Almost Flying

August 26th, 2014

“I want you to go home feeling like you’ve just been thrown out of a very tall building and just realized you could almost fly and you will make it to the ground safely but shaken.” -Sara Lando, August 2014

And so began our introduction to what surely will go down as my own personal highlight of the summer. Shaken, not stirred.

I almost didn’t go. I’m not a studio photographer, after all. I own several speedlights and a few pocket wizards. I know what the Inverse Square Law means. I can hook up a light stand. And I have a vague notion of how an umbrella might be used to give a Rembrandt look. But beyond those mean basics, I’m pretty lost when it comes to off-camera, manual, artificial lighting.

Truth be known, I’m one of those guys David Hobby once famously referred to, when they averred a purist preference for natural light, as really being scared shitless.

Thing is, though, I’ve had a glimpse through the door.

You can’t read Gregory Heisler’s book and not be blown away by what is possible with a strobe. You can’t read Zack Arias’ brutally honest book and not understand the degree of commitment that crafting – as opposed to simply finding – extraordinary imagery takes. You can’t walk David Hobby’s yellow brick road on strobist.com – surely one of the more selfless acts in modern photography – and not come away with the realization that amazing photography, constructed, not found, is but an idea away.

I first heard of Sara Lando – a commercial and portrait photographer from Italy – through her work as an instructor at Gulf Photo Plus. Social media is a wonderful thing.

But it was her blog that really gave me the insight that here, truly, was a remarkable woman. A photographer who, early on, threw away the rule book. I like ballsy people.

Alas, Dubai is a stretch.

A summer tour to the States, though? To Baltimore no less? That works.

And so it was. A day of flying, trying not to crash.

My comfort zone is the found photograph. Working the edges with an unobtrusive Leica. One shot, quiet, move on. I tend towards reflection and introspection.

Sara, more than anything else, dumped me out of that comfort zone. She insisted on shaking things up. It was a nervous, anxious, exhausting day. Easily the hardest day of photography I’ve ever had. But one I won’t soon forget.

I loved working with real, professional models. Self-conscious that they might see through me, that I didn’t have a clue?

You bet.

But working with people who, beyond being simply comfortable in front of a camera, also bring their own creativity in collaborating with a photographer in creating a beautiful or impactful image… was a revelation.

I want to do more of that.

Working with my partner-for-the-day, Mai, was an inspiration. How often do you get to work with someone who has set aside their career as an attorney in order to pursue photography full time? Talk about ballsy!

And the public critiques of our two assignments – the core of much of our anxiety during the day – was profoundly helpful. One of the things I love about Sara is that she is bluntly honest. She was respectful, but quickly homed in on what worked and what didn’t. I was amazed at how quickly she sees imagery. Of the nuances she recognizes. The couple hours we spent doing that were incredibly insightful.

The best part, though, was watching Sara, herself, work. How she built her sets. How she worked with her models. How she charged the whole scene with her personal energy. Seeing how she took an idea, a vision, and translated that into an image that took your breath away.

It truly was an amazing experience.

Elegance

Interlude

Dreaming

Leica Store DC 2014 Print Exhibition

June 3rd, 2014

So, in Mid-March the Leica Store DC announced a national call for entries for its Spring 2014 print exhibition. The theme was ‘Beauty’ and it would be juried by Mark Godfrey, freelance photojournalist and former Magnum photographer; Nik Apostolides, Associate Director of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery; and Philippa Hughes, Chief Creative Contrarian of the Pink Line Project. Photographers were invited to submit up to three digital images, with the jury then selecting those it wished to see actual prints of. Once photographers had provided those prints, a second round of judging selected those images which would be displayed in the exhibit.

I originally demurred. I don’t shoot much landscape or other work that might conventionally be considered ‘pretty.’ But the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that the term ‘Beauty’ is really pretty malleable. What the hey.

What the hey, indeed. I was pleased that two of my images made it past the first round. After making 16×20 prints and getting those to the store, I was even more pleased a couple weeks later to find that both were selected to hang in the exhibit.

Congratulations to Kenneth Reitz for winning the overall Juror’s Award. And congratulations to Gediyon Kifle and Steven Poster for their Honorable Mentions.

Eternal Love

Brooklyn Bridge in the Rain

A Long Meander: Of New Guns, Pistolcraft, and the Art of Knowing Oneself

October 6th, 2013

The slanting, late afternoon sun lends a quickness to the scene, the light casting harsh, contrasty shadows. But it doesn’t matter. The small tin can placed on the ground twenty yards away is mostly a formality. On reassembling the weapon an hour ago after its first field strip, I had been surprised at how heavy the recoil spring was, requiring not a little care to get it pressed in place under the barrel bushing. How tight, in fact, everything was. The goal right now is just to get some rounds through it. To begin wearing off some of that tightness. To start to cleave through to what I suspect lies underneath.

The first, virgin, shot breaks sooner than I expect. So cleanly it surprises me. A smile spreads across my face.

The second shot is the same, only now I know when it’s going to happen. A second hole appears in the can.

By the time the slide locks back another six shots later I’m trying to think back across a lifetime of guns. Maybe the Sig 9mm, twenty-five years ago. That one had the same uncanny feeling about it. Standing there next to the picnic table, informally plinking at a tin can lying on the ground in bad light, accuracy testing the thing is the furthest thing from my mind. But the feeling is inescapable. Eight hits out of eight shots, even under the coarsest of expectations, slowly begins to count for something.

I hadn’t meant all this. Wandering into the gun shop on Saturday I was mostly just looking. Idly considering a shotgun. A 12-gauge coach gun. Something I’ve wanted for a while and will eventually have. Wandering past the long glass case of handguns I had glanced over and there it was. The dark pistol right on the end.

I continued walking past, back into the adjoining room with the ammo and holsters and magazines and targets and cleaning supplies. And after perusing those for a bit I wandered back to where the guns were and quickly located the shotgun on the wall. Short, stubby barrels. Double hammers. Nice figure in the wood.

While still deliberating on the cost, whether I wanted to drop four C-notes today, plus a bit more for 12-gauge shells, I turned back to the long glass display case. There were probably a hundred nice handguns arranged in neat, orderly rows, like soldiers. Glocks, S&W’s, H-K’s, Rugers, Springfields, Sigs. They even had the Glock 36, a gun that has been on my mind for a couple of years.

But those held no interest for me that day. What my eyes instantly went to was that dark pistol down on the end.

A dark, bob-tailed, Commander-sized 1911. .45acp. I stared at it.

“Can I help you?” the fellow behind the counter said.

I paused for a moment before lifting my gaze from the pistol. “No, thanks. Just looking,” I said.

And I walked out.

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My personal familiarity with Dan Wesson pistols is zilch. Back in the eighties, when I was shooting IHMSA matches, they were the go-to revolver of all the serious shooters. With two small kids at home I couldn’t afford one. Not even close. I made do with a .44 magnum Ruger Redhawk. Every tortuously-squeezed spare dollar I could find went to bullets, primers, and powder.

I’m well aware, of course, that the Dan Wesson company of today is very different from its illustrious predecessor, focusing now on combat pistols rather than the revolvers of old. But its legendary performance still precedes it.

Or so I’ve heard.

Driving home in the truck, my mind is still thinking about the pistol. I’ve got three 1911’s at home. But they are weapons I rarely use any more, having, like so many others, long ago fallen to the siren song of polymer.

Still, there’s an undeniable fondness for those old steel, slab-sided icons. That .45 Combat Commander was only the third handgun I ever bought. Coming on the heels of the .38 snubnose and the Walther .380, it was – first and foremost – a serious caliber. Which made it a serious weapon.

I can remember the morning I brought it home. And the first rounds I cycled through it. You shoot those big, fat, heavy slugs – the antithesis of modern handgun terminal ballistic design – and suddenly you just know.

Years later I bought an Officer’s Model. Smaller than the Commander, but in the same potent caliber. That became my carry weapon, the silent heft in the small of my back, for the better part of a decade.

Back in the early nineties, when Virginia, like many states, finally got around to amending its concealed carry law, I carried that Officer’s Model with me when I went to qualify. I remember being called to the front of the classroom before we went out on the range. Out of the dozen or so of us taking the test, I was both the only one using a single-action semi-automatic and the only one shooting a .45. Since the qualification involved a number of timed, draw-and-fire tests, the range officer was concerned about potential safety issues of an inexperienced shooter drawing from condition one. I assured him I was most comfortable with the weapon. After shooting the high score in my group, just a couple points shy of perfect, they were happy to let me run the qualification again when the second group went through, to see if I could hit 100.

The Sig P226 which I had brought along – the pistol I shot best and which I had debated using that day – stayed in my bag.

My 1911’s were – are – all pedestrian. I later had custom iron sights installed on the Commander, but otherwise that and the Officer’s Model and the Government Model I later added were all stock guns. No porting. No polishing. No tuned triggers. None of the stuff that Mel Tappan and Jeff Cooper and Massad Ayoob wrote about needing in order to turn the .45 into a combat-ready platform. I didn’t know any custom gunsmiths. And I couldn’t have afforded one even if I did.

So I either carried 185 gr. Silvertips, which fed reliably in my guns. Or else 230 gr. hardball.

I always regretted not being able to carry the Speer 200 gr. “flying ashtray,” a round that was rather something of a legend back in the day. But the great thing about the .45 – more so back in the nascent days of modern bullet technology, than today – is that the caliber doesn’t depend upon bullet expansion to be effective. Its natural width provides the basis for its capability. And so although I was wistful for that mystical CCI/Speer Lawman load, I was perfectly okay with carrying ball. That’s what I did for years.

And then came Glock.

I’m not here to disparage Glock. Or any of the other modern, polymer-based handguns. They are fine weapons. They are usually reliable as a rock right out of the box. They feed just about anything. They’re a bit less fastidious about care and cleaning, given their plastic exteriors. They’re a song to field strip. They require minimal maintenance. They’re usually lighter. And they just, simply, shoot well.

There’s a reason why virtually all police departments, SWAT teams, and military units have adopted them, without looking back.

I bought my first Glock because of its diminutive size. And although the 9mm was never a round I much liked – until relatively recently there were no bullet designs and little evidence in support of the round as an effective combat cartridge; and yet reams of data suggesting otherwise – I was quite taken by the idea of being able to carry ten rounds in such a small package. The siren song of firepower. It shot great, to boot.

That was the gun that went with me in the mid-nineties on my first, solo, cross-country motorcycle trip. It was an unquestioned comfort during a couple of slightly tense moments during that trip.

But it was the Glock .45’s – first the compact model 30, then later the full-size model 21 – that really sent me down the rabbit hole. All of a sudden I had my long-favored caliber back, along with all the other practical advantages that the Glock offered. More than anything, the ability to carry high round counts of such a lethal caliber seemed like the holy grail.

And so it was. For a long time.

Funny thing about that time thing, though. Like bending a prism a few degrees, so that the light changes, time likewise tends to slowly shift our perspectives on things. Maybe it’s the long wear of experience. Or just the slow accreting of wisdom. Whatever.

The last two guns I bought have been revolvers. A platform that has been marginalized in the combat world for a couple of decades now. A rational man might ask why I – a man who takes this stuff pretty seriously – would do that. Why would I go there?

I don’t have an easy answer. Only a few observations.

The first, and certainly the most important, was that I wasn’t carrying as often. The Glock, for all its many virtues, is a thick gun. Which means you either end up going to an outside-the-waistband holster, or you endure this brick in your side. I’ve gone through too many top-of-the-line IWB holsters trying to find the magic solution that will attenuate that thickness. I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that, for me, it doesn’t exist.

There are both legal and tactical implications to not paying attention to that first word in concealed carry. And that’s much of why I don’t like OWB holsters for that mission.

A carry gun might be the best weapon in the world, full of magic juju. But if you don’t actually carry it, it might as well be a stamp collection.

The second thing, related to the first, is that the gun I increasingly found myself carrying, when I did carry, was a S&W J-frame, .38 Special – simply shoved in my pocket. When I packed my Harley for a week-long trip earlier this summer my compact Glock .45 was tucked away in my bedroll. But only the small Smith was instantly reachable. Talk about going back to your roots.

The third, and last, thing was a growing disenchantment with the firepower-is-everything – at least as defined by magazine capacity – ethos that has seemed to capture the imaginations of our little fraternity over the last decade or so.

I have always put great stock in marksmanship. In making every shot count. For twenty years the rifle I took in the deer woods every November was a Ruger .270 No. 1 single shot.

Having lots of rounds at your instant disposal can seem seductive at first. One begins to imagine all sorts of scenarios where those rounds might make a difference. After a while, you begin to convince yourself that that 16-round magazine – with a spare 16 on your belt – are absolutely necessary.

And, yet, outside of a military context, the history of gunfighting would suggest otherwise. Zombies, indeed.

There’s something about the mindset we bring, as well. Wyatt Earp was famous for his dictum to be mentally unhurried, to bring one’s arm to bear swiftly, but without the panicked urgency that naturally attends bullets heading in your direction.

Most of us, thankfully, have never been to that dark side. Most of us, hopefully, never will. And yet the object of our intent is to be ready for that black moment, should it ever come.

For me, I’ve increasingly come back to the thinking that informed my earlier days in weaponcraft. That sometimes less is more. That I don’t need sixteen, or thirteen, or even ten rounds at my disposal. That a handful, used well, will do what’s needed. That if I don’t make those first half-dozen count, an infinite number beyond that are unlikely to make a difference.

The one time in my life I’ve ever brought a firearm to bear on another human being – the sight picture still etched into my brain, as clear as if it were yesterday, all these years later – I had but six rounds of .38 Special at my call. Far from feeling undergunned on that fearsome, long-ago night, I remember feeling an enormous comfort, that whatever was going to go down, it was going to be I who dictated the outcome, not the other way around.

We live in a world where the vast majority of people have ceded their safety to others. They’ve placed their lives, and the lives of their families, wholly in the hands of the earnest, dutiful, brave, professional – yet underpaid and, inevitably, distant – young kid on the other side of a 911 call.

For those of us with a different worldview, matters of this sort bring a special gravity, something not to be taken lightly. We have no way of knowing how the choices we make today will influence events somewhere in the future. What we do know is that it is all on the line. That the game is table stakes and all our chips are pushed to the center.

First thing Monday I was back at the gun shop. “Can I take a look at the Dan Wesson?” I asked, nodding at the black-finished V-Bob still resting there on the end.

It was a handsome gun. One that came easily to hand. But holding it was like grasping a pack of needles, the G10 grips and fine-cut checkering on the front and back straps finding quick purchase in the flesh of your hand. My first thought was that it wouldn’t slip even if your hands were slick with blood.

I turned the weapon in my hands, slowly studying the purposefulness that seemed engraved in its soul.

“Let’s do it,” I said.

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Summer Road Trip

August 11th, 2013

I can’t believe it. For the second time today I’m running low on gas, with no idea where exactly I am or when I might find more. Not lost exactly – I’ve got a road atlas in my saddlebag and could easily spend a few minutes figuring that out. No, dead reckoning, and the sheer remoteness of this little county road I’m on tells me everything I need to know.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I could blame the close call this morning on a deliberate roll of the dice. After a beautiful ride down eastern Kentucky’s rt. 23 – a lovely road which numerous signs informed me was the Country Music Highway – my decision to exit westward on rt. 119 towards Harlan and Pineville was borne out of simple curiosity. A curiosity that began to be edged with something else as the second mountain rolled out behind me and still no gas.

No worries. Pineville arrived soon enough.

Curiosity fulfilled, rt. 25E brought me back south through Cumberland Gap. And it was around there, having on a hunch punched the address in the Zumo, that I decided Maggie Valley was doable.

At Newport I had pulled into the gas station just in time to hear the irritated woman at the next island over, having just returned to her car from inside the store, grousing to her companion. “Now I’ll have to go all the way to… whatever the name was.”

Two minutes later, as I squinted at the opaque LCD screen on the pump display, looking in vain for any signs of life from my inserted credit card, I understood why.

A couple of blocks later the little town petered out, with no more options for gas. Right about the place that the turnoff for I40 greeted me – a summons I ignored. And also right about the place that the flashing sign on the side of the road said something about 25E being closed somewhere up ahead. A sign which I also ignored.

I remember thinking rt. 25E is a reasonably major route. They couldn’t just shut it. How bad could a detour be?

Now, with half the hundred miles I had left in the tank gone and this itty bitty county road as my sole companion, I’m finding out.

The Zumo, unaware that rt. 25E is closed, of course, is nattering at me to turn around. I amuse myself by cycling between the decreasing miles of fuel left on the Harley display and the increasing time of arrival displayed on the GPS, a couple of data points that confirm I’m still heading in the wrong direction. It’s a bit of affirmation I don’t really need. The descending sun, aft of my left shoulder, says enough.

Rt. 25E Detour

It’s somewhere in there, mixed with the edginess of being out in the middle of nowhere and not knowing how long this detour will last and wondering whether I’ll find gas before the tank runs dry, that I remember.

Why I’m here. Why I do this.

Riding alone is a very different experience from the trips we make with friends. Most people don’t like it. Most people don’t like that edginess that the circumstances of being solo often brings. Most people, if they’re honest, are actually a little bit afraid of it. Hell, even Captain America had Billy.

What you do get, if you can abide it, is a sense of quiet satisfaction. A deeply-felt joy at profound wonders. And a reflective, introspective conversation with yourself about what is important in this world.

Maybe running out of gas is a small price to pay for that.

Jeff at Deals Gap1

Jeff at Deals Gap2

Deals Gap Overlook

Days later, after having experienced hundreds of miles of terrific roads in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; the Midland Trail, diagonally bisecting West Virginia, a section of road I was last on thirty-six years ago, struggling up the mountains in an old six-cylinder, three-speed-on-the-column, Dodge telephone truck; Deals Gap, where I almost got a ticket, and the Cherohala; good food, cold beer, and excellent whiskey; a good book; sun and rain, including a drenching sans rain suit coming back over the mountain into Maggie’s Valley – a bet that I lost; good people, everywhere; and yet again almost running out of gas – one last bit of serendipity remained.

Studying the map looking for a route back north, I wanted to avoid the touristy mess to the west that was the Smoky Mountains National Park. At the same time I wanted to stay clear of the rush hour mess just to the east in Asheville. A little north-south squiggle marked “209″ seemed to split the difference.

Thirty minutes later, on a perfect, softly overcast morning, two signs within a half-mile of each other greeted me: one warning truckers of the road ahead; and one advising that the road ahead was named The Rattler.

Rt. 209 – The Rattler – is fabulous! Tight and more technical than Deals Gap, it was utterly devoid of traffic. What a wonderful road! On the far end, as if coming down from a high, its spirals slowly lengthened into longer coils. I passed through Luck. And then Trust. And, finally, Hurricane.

Good bye, North Carolina. Hello, again, Tennessee.

At Big Stone Gap the dining room of the hotel was named Trail of the Lonesome Pine. It seems the author of the novel by that name was from there, a long time ago. It was a bestseller in 1908. The night before I headed for home I made a visit to Amazon and downloaded it to my iPad. I’ll read it before my next trip back, next summer.

I already told the girl at the front desk I’ll be back.

The Rattler

Luck

A Road Trip

The Most Expensive Motorcycle Accessory Ever…

July 21st, 2013

I have a quarter-mile-long gravel driveway. Gravel driveways can be a bit of a pain. Weather, and simply driving upon them, will cause them to deteriorate over time. Gravel is lost to compaction and erosion. A grassy center crown slowly develops, and its height increases over time. Ruts and potholes will develop. And if you have vehicles with poor suspension, washboarding can develop. The runoff from a hard thunderstorm can instantly create interesting situations.

Every other year or so I’ve had to bring in a couple of dump truck loads of fresh gravel. That’s not cheap. Two truck loads of crusher run is about $700, delivered.

And about once every five years I’ve had to have a heavy equipment operator come in and re-grade the driveway.

In the interim, Ginny and I would putz around with a shovel, trying with little success to fix the inevitable potholes and such. If you’ve ever used hand tools around compacted gravel, you know how nearly pointless that exercise is.

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The very end of my driveway descends about a 75-foot slope to where it meets the public road. That part of the driveway is paved. The last time I had gravel brought in, the idiot truck driver began his dump on that paved section. You want macadam. Or you want gravel. You rarely want both together. Sure enough, over time all the gravel on the paved section washed down to the very end, creating my “big” problem.

big problem 01

You can’t see it real well in the picture above, but the depth of that gravel runs from about 4″ on the upper end to about 8″ where it actually meets the road. It makes every motorcycle trip quite an adventure, just exiting or entering the driveway!

big problem 02

That’s the big problem. The “little” problem is simply the normal wear and erosion that takes place – the well-developed crown in the center (which makes getting a mower down the driveway difficult in the summer; or a snow blade in the winter), several ruts and potholes, etc.

little problem 01

little problem 02

little problem 03

The last picture above gives a sense for the difference in depth between the center crown and the travelled portion of the driveway. That’s the center crown on the left. Probably 4″ on average. A very low clearance vehicle, like my Civic Hybrid, will drag on that center.

At this point I’d normally fix the “little” problem by having the driveway re-graded, and then fresh gravel put down. It’s due.

I suppose the “big” problem, the gravel at the bottom, could be addressed with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. But I’ve been putting off that rather heroic effort. My philosophy has pretty much been that any day that’s good enough for shoveling is day I ought to be out riding!

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I finally decided to hell with it all. Life’s too short to deal with such aggravations! And, so, my solution…..

tractor 01

That’s a new Kubota B3300SU with front-end loader and grading scraper on the 3-point hitch.

tractor 02

tractor 03

tractor 04

Proud papa!

proud papa

The first thing I worked on was re-grading the driveway. The Land Pride 60″ Grading Scraper made short work of that. A couple hours of seat time and my driveway was flat, dressed, and all the low spots were gone. The grading scraper also pulled up and redistributed a lot of gravel that was buried or lost to use in the center. Beautiful!

little problem fixed 01

little problem fixed 02

little problem fixed 03

The next morning I tackled the bigger problem. I was a little nervous about that, given that whereas the grading scraper is a very simple implement – at its most basic, you simply drag it behind the tractor – the gravel at the bottom would require working with the front-end loader.

I needn’t have worried. I got the hang of it pretty quick. What did surprise me was the sheer quantity of gravel that I had to pick up and then redistribute up along the upper parts of my driveway. Literally yards of the stuff. After spending three hours working with the front-end loader (and, periodically, again with the grading scraper – leveling out the gravel I was redistributing), I had to laugh at the notion I could ever have done it with a shovel and wheelbarrow.

big problem fixed

neighbor’s problem

The picture above shows the bottom of my neighbors’ driveway (shared by four families which doesn’t help when it comes to decisions regarding maintenance, I’m sure), where it adjoins mine. They have the same runoff-and-collection problem – only much worse even than mine was. We’ll see if they want me to help work on that.

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To say I am pleased would be a vast understatement. To paraphrase a famous line, “I love the smell of diesel in the morning!”

Craig Semetko Lecture and Exhibition

November 19th, 2012

I love many genres of photography, but of them all my favorite is street photography. A year or so ago I bought a monograph from a new artist in that area, “Unposed,” by Craig Semetko. I very much enjoyed his unique street shooting style. Fast forward to September of this year and Eric Oberg, the general manager of the Washington DC Leica Store, mentioned that Craig would be the next artist (following Jacob Sobol) to be exhibited in the store. I was delighted. And so it was that Craig opened his exhibition with a couple of lectures during the annual FotoWeek DC. Here are a few images from that opening (along with a handful of miscellaneous street shots taken during the dinner break).

Craig Semetko Gallery Opening

Craig Semetko

New York City

November 4th, 2012

A post in tribute to my favorite town, as it goes through some difficult times. I’ve only been to NYC twice, but absolutely love the place. My best wishes to everyone up there.

This image was from my first trip back in 2010. The vantage point was classic, but I had to return three times until the light (and a bit of meterological serendipity) was something close to what I wanted.

© 2010 Jeff Hughes. New York City

New York City

The Romance of Nighttime Light

October 26th, 2012

During the winter of 2002 I was unemployed and spent a lot of time wandering around with my Leica M6 and a handful of Tri-X stuffed in my pocket.  One late February night was memorable because of its unseasonable warmth – it felt almost balmy.  Driving my pickup into downtown DC that night, I wandered around The Mall for a few hours.  I remember crouching down along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial for one shot, pointing back towards the only source of light in the scene – the Washington Monument.  Too dark to see the controls of my camera, I judged shutter speed by the unique sound Leica film cameras make as you drop south of 1/30 sec.  Less even than that, at 1/15 or 1/8 sec I understood the challenge.  Like a sniper working on a thousand-meter shot, I triggered several very careful, very slow frames.

Sometimes we’re rewarded with a bit of luck.  That image – a 16×20 – now hangs in my office.

Now, of course, with digital – and especially with the Monochrom – much higher iso’s make those low light challenges seem a bit quaint.  But what hasn’t changed is the luminescent quality that point-light scenes at night often offer.  It’s one of the things I most love about available light, nighttime photography.

© 2012 Jeff Hughes

Lincoln Memorial

Just A Matter of Time

August 19th, 2012

Rolling slowly up the street, the recollections are vague.  Peering first at one side, then the other, I search for clues, some hint of remembrance.  The old Holiday Inn, the one on the east side, hard down by the river, is gone.  The one I stayed at for the first couple of weeks, until I complained about the constant stench coming off the water and they moved me to the newer, nicer Holiday Inn on the west side.

I can’t find that one, either.

No matter.  The long, narrow town is the same.  And the houses, built close to one another along that follow-the-river’s-length, are much as I remember them.  A bit more run down.  I wonder if that diminishment is more from the wear of time or simply that the optimism of youth tends not to notice such things so much.

Perhaps a little of both.

My mind is blank on the girl.  I can’t even remember her name, much less where her house was.  I dated her for perhaps six weeks, a pleasant summer’s dalliance.  Long enough that in early September, when her extended family got together for their annual draw-names-for-Christmas supper, they smiled at me and said they could add my name to the basket if we were engaged.

I remember thinking back to when I had met her, a month and a half earlier.  At the union meeting.  The pretty girl – seventeen years old, as I would find out shortly – a couple of rows down.  The none too subtle and none too quiet introductions by a couple of the older women who had taken her under their wing and apparently thought I was okay.  Me getting up and walking down to sit next to her, while a blush rose in her cheeks.

“Are you completely and totally embarrassed?” I think I asked, smiling at her.  She put her head in her hands, nodding slightly.

“You know, you really do have to go out with me after all of this,” I enjoined, laughing.

Six weeks later, had I asked, I think she would have married me.  Alas, unbeknownst to me, I had already left one woman pregnant back in Virginia.  I didn’t need any more complications just then.  I was missing my family and my friends and my motorcycle and I just wanted to go home.

Now thirty-five years on, I wonder what happened to her.  What turns had her life taken?  Where was she now?

I should at least have remembered her name.

Female companionship aside, it was motorcycling that absorbed most of my non-work hours.  I had bought my second bike – a Yamaha 750 triple – just weeks before C&P Telephone managers had come to me and told me I had been volunteered for temporary duty, two to three months, in West Virginia.  That new bike was back home, the engine hardly broken in.  It like to drove me crazy.

Evenings during the week I would kick back in my hotel room with my stack of motorcycle magazines and live vicariously.  On weekends I’d jump in my telephone truck and drive out along the remote rural landscape that dominated this land, imagining I was on my bike.  It was a poor substitute.  I spent many an hour thinking how wondrous it must be to ride these amazing roads on two wheels.

Now, thirty-five years later, I’m finally here to find out.

Light rain greets me the next morning.  That’s okay.  I’m deliberately lazy getting going because I want to stop by Charlie’s, Huntington’s official Harley-Davidson dealer, and they don’t open until nine.  The delay is worth it, if not for the t-shirt I carry to the counter then for the bountiful cleavage presented by the pretty young lass who checks me out.

Then, having donned my Frog Toggs, the day begins in earnest.

What is there to say?  The roads in western West Virginia are simply magnificent.  Routes 10 and 16 and a bunch of others besides could be the Wikipedia definition of simply excellent motorcycle road.  The hardest part is simply choosing.  It’s like being at a heavenly banquet.

The rain quickly peters out.  And a quick lunch in Man is a prelude to the only stop I really have planned for today.

For years I’ve eyed the tiny town of Welch while running my eyes across the map of West Virginia.  Located just south of the broad, densely forested area that comprised the killing ground in the Hatfield-McCoy feud, it’s the place where Sid Hatfield, distant relative to the Hatfield’s in that famous disagreement, was assassinated in 1921.  He and a compatriot, Ed Chambers, were gunned down as they ascended the steps of the McDowell County courthouse.

Walking today up those same hard, steep concrete steps, I’m surprised there’s no plaque or other mention of the event.  Maybe, I muss, it’s because, despite being arrested and charged, none of the three assassins were ever convicted.  Maybe there’s a tinge of municipal embarrassment at such a brazen lack of justice.

Approaching the courthouse itself, I walk first around one side, then the other.  In the back there’s a detainee area, filled with twelve or fifteen hard-eyed men.  I glance over at the lady guard and nod at her, but don’t say anything.  I really don’t want to have to explain why I’m here, imagining a friendly “Sid Hatfield, eh?  Harold!  We have a gentleman out here interested in Sid Hatfield!”

“Come right on in young fellow.  Harold over there is our local history expert and he can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Sid Hatfield and probably more besides.”

Most courthouses take a dim view of armed visitors and I have no desire to cross that particular threshold.

Continuing down rt. 16, the road is a delight.  I’m thinking that Ed is exactly right – that Bill and Mona, living in Princeton, have it all wired.  All these handsome roads at their very fingertips.  Every few miles there’s another hard top county road that snakes off who knows where.  The whole landscape is rich with possibility and I can only imagine the rides one might put together, given time to explore.

The only downside I can see is the occasional coal truck.  As the afternoon wanes I encounter one on the very southernmost stretch of 16.  Big as an eighteen-wheeler, the behemoth is scary to watch descending the mountain.  The driver, more than a little aggressive, isn’t the least bit reluctant to make use of all of the road.  For once, I’m happy to just sit back behind and watch, glad I’m not coming the other way.

All afternoon I’ve considered spending the night in Princeton.  I’ve stayed there a couple times before.  But my route has swung me wide west of the town and I decide to continue for a while yet.

War is, according to the sign, the southernmost “city” in West Virginia.  More accurate would be to call it one of the most depressed towns I’ve ever been in.  Touching and sad.  And yet as I ride slowly through, fantasizing about reconstruction projects which could bring economic relief, a number of the people turn towards the sound and nod their head or raise their hand.  Nodding in return, I’m reminded yet again of the resilience of spirit that so often seems to spring from mean circumstances.

Back across the border into Virginia, I’m thinking Tazwell is a possibility.  But that, too, rolls swiftly past.  Bristol, finally.  Right square upon the Virginia-Tennessee border.  I know of a hotel there that’s spitting distance from a coin Laundromat.  That works.

The next morning dawns heavily overcast.  Perusing my iPad while eating breakfast, it seems I’m in for rain all day.  Maggie Valley, my tentative destination, is socked in with fog.  Zero visibility.

No matter.  You just put on your rain gear and button everything down and roll with it.

Sure enough, that karmic nonchalance works its magic.  Aside from a drop or two as I pass through Johnson City, nothing much materializes.  The ride down 19/I26 is simply glorious – a stretch of interstate that is the exception that proves the rule.  Mountainous and remote and pretty and nearly devoid of traffic, I just love it.  By the time 19 turns back into a local road at Asheville the sun is breaking through and I’m ready to bag the rain gear.

Not long after I’m in Maggie Valley at the Cardinal Inn – a tiny, fifties-era-type motel that is clean and cheap.  Mike remembers me from last year, pulling a card from a box that has all my information already on it.  I guess I’m not the first customer to return to his and Deborah’s little business.

Mike gives me the “biker discount” and we both smile.  Notwithstanding the genuineness of his affections – how many motels have the owner’s own bike under cover right next to the office, keep a rolled-up hose at the ready, and have strategically placed a box of clean towels expressly for use by clients in washing their vehicles? – I suspect everybody gets a discount of one kind or another.

Having squared away a place to spend the night, I now have the whole afternoon in front of me.  Last year, when I talked to Ginny from down near Atlanta, Hurricane Irene was approaching the east coast.  That had prompted me to begin heading on home, skipping the day of riding around Deals Gap I had originally envisioned.

My plan for this year is to make up for that.  This very afternoon, in fact.

I have mixed feelings about it.  The Harley has acquitted itself exceptionally well – surprising me in many cases – with everything I have put in front of it these last four years.  Deals Gap, on the other hand, is such a tight, narrow road, with oftentimes abrupt transitions, that I have long imagined the big v-twin to be a double handful in that kind of environment.  We’ll soon see.

Turning up rt. 28, I’m reminded that despite being down in the area just about every year on one run or another – last year I was down here twice, on separate week-long trips – it’s actually been a few years since I’ve been to the Gap itself.  And so the run up 28 turns into a time machine, remembering.

It also – despite my early promise to myself to remain ever mindful of the quick limitations of the Road King and how tragic it would be should anything happen to it and so a large dollop of restraint must be part and parcel of what I bring up here – has me raising the bar.  By the time the sweepers begin to tighten, an arpeggio is rising in my head, seductive and sweet.

I’m saved by a handful of Harley riders, doing the customary speed limit minus five.

And then right when they pull off, just south of where the lake appears on your left, the rain begins.  First just a few drops.  But then quickly morphing into a serious rain.  Heavy enough that I consider stopping and donning my rain gear.

Never mind.  I’m almost there.

The wet road has me suddenly squeamish, uber cautious through the turns.  Even as I remember railing through here so many times before.  The time with John and Dave, the day I got busted for my double-yellow pass.  The time with Earle, after we were late leaving Nantahala Village and had to make up time catching the others.  The times alone.

A dark shape materializes in the road ahead and I intuit instantly what it is.  Sure enough, a moment later the sound of my approach has the bear scampering across the road.  Be careful there fella, I murmur as I roll past.  I take his presence as a good sign.

I’m stunned when I get to the store.  It’s packed with bikes, something I didn’t expect on a Wednesday.

They’ve also done a lot of work on the place, expanding what’s available and generally cleaning up and modernizing the place.  The ‘store’ is now almost purely a t-shirt shop, with few of the staple goods that once were on display.  But there’s now a proper sit-down restaurant in an adjoining room.  And the motel units have all been refurbished.

A far cry from the times I stayed here years ago, when it was The Crossroads of Time.

I told myself I wouldn’t.  I got tired years ago of the crass commercialization of ‘The Dragon.’  The t-shirts and bumper stickers and videos and all the talk and all the bravado, all making reference to it, have been so overdone.  And I found, in something of a surprise, that riding Deals Gap is as much an I’ve-got-balls artifact within the Harley culture as it is in the sportbike world.  It’s all become something of an embarrassment.

Which is why I’m surprised when I find myself pulling the t-shirt off the wall and carrying it to the register.  An image of a grizzled old Harley rider with that large, evil dragon haloing him from behind.

Alrighty then.

Outside, the sun is back out and the road is rapidly drying.  I drink from my bottle of water, carefully scrutinizing the dark clouds that have settled to the west, in the gap itself.  Not long, I tell myself.  Ten minutes.  I’m already getting that old feeling in my chest.

Worried about being the rolling roadblock that I have long despised in others, I watch the crowd of bikes, trying to judge who is leaving and hoping to provide enough separation that that doesn’t happen.

So I’m glad after I decide to go and spend the ninety seconds it takes to shrug into my jacket and don my helmet and gloves that the two sportbikes I hadn’t seen – a Kawasaki Ninja and a BMW R1200S – pull out right before I do.

If I’m relieved by that, though, my heart sinks when two Corvettes pull in right behind me.  My guess is that the cars might make better time than I can given the wet pavement and what I’m riding.  And I have no desire to be mixing it up with a car.

Oh well, I shrug.  It’s too late now.  I can always pull over somewhere.

Throttling up the hill, I’m thinking about traction.  I know the road will be dry soon.  But right now it still holds a bright sheen of wetness.  Just take it easy, I remind myself.

As I lean easily into the first right-hander I’m already setting up for the next one.  That’s one of the unique things about Deals Gap – the turns come so quickly, one after another, that the exit of one usually leads immediately into the entrance of the next.

As I set up for that next turn, now fully up to speed, a glance in my mirrors shows the Corvettes have dropped back.  Good.  They won’t be a problem.

Back in front, though, in something of a shock, the two sportbikes are still in sight, but a single corner away.

The sight of them triggers in me the old thing.  I pause, trembling for the space of a heartbeat, my chest gone tight.  Don’t do it, I tell myself.  But then the guttural sound of the Harley hardens, its phlegmatic notes telling the tale.  There’s a story here now.

Within three corners I have caught them.  Back and forth, the old rolling cadence, rushing now hard through the corners, I abide the unexpected pleasure of… company.

My satisfaction – the handful I feared the Harley might be on this road simply isn’t the case; it is running beautifully – is tempered by the work required to stay with the two riders.  The pull of their bikes has me at the very upper end of what the Road King can do.  Of what I can do.

Unable to carry enough corner speed, I’m having to shift constantly.  Rather than establishing a rhythm and just going with the flow, I’m having to treat the road like a racetrack – accelerate, brake, downshift, back-on-throttle, corner.  Rinse and repeat.

It’s enough.  Several times the riders, in an obvious bid to pull away, press a bit more speed into the equation.  Each time the Harley responds, holding the thread between us.

Which is not at all to suggest that good riders wouldn’t have simply walked away.  They would have.  And, in fact, a couple miles in another sportbike comes upon my rear, sitting there for another mile before pulling around the three of us in a series of clean passes.

Having plenty of time to observe the two riders in front of me, its clear these are decent riders, not great ones.  Eleven miles on, as the road finally straightens, the euphoria slackens and I realize I’ve been sweating.  I pull over by the lake to ditch my jacket and go back into cruise mode.

The two bikes don’t wave.

.

The rest of the trip is a slow roll of days and miles.  I froze my ass up on the Cherohala Skyway, too stubborn to pull over and spend the three minutes it would have taken to put my jacket back on.  I had a lovely meal at a terrific Mexican restaurant in Maggie Valley.  The Woodford Reserve in the evenings was smooth and mellow.  And the two-day ride up that mother of all great motorcycle roads – the Blue Ridge Parkway – what can one say?  Glorious beyond words.  A riding season hardly seems complete without a ride along its length.

A final night at Meadows of Dan.  I stayed at the Blue Ridge Motel, the same small place that John and Dave and I stayed at back in ’96 when I was heading towards CLASS at Road Atlanta.  A fine last-day country breakfast at the hometown restaurant there, served by a pretty young waitress.  A final nice tip.

A t-shirt I no longer regret.

Descending the mountain at Afton, coming into Waynesboro, I fall in behind another touring Harley.  He turns into the gas station where I’m going.  After fueling, the man wanders over and asks where I’m from and if I know where the Blue Ridge Parkway is.

My week away suddenly pales when he reveals he is from Texas.  He’s just come by way of Bangor, Maine – a destination suitable simply because he had never been there.

His kids and grandkids still thought he was at home.  Until he sent them a picture of the mountains and a rainbow from the White Mountains of New Hampshire and a beaming query, “can you guess where I am?”  I had to smile at that.

“Yes sir.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is just up the mountain there.  You can’t miss it.”

Ready to Leave

Huntington

Welch

I26 Rest Stop

Deals Gap

Deals Gap Harley Rider

Jeff at Deals Gap

Jeff at Deals Gap2

Cherohala

Maggie Valley Motel Room

Blue Ridge Parkway

Of Sugar, Time, and the Serendipity of Wisdom

April 12th, 2012

It’s the first session of the day and it’s still cool on this Autumn morning.  I shiver in my leathers, not entirely because of the venting in the Dainese suit.  The track still has patches of dampness from the fog which rolls in every night off the Dan River, but is drying quickly.  We’re helping it along with our laps.  The last track day of the year.  It’s going to be a good day.

The South Course at Virginia International Raceway has a hell of a long front straight.  More than half a mile.  Coming out of Oak Tree, the hard right-hander leading onto it – where legend has it that years ago the car racers used to deliberately rev their motors trying to shake acorns loose onto the tarmac – I’m in third gear on the GSX-R1000.  Deliberately over-gearing it, trying to keep down wheelspin.  Once onto the straight, speed builds in a rapid crescendo.  Even short-shifting – trying to keep the front wheel on the ground – I’m soon on the far side of 160mph.  God’s country.

Some of life’s experiences defy description.  Braking hard from those speeds, in what your mind tells you is an impossibly short distance, is one of those.  Those HH pads and the six-pot calipers provide what seems to be perfectly fine braking – really powerful braking – everywhere else.  Just not here.  Past the braking marker, two fingers on the lever, squeezing like the trigger of a rifle, the pads of those fingers feeling for the load on the front tire.  The rear end all light and softly shimmying, like the subtly-turning tail of one of those smallmouth holding station in the river over beyond the trees.  There are damp patches here, too, and one can’t help but wonder if we haven’t overloaded that front tire as we roll through them.  But, no, we’re ok.

You never think you’re going to make it.  The end of the straight comes at you like the earth towards a crashing plane.  It rises up like an unremitting wall, but with a rush like a cutting scimitar.  Only at the very end, just when you’ve nearly given up all hope, does it seem like yes, I think maybe I can  make that turn.  It always seems a surprise.

By late morning the chill is gone.  Now I’m sweating as each session gets underway.  I’m glad when noon arrives and the track goes quiet.  It gives me time to rehydrate some of the fluid I’ve lost.

My call home to Ginny is unremarkable.  “The Suzuki is running well,” I tell her.  “Be careful,” she reminds me as we hang up.  How many times over the years have I heard that refrain, sitting in the pits, calling from some racetrack far from home?

On the first session after lunch I go out expecting to continue the morning’s routine.  After a couple of laps to get some heat back into the tires I begin working the bike again.  I push aside the languor which envelops me.

On the third lap, past that long front straight, I begin working my way through The Spiral, a staircase set of esses which lead onto the low-speed right-hander called The Fishhook.  This is the most technical part of the track, the one with the most rapid left-right transitions.

All day long I have been ever mindful of the prodigious power of this motorcycle.  Of its otherworldly power-to-weight ratio.  It has already scared the hell out of me once – on this very track, a couple months earlier, when its brutal acceleration prompted an unintended wheelie at 140mph.  I long ago concluded that owning a bike like this is something akin to keeping a pet rattlesnake.

So, in a way, I’m not surprised.

Entering The Fishhook, I’m hanging off the right side of the machine, my knee reaching down towards the pavement.  Softly motioning the throttle, gently spooling the engine as I begin to lift the bike for the left-hander that looms just ahead, I’m apparently not gentle enough.

You can feel it when a rear tire breaks, when it first spins up.  There’s a tiny little release, a momentary fissure in the space-time fabric, that feeling of elastic firmness that wraps into our bones, when riding a motorcycle at speed.

The very best motorcycle riders in the world sometimes do that on purpose, deliberately breaking loose the tire and using the now-spinning and loosely-coupled rear end to square off the turn.  Leaving behind a long, black smear as the only evidence of their mastery.

I’m not that good.

The sudden softness surprises me.  As the rear of the bike rotates towards the left, my subconscious response is both immediate – and absolutely wrong.  I chop the throttle.  Even as the first neural signals flash through my brain of what is happening and how to respond to it, it’s too late.  The sudden removal of power has caused the rear tire to hook back up.  And the sudden reappearance of traction has caused the now-contorted-nearly-sideways motorcycle to turn into a catapult.  It launches me violently into the tarmac.

.

Four weeks later the pain begins.  A sharp, intense, radiating, pain that begins in my neck, spreads across my shoulders, and descends down my arm.  It’s impossible to ignore.  But healthy all my life, I try and shrug it off.  It’s just a pinched nerved, I reason.  Must have tweaked something in that crash.

In a bit of twisted irony, it comes on nearly to the day that I am laid off, the company I work for becoming the latest casualty of the dot-com implosion.  I have no way of knowing that fifteen long, barren months lie in front of me before I’ll see another paycheck.

After ten days the strange pain not only hasn’t not gone away, it hasn’t diminished a bit.  It sits there, an angry intruder, acute in its intensity, chronic in its effect, touching everything in my life.  It’s on a ten minute ride on my other motorcycle, to get its annual safety inspection, when I have to ride nearly one-handed because of the pain, that I reluctantly decide I must do something.  The thought of not being able to ride is a darkness I cannot even consider.

A month later, after three doctor visits and an MRI, I have my answer.  Cervical spinal stenosis.  So much for something simple, something temporary.

And so begins my 10-year sojourn, living with pain as an ever present companion.  A sullen, unwelcome friend.  The new backdrop to everything else in my life.

A few years ago a hunting friend killed himself.  Brad was young and healthy and had everything to live for.  But he had been divorced and then he lost his job and his finances crumpled into disarray.  When he finally put the .45 to his head and pulled the trigger, I understood how it could happen.  Sometimes the pain just becomes too much.  You just want to be done with it.

.

Almost exactly a year ago, a woman from one of the financial boards I frequent posted a topic “Is Sugar Toxic?”  It’s salient point was included in this link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17Sugar-t.html?_r=2&src=me&ref=homepage

Like I usually do with longish articles, I printed it off.  Settling back in my chair, I began reading.  And in that fifteen minutes, something happened.  An epiphany arose.  When I talked to Ginny a few hours later I gave her the news.

“I’m off sugar.”

To her credit, she didn’t laugh.

She probably should have.  Anyone who knows me knows I have a legendary sweet tooth.  I have since I was a child.  Pies, cakes, donuts, candy.  I consumed them with a regularity that today, in retrospect, I find astonishing.

For years, orange juice was our staple anytime-you’re-thirsty drink.  Go for a run or a bicycle ride or work out in the yard?  Come inside afterwards and rehydrate with a quart of fresh, ice-cold orange juice.  We thought we were being healthy.

For years, a Starbucks’ grande mocha was my evening reward for having finished a long day at work.  In the summer I would switch to a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino.

Chocolate milkshakes were a special delight.  Not a week would go by that I didn’t have several.  As far as I was concerned, they were the only good reason for McDonald’s to even exist.  My decades-long ritual meal of ‘hamburger, small fries, and chocolate milkshake’ was always a joy.  And there was a particular, greater-than-it-ought-to-have-been disappointment that attached to the occasional reply from the cashier “sorry, our milkshake machine is broken.”

A proper serving of ice cream – that would be a pint or thereabouts – every night, for years, stretching into decades, had been my long habit.

We could afford to rationalize these choices because of great good fortune.  Ginny was a marathon runner and was forever out burning a prodigious number of calories.  I was the recipient of a genetic makeup that caused my body to seemingly be unconnected to caloric intake.  Tall and skinny as a teenager.  I remained tall and skinny as an adult.

Mostly.  I gained a few pounds in my early thirties when I quit smoking.  And I gained a few more as I entered my fifties, the gradual slowing of metabolism that the wear of time always brings to bear.  My waist line had gone from 32 to 34 and then to 36.  But at 6’ 2” and 180lbs I still considered myself to be in pretty decent shape.

Still, that morning after-shower routine in front of the mirror was one of increasing angst.  I had seen plenty of examples of men growing older to know that even my beneficient DNA endowment would not forever be proof against a bulging belly.  I saw the evidence every day.  That thirty-six I wore was increasingly becoming a snug thirty-six.

Against all odds, I remained firm to my new resolution.  In doing so, I learned a few things.

Sugar is added to nearly everything.  It’s actually quite hard to eliminate entirely from one’s diet.  Even where it’s not been added during processing, food products still often contain sugar.  The mixed nuts that I began consuming as a substitute for sweets, for instance, contain a gram or two.  Vegetables often have a fair amount.  And fruits, almost universally accepted as good for you, are loaded with fructose.

What I found is that, with a modicum of effort, I could keep my intake to less than ten grams per day.  Since that stood in such sharp contrast to the 100-200 grams I estimate I was consuming before, I figured that was good enough.

I made only a few exceptions.  Over the course of the year, I had but three proper deserts:  a piece of wedding cake at my son’s wedding, a piece of homemade cheese cake at a friend’s home, and a tiny piece of cake at my father’s 86th birthday a couple weeks ago.

It is astonishing how utterly exquisite a sugar-laden sweet is when you’ve gone months without.

Ginny, having been health-conscious for years, was more than happy to support my sudden turnaround.  Her efforts to buy and prepare no-sugar or low-sugar meals were instrumental.  About the only thing we disagreed on were fruits.  She continued to eat them in abundance.  I very much limited them.  So much so that one of my favorite memories was the simple afternoon when I steered the Harley to the side of a remote back road and sat down in the grass beside it to enjoy my lunch.  When I was done with that I extracted from my saddlebag a single, ripe peach.  Cold, pungent with sweetness, with juice that spread through my fingers as I ate it, it was the perfect capstone to a perfect few hours.

For the first few weeks, it was like my body didn’t know what to make of my new diet.  For the first time in my life, my blood wasn’t being subjected to vast amounts of sugar.

After about a month, I began to lose weight.  Slowly.  A pound or two per week.  Months later, after dipping into the 150’s, it stabilized.  “I’m back to my old high school, weight,” I happily joked to Ginny.

More importantly, that chronic pain in my neck and shoulders – my horned companion for a decade – slowly began to subside.  Today I still have moments of occasional discomfort, but for the most part it is gone.  Don’t ask me why.

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Like many people, the internet for me is a portal into a variety of communities.  Whatever it is you’re interested in, you’re bound to find a group of like-minded folks who share that interest, and with whom you can speak and debate and argue.  It’s fun.  And it’s enlightening.

What we don’t normally expect is for it to be profound.

And yet, for me, in the case of this one post a year ago, it most emphatically was.

Thank you, Wendy.