Thursday, May 28, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: Fledgling

Our backyard is a virtual aviary – the songs of jays, robins, doves, sparrows (and a myriad of other birds I can’t identify) happily drown out the noisy city traffic. I was surprised, however, when a robin family chose to deposit their newest fledgling in our yard. We have two dogs and two boys – not really a tranquil setting for baby birds – but perhaps they thought he’d fit in with us. He wandered about, hopping onto a deflated soccer ball (favorite dog toy), perching on the little slide (usually inhabited by Lucas), investigating the wiffle ball that went sailing past him (Danny’s home run for the day). He let the boys come within three feet before he’d lift his fluffy body and use his impossibly long legs to scurry for cover under the ivy that adorns our fence. He was, however, a true toddler: three second later he’d come back, braver than one his size ought to be. I watched his mom and dad perch high above on the power lines that connect the garage to the main house. When he called out in his cranky “hungry voice,” they’d swoop down with worms, and occasionally make a fighter-plane-style pass over a dog’s head if they thought one wandered too close. We said goodnight as the sun set and I watched him wander about, enjoying his first evening out of the nest.

This morning he let the boys come within inches of his tiny yellow beak and he seemed oddly calm. A few hours later he was still in the same position: fluffy little body snuggled down into a patch of long green grass, his eyes barely open. I looked around for mom and dad, but did not see either one, which made me terribly sad: they would never have left a healthy fledgling unattended. “Mommy,” said Danny with a frown, “the baby bird seems really sleepy.” I found a pair of gardening gloves and gently picked him up, checking to see if he’d been injured. He seemed to be fine, other than the fact that he settled down into my gloved hands and closed his eyes. The boys gathered around and we watched him sleep, Lucas’ breath so close that it ruffled the baby down still peeking out from under the new adult feathers.

I came back out to the yard as the boys napped and stayed with him until he stopped breathing. I buried him in our flower bed and hoped, as I patted the damp earth back into place, that he enjoyed his day of freedom in our little yard.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: "A Story of Lemons"

Date: Mother's Day, 2009

Location: Kitchen

Objective: To Determine Whether or Not My Husband Remembers His Mother's Day Plan to Cook Dinner for Me

Me: *surreptitiously glancing at clock* "Have you decided what you are making me for dinner? It's already four p.m."

Marty: *looks up from newspaper with panicked expression on face* "Er, you were serious about that?"

Me: "Yes dear. You asked what you and the boys could do for me today. I asked you to cook dinner."

Marty: "Or we could go out to eat!"

Me: "No."

Marty: "It would be fun!"

Me: "No. Dining out with a 2 and 5 year-old is not fun. Urban warfare, yes. Fun, No."

Marty: *grabbing wallet and keys* "I'll be back with ingredients!"

Me: "Great! Could you pick up some fresh fruit while you're out?"

Lemons. My husband comes back with lemons. Not one lemon. Not two lemons. No, a full-on 25-pound economy-size bag of lemons. No normal fruit such as, say, apples or other things that children and other humans enjoy eating.

Me: *staring at 50 pounds of lemons sitting on kitchen counter* "Seriously? Lemons?"

Marty: "They were on sale."

We are still drinking lemonade at our house. Lemonade that Marty makes fresh daily and will probably continue to do so for the next ten years, given the amount of lemons in our house. I couldn't resist taking a few pieces of the beautiful yellow fruit and grabbing my camera: I'm thinking of putting this over our fireplace so that even when we are old and senile, he will never forget the day he went to the grocery store unchaperoned and bought 100 pounds of inedible, sour fruit. Lemonade, anyone?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: "Little Toes"

"I'd love a picture of the boys' feet."

This was my mother's opening comment, several phone calls ago, not-so-subtly hinting at her Mother's Day gift. It made me a little nervous, frankly. I've stood on narrow, wobbly boat decks, laid in the gnat-infested grass near the hooves of a very protective momma horse, and climbed atop my husband's shoulders to capture my images. Taking a photograph of my own children's feet should be no problem, right?


Me: "Danny, Lucas, come stand here by mommy."
Lucas: "I waaaaaant my SHOES on!!!!!"
Me: "No, sweetie, grandmom wants a picture of your toes. Without shoes."
Danny: "Gee Lucas, a bee might sting your foot if you step on it without your shoes..."
Me: "Daniel! Don't scare your brother!"
Lucas: *clinging to my leg* "are der bees out here, mommy?"
Me: "No sweetie, no bees. Daniel, get back over here!"

I finally decided against photographing bare toes in grass, and when I spotted the old white Adirondack chair with the peeling paint that sits in a shady corner of our yard, I had a moment of inspiration: I could trap the children in it!

Danny: "Mommy, I can't get out of here! I keep sliding back!"
Lucas: "Stop touching meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
Me: "I'll let you out when you both stop complaining."

It worked. For fifteen whole seconds I had two silent children glaring at me from the depths of their slope-seated prison, chubby bare feet perfectly placed for my photography efforts. This was the last shot I took, the one where Lucas decided to tickle his big brother's foot and they both laughed and held hands. For a nanosecond.

Danny and Lucas in unison: "Are we done YET? OW, he hit me! STOP IT!!!!!!!"

Ah, the joys of motherhood...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: "My Favorite Things 2"

1996, phone call placed to my room in England:

Me: "Hello?"

Dad: "Did you take my camera?"

Me: "I'm sorry, I can't hear you: must be a bad connection."

Dad: "I SAID, did you pack MY camera in one of your eight hundred suitcases?"

Me: *crinkling wad of paper in background* "Dad, the static on the line is terrible. I'll call you later!"

That was the semester I studied abroad and, inadvertently, packed my father's 1968 Asahi Pentax in one of my eight hundred suitcases. I held it hostage even upon my return, continually evading the question of its whereabouts until he finally conceded and bought me a near-identical model (1972) for my college graduation. I loved the delicate light meter, the sound of the shutter ticking closed after a particularly long exposure, the weight of it in my hands. I loved that the film would slip unless I aligned it perfectly, a fact that prevented me from rushing though the process of readying my camera to shoot. I loved carrying it with me when I traveled, its weight a reassuring presence of an old friend.

The cameras in this photographs are those belonging to my family: a collection that reminds me of holidays, graduations, first communions, vacations, life. They all adorn a shelf in our living room, and my oldest son loves to sneak off with the plastic Diana camera that once belonged to my uncle.

Me: *calling up the stairs to his room* "Danny, where is the little black camera?"

Danny: "What camera?"

Me: "The one that is missing from the shelf."

Danny: "I can't hear you mom! What did you say?"

I can't help but smile. My father, of course, finds it hilarious.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Story Behind the Picture: "My Favorite Things"

*Disclaimer: the following story contains personal information about the author and shall not be used to make fun of her in future conversations*

There's no easy way to begin, so I'll just come out and say it: I used to read the encyclopedia for fun. This fact alone could be the reason I always had to take my science lab partners to prom/homecoming in high school. That, combined with the fact I was on the math team. And I won science fairs. And I watched Jeopardy! with a fanaticism unparalleled by most teenagers on this planet.

I adore books. In my prime (before toddlers and laundry and, well, life, entered the picture), I could read three books a day. In college, I worked as a book repair technician, gently renewing and repairing the beloved collection of the college library...I revelled in the comforting smell of the pages and the texture of the woven binding cloth. When I moved on to graduate school and saw the truly epic reading list attached to the syllabus, I smiled as those around me wept. My husband laughs and simply refuses to believe I can read - and comprehend - a 300 page book in less than a day. He also refused to accept that I read an entire collection of encyclopedias for entertainment value until I quoted the publisher (Grolier, 1968) and he called my parents to confirm.

Marty: "Do you have a set of encyclopedias in the house?"
Mom: "Yes dear, why?"
Marty: "Michelle insists that she used to read them for fun."
Mom: "Yes, well, she did. We had to drag her out of the house to get a bit of sunlight every now and again."
Marty: "Wow."
Mom: "Yes, well, we all know she's a little...strange..."
Marty: "You mean nerdy?"
Mom: "Yes, that's really the best way to describe it."

I used my Duaflex viewfinder and set up the still life with all manner of books from around our home, including a Greek-English dictionary that once belonged to Marty's grandfather. It was clearly well-loved, full of hand-written annotations, its pages folded and marked for repeated use. Marty says he cannot remember a day that his grandfather wasn't reading the Classics in both Greek and Latin. Had I been lucky enough to know Dr. Hayes while he was alive, I know we would have gotten along famously.

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