Get a little dirt on your hands, son…

I don’t have a problem with hard work.  What’s that old saying, “A little hard work never hurt anybody?”

Hell, I’ll just Bill Anderson explain all.

A little hard work doesn’t bother me.  Which is why I’ve had no problem assisting my girlfriend Nicole when it comes to gardening.  Dig out a patch of grass to convert into a small rose-growing portion of land?  No probs.  Pour that bag of mulch over there?  Got’cha covered.

Then came the saga of the bushes.  There were two large, overgrown bushes on the side of Nicole’s house.  The bushes were ugly and hard to maintain, and she wanted to pull them out and replace them with flowers and more manageable shrubbery.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” I said.  “I’ll get them out of the ground for you.”

I got the shovel and started to dig around the bush.  Unfortunately, this bush was saying back to me, “Son, you’re not pulling me out of anywhere.  I’m staying put.  And so’s my cousin.   This land is our land, this land ain’t your land…”

Well, I suppose if bushes could talk, that’s what he said.

Undaunted, I borrowed Nicole’s floral pruning shears and trimmed away the branches to one of the bushes.  And after careful digging and pulling and tugging and yanking and struggling…

One of the trunks came out of the ground.  One of them.

I wasn’t done with the job.  Tell that to my body.  It said it was done.

And the bush said, “Ha ha ha, you’re a wimp, Chuck, you can’t get me out of the ground, I’m going to grow for years and years, whether you like it or not.   This land is our land, this land ain’t your land…”‘

At this point in time, I had three options.  I could either:

  • (A) keep working on the bushes until I discovered the wonderful world of hernias.
  • (B) pay somebody to remove the bushes and take credit for their work.
  • (C) go to Home Depot and purchase about 35 gallons of Roundup and just “napalm” the entire side of the house, weeds, roots, other plants and all.

And in the end, I chose Option D.

And Option D meant that I would take a rest…. and come back another day with some better tools and stronger resolve.

A few days later, I arrived at Nicole’s place.  The weed-like hedges were still there, mocking me with their very existence.

Ha ha Miller, you ain't getting us out of the ground... we're staying put.  This land is our land, this land ain't your land...
Ha ha Miller, you ain’t getting us out of the ground… we’re staying put. This land is our land, this land ain’t your land…

Ah, but I didn’t arrive alone.  I brought a few friends along.  And by “friends,” I mean –

  • I picked up some industrial strength pruning shears, which were capable of chewing away branches that were as thick as 1 1/4″ in diameter.
  • I picked up a shovel with a sharp, pointed blade, which cut through the ground-clamped roots with the force of a Ginsu knife.
  • I picked up a six-pack of bottled water.  For every two full lawn-refuse bags of bush-leavings, I get one bottle of Poland Spring to drink.  Keep my strength up.

And I began to dig.  And to prune.  And to chop.  And to stuff the lawn-refuse bags.

Trust me, the bushes tried to fight me every step of the way. Every time I thought I cleared away some branches, the roots seemed to prevent bush extraction.  Every time I dug my shovel into the ground, it felt like the trunk was holding onto the earth with the force of Mother Nature.

Didn’t matter.  I kept digging.  Harder.  Stronger.  No way am I going to disappoint my girlfriend.  50th resolution, remember?  Dig.  Push.  Cut.  Trim.  Stuff.  Dig.  Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

And just when I thought it wouldn’t or couldn’t budge another step…

I felt the trunk give way.  The trunk of the bush, not the trunk of my waist.

Out it came.

Success!!
Success!!

After I guzzled down an extra bottle of Poland Spring, I attacked the second bush.  With pruners and shovels, with might and force, and with plenty of rest breaks, I could feel the trunk coming loose, like a tooth coming loose from the gum.

And… eventually…

Out it came.  Trunk, roots, branches and all.

Yeah.  And after doing all that, after impeaching both these bushes from their long-elected positions…

Your man did what any self-respecting gardener would do.

That’s right.  I took a selfie.

IMG_20140804_094350
Yeah, I got a little dirt on my hands. And on my shirt. And on my face.

Once I get a chance to clear out all the leftover roots in the ground, when I can help my girlfriend plant some flowers to replace those old, grungy bushes…

That will feel truly good.

Kinda funny, though… as I hauled the final remaining stump of those old bushes over for curbside pickup by the neighborhood waste disposal truck…

I started whistling a little song.  Something about traveling from California to the New York Islands… from the redwood forests, to the Gulfstream waters…

How Valvoline, Mavis and Hoffman’s saved my weekend

It’s Friday morning, and I’m trying to get everything taken care of prior to a weekend vacation with my girlfriend Nicole.  Packing – done.  Camera batteries charged – done.

Now all I have to do is make sure that my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS – colloquially nicknamed “The “Blackbird” – is all ship-shape for a weekend excursion to Boston.

First off – according to the decal on my windshield, I’m overdue for an oil change.  The Blackbird takes a semi-synthetic blend of oil (at about 100,000 miles, I’ll go full-synthetic, but for now the car’s only just reached 71,000 miles).  So it’s off to Valvoline for an oil change.

I’ve got the routine down pat by now – drop the car off, wait in the lobby, the tech comes out to show me the oil level on the dipstick, I show the cashier my AAA card, I pay for the service, drive away.

Well, that worked – until the tech also explained something to me.

“We checked your tire pressure, sir,” he said.  “Your front right tire was a little low, so we added some air for you.”

“How low?”

“It was down to 10 pounds of pressure.”

“And how much pressure should have been there?”

“32 pounds, sir.”

Yikes.  The last thing I need is to get stuck on the Massachusetts Turnpike with a blown-out tire.  Not a good way to start a weekend.

No choice in the matter.  I drove the car to the building next door to Valvoline – Mavis Discount Tire, where I purchased my original four all-weather Pirellis and replaced the cheap “performance” tires that originally came with the Blackbird.

The mechanics brought the Blackbird in and hoisted it on a jack.  One of the techs showed me the right front tire.

It had a bubble.

“Do you have all-weather Pirellis to replace the tire?” I asked.

“We don’t right now, but we can get them by tomorrow.”

That won’t work.  “Do you have all-weather tires in another brand?”

“We can get you Goodyear Eagles if you like.”

That sounds like it will work.  I purchased two Goodyear Eagles for my front tires, and added an alignment.

Of course, I’m also looking at the car and thinking to myself, “This car needs a good cleaning.  Last thing I need is for my girlfriend to ride with me to Boston in a filthy car.”

So after the tires were purchased and added to the Blackbird, I drove over to Hoffman’s Car Wash.  And luckily, I had a coupon in the glovebox for a free interior-exterior car wash.  I even added a dollop of carnauba wax to give the Blackbird that classic shine.

A few minutes later, the Cobalt looked showroom-clean.

And let me tell you.  Nicole and I had a great time in Boston over the weekend.  We did a duck-boat tour that was totally fun, we saw the butterfly garden at the Museum of Science, we ate dinner at the Kowloon Restaurant (and followed that up with some comedians at the Kowloon’s weekend comedy club).  On Sunday morning, we took a romantic, relaxing walk along Revere Beach.   And then we drove home.

And thanks to a fresh transfusion of semi-synthetic oil, two fresh Goodyear Eagles, and a squeaky-clean car interior, there were no issues or concerns with my General Motors chariot.

So thank you to the crew at Valvoline, Mavis Discount Tire and Hoffman Car Wash, all situated next to each other just near the Latham Circle.  You guys helped ensure that my weekend vacation worked out perfectly.

And in the end… that’s really all that matters.

Chuck’s Hopeful Attempt Never Ceased, Ever.

I have to take this moment right now and admit that I failed.

I thought I kicked an addition, I thought that I had enough strength and fortitude and will power to keep from getting sucked into this painful, brutal, soul-sucking addiction.

But even with all that, I came out of it as a better person because of the kind words someone shared with me.

Background.

Last Monday, against every single ounce of common sense in my body, I traveled to New York City.  Not to see a Broadway show, not to photograph in Central Park, not to do any of those things.

Nope.  Chuck tried out for the Chance again.

Yes, I did.  And this was after my tear-filled reaction to what was my 20th rejection from the show.  I thought to myself, “Why do I do this every time?  Why do I get my hopes up, why do I keep trying, when it’s obvious that The Chance doesn’t want me?”

On the train ride to New York, I thought about that blog post.  Even though most of my common sense told me that I would have better odds of running a three-minute mile than I would of appearing on the Chance…

I decided to give it one last try.  I couldn’t let it end with such a bitter, dull metallic taste in my mouth.

I arrived at the tryout center.  The line snaked around the building.

I knew the routine by now.  Check in with the interns.  Fill out some paperwork.  Walk through the metal detectors.  30 questions.  10 minutes.  Ready… set… begin.

Hokey smokes, these answers are like cotton candy to a four-year-old.  East of Eden.  Wild Wild West.  Joe South.  North Dakota.  Aced the test.

My number is called.  I meet with an interviewer.  I am asked if I’ve done anything that makes someone smile?

And in a micro-instant, I remembered.  The story of the fortune cookie.

The interviewer smiled.  She wrote some notes on my application.

In that moment of moments, I remembered.  This is the door to The Chance.  I’ve never gotten past it.  It’s like Bernard Hopkins is standing in front of the door, blocking my passage by his own sheer will and aura.

I’ve done everything I can.  Time to go home and wait for the eventual e-mail o’doom.  Hey, maybe it’ll be in my e-mail account before I get home…

“You know what, Mr. Miller?”

“Yes?”

“Could you please stick around for a little while, I’d like you to have another interview … this time with my producer.”

Producer?

She handed me a document that required my signature.  It was as if Bernard Hopkins opened the door and waved me through.

I’ve never gotten this close to the Chance in my life.  I don’t care what that release paper said, I signed that as if I would receive a golden violin in exchange.

Now comes a new tactic.  I wait.  I wait with several other people who will be interviewed, one by one.  My heart is pounding faster than a Devo drum track.

My name is called.  I am escorted into a room.  A person interviews me, this time I am asked questions in front of a video camera.  The producer of The Chance will review the tapes, and it will be his choice as to who gets to that final point.

I did everything asked of me.  I answered the questions – two out of three correctly, that third one was hella-brutal.

All I could think of on the way home, on the ride back on the train, was, “I did everything I could.  I’ve gotten the second interview.  I have to believe.  The longest journeys have finish lines in front of them.  I’ve got momentum.  Heck, I just nailed the Summer Bowl trivia tournament for the third time in five years.  I can do this.  My hopes are up.  So what if I failed twenty times?  Isn’t 21 the charm?  Triple 7’s?  Blackjack?”

I held my hopes up, but my superstitions kicked in.  For three days, I kept quiet about it.  I didn’t comment about it on Facebook.  I didn’t blog about it.

And on Thursday afternoon… three days after the interview… I received the news.

That after twenty-one tries…

I printed out the e-mail and stuffed the printout in my back pocket.

That Thursday night, I took my girlfriend Nicole to Jumpin’ Jack’s for some burgers and soda.  We had a great time, we even watched some of the rehearsals and practices by the water-skiing team that entertains Jumpin’ Jack’s customers on Tuesday nights.

“Nicole,” I said, “I have something to show you.”

And with that, I passed the folded e-mail to her.

She opened it.

Thank you for your interest in being a contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.”  You have not been selected to be a potential contestant.  We appreciate your continued interest in the show and thank you for taking the time to audition with us.

“Sorry,” I muttered.  “I tried.  I really did.  But I can’t try any more.  If, after that additional interview, they still don’t want me … then it was never meant to be, I guess.”

She folded up the piece of paper.  “You did your best,” she smiled.  “And you’ll always be my millionaire.”

And at that point, in that very second of the cosmic frame of time, I realized that I have a million-dollar prize in my life.  I didn’t need lifelines or phone-a-friends or any of that.

I have Nicole.

And with that, all the pain and anguish of failing for the 21st time, of coming closer than ever and still being swatted away… it didn’t matter.  Not the 21 fails.  What mattered was that I kept trying, 21 times.

And maybe someday I’ll try again.  Not immediately, mind you – maybe in a year or two.   I don’t need to run back to New York City tomorrow.  Give it some time.  Don’t ignore it completely… but take time to breathe.  Recharge.

Missing The Chance doesn’t define me as a person.  And I just realized that, no matter how many times I tried, missing NEVER defined me as a person.

Believing in myself… never giving up…

That’s a better definition.

I’d rather have that definition, anyway.

Nicole’s garden and the wild birds

My girlfriend Nicole has actually turned me on to gardening and horticulture.  I’ve purchased some plants from Hewitt’s Garden Center, I’ve mulched here and there, and I even helped Nicole transplant some flowers and bushes from one location to another.

Not bad for a guy whose previous gardening experience was that I pulled everything out of the ground, and whatever grew back, I knew those were weeds.  Geez, I keep this up, and next thing I know I’ll have Peter Bowden’s gardening blog on my blogroll.  Oh wait… there it is.  Ha.

“So we need to dig a hole in the ground that’s twice as wide as the bush we’re planting,” she told me.  That bush we were planting was a “knockout rose” bloom, and after digging the hole, pouring in a mixture of peat moss and water, removing the knockout rose bush from its plastic flowerpot, loosening up the roots, putting it in the hole, pouring some dirt and mulch over, and adding plenty of water so that the roots take hold…

Knockout Roses.  BlackBerry Q10 camera photo.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Knockout Roses. BlackBerry Q10 camera photo. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Not bad for my first try, yes?

While I helped Nicole with her garden, I learned about how much joy those flowers and bushes bring – not only to her, but to anybody who enjoys cultivating a weekend garden.  I also had an idea of my own, an idea on how to photograph something special in her garden.

In addition to flowers and bushes, Nicole has several hanging bird feeders.  Wild birds from all over the neighborhood come to nosh on the seeds from those bird feeders.  Now I had thought about taking pictures of those birds as they gorged themselves on the wild bird seed.  But, for some reason, I was never fast enough or patient enough to tell the birdie to “watch the birdie” – eventually the birdie would get tired of me; it would flip me the bird and fly away.

Well… I have a plan.

I’ll need the Nikon Df digital camera, for sure.  My vintage 50-300 f/4.5 telephoto lens will provide me with enough sharpness in the photographed subject, while staying far enough away so as to not scare the birds.  And rather than just sit there for hours and wait for the birds to land on the feeder and nosh on the seeds, I’ll hook up my camera to my new ASTRO intervalometer and set the timer for exposures every ten seconds.  That’ll give me six pictures per minute.

Camera focused?  Good.

Intervalometer fully charged?  Good.

Df full of electricity?  Good.

Tripod nice and steady?  Good.

First test shot.  Just to focus on the bird feeder.

Hanging bird feeder.  Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50-300 f/4.5 lens.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Hanging bird feeder. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50-300 f/4.5 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Let’s do this.  As the commercial goes, I’ll just set it… and forget it.

“Chuck,” Nicole called to me.  “Come see my jumping jacks, they’re blooming!”

And sure enough, they were.  Since my Nikon Df was busy photographing the bird feeder, I used my BlackBerry Q10 camera phone to capture the stunning beauty of Nicole’s “jumping jacks” flowers, also known as “Johnny Jump-Up” or “Viola Tricolor” blooms.

Nicole's Jumping Jacks.   BlackBerry Q10 camera phone.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Nicole’s Jumping Jacks. BlackBerry Q10 camera phone. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Wow.  Those flowers look absolutely divine.

I took another glimpse at the Nikon Df just to make sure it was working.  Yep.  The intervalometer was set.  One picture every ten seconds.  This will work.  All I need is at least one wild bird to fly onto the bird feeder, chomp on some seeds for at least ten seconds, and I’ll be in the clover.

I helped Nicole take care of other gardening duties – picking up fallen tree branches, pruning back some bushes, spreading some mulch.

As she checked some of the other portions of the garden, she got a shock.

“Chuck, look, there’s a frog near my patio deck!”

Now I have no problem dealing with little timid creatures.  Remember, this is a guy who once picked up a squirrel and had someone photograph me holding it.  So I know the routine.  First thing you do is take the little guy’s picture…

Little frog.  BlackBerry Q10 camera phone, photo by Chuck Miller.
Can you see the little frog? BlackBerry Q10 camera phone, photo by Chuck Miller.

And then you guide it back to where it wants to go, which in this little guy’s case was back under the patio deck.

I took a peek at the bird feeder.  Nothing.  Either the birds were more interested in gathering cedar mulch for their nests than they were in eating bird seed… or maybe they figured out that I wanted to take their little pictures and they all got camera shy.

After some more work around the garden, Nicole and I went inside for some lunch.  The Nikon Df kept on shooting.  Maybe the birds would show up if they didn’t see any humans in the vicinity.

Some time later, I went out to check on the camera.  The internal battery was down to a few sparks.  The intervalometer’s batteries were almost drained.  Okay.  Let’s take the chip out of the camera and see what I acquired.

Wow.  Nearly 1,200 photographs taken.  This intervalometer is a WORK HORSE.

I loaded the 1,200 photographs into my laptop computer, and flipped through them, several at a time, looking for any variation, any variable, anything that looked like a bird visiting the feeder.

Frame by frame.  And the frame that the Nikon Df designated as photo 5774…

I got this.

Birds in the Feeder
Birds in the Feeder. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 50-300 f/4.5 telephoto lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Look at that. I got two wild birds replenishing themselves at the bird feeder. Now I’m not sure – I think they’re starlings – but this is cool. The intervalometer worked wonders, thanks to it I captured my first pictures of wild birds at a bird feeder.  No this is way cool.

All in all, it was a great day – I spent time with my wonderful girlfriend, I planted flowers, I took some pictures…

Aces all around, don’tcha think?

Pot pie delivery

It’s a long journey from the Maritimes to home, but I made it back to the Capital District yesterday afternoon.  It was a very productive and relaxing vacation, and I had a great time all the way up and all the way back.  I shot zillions of pictures with the Nikon Df camera, and I also took a few rolls of photos along Maine’s State Route 9 with my Kodak Medalist II.  You’ll see those Medalist pictures later.  I have to drop them off at McGreevy Pro Lab this morning.

On the way back from the Maritimes, I had a meal at a truck stop in Bangor, Maine.  The truck stop, Dysart’s, is part of a Maine-based chain of gas stations and convenience stores – sort of like Stewarts in this area.  The Bangor Dysart’s is a hyper-huge truck stop with three large dining areas, a massive convenience store, and a bunch of other additional bells and whistles.

I’ve stopped at Dysart’s several times in my journeys through Maine – but this time, I noticed that they were offering their chicken pot pie dinners – which are absolutely scrumptious – for take-out.

Hmm…

A 17-inch chicken pot pie.  That would make for an excellent dinner for my girlfriend Nicole and me.

I quickly asked my server about the pot pie and whether it would travel well.

“Yes sir, the pie is frozen and all you have to do is thaw it out once you get home.  Then you can cook it.”

You know what?  I gotta try this.

One purchase later, and the pot pie was riding shotgun in the Blackbird.

Of course, when I started driving Monday morning, it was a chilly 33 degrees in Maine.  By the time I reached the New Hampshire-Massachusetts border at noontime, the climate became warmer.  MUCH warmer.  72 degrees outside.

That’s not good.

Thinking quickly, I pulled over and placed the boxed-up pot pie on the front passenger side floor of the car.  I took off my jacket and draped the coat over the pot pie to keep the food as cold as possible.

Mental note.  At some point in time, I gotta purchase a travel cooler.

I arrived home at around 4:30 p.m., and immediately began preparing the pot pie for dinner for two.  Oh, and did I happen to mention that a frozen pot pie from Dysart’s takes almost two hours to cook?   I could have let the pie thaw out, which would have reduced the cooking time to less than an hour.  But you know what?  I went through all that trouble to get the pie to the Capital District in a frozen state… let’s get it cooked.

And let me tell you – that pot pie was absolutely delicious.  Besides, how cool is it to have your food delivered all the way from Maine?  Sort of like those people who get their steaks delivered all the way from Omaha, methinks…  Heck, maybe I could have carted a couple of lobsters and a two-liter bottle of Moxie as an additional treat.

A 17-inch pot pie is a large meal for two, so there were leftovers for both of us.  We put the remnants of the pot pie – including the awesome buttery flaky crust – into some storage containers for later dining.

This is good.

But I’ll tell you this.  I would have gone back to Dysart’s if we ever wanted to get a second serving.

That pot pie was just THAT GOOD.

The three waterwishes

Last December, on our way back from a beautiful holiday vacation in New York City, my girlfriend Nicole suggested that we drive through Exit 16 on the Thruway, so she could show me where she once lived.  I agreed, and off we went through the scenic Hudson Valley.

As we drove along the winding roads, she noticed that buildings from her past were repurposed with new tenants and new businesses.  This was fascinating stuff.  It’s almost like when we visit a place for the first time in ten years, and we automatically remember what’s NOT there any more.  Our mental memories expect Item A, and we see Item B.

As we drove by a pond, I saw something out of the corner of my eye.  It was a waterfall – along with a water wheel – and a stone bridge.  And in that split second, my brain started assembling possibilities.  Photographic possibilities.

“I’m going to come back here some day and take a picture of this.”

“That would be awesome,” she smiled.  “I know you could take an awesome picture here.”

You betcha I could.  Let me rephrase that.  You betcha I will.

Fast forward to Saturday morning.  Last Saturday morning, to be more precise.  I woke up at 4:00 a.m., got dressed, grabbed my camera gear, left my apartment in the Town and Village – and immediately went back inside.

OH MY GOD IT’S SO FREAKIN’ COLD OUTSIDE!  I CAN SEE STEAM FROM THE MOISTURE OF MY EYELIDS!  I WANNA GO BACK TO BED AND …

And then I realized.  The Town and Village declared a snow emergency for today.  I can’t park in front of my apartment.  So if I can’t park in front of my apartment… I could instead park two hours south, and by the time I get back to the Capital District, my street will be plowed.

Then the motivational voice inside me started shouting.  Trust me, folks.  Motivational voices inside your head are not affected by cold weather.  Hey Chuck, you’re not driving in your Pontiac 6000, where the heater died about a year before the car did.  And you’re not driving in your old Saturn Ion Cardachrome, a car that completely flipped out in bad weather.  You’re driving in a 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS with all-weather tires, a fully-paid AAA membership, plenty of tunes on the XM satellite radio, and a couple of bottles of diet cola in the front cup holders.  In other words, Chuckie… if you don’t get in this car and start driving, someone else will get that photograph, they’ll enter that photo in competition, they’ll win the ribbon, and you’ll be like a sinking boat – you’ll be ship out of luck.

All right.  Let’s go.

The plan?  After two days of snow and ice, I thought that maybe the downstate water wheel would be offset with winter white.  If I don’t get this picture today, the snow might melt and I could lose that image.

And I know there are people who have vilified me in the past, saying that I would travel a thousand miles to take a picture, but that I wouldn’t go across the street to visit them.

Well… I only traveled a hundred miles.  But yeah, if I can take good pictures with this Nikon Df camera, then heck yeah I’ll travel a thousand miles to do so.

A couple of hours later, just as the skies brightened for morning, I arrived at the water wheel site.  And I can tell you – from my home to the water wheel site, the temperature outside barely rose above zero.  In fact, by the time I arrived at the site, it was still bone-chilling brutal cold outside.

I parked across the street from the water wheel.  Okay.  I’ve got everything.  The Df is loaded with a fully charged battery and a brand new 32gig SD card.  I slapped the 58mm f/1.8 lens on the camera, got out of the car and –

OH MY GOD IT’S SO FREAKIN’ COLD OUTSIDE!  I CAN FEEL ICICLES GROWING IN MY LUNGS EVERY TIME I BREATHE!! I WANNA GO BACK TO THE CAR AND …

Okay Chuck, knock it off.  You’re down here already.  No way are you driving two hours down and two hours up and not taking a single picture.  Let’s do this.

And the first shot I acquired was the stone water wheel itself.

Waterwheel along Lakes Road, Monroe, N.Y.
Waterwish 1. Nikon Df camera, 58mm f/1.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And yes, it looks much colder in the picture.

I do want to say this about the Df.  It is extremely responsive and has a nice tactile feel to it.  Yeah, it’ll take me some time to get used to all the knobs and dials, but so long as I can work with the camera, it will work with me.  And if I can get pictures like this right out of the box… then I’m surely not complaining.

I rushed back to my car, though… After about ten minutes photographing the waterwheel, I needed some General Motors heat.

Another step outside.  And just as I’m crossing the street…

An SUV pulled up at an intersection.  The driver rolled his window down.  “Hey!” he shouted at me.

Oh crap.  With my luck, I’ve either parked on private property, or I’m taking pictures of private property…

“You photographing that water wheel there?”

“Yes sir.”

“You can get a better angle if you walk down to the stone dam.  Just watch your step.”  And with that, he drove off.

Okay, Chuck.  You’re down here.  Let’s get another shot.

I walked along the stone dam.  There were animal trails – maybe a fox or a dog, I’m not sure – but I figured that if a fox or a dog could walk through the snow, then so could I.

And as I got closer to the waterfalls… I cleared away some prickleburr plants, set the tripod into the snow, locked the Df onto the tripod mount…

I was able to get close enough to the waterfall – without slipping into the icy cold water myself – to get this shot. I had the camera locked on a tripod, so…

Waterfall along Lakes Road, Monroe, N.Y.
Waterwish 2. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 58mm f/1.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

And once I got that shot, I just took several more. Because if you take enough shots together… and you stitch them together with an animated GIF program…

Okay… let’s see what happens when I turn these images of the ice-chilled waterfall into a cinemagraph.

Waterwish 2. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 58mm f/1.8 lens, several shots stitched together in cinemagraph. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Whoa.

Okay. Let’s go for the photographic hat trick. I’ve still got the camera attached to the tripod.  And I haven’t done a panorama shot in a long time… so today is a good day to put one together.  Let’s pan from the waterwheel to the waterfall… and then turn it into a panorama shot.

Waterwheel and waterfall, Monroe, N.Y.
Waterwish 3. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 58mm f/1.8 lens, several photos stitched together in panorama shot. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Yeah. Definitely yeah.

Okay.  Now it’s time to head home.  And as I drove back up the New York State Thruway, I thought about these photographs and what it meant to take them.  My girlfriend Nicole thought enough about my photography hobby to suggest that these might make good photography subjects.  Which is awesome in and of itself.

And I can tell you with certainty, I’ve got a good feeling about these little “waterwish” photos.  And with a little determination and some ingenuity…

I have a feeling, my blog readers, that these “waterwish” photos might eventually go from “wish” to “reality” some day.

The Earrings

For weeks, I planned this vacation.  A New York City holiday weekend with my girlfriend Nicole.  Would we have time for this?  Yes.  Would we have time for that?  Maybe.  Can we get from Point A to Point B without hopping three subway cars?  Possibly.

And among all the plans that day was a trip to Radio City Music Hall to see their 2013 Christmas Spectacular.  I purchased three tickets – one for me, one for Nicole and one for Nicole’s daughter Jessica (whose LadySpaz movie reviews are worth checking out, go to the link on my blogroll whydon’tcha).

Nicole and I met up with Jessica at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree – oh it’s absolutely beautiful, you must see it – and on the way to Radio City Music Hall, the three of us did some window shopping.  And on occasion, we did some “shopping” shopping.  Of course, when the chilly wind is blowing in Christmastime in New York City, you spend a few minutes inside the stores to stay warm.

One of the stores we visited was a Swarovski crystal store.  And among all the trinkets and treasures in the store, I watched as Nicole looked through the collections of earrings.  She would put an earring up to her ear, glance in a mirror, smile with that million-wattage smile of hers, and then put the earring pair back.

What she didn’t know at the time was that I was keeping tabs on how many times she put the earrings to her ears.  One set of earrings – hoops decorated with Swarovski crystals – kept catching her eye.  She would put the earrings to her ears, look in the mirror, smile some more…

I counted.  She admired that pair three times.  Then four times.  And when she put them to her ear a fifth time…

That’s it.  Five times, it’s for reals.  I told the cashier I wanted those earrings.  Five times she admires them, that’s the threshold.   One swipe of my Rainy Day Credit Card, and the cashier put the earrings in a blue Swarovski box.  Then she put that box in a small blue Swarovski gift bag.

After a tasty lunch at a coal-fired pizza place, the three of us made our way to Radio City Music Hall.  A security guard checked our shopping bags.  All was well.  We were ushered to the grand ballroom on the basement level, and we admired the grand chandelier and the holiday displays.

A few moments later, everything changed.

We had several bags between the three of us.

But as we checked our bags…

The Swarovski tote bag was gone.

After a few moments of the three of us thinking that one of the other three of us had the earrings… panic sets in.  We try to retrace our steps.  Could they have been left in the restroom?  Could they have been left at one of the souvenir stands?  Could they have been left at that Lincoln Continental MKX display that I was half-admiring?

No luck.  The earrings were gone.

And at that moment, I felt scared.  This whole holiday vacation was ruined.  I bought those earrings for Nicole not just as a gift, but as a sign of the brightness she brought to my life.   The warmth she brought to my heart.  The joy she brought to my soul.

And now this holiday trip was turning into a disaster.

There was only one chance left.  One chance in a million.

I asked one of the ushers if Radio City Music Hall had a Lost and Found Department, on the remote possibility that a kind-hearted New Yorker might have found the earrings and turned them in.  He directed me to the first level.  Another security guard guided me to an exit area where Lost and Found was located.

My heart was pounding faster than a Devo drum track.  My mind was racing.  Please.  I need a miracle and I need it right now.

The Lost and Found area was located near one of the Radio City Music Hall exits.

“Can I help you?’ the security guard at the Lost and Found station asked me.

“Please,” I said, with my soul shouting prayers to whatever ethereal being would hear them.  “I lost a pair of earrings.  They were in a blue Swarovski gift box, in a blue Swarovski tote bag.”

“Can you describe them for me?”

“Yes,” I blubbered.  “They’re two hoop earrings, and there are Swarovski crystals all around the body of the earrings, and my girlfriend admired them five times at the store and she means everything in the world to me and – ”

The security guard handed me a pen.  And he told me…

“I need you to sign for them.”

And with that, he reached under his desk, and pulled out the blue Swarovski gift bag.  I could see the gift box inside.

The earrings were found.  Wherever they were, whatever happened to them, another security guard found them and immediately brought them to the Lost and Found area.

“Thank you thank you thank you,” I breathed in relief as I signed the security release form.  And with the bag in hand – and by “in hand,” I mean with a G.I. Joe kung-fu grip on the bag handles, I returned to the grand ballroom with the treasure in tow.

Once I saw Nicole and Jessica in the grand ballroom, we checked the box again – just in case – and there they were.  Two hoop earrings, with crystals that sparkled just like the Radio City Music Hall grand chandeliers.

The earrings were found.

And after the Christmas spectacular – which you MUST see if you have the opportunity – I made sure that we exited Radio City Music Hall through the exit near the Lost and Found station.

I took this exit route for one reason.  I wanted to tell the security people how thankful I was that they found my girlfriend’s earrings, and that she and they were reunited.  And to wish them and the staff at Radio City Music Hall a happy Christmas.

Listen, I realize that the security crew were just doing their job.

And it’s because they did their job – our holiday weekend was beautiful, magical, and memorable.

All for the best reasons.