Category Archives: Nature

The Dark is Rising

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

Complete Lunar Eclipse (NASA)

It may seem curious to entitle a blog, “The Dark is Rising,” just a day after the Winter Solstice, when I experienced a phenomenal lunar eclipse. Nevertheless, remembrances of the children’s book, bearing the same name, and written by Susan Cooper, keeps seeping into my conscious mind. It is a book that I read to my son Stephen, one Christmas long ago, when he was confined to my mother’s living room couch, while recovering from a nasty bout with pneumonia. My mother cooked and did her art work, while I read; no matter, we were both engrossed, almost as much as Steve. Given recent events, I realize that the story line of the second book in Cooper’s five part series–appropriately entitled The Dark is Rising–is very timely; there are, in fact, a number of eerie parallels.

the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil

Writing in the tradition of J. R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, Cooper employs mythical symbols and tropes to depict the never ending battle between the forces of good and evil. Time shifts and magic play important roles as well. In the story, the protagonist, young Will Stanton, discovers on the morning of his eleventh birthday, which occurs evocatively on Midwinter’s Eve, that he is the last of the Old Ones–people who, having been granted supernatural powers, have used them across the centuries, to push back the dark.

Will’s entry into this realm is full of foreboding. He is destined to be a seeker. To do his part, Will must collect six sacred, ornamental signs, which, when joined, will defy the Dark. A looming atmosphere accompanies Will throughout his journey: for the forces of the Dark make themselves ever present in the guise of a tremendous chill and snow storm that paralyzes the town; birds attacking from the sky; a wandering madman called the Walker, lurking behind every corner, and the Rider, who, appearing dressed in black and riding a large black stallion, personifies evil. Fortunately, Will is rescued from these encounters by a host of Old Ones–some from many centuries ago–who share his mission on behalf of the Light.

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

First New York snow of 2011: Nolita from Dan Nguyen NY

Now, let’s consider this Christmas season. As in the time of Will’s brush with the Dark, these past few weeks have yielded some unusually tempestuous weather, with torrential rains in California and Australia, causing life-threatening mudslides and floods, not to mention snowy blizzards carpeting most of the East Coast. We must take notice, too, of the birds falling from the sky, and the dead fish washed ashore? More troubling still is the political climate of hatred exacerbated by media pundits and right wing politicians, such as Sarah Palin, who seek private gain at the expense of humanity. As we have seen in Arizona, the consequences can be catastrophic. What accounts for all of this? If you look at the Homeland Security report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, you can only conclude that THE DARK IS RISING.

Today, there are no Old Ones, as in the myths bygone. But some of us are “old” in the sense that we have lived through more civic–even if stress ridden–times, times when people reached out with a hand, and not with a gun. Like the Old Ones of the past, perhaps we need to work together to hold back the Dark, reconstructing a narrative based on trust and caring. As the neurobiologist Dr. Douglas Fields has demonstrated in his research, our brains are the product of our environments. Hence, those of us who grew up in better times can play our parts by reconstructing and retelling the magic inherent in our memories.

Who Turned Out the Lights?

Who Turned Out the Lights? from Jim (jaytay)

Who Turned Out the Lights? from Jim (jaytay)

My father could not abide waste. To encourage my sisters and me to consume each and every crumb on our plates, he not only told us about “all the poor starving children”; he went much further, instituting the Clean Plate Club. Each time we finished a meal, we received a badge of honor–that is, a medal that he made by wrapping the cap of the milk bottle with tin foil. Sadly, the scales testified to the success of my father’s endeavor.

My father’s campaign to induce us to turn out the lights had far less impact, however. Exasperated by our failure to respond to his admonitions, he resorted to bribery. Leave it to a banker!

My father as a young man.

My father as a young man.

Leave it to a banker. He offered us a deal.

Here was the deal: If my two sisters and I would only turn out the lights, he would give us the difference between what the electricity bill was, and what it would have been had we simply clicked the switch. A no-brainer to be sure. My father’s efforts, however, were to no avail. Speaking for myself, it wasn’t a disregard for financial rewards, nor for that matter laziness, that fueled my resistance. No, at an age when one’s imagination runs wild, I found it reassuring to be ensconced in light.

Today, I feel the same way. Wherever I look, there are dark clouds overhead–the depressed economy, the BP oil spill, the war on terror, the rise of the Tea Party and the mid-term elections, and, oh yes, the slaughter of the bears in my beloved New Jersey. It’s time to turn on the lights!

Washington Revels (revelsdc.org)

Washington Revels (revelsdc.org)

However, having absorbed my father’s penchant for efficiency, and my husband’s concerns about the environment, I certainly don’t advocate wasting electricity. No, my recommendation is far brighter: a performance of the Washington Revels. A yearly event in Washington, the Washington Revels have used song and dance to reenact, according to one traditional narrative or another, how mankind has, over generations, endured the Winter’s darkness by celebrating one another in a spirit of good cheer and benevolence, as they await the return of the light.

So too, in our own lives today. Accompanied by a glass of good cheer, my husband Brock and I, rejoice in in the song Drive the Cold Winter Away. Verse seven is most enlightening, as well as one of my favorites. We’d be happy to have you join in.

This time of the year is spent in good cheer,
And neighbours together do meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire,
Each other in love to greet;
Old grudges forgot are put in the pot,
All sorrows aside they lay;
The old and the youth doth carol this song
To drive the cold winter away.

Gone Fishing

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

Tom Sawyer (courtesy of kidsblogs.nationalgeographic.com)

My blog has been so dormant over the summer, one might wonder where I have been. To borrow a term from Tom Sawyer, I would simply say that, this summer, “I went fishing.”

The place was our family’s summer cottage on Hawthorne Lake, a community in the New Jersey Highlands established by my great grandfather, H.P Dillistin, together with his friends and relatives. Dating back, in fact, to Mark Twain’s days, it shares much in common with St. Petersburg, Mississippi, the town along the river where Tom Sawyer had his adventures.

Grandaddy Dillistin

Grandaddy Dillistin

Like the people in St. Petersburg, Mississippi, we have lived together in close proximity for over five generations, experiencing good and bad times, intermarrying, sharing common lore, befriending and sometimes feuding with one another, as in one big, extended family.

My own recollections of Hawthorne Lake are very vivid, dating back to the Second World War, when we spent the summers together with the wives and children of my parents’ male friends who were off at the front. So sparsely populated was the Lake at the time, we shared the waterfront with deer, beavers, muskrats and otters. And we children were much like Tom Sawyer and his friends, preoccupied with the adventures of exploring, frog hunting, cooking mud pies, turtle trapping, and looking for hidden treasures, totally oblivious to the raging events around us.

As in Tom’s case, one special past time was fishing; for the lake is home to many good fish–bass, pickerel, perch, and the sunnies that nip at you as you dip your toes in the water. As a young girl, I often accompanied my father fishing, rowing the boat as he wound reel and cast his line. It was a way of sharing with him, drawing him out, and perhaps getting hints about what was really going on in the world beyond the Lake. But my father was reserved with his children, and said little, as he waited for the fish to bite. I sat there patiently, watching the ripples wrap around the oars of the boat. But–not liking to eat fish, much less to skin them–I secretly hoped the fish would not take the bait.

No wonder I have come to believe that fishing is not so much about catching fish, as it is about capturing our thoughts and our daydreams as they float on by. So this summer, even though I was not sitting on the river banks, as Tom was inclined to do, I was fishing for ideas as I sat with my husband, in our wicker chairs, on our screened in porch, observing the world around me. Energized by LIFE, I am–as we used to say–now ready to roll.

Up, Up, And Away!

up-up-and-away-susan-roberts

up-up-and-away-susan-roberts

Up, Up and Away in my beautiful machine. Remember that song from Sesame Street? Driving to the lake in our new Ford Focus, I felt like I was flying high. Off we were to our summer cottage in the New Jersey Highlands, with two cars in tandem, both stuffed to the brim with our treasured possessions–our books, are tapes, our CDs, our cloths, and of course our dog Sparky.

A new car you say? You are environmentalists, non-materialists! How did that come about?

Well, we had been thinking about it for a long time. Although our 20 year old CRX si (the last of its make) had served us well, it had seen better times. As well, we were beginning to creak, just like the CRX, so it was harder and harder to take advantage of its sporty appurtenances. Nonetheless, we procrastinated, not wanting to let go of the happy memories and associations that our CRX evoked. As importantly, negotiating a car deal is intimidating; much as in the case of birthing a baby, we had to wait until the pain of the previous experience had subsided before trying again.

We had to wait until the pain of the previous experience subsided, before trying again

What helped to overcome our inertia was our desire to bring all our stuff with us on our vacation to Hawthorne Lake. No doubt, it would take two cars. Did we really need all this paraphernalia? Most likely not! But, as one might well imagine, even though we could not possibly read all the books, wear all the cloths, nor listen to all the CDs that we had packed, together they comprised a web of connections and affordances, which made it easier for us to carry out our routine away from home.

so many choices

so many choices

The subject of things continued to preoccupy me even after we had unpacked our cars, put everything in its place, and settled into our cottage on the lake. For once I was ensconsed in the old wicker chair at the end of our long screened-in porch, the first book I drew from my grand pile was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton’s The meaning of things: Domestic symbols and the self.

Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton’s perspective on the role of things is quite unique. Unlike most sociologists, they are not focused on the relationship between things and status. Nor do they take an especially critical perspective of things, bemoaning the evils of consumerism. As significant, the authors rise above the technology determinism vs. social constructivism debate. Instead, grounded in the symbolic interactionism of George Herbert Mead, and the philosophical pragmatism of John Dewey, they view the interactions/transactions between people and and things as a two-way street.

Generations of Things

Generations of Things

Embodying past associations and psychic investments, objects convey symbolic meaning to those engaged with them. At the same time, the users of objects can extend that meaning by investing their own psychic energy in the object to pursue their own individual goals. Growth occurs in the process, with respect to both the object and the individual. As importantly, because objects embody meaning at three levels–the self, the community, and the cosmos–the network of objects with which we are surrounded help us to orient ourselves to function both as individuals as well as participants in a larger whole.

Our home at the lake epitomizes the narrative that Csikszentmihayli and Rochberg-Halton lay out. As they point out:

One of the most important psychological purposes of the home is that those objects that have shaped one’s personality and which are needed to express concretely those aspects of the self that one values are kept within it. Thus the home is not only a material shelter but also a shelter for those things that make life meaningful.

Crossepatch

Crossepatch

Built by my grandfather in 1908, our house at the lake is home to prized possessions that span five generations–the deer head over the fireplace, first edition books, the mission oak furniture, blackened cast iron pots, my mother’s rolling pin, my father’s fly rod, my childhood toys, my son’s tools, my grandchildren’s paintings, and–last but not least–our new car. They serve not only to link me back through the generations that preceded me; they instill in me the insight and impetus to keep our house and its environs in tack for the generations yet to come.

My Husband, The River Hero

Brock Evans-River Hero

Brock Evans-River Hero

TOM’S OF MAINE AND RIVER NETWORK ANNOUNCE 2010 RIVER HEROES AWARDS
KENNEBUNK, MAINE – (June 11, 2010) – Protecting and restoring rivers and other waters is vital to the health of our country and communities. At River Network’s recent annual National River Rally conference, a pioneering group of clean water heroes came together to collaborate on innovative new ways to protect the nation’s water. In addition, this year’s River Heroes Awards ceremony, sponsored by Tom’s of Maine, celebrated six remarkable water protectors and the victories of their campaigns.

Included among this year’s River Heroes is Brock Evans, president of Endangered Species Coalition, Washington, D.C.

For more than forty years, Brock Evans, a former Marine, lawyer, former director of the Sierra Club’s Washington office and National Audubon Society’s Vice-President for National Issue, has worked tirelessly to protect and lobby for the environment. Brock’s efforts have helped gain wilderness protection for the Pacific Northwest’s North Cascade Region, defeat the damming of Hell’s Canyon, and found the Green Wave Movement for environmental justice. He currently serves as the President of the Endangered Species Coalition, an association of 450 environmental, scientific, and religious groups dedicated to protecting and strengthening the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a tremendous honor. I spent 45 years working in environmental organizations and the River Network is one of the most vibrant, exciting groups,” said Brock Evans, honoree of the James R. Compton Lifetime Achievement Award and president of the Endangered Species Coalition. “To receive an award from a group who is doing so much themselves, is humbling. Each one of them is a hero.”

Love Springs Forth in Springfield

Springfield, Colorado

Springfield, Colorado

I had never heard of Springfield, Colorado before. Springfield, Illinois: Yes. Springfield, Missouri: Yes. But Springfield, Colorado: Never. Have you? The sad fact is that we should all know about Springfield, Colorado. For Springfield is in the heart of the Dust Bowl. A terrifying, but also encouraging, lesson can be learned here–especially today–as we seek to deal with the recent oil spill off our Gulf Coast.

My introduction to Springfield Colorado proved to be a delightful affair–the wedding of my son Noah Evans to Sarah Moffett, a lovely young woman, who had grown up there.

Tea kettles were boiling; cultural wars raging; and this was Republican territory 

Although my husband Brock and I had already spent some time with Sarah’s parents–Joel and Sheila–as well as many other family members, we left Washington on the weekend of the wedding not knowing what to expect. After all, tea kettles were boiling; cultural wars were raging; and this was Republican territory. Along we came, east coast Democrats, and environmentalists to boot.

We were not the only ones who were somewhat tenuous about our final destination. Driving five hours from Denver, my husband stopped to ask a policeman for directions to Springfield. How were we to interpret his answer? The policeman had never heard of Springfield before! En route to the wedding from New Jersey, my son Stephen got similar vibes when the car rental representative at the airport advised him that there were far better places to visit in Colorado than Springfield.

And to be sure, from the perspective of a New Jersey girl, Springfield appeared somewhat stark, to say the least. Much of it seemed to live in the past. With many storefronts boarded up, there was not much to see. So, even arriving late at night, along a barren truck route that suddenly turned into Main Street, we found our destination–The Starlight Motel–straight away.

Haley, Ben & Sophie at Picture Canyon (courtesy Steve Garcia)

Haley, Ben & Sophie at Picture Canyon (courtesy Steve Garcia)

 A morning hike to, and exploration of, Picture Canyon provided a glimpse of the panoramic grasslands that make up part of the United States’ Eastern Plains. Accompanied by lots of wind and tumble weed, we climbed the rocks and eyed the delicate wildflowers pushing through the dry ground.

In Springfield, the ebullience and generosity of the Moffett clan pervaded the atmosphere, as we all gathered together in the backyard to witness the wedding of Sarah and Noah. A wonderful reception followed. Everyone–family, friends, young and old–pitched in. How else, one might ask, would it be possible to transform a large farm structure, on the family’s ranch property, into an elegant wedding ballroom, with delicious home-made food for all, where East met West, Red met Blue, and some–I am told–danced till three.

The Wedding of Sarah & Noah

The Wedding of Sarah & Noah

Back home, recovering from bronchitis (altitude + grasslands!), I sought to find out more about Springfield, Colorado, and its history as part of the Dust Bowl. Everyone recommended that I read The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Eagan. I am so glad I did! However, the book, which described how the people of the Plains not only helped to cause the great Dust Bowl, but also managed to survive it, haunts me still.  Now I understand, at a far greater depth, the long, lonely horizon that I saw on encountering Springfield. But I take hope knowing that the young people I met at the wedding are starting out with hopes anew, even as Sarah’s father, Joel, is working for the National Resources Conservation Service (established by President Roosevelt to deal with the crisis of the Thirties) to help restore and preserve the landscape’s future.  Perhaps there is hope for the Gulf as well.

Digging Out!

Oh NO! I can't believe it.

 Its me again, Sparky. Sorry for the interruption, but I need to reach out. It’s the snow. I have been going stir crazy. Even with their cars buried under three feet of snow, humans have many ways to reach out. They have landline and wireless telephones. They have computers, and email, and Facebook and twitter, not to mention TV sets and DVD players  And so I lament.   The only way that I can communicate with the outside world is to perch on my couch, straining my eyes as I try to peer out  the window, which these days is covered with snowflakes cast by the wind.

Early in the morning, the day of the first snow, I pushed my nose against my ‘doggie door.’ Nothing moved. So I pushed with my head. But again it wouldn’t budge. So I waited patiently until my Master came downstairs and tried his hand at opening the backdoor leading out to the deck. He pushed and pushed, but it gave way only a few inches. I could hardly believe my eyes. The snow, which was flush with the door frame, rose up about three feet, if not more. From my lowly perspective, all I could see was the sky!

How to hibernate. . . lorimoon.files.wordpress.com/ 2009/03/hibernat.

I suspect that this is what a bear experiences when he comes out of hibernation. Assessing the situation, he looks around, sees piles and piles of snow, and then returns inside. This is, of course, a reasonable strategy. But need I remind you, I am not a bear. Oh, I may be cuddly, and my fur is thick and silky black. But while a bear sleeps, I have work to do. For example, my job is to keep tabs on the local neighborhood, watching people go by, determining who is a friend or foe, and–of course–barking when I deem it appropriate. When on a walk, I also parole a much larger area, first checking the bushes and fire hydrants for pungent messages left by my friends and enemies, and then leaving my own mark to bound my territory. This signaling system can get quite complex, as my mistress would say. Of course, my favorite task is barking ferociously at the mailman until he drops his ‘loot,’ and I chase him away. Unfortunately, the postal service–not withstanding its motto: in all kinds of weather–failed us, as did the garbage men, during the Big Snow, or as President Obama said, “snowmaggedon.”.

Our social life only recommenced with the shoveling of snow. Having overcome their awe at the situation, all of the neighbors, and of course their dogs, converged in our street to shovel the snow, and clear a path for cars and pedestrians alike. I finally got to engage with my friends Carla and Roxy, who live across the street. With the streets passable, we could take our walks again. But it wasn’t quite the same.

A new beginning

Walking through a narrow passage way, with the snow on the side piled many feet high, I could smell the dogs across the street–especially my nemesis, the chocolate poodle named Bosco–but I could not see him much less growl at him. But the more fundamental problem was: ‘how to do my duty,’ The snow was like quick sand; when I climbed up on top of it, I sank down almost above my shoulders, and when my mistress came to my rescue, she fell in too.

Notwithstanding all of the communication technology in our house, I have come to think my Mistress also found our imposed enclosure somewhat stressful. In particular, I think that she is missing her classes. While she often tells me to “stay, sit, and come”, she rarely lectures me about intellectual matters. These days, however, as she walks with me through the snow, she tells me about the ‘social capital,’ that is being developed as neighbors join together to shovel. Noting the people who don’t shovel their walks, but who shovel out their cars, she references Langdon Winner‘s account in the Whale and the Reactor of how the pedestrian and the auto driver perceive the world differently. As we slip and slide across the ice, she asks me what Langdon Winner might say about people who fail to shovel their sidewalks. And of course, as we meander in and out of the snowbanks, looking for a crossway, she talks about the importance of architecture and how the snow has restructured our interactions.

Yesterday, we saw the ground. Hope springs eternal, as they say.

Another Day of Reckoning

Day of Reckoning courtesy of Erik Kolstad

Day of Reckoning courtesy of Erik Kolstad

Driving to the airport to catch a plane to Utah, where my husband Brock was scheduled to have his semi-annual multiple myeloma check-up at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, I was reminded of Shakespeare’s famous quote:

A coward dies a thousand deaths a hero dies but one.

Perhaps then, I am a coward: for although we have been undergoing tests for almost seven years, each time we do so, my heart is in my throat.

for although we have been undergoing tests for almost seven years, each time we do so, my heart is in my throat.

Arriving in Salt Lake City, we settled into our hotel, our headquarters for the three-day evaluation procedures. The staff of the Cancer Institute inspires confidence. My husband–a former Marine–compares it to an elite military unit. I concur; but I would add that the people at the Huntsman center are as caring as they are competent. Clearly, they are accustomed to working with people on the precipice of death.

Day one is devoted to tests–urine collection, a pet scan, a bone marrow aspiration and extraction (ouch!), as well as a series of blood draws. Even though some of the procedures cause considerable pain and discomfort, our anxiety is kept in check by our efforts to adhere to the tight schedule. Over the day, patients move–as if playing a game of musical chairs–from one medical station to another. Reflecting the various stages of the disease, some are in wheel chairs; some wear protective masks; while others don a variety of headdresses. As we repeatedly encounter each other, we begin to bond, becoming distracted by conversation and gaining confidence and support from our shared, death-defying stories. Meeting others who are in the same boat, we are reminded that we are not alone. Never again can we say, why did this happen to us? Touched not only by the situation at hand, but also by the openness and intimacy with which we engage each other, I sense I am in a holy place, experiencing something sacred.

Raising the Roof At Ely Cathedral, from antonychammond

Raising the Roof At Ely Cathedral, from antonychammond

On the second day, however, our fears surge, driving our blood pressures to new highs.

On the second day our fears surge, driving our blood pressure to new highs.

While grateful that the day of poking, pricking, and prying is behind us, we feel helpless in the void. All we can do is wait, asking ourselves what if? and trying not to let our imaginations run away with us. Afraid of only exacerbating each others concerns, we deny our worries, turning to television for distraction. By evening, mounting tension shatters the silence. Holding hands, and lying side by side on the king-sized bed, we let go, sharing, yet one more time, our thoughts about life and death. Through tearful eyes, I describe to Brock my feeling that I am a prisoner in a room filled with echos of death, from which there is no escape. He reassures me, noting how we have transcended this situation before and will do so again. As he says, whatever happens, in whatever time we have left, we will spend it painting a beautiful mural on Death’s chamber wall, depicting our truly wonderful lives. With that thought in mind, I fall asleep.

Finally, the day of reckoning arrives. We meet our doctor, Guido Tricot, to learn our fate. Much like Heinrich Schliemann searching for the lost city of Troy, Dr. Tricot has been vigilant in his search for a cure for the dread disease, multiple myeloma, considered only seven years ago to be fatal. Over the past few years, he has changed this prognosis. Employing a protocol that entails carefully timed tandem stem cell transplants, together with a variety of mysterious chemo potions, Dr. Tricot has saved any number of lives. What about us? Reviewing the data from our medical tests, he turns to us, and in his gentle, dignified manner, announces the results. “Perfect, couldn’t be better, we are very pleased,” he said. Brock and I are also elated, as well as very grateful.

Red Canyon, Utah: The Land of the Gods, from Linda Garcia

Red Canyon, Utah: The Land of the Gods, from Linda Garcia

Reflecting on this topsy turvy world, in which life and death are so delicately balanced, I am reminded of complexity–that place situated between chaos and order. Thinking about the recent paper I have written with my colleague Garrison LeMasters, I recall too the romantic perspective of the world, which places the Gods and their shenanigans at the center of our fates. So I think: Perhaps the doctors represent the rational and orderly side of this equation, while the Gods represent randomness and chance.

What next? How to celebrate? Having paid our due to the doctors, we are off to Utah’s canyon country to pay our respect to, and play with, the Gods.

“Once More to the Lake”

View from my chair in the corner of the porch (D. Linda Garcia)

View from my chair in the corner of the porch (D. Linda Garcia)

One can never forget E.B White’s essay “Once More to the Lake,” written for The New Yorker” in 1929. In this essay, White describes in a most eloquent, and detailed fashion, the pleasures he experienced as a child, making an annual retreat with his father to a lake in the woods of Maine. Equally compelling is his account of bringing his own son to this special place. As he notes, the joyfulness of the place was enhanced with each new iteration, as he relives his own childhood experiences through the eyes and delights of his son.

I know the feeling well.  As I described in my earliest blogs, I have had the good fortune of inheriting a cottage at Lake Hawthorne, situated in 450 acres of woods, in Northern New Jersey.  It has been in my family now for five generations, so I have had a chance to witness a number of traditions being reenacted and reinforced over time.  With each new crop of children I, too, was able to fondly reminisce and relive some powerful experiences not only with respect to my own childhood but also that of my son.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation that I set out for the New Jersey Highlands on the Thursday before the Fourth of July. Never mind the two and a half days of preparation–cleaning, laundry, planting the few pots of daisies that had yet to be put in the ground. Never mind the relentless traffic along the way–the endless New Jersey Turnpike, with police cars stationed behind every turn, the roaring trucks racing along Route 287, and the crawling cascade of cars on Route 80, all leaving the city, seeking solace, and heading for destinations such as mine.  As I neared the turnoff on Route 517 in Sparta, I could once again smell the flowers–so to speak. So could my dog Sparky, who extended his nose as far as he could out the car window, and then sniffed and sniffed and sniffed.

Arrival (D. Linda Garcia)

Arrival (D. Linda Garcia)


 Although I was as eager as Sparky to get to the Lake, we had to slow down. The last leg of the trip is a dirt road, and the heavy rains of the previous weeks had left a number of washboards in its stead. Negotiating the hills on the winding road around the lake we finally arrived. Out jumped Sparky, and I soon followed, my books, computer, and luggage in tow.

We were hardly there more than an hour, when my grandson Ben arrived full of pressing news. “Remember,” he said, “when my Dad and Uncle Bret had a fake marriage with their cousins Jenny and Tara. Well, tomorrow we are going to keep up the tradition; I am marrying Olivia (Jenny’s daughter and his third cousin), and Sophie (my grand daughter) is going to marry Brody (her godmother’s son).” It was all settled: they had been planning the event for a week.

The next day, in between claps of thunder and streaks of lightning, the wedding took place–best men, maids of honor, flowers and all. My husband Brock and I supplied the cakes–one chocolate, one vanilla. The children were serious, but a bit tenuous–as well they should have been. When asked if he took his Cousin Olivia for his wife, Ben replied: “Well sort of.” In response, Olivia replied, “Well kinda.”

Mock Wedding--Second Time Around (D. Linda Garcia)

Mock Wedding--Second Time Around (D. Linda Garcia)

You can imagine why sometimes when I am at the lake, I am–like E.B. White–not sure whether I am coming or going. At times like these,  I like to remember that my son Stephen did not ever marry his cousin Jenny.  However, he  did marry his lake playmate Haley–the girl next door.  

The Big Picture

My husband, Brock Evans, is a masterful story teller. Like Johnny Appleseed, Brock spent most of his life traipsing around the country, telling compelling environmental stories, and spreading seeds of hope and commitment on behalf of the environment where ever he went. Upon hearing these stories, people rose to the occasion: they stepped up, and spoke out on behalf of saving the local places so dear to their hearts.

Brock’s motto, “endless pressure, endlessly applied”, was a sure-fired recipe for success.

Brock’s motto, “endless pressure, endlessly applied,” was a sure-fired recipe for success. Hence, wonderful places such as as Hells Canyon, Congaree Swamp National Park, and the Alpine Lake Wilderness Area are now preserved.

Hells Canyon

Hells Canyon

What makes Brock’s stories so captivating is that they do not merely describe a place or an event; rather, they are elaborate tales that incorporate all of the complex and contingent factors on which success depends. By providing a larger context in which the story unfolds, the audience can step into the picture, experiencing it both vicariously and first hand. They can become, in effect, part of the community of practice.

Photography appears to be like story telling in this regard. It is inherently holistic. Although photographers may hone in on a specific target, they give it meaning–above and beyond its aesthetic value–when they situate it in the overall context that rendered its form. Georgetown’s Dean Schaefer, who teaches Looking at Photography in the Communication, Culture and Technology Program, brought this home, when he referred me to Frank Gohlke’s lovely piece, Measure of Emptiness: Grain Elevators in the American Landscape (John Hopkins Press, 1992). Describing how he became enraptured by the poetic possibilities of grain elevators, Gohlke notes:

. . .the grain elevators could not be considered in isolation from the landscape; the building and it context were inseparable. At the same time, I was beginning to realize that the landscape is not a collection of fixed objects on a static spatial grid but a fluid and dynamic set of relationships. Its appearance is the result of a multitude of forces acting in time on the land itself and its human accretions.

Perhaps it is the photographer’s holistic perspective, so well characterized by Gohlke, that allowed my friend and photographer Anna Sofaer not only to discover the solstice and lunar markings on Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon (see my previous blog), but also to grasp–as no other scholars were able to do–the cultural and religious significance of these markings.

Just give me the facts, m'am

Just give me the facts, m'am

As any child will tell you, without stories and pictures, the world is pretty bleak. As well, it is not very informative. Remember the radio and TV show, Dragnet. In almost every segment, the star, Sergeant Joe Friday, appears at the scene of a crime, where a ‘frantic’ woman is attempting to describe what happened. Totally in command, the stoic hero, Joe, takes out his pencil and notebook, and says: Just give me the facts m’am. Have you every wondered, how Joe could possibly solve the mystery, if all he had to go on were the facts?