Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Don't let the sun go down on me (until I have my camera ready)

My online presence is not insubstantial. However, since I'm supposed to be a writer -- I abruptly sprang awake other night at 3 a.m. as my brain suddenly decided to contemplate the gravity of paying off the tens of thousands of dollars I've spent learning how to be a writer with the zeroes of zeroes of dollars I've made recently practicing the art -- of course I would have an easier time producing photos than essays. Add to this that I have several family members and friends who differentiate between my blog (which they call my "blahhhg" -- I have several family members and friends back east) and my "website," which is really just the Flickr site of a wannabe photog; and my online offerings can seem pretty slim at times, to say nothing of my coverage of typical Arizona topics. Several of these fine folks, most of whom don't usually visit the latter site, have expressed surprise a time or two that I have yet to really say anything about Arizona sunsets.

I reply that it's cliché, done before, and that I don't have anything particularly useful or new to say on the subject.

But then I look at my photos, and my waiting photos, and what I spend the most time watching, timing, analyzing, and capturing. If sunset photography is a cliché, than I am a walking, point-and-shooting cliché.

I blame my mom. When we first moved to Arizona, she was obsessed with sunset shots. Red clouds, orange poofy clouds, pink smeary skies, gold flares through the front window ... she captured them daily with a thin teal 110 Instamatic camera. After a while, we started making fun of her pretty mercilessly, and so she began shooting the cacti (at sunset); our new house (at sunset); my brother, sister and I playing (at sunset, and we only made it in the barest portion of the bottom corner of the frame; the rest was sky); and the raised dirt-rock-hill-thing in our front yard (guess when?); all to circumvent the basis for our mocking. (It didn't work.) Then she consolidated the shots into a sort of matrix, a collage of snapshots that she kept tacked to the wall in the master bedroom, right above the piano no one played. That made it look like one unit, rather than an ongoing obsession. (We still didn't give her a pass, of course.)

But she got to know the sky and the state and the desert. She always knew when the sun was about to dip -- just about to, but hadn't yet -- when the light would flare most vividly, how the shadows would jump and stretch, what the light would hit. Her routine intertwined with the sun's. Hell, I should have been astounded. I was sixteen before I even knew which freaking direction was west. I couldn't even find the sunset.

I've gone through bouts of hating and absolutely loving the desert since then. I've studied the science of just about every aspect of it -- geology, biology, botany, ridiculously specific entomological topics, tracking by scat (my son's favorite). I've written on astronomy, wildlife, conservation, and caves in our state and in my corner of desert; about oversized arachnid pedipalps and nipple beehive cacti (try Googling that one at work). But I've never really just backed up to get to know the place. To feel the desert wake up each day and breathe. Seriously. Somehow, I got in the habit of doing that these last few weeks and months. I know when the sun rises (which I usually just glimpse through pulled blinds) and when it sets each day. Just the conscious decision to monitor it, to follow the day's journey and see it out, has put me in step with its rhythm. Just looking at the day has put me in sync with this place in a way I never got before by looking stuff up and and looking for stuff.

My son waits for it each evening now. From our usual vantage point downstairs we can tell when the sun dips below the wall out back, which is actually just the preview to the real sunset. We either take a walk right then, or race upstairs and capture it from the window. The day is tucking in just as we begin watching. The roadrunner roosts on our neighbor's meter box, the doves wheel and circle, lizards hide in the cracks in walls and beneath rocks, spiders come out, and the sky bursts. It gasps and sighs. And it glows and blazes, and slowly it fades. But it's not dull. It's kind of like a winded afterglow effect, with swirls and wisps to play out the day's last hurrah. And it's nearly always amazing. Always, always something different.

So, yeah, that's it. Just look at these. Just a few (for real -- I have hundreds, maybe thousands more) shots from our recent evenings. I've said enough. This is our view each night. Here, for anyone who wanted to see, and even those who didn't. I'll shut up and show. I have to do something with all these shots. I have too many for the wall in the bedroom.

(Oh, and sorry, Mom.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

(Overdue) snapshots

I hate Cox.

I hear you snickering. Shut up.

the cable company? Not on my nice list today. I had more snapshots, but instead of writing them down first and transferring them to the blog, per usual (or even making cryptic notes like "Elab. RE: butts!" which, even if I forget what they mean, are at least intriguing to my three-hours-later self), I decided to type them directly into Blogger. I also had a semi-lengthy eloquent (I swear) pitch going in Yahoo Mail. So of course when I tried to save or post the blog, and send the mail, Cox flopped.

Seriously, shut up.

The phone, Internet, everything.

It's back up, mostly, now. So here are some of the snapshots, but I swear it was better before. Grr.

Cox sucks. (Shut up.)

But either way, get a load of my son's shots. He rocks
, no?


My husband: "Did you see it?"
Me: "I did. Thanks for the ice cream!"
My husband: "What about the note?"
Me: "Oh, I love you too."
My husband: (Smiles)
Me: "But seriously, thanks for the ice cream.

My son begged and begged to take his camera on the field trip to the local heart center. After asking his teacher and several bring-it-back-or-else lectures, I sent it with him. He was a hit. He video taped the presentations and documented the entire event, but I'm not allowed to share the majority of the footage because every single segment features things like "...and that's why the arteries constrict. DAVID WATCH THIS!!" punctuated by his friends making goober faces and flapping their arms at the camera like the guy who played Paul Pfeiffer did in the Wonder Years credits.

My son: "Mom, what does this word say?"
Me: "You read it. You know how to read."
My son: "No, really."
Me: "OK, fine. Read me the letters."
My son: "C-O-C-K ... never mind. I have it now."

He had saved up his coins for ages. I came out a few weeks ago to a giant mound of pennies and nickels, seven dollars in all. He wanted to order a book from the Scholastic order by himself. I exchanged the coins for a check and mailed it off, only to have a bit of bank-balance-related drama in the meantime. When his book didn't arrive in time, I was so worried it was our fault. He'd be crushed. Turns out the order was late. He got his book and spent the weekend reading it at to me.

My son: "Um, Uh, Mom?"
Me: "What?"
My son: "Wha.. er, eh, what... oooh, ahh, what, what, er, ah, oooh ah, wha.... what is it ... oooh, ahh.... what is it when people, when people, when they can't get out a word sound?"
Me: "You mean stuttering?"
My son: "Yeah. I'm glad ... ooh, ahh... I'm glad I, er, ah, oooh .... I'm glad I don't do anything like that."

When I woke up, there was an elaborately folded construction-paper package on the bathroom counter: "TO MOM FROM DAVID. OPEN IT." There was a picture of a pterosaur saying "I love Mom," and also a twirled blue and red ribbon and a nickel.

He came bursting out of the school front doors, elbowing his friend and cracking a joke. He didn't even glance at me. He looked so dang old. I was so proud. And more than a little freaked out. An hour later, when he cried over something trivial and ran to me, I felt awful for being a tiny bit relieved.

We read the part involving an incarcerated dragon in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He almost got choked up about the fictional creature. Later, when he compared it to circus elephants, he did get choked up, and angry. Dang, I love this kid.

He told me he had a good day, but held my hand a little too tightly. It was slick with sweat from both our hands by the time we'd finished our walk. "OK, Mom," he confessed. "I had only a sort of good day." By the time he was done confiding in me, he said, it felt like a "100 percent good day."

He's going to write a book some day about how turkey vultures are beautiful and not ugly at all, he told me this morning.