Archive | Stories – Nonfiction

On the River with David Raines

David Raines is a river barge captain, a killer Scrabble player, a doting father, and a recently engaged husband-to-be. He’s also a natural storyteller and has an amazing eye for photographs. When I first learned what he did for a living, I had all these images of Mark Twain in my head, but the modern reality of David’s life is that it’s one of searching for balance between work on the river, and home-life ashore. (It’s also about not falling in the river while you’re working.)

This is his story, in his own words and pictures.

Photo by David Raines

I started working out on the river when I was 18. I instantly liked the structured life, the danger, wealth of knowledge, history, and most of all – that no one could fake doing their job. It’s a world semi cut off and one that can never be fully understood unless you are actually out here for a few years . I did not have a plan to be the captain. I enjoyed working my way through the ranks. It wasn’t until I became a father that being a captain set in.

Photo by David RainesThe little Wookie is something that my girls ( worms ) got me for Father’s Day many years ago. I take pictures of it each time I leave home . It’s one of many small things that we have developed to stay close . Notice the “crusty captain” logo? The worms started calling me that, so I made shirts for us all with a logo.

I let family and friends know when I get home. I have uninterrupted time to be a dad. I fought hard to be their dad when I am home and I have always been 110% involved. I have custody of them when I am home . We do all things together. It’s all about the memories. We cosplay, bike ride, cook, and do cultural events.

Boat life is very hard on relationships. It was taken me until the age of 44 to find and feel real and unconditional love from a woman. I can go on and on about the dual lives I live, and how both have love, passion, joy, dedication, and much more.

We are our own fire department and first aid out here. Chain of command is very important. I go from being obeyed out here to doting on my girls and finding moments to live in with my girls… it’s completely different.

I can see where many captain ( leader ) skills are transferable to being a doting dad: Never letting up on standards, Being hard core, Chewing people out, Breaking down young men, Having follow-through, Being calm in a crisis, Patience.

Photo by David RainesRiver Lessons #2: Know who you are working with December 14th 1991 at 2:30 pm in Caseville, Illinois I was a green deckhand. It was a normal winter day and we were building tow (putting a block of barges together ) with the boat.

Physically I was tightening the outside fore and aft wire; mentally I was pondering my life choices.  In particular as to why a sane person would want to work in this each day, or why do we have to we woken up twice a day, or why can’t I find a sugar momma?

The other deckhand was 20ft away and just as zoned out as I was. I do not recall his name. I remember that he had a wonderful dream about starting a chain of meth labs and that breaking rocks with other rocks would have confused him. As I went to check as see how tight the wire was I kicked the outside bite of the wire and my foot connected with ice and away I went for a splash.

I was yelling for help while I was still under water and believe me, the Ohio river tasted dirty. I swam back to the barges and could barely reach the rounded edge. The life jacket held me afloat easily but I could not pull myself up . I did not feel any cold because my adrenaline was running hard. I began to yell for help.

The dePhoto by David Rainesckhand 35ft away never heard me but the mate did, and he was 400ft away. As he ran past the the deckhand he said “Dave fell in, grab a line now,” but what the deckhand heard was “take a break.”

The mate was not the best I have ever seen. Matter of fact he was very lazy and quite grouchy. None of that matters in certain moments. He grabbed the coming and stuck his hand down and pulled me out. I crawled to the coupling and as soon as I knew I was safe my adrenaline wore off and hypothermia set in.

As I walked into the boat the captain looked at me as he fired up a cigar and said, “No swimming on watch dumb—. Get warm and dry and get back out there.” Later on each detail was written down and talked about with the entire crew. I learned to not focus on getting to know the person but instead look at the work ethic. Will the person on watch be competent enough to rescue you , turn on the general alarm, notify someone in time? Suddenly spacing out was no longer am option and I could never forget it.

Watching out for one another had nothing to do with being friends or with color or rank and maybe the guys higher up the chain were sharper than I thought. Still, I should have gotten a cake or something for my troubles.

Photo by David Raines

Out here a person in fully immersed in the job. There is no going home. One truly learns the value of watching out for someone even though we may never get along. It also brings what is most important to your heart to the surface. Your hopes and fears will not leave you out here . And once you are home you can be complete and it’s like a holiday each time… even after 25 years.

Photo by David Raines

About the Author: David Raines

David RainesDavid Raines was raised in SE Missouri, and moved to Texas when he was thirty. He works on the river as captain of a barge, but home is ashore, where he devotes his time to his three daughters and fiance. For more about David check him out on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

0

Connections by Christine Mason Miller

The postmark on the first letter was August 14, 2000. The red rubber stamp on the left side of the envelope read “C.R.C. State Prison.” It was a letter from a woman named Nicole, who described herself as a “recovering addict serving a civil addict commitment at California Rehabilitation Center, Norco.” I was five years into my own greeting card business at the time, and she’d received one of my cards. When she found my address on the back, she wrote to ask if I would donate materials to her—cards, cardstock, envelopes, and paper. At the close of her letter she wrote, “Your trash is my treasure.”

I sent her a package the next day.

About two weeks later the next letter arrived, the same red “C.R.C. State Prison” stamp glaring on the front like neon. Packaged inside an envelope created from a brown paper bag, there was a handmade card on orange paper, a detailed illustration of a teddy bear wearing blue boots on the front. He was holding flowers and blowing on a dandelion, the little fluffy seedlings seeming to scatter off the edge of the card. There was color, shading, and depth created with glitter pens, magic marker, and pencil. It was Nicole again, saying the package I had sent her was denied. I’d included posters, which meant it exceeded the prison’s size limits on mail.

I sent her a second package, smaller this time, no posters.

One month later I received a note from Tracie, who explained that a “friend had let her have one of my cards,” and that if I sent a package it could not weigh more than three pounds. She said she was allowed to receive paper, cards, envelopes, and stamps. The prison would also accept pens, as long as they had clear, see-through barrels. She wrote her letter in ballpoint on a piece of stationery with five geese on the front, each adorned with blue and white polka dotted bows around their necks.

I sent her a package, under three pounds.

Six weeks later—another letter. It was from Stephanie, who wrote in purple ink in loose, large handwriting on the back side of the paper with the three binder holes on the right. She was succinct and direct, saying she had “seen a few of my cards around” and was wondering if I could send her a “variety pack or assorted pack” of my cards.

I sent her a package of assorted cards with envelopes.

The next two letters arrived within two weeks, a few days after Thanksgiving. One was from Gretchen, who wrote in ballpoint pen on loose-leaf paper. She detailed her love of cards, how she enjoyed sending them, and that she thought mine were “some very nice cards.” She went on to explain which card she received from another inmate, describing the image and colors in detail—it was blue with a moon and stars. I knew exactly which card she was talking about. She told me she mailed it to her husband the same day she received it.

The other letter was written in large black script from a woman named Sasha, who got right down to business: “I’m writing requesting to know if there is anyway of receiving greeting cards from this company…to send to my boys and family.”

Two packages were mailed the same afternoon.

The month of December passed with exponentially more letters in my mailbox each week —two letters the first week, seven the week after, eleven before the new year. Thirteen more letters came in January, so I contacted the C.R.C. directly with an offer to send a large inventory of cards and envelopes to be distributed to the inmates. The arrivals from the C.R.C. in my mailbox dwindled quickly after that. The last letter I received was postmarked December 26, 2001.

Most letters were requests for cards written on loose-leaf paper, but I also received thank you notes on bright blue stationery, envelopes adorned with curlicue script, and letters mailed in envelopes I’d mailed not long before. Barbara told me she had three children and explained, “They need me more than a card, but until I can be there I would like to brighten their day.” A woman named Tanya began her letter with “I’m here in prison.” There were references to children, recovery, families, and addiction. There were misspelled words and notes written on pieces of paper torn in half. All letters were courteous, appreciative, and forthright. None of the women tried to tiptoe around the fact that she was in prison.

**   **   **

A greeting card business is a funny thing. By the time I started receiving these letters, I had been running one called Swirly for almost five years. I started it when I was twenty-seven years old with a grand vision of inspiring the world. I was not interested in merely designing and selling cards, I wanted to spread messages of encouragement and light the way for others to follow their dreams. One of my very first designs was an illustration of a tree with stars all over its branches. Its caption read “Plant Your Dreams and the Miracles will Grow”, which became the Swirly tag line—the phrase attached to the back of every card, whether birthday, sympathy, or thank you. Swirly cards were whimsical and bold, filled with stars, ladybugs, and sunflowers. Vibrant and graphic, they were paired with envelopes the color of gumballs—purple, lime green, and turquoise.

Through Swirly, I aimed to spread positive messages about creating a meaningful life to people from all walks of life, so when I started receiving letters from the C.R.C., it never occurred to me to not respond. Everyone who wrote received a package that included a short note in which I tried to manage the delicate balance between being uplifting without pretending they weren’t in prison. I did not write with any expectations of hearing from them again, and did not care if the main reason for their letters was boredom or the promise of something for nothing. If anything, the vision of prison gossip channels carrying news of a greeting card company willing to send free stationery gave me a peculiar kind of delight. Word obviously got around, and I kept imagining someone walking by another inmate’s room, noticing a card with a bright, smiling sunflower and being told, “All you have to do is write her and she’ll send you free cards!”

**   **   **

The women in the C.R.C. had made mistakes, but were in a program designed to steer them toward a healthier path. In a strange way, there was hope in their letters, even in the face of a few key details. When a stranger introduces herself by name and prison ID number, any ambiguity about the state of her life is wiped away. From all of the other letters I received (as I actually received a fair amount back in the day when social media didn’t exist), it was easy to imagine any number of domestic scenes, such as one-story bungalows with lace curtains, cozy apartments with floral dish towels, and red brick townhouses with sleeping cats in the windows. With the letters from the C.R.C., it was hard to imagine much beyond a bed in a bare room with a worn out blanket. Even when trying to lean on the more purposeful aspect of their being in a center focused on rehabilitation, my imaginings were stark, crowded, and bland. Perhaps these details came to mind from watching Shawshank Redemption too many times, but I kept seeing the same details—linoleum, gray metal, and glaring fluorescent lights.

During the six years I ran my greeting card company—designing, printing, and packaging cards, filling orders, managing reps across the country, and eventually staying on top of more than twelve hundred accounts—I experienced a comically consistent flurry of reactions to the news that this was my job. I still marvel at how often people’s eyes would light up when I told them I had a greeting card business. “Oh really?,” someone would say, “My sister has always created great cards”, or “I’ve always wanted to do that!”

Everyone seemed to know someone who was eager to crack into the greeting card business, and everyone thought it was a dreamy, rainbow-hued job that allowed me to spend all day everyday lost in drawings of cupcakes and flowers. So many people were asking for advice about the world of greeting cards I turned it into a consulting business, but stopped doing it after just a few clients. Seeing the look of disappointment on one face after another upon hearing the news that my vocation actually involved hard work became quickly dispiriting. Having spent so much time and energy figuring out how to do what I did on my own without a single business course to my name, I had no patience for people who wanted easy answers. I also sometimes wondered what they would think of being contacted by strangers from unsettling walks of life, such as prisons and state-run rehab centers.

Swirly evolved into a licensed brand with a product line that included everything from journals to watches. It came to life through a vision that extended far beyond its beginnings as a line of handmade greeting cards, and I wove this story as all of the women from Norco were in the midst of trying to unravel their sins. I was creating a company about following dreams while they were confined to routines, rules, and cells. Our worlds were so far apart, our experiences so wildly different, yet somehow our paths crossed. Through a strange confluence of greeting cards, mail, pens, and paper, our stories collided, and in that collision we each wrote a line in one another’s narrative.

**   **   **

Years after those letters had arrived in mailbox, I spent an afternoon reading and re-organizing all of them, feeling a bittersweet sense of gratitude for everything the women had shared with me as I stacked them chronologically and tied ribbons around the bundles. For all their mundane simplicity—ballpoint ink on loose leaf paper—they were stark reminders of all the ways life can turn on a dime and testaments to the truth that there is always more to a story than I’ll ever know. They made me aware of all the ways I, too, am capable of making monstrous, devastating mistakes that, whether intentional or not, could send my life down a path too dark and confining to imagine. They shined a light on the possibility that somehow, some way, I could have been the one sending letters from prison to a greeting card company asking for donations. To believe such a scenario could never happen, to believe I am somehow immune from life’s larger mishaps, mistakes, and mess-ups, is to deny my very humanity. My flaws, rages, and inclinations toward self-preservation exist alongside my strengths, ambitions, and good intentions. I am human, and therefore capable of the entire spectrum of human behavior, including those of a criminal nature.

By acknowledging and embracing this truth, I recognize how indelibly connected I am not just to my family, friends, and kindreds, but to the women in the C.R.C. No matter what—no matter how far apart my story might feel from someone else’s—there is always a thread connecting us, even through prison walls.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

* Note:  All names have been changed.

0

The Word Wakes You by Téa Silvestre Godfrey

The word grabbed me awake in the wee hours of the morning. Was it something I dreamt? Or did it dream me?

Admirabilia.

That word flashes relentlessly on the inside of my eyelids. I turn to look at the clock. It’s 4:08.

A few minutes pass and I give into the urge to get up and pee.

What does it mean, I wonder?

Is it a real word?

Back in bed and snug under the covers, I turn it round and round in my head.

Little bits of admiration?

Intangible moments of gratitude we collect like memorabilia?

How does one collect the intangible?

I roll over onto my other side.

Isn’t admiration about big things?

Her bravery in the face of that cancer diagnosis.

His ability to create and build a thriving multinational business.

Their courage to leave Syria and cross the ocean to Greece.

At 5:30, I reluctantly give up hope of going back to sleep. Deep snores rumble at me from Ira’s side of the bed and he won’t be up for at least another hour.

I slip on on my fleece robe and climb the stairs to the kitchen in slow motion.

If being admirable means we’ve done something worthy of recognition, who decides what’s worthy?

I stand at the sink and stare out the window into the inky dark morning. I can’t see the rain, but I can hear it.

The ritual begins.

Turn on the water. Fill the pot half way. Swirl it around. Pour it into the sink. Repeat the process twice more.

And what if there’s no one around to witness the wonderful thing done?

‘To admire’ implies both an observer and an observed.

You and me, right?

The proverbial tree-falling-in-the-forest question.

Open the coffee maker lid and pull out yesterday’s filter full of grounds.

On Facebook we have a never-ending supply of potential observers. Lurkers, yes. But also ‘friends’ willing to spend a millisecond to click the thumbs-up or maybe the heart button.

If we share — if we post the thing — then technically we’re asking to be admired, right?

Look at my beautiful baby (who I created with my very own body). Isn’t she delightful?

Look at this puppy I rescued. Isn’t he adorable?

Look at this poem I wrote. This meal I cooked. These flowers that grow in my yard.

I’ve seen them, but you need to see them, too. Your admiration is the true validation of my worth.

Admirabilia :: Smallish things to be praised with affection.

Open the grinder and fill it with beans. Push the button and listen to the high-pitched whir of the blades.

The wonders of modern living. Electricity. Running water. Central heating. How often do we stop to admire these things? Or the folks who made them happen for us.

The designers, the builders, the inspectors. The ones who sourced the materials and manufactured all the tiny moving parts. The ones who boxed them up and shipped them to where they needed to go. The ones who sold them to me. And to you.

All efforts of daily work and rituals of service.

When I turn the ignition and my car starts without a hitch, do I stop to honor the many MANY humans who contributed to that particular moment?

“Everything in life has brought us to this moment.” (Something my son likes to say at random for an easy laugh.)

Do I post pictures of those little everyday miracles on Facebook?

Mmm. Not so much.

A deep breath while I empty the freshly ground beans into the brown paper filter. Tap, tap, tap. Must. Get. Every. Last bit.

Next, cold (Clean! Thank you, municipal water guys!) water goes into the machine and I push the little red ‘brew’ button.

The water begins to heat and then it’s pumped and through to the grounds. The familiar clicks and sighs of our beloved appliance signal there will soon be coffee.

The elixir of life. A truly marvelous ritual if there ever was one.

But only because I’m here to experience and witness it?

On its own (without me), it’s simply just a blob of atoms shaped like a coffee maker.

I walk to the couch, sit down, and wait for the magic to materialize.

My son’s bedroom door opens and out bounces Max, his little dog. He’s up and on my lap quicker than anything should move before 6 a.m.

It’s like he hasn’t seen me in weeks.

I stare into his chocolate eyes and tousle his big floppy ears.

This moment. Something he and I share almost every morning.

I close my eyes and catalog the feeling for my ‘collection.’ Fully awake now to a practice of meaning and presence.

About the Author: Téa Silvestre Godfrey

Téa Silvestre Godfrey is passionate about community and loves to cook (and eat) with friends. She’s the author of Attract and Feed a Hungry Crowd,” the editor of “30 Ways to Bloom Your Online Relationships,” and works as a writing coach and freelance editor. Find her at StoryBistro.com

The Goodnight Ritual by Kolleen Harrison

Ever since my two daughters were little girls we have had our “I love you” rituals at the end of each day.

As a single mom it was very important to me to tuck my girls into bed each night, snuggling them in just so, making certain they were warm and cuddly, and had whatever they may need before calling it a night. This time of days was hands down my absolute fav, as they were typically all sleepy eyed and mushy and willing to let me love and hug on them as much as I wanted to. Often times even asking me, “Please stay” or the obvious nightly question, “Mom, can we sleep with you?”

One night, when my youngest Sydnie was about 3 years old, I went in to her room per usual, sat down beside her as she lay in bed and said “I love you Syd”.She looked up at me with her beautiful big blues and said “I love you too mommy.”

I then proceeded to delay the goodnight a little longer, asking her, “Syd, how much do you love me?” She looked at me, smiled, and innocently responded, “I love you 47 mommy.” I sat there for a minute, smiling and laughing under my breath, thinking to myself, “This kid, never ceases to surprise me with some of the things that come out of her mouth!” I leaned down, gently planted a kiss on her forehead and quietly exited her room.

As I began making my way down the hallway towards my bedroom, I started to giggle even more, reflecting on her words and admiring the sweet innocence of my littlest.

The next day started out as “one of those” days. Syd didnʼt like the way I did her hair, I ran out of milk for their cereal, an argument arose because Syd wanted to wear her favorite pair of jeans AGAIN, (for God only knows how many times in a row!), and traffic was a damn nightmare!

On top of that Syd had to pay a visit to the principalʼs office at her school for continually not listening to her teacher. (Iʼm pretty sure this was Ms. Flippenʼs absolute last straw with my little bit and her “very social” ways!)

Unfortunately that evening when we arrived home, I had to do what I believe many parents dread doing, and implement a consequence for her behavior. Her punishment – “No TV, reading or coloring, and then straight to bed.”

As bedtime rolled around, the normal routine played out. I went into Sydʼs room, sat down beside her on her bed and began to get her all nestled in. I looked at her and softly said, “I love you Syd”. She hesitated and reluctantly muttered “I love you too mommy”. I could tell in her face and body language she was still somewhat mad at me, not really making eye contact and barely letting me hug on her. I asked her, “Syd, how much do you love me?” To which she replied, “I love you zero mom”.

It took all I had to not bust out laughing at her response presented in such a stoic, matter of fact, steadfast manner.

The following day came and went, without much fuss or drama. (Thank God!) Once again as bedtime descended upon us, the “I love you” exchange occurred between Sydnie and myself. Although, this particular night it was a bit out of the ordinary. Tonightʼs response not only completely and utterly melted my heart, it created a night time ritual to this day, 11 years later.

This special night when I asked Syd, “How much do you love me?” She looked at me, sat up in her bed, wrapped her precious little chubby arms around my neck and whispered “To the last number mommy.” (MELT YOUR HEART, right??!!) I squeezed her tightly, whispering back in her ear “I love you to the last number too Syd”.

Thus, The Goodnight Ritual was born.

Today, Syd is 14 years young and we still say those words to one another every night, although we have shortened it to “TLN”. (We decided to do this knowing it can be our little secret for when her friends may be around). It is a beautiful, tender night time ritual birthed from humor, love and innocence which I will gladly continue on for as long as I am able.

“I love you to the last number. Goodnight”.

About the Author: Kolleen Harrison

kolleenHarrisonbioKolleen Harrison is a creative living in the beautiful Central Coast of California. She is the Founder of LOVEwild and Founder/Maker of Mahabba Beads. Her passions lie in nurturing her relationship with God, loving on her happily dysfunctional family, flinging paint in her studio, dancing barefoot, making jewelry (that is so much more than “just jewelry”), and spreading love and kindness wherever and whenever she can. You can find her popping in and out at LOVEwild.org or MahabbaBeads.com

Video Friday by Jeanette McGurk

In an odd coincidence, my daughter and I had a similar writing theme this month.  She had to write a paper about a favorite ritual.  I have been ridiculously indecisive about what ritual or routine I have wanted to write about for this issue of Modern Creative Life.

As I’ve gotten older, pondering these things takes on edges of nostalgia and love that feel overwhelming. That much emotion sometimes leads to the equivalent of writer’s freezy brain.  Unfortunately it doesn’t go away as quickly as Slurpee freezy brain.

So, in desperation I went hunting for inspiration through my 5th grader.  “Umm, so what ritual did you end up writing about for school?  Easter with your cousins?  Summer weekends at Grandma and Grandad’s?  New Year’s Day cheese grits?” I ask.

“No,” she says, “I wrote about Video Fridays.”

I try to probe more, get specifics in her words but for her it is something we do every Friday.  She and her sister love this small 30 minute activity more than almost any other treat I could offer up.  And this started kind of as a fluke.

The last days of summer we tend to spend being really, really, lazy.  I have been known to pull through the McDonald’s drive thru at 3pm in my pj’s, girls in the back in their pj’s, for dunch.  Our afternoon version of brunch.  We just combine lunch and dinner.  Then around 6pm we have ice cream and hot chocolate chip cookies; custom made 4 at a time from the tube.  On these days, when all the play, and crafts and swimming are spent, the days when the Texas August heat has beaten us down into our nice cool house cave, the girls binge on their favorite YouTube videos.

These binges are epoch.

Lauren can watch 3 hours non-stop of Cookie Crumble.  A woman whose face we never see but who has lovely, well manicured finger-nails.  One of her YouTube channel activities is opening 100’s, perhaps even thousands of mystery Shopkins.  The latest craze in Kiddom is to buy mystery toy packs.  My kids love them almost as much as Video Fridays and apparently, Lauren can watch someone with unlimited resources open one after another for hours on end.

For Helen, her favorite YouTube diet consists of people sampling different mods and playing Minecraft.  She is a connoisseur and should you ask, she would recommend Pat and Jen as the best of the lot.

Does the previous two paragraphs seem foreign to you?  It absolutely did to me.  I realized one day that listening to my children talk about this stuff was like interacting with martians.  Granted, perhaps if my husband and I were better parents, the kind who meticulously screen all the content going into their young brains, we would speak Minecraft lingo and Cookie crumble.

We are not those parents.  We were 70’s kids.

We lit matches in the street.  We climbed in houses being built during the early 80’s housing boom.  We wandered for hours unsupervised on foot and on bikes without cell phones or bicycle helmets and survived.  It is not in our DNA to super screen.  But, we do like to communicate with our kids, and our kids, who are just starting to get an inkling that we are dorks, still like to hang out with us.  In fact, I was being followed constantly through the kitchen while chopping onions or putting a roast in the oven, “Mom, mom, look at this video.  It is hilarious.”  You cannot learn YouTube martian lingo in these moments.  I realized I needed a dedicated time to be immersed, undistracted.

“Girls,” I said, “why don’t we sit down after I get this in the oven.  In fact, Fridays while dinner is cooking is a good time.  We can all share a favorite video we have watched from the week.”

In that moment, a family ritual was born.

I had no idea what an instant sensation this idea was going to be.  It has spent at least 20 weeks at the top of the charts.  Any week we miss, we double up the next week.  I cannot tell you how many times I have watched the “Puppy Monkey Baby” commercial in horror.  The girls never tire of watching me cringe.  In fact, a lot of the videos are cringe worthy but occasionally I will shout with glee over a particularly fun pumpkin carving Minecraft competition or the very cool movie theater mod someone created.  It never gets old trying to mimic Cookie Crumble’s high pitch munchkin voice.  In fact I think she uses some sort of machine to make her voice do that.

I, of course, torture the kids with inspirational TED talks and nature videos.  All 5 minutes or less.  After Helen’s first 35 minute Minecraft video we had to set time limits.  So the whole thing is usually wrapped up in 20 minutes.

Seriously, it is only 20 minutes every Friday and yet, it is the ritual the kids talk about before bedtime Thursday night.  It is what we discuss at Friday morning breakfast.  It is brought up after school.  It is what Helen chose to write about above all the other rituals we have so carefully crafted over the years.

Perhaps it is because in those few minutes every week, they know, I want to know what they find funny or interesting or intense or silly.  I want to see their world, not to snoop or make sure they are not watching something they shouldn’t.  It is a ritual set aside with no purpose other than letting my children know that their world matters to me.

Years from now, when they think back on Video Friday and they have a moment of emotional Freezy Brain, I hope that is what they remember.  Well that and I hope they suddenly get the urge to look up Puppy Monkey Baby as adults and experience the cringe!

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

Enchantment and Magic with The Garden Women by Jeanette McGurk

Years ago, I worked for a company that sold oils and vinegars steeped in herbs and packaged in beautiful Italian bottles.  We worked in a small space with concrete floors, a metal roof and metal sides.  There was an industrial sized rolling door where deliveries came and went.  This rolling door transformed our work-space from a drab florescent-lit room into a gateway where we could see miles into the hill country.

After a day of packing jalapenos into hot apple cider vinegar, corking, sealing, cleaning, packing 30 or 40 orders, double boxing each weighing in at 20 to 30 lbs, Margie would tell me to open the back wall, where we would sit, legs dangling off the steep concrete embankment and watch the sunset with our favorite poison d’jour.  For Rena it was usually a Bloody Mary and a joint.  Margie enjoyed Miller light with a shot of tequila timed at 30minute intervals and supplemented in between with a few Virginia Slims.  At 24 I was poor and a lightweight so I tended to mooch a beer, a couple of hits off Rena’s joint and I was good.

This was not your typical career path job out of college.  It was something better.

Two years earlier I had emerged from college ready to conquer the world.  Instead, I ran smack dab into a recession and the Gulf War.  I moved home, scoured the employment section of the newspaper and spent every Sunday night hanging out at Kinkos with my best friend.

We were renting time on desktop computers creating individualized cover letters to go with our rather green resumes.   Back in those days we were hard pressed to fill a page, even double-spaced with a 12.5 type font.  26 years later, I think I still have a ream of Neenah Classic Laid 24lb in natural white floating around in the attic somewhere.

Ah, the joy of weekly rejection, the hours  of tube tv spent watching scud missals lighting the desert night.

Somehow I stumbled into a pre-press job after a month or so.  I learned a lot, particularly about working for someone who is 25, arrogant and set up in a printing business by parents who have won the lottery.

Seriously, his parents won the lottery. 

They opted to buy him a print shop rather than send him to school.  So, I found myself with a boss three years older than me who slept with every employee he could, fired anyone who did not feed his ego and who on occasion would follow me out to my car when I was off the clock to tell me what the fuck I had done wrong.

It didn’t take much arm twisting when my college boyfriend asked if I wanted to move down to San Marcos with him.  He was working at a gas station in Wimberley while finishing his degree and told me his boss’ wife was looking for someone to design her a label.

Margie and I instantly hit it off.  She was eleven years older than I, beautiful, smart and straight forward.

She had spent a lot of money to have a bunch of men at a San Antonio ad agency design a label for a gourmet vinegar she created.  She told them exactly what she wanted and they designed something completely opposite.  They proceeded to tell her this was for her own good.   They knew her product better than she did.  She paid, left, and never contacted them again.

I listened to what she wanted and then tried to turn her vision into reality.  It is the magic moment in graphic design, the moment when your client says, “THAT!!!  THAT is exactly what I was imagining.”

In that moment you have connected and brought to life the thing that was in their head.

It is glorious.

After that Margie offered me a job.  It ended up being one of the best opportunities of my life.  The money was terrible but I learned what it was like to work with someone who values your ideas.

The company was started in Margie’s kitchen.  We did every single step of the process; making recipes, researching bottles, finding local fresh herbs and resourcing large quantities of vinegar.  We took small baskets of our product to boutique stores in Wimberley, Fredericksburg, Gruene, Austin and San Antonio.

It grew.

Together we planned out a space that was built between a candle maker and a jewelry designer.   I had a say in everything we did.  I was never talked down to or belittled as I had been in the print shop.  In this environment, I had a confidence never even experienced in college. Our products, completely designed by a 24 year old rookie, were sold in Harry & David, the Neiman Markus gift catalogue and the Texas Monthly gift catalog.

In most jobs, this would be  where the enchantment ended, but Margie hired a staff of amazing women.

Most of the work was monotonous.  It paid per bottle so we could know exactly what the cost was for every bottle produced.

What I found monotonous, retired women loved.

There were two ladies, both somewhere in their 60’s who could sit for a few hours or more talking, smoking and stuffing jalapenos into jars.  The outside of the jalapeños had to show and there was a visual way of speckling the green with red so each bottle was a mini work of art.

Some days I packed orders, some days I was on the phone and some days I would sit and stuff with Dixie and Jeanie.

She also hired the most off the grid, interesting, true hippie I have ever known.  This woman in her early 40’s could see a silver aura around me and told me once she had an orgasm during sex, she would advise her lovers to hurry and be done because she had no need for them after that.  These things were mind blowing.  You simply did not come across a lot of women talking about auras and orgasms in 1993.

Okay, let’s face it, that doesn’t happen often in Dallas in 2017.

This was much more than a place to work.  It was a place to pour out the best parts of ourselves.

For Dixie, that was her cooking.  She was from Shreveport and she could cast a spell on a pot and whatever went in, (usually something cheap and on sale), came out so delicious it would have moved Gordon Ramsey to tears.   If Dixie was working we all feasted at lunch.  If she stayed til close, she would dance a bit of zydeco around us on the loading dock, cigarette between her teeth, white hair not moving an inch.

In every way Dixie was spicy, Jeannie was not.

She had been married for 40 years to Harold, her honey.  I don’t think we ever knew how many times Dixie had been married although I think at that time, she had a well-trained fella who might have lasted.  These two were perfect work buddies.

They both loved to spin a tale, most of Jeannie’s were about her life with honey, most of Dixie’s were about dancing and raising hell.  The great thing was, as much as each of them loved to talk, they loved to listen to the other.  Probably more then the rest of us did.  Of course we were still in our 20’s, and 30’s we could not yet appreciate the complete joy of sitting next to someone and just listening.

Although we did do a lot of listening.

This job was outfitted with hours of talk radio and we had a small tv on which many an Oprah and Heat of the Night was watched.  It was even with these women that I watched the infamous OJ Simpson car chase.  We spent hours and hours together watching the trial.   We may have been the only 5 people in the country completely behind Marcia Clark.

Not a single one of us was perfect.  I think everyone but Jeannie had spent a night spread out on two office chairs when things had not gone well at home.  We had cried and laughed together, never feeling judged.  We all knew what it was like to be bullied in a man’s world.  We would have welcomed her into our fold with open arms; our mystic spot in the hill country where we were free to be ourselves.

In the years since I have probably heard it 50 or 60 times, “You know, how horrible women get when they all work together, it is awful.” 

No, I honestly don’t know. My best bosses have always been women.

Sure, I have run into female personality types that I have not meshed with, just as with men.

But the time when my silver aura was the strongest and brightest, the time when my ideas were most nurtured from a seedling into brilliance was with the ladies of Cypress Valley Garden, in a small industrial building with a really big view.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

A New Adventure Begins by Jeanette McGurk

oceanroad

Summer has slipped away and I have had time to marinate on our 2500 mile adventure.  Before we left, I read a beautiful article centered on how much a family learns about one another on a road trip.  It advised parents not to tell their children what to look at out the window and allow the kids to discover their own joys on the other side of the glass.  They will eavesdrop on their parents conversations and learn how the most influential adults in their lives behave when they are almost alone, their guard down after miles of travel.

I thought the article very wise and I fully intended to follow the directions with a bit of tweaking. I intended to be a better version of myself while young impressionable ears were listening.

All of this flew out the window at around mile 5.

In my defense, I have lived my entire life in Texas; big, but not scenic.  I tell people all the time that Texans make the best travelers because we are basically in awe of everything: hills, trees, water, green grass versus brown.  So, the minute we pull onto Pacific Coast Highway the temptation was too much. John and I both were.

“Girls!  Look!!!  Look!!!  That is the Pacific Ocean.

WE are on one of the most famous roads in the world.

When the travel channel does the specials on the coolest, most scenic, most fun to drive drives, this road is on the list!

WE are on a destination road.

People from all over the planet come to California just to experience what we are experiencing!

Hey, what are you looking at?  Your iPads?!?!  Seriously, quit looking at your iPad!

Okay, just hand over the iPads and enjoy the damn scenery.”

So much for the better version of myself.

So much for letting them experience the trip their own way.

horizon-768759_1280

Our first night, we checked into a hotel outside Santa Barbara early enough to relax and head over to a local place called the Cliffs to view the sunset.  It was beautiful. Except the kids wanted to run around after hours of being in the car forced to look at scenery.

This is not a big deal at home as you can run around a Texas beach for hours without fear anything more than black tar will cover your legs.  The beaches are flat brown horrid things that we like to hide with drunken college students.

The beaches in California are way more attractive, but they are also more treacherous.

The kids could see the water, from the side of the cliff and didn’t seem to get the concept that things would go badly if they stopped paying attention and went over the side.  Before the sun had completely set, John said “We are leaving.  This is not relaxing.  Get away from the edge and stop trying to coat yourselves in sand.” 

The next day we all woke having transitioned into vacation mind set.

I am convinced it takes 24 hours to stop worrying about day to day life and start enjoying vacation.  There is a level of anxiety you don’t even know is there until it evaporates.

We piled into the van, ready for a 1500 mile road trip.  Our first stop:  McDonald’s of course.  Is there a more American way to start the Great American road trip?   This was a top notch 5 star McDonald’s.  There was a ping-pong table on the outside patio.   This patio was nicer than ¾ of the patios I have encountered in Dallas.

For me, the Kodak moment came while waiting long excruciating minutes for the girls to go to the bathroom.  I was standing in the middle of Mickey D’s scouring the plaques on the wall when I discovered I was standing on ground zero for the very first Egg McMuffin.  Thank God for camera phones.  I now have an image of the blue egg plaque sitting on my phone that I can whip out when talking exotic destinations.

“You have been to the Eiffel Tower?  That is great!  But have you been to THE McDonalds to first introduce the Egg McMuffin?  I thought not.” 

As you can see, the girls and I can become easily distracted.

What with peeing, Helen wanting pictures in front of the McDonald’s ping pong table, me fantasizing over interesting McMuffin conversations, it is enough to drive my poor husband insane.  If I had a dollar for every time he said “WTF took you so long!!???” well we could retire and go on more trips.

So with John’s first WTF of the trip, we said good bye to Santa Barbara and went off in search of some forest and beach.

One of the benefits of a road trip, is setting your own itinerary.  I must admit that ours was pretty aggressive: we had 8 days to get back to Texas.

The sensible thing to do would have been interstate 40 straight across desert country all the way home.  Yeah, we didn’t do that.

Maybe if we were a family of scorpions that would have been the plan, but we have watched too many Nature Valley Granola commercials, we wanted lush vistas.  So north we went.  Up PCH to Pismo Beach where we lucked into a wonderfully empty beach with a parking spot, basically right by the bench that shows up on google maps.

Enthusiastically we raced down the wooden stairs, past the surfers, past the kayak class, we were all so excited I failed to notice Lauren in her iconic, I have to pee stance. (Surely someone else has seen a statue of this stance: butt out, legs crossed, and little hand going for the privates….)

Time to divide and conquer! Helen and John to the left, Lauren and I to the right.  Fortunately a helpful surfer seagulssinformed us that beach peeing was perfectly acceptable, we just needed to find a semi private spot, which we did, beside a pooping seagull.

I guess when you are eight there is no greater find than a “bathroom” that is apparently okay for girls, boys, and birds.

Being a fairly typical eight-year-old, Lauren is that she is always too busy to inform us she has to pee.  On the up side, since we have so little notice, she has adapted to being able to go anywhere and she is done in like, 15 seconds flat. Seriously, she was faster than the seagull.

We start back down the beach towards Helen and John.  I notice through the camera lenses that Helen is running pretty far out into the ocean.   At the moment the water is a little past her knees, but then…CRASH!  The wave almost covers her.  She comes running out of the water like a sea monster is after her.

There is nothing like the shock of the Pacific Ocean.  It beckons with its beauty  and lulls you into a false sense that it is not going to be THAT cold.  Then it whacks you full force.

It leaves me breathless.  My feet even cramp.  Helen was experiencing that moment on the other end of the beach.  Apparently, being a beach novice, she had left her crocs too close to the water’s edge and a wave stole one.  She was soaked to the bone but had successfully reclaimed her shoe.

oceanwavesShe looked utterly stunned.  “I had no idea I was that far in the deep end.”

We rushed back to the van, where Helen stripped and traveled the rest of the way to Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space clad in her robe.  It is one of my favorite images from the trip.  (Preceded by John totally loosing it over having the van less than 24 hours and it forever tainted by sand.) I was trying to think why on earth we had only taken one beach vacation.  And that would be it: my husband’s extreme hatred of sand.

Perfect time to head for big trees.

I had looked into Muir woods but everything I read advised against it on a holiday weekend.  I scoured the area for other giant groves of redwoods.  I found Purisima Creek.  It looked perfect.  It was right on our path, we could go from there to Half Moon Bay and on to San Francisco, all in one day.  Done.

The only thing I had failed to realize was that we would be on a teeny tiny road, on the side of a mountain, with a giant drop off, for over an hour. That one hour took three years off of my life.   I was sore for days from leaning to the left.  Willing us not to go over the side of the mountain.

John may believe it was his driving but I am sure my leaning was just as critical to surviving such a horrible skinny steep road.

We reached the forest, Helen got dressed and off we went for a hike.  Really, there is nothing like hiking in a forest.  These were not spectacularly big redwoods but it didn’t matter.   The air smelled rich and woody.  It was pleasant without being cold or hot.

forest-801772_1280

Best of all, there was a bathroom so no crouching behind the redwoods.  We had a hike that was just long enough to work out the road kinks but not so long to tire us out.  We climbed back into the van, happy, refreshed, and ready to go.  And we did go.

Directly backward and smack dab into a car parked behind us.

There is nothing that will make a man go green like wrecking a car he has recently purchased.  Especially when it happens the day after writing a very large check for said car.  Everyone was fine, in fact, I hit things in my car so often that the kids hardly flinched.

I think they even commented as much.

The good news, it was just a scrape.  We left a note for our victim, since they were off enjoying a nice hike, unaware someone had just smooshed their tail-light to smithereens.

Huge kudos to my green husband for dusting himself off and getting back behind the wheel, it is one of the great things about John, he deals with things head on and keeps going.

So, we continued on our journey, which to our amazement, seemed to become more and more beautiful the further north we went. Finally we reached San Francisco.  It was only our second night but somehow it felt like more.  Not more in a bad way.

It was two days made larger by seeing and feeling all the details.

famous-731398_1280

Daily life sometimes misses that.  Vacation doesn’t.  It can reopen your eyes to all the millions of tiny moments.

You go to the ocean thinking you will remember it like a picture in a magazine but it is so much more.  It is the smell, the vastness, the laughter of family, the taste of salt.  I crawled into the slightly lumpy bed that night, snuggled up beside John and felt completely happy.

Content with the treasure already discovered, and all we would find on the rest of our journey.

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

Preface to a New Adventure by Jeanette McGurk

insidethevan

Back in February my husband turned 50.  He is in great shape thanks to a gene pool that is amazingly forgiving towards a bad diet and lack of exercise.

Still, fifty is fifty.

I remember looking at the middle age crazies from the safe distance of my 20’s thinking I would be totally above that nonsense.  What I didn’t realize is that you aren’t crazy, you are in fact incredibly sane.  It is more like the middle age count down.  Suddenly the things you have been putting off, really can’t be put off any longer.   You either go jump out of an airplane or take it off the bucket list.  That happens to be one things I took off the bucket list.  I chalk that up to middle age sanity.

So, with the time clock not so gently ticking, we decided to take the plunge.

As I am writing this, the summer is just beginning. John booked us flights to California, the recreational van capital of the world (thank you surfer dudes), and upon arrival, we will be the proud owners of a Mercedes sprinter van, the world’s most expensive, rolling, air-conditioned tent. We intend to take this blank canvas and turn it into our head quarters for North American adventures.

I use the term adventures loosely.

There will be no blogs of us repelling into the Grand Canyon or up El Capitan.  No, we just want to see beautiful things with our kids.  We are looking forward to getting tired of each other after hours together in the car.  We crave life outside the classroom, boardroom and laundry room.

This is the road we are choosing to travel.

Sorry, I tried, I could not stop myself, honestly, I have about fifty corny road analogies but I decided to go with that one because life is a path.  I want to spend some of it in the slow lane, taking in the scenery and eating s’mores.

OK. I promise to stop now.

Once we return and the children are back in school, I’ll let you know how it went. See you around the next bend.

Really, that is the last one….

About the Author: Jeanette McGurk

jeanette_mcgurkJeanette McGurk is a Graphic Designer who entered the world of writing through advertising. She discovered writing a lot of truth with a little fluff is a lot more fun than the other way round. Now that she is no longer spending time making air conditioners, tile floors, IT and Botox sound sexy, she writes about the unglamorous yet wonderful moments of life for people like herself; in other words, anyone looking for interesting ways to put off cleaning and doing laundry.

She is a curmudgeon and doesn’t Twit or Instagram. She has heard the blog is dead but since she has finally figured out how to do it, that is the museum where you can locate her writings. http://jmcpb.blogspot.com/.

Chattanooga Redemption by Julie Terrill

06

I will try anything twice. An initial bad experience may have been a fluke or a food item may not have been well prepared. I am game for just about anything… except Chattanooga. I considered my initial encounter with Chattanooga to count twice – my first and last.

To be fair to Chattanoogans, this was not about your city.

This was about it being the unfortunate setting for living out my worst fear; getting lost and never being found. 03 Obviously the latter was not the case but I was quite certain that it would be.  I had taken my children to Tennessee for a grand adventure and now we would be lost and gone forever.

This was back in the day of “dumb phones” –  no Siri, no GPS, no Google Maps at my fingertips. It was dusk and I could see the lights of the highway but could not find an on ramp.  Nightfall only made matters worse.  One of my oh-so-witty teenaged children began to sing “Hotel California”.

Following a humiliating freak-out in front of my children, and with much assistance, I eventually became found and everyone lived.

For over a decade I twitched at the mere mention of Chattanooga.

My new friend, Linda, and I discovered that we are both involved in anti-trafficking efforts. She introduced me to Blazing Hope Ranch, a nonprofit organization in Tennessee that works with individuals who had been trafficked and was in the planning stages of its first summer camp experience for at-risk kids.  I was excited about the prospect of working with an organization that utilizes equine therapy. I submitted an application, provided references and underwent a background check.

Meanwhile, Linda and I began making travel plans and I assured her that I was an easy traveler. “I will try anything twice,” I said, “except Chattanooga. “

No words were necessary; the look on Linda’s face and awkward silence said it all.

Really??  You’ve got to be kidding me! During the months leading up to camp I worked hard not to ruminate about 04“Dreaded Chattanooga”.

Upon arrival I discovered that downtown Chattanooga and the Riverfront District have undergone an extensive redevelopment since my last visit.

The area is home to trendy restaurants, bistros, breweries and an arts district.  There is a bicycle share program with several hundred bikes available for rent at over 30 docking stations throughout the city.

The aquarium, art museum complex, children’s museum, a minor league baseball stadium, a renovated pedestrian bridge and the Tennessee River Walk, a thirteen mile long urban trail adjacent to the river, contribute to the welcoming atmosphere.01a

As a history nerd, this area is like one stop shopping!

The region contains numerous Civil War battlefields and memorials, historic mining sites, the setting of The Scopes Monkey Trial in nearby Dayton, and many Native American mounds, archeological areas and The Trail of Tears.

One serendipitous evening, we were offered the opportunity to see a reenactment of the Scopes Trial that was held in the very courtroom where, in 1925, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow captured the attention of the nation while arguing this historic case. Be still, my nerdy little heart!

07While the city initially captured my attention, it was the wilderness areas; the waterways, caverns, waterfalls, mountains and temperate rainforests that captured my heart.  We walked, hiked, stacked rocks, watched wildlife and spent a glorious afternoon cooling off in a swimming hole. It was probably best that we didn’t meet up with the ranger until we were leaving. The knowledge that water moccasins also enjoy the swimming hole may have lessened my bliss.

So, am I glad that I went? Absolutely! Would I go back? In a heartbeat!

Like I always say… I will do anything twice.

08

About the Author: Julie Terrill

julieterrill_bio

Julie Terrill is a photographer and writer with a passion for travel. For ten years, she’s told stories of empowerment through the lens of her camera in an array of unique landscapes, environments, and projects – from a shelter for children rescued from trafficking in Thailand to Faces of Courage, complimentary portrait sessions she offers to cancer patients in her community. She is a photographer and facilitator at Beautiful You and Soul Restoration retreats.

Connect with her at: JMTerrillImages.com

A Most Important Maker by Lawrence Davanzo

Davanzo Lead Photo

Last summer I attended a photography workshop in Berlin, expecting to spend time taking in the city’s fascinating street scene—photographing people and architecture and trying to artfully capture the grittiness that is unique to Berlin, one of Europe’s most diverse cities. But on the first day of the workshop I learned we would be photographing two artisans’ studios—a luthier, which is a maker of string instruments, and a pipe maker. Although initially disappointed I wouldn’t get to photograph Berlin’s urban scene, the two days I spent in their studios turned out to be far more satisfying than I had hoped for.

As an amateur violinist, I knew how a violin was made, but I’d never actually witnessed the process firsthand. And during the next day’s shoot observing the pipe maker, who turned out to be a former Major in the East German Army, I learned about the hundreds of different styles and designs his customers could choose from when ordering a pipe, with prices of up to several thousand dollars for his most elaborate designs.

When I returned to Santa Barbara, I began exploring the possibility of putting an exhibit together documenting artisans and craftsmen in their workspaces.

I liked thinking about these people as Makers—individuals who made something that required skill and creativity and gave people pleasure in the finished product. Not long after the new year, I approached a gallery in Los Angeles with the idea of an exhibition and they quickly agreed to host the show in early June.

I had two collections ready from my Berlin trip, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough for a solo show; I needed another two or three makers to round out the exhibit. My oldest friend has been a painter all his life, and has a studio in downtown Los Angeles. When I approached him about including him in the show, he agreed to let me spend a day shooting him while he was working on a new composition. I have another friend with a woodworking shop in Santa Barbara, my hometown, where he’s been making furniture for nearly thirty years. So both of those shoots easily met my definition of Maker.

This provided four series for the show, but I wanted five.

As I was organizing my work for the show I came across images from another photography workshop I attended in 2012, where I documented workers at the Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Pt. Reyes, California. Could oyster farmers be considered Makers? They probably weren’t artisans like my other subjects, but I was intrigued by the possibility.

When I photographed the workers at Drakes Bay, they had taken the time to explain what it actually meant to farm oysters. I love oysters, but I’d never really given any thought as to what was involved in bringing them to the table.

As I reviewed the images I’d taken four years earlier, I realized that the process of growing an oyster from microscopic larvae to its edible state was the literal making of an oyster. Here was my fifth series for the show. It might have been a bit of a stretch, but it met the requirements of skill and creativity—by needing to deal with weather and harvesting variations—as well as by providing pleasure to people.

There were some days when I had second thoughts: Wouldn’t it be better to photograph a chef in her kitchen, making a wonderful meal, giving pleasure to a table of friends or customers? Isn’t a kitchen a better studio of sorts than an oyster farm? But every time, I returned to the idea of including the oyster farmers in my exhibit.

I went back to my pictures, and came across the image below of the oyster seeds or larvae that are the starting point of making an oyster.

davanzo Photo 1

Oyster Larvae in a salt water bath

Drakes Bay would get a few million seeds from a hatchery in Oregon and disperse them in buckets of cold water like the one above, gradually adding warmer water to reanimate the seeds. The seeds would then be placed into a larger tank containing nets filled with recycled oyster shells.  After a few days, the seeds would attach themselves to the shells before being relocated to the ocean while still in the nets, thus beginning their long growing process.

davanzo Photo 2

Young oysters attached to recycled shells in net bags

After two to three months the baby oysters in their shells are attached to “trees” of metal rods that are suspended in the Drakes Bay Estero where they would grow for two years or more until they are ready for harvest. Workers retrieve the oysters, strip them from their metal rods, and harvest them for us to enjoy.

Davanzo Photo 3

Oysters are attached to metal rods and suspended in the ocean for the long growing period.

Davanzo Photo 4

Workers harvesting oysters

Drakes Bay has been in commercial oyster production for nearly one hundred years. Sadly, the National Park Service (NPS), after a lengthy and controversial legal battle, shut down the company in 2015. The workers shown in these images have all lost their livelihood; the historic buildings and equipment at the site have been removed and the NPS is in the process of dismantling and removing the oyster racks and related materials. I was fortunate to have documented the process of making oysters in the last surviving oyster operation on the California coast. Like so many things, it is an art—requiring skill, ingenuity, dedication and care.

About the Photographer: Lawrence Davanzo

lawrence_davanzo_bioLawrence Davanzo is a Santa Barbara-based photographer.

You can see more of his work at www.lawrencedavanzo.com.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes