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.


Travel Weather

More storms, other stuff

Well, enough of the dabbling among the mix of art and technology. More storms coming in, another alert, but it doesn’t look like much. Thanks to the Internet, we can all be meteorologists pretending we know how to read the weather maps.

I’ll see if I can get any more weather photos, but you know, you can only take so many pics of clouds, and they all start looking alike. Like Volkswagons.

I have another trip across the country to plan. This time I’m taking the van and camping along the way rather than staying in motels. Always room for an adventure.


Thoughts of a traveler

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Another storm watch on, and this one left tornados in its wake in Kansas. Another excellent light and sound show tonight. I thought I would ramble a bit online while I wait for it.

I’ve been called into jury duty the first week in June. Yup, Burningbird on a jury. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

I was saddened for the people of New Hamphire, losing their Old Man on the Mountain. I hope they don’t try to piece it back together, though. It just wouldn’t be the same. Would you want to visit Mount Rushmore if Teddy’s nose dropped off and someone glued it back on?

Speaking of which, does everyone set their cruise control at the speed limit + five?

Have you ever noticed when you drive long distances that you have these weird conversations with yourself? For instance, every time I pass into Kansas, I always sing the song from Wizard of Oz, “Oh we’re off to see the wizard!”. And when I leave I say those immortal words of…well, you know what I say.

Why are there six rest rooms twenty miles apart, and then not another one for 300 miles?

And then there’s the border between Nevada and Utah. Reno has sometimes been called the “Sodom and Gemorrah” of the states. And Salt Lake City in Utah is known to be very conservative and quite religious. And there’s the salt flat between the two. Anyone else but me get a chuckle from this?

Why is it you never see anyone working in the areas blocked off for road development?

Does that constant movement of the car make you…well, never mind.

Have you noticed when you’re driving at night that the only other vehicles on the road are semi-trucks? And in these circumstances, do you have a hard time getting that Dennis Weaver movie, Duel out of your mind?

Why are the sunrises when you’re on the road so beautiful?


Places Political

Room with a view

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

While in San Francisco, I visited my favorite haunts such as Crissy Beach, including Fort Point at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. I like to watch the crazy surfers avoid being smashed against the rocks, and the sea lions sitting back, trying to figure out who these interlopers are.

One of the surfers had brought his dog, a loveable mutt who seemed fierce but was very gentle and friendly. I was watching the surfers when I could hear someone behind me talking to the dog. I turned around and there was a young soldier, gun strapped to his chest, playing with the pup. I hadn’t even noticed the military Humvee and the soldiers assigned to protect the Bridge.

The soldier was very friendly, and I asked him if I could take a picture of him and the dog. While taking it, I noticed that the dog’s owner was also taking a picture, and his expression probably mirrored mine to some extent. I could see that he appreciated the soldier’s enjoyment of the pup; but at the same time, he was disconcerted at the proximity of the gun, and the soldier, and the military vehicle.

Perhaps it was the soldier’s presence, but when I left Fort Point, I decided to drive through the Presidio and visit the National Cemetery. I’ve always liked walking through the Cemetery, reading the stones and admiring the fresh flowers brought by loved ones. Outside of Memorial Day or other patriotic holidays, the Cemetery at the Presidio rarely has anyone around, and one can move about easily without having to fight the hordes of tourists.

In the middle of the cemetery is the POW-MIA flag, the flag raised in honor of those listed as Missing in Action, and those who have been prisoners of war. Seeing it reminded me of the release of the seven POWs in Iraq, which has filled the news recently; videos showing them riding around on a jeep waving small American flags, meeting with the President, hugging loved ones. There was even talk about a special White House dinner for the seven, and most likely to include Jessica Lynch, the soldier who had been wounded and ‘rescued’ from an Iraqi hospital.

pow-mia-07.jpgI thought about the POWs from previous conflicts, such as Vietnam; how many of whom were in prison camps for 20 or more years, starved, beaten, tortured, and subjected to the worst crimes of humanity. One of the most famous, Senator John McCain has since had to battle serious skin cancer from the exposure to the hot sun in the Vietnamese jungles. My own Dad suffers from skin cancer from the same exposure, as well as other cancers from exposure to Agent Orange.

We as a nation let down our soldiers in Vietnam. When the POWs and other soldiers came home from that time, few met the President, or were invited to the White House. Same for Korea. Even fewer received the medical and psychological attention needed to make a good recovery from the trauma. As a nation, we’ve suffered the guilt from this and remember our poor treatment even more than the horror of the war. In the first Gulf War we tied yellow ribbons around our trees and flew huge flags. In the recent Iraq invasion, we tied even more ribbons, flew even more flags, and added music and sound spots, and the country literally bled red, white, and blue.

It’s not surprising with this national guilt that we’ve made the Iraqi seven and Jessica Lynch into something almost super-human, with stories of firing guns until falling in battle, and hints of dark doings on the part of the criminals holding our people. The reality, we are finding, is much different.

Chances are you won’t find a lot of long time service people behind all of the hoopla around the ‘victory’ in Iraq and the seven captured service people, or Jessica Lynch. The reason isn’t because they don’t care about these young people, they do, very much; however, they know to put a sense of perspective around all of this. The wars we’ve fought in the past have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, have taken people away from their families for years, and have left prisoners behind bars for decades. There was a heavy price to pay for these wars, which serves as a dark reminder that we should never take war lightly. All service people from all wars and all duties, including the young man guarding the Golden Gate Bridge, deserve respect and appreciation — not a media circus full of as much blather as bravery.

If we don’t remember that the prize many of these soldiers win is a room with a view, then we take the pain out of war. A leader of this country who sends his people to war should come out of it weighed down by his or her decision, not lifted up on the shoulders of a bunch of kids who took a wrong turn on the way to Baghdad.


Just Shelley Places

Soft arcs of winter white

Recovered from the Wayback Machine. This is derived from trip notes recorded in paper journal

I started the trip to California under clear skies that lasted with me until Colorado. I arrived at Denver around sunset and the sky was beautiful, a blue-gold color that speckled the dark grey clouds gathering to the west, and gilded the green of the trees and the grass on the side of the road.

I stopped for the evening in Cheyenne, spending the night listening to the many trains blowing through town, each with its own distinctive whistle. I would begin to drift off when a whistle would blast, close by, startling me awake. I would listen, heart pounding as the whistle faded, the sound becoming softer, sadder as the train moved further away.

Leaving early the next morning, the snow started falling as soon as I left the city behind and entered the pass. The traffic, the few of us, a minivan, a small red car and myself, slowed, staying behind a couple of trucks that had downshifted for their trip down the mountain.

The driving was challenging but manageable, and the reduced speed allowed me to look about. I noticed ring-billed gulls, sea gulls really, next to the road. They lost much of their grace and speed under the onslaught of the cold snow and frozen rain, flapping hard to clear the land, rising awkwardly rather than with the sureness I had seen with gulls at the beach. They didn’t seem right there by the side of the road in a land locked state, chilled by the cold.

I was looking at one pair when out of the corner of my eye I caught an arc of white coming over the concrete divider between our lanes and the lanes of the freeway going in the other direction. A white car had lost control and was spinning on the highway, throwing snow all around, like petals on a flower suddenly opening in a spiral of white.

By some miracle the car missed a truck that shared the road with it, but I didn’t think it could miss the divider. I didn’t see how it could miss the divider. However, when I looked back, I saw it regain control and continue on down the road, unharmed.

I had tensed while watching the car spin about, and once I saw it was safe, I relaxed, yawning from the sudden cessation of stress. I didn’t see the two sea gulls in the road as they tried to take off. I did see the one lift just enough to fly safely to the side of the car. And I saw the other hit my window, flowing up and over the car and falling in a boneless, soft arc of winter white and silver grey to the road as I watched in my rearview mirror.