Sunday, March 27, 2016

Benched Week 97: found in translation

 One of life’s great joys is passing on a passion. Not simply handing over information, but igniting a flame in someone else. Or opening their eyes to a new way of seeing.

I found a pointed visual for this as my daughter, Grace, and I wended our way along the second of three hikes in my favorite Pennsylvania state park, Black Moshannon. (Which in a perfect world, would have been thus named in honor of a pirate and not just the tannin-steeped water of the boggy lake.) There, just off the trail was a dead pine, with the green branches of a sapling growing out from just behind it.

The old giving life to the new.

On this day, passing on a passion meant handing over the camera. As I did, I gave her this challenge: find me shots for this Benched post.

She took to it with gusto and an exquisite eye for framing. On our first stroll, she was taken with the bright sunlight reflecting off the lake, silhouetting a bird.

And a stump she likened to a tiny island.

When we stopped for lunch, the magic of serendipity was in full force. I asked Grace if she knew why I chose this table. She said no. I said, pointing up to the vapor trails above us, “I just looked for the X that was on the map.”

After lunch, I found my bench. She joined me. I asked her what she liked about photography. She answered readily. “Seeing things differently. Framing things.”

“What do you think is hard?”

She pondered this. “Finding interesting subjects,” she answered. “And how to highlight them to make them look differently to others.” I expanded on this a bit. It’s hard to capture wonder for people. She added, “It gets lost in translation.”

We all have perspectives and values we hope to pass on, particularly our kids. Creativity is one of mine. A key part of that is the ability to recognize the extraordinary around us every day. But great treasures should be shared. How it warmed my heart to see Grace splayed out on the wooded walkway, eager to get a close-up of the shoot of the ignoble skunk cabbage. She sees. She’s eager to share.

At the end of our third hike, we chanced upon a natural hallway in the brush. Immediately, I said, “You know what that reminds me of?” She knew what I was going to say: we found a similar scene six years ago on another hike. “Do you remember the pose?” I asked.

The question was unnecessary. She had already struck it, waiting for me to take the shot.

It made me beam.

I guess we’ve had a long history of translating delight. And sharing it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Benched Week 96: fantastical beasts

I went looking for strange creatures this week in Washington, D.C. I know, I know: it shouldn’t be very hard, you quip. Especially only a few blocks away from the Capitol, swathed in scaffolding.

But I made my search harder today by not knowing for some time what I was after. When I set out under gray skies after my event ended today, my only thought was to find a bench.

And at first, nothing out of the ordinary presented itself. I sat. And listened. People passed. After a while, a squirrel caught my eye. Doggedly digging, he finally came up with the prize of an acorn. Inspired, I thought I’d wander a bit and dig a bit more for something noteworthy.

There were signs of spring. Worthy of a shot or two, but not a blog post.

It took my looking up to find it. There, in a park, on the side of a tree was a weirdly shaped burl, and from my angle, looked like a type of warty ogre.

Nearby was another one, more of a brutish bruin.

That’s when I went on my quest for fanciful creatures. It actually wasn’t very hard. I soon tracked down and captured a lion.

A griffin.

A somewhat lame phoenix.

And a marvelously textured tiger with a gaping maw.

My theme this year is to contemplate wonder. I’m on the lookout for things that make me ask, How can this be? Perhaps that’s why we’re drawn to imaginary and majestic animals: they’re something wild in the midst of our predictable lives -- bound to make us wonder, if we took the time to consider them.

That’s the big IF. I am convinced that there is no such thing as drive-by wonder. Amazement requires contemplation. And the funny thing is, one doesn’t need extraordinary nature to contemplate for it to work. As I watched a simple sparrow flit around me as I ate inside Union Station, I wondered at its adaptability to thrive inside the cavernous building. It really is kind of incredible.

For that matter, so is learning a lesson from a squirrel. Wouldn’t he have been pleased to know I did.