The Snow Screams2008
Salt, sun and plows conspire to keep the highways, mostly, clean. It’s only when you turn off of the main roads on to the less maintained surfaces that you hear the scream.
You see, at 4 degrees below zero Fahrenheit there is no crunch beneath the wheels of your vehicle. Snow may crunch beneath the weight of your boots but under the weight of your wheels the snow screams. The scream is a high pitched screech that speaks volumes to the conditions that await you just outside the warmth and comfort you have behind the wheel.
As you increase speed towards your destination the whistle of the wind creates a duet with the wailing snow. You are the first encumberment the wind encounters as it crosses the wide expanse of river. Unwilling to stop in its steady march east it buffets you and creeps into cracks along the frozen and stiff weather strips by the doors.
As you come to a halt the scream of the snow ends leaving only the whistle of the wind to continue the chorus. Stepping out you feel the first slice of the cold knife that is the wind against your unprotected face. Closer to the edge of the river it is joined by the intermittent sting of blowing snow.
Out of the car and towards the rivers edge a camera position is quickly determined. If you are smart the exposure has been calculated well before leaving the warmth of the car and the exposure is quickly counted off. I guess quickly is a relative term; 7 seconds in July seems to pass a lot quicker that those same 7 seconds in January. A couple of set ups later it’s back to the car.
Back in the car, which was left running with the heater on, you find bright red cheeks in the rear view mirror. A few minutes down the road the cheeks go from numb to tingling to warm then hot. Not frost bitten but a bit wind burned and able to form a stiff smile at beating old man winter once again.
We viewed the pillars through the eyes of an explorer. We had stumbled upon an archaeological find but it was a discovery of an artifact not a few millennia old but scant decades. Yet those decades may as well be millennia, for we are truly clueless as to the pillars use or utility.
They stand silently in the field, some missing and some broken. All carry the scars that mother nature and time inflict on mans feeble attempts to construct a lasting legacy. But construct a legacy they do, if even for a short time longer.
Regardless of our proximity to civilization, movement among the pillars became a trek into another place and time; a time of world war and the need to fuel that wars engines. This was just such a place, a place where the ordinance was manufactured to propel the shells from battle ships, shells that fell on far off lands. Foreign lands with scars that have probably healed better than the scars left by the plant that hurled the shells at their coast lines and fields.
All that is left now are the skeletons of buildings long abandoned and ruins to be explored with wonder and awe. This is a surreal landscape that time and most men have forgotten but for the few who, like us in our wanderings, happen across it.
You leave the landscape here unscathed as you depart but it leaves a mark on you. A mark that will long be with you, a haunting memory of terrible times and the engines that fueled them.
19. Like the caller on the Mr. Obvious Show says, "Hmmm....I never made the connection....."
Never made the connection that is, until a friend pointed it out to me. Me, the one with a lisence plate that reads "IVXIV" and one that reads "FJIVXIV".
Sure I looked at the image in front of me on the ground, and in the rail. I set up the sun to peak through the railing. Took light readings and calculated the exposure to best convey the texture of the wood on the deck. All the while missing the meaning of the shadow on the ground.
Never making the connection. Never really looking at the scene, enjoying the day or the view. I should be the expert on my images. I should know them inside out. There really shouldn't be any surprised for me but there was. A pleasent surprise but a surprise none the less.
Shame on me for missing the connection in my image. Here is hoping you do better in your images.
Rank has its privileges. In this case it’s a private entrance just a few feet away from a parking space. Location: The Savanna Army Depot mostly decommissioned. Once a bustling Depot in charge of the manufacture and testing of ordinance that fueled World Wars, it now slowly deteriorates under the blazing summer sun and the harsh cold winds of winter.
The sun and wind, along with rain and bitter cold, make the proximity of a parking space all the more desirable. A strong winter wind whipping in across the Mississippi River and up the tall sand bluffs can really bite at exposed skin. I’m sure the Generals that crossed this threshold were well aware of the luxury it afforded. Besides, who wants to mingle with the enlisted men and junior officers on their way to the office?
One wonders at the daily routine behind the door back in the days when the depot was at full tilt, with armed guards patrolling a long perimeter of barbed wire and chain link fence. Walk ways between buildings still sport the roofs and walls that protected the comings and goings from prying eyes. That was back before the satellites that could read a license plate from high in the sky. It was in the pre “infra red and digital technology that read and hear through the corrugated steel walls and roofs”. Those were days that danced to the sound of a manual type writer. The type writer sounds that remind one of experimental jazz played late at night in dark places. Places not so different from this, full of mystery and often misunderstood.
I’m sure the smell of mimeograph ink hung thick in the air, the sound of the hand cranked drum playing rhythm to the staccato lead of the teletype. No doubt cigarette smoke wafted through the halls accompanied by the click of heels on bare wood floors and the clatter and click of real wood doors opening and closing.
But the Commanders entrance served as a buffer to the daily grind, affording the one with the biggest load a bit of respite. Rank has its privileges and sometimes, just sometimes they are deserved.
Looks can be deceiving.
I was under the impression the stream on the up stream side of this dam was nearly the same depth as down stream. Maybe the logs “lying” on top of the water above the dam should have been a clue. I was more interested in the kids swimming towards the top of the dam. Even calling it swimming is a bit of a stretch. It was more like a low crawl in cold water, and I do mean cold water no matter how sunny a day it is, across the mud field.
Lest you think poorly of me for not intervening in the “fun”, let me profile the group for you.
Normally my motto is live and let live, even when the stakes look high. Consider a few facts about our party goers. Most of the revelers had a months worth wages invested in tattoos. Visible piercings, I shudder to visualize the unseen piercings, were abundant enough to give hope for a rise in the precious metals futures. Also consider the fact that they were staging a wedding reception out of the back of a pickup complete with coolers and stock rack. Details here may be spotty due to my hesitance to actually get very close to said pickup.
The group was friendly enough, though. They generously offered me a beer after inquiring as to what I was doing (camera and tripod slung over my shoulder) but I graciously declined. Much as I like beer, taking one from a minor is risky at best!
The elders seemed to have a handle on the activities and who am I to judge. Like I said, live and let live.
By the way, all of the swimmers survived to swim another day. One day older and that much closer to their own age of majority, marked no doubt by their first store bought tattoo……..
Waiting for Sunset
It will come quick enough, sunset that is. It sets ever so slowly in the western sky until about the last ten minutes or so. Then, if you aren’t ready, it is a race to get into position, get meter readings made and tweek the final composition.
That’s why we are here a half an hour ahead of time. The next twenty minutes will feel like an hour waiting for the last ten to fly by at warp speed. Regardless of how early or late you get there a sunset is a crap shoot at best. You have no idea about how good they might be. That is unless you are traveling in a car somewhere. Typically on an interstate where you can’t stop and even if you could you don’t have a camera any way. Those sunsets are always perfect and beautiful, real wall hangers to be sure.
The sunsets you budget time for and get set up early to shoot are the ones that are always “iffy”, that are as likely to fizzle as not. But, just like the gambler that knows the next hand will be his big pay off or the next pull on the slot machine will result in the sound of falling coins, we keep going back. There’s no 800 number to a sunset shooters hotline to get help with our addiction. No, we are resigned to continually being lured out after the elusive sunset.
One more time is all we need…..just one more time……..
Aimless wandering with no destination and no agenda; it’s a luxury not everyone can afford and I don’t take the time to do enough of.
Our last filed trip, to Decorah, yielded a couple hours of “walk around time”. The circumstances were kind of unexpected, kind of planned and it worked out that there was some time to soak the uniqueness of the community.
A block south of the main street through town sits the Winneshiek County court house. Imposing, in a rural, small town, Midwestern way it yielded a number of opportunities for some creative imagery.
As I approached from the north east I saw this small cannon, relic of a bygone era. I knew there was a picture there but I had no idea at the time the direction I would eventually take. Not until I had circled the building and approached from behind the cannon did I realize the irony of its placement.
You see, the cannon is pointed directly at the front door of a small, nondescript law office. Call it irony or maybe poetic justice but if you are smiling I think I know what profession you are not in………
Not the Mean Streets
The mean streets they’re not.
As a general rule these streets are as safe at 7 in the am as they are at midnight. You don’t need to ask around town about which streets, or to be fair avenues, to avoid.
These streets are clean and clutter free and not because of a large contingent of sanitary workers who labor at picking up after the populous. Rather, it is the pride of a community that polices itself keeping things neat and tidy.
It’s not a new town by any stretch of the imagination. It’s Norwegian roots go deep and are as strong as the limestone bluffs that ring the town. The same pride that keeps the streets clean has also helped maintain the buildings on the “main drag”. Even the ubiquitous tattoo parlor seems to blend in, no small feat to be sure.
These streets are fun to walk around and explore. Little treasures seem to hover around every corner just waiting to be discovered by those willing to look. These streets are especially fun to watch from the corner booth in a local sports bar. Altjough maybe it was the company that made that lunch memorable………but the sun shinning in and cold Liney’s on tap didn’t hurt any either!
Nope, definitely not the mean streets…..
I’ve been this way before but my minds eye sees it a bit differently this time. Disjointed and out of context, a place slightly askew.
The heat is palpable and stifling, the humidity oppressive. It is the humidity that mutes the noises which surround me; the sound of the water truck wetting the street to try and control the dust. The distant hiss of air brakes on a parked locomotive as they release excess pressure while it rests waiting for westbound traffic to clear the swing span. Then, there is the constant din of construction. The sounds that can never really be identified but indicate “progress” is being made.
Progress; indicated by a landscape that has no resemblance to the community that limped along south of the tracks just a few short years ago. Maybe if the homes had been a bit newer, the community a bit younger, it would still be here. Gone are the residents, displaced by this thing called progress; a progress mandated by the environmental concerns of an aging industrial power plant and a thirst for consumables packaged in earth friendly bio-plastics. The irony is they are earth friendly and biodegradable only if left in the sun to decompose or when re-cycled. Once locked in a landfill they are no better than any other trash, future fossils for generations yet unborn. Their use did make someone feel like they made a difference, and for some, feelings and good intentions are all that matters.
Tell that to the residents scatter to the four winds that will never see this place as home again. Maybe then they’ll feel better too.
“…..we have these all over, except, now that I think about it, we have the pesky railings at the ends that obstruct cameras….”
Hmm, pesky rails, maybe a chance to think outside the box……how often do I see an encumberment where someone else sees an opportunity? When I see a rail, I see an element to utilize in the image, not a pesky obstruction.
To me the rail, or wall or fence is an opportunity. They become a vital part of the image either overtly or in a subliminal manner influencing the way we interpret the image.
I use them as a frame containing the elements of an image. Other times they create a barrier, forming a firm line in the sand between opposing forces. Forces like you and a steep drop into raging waters. A good bit of the time the railings are just another design element in the image; maybe a set of lines that compliment another part of the image. Or maybe they fill a void between the viewer and the real subject of the picture. Finally, they can be the subject of the image themselves, the reason for the picture.
I know there are many images I have seen that include elements I would never have considered including; power lines, poles, trash and the like. Sometimes I find the inclusion…..superfluous. Other times I feel they make a strong statement, greatly enhancing the message of the image and make a conscious effort to try and include them in my images when appropriate.
Opportunity or obstruction…..it just depends on which side of the box you are working, inside or out.
As a fun way to relax I can’t think of a better way than bank fishing. Bank fishing is the essence of peace and tranquility and you don’t need much to get started.
No, we are not tournament fishing here. We don’t need, or want for that matter, bass boats and gear that cost more than most starter houses, and we’re not talking the starter homes that need a little of everything either.
A bucket to sit on, and carry the catch home in. A pole, some night crawlers or a few minnows (known as minnies to those in the know) and a little bit of tackle. No 10 pound tackle boxes need here, just a few extra hooks, sinkers and bobbers. Just enough tackle to fill a small tray that easily nestles in the bottom of the bucket for the trip to the bank of the river.
This fishing is the simple life incarnate. Some sun in the morning to warm the bones and drive off the damp chill. Some shade midday to keep from frying us a deep crimson, the shade of red that would make a fire truck proud. Maybe a little open water wouldn’t hurt either, with just a snag or two to jig for crappies or blue gills.
This is the kind of fishing a couple of seasoned citizens would enjoy on a weekday. Days far from the weekend crowd that lines the banks with squalling kids and boom boxes at full tilt drowning out the quite that is the first love of a bank fisherman. Luck might find you listening in on a friendly but heated discussion about the best fishing spots. Friendly discussion might be a bit of a stretch but they are buddies and have a history, so it’s all good!
Off the bank or off the bridge, fishin’ don’t get no better’n this, no way, no how!
To a city guy, small towns have a lot of things in common. There is the meat locker for instance. That’s where us “city folk” go to get the best beef. It is Iowa corn fed, slaughtered and processed on site then quick frozen and wrapped in white paper that’s labeled with your name and not for sale. It isn’t some range cattle that’s shipped half way across the country, loosing weight and flavor along the way like the rest of you folks get. It’s Iowa prime and there aint none better!
Then there is the restaurant. Some come with a lunch counter and some have a buffet. They all have that rural Midwest small town feel with friendly waitresses, old farmers in bibs telling stories and drinking a bottomless cup of coffee and good food. If you don’t know what I mean by good food, then you have never eaten in one. If you are lucky there is fresh pie.
But for me the one thing that sets a town apart is the grain elevator. A grain elevator elevates the status a bit and definitely brings in more traffic. Plus you can see where the town is from miles away. The challenge is getting there once you spot the poured concrete monolith rising above the horizon.
Think of the elevator as a hub in the wheel that is corn. Save the corn grown for your own feed lot, nearly every grain passes through an elevator on its way to the end user. Field to truck to elevator to rail car to elevator to barge, the route rarely varies. The small town elevators are rarely jam-packed like the ADM depots with their long lines of straight trucks and semis waiting in queue for hours. It’s a bit more laid back in town.
The other thing that most, if not all, towns have is a ball field. It’s not a soccer filed, or a football field but a good old all American, baseball, hotdogs and apple pie base ball field. Complete, if you are lucky, with grand stands, running water restrooms and an honest to goodness concession stand. It’s the kind that has hotdogs and burgers and maybe even a steaming boat of Nachos.
There probably isn’t anything more Iowan than a Saturday afternoon baseball game under the shadow of the elevator, but that’s a story for another time.
Where My Father Worked
When the timing is right, even old buildings have a ghost.
Dad worked for the Telephone Company, Northwestern Bell to be exact. That was back in the days before the breakup. Some folks remember those days; one phone company, reasonable long distance rates that you didn’t have to sign up for or have a secret code to use. Back when every other person wasn’t walking around with a phone plastered to their ear yammering on about God knows what.
But I digress.
Dad worked in the building that used to stand where the empty lot is. The building that’s left was newer and housed the rows of mechanical relays that routed your phone call. They kept it after all of the cut backs in man power that the digital age brought. The rows of relays and other assorted gear have long since been replaced by a PC and some gigs of memory. No more clatter of relays to listen to on a Sunday afternoon while Dad was manning the test board. Gone are the punch cards that printed out when a phone line had a problem and the ticker tape they used to send inter company mail.
And no more building, the one my Father worked in. The one my brother and I would travel to on the odd Sunday when he had to man the test board in case any trouble calls came in. The test board had real lights, switches that clicked and the cables to make connections. No mother boards or chips or PC’s, just Dad and a headset and a big piece of machinery. That was back in the day when you could actually call someone about phone trouble and expect to see them the same day.
The building where my Father worked had high ceilings and huge timbers for floor joists painted white to form the ceiling. You gained entrance at first by dialing a rotary telephone mounted outside the door with the current code to unlock it. Later that was replaced by a key pad that silently translated the code. No swoosh, click, click, click of a rotary dial. After which you climbed the long stairs to the second floor and the “room”; home to the test board and desks and barely used carbon paper in the waste baskets, certainly a rare find to a 12 year old, sometimes even in red.
But the best were the rolls of used ticker tape to roll up and push in the center to create ever longer tapered tubes until you pushed just a bit to far and the whole thing unraveled, only to be re-rolled and tested for length again.
That was the building where my Father worked, the place that is now just an empty lot, that when the time is right reveals the ghost of the building that was. A building long gone that is still full of a 12 year olds memories.
In Iowa county roads are designated by an “F” prefix, as in F21 Clinton County, and are mostly gravel. If you aren’t familiar with gravel in the county road context it is yellow, made of crushed limestone of varying sizes and dusty. Not just dusty but pea soup fog dusty if it has been dry for more than two days in a row. Coat the corn leaves tan dusty, make you sneeze until your sides ache dusty. Need I go on? I thought not.
It is also hard and has a nasty habit of forming washboards on its surface. Washboards are just what they sound like; little hills and valleys that resemble the venerable washboard of yore and will try their damdest to rattle your eye teeth out if taken at too high a speed
County roads aren’t always dusty though. They are dusty unless it rains or snows or a combination of the two and then they are “muddy”. It’s a yellow mustardy color that forms a mist that clings to the side and bottom of your car. When dried the mud spray forms yellow cement that “requires” a chisel to get it off. Oh, and the roads aren’t hard anymore either. They do still maintain the nasty washboards, only now the washboards spend less time jarring eye teeth and more time scooting you ever nearer to the so soft shoulder. No, now the gravel becomes the consistency of thick plaster in spots. I don’t recommend stopping in those spots, unless you have a buddy with a 4 wheel drive that can pull you out. It’s not pretty.
So why hassle with county roads? What, you haven’t taken a look at the picture yet? I thought not.
It's the Cold.....
Not the cold that keeps your sliced ham from going bad or lettuce fresh a day or two longer in the crisper of the ‘fridge.
Not a bottom of the chest freezer in July cold, the kind you feel digging for the last package of frozen hamburger for the picnic. That’s a pleasant diversion from the July heat and humidity kind of cold.
No, this is a deep tangible cold. A grab it out of the air and hold it cold. It’s the cold that descends into the Midwest in December and hangs on until the flowers start to peak out of the spring soil.
It’s the cold that makes your eyes ache and the hairs in your nose feel crisp, ready to crack if you breathe too deeply.
It’s that cold which makes the ice. The ice that thins at the shore trapping air bubbles. Bubbles that eventually freeze in layers, trapped until the thaw of warm air and bright sunshine. That’s the cold I wait for, save a vacation day or two for, chill my toes and bundle up in layers of insulation before I venture out in. To get the shot……