Archives for category: photographs

The first sign that we were getting married on April 22 in the time of Covid-19 was the cute little alligator awaiting us on the saw palmettos fronds that served as the carpet where we would stand to take our vows. Piers’ daughter arranged the beautiful scene around the sable palm tree we chose to be our wedding venue. The alligator was the continuation of the current joking whimsy, admonishing us all here in Florida to stay at least one alligator apart. At one point not long ago our friend who took our pictures with my DSLR deadpanned, “Florida’s gonna need more alligators.” Indeed. Fortunately, our little impromptu mascot sufficed and no actual alligator came low-crawling through to bless our nuptials with its hulking presence.

The near silence of nature provided our only music, until the brief, sweet moment when sandhill cranes gifted us with their song. Piers and I love nature and all its myriad denizens. So that brief serenade by those beautiful birds was truly special.

Since we couldn’t shop for special clothes under quarantine, I chose a jeans and purple shirts theme. The top I wore is my favorite I’ve ever had, which made it special enough. I don’t know what made me bring the black ballerina flats I bought for my mom’s funeral to Florida with me, but I’m so glad I did. When I realized we were actually going to manage to get married even as the pandemic raged around us, I knew I had to wear those shoes. For all I knew they carried minute particles of dirt from her grave, where she rests now beside my father, on their barely worn soles. That comforts me in a bittersweet sort of way. She would have loved my new husband and been overjoyed that I’ve found real happiness.

The wonderful notary public who performed our ceremony somehow managed to wear a purple top by accident. Perfection. The brief, simple vows she customized for us were unforgettable. Her words were so beautiful, and written as if she’d known us for years, instead of days. We’re grateful that she was willing to come to us, gloves and all, keep social distance, and join our lives together so perfectly.

We would not be the couple we are, if there had not been a brief moment of humor. When Piers reached into his jeans pocket for my ring…it wasn’t there. He kept his cool. I kept mine. But we were confounded. Where could it have gone? He came out a couple of times with a handful of coins, but still no ring. We laughed. We wondered what to do. Then he came out with an exclamation of relief and joy. A particular dime had revealed its mischievous secret. It was perfectly wearing my wedding ring, so that the ring was almost invisible.

A tiny glitch that has become a precious reminder of the strange things life throws at us, and our ability to laugh and love our way through them.

I was nervous at the start of the ceremony, worried that I might stumble over the vows or drop his ring. But then as it began, a calm came over me. I felt at peace. I marveled at the look on his face, as he said his vows. A memory to cherish for the rest of my life. We spoke of this later and he told me his expression was a reflection of mine.

What a gift he is to me.

What a romantic story we have.

Our story of love in the time of Covid-19.

(All photographs in this post by Charles Schuman.)

Like a surreal take on the famous painting, American Gothic, a photo of our trip to the County Court Clerk’s office to get our marriage license stands as a stark reminder of how life has changed. There was only one other person doing business, when we went last Tuesday. We were able to begin immediately, though it took a bit of experimentation to somewhat forcefully slide our documents under the new barrier between us and the woman issuing the license. It needed just enough force to make it past the clear barrier, but enough restraint to keep forms and driver’s licenses from careening off onto the floor. It was a little amusing, but at the same time a little chilling. We were protecting her and ourselves, which could very well become a parody on some future TV show looking back on these strange and scary times.

Also giving at least the appearance of protecting us all were the balaclava masks Piers and I wore. We felt like color coordinated bank robbers, as we kept tugging our masks into place, while they constantly tried to inch themselves into a downward slide. Talking was an interesting activity, though our voices came through the purple and turquoise cloths quite well. Fortunately, since the lady was intrigued to learn that he was born in Oxford UK, and asked many questions about his admittedly fascinating early life history. She even politely asked about my family background. I was glad to be able to tell her I’d recently discovered that I was descended from French Huguenots. A minor blip on my family tree, but I like the notion of a bloodline made of courage, strength, and perseverance running through my veins.

So, we’re one step closer to the end of our quest to get married in the time of Covid-19. I’ve lost count at this point, but I think we’re on about our fifth contingency plan now. It started with a hope for a beach wedding. Funny how fast such a hope can crumble, when Florida’s beautiful beaches get yanked out from under you, taken away by a government closure order undertow. Courthouse weddings were halted. As time and infection vectors marched on, even a planned elopement became the stuff of dreams. At this point we’re aiming for quirky cool and uniquely us, a private testimony to the power of the desire for commitment and a love that can transcend anything.

Even business as unusual in the time of Covid-19.

Florida is a place of beauty, abundant nature to observe and photograph, and unexpected experiences. When given the opportunity to go to Busch Gardens, I knew there were animals there. What I had not realized was how many and how close I could get to some of them. Add a zoom lens, and I was able to take photographs I had only dreamed of before I got my DSLR and traveled to The Sunshine State.

I love palm trees too, so they were high on my priority list. These tall, spindly ones are among my favorites.

Many of my animal photos were taken from the steam train ride. I didn’t always catch the guide’s descriptions in their entirety, which unfortunately means I don’t have a proper kind for this beauty. Just an antelope. I really like the way it stands out against the pop of green it grazes.

Though the head of this white rhino is nearly in silhouette, its distinctive horn is unmistakable. Rhinos are so tragically endangered that it makes me both incredibly happy and incredibly sad to see one. These creatures deserve to live on Earth as much as we do. Hopefully, some way, some how they will be given a renewed opportunity to thrive.

I read somewhere that modern DSLRs have something like 5,000 setting possibilities. Um, no. I’m learning how to use it and may continue to do so for as long as it’s mine. I concentrate on lighting and composition to get what I want. Or try to. I end up with a higher and higher percentage of shots I love, so I’m satisfied with how I’m doing so far. I still have some trouble with depth of field. Sometimes those mistakes turn out to be happy accidents. I was able to crop this giraffe one so that it looks like an intentional piece of pop art. I’ll take it!

Elephants have such timelessly beautiful faces. They look old and ageless at once, with wisdom gained and emotion endured etched into the lines around their eyes. Just like us. It’s my understanding that they are very similar to us in many ways. They bond with family and friends, love them, grieve them when they are gone. It would be a pretty wonderful thing to have an elephant for a friend.

Emus are so cool and fluffy. They seem sweet, but I’ve heard they can be cantankerous, kicking very hard among other things. Years ago I was at a wildlife park in New South Wales, Australia. I was enraptured, photographing koalas high in a eucalyptus tree (The koalas were high in the tree, not me!), when I felt a presence behind me. It didn’t touch me. I could just sense that something was close. I reluctantly removed my face from my viewfinder, and slowly pivoted. It did not take a full body turn to come face to face with an apparently curious emu. When I say face to face, I mean that it was really close. We gazed into each other’s eyes for a heart stopping moment. Then, I slowly backed away, until I realized it was still standing where I’d left it. At that point I beat a hasty retreat, glad to have had such a close encounter, and also glad to walk away emu kick free.

I’m glad this zebra was in the shade, so that its amazing markings were able to really be showcased. Bright sunlight could have caused too much contrast or glare, but this is perfect. Really studying the complex patterns of striping on its forehead and knees in particular, show what a wonder zebras are. Beautiful, almost but not quite comical looking, they’re a gift nature has bestowed upon us. Let’s enjoy every stripe.

This lion and lioness seem content in each other’s company. They’re both gorgeous. His mane surprised me by how rough it looked and how much actual red was in it. Nearby, a lioness had taken up residence in the fake bed of a fake truck that decorated the exhibit. By looking at her through the glass right over where she lay, I could see, count even, the individual hairs on her back. That is the closest I’ll ever be to a lion, I’m sure. I could have stood there, gazing upon such majesty for hours. It was an experience I’ll always treasure and never forget.

I’ll close this out with a pic I took with my phone. It’s not sharp like the ones from my camera, but it gives an idea of how beautiful the Christmas decorations were. I rode the Skyride and loved dangling, swinging, and swaying high above the gorgeous lights, but nothing quite compares to being close to them. it was a day filled with many of my favorite things, the top favorite being, as always, the magic that comes out of my camera.

My mother was a beautiful young woman. These photos are evidence of that. She looked like a super model, before there were super models. I think these were taken when she was in her late teens and/or early twenties.

I recently came across this one. I kept looking at it, not entirely sure it was really her, in spite of the fact that she’d written her name and 40s on the back. Most of the hundreds of pictures she left for me to enjoy showed her beauty staying with her throughout her nearly century of life. I think this may be the worst of them all.

I just couldn’t understand how she could look so bad. Almost like a walking cadaver. Skin stretched across prominent facial bones, hollow eyes, accompanied by a haunted gaze. She looked as if she’d walked through hell.

Eventually I realized she had. The 1940s. That was the answer. She was living through World War II. This must be several years after the lovely, carefree images. She’s standing in Aunt Pearl’s yard, which means it was likely when she lived with Aunt Pearl and Uncle Dick, while the sisters worked at a nearby arsenal, making bombs. Risking their lives every day. A bus came to get them for the ride to what might have been the last day of their lives. One accident is all it would take. Living with that alone, though with such strength and courage, was enough to take a toll.

Even if it was before she worked at the arsenal, the general wartime was nightmarish. She told me that after Pearl Harbor was attacked, they were terrified that the Japanese would bomb even so far inland. So she was already accustomed to living in a state of high fear. 

Add the deprivation of food scarcity. Meat, butter, and sugar were rationed. They had to adjust to the butter substitute margarine, adding the yellow coloring that came with it to make it resemble real butter better than it did without it. They learned to make butterless, sugarless, eggless cakes and “apple” pies out of crackers, sacrificing every way they could think of to help the war effort. That would explain her newfound gaunt look. She didn’t eat a lot anyway, so paring down her natural diet would have been drastic.

Even her vibrant smile was different. The phrase “Carrying the weight of the world.” comes to mind. It’s said that the people who lived through World War II are a remarkable generation. They were. A few remain and still are. They always will be, preserved forever, I hope, in the amber of historical memory and generational family stories.

I’m happy to say that with her innate resillience she was regaining her natural beauty, by the time my parents were married several years after the war. This picture captured them in a solemn moment, perhaps trying to portray the importance of the occasion. They look strong and healthy, with a new layer of maturity brought to them by surviving such hardship, as they embark on their new life together 

Almost in bloom tulips.

Purpley pink hyacinths in abstract.

Pretty pink buds.

Front and center, bloom and buds.

​My mom’s only surviving sister was 10 years older than she was. Charming and fun loving to the point of being goofy at times, Aunt Pearl was also beautiful.

She had long, coal black hair that she coaxed into ringlets with a curling iron. Unlike our modern day ease of curling irons that plug into any convenient outlet to heat with electricity, Aunt Pearl’s curling iron was heated by putting it down the chimney of a coal oil lamp! This feat could be iffy, as it involved metal, a flammable substance, and uncontrolled heat…not to mention lighting those lamps was essentially setting a small piece of fabric (the wick) on fire, then the light was constantly fed by the flame that burned until it was put out. There was also the fun prospect of singed hair and soot getting in the hair as well. In that instance Aunt Pearl was fortunate that since her hair was already as black as it could be, it hid the worst of any damage that was the price of wanting nice curls. Later on she set it into marcel waves that looked wonderful. Eventually, she wore it in a Roaring Twenties super short bob. Add the drop-waisted dresses that were all the rage, topped by a cloche hat, and she looked as if she’d stepped straight out of a talkie, the newfangled motion pictures that took the flapper set by storm.

During this era my mom was a small child, who adored her big sister. Aunt Pearl was wonderful with children, as I discovered for myself. People back then, early in the twentieth century, had more family members than beds, and sisters often shared a big four poster, piled high with a feather bed and several hand made quilts. The quilts were composed of fabric pieces salvaged from worn out dresses and blouses, so that a pointing finger could trace the story of each piece through remembered occasions from  the time before its original form was worn out. 

Aunt Pearl liked to tell stories, particularly of the ghost variety. When I was little and she’d come to visit, I would sleep with her and be deliciously thrilled by whatever story she wanted to tell me in the wee small hours of the night. One in particular that I’ve never forgotten was about two elderly sisters, who shared a bed as girls. Every night there would be terrifying knocking sounds, eerily seeming very near to them, though there was nobody else in the room. It was only when they were old and any day could be their last that one sister finally confessed to the other that she had been the mysterious knocker who kept the hoax going on for so very long, and utterly convincingly. It turned out that she had double jointed toes that she would carefully crack against the wooden footboard to make the terrible knocking sounds. Aunt Pearl had read about it in a magazine or book and did a very effective retelling in the dark.

My mom and her beloved sister were as close as a child and young woman could be.  There came a time when my mom started to notice whispered conversations and furtive activities between Aunt Pearl and their mother. Eventually, when she saw Aunt Pearl packing up her things, my mom asked Grandmother what was happening. They had dreaded that moment and Grandmother so hated to cause pain to her little daughter that she pursed her lips for as long as she could bear her own silence and then reluctantly answered the question “Where’s Pearl going?” with the puzzling “She’s going to M.” A bit of explanation followed, and my mom finally understood that her near constant companion and always game playmate was getting married. It must have been heart rending to watch the wonderful presence she took for granted as being hers always leave their home for a new one of her own. Aunt Pearl and Uncle Dick got married by a Justice of the Peace, while seated in their buggy. That seems to have been a thing at the time, though I think not overly common. I imagine it was quite the ice breaker at parties and such. 

My mom and Aunt Pearl remained very close the rest of their lives. They relied on each other in times of trouble and celebrated together during every eventful moment. They took care of each other in bad health, cooked together for holiday celebrations, and were sources of joy for each other just by spending time together. The only time I can remember ever seeing them argue was the moment the check arrived when we were eating out. They would snatch it out of each other’s hands, the bit of paper like a flat, rectangular shuttlecock in a never ending match of restaurant bill badminton. Aunt Pearl usually persisted until she emerged the victor, since she didn’t drive and wanted to repay my parents any way she could for their unending willingness to take her wherever she needed or wanted to go. I’m not sure how she managed it, since I was usually elbow deep in a banana split by the time the check came. All I know is that while she was getting out money to pay, a couple of dollars or a fistful of change would find its way into my pocket, along with a wink and a smile from the person who was to me the same wonderful, beloved companion and always willing playmate that my mom had known in her own childhood.

As she grew old in that remarkable way indomitable spirits have of never quite really seeming to reach true old age, even poor health couldn’t suppress her twinkle or the smile that lit up so many hearts she touched throughout her life. Aunt Pearl was one of those people you never forget. One of a kind. Her memory is indelible. As is the legacy she left me of joy in telling stories. Her dream of being a published author was never realized. That mine has been is in part thanks to her. Dreams can be contagious. Their enthusiasm. Their hope. And their twinkle that burns like a pilot light for my muse. Quite the legacy from a woman who never had children of her own.

Anything about World War I catches my eye. My long time interest in The Great War began with the movie In Love and War, starting Chris O’Donnell and Sandra Bullock. It was about Ernest Hemmingway’s experiences during the war and showcased the era in a captivating way.

When I followed the link to this article on Twitter, it lead to amazing colorized photographs of scenes of wartime Europe. Since it occurred at a time when photography was still finding its feet, the war had been displayed for us historically in black and white. It’s how we’ve been used to seeing it, which is why the colorized images are so startling now.   

In the grand scheme of this bigger-than-life collective life, the World War I era was not really a great long time ago. Its importance as the first mechanized war, with tank warfare and aerial dogfights marked a new chapter in several areas…warfare, technology, man on man inflicted suffering, yet it seems anything but modern, when viewed exclusively in black and white or sepia tones. Our 21st century gaze peruses the colorized versions with a more visceral reaction that helps merge the time not far from the turn of the 20th century with our current age of technological awe.

Of course the fact that images are in color neither lessens or makes more important the content. It does draw our attention in a new way, allowing us to see history with fresh eyes and perception. It makes it more real somehow, more our war, as well as the long, hard endured experience of generations lost.
In Love and War Trailer

Sometimes words aren’t necessary. This sky speaks for itself.

This is the family and some friends, gathered for an afternoon of croquet. I can imagine them going enmass, dressed like this, to the medicine show. My mom and Uncle Billy look like they walked straight out of The Little Rascals, which is extremely cool.

Like the last one about Honest John the traveling salesman, my mom’s memories of a traveling medicine show move past quaint right on into historical. Such experiences were certainly long gone by the time I was a child. My mom was born in 1919 and since the area where she grew up was extremely rural, it makes sense that there were still medicine shows in her early lifetime. I imagine they began to fade as more and more people bought Model Ts and did more of their own shopping, with newfound ease. 

She didn’t have a specific story about the medicine show, like the experience with Honest John. She just told me as much as she remembered. I can imagine a little girl, wide eyed with excitement and wonder, going with her entire family to see the show. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment in those days, so it would be thrilling for them all to have an opportunity to gather with their family and friends to find out what the medicine show brought to town.

It was set up in the grassy area beside the railroad tracks at the edge of town. There was the medicine wagon, where the showman would set up his displays. An acompanying Native American performer came out first, to dance to the beat of a drum. This would have been a unique and exciting way to warm up the crowd.

Then the medicine seller extraordanaire would begin his oration that probably somewhat resembled an old time fire and brimstone preacher trying to win reluctant souls, only this fist popper was intent on winning money from reluctant pockets. 

I don’t know everything he said. My mom couldn’t remember after many decades. She did retain one line that I too have never forgotten. The man with what he promised was intense healing elixer, proclaimed at the top of his lungs: 

“It’s good for your blood, liver, and bladder. If you don’t buy some now, you’re gonna wish you hadder!”

I can’t help but wonder how many of the area’s little old ladies didn’t want to wish they hadder and ended up gathered around a piano singing China Town at the top of their tipsy lungs, like Aunt Bea and the teatotaling Mayberry church auxillary ladies, when the Colonel and his elixer paid the quiet little town a visit. My mom didn’t know how much the medicine show man sold, but it seemed he didn’t linger in any one place for long. Of course, one might be able to consult any remaining records of suddenly cured blood, liver and bladder ailments….

Stories like this are priceless to me. They’re part of the history of the time, the community, and connect a thread through both to my family. I suspect that my mom was the last person I’ll ever know with such an experience in their past. So many people nearing a hundred years of age either don’t think anyone would be interested in such memories or they have succumbed to Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, and these kinds of stories are lost forever.

I always loved hearing my mom talk about anything she could think of. Sometimes, when we were under tornado watches, veering toward warnings, we would sit together with the radio volume low so we could know when to dash for her big walkin closet. I would shove back my dread and fear with the words that I knew would begin the process of shunting aside my interior little girl who had always been afraid of tornadoes. “Tell me about a long time ago.”

She would smile away the worst of our fears and tell me her wonderful memories, until a night of danger was turned into a vehicle into her past. A place and time where there was no electricity, the phone on the wall had to be cranked, and a man with a mission to sell a miracle elixer enthralled the entire countryside with a little hope, a little dream, and a bottle full of promises.

One of the best things about modern mobile phones is that since the phone is always with us, so is its camera. No more groping in the glove compartment for the digital camera we vowed to always carry, but didn’t. Easy access to a decent camera, means easy access to the constant show put on for us by whatever piece of sky we happen to pass beneath. 

Here are a few moments I’ve captured while out​ in the car:

At first glance I thought this was a single beautiful rainbow’s end. By the time I stopped, grabbed my phone, and got out it became clear that it was double, and possibly becoming triple.The lowering sun made the colors and the winter wheat as well look almost neon. It doesn’t always take absolute sunset to bring vivid color to a late evening sky.

This firey sunset looks more like the skyview of another planet than a mere earthly skyshow. Arresting and irresistible​, it’s one of my favorite inland sunset images I’ve ever encountered.

Here we have one of those cloud formations that looks like an animal. A shark, no less. Beautiful. And a bit scary, once it registers that it looks like it’s on fire…and has wings! The stuff of nightmares, or dreamy dreams, depending on the disposition of the person who looks up to see it.

The almost sunset sky angled light on this contrail for a hint of color. A pale pink javelin, to the imaginationally gifted, instead of an everyday occurance above our heads. 

Sometimes a phone’s camera isn’t quite up to capturing what the discerning eye catches sight of. At first glance this wide view appears to be simply the moon against a cloud scattered blue sky. However, if you enlarge it a bit, you’re rewarded with a vision of Pac Man riding an almost dolphin shaped cloud.

Our sky is filled with wonders. If we’re lucky we can catch random moments to revisit at the tap of an app.