It’s Raining Again

Out in the middle of the Mississippi River at St. Louis, on one of the supports of the historic Eads Bridge, there is a marker that simply indicates zero (0). This is the arbitrarily designated water level that serves as the benchmark for water stages on the St. Louis riverfront. Flood stage is 30 feet and The Great Flood of ’93 (1993) marked the highest water level since 1927, nearly 50 feet over flood stage.

Almost directly across from that pier supporting the Eads Bridge, rising from the old cobblestone levee below the national park that is home to the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Lewis and Clark statue serves as my own, personal marker for water levels at St. Louis. “The Captains Return” by sculptor Harry Weber was dedicated in 2006, and since that time, it seems to me that at least part of that statue has always been under water. One of the captains stands with his hat in his hand, arm fully extended over his head. And, when the water is at 32 feet, the hat is not visible. At this stage it is not even possible to drive on the street that runs along the top of the levee above the statue, but from other vantage points, one can still see and marvel at the surging water that is the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River has always held great fascination for me – no doubt set firmly in my imagination from an early age by the appearance of this legendary body of water in so much of American history and fiction. She attracts me to her in my thoughts and I often reflect on the twists of fate that have resulted in the good fortune of me living in such close proximity to her. But, my pilgrimages to take in her beauty are usually precipitated by the surges brought about by the annual flooding, when melting snows and spring rains from the north flow southward and swell her banks on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.  The River is an attraction all her own.  But with the Arch and the statue and the bridges and casinos and other amusements and businesses and historic sites that accompany her as she makes her way past St. Louis, this major body of water can be easily overshadowed by all that is there simply because she is.  She is great, and so is everything built around her, so that everything seems to be competing for attention.  Only when she swells and subsides, when she is changing, threatening, does she command our full respect.  Then, we have to admit that what we have here is not a tourist attraction but a force of nature, our close brush with an element of life on our planet that we can neither live without nor control.

This summer, I have watched her at her lowest ebb. The great drought that parched corn and soybean fields all over the Midwest, that fueled fires, dried up gardens, and brought barge traffic on the water to a halt has kept the Mississippi River at record lows, down to -2 feet. Accustomed as I am to seeing the River so much higher, it was quite a new experience to make regular visits this summer to the levee to experience the water at these historic low stages and to find her no less mighty, no less enchanting for her diminished flow. Walking the 30 or so feet from the base of the Lewis and Clark statue to the foot of the cobblestone paved banks at the water’s edge, standing there and seeing the silt of the riverbed that I do not recall ever seeing at this point, I had to fight away the nightmarish daydream of a sudden surge that would restore the River to what I would consider a normal stage and sweep me along in one swift, dreadful undercurrent.

But, nothing like that happened. Even at 20 or 25 feet, it is easy to snap a photo of the Lewis & Clark statue and fully comprehend that water stage. But, this summer I discovered that it is virtually impossible to capture in a single frame a picture of this low-water event that so easily illustrates the water level. It is not nearly as dramatic in a photograph to see a statue on a levee with a river running alongside as it is to see only parts of a statue visible above a swelled river.

The drought has been long and the water level low, but, thanks to another force of nature – Hurricane Isaac – it’s raining again; and, as it is with the cycle of natural things, before long the River will again rise up to the feet of the captains and eventually overtop the hat held permanently in place over their heads. And, as important as it is to me now, after awhile, I will not be among the enchanted souls making the pilgrimage to her shores, but others will come, and others will go. She will ebb and flow. Droughts will come and then it will be raining again.

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Greetings!!

“Ordinary Time Volume 1” has had 3 publishings in less than one year!  Thank you to everyone who has loved the book, shared the book, and encouraged me to continue sharing my personal enjoyments.  In June, Aramark will be stocking some of my blank notecards, featuring my photographs in the line of greeting cards I like to call Pixcells.  For years, these cards have generated considerable funds for area non-profits, and I’m happy to bring them to a wider audience.  Like “Ordinary Time,” all of the photographs are local and unedited, taken with natural light.  If you are interested in ordering cards or copies of “Ordinary Time,” just send me a message.  I think you might like to send your greetings on a Pixcell card.

The hostas (above) is one of a framed trio that netted $150 at the recent Trovare di Spada (http://trovaredispada.com/) Fence-a-Thon for breast cancer services at the SLU Cancer Center.  It was great to be a part of such a fantastic, one-of-a-kind event!!

Many new images are making their way to the pages of “Ordinary Time Volume 2,” which will be rolling off of the NJC (http://www.njcprint.com/) presses this fall.  In the meantime, some will be premiered as Pixcell greeting cards.

More later . . .

A good eye

Boulder Skies

When people look at the photographs I took for my book, “Ordinary Time,” there are a lot of reactions, but usually everyone says, “you have a good eye.”  This gives me a little chuckle.  It always makes me think back over my years of picture-taking.  I received my first good camera for Christmas from a friend back in 1982.  When we moved to Miami, I spent hours and hours learning the subtle and often complicated techniques of 35 mm photography with that camera.  I enjoyed color, black and white; landscapes, seascapes, skyscapes, and portraits; everything about taking pictures (except getting sand in my camera!).  The fun lasted until my first pair of reading glasses.  After that, I simply could not, try as hard as I could, figure out how to see what I was taking a picture of, and focusing was simply out of the question.  I put my cameras away and just gave up, thinking I’d probably never take another picture again.  Thank goodness and technology,  in the last few years, digital cameras made their way into my life and my entire world changed.  If you’re over 50, you know what I mean.

When I was a young child, I remember when a friend of our family, a professional photographer, gave my dad a camera.  After that, there was no Sunday morning, no birthday, no graduation, no special event or holiday that did not provide my dad an opportunity to get out the Yashika and tripod, and set to work making portraits of everyone.   Early on, I remember how excruciating it was for me, sitting there with my hair pulled tight into pigtails on either side of my head, suffering from what I would only find out decades later were migraine headaches, trying to smile while my dad focused for what seemed like hours at a time.  More than once, someone in the family was reduced to tears waiting for that shutter to click.  If I’d only known then the passion for getting that perfect picture that drove my dad.  Photographs were not inexpensive to take back when you had to pay for film and developing.  My rule of thumb in Miami was if I could achieve one good shot per roll, I felt it was worth it.  Now, I can take literally hundreds of pictures and it costs me nothing at all to shoot them, look at them, and decide whether to keep or delete them.  I can share them at no cost via electronic delivery systems.  The whole activity has changed.

If my dad were alive today, he would be amazed to see what I can do with my cell phone camera!  I’m certainly amazed.  And, I have no doubt that while he might be hesitant to use a laptop or a cell phone or any other “modern” communication devices — once he saw what kind of pictures he could take with a cell phone, I’d bet he would own one, even if he never used it for a phone call.

How to buy a book or a box of cards

Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light, and usher in the morning. - Johann Rist

If you’d like to purchase a book or a box of cards, simply send me a comment or e-mail with your snail mail address and what you’re interested in.

I took almost all the photographs in my neighborhood. My desire with this portrait album is to hold up a mirror and reflect into your eyes the way I look at the world, so the pictures have been printed without any enhancements of any kind.  The world is so beautiful!  I had a wonderful time adding the wisdom comments.  Interesting note:  The order in which the photos and quotes appear are completely random.  You will never believe this when you see how perfectly they fit!

In many ways, I think I can understand something of what Saint John went through in exile.  He wrote those beautiful letters, dictating to his trusty deacon the revelations of his mystical experiences.  And when it came to imparting the bottom-line most important wisdom, basically, all he could say was, “Love.”   All you need is love. So, it seems sometimes that even though I am constantly having ah-ha moments of great insight, there really is nothing new under the sun.  My profound revelations are the same ones that have delighted human beings for centuries.  I love it!  We are all connected in so many ways.  Neither time nor space can separate us.  What ever gave anyone the idea that anything else could?  How liberating is that?!

Upcoming Art Events

Sunday, October 9, 2011, I will be at the Sausage Festival and Art Fair at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in New Melle, Missouri.  This is an all-day event that happens twice a year, and draws probably thousands of attendees!  The organization and execution of this massive undertaking is right next to flawless . . . the sausage is homemade by the parishioners and is the best I’ve ever had . . . and the art fair is like a bottomless cup of coffee — you probably won’t be able to see it all in the one day, but there’s always next year.

I am privileged to represent Deacon T. Michael Kenney of the St. Louis Archdiocese.  Deacon Kenney’s resume of accomplishments and talents requires a web site of his own, but for now – let me just encourage you to come and see his hand-painted artwork – crucifixes and icons.  Also, I have reproduced hand-drawn Christmas cards from the 1950s that Deacon Kenney drew; and, there will be more of his art for sale.

My book, “Ordinary Time Volume 1” will be available for sale as well as boxes of my blank notecards printed with pictures from the book.

Come on out and have a very good time.  I hope to see you there.

Hello world!

You asked for it — and you got it . Well, a version of it.  I am happy to tell you about my first book.  This is an album of portraits of Nature that I took on my daily walks in my neighborhood.  The book has been designed to be a sort of meditation journal.  There are 52 full-color images, all taken by me in natural light, and unenhanced or altered in any way.  The book also includes a collection of wisdom sayings and plenty of blank space for your own musings. Hopefully, this book will inspire you to reflect on the beauty of life, and the ways we learn by not taking our time for granted.

The title, “Ordinary Time,” is a sort of play on words taken from the dual meaning of the term’s use in contemporary language and as the name of a liturgical season in the Church.  Here’s the explanation from the introduction of the book:

So much about life is uncertain, unclear, unpredictable.  Yet, nearly everything around us, including human life itself, relies upon the structure of repetitive cycles.  The rhythms of these cycles are mirrored in the construct of time.  And, in the Church, the liturgical calendar relies upon the certainty of these cycles by adhering to them, building upon their unique characteristics for the annual celebrations of important events in salvation history.

Outside of liturgical seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, the Church numbers the weeks in a year and collectively calls them Ordinary Time.  Here, the meaning of the word ordinary refers to ordered or numbered.  Perhaps taking a cue from Nature, the dominant color of Ordinary Time is green.  I like to think about the ordinariness of my time in this sense of the word, as well as coupled with the common usage.  Extraordinary things fill the ordinary days of every life — sometimes hidden behind the leaves of a bush, sometimes deep within a human heart.  Sages remind us that when we make the effort to notice these details, we will find a truth that is apart from our imaginations.  When we take the time to discover how beautifully that truth weaves into our own experience, and to share it with others, we allow ourselves to become more fully human.  When we engage all of our senses in the present moment, we create happiness and find our reasons for gratitude.

I hope the pages that follow provide a few moments to reflect on ordinary life.  There are 52 images – one for each week of the year, if you are counting.  All are non-enhanced photographs taken in natural light around my home in St. Louis.  I added quotations by people and sources meaningful to me, and blank space for you to write or draw or doodle.  For family, friends, and my ordinary life, I am truly grateful!

If you would like a copy for yourself or to give away, great!  Look for more posts with information about this and more artistic endeavors on the say.

Thanks for your support — S