Up or Down?

Yesterday, I took off.

I had planned to wander the countryside in my old convertible and take pictures. I live in a part of Vermont that is so photogenic it’s almost sinful. Everywhere you go there are beautiful landscapes, old barns, abandoned factories and historic houses. There are fields full of animals. Strange signs. odd art and creative quirks, all begging to be captured.

I’ve been convertibling (as my kids call it) for a long time. Maybe 20 years or so. From time to time my kids, particularly my daughter, would go with me. I lived in Virginia when we started this, in a rural county just outside Roanoke.

One thing I learned is that pretty much anywhere you go, there are pictures to be found. Cities. Rural America. Small towns, even suburbs. There are pictures everywhere. You just have to be in the right mindset to see them. I am constantly amazed how one day I will pass through a town and see nothing, and another day, in another mood, I will hardly be able to take two steps without snapping a shot that leaps out at me. Same road. Different me.

At times, the mindset that makes images pop just happens. Other times I have to work at it. I have to set my mind to it. It is a discipline, and my convertible days are part of that discipline. I’ve done it so long that once I put that top down, and head out, something in my head rearranges, and I fall into that way of seeing.

And that is what yesterday was supposed to be.

I have not taken many pictures over the past nine months. Even my wife has commented on the fact that where I once took my camera everywhere, I rarely do any more. I know some of the reason. My cancer battle knocked the emotional stuffings out of me from August until early this year. I just had the energy to do what I absolutely had to, and do my rehab.

Then just as I began to make headway, we entered the time of coronavirus. I was sick for some of that time, respiratory issues. Sometimes it was pretty bad. Sometimes it was just middling bad. It has only been in the past few weeks that breathing became easy again. With all that, I was again in a place where I could do the basics, but had little left for the creative things I love. I simply lacked energy. I still do, but it is getting better.

I am,getting better, but the world around me has been closed, as it has for all of us. So many of the things that resonate with me, that I take pictures of, are in places we go. Historic places, public gardens, museums, antique stores. All closed. Diners, city streets, music venues, churches. All closed. I am not primarily a nature photographer, so while I can take pictures of nature still, the things that resonate with me have been largely locked up. And may be for a while.

One thing I know, is that disciplines are part of what move us forward, even when we are not feeling it. It’s why I write poetry every day, even when I am not feeling it. It’s why I pray every day, even when I am not feeling it. That discipline keeps our minds in a place where we can create and be and do, even when we are not feeling it. We become less a slave to our emotion. We keep the habit of doing the right things going so when we do feel it, the skills are still there. Or when we are confronted with a disruption in our lives, we don’t fall as far, and are better able to over come it.

And so I have begun to go out again with my camera. And that is what yesterday was supposed to be.

I have been here in Southern Vermont for eleven years now, so there are not a lot of roads within a fifty mile radius that I have not traveled yet. But yesterday I took one of those roads and wandered through towns I had heard of , but had never seen. One of those was Sudbury, Vermont.

Sudbury smells like lilacs. At least it did yesterday. Every home seems to have oodles and oodles of the flowering shrubs. I came on an old building that was likely a meeting house of some sort, build in the 1800’s, a large white clapboard buildings with symmetrical rows of large windows. It had a steeple like thing at one end. So archtypically New England I had to stop with my camera. I took forty some shots and got back on the road.

I didn’t stop again for almost three hours.

I just drove. Top down. No destination. No plan. I was not due home at any particular time. I just drove. Wind in my by now disreputable hair. Sun on my skin. I did not think. I did not pray. I did not plan. All things I often do as I go from place to place.

I did not listen to music, or old classic radio shows. I just lost myself in the sensation of driving, taking in the colors and vistas of mountains and fields in dappled sun. I lost myself in the driving, and the parade of smells: Lilacs, fresh mown hay, manure on the fields. I lived in the sensations. Wind in my hair, on my face, warmth on my arms.

I just drove. No stopping for drinks or gas or even the purpose of my trip, taking photographs. There was nothing purposeful in it. Instead, I got lost in it.

I did eventually make my way home. I was in a good place. Refreshed. Energize. It occured to me last night as I sat on the porch reading that one of the things lost in this time of coronairus is freedom. We have been quarantining. We can’t go to the places we are accustomed to going because they are closed or limited. Like everyone, I miss those things terribly. Like most people, I totally understand the whys and I have no quarrel with the limitations as we try to slow this virus down to a place where our medical system will not be over run. So no complaints from me.

But a few hours in a car, just driving. Going. Feeling. No sense of limitations. Even my own self discipline abandoned for a time, was a reminder of the power of feeling free. And reminded me how much I miss it, and how I am looking forward to its return. (and I do think it will return, in time.).

The picture is of that meeting house in Sudbury. I took some post card worthy shots of the place too, but this is the one that resonates with me.

They are repainting the meeting house. Now, I used to paint to earn money for college and I was always taught that you started at the top and work your way down. But obviously they started at the bottom and are working their way up. I don’t know why. Maybe they don’t have any tall ladders right now, or scaffolding. Maybe there is no real reason. Maybe it’s all they can do any more.

And come to think of it, I have no idea why I was tight to start at the top and work down. No one told me why. And in the end, I don’t think it matters. In the end, the house gets painted.

The truth is, there are generally multiple ways to get anywhere. My kids will tell you that I rarely take the same road to and from a place. I am always taking alternate routes. There is no real reason for this. I just like variety.

And yesterday was a reminder of that. That we can get to different places different ways. While some people are arguing, sometimes with AR-15’s in hand, that freedom means one thing, I have learned that it can be found in many, many places, if we allow it. If we don’t limit ourselves. If we don’t get in our own way. It is pretty much the same for everything. Too much time dictating the cursed hows, and not enough time focused on the whats.

My day had a how in mind. It was not until I abandoned the how that I got the what. The what I really needed. A sense of exhiliartion and freedom.

And the building? It will get painted, no matter which way they do it.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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