Just Shelley Photography Places

Stream of Consciousness

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Today the humidity was high but the weather was cool, creating that clammy effect you normally associate with damp basements or old moss. The type of weather where people say, “You could cut the air with a knife, it’s so thick”. Not surprising for a land that isn’t much more than a very stable swamp, necklaced in by America’s largest rivers.

I visited the Chain of Rocks Bridge again, and walked in the cool air over the Mississippi, looking at beaver paw prints in the mud in the Missouri side that must have been made by one huge creature, the prints were so big. They were scattered about a spot at the river where something large had been dragged from the water. Drift wood for a dam? Catfish? Boat?


I’ve always lived on or near water, and couldn’t imagine living in any place that didn’t have water close by. My first home was in a farm house overlooking the Roosevelt river, and I learned how to swim when my Dad took me to the river and dumped me in. “Swim, dear”, he’d say, as I frantically dog paddled, floating over a drop off that turned the water from comforting sandy blue to deep unknown green black.

Once I learned to swim I lived in the water every summer, spending most of my time at a cove formed by a small hill cut off from the main land by the higher river waters. When I was in town, I lived at the pool, though I never have cared for the chlorinated waters.

After we moved to Seattle, I would hang around at Golden Gardens or at Green Lake, swimming or walking along the beaches, sunning in the grass. As an adult, I lived in apartments near or overlooking Lake Union.

Now that I think back on it, my earliest romantic relationships had some association with the water. There was the boat mechanic who lived on the water and taught me how to drive large fast cruisers. And there was Bryan, the hydroplane racer, who taught me how to drive small fast boats. The relationships didn’t last, but the love of water did.

When I started college in Yakima, I would spend lazy summer afternoons inner tubing with friends on the Yakima River, all of us tied to a small boat that contained our drinks. We had beer among the beverages, but most of us drank water or juice or pop — there was something about floating peacefully along, butt in the cool water, sun on your face, and good company that precluded the need for anything more. I thought I could just stay in the water and float away and down until meeting up with the Columbia and hence to the Ocean and one day wash up in Hawaii. Or Japan.


When I met my husband Rob, he talked me into moving to Phoenix, not difficult because I was always game for a lark. Still, I was a little reluctant to move into a land which I assumed was nothing but dry desert and no water to speak of. However, when I got there I found no such thing, not while people insist on piping water where water has no right to be. Artificial water spots abounded, and even our apartment complex had a stream running through it, home to ducks we would adopt every winter.

One of our favorite places in Phoenix was the Phoenix Zoo with its natural habitats specializing in the Southwest, and the man made lake full of water fowl wintering in this hospitable home. We would grab some popcorn and munch it, sitting at a table, looking out over the lake at the birds. One time, we dropped some of the popcorn to some ducks near our table, which really wasn’t a good idea as birds from all over the lake converged on our table. We beat a hasty retreat, throwing popcorn down behind us to distract the flocks.

We ended up moving back to the northwest, first Ellensburg, then Seattle and Portland. In Portland, our home was over a creek that would over flow its banks in rainy weather, but was far enough away not to be a threat. What was a threat is how the water loosened the roots of the big firs, which the winds would knock over. During one bad storm we heard a monsterous crash and ran outside to find that an uprooted fir tree had cut a large van in half. I have photos of the van, if I ever find them, I’ll show them to you.

From Portland, we moved to Grand Isle, Vermont, a perfect home for a water baby like me. We were surrounded by water and I would spend hours looking over the lake, watching the play of weather on the hills in New York. It was with sadness that we had to leave this home I loved and move to Boston, but we lived in apartment overlooking the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, so I was content.

Of course, when I moved to San Francisco, I had a home on the Bay, which is what one would expect. And this brings me back to here, St. Louis, and my home among the rivers and the humidity, and walks on bridges looking at beaver prints in the mud along the banks.

Not that my relationship with water was always smooth. When I was probably about 6 or 7, we visited some people that had a home on a small, weedy lake. They had a wooden dock next to their house and we were out sitting in the sun, enjoying the heat and the buzzing dragonflies, sitting in the warmth of the late afternoon green-gold light.

I’m not sure how, or by who, but I was pushed into the water, which would be no big thing except that somehow when I came to the surface, I hit the bottom of the raft. The water was thick with weeds and dark from the raft and I became confused and quickly panicked, choking in the still warm waters, clawing at the bottom of the raft, trying to find the end. Just as suddenly as I found myself in the water, I was grabbed by one arm and dragged out from under the raft. If I can’t remember who pushed me in, I can’t remember who pulled me out, either. But I do remember the warm green gold of the afternoon, and the cold green black of the shadow of the raft.


Later, when I was in Seattle, I was invited to watch the Lake Union hydroplane races from a large boat tied up to the floats around the track. There was large group of us, and we partied and watched the races and drank. And drank. And drank. With the sun and the fun, by the time the races were over, I was feeling no pain. I probably wasn’t feeling the boat, either.

Some of the people decided to swim in the cold Lake Union water, and I was at the edge of the boat watching and laughing when someone pushed me in. I landed in the water and felt the shock of the cold, surfacing to yell and laugh at the same time. I was wearing tennis shoes and jeans and gauzy blue shirt, all of which dragged me a bit, but I didn’t get out of the water right away. I wasn’t really feeling the cold or the drag of the clothes, and I drifted by the boat, laying on my back, feeling the sun on my face.

Except I wasn’t by the boat. The water lapped against the floats and pushed back from them, and took me with it.

I don’t really know exactly what happened at that point. I remember floating in the water, and the sun sparkling on the waves, until it looked like I was surrounded by a pool of gold light. That was all I could see, and all I could feel, the golden color, the soft coolness surrounding me. But into this idyllic scene, there were glimpses of another reality that intruded, harshly — of frantic shouting and being grabbed, of a boat and people ripping my shirt open. Of hands on my chest. A voice calling out, “She’s not breathing”. The sound of a helicopter.

From one moment to the next I was yanked from the peace and tranquility of the water and into the harsh glare of an overhead light, with a strange man yelling at me, slapping me in the face.

How rude.

My parents were there at the hospital and my Dad looked worse than I, having made a four hour trip in two from Yakima. Because of the association of the race, the story was in the evening news, which made a mistake and reported that I was still dead. I remember with a grin — I can’t help it — recuperating at my Mom’s when someone called to give their sympathy and I answered the phone.


Just Shelley

Memory Games

While applying for a job, I was asked for a list of references and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember the first name of the manager of one of my contracts. Lee? Les? Lenny? Lou? I knew it started with an ‘L’, and was a common name, but that’s it. I drew a complete blank. Pretty embarrassing, really.

Memory can play such games on us at times. I can’t remember the name of someone I worked with in the last few years, but can still remember my childhood on the farm, even though we moved to town before I was seven. The memories crowd in every time a certain word is said, or I smell a specific scent, or come upon a scene that matches a certain pattern in my brain.

Just the sight of a cherry tree in bloom and I’m reminded of the old cherry tree that grew alongside the road to our house. We could only reach the fruit by putting a ladder over the poison ivy bushes underneath; bushes left in a hope of discouraging easy access to greedy little children who didn’t have the sense to know when to stop eating. However, I have this vivid memory of being in the tree, alone, eating fistfuls of fruit by the light of a late golden afternoon, so at some point I must have either figured out how to drag the ladder over to the tree, found another approach, or (more likely), took a running leap through the bushes in the youthful hope that by moving very fast, I would avoid the plants effects.

Picturing that tree in my mind, with the dirt road to the left, I look to the right to the green/gold weed and dirt field where we kept our cows. Gentle creatures that provided milk for our table and family in town. I remember a milk pail and my Mom spooning cream off to be used for butter or cooking, Dad working on a wooden fence. My mind wonders dreamily from one placid cow to the next, until it runs, hard, into the bony, broad bulk of the bull. Maxine’s George. Now, why can I remember the name of that bull, but not my manager’s?

Some bulls have the sweetest of dispositions and a child can walk around them without fear. Others don’t care for human company, but will ignore you more than anything else. Then there’s the born hateful kind, of which George was a prime example.

George would charge any human who invaded his domain, and his intent was pain, copious amounts of pain. Tromping, goring, crushing, stomping pain with great huffs and puffs of bull virility and dominion. That sonabitch also developed a fondness for my red jacket, and one of his great pleasures in life was to take a bite out of that jacket every chance he got. A piece of my arm was a bonus. He was just a plain old mean sucker, and don’t let anyone tell you that bulls aren’t smart, because that bastard was devious. George would stand a distance away from the fence, butt turned towards you, eyes half closed as he contentedly munched hay. As soon as I or my brother would climb the fence to pet the calves, flash! That black wrath of God would come tearing across at us, death and mayhem in its cold brown eyes.

When we finally butchered George, we found his meat to be tough and stringy, which only proved what we knew all along: that bull was onery to the bone.


Mom said that when we were young, none of us was all that good with animals. She was mean to them, and I do remember this for a fact. However, I was confused about her inclusion of Mike and me in this assessment. It’s true, Mike didn’t like the cats or the dogs, but he liked twin calves we had, once. He would watch them play about, and scratch their knobby heads when they came close to the fence. He named them, but I can’t quite remember the names. I can actually visualize Mike in the kitchen talking about the calves, saying their names, but the sound doesn’t reach me. However, I do clearly remember Mike’s face when we came home and found that the calves had been taken away to be butchered. Stoic, not even the hint of an expression as he walked away, not returning until later that day.

I, myself, was partial to the cats, particularly a black and white cat named Sylvester and a dirty white cat I called Snoball. Farm cats, but I got on well with them, unlike the cats that lived at my grandparent’s farm down the road. Those cats were wild, living on the mice and rats that farms attract. You try and pet one of them, you’ll get clawed but good, scratches that will get septic.

Mom was okay with Sylvester, and she was an indoor cat. However, Mom and Snoball hated each other. There wasn’t a week that went by that Mom didn’t load Snoball into the car for a long ride into the country, from which Mom would return alone. However, Snoball would always show up in a couple of days, or a week. That cat was loyal, though I don’t know why.

Eventually, though, he got the point and didn’t return home. I did run into him once, scrabbling for a living down by the river. He growled at me at first until I talked softly to him, held out my small hand. He sniffed it, and then began to rub against it, emitting rusty, unused purrs. We just sat there for a while, enjoying the contact. Never did see him again after that day.

We had dogs, too. My Dad’s German Shepard scared me, but we had an old, stupid, lovable hound that I thought needed looking after, especially when it tussled with the porcupine. The sight of that dog with quills in its snout is a very vivid memory. It took Mom and the neighbors and a pair of pliers and a lot of work to get that dog fixed up. I can’t remember the hounds name, but he was one miserable creature by the time they were finished.

And then there was EB.

My brother and I met EB when we returned from a trip to my Aunt’s. My Dad said to go out into the garage, he had a surprise for us. When we entered it, a wiggly mess and loud voice greeted us, making both of us scream and run for the house. After this inauspicious first meeting, though, Mike learned to tolerate EB, while she and I became friends.

EB and I would run about the yard together, barking at each other, sometimes playing ball (me throwing, her trying to chew into pieces). Since all the dogs stayed out at night (my Mom wouldn’t tolerate a dog in the house) there were no quiet evenings curled up together, but there were happy reunions in the morning.

EB was a good-natured dog, though a bit barky at times; still, there was no harm in her. If there was a problem with EB it was that she would take off any chance she got, visiting all the neighbors for miles around. They would call my Mom to tell her EB was visiting again, an event I could deduce because my Mom’s lips would get white from controlled anger as she grabbed the car keys to drag EB home. We’d tie her up, but she’d always get lose.

Back home, a dog running lose was a pretty serious matter. They could easily get killed by cars, or by the wild animals that lived in the area. A big raccoon can kill a dog and so can a bear or cougar. Loose dogs could also harass other farmer’s livestock, chasing and killing chickens and domestic rabbits, or barking at cows and putting them off their milk. The biggest fear, though, with a loose dog is that they could get bitten by a rabid skunk or other creature, eventually putting the farmer’s family into great risk. Rural dwellers in that time had a very real and very valid fear of rabies. A loose dog just wasn’t welcome anywhere.

When EB was about two years old, we were at yet another relative for a visit. When we came home, Mom greeted us with the news that EB had been hit and killed by a car. I can’t remember if I cried, I didn’t cry much in those days. I do know that I never did get close to any of the farm dogs after that.

I reminded Mom about EB when she said that Mike and I weren’t good with the dogs. Oh, no, she said. Neither Mike nor I cared for the dogs. No one cared for the dogs but my Dad and he was never home. Since I recognized another case of my Mother’s selective memory, I didn’t push it. She continued talking about how badly we all treated the dogs. Rambled on an on about it, and among the reminisces was the day that day EB died.

The dog, Mom said, had gotten lose again, and the neighbors called to have her pick it up. They were getting pretty annoyed at having to call, which only made my mother angrier. When she picked EB up, instead of bringing her home she took her into a field far away from other homes. There, she led EB out of the car and tied her up to a tree. While EB frisked about, wondering at this new game, Mom got one of my Dad’s rifles out of the car, took aim, and shot EB through the head.


Blue Funky Good Egg does the Nitty-Gritty

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I’ve had the blue funks all week, not that any of you could tell with my usual light and even-handed writing and sunny, calm temperament. This in spite of some good news about one of my domains that I’m just waiting final action on before *spilling the beans.

Having the blue funks isn’t a bad thing, but I have things to do and places to go and no time for being blue funky, so I’m pulling out all the stops this weekend to eliminate it: classic rock n’ roll, old black & white science fiction movies, cooking a nice meal, and walking in the rain.

As I was writing this, I wondered if the phrase ‘blue funk’ survived international borders. For instance, would it mean the same in the UK, in South Korea, Australia, or South Africa? How about next door in Canada?

Out of curiosity I did my usual when I’m trying to discover the meaning of a particular phrase: typed the phrase in quotes and the word ‘phrase’ into Google, and the first site that showed up is the World Wide Words page for the word funk, including the associated phrases and derivatives, such as funky. According to the author of this site, Michael Quinion, blue funk means different things in Britain then the US. In the US, a blue funk means being dejected, or slightly depressed. However, in the UK a blue funk is a state of fear or panic.

(Just as a point of clarification for my British readers, but I am neither panicky, nor in a state of fear.)

Exploring further in this intriguing site, I found this article on other odd duck phrases: “good egg” and “nitty-gritty”. According to Quinion, the British Home Office minister, John Denham, used the term “nitty-gritty” in a speech, and was chastised by members of the audience for using a racially offensive term. The Guardian investigated this and found that the police in Britain can’t use terms such as “nitty-gritty” and “good egg” because of possible connections with racial slurs such as “egg and spoon”.

Quinion wrote:


While sensitivity over language is not inherently bad, sometimes political correctness passes from needful consideration into a parallel world of misunderstanding and mealy-mouthedness. These days, it seems even PCs have to be PC. The chances of a British policeman using the phrase good egg in conversation with a member of the public is roughly the same as his pursuing an outfangthief or enforcing the rules on the right to turbary.

The terms “good egg” and “nitty gritty” are racially offensive? But I’ve used the both more than once. This deserved more investigation, so I searched on nitty-gritty as a phrase and found another article on the incident at the Telegraph, and this frankly humorous EZ Board thread, demonstrating what happens when a fact of this nature connects up with the loose free association typical of these types of sites.

However, back to more serious issues, including my use of a racial slur all these years. From the EZ Board discussion, someone brought up an association of “nitty-gritty” with the slave trade. Further Google investigation of nitty-gritty in association “slave trade” brought up this BBC News transcript of the investigation of the use of this term by the Denham. According to John Ayto, author of the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang:

What it is supposed be is that how the story goes is that nitty-gritty originated as a term for the grit that accumulated in the bilges of slave ships and that therefore it has particularly painful connotations to Afro-Americans and to Blacks in general. But, as I said, that may be true, but I have never seen any evidence that it is true so the case remains open as far as I can see.

(From the transcript of the interview, I also found out that the phrase “rule of thumb” is from an old English law that men couldn’t beat their wives with rods thicker than the width of their thumbs, but according to Quinion, this is most likely urban legend. However, it most likely also couldn’t be used by the British police.)

Anyway, back to good eggs and the nitty gritty scandal. Quinlian summarized the incident with:


The matter became more convoluted the following morning, when John Denham wrote to the Guardian saying that he had checked most carefully and had established that there was no list of banned words in the police force. The Guardian report hadn’t said there was, but that officers could face a charge of breaching the codes on tolerance if anyone complained, a more subtle form of control that requires officers to self-censor every word (and yet still leaves them open to frivolous or malicious complaints).

Amid confusion and denials, the main loser here seems to be the English language.

And there you have it — a little light reading for a Saturday morning. And be careful what you say out there: Someone is Listening to you.

*spilling the beans (from Phrase Finder):

“When votes were taken in Greece, white beans indicated positive votes and black beans negative. Votes had to be unanimous, so if the collector ‘spilled the beans’ before the vote was complete and a black bean was seen, the vote was halted.”

Just Shelley Photography Weblogging


Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I’m in the process of moving my poem/photograph pairs to Paths: The Book of Colors, replacing the existing content. I really like the design and layout of the pages, and didn’t want the effort to go to waste. I believe that the design and the name are appropriate fits for my continuing explorations in matching poems to photographs.

Also, I wanted to recommend an excellent article on weblogging. Best I’ve read. Doc doesn’t care for it.

Finally, Allan is taking what could be a long break to focus on his writing and photography. His decision is an excellent one, and I wish for him fun adventures, as well as success with his new efforts. But I’m going to miss him.

Update: Doc clarified that he liked some aspects of the article, didn’t like others, and also pointed out another post on same.

Just Shelley

Self Image

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Not wanting to embarrass him, but how extraordinary, how uncanny that Jonathon posts a photo of Audrey Hepburn at his site, when I was thinking about her yesterday as I walked past ponds, surface water unrippled by winds or the movement of fish; smooth as glass, and as reflective as mirrors.

vtl_14.jpgA few years back, I was talking with a person who was/is a good friend. For some reason the conversation rolled around to Audrey Hepburn. My friend, who I also had a little secret attraction for — just a tiny bit, more harmless than not, and not something I took seriously — talked about Hepburn’s style, her slim and elegant appearance, her acting talent, her role in the classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He loved everything about her.

I can’t help but agree with my friend on everything he said about Hepburn — she was a unique and beautiful woman, as warm and generous and classy as she was elegant. But I grew up in a generation of woman living in the shadow of Hepburn, that impossible silhouette. My admiration and respect for her will always be tinged by a little resentment, and a little regret.

I imagine I’m not the only little girl that dreamed of dressing up in an elegant gown, floating serenely and elegantly, willow thin, through a crowd of people who parted in front of her. How bitter the reality for most, and lest you think this leaves you when you grow older, Ha! Think again. When the shop windows in San Francisco filled with the gowns for the city’s famous Black and White Ball, I am ashamed to admit how many hours I spent in front of the windows day dreaming. And I’m 48, supposedly too old for such nonsense.

I’ve long been fascinated by Dorothea’s frankness with her body shape. Frank, blunt, and in your face: I am fat she writes, and you can almost see the glare of her eyes peering out at the pages, defying you to murmer polite disagreement. Of course, she’s just as likely to bluntly and frankly take on any number of issues that leave one feeling as if there might have been a small strip of skin ripped from one’s butt, but I do admire her frankness about her looks.

For one reason or another I’ve gained weight over the winter, too much weight. Add to this with some health challenges past and current, and I find myself trying to see the tall Amazon that I was years ago in the plump, comfortable-seeming woman in the mirror today. This is not a woman who will ever wear a satin dress nipped in at the waist and hugging thin hips as it falls and flows past me on the ground; my shoulders bared, and my hair upswept.

I’ve always thought it was remarkably unfair that I was born tall, but not willowy. At one time I was a size 10, which for someone 5′ 11 1/2”, is quite slim. Too slim my doctor thought, and he was right. It was not a healthy weight for me. I am a curvy person, with rounded parts, but who can still be fit and healthy. Still dance, but not in hip hugging satin. If I had an ideal size, it would probably be size 16, which is comfortable for someone my height. Comfortable, but not willowy.

I’m not that size 16 now, though I am working on it, and not just to meet society’s standards of ‘beauty’. I couldn’t anyway, because aside from my height and green eyes (of which I am ashamed to admit, I am vain of), I’m afraid there is nothing out of the ordinary about me, now. No if I’m losing weight it’s because hiking is so very important to me, and excess weight is not only a hinderance, it’s a danger when one is hiking more difficult terrain. I’m not talking about just having a heart attack or anything like that — I’m talking getting into places that the extra weight makes it difficult to get out of, not to mention the upset to one’s balance. So I’m working on getting my weight down, but it will never be to a point when I can wear satin and costume jewelry with any flair. Khaki and shirts. One piece suits.

How odd — both men and women fixate on the ideal woman. Men because they want her, and women because they want to be like her. I wonder if men think about what they would like to be? Do they have ideal men in mind, that they compare themselves to?

I know for myself, when I think of an ‘ideal man’, I tend to think of a person who has a great sense of humor, is very patient, kind, open, affectionate, romantic, has a love and passion of the outdoors, music, movies, cooking, writing, travel, and photography. And who adores me. Of course, my list is unrealistic, but at least physical appearance doesn’t enter into the picture.

Perhaps that’s the thing — as both men and women get older, we learn to look beyond the physical to the what a person is, not how they look. However, if this is so, how come so many older guys marry (much) younger women?

Recently I’ve been reminded that physically my life is changing, and is going to continue to change, perhaps even quite drastically. This brought out my shade of Audrey that I keep within me, and she walked beside me yesterday as I peered into pools and quietly compared the fantasy and the reality. But then I got distracted as I always do, by an egret flying past, angry at me for disturbing it. You don’t know disdain until you’ve been treated to egret disdain.

Eventually in my walk I left the glassy ponds, and I discovered this fascinating bridge called The Chain of Rocks Bridge, and I crossed it, looking down into the muddy waters of the Mississippi, where I couldn’t see anything except what was floating past.

I will take a life of egrets and bridges over a dream of a satin dress.