Our final approach to the Rochester, New York airport took us right over the city. From the plane, I spied some impressive waterfalls in the heart of the city’s downtown. I had to photograph them.
I learned there were actually two waterfalls in the city, Lower Falls and High Falls. I had seen the latter. I discovered that the best place to photograph the falls was from the Pont de Rennes bridge, which we accessed from Brown’s Race Historic District in downtown.
Built in 1891, the bridge originally carried traffic on Platt St. across the Genesee River. In 1982, the bridge became a pedestrian bridge as part of the historic district.
The late afternoon sun was shining brightly when my wife, son, and I stepped onto the old truss bridge. The bridge’s bright blue painted railings instantly drew your eyes across the river. In the background, the red bricks of the Genesee Brewing Co. contrasted nicely with the surroundings.
I did take several shots of the waterfalls. But it was the bridge and its adjacent colors that really got my attention.
Memories often materialize in the most unusual of circumstances.
It was early June, and we had endured rainstorm after rainstorm. At times, the rain pelted down at the rate of two inches an hour.
When you live between two mountain ranges and groundwater has already saturated the sticky, red-clay soil, that much precipitation spells trouble. And trouble found lots of folks throughout the picturesque Shenandoah Valley.
High water flooded roadways, keeping fire departments and rescue squads busy with multiple water rescues. It was still pouring when a river of muddy water rushed through our backyard.
I decided to check the five-foot crawl space beneath our ranch home. I slipped on my old black gumboots and jumped into eight inches of water. Instantly, cold, yucky water surrounded my right foot. The combination of old age and wear and tear had finally taken their toll on my versatile rubber boots.
I was grateful a local plumber was gracious enough to bail us out despite being swamped with other calls. Everything beneath our home seemed to have weathered the storm except my precious boots.
Gumboots are knee-high footwear made of rubber and fabric designed for all kinds of outdoor activities. Those boots and I went way back. They had served me well in a variety of conditions over several years.
I remember where I bought them nearly three decades ago at a now-defunct shoe store in Mt. Hope, Ohio. I wore the boots often in many different situations. I had depended on them time and again, often in dire instances.
When a storm hit, I put them on to check my roads as a township trustee. I can’t tell you how many flooded streets and ditches I waded through wearing those boots. I traipsed through many snowstorms with them, too.
Once after a big snow, I spied a grizzled old opossum munching birdseed from a feeder that sat atop a picnic table in our backyard. On went my coveralls and those gumboots. I intended to shoo off the unwanted mammal. As I opened the door, our pet rat terrier Bill shot out the door ahead of me.
Bill’s fearless instincts immediately kicked in when he spotted the opossum. The little dog circled the unimpressed marsupial once, and on his second pass, Bill leaped for the much larger animal’s tail. The opossum hit the ground with a thud, dead on arrival.
Those boots even helped me as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. On one run, I found myself standing in the shallows of a stream holding up an elderly victim who had fallen into the rushing creek. I still remember the fire chief’s surprised expression when he saw me in the water with those black boots.
Another time, on an early subzero February morning, I spotted our Amish neighbor heading across frozen farm fields toward our house. Levi was delivering the promised fertilizer for our garden. Steam shimmered in the morning light as it rose from the hardworking draft horses and the load of manure they were pulling in the spreader.
By the time I dressed and pulled on my gumboots, I was too late. Levi and his pitchfork had already deposited a still-steaming pile of manure onto the garden plot. Standing in that frigid, fragrant morning air, I asked him how much I owed for the delivery. Levi just smiled and said wryly, “Nothing. I don’t have anything in it.”
Like I said, sometimes the strangest circumstances stir the fondest memories.
Heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Florence forced many bird species to lay low. This young female Ruby-throated Hummingbird hunkered down on the top rung of the tomato cage near our backyard hummingbird feeder.
I took a series of rapid-fire shots of the bird sitting in the rain. In one of those, the hummingbird shook the moisture off its feathers. I was fortunate to catch this awkward looking, twisting position.
My wife and I sat on our back porch enjoying a light lunch. A gentle breeze sifted through the backyard as monarch and skipper butterflies flitted about, buoyed by the day’s brightness and coaxed on by instincts humans have yet to understand fully.
The rhythmical hum of neighborhood lawnmowers joined in concert to drown out the hypnotic cadence of the cicadas and katydids. As if they were following instructions, the leaves of red maples and sugar maples were beginning to blush just a tinge of their real color hidden all spring and summer by the chlorophyll.
Try as it might, Daylight Savings Time can’t delay the inevitable. The sun and the moon, the stars and the planets, work their seasonal magic, triggering an unstoppable unfolding of goodness and allergies alike.
Even in the noontime heat and humidity, senior citizens and expectant mothers walk their dogs on the broad neighborhood streets. In some cases, it’s the other way around, leashes fully extended, human arms straining to keep control and still chat on their cell phones.
Dragonflies dart here and there, somehow avoiding being lunch for some hungry migrating birds. Black and turkey vultures circle overhead, letting the convection vortexes carry them higher and higher.
White and yellow Sulphur butterflies zigzag their way past my window as if imitating fallen leaves being blown through the yard. A few grasshoppers jump from one blade of grass to another in short flights like so many commuter planes.
Summer’s full corn moon has come and gone in one cool weekend, a pleasant relief from the storms and heat. But come Monday, the late summer swoon returned, ushering in more warm and muggy weather all across the eastern United States.
So intense was the dreaded combination of atmospheric siblings heat and humidity, some schools mercifully canceled or dismissed early. Without air conditioning, students and staff swelter, unable to conduct the proper learning processes.
That weather, however, eventually ends. Sooner or later, September’s customary, soothing elements do return. Blue-sky days precede comfortable evenings followed by starry nights. Unless infiltrated by tropical storm remnants, thunderstorms come and go without catastrophic consequences.
That’s what makes September the jewel in fall’s seasonal crown. It quietly but most assuredly melds August’s stubborn temperament into October’s Technicolor Dreamcoat landscape.
Until the first killing frost, September is the pollinators’ paradise. Squadrons of bees, flies, ants, butterflies, hummingbirds, and hummingbird moths follow the sweetness from fall bloom to fall bloom.
The mums’ warm colors have replaced the showy bubblegum petunias as the go-to domesticated floral display. Melons, gourds, pumpkins, and squash take center stage at produce stands. Thorny thistles and goldenrod populate the rural roadsides until they meet their sickled doom.
The furry critters must note the changes as well. The squirrels and chipmunks are bolder, more aggressive in their foraging, which is only appropriate. Their lives likely depend on the amount they stored if they can remember where they put their cache.
The morning and evening chatter at the backyard bird feeders is diminished to Song Sparrows and Northern Cardinals, with the Carolina wren making an occasional soliloquy. Now and then the northern mockingbird will chip in a few bars, too.
Once the winter migrants show up in a month or so, that scenario will change. Until then, we’ll enjoy the spontaneous choruses of the crickets, katydids, and cicadas. We’ll joyfully anticipate autumn’s arrival while summer’s pleasantries still linger.
When I saw this scene near Mt. Storm, WV, a multitude of questions zipped through my mind. Why was this old farm truck parked under this giant sugar maple tree? What stories could it tell? What had it hauled during all those years of service? Did the farmer have a special place in his heart for this faithful old truck? Did he park it under the tree for protection? Did he park it close to the highway for others to enjoy?
I don’t know any of the answers to those questions. However, I do know that the truck and the tree caught my attention. There was something poetic about the ancient tree sheltering the old vehicle like a hen protecting its chick. Whatever the reasons, “Old Truck, Old Tree” is my Photo of the Week.
I sat in awe at the beauty unfolding before me. What I had seen compelled me out into the dawn of the day.
I had slept restlessly despite having been emotionally and physically drained by the previous days’ activities. I had returned to Ohio to assist our son in preparing to move before the professional movers would shuffle him off beyond Buffalo to upstate New York for his new job.
For two long, hard days, we sorted and packed his items, and cleaned the house he was leaving for a smaller apartment. I would also stuff our van with family heirlooms and thrift store pieces to take back to Virginia. It was hard to see him off, he and I both in tears.
With those emotions still stirring internally, I surrendered to what lured me outdoors. The day was dawning with a broken cluster of wispy gray clouds hanging in the eastern sky. A spot of pink hue peeked at the horizon, giving me hope of a lovely sunrise.
I sat in the morning’s coolness on the patio waiting breathlessly for the show to begin. Would those clouds enhance or hinder a brilliant sunrise? The answer found itself in patience, not my best quality.
Nevertheless, I remained nearly alone overlooking Millersburg, Ohio from our friends’ place high on a hill. A light, feathery mist lingered over the hardwoods, farm fields, and commercial properties that filled the Killbuck Valley.
As the sky brightened ever so slightly, a menacing caw, caw, caw punctuated the morning air. I strained in the dim light to find the source of the harshness. Suddenly, a pair of inky figures, their black wings flapping furiously, repeated their raucous call.
The two American crows were on a beeline southwest in hot pursuit of another crow far ahead of them. It was like two undercover cop cars chasing a crook.
The only other sounds were human-induced, the distant hum of a few vehicles, and a dump truck on an early run from the gravel pit down the road. Neither crickets nor katydids had awakened yet.
Then it happened. A silent burst of radiance raised me out of my chair and freed me from my stupor. I danced barefoot into the dewy lawn. I soon found myself at the southeast corner of the yard where I had a better angle to view the sunrise and could ignore the obnoxiousness of an ill-placed cell tower, its red lights annoyingly blinking.
Ironically, the only camera in hand was the one on my cell phone. So I hypocritically began snapping photo after photo of the stunning, flowing scene changing second by second.
Those once gray clouds now glowed gold, yellow, orange, red, pink, mauve, and crimson. In the foreground, security lights and streetlights twinkled below the incredible show. One would think I was observing my first ever sunrise the way I clicked away.
Still, I continued to capture the incredible drama before me, not for myself so much as for others. In such a setting, my joy comes as much in the sharing as experiencing the splendor. When the sun finally poked above the horizon, I walked back towards the house.
This sunrise had awakened me as no other had. I felt renewed and refreshed from the emotions and exertions of the previous days. I was ready to begin my journey home.
For most folks, if they saw it, this was just another sunrise. To me, it was a blessed miracle.
As I explored the reconstructed buildings at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, I came upon this scene. The grazing horse was on the north side of the barn, and I was on the south. For fear of spooking the horse, I used my long lens to zoom past the open barn door, the horse stalls, and to the shadowed gate on the far side.
The contrast between the darkened gate and the sundrenched horse made an interesting composition. “Grazing in the Sun” is my Photo of the Week.
Milestones. We all have them throughout our individual lifetimes.
These life events deserve recognition. There is no better time than the present to acknowledge and celebrate them as they occur.
The start of a new school year is such an occasion, and many of my friends on social media celebrated that event. Multiple posts of children and grandchildren heading off for the first day of school were shared.
I joined the party.
Our oldest grandchild is a child no more. Evan began his high school experience as a freshman recently. His younger brother, Davis, entered his first year in middle school as a sixth grader. Our granddaughter Maren started third grade at her elementary school.
Three students, three different schools, three different time schedules. That’s a family milestone with crisscrossing ramifications. Neva and I are glad we’re close by to help weave the way through that tangled web of unfolding activities.
Disbelief overtook the significant adults in the lives of the three grandkids. How did we reach this place in time already?
Evan, Davis, and Maren just took it in stride as if it were just another day at school. Perhaps they are the wisest of the group.
With Labor Day upon us, I’m also reminded of the importance of vocational milestones. Being recognized for loyal service to a company for an extended period of time is an honor. Some businesses do a marvelous job of employee recognition while others not so much.
Knowing I had spent my first career as a public educator, a friend asked me about my favorite memories of school. Walking those school hallways for 30 years, I wasn’t sure how to answer at first. I had had so many enriching and endearing personal experiences that I hardly knew where to start.
First of all, I loved my jobs as a teacher and then as an elementary principal. Both positions were most assuredly milestones on my timeline of life.
I remember the joy of watching my very first students file shyly into the fourth-grade classroom, unsure of how to react to their very first male teacher. Given the characters in that crowded classroom, it didn’t take long for their various personalities to emerge.
As a principal, the first day of school was a joy for me. Much of my energy and that of the support staff went into preparing for that day to ensure a smooth start to another school year.
As I reflected further, though, I realized that the most important milestones for me weren’t the first or last days of school. No, the many precious moments on particularly hectic, stressful days are what enriched my life the most. The significant memories for me were the touching ones. Gold watches can’t compete with group hugs from sweaty, sticky kindergartners returning from recess.
Anniversaries, birthdays, retirements, promotions, owning your first home, completing your first marathon race, competing in the special Olympics are but a few of society’s valued milestones. But for me, the most cherished ones can’t be memorialized in any material or monetary form.
The milestones that mean the most are at hand in everyday life happenings that we all experience. A monarch butterfly refueling on a sunflower. The unexpected grasp of a child’s hand around your finger. The moment the full moon peeks over the horizon. A bright double-rainbow arched in the sky after a fierce thunderstorm.
These are but a few of the highlights that I cherish. What are yours?