A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

They say “a picture is worth a thousand words”. What words come to mind when you view this photograph? Maybe . . . sweet, cuddly, fluffy, attentive and well-behaved . . . cute, obedient, well-trained?

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I thought it would be “nice” (another one of those words) to take a picture of our schnauzer girls in front of the tree. It’s been raining and the snow is melting into a mud bog in their yard. They would have to be bathed. I captured Toto after a short pursuit, carried her into the bathroom and set her in the tub. As I was adjusting the water temperature out she jumped and, of course, shook muddy water all over the tub, the vanity, the previously clean towels . . . and me. She was unable to out maneuver me in the small confines of the bathroom and I returned her to tub. I stoked my motivation with a pep-talk, reminding myself how much better this was than the recent skunk episode. Now it was time to lather . . . rinse . . . and repeat. She was really slippery after the lathering and escaped before the rinse. After a sudsy shake I manged to get her back in the tub for the rinse, and said to hell with the repeat. I wrapped her in a wet towel and tried to begin the drying process. She thought this was a wonderful wrestling game wiggling, jumping and barking the whole time. Finally, it was time to open the door and let her out. Without hesitation, she dashed from one end of the house to the other rubbing up against any and every soft surface she could find . . . such fun!!!

I allowed myself only a brief moment of self-congratulations. I was only halfway home. Izzy (the smart one) had quickly sized up the situation and established a defensive position behind Lynne’s recliner in the livingroom. I went left . . . she went right. I stopped . . . she stopped. Then, in a flash of brilliance, I remembered the “chase instinct”. I did a 180 and ran toward the kitchen. Sure enough, Izzy was right on my heels. I did a quick pivot and drop, and she skidded on the kitchen floor right into my arms. I scooped her up and carried her, snarling in protest, to the tub. She seemed more resigned to her fate than Toto, and allowed the lather, rinse repeat without incident. The toweling dry was another writhing wrestling contest . . . the drier she got . . . the wetter I got. She escaped and did her own rub-a-dub-dub all over the house with Toto joining the fun. Terrier owners are familiar with the term “FRAP” . . . Frantic Random Activity Period. We now had two schnauzers frapping from one end of the house to the other. Thank goodness my job was done . . . oh wait . . . this was all part of a plan to take a Christmas photo.

I called for back-up, and Lynne joined me as my assistant for the shoot. First we had to lure them to the tree in the living room, but after the bath experience they weren’t having any part of it. I had a flashback to puppy kindergarten and canine good citizen classes (which are all about training humans). We needed a bait pouch. I loaded my pockets with treats and set up the camera.  Lynne was doing a great sheltie routine herding them down the hall into the photo studio living room. “SIT” I barked in my best command voice. They immediately stopped and looked at me. Lynne responded to my command and collapsed in the recliner.

The girls knew that a firm command was often followed by a tasty reward . . . so after some hesitation they reluctantly sat on their haunches to see what would happen. I rewarded them with glowing praise . . . and a tasty treat. They allowed me to position them in front of the tree, and I again ordered them to sit. Again I rewarded them and moved to the camera . . . and they followed me.  Reposition . . .”SIT” . . . reward . . . camera . . . follow . . .  Reposition . . .”SIT” . . . reward . . . camera . . . follow . . . This was not working. I decided to set up the camera and give Lynne a quick tutorial. I set shutter speed, aperture, automatic exposure bracketing and handed her the camera. “Don’t worry if you get me in the shot”, I said, “I’ll crop it out after.”

I had envisioned them looking directly into the camera lens, but 42 shots later this was the best of the batch. When I suggested we reshoot, Lynne gave me a look that was worth a thousand words (none of them terms of endearment). “Okay”, I said, “We’ll go with this one.”

“And now you know”, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”

Merry Christmas Everybody.

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The Beaches of Congamond

July 31st . . . “High Summer” on the Congamond Lakes in Southwick as I recall. Today I decided to take my camera and revisit the beaches of my youth. I was born in Westfield but moved to Southwick with my family in 1950. The house on Granville Road wasn’t finished so my folks rented a cottage on Bungalow Street for the summer. We would walk to the beach on the point off Point Grove Road (by The Anchor). Mom would watch as we cooled off in the shallows. The State Boat Ramp now occupies the point with a nice gazebo and fishing pier . . . but no beach.

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After we moved into the new house Dad would drive the family to King’s Beach on North Pond. It was a wonderful place for a family with young children on a hot summer day. Today it’s a little bit of a hike through a wildlife management area to get there. The remnants of the blacktop access road can still be seen . . . but no beach.

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As we grew, Mom and Dad decided it was time for swimming lessons. Now we headed to Gino’s Beach behind the Brass Rail (The Cove). We took swimming lessons from Huck Lamb at Gino’s. I also remember going to clambakes with my parents at the pavilion there. Today the pavilion still stands boarded up . . . but no beach.

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Babb’s Beach was the happening place when we were teenagers. I remember the green clapboard concession stand and bright lights of the arcade, the steps down to the beach where there was a huge black rubber float and a slide. It was pretty quiet today. The restoration of the skating rink/dance hall is showing signs of progress . . . but no beach.

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The lights and arcade music were dancing around in my head as I pulled out and headed south. Smith’s Beach on South Pond . . . surely there would be some action there! We were older when the family started going to Smith’s. We could swim out to “the raft” that had a raised platform for diving and jumping. Upon entering we would get a little piece of colored cloth tied around our wrist to show we had paid our 50 cents admission. Today, Smith’s Beach is the Southwick Town Beach. The white concrete wall is still there . . . and . . . a beach . . . but it was closed. Bacteria levels were too high.

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July 31st . . . “High Summer” on the Congamond Lakes.

Fathers’ Day 2013

The third Sunday in June . . . it’s not men’s day, masculinity day, or “man up” day.

It’s Fathers’ Day. All it takes to be a man is a Y chromosome. It takes a lot more to be a Father. It takes more than just having children. There’s no shortage of men who are little more than sperm donors. That’s not being a Father. Fathers’ Day is the day we set aside to honor those men who “Dad Up”.

“Dad Up” . . . I like that better than man up, an all too familiar phrase in today’s world. What does it mean to Dad Up?  Some might say it requires sacrifice . . . I think a better term would be investment. A Father invests in his children . . . he invests his time . . . he invests his experience . . . he invests his financial resources . . . he invests his Self. It’s not really a sacrifice because the payoff far exceeds the investment. The greatest joy in a Father’s Life is seeing his children develop into caring, competent, loving Human Beings. There’s nothing better.

So a big “Thank You” goes out to all my fellow men, past and present, who have displayed the courage and commitment to “Dad Up”.

This day is for all of you.

SrJr

1946

Hometown

“I think sometimes when you move away from your hometown, you kind of begin to romanticize it.” This status update from a cross-generational Facebook friend got me thinking (Uh-Oh). What is it that draws us back?

Hometown: the city or town where one grew up, or the place of one’s principal residence. It is not to be confused with birthplace, although the two can be the same place. (Wikipedia)

I was born in Westfield, but moved to Southwick with my family when I was 4 years old.

Southwick is where I grew up. Southwick is my hometown. Granville road . . . fifth house on the left. I walked to Consolidated School. I could also walk to the library, Balch’s and Jones’ grocery stores . . . and Joe’s.

Joe Eisenstein was the pharmacist who owned Southwick Pharmacy. We only knew it as Joe’s. The old building had a soda fountain and booths in the back where we would read comic books. Joe was always behind the pharmacy counter, and Ethel Stanton would make us cherry cokes at the fountain. Holcomb’s Florist was next door. We would buy the occasional carnation for Mom and, later on, corsages for semi-formals and proms. Pearl Holcomb was also the babysitter who taught us how to play cards.

The schoolyard at Consolidated was where we hung out . . . the slide, the monkey bars, the baseball field and basketball court, and that long hitching post from Southwick Fair days. There were no organized youth sports in those days (1950’s). We chose teams, settled disputes, and developed a system of fairness all without adult intervention. Sometimes on Saturdays Bill Lent, the custodian at Consolidated, would let us use the indoor bandbox basketball court if we helped pick up after CCD classes.

In the winter time we would ice skate on the little pond behind the library. We just called it Mr. King’s pond. If it snowed, kids would bring shovels to keep it clear. There was a little garden shed where we could leave our shoes after putting on our skates. Griffin’s hill was across the street for sledding. One day, after a storm, school was cancelled. Johnny Deveno and his Mom showed up in a two horse sleigh. We rode all over  the streets of Southwick, our hometown.

The old Joe’s Drug Store was torn down to build a more “modern” pharmacy. It is now a liquor store. Holcomb’s Florist is a bank today. Balch’s and Jones’ are gone. Consolidated School is the town hall. The basketball court is still there, but the baseball diamond, the slide and monkey bars are all parking lots.  The old hitching rail, like the Southwick Fair, is long gone. The old library stands vacant, and Mr. King’s pond is an overgrown trickle of a brook. There’s a house on Griffin’s hill, and sleigh rides on the snow covered streets now exist only in my mind’s eye.

Those places really existed . . . those things really happened. Is it my hometown that I romanticize . . . or is it the innocence and magic of childhood? I think time and place are inextricably intertwined. We can’t think of our hometown without thinking of the time we lived there. I still live in my hometown . . . but it’s not the same place where I grew up.

That place still exists . . . but I have to close my eyes to visit.

I’m Back . . .

Wow!!! I haven’t updated this blog since February 23rd.

I must admit that I’ve been totally consumed by my photo blog over at 365.mrcowles.com. Time to try and restore some balance.

I just finished posting final grades for the spring semester. I have no assigned courses for the summer and should, therefore, have more time to dedicate to my blogging. While I’m still having a blast with my Project 365, there’s no shortage of mental minutiae going on here.

I’m approaching the first anniversary of my retirement. It’s been an interesting year. I taught five days a week for the fall semester. Granted, the days were much shorter (11:30 to 2:20 was my long day), but I was working five days, nonetheless. It was good having someplace to go everyday. I needed the structure. Then, when course assignments came out for spring, I still had three courses but all were MWF. . . What to do with Tuesdays and Thursdays?

There’s a nagging sense of guilt that arises when a day goes by and I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. For some reason reading, taking and processing pictures, going out to lunch, walking in the woods, listening to music, practicing dance, visiting friends and relatives and playing with the dogs don’t seem to assuage it. It’s as though those are not worthwhile endeavors. Where does that come from? Have I been so conditioned to devalue things I love to do and to view activities as worthy only if there’s suffering involved? Yikes!!! I’m gonna have to work on this.

Keeping up with this blog just might be a good way to begin.

Project 365 Update

This week I’ll be marking the first month of my Project 365. So far it’s going better than I expected. In addition to getting out with my camera I find myself following several other photographers online. It’s inspiring and educational.

The images that have really grabbed my attention are those using HDR (HighDynamicRange) photography. HDR involves the fusion of multiple exposures of the same shot using different apertures. This produces an image with a range of tones that more closely approximates the human eye. There is much less loss of detail in the shadow and highlight areas of the photo. I picked up an HDR program called Photomatix and have been playing around with it this week. I find it to be quite user friendly allowing for a tremendous range of creativity.

You can view my Project 365 at http://365.mrcowles.com/. There’s a place at the bottom where you can subscribe by email if you’d like . . . it’s only 1 post per day. Check it out.

Snow Day

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Classes were cancelled today as the Great Blizzard of 2013 bore down on New England. I decided to check in on Facebook and noticed a post from Red Riding Hood’s Basket, a delightful café right here in town. They were open this morning! The snow was just beginning to fall, and I reasoned I could […]