Capturing The Moment — Good And Bad

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much cell phone cameras have changed our lives — and the world — for good, and for bad, too.

The good is pretty obvious. Cell phone cameras are easy to carry around with you, so you’ve always got a camera at hand if you want to capture a moment in space and time — like this picture of boats at Burnt Cove, silhouetted against the dying glow of the sun just after it had plunged below the horizon, as we were returning from a boat trip to North Haven with Dr. Science and the GV Jogger in early August.

I like having a camera at hand because you never know when those special moments might occur. (I like it so much, in fact, that UJ calls me “Snappy” whenever I haul out the phone to take a picture.) Taking these kinds of photos helps me to really lock those special moments into my memory bank. And, of course, there have been instances where people have used their cell phones to capture real news — natural disasters, police misconduct, public officials behaving badly — that wouldn’t have been preserved or come to light otherwise.

But there’s obviously a dark side, too. Selfie obsession — to the point where people are injuring and even killing themselves walking backward to get the perfect framing of their face — is an obvious issue. But there is more to it than that. If you go to your news feed page, how many “news” stories are really nothing other than one person’s bad day captured by a cell phone camera?

So much of what is presented as “news” these days consists of random private people misbehaving in their own worlds, in ways that would not be “news” at all if there weren’t a camera at hand to capture it. The exhausted mother lashing out at a misbehaving toddler, the delivery driver who wouldn’t stop to help a senior citizen who had fallen, the pilot who asked a woman wearing a revealing outfit to cover up — all of these are examples of stories that wouldn’t be stories at all without the salacious picture or video footage. People look at these kinds of stories because it’s always interesting to take a peek at other people’s lives, but they really aren’t “news” in any meaningful sense. And I wonder if, in this way, the cell phone camera has helped to knock real news off the public radar screen and contribute to the trivialization of public discourse.

Cell phone cameras truly are a double-edged sword.

Shuffle Season

Good news — Shuffle Season is upon us.

Shuffle Season is that rare, all-too-brief time of year when the trees have dropped some — but not all — of their leaves. There is color in the canopy of leaves above and color on the ground and sidewalks below. And when you reach a stretch of leaf-covered sidewalk, the temptation to shuffle your feet through those drying leaves, to hear the rustle and crackle and crunch, and to kick some leaves into the air and let your inner kid loose, is irresistible.

I’m just old enough to remember when people routinely raked their leaves into leaf piles, let their kids play in the piles for a bit, and then raked the pile to the curb and burned the leaves. The authorities ultimately outlawed the burning, but I remember liking the distinctive autumnal smell of those burning leaves. The specific spicy smell is no doubt stored deep in my amygdala.

I’m too old now to play in leaf piles, but I can still enjoy Shuffle Season and those dried sidewalk leaves. You can, too.

A Great Day For A Hike

The weather gods looked kindly upon us today, giving us one last beautiful day in Stonington before we head back to Columbus. The skies were clear, the sunlight sparkled on the waters of the Penobscot Bay, and the temperature hovered around 60. It was a perfect day to hike the trails of the Settlement Quarry and take in a breathtaking view — and we weren’t the only ones who thought so.

A day like this makes you sad to leave, but eager to return.

Ferns Go First

Up above, the leaves are just starting to change. But on the forest floor, the ferns are giving us a blazing preview of the upcoming fall foliage show. Their colors are so bright you can see the ferns deeper in the forest, like glowing campfires dotting the ground and lighting up the fallen trees and logs nearby.

The fall foliage season is a big deal around here, and this week will be the start of prime autumn color viewing. But the rule in the forest is inviolate: when it comes to changing their colors, ferns go first.

The Morning View From Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive is a short stretch of road that splits off from Allen Street and then hugs the shoreline as it runs down to Greenhead Lobster.  At that fork in the road there is a manhole cover — specifically, manhole cover #123, which we know because all Stonington manhole covers bear green, neatly spray-painted identification numbers.  When the lobstermen who moor their boats in the western edge of the Stonington harbor drive to Greenhead to park their pickup trucks and take their skiffs out to their big boats in the morning, they hit old #123 as they veer onto Ocean Drive and make a distinctive “clink CLUNK” sound as the manhole cover rattles under the weight of the passing trucks.  Most mornings, that clink CLUNK is the first sound I hear.

Ocean Drive is a bit of a misnomer, because the Atlantic Ocean is still several miles away, shielded from the harbor by many islands.  But it’s not hard to imagine that, as the lobstermen turn left at the Ocean Drive split, give #123 a good rattle, smell the salt air, and catch the sunrise view shown above in the morning, it helps them get mentally ready for another hard day of lobstering.

Sea Fever

I don’t get tired of looking at boats, and of all the boats I like the graceful sailboats the best.  Watching them glide by is a treat, and it reminded me of a nice bit of poetry about the lure of the sea and the “tall ship” boats: 

Sea Fever by John Masefield

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
 
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
 
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Through Morning Mist

Sometimes the morning fog makes the world of Stonington look . . . different. This morning, the mist shrouding the sun as I returned from my walk gave this scene of the harbor from the foot of the Greenhead peninsula a kind of flat, monochromatic feel that looked like something you might see in a National Geographic article on Southeast Asia.

Harbor Moon

Long ago I took a photography class and learned about “f stops” and prolonged exposures and the techniques you needed to use to take a good nighttime photo. I even had a 35 mm camera. But that knowledge and camera are long gone. These days, my camera is my phone, and if I can make those kinds of adjustments to the camera app I don’t know how to do it, anyway.

The nighttime can be beautiful here, with a full spread of crystal stars and the harbor limned silver by the handful of lights downtown. And when the full moon is out and over the harbor, shining on the scattered clouds above and the water below, it’s just bright enough to try a phone camera shot.

It doesn’t fully capture the scene, but it’s the best I can do. I probably need to get a real camera again.

Into Refrigerator Magnet Territory

Yesterday I took the photograph above on my morning walk.  As I looked at the sky, I thought:  “Clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting.”

And the combination of the picture and that saying made me think, inevitably, of refrigerator magnets. 

Mom was a big refrigerator magnet person.  Some of you, at least, are familiar with what I’m describing.  The magnets always had both a picture and a saying.  And usually the combination of the photograph and the saying was aiming for purported wisdom and vaguely aspirational notions, in the sense of accepting life’s challenges with a positive attitude and sense of resolve, or maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity.  An example might be a photo of a crew team rowing on the water, and the saying might be “we make better progress when we all pull together,” or something along those lines.

The picture above with the saying “clear skies are nice, but clouds make the picture more interesting” would be a classic refrigerator magnet of that genre.  Someone would look at it as they are getting ready to make their sandwich for today’s working remotely lunch, nod at its pseudo sagacity, and eat their lunch with a renewed sense of purpose.

At least, that’s the idea.

Where East Meets West

If you’ve ever been out west — into the countryside, not the big cities like Denver or Phoenix — you know that people who live there tend to have a different sense of property, and physical space. 

Out west, things tend to get left where they are likely to be used again, rather than carefully returned to a garage or shed, stored, and locked up.  There’s plenty of space and room for everything, it never rains so what’s the big deal, and who’s going to come by and steal the stuff, anyway?  If you go out into the countryside, you’re likely to see things strewn about the property around many of the houses and trailers, whether it’s a car being worked on with parts left on a tarp, or a half-completed structure that looks like it hasn’t been worked on for a while.  Some people might think it looks junky, but others would say it is trusting, and relaxed, and practical, besides.  The owner bought all that wide-open space for a reason, so why not use it?

Maine has a bit of that devil-may-care quality that I usually associate with the west.  As you walk around, you’re likely to see things just left outside, right where they are going to be used again.  Boats, kayaks, canoes, oars, lobster traps, buoys, and boat trailers dot the landscape, and nobody seems to notice or care.  It’s a much more relaxed mindset.  Where city dwellers would have reflexive concern about potential theft, Mainers know from experience that it’s not likely that someone is going to steal a green kayak.  And they are right:  the police report section of the local paper really doesn’t report much in the theft department.

Getting used to this attitude requires Midwestern city dwellers like me to make a bit of a mental downshift, but once you get comfortable with it, it’s actually quite pleasant.

Harbor Dreamscape

A heavy fog moved ashore last night, leaving the world mist-shrouded and opaque for my walk this morning. As I walked down Main Street toward the center of town, this scene seemed hauntingly familiar. It reminded me of a vista from a dream, where everything lacks sharp edges and seems somehow unfinished.

Colors Of Stonington

The pier at Greenhead Lobster provides a pretty good view of the west side of Stonington. The houses are built into the hillside and rise in rows from the water’s edge. The slope of the hillside is so abrupt that houses that are not right on the water still can have a commanding view of the bay. In local realtor parlance, they are not “waterfront,” but “water view.”

When you look at the town from Greenhead, you notice the colors. Most of the boats and houses are white, which itself gives a very Maine-y look, but some bolder colors are mixed in here and there — bright yellows and blues and reds, stately gray, and Opera House green. For some reason primary colors just look natural on the waterfront.

The Great Puffin Photo Challenge

Yesterday we took a “puffin tour” — a boat ride that took us several miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Our destination was Seal Island, where we hoped to find puffins, and seals, and any other marine creatures or birds that might care to drop by. It was a beautiful day and a very enjoyable ride. We saw puffins galore, lots of seals, cormorants, sun fish, and even a few porpoises.  One person on the boat claimed to see a whale in the distance, too.

But puffins, really, were the reason for the excursion.  Puffins are cute little birds that look somewhat like a cross between a penguin and a parrot.  But here’s the thing about puffins: they’re pretty much impossible for the amateur nature photographer to capture. They float and bob on the ocean water, looking simply like indistinct black spots on the sun-dappled waves, as the photo above reflects. The water shots therefore don’t exactly make for striking pictures.  And when the puffins decide to fly, they take off very fast, beating their wings as rapidly as hummingbirds, and stay low to the water, skimming its surface. They’re notoriously shy, too, and scatter when a boat gets too close — so no close-ups. You might take hundreds of photos and be lucky to find one, like the one below, that gives even a reasonably decent look at a puffin in flight.

Seals, too, aren’t exactly easy to photograph. Yesterday they were in the water, looking at us, rather than lounging on the rocks and inviting a photo shoot. And seal heads popping out of the water to gander at a boat basically look like more black spots on the waves. 

Fortunately, the cormorants of Seal Island were willing to perch on the rocks and give us a chance to take a snapshot. They were far away, and they may not be as cute as those adorable puffins, but at least they stand still.

The puffin tour was fun and interesting, and the whole experience gave me a new appreciation for National Geographic photographers.

On The Way Back From Nebo

Last night we took a boat trip and headed due west to North Haven, an island community that is about a 45-minute boat ride from Stonington. On the way we enjoyed the sunshine and the salt air and the sailboats and the sighting of some seals lounging on a rocky outcropping in the water.

Our destination was the Nebo Lodge, an inn and restaurant on North Haven that is a favorite of ours. We had a fine meal at Nebo and brief walk around North Haven before we headed back to reboard the boat so we could make it back to Stonington before nightfall.

Our timing was impeccable, because the skies were clear, the sun hung low on the horizon, and the wispy clouds etched dazzling patterns high above as our boat steamed back east. We sat on the stern and watched the boats sail past, silhouetted by the sinking sun.

Dr. Science, the ultimate rationalist, observed the the sun was just the equivalent of countless hydrogen bombs exploding in an empty void. But the GV Jogger, Kish and I scoffed at his clinical analysis, knowing deep down that Old Sol was painting a brilliant canvas just for us, and we were going to enjoy every minute of the show — and take some pictures to remember it.

As we drew nearer to Burnt Cove, the sun dipped inexorably down and the horizon flared orange, leaving the waters a deep purple and the clouds fully backlit and glowing.

By the time we reached Burnt Cove harbor, the western horizon sill blazed with a warm but dimming celestial fire, while darkness was falling to the east. Our captain deftly steered between the docked boats as we took in the last scenes in the sun’s big show.

To the east, the clouds high above still caught the sun’s bright rays, and looked like wisps of pink cotton candy reflected in the waters of Burnt Cove. The blue sky looked vast and endless.

As we docked and disembarked, the sky was the color of cinnamon and salmon and every hue in between. Dr. Science may be right about the sun just being a colossal hydrogen bomb, but it really does put on a pretty good show.