pretty enlightening and overall good in the scheme of life-things. We just spent a week together, which might sound weird because we are married, but we’ve been mostly living apart since late May, so the week together, alone, was a little different but so very regenerating. Marriages are hard, maybe particularly so with independent types (and maybe by independent I actually mean stubborn, but we’ll leave it at independent for now). When he left today it hit me that I don’t show him or tell him that I appreciate him enough. I’m going to work on that. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been a rock, particularly in the last year and a half. I’m not sure I deserve any of it.

foggy road
foggy road

I mentioned it a few posts back but in late June I shot a roll of Portra 400 on a foggy morning, driving alone through the back roads around the cottage. The land looked really mystical and I hoped the shots would be even more foggy looking, but overall I really liked most of them.

dew, asparagus plant
dewy asparagus plant at edge of foggy orchard

Also, a few days ago I enrolled in a creative writing class for this fall. My minor in college was fiction writing and I’ve dabbled before and since, have always written poetry and essays and bits of this and that. It’ll be interesting to do it again in a class and get feedback and critique again. I miss that exchange. I’m excited and ready for it.

lines and fog
power lines, vines, fog

Tonight I shot two rolls of black and white film in the garden at Cherry Point Market, which smelled amazing and was teeming with buzzing bees and zipping hummingbirds. Black and white partly on a whim, but also because I’m committed to putting a dent in the shoebox full of film I have going on (don’t make me count. It’s a lot.) So tonight I shot a roll of TMax 100 and used a macro lens on my Minolta X-700 with a cheapy close-up filter on top of that for most shots. I also shot a roll of Fomapan 100, a film I haven’t tried yet, on the Mamiya C220, mostly getting really close to herbs and flowers and hoping upon hope I framed things the way I wanted but who knows? Close ups with that camera remain mind-boggling, but I keep trying.

barn in fog
red barn and fog
grounded steeple in fog
steeple, fog

Anyway, I kind of can’t believe it’s already late July. Storms came through the last few days and Lake Michigan just mowed down more of the bluff in front of our cottage. We (and by “we” I mean mostly the rock I mentioned earlier in this post) had to right and reset the beach stairs. The former post that marked the high water of the 1980s washed away, so we don’t have much bluff to work with here. The chicory and the queen anne’s lace are beginning their roadside takeover. The wild rose bush is at its peak. It’s high summer.

(You can see a few more shots from this roll here.)

jetties

Lake Michigan, Mamiya C220, Lomography Lomochrome Purple

The “poor man’s jetties” we called them, driven into the sandy shore,
pipes and discarded tires as wayward sentinel stood
in theory to protect and build the shoreline.

They did their job,
buried for decades and only half forgotten, a hazy dream.

But none of us, not rich nor poor own the lake, the dune, the shore
and the jetties unearth, gloating like an age-old secret,
a reminder that nature, always always, is in charge.

The seaglass tide reveals our folly
and everything else we buried, sun-bleached, water-washed, anew.

I wade into the lake, dizzy in the musty water on a steamy summer Wednesday, contemplating my own jetties, attempts to shore up my barriers against what might be revealed when nature advances.

gently, gently

I’m trying so hard to be gentle on myself and those around me. Really, I am. Watching my dog decline by the day is hard; so is trying to work in a place where everyone else is vacationing. I’m counting all my blessings, but I’m also allowing myself the feelings because how can I not? I have more responsibilities right now–to my dad, to my dog, to the people I love. I’m getting snippets of time for me, and I’m going to have to make the most of them right now. It all changes. This will change.

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new growth

I have shot a few rolls of film but am waiting until I have a few more before I send them to be developed. In the meantime, I’m writing when something pops into my head. Sometimes it’s just a phrase and sometimes it develops into something else. I’m painting with watercolors, abstracts and I’m drawing over top of them sometimes and learning how things work and making all the mistakes and loving it. There is a soul-stirring that happens when I look through a lens or dip a brush into water and then a color and touch it to paper. It’s healing and recharging and soothing and magic all at once. It’s therapeutic in such a profound way.

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new pine cones

My daughter spent a week and a half here at the cottage; her boyfriend came for half of that; my son and his girlfriend were here a few days; my husband was here; my dad was present when he wanted to be part of the fray and then did his own thing when he didn’t. We ate and drank and talked over each other and I reveled in all of it, except the decision-making parts (like meals) and soaked up the love. They’ve all gone and the quiet, well, I love quiet. But the transition is tough, and I miss my kids and husband.

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fern leaf from above
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fern leaf from side

It really only started to feel like summer a week ago. Lake Michigan warmed up enough to let people in (or, to let me in specifically; I’ve become a cold water wimp). The fourth happened, and I get more and more crusty on the whole fireworks thing. My dog is already distressed enough these days and watching her panic with the explosive onslaught of fireworks all up and down the beach was brutal. Things are blooming, I mean really blooming–pink, purple, yellow, white, clovers and fleabane and sweetpea and daisies and the tiger lilies, which I think might be a little late here this year. The cherries are getting ripe and I think blueberries will be soon, too.

Mid-June, with the two rolls of film from the last two posts, I also had developed a roll of Portra 400 ISO that I shot in my Minolta SRT-102, of plant life just in the driveway of the cottage. Ferns and evergreens mostly, but also this swirly cloud formation that I couldn’t get enough of. New growth, fresh greens.

The valley just behind our cottage and all our neighbor’s cottages is filled with evergreens. We planted some of these decades ago, just after our cottage was built. I believe the DNR either sold (cheaply) or gave out 100 tiny trees to whoever wanted them, I think in the mid-1970s. My brother and I and neighbors took these plants, dug little holes into the welcoming sand, and popped them in. They’re two or more stories tall now.

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fresh pine growth
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swirly clouds framing old tree

Anyway. It’s late as I write this. The dog has finally settled after doing her nightly pacing and panting. I’m writing this, and will set up the coffee for the morning and step out onto the deck to say goodnight to the half-moon, leave windows and doors open because it’s a warm night, and climb into bed.