Friday, February 12, 2021

Pictures I Like

I wonder if I would ever have found these pictures in a year without pandemic restrictions? I've always taken pleasure in the colors of mangrove country, odd red and yellow leaves, sunsets that I share with no one and the clouds like castles overhead. As much as I read about other peoples' pandemic misery my wife and I both feel very lucky. I get to walk my camera, I am protected in my office at work, my wife teaches adult ed from home for her last three months before retirement and we choose not to socialize. We have even both had our first vaccine shots. We still take all precautions. We are looking forward to normal life.
I read about other photographers who feel shut down in their various countries and assorted lockdowns, putting their cameras away and staring at the wall wondering when their families will get together, wondering what happened to their dead relatives who died alone in the hospital. Its grim stuff. It may have happened to you, and I think about that every day.
Some people love snow and fog and dark days and seasons and all that stuff, but anyone who reads this page knows that's not me. So to me the area we are stuck in, as it were, is perfect for us. But more than just mild weather Florida has been as usual a bizarre place in which to ride out a pandemic. The governor has been unflinching in opposing lockdowns and has left it up to people to manage their lives. This has led to many infections and a few critical weeks for hospitals and health care organizations but we seem to have reached a stage of endless exhaustion and infections at a low constant hum. I have no desire to stand in crowd or be around maskless people even as I complete my vaccination protocols but other people don't seem to mind. Good luck to them and their medical staff.

Carolina Dog
I get to wander, I choose places with few if any people, I play with my camera settings, trying to force myself to move away from my preferred pedestrian documentary style of pictures. I over exposed Rusty under a buttonwood and got an island of detail in a sea of light. I rather liked it and would never have tried it if I hadn't been bored! True confession.....
Usually there used to be people standing at the top of the bridge watching it crumble but most of the time I'm alone here these days and if there is someone there I walk a long way round. I never thought much good came of the lockdown process as it seems people go nuts once released from lockdown and act as though all restrictions are done. I'd rather see the usual mask wearing hand washing and distancing enforced steadily until the end. This constant yo-yoing of restrictions and rules and fears abut variants and double masks and all that stuff wears me out. My freedom to walk Rusty with my camera gets me past all that.
Winter traffic has been much reduced this winter, not that Key West is empty but for those that are used to the winter cramming you'd be amazed to see how much empty space there is in town. My views are all empirical I cannot back them up with numbers but my perspective is my life. I don't go to the sunset celebrations for obvious reasons but maybe after my second shot I'll take a swing by to check but so far it just hasn't seemed worth it.
I read about the slow vaccine roll out in the rest of the world, the lockdowns, and the word I hear is all about the tedium of life and I drive home at sunset to this: a world bathed in gold.
Just another day in the Florida Keys. As good a place for a pandemic hide out as any I dare say.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Clouds

It is not usual to see big fat clouds in winter.
I have seen a  few looking more like a hot humid summer evening.
So I get to photograph them without breaking out into a massive unprovoked sweat.

A reflection or two in the salt water floating among the mangroves. Sunset orange everywhere.

I like the stark outlines of mangrove branches against the multi-colored sky. 
This one was from the last full moon. I liked it as I got more detail on the moon combined with the detail on the horizon. Dynamic range they call it. 

And so good night as Rusty and I scuttle for the car. 
More 911 calls and people annoyed with each other. But that's tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Sandy Cornish

I posted this essay in June 2010. I can hardly believe it was eleven years ago. I've added the few lines dedicated to Sandy Cornish's life from Wikipedia. 

Sandy Cornish (1793–1869) was an African American farmer, businessperson, and civic leader in Key West, Florida. As a former slave who had purchased his freedom, he publicly maimed himself to prevent being returned to slavery.

Slavery and freedom

Cornish was born a slave in Maryland in 1793. In 1839, his master hired him out to a railroad-building project in Port Leon in Florida's Panhandle. The position allowed him to earn money for himself, and after nine years of work at $600 a year, he was able to purchase his own freedom and that of his wife Lillah. However, the papers showing him to be free were destroyed in a fire. Lacking proof of his emancipation, he was seized by slave traders, but managed to break free. The next day he gathered a crowd of onlookers in Port Leon. He loudly proclaimed that, having purchased his freedom once, he would not return to slavery under any circumstances. He then deliberately maimed himself, stabbing himself in the leg, slashing the muscles of one ankle, and cutting off a finger of his left hand, which he proceeded to sew back on with a needle and thread. These injuries made him worthless as a slave and thus immune to recapture. Friends took him home in a wheelbarrow, and he eventually recovered his health.[2]

Key West

Around 1850, he and Lillah bought a farm in Key West, in the area that is now Truman Avenue near Simonton Street. Selling vegetables and fruits to local residents, he became one of the richest people in Key West. He was a leader of the local black community and the founder of the Cornish Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, now the Cornish Memorial AME Zion church and chapel, which still stands at 702 Whitehead Street.

He died in 1869 at the age of 76. He was buried in Key West Cemetery, but the location of his grave was lost to history. In 2014, the cemetery and the Historic Florida Keys Foundation installed a plaque to his memory. Speakers described his life as an inspiring testament to human freedom. City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, presiding over the ceremony, said, "His actions in life show that he was not going to accept the fate developed for him by lesser men. He is a legend that continues to point the way to human dignity to this day."[1]

Cornish Lane

As you scroll down this essay you will see a prevailing color- gray. It's an illuminated gray offset by white and backed by blue sky but this lane is lit up by a summer sun. It was hot out there.Cornish Lane is another of those little colons off the main street...
...and easy to miss unless you are a Labrador with an inquisitive nose.Splashes of color come from natural things and this to me is the joy of living where the sun is bright and hot- everything is in primary colors. This is not the land of fog and subtle shapes and dimly seen landscapes.Even the Conch Train provides a lump of yellow as background as it passes down Grinnell Street toward the west.World travelers come home to roost and bring their dust catchers with them.Perhaps they are French Canadians with a winter place in the sun, or perhaps they spent a long wet weekend in Paris, city of gray skies and wet sidewalks. (Remember, Nowhere Is As Wonderful As Key West, wannabe Conch). Especially Key West under construction.
I have seen a few homes actively under renovation around town which seems as though someone around here believes the economy is getting better. Good for them and may they keep spending, right?Cornish Lane is named for Andrew Cornish known to his contemporaries as Sandy, according to J. Wills Burke's superb The Streets of Key West. He says Sandy Cornish was born a slave in the 1790s, and bought his freedom with his wife Lillah in 1839. Then God, in a mischievous moment intervened and the documents witnessing Sandy's freedom got destroyed in a fire and back Sandy went onto the slave auction block in New Orleans. Eventually Sandy escaped and cut himself up to make himself valueless as a slave and he and Lillah lived happily every after on the fringes of "civilization" (the Confederate States) selling fruit and vegetables with his wife Lillah in Key West. All's well that ends well.
So Cornish got a church named for him on Whitehead Street and a lane here in the outer 'burbs of Old Town. I love the decrepitude of Key West, a city where the elements conspire to restore the natural order of things. A plank after all is just a shaped piece of wood. It doesn't actually have to do anything.Tourists are frequently told that Key West homes were built from scavenged ship's timbers by wreckers who salvaged what they could off passing ships that landed accidentally (we hope) on the reef. It sounds romantic and it looks lovely. To live in?
I grew up in old homes and know intimately how complex systems in elderly stages of failure can be. I like modern conveniences and yes I know all about carbon footprints. Sigh.
I don't like photographing modern ranchette homes unless it is to tack on a tart comment. This stuff looks lovely but I don't want to live here.Got foundations? Hell no, we don't need no stinking foundations! A reminder this is a home in 21st century America. Can we please protect it because happily for us all there are people who not only like looking at these places but want to preserve and use them as well.They feel to me like old wooden boats. I love to look at them and enjoy seeing them around but ownership is not for me.This is blue sky, a daily Key West event.this is an exhausted Yellow Labrador. She too is a daily event in summer when heat at sidewalk level is not dog friendly. 15 blocks and she's panting, so a slow stroll on Cornish Lane was an excellent way to end the stroll.Two more blocks to iced water (princess does not enjoy warm water, it turns out), and an air conditioned car.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Fog, Again

Moisture laden air is not unknown in the Florida Keys though usually we see it as oxidation on metal surfaces as salt air eats everything in sight. Every now and again we see actual fog, and when I out the word fog into the search function at the top of this page I got back half a dozen photo essays on the subject dating back to 2008. Like this one: Fog 2011  I got some rather decent photos I think, though I say so myself on my half a mega pixel android phone. I mention all this because fog has descended once again onto the Keys to the usual chorus of shock horror  and "this never happens here!"

It was warm yesterday morning and humid when I stepped out of the house at four in the morning to "check the mail" with Rusty. On my work days he likes to walk to the end of the street and poke around where the dogs from Venture Out trailer park have been walked the previous day. It is a lovely peaceful start to the day after the jangling of the alarm clock has been forgotten. Spanish Main is a major side street a mile long pointing due north at Highway One in the distance. Turn left and it's 23 miles to Key West and  turn right to drive 27 miles west  to Marathon.
My decision to pull over at the Sugarloaf Lodge (Mile Marker 17) was prompted by the fact that fog was still hanging around and I hoped for some atmospheric pictures in the low light conditions at the lodge, a pool of street lights on a darkened highway. 
This one below I liked as it looked like a film set, moisture laden air swirling under exotic palm fronds....Yes I know it's just the marina at Sugarloaf but I did allow myself to use my imagination just a bit.
There was a vacancy at the lodge but I had to be at work in 40 minutes and I wanted to stop on North Roosevelt and get a few more pictures of the fog in the city.
That never happened. I got stuck behind a long line of cars that decided they were unable to manage the hairy driving conditions and we crawled across the mangroves at a stately 45 miles per hour which put my arival time at the police station dead on ten to six when I like to be sitting down already.  I barely had time to put the kettle on before I took over from night shift.
Well I suppose that's all the fog excitement we shall see for the next year or two in the keys. That being the case I might not see it again, so I'm glad I stopped when I did. It was all gone by the time the sun came up around 6:30 and I had my first cup of tea.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Five Years With Rusty

My wife first remarked on the gray hairs Rusty has started growing around his mouth. I'm not sure if it is merely a matter of finding what you are seeking or if our observations are accurate but Rusty seems to have entered a more meditative phase of his life. He gallops less and sniffs more. I photographed him at the motorcycle shop where my last Vespa is waiting for a new ignition coil prior to going up for sale. Jiri the owner was looking the parts up and I was taking a lesson from Rusty in waiting patiently. Jiri was amazed as usual by his calm patient ability to wait and not wander.  
Jiri's dog died recently, middle aged and with a failing heart and Joey's death had the usual devastating effect on Jiri, an effect people who don't like dogs don't understand. Jiri told me about a dream he had a week after Joey died where the dog came to him and reassured him all was well. I told Jiri my main hope as I lay dying in the road was to pass up between the clouds I could see overhead where I wanted to meet all my dogs from lives past. Fortunately or not the paramedics intervened before I got there. The encounter was postponed not cancelled.
Jiri is reluctant to find a replacement to fill the space Joey's departure has left in his life. He brings up all sorts of nonsense about working all the time, flying to Michigan to see his daughter, the state of living and working in a motorcycle shop as though a dog were burdened with our sensibilities of class and status. Rusty likes nothing better than to sit in the dirt outside his shop and watch the world go by, and indeed on this visit I could hardly tear him away from his shady spot in front of the shop. I'm working on Jiri and I expect one more unwanted dog will find a home sooner or later, preferably sooner as 2.4 million unwanted dogs are killed every year. This is one of the lucky strays who came into our lives in February 2016: 

The two questions I find myself fielding are what is his breed and what is his age and both answers are in reality fuzzy, so I lie. I used to imagine we got him when he was two but I think he suffered longer locked up in a back yard (an aversion he has to this day).  He certainly spent a year living in the Redlands of Homestead, observed by his eventual rescuers, refusing to be rescued until the pack he ran with was killed off by the nursery workers and farmers in the area (he fears fireworks and gunshots still). I dunno, maybe he's eight? Half way to dead? All things being equal, which they rarely are.
As to his breed it is a question whose purpose I never quite understand but it seems critically important to every passer by.  I call him a Miami street dog to end the questioning as most people have no idea where Homestead is nor why farmers hate the strays dumped there so pathologically that they poison and shoot them. His actual breed i found out quite by accident one day when strolling down Catherine Street. A man approached walking Rusty toward me, and it was only when I was roundly ignored by the dog I realized she was identical. I asked him the dreaded question and he said she was a "Carolina Dog," which meant nothing to me so I looked it up. Because indeed Google (Bitter Southerner link)  answers all questions. Click the link to read the definitive description of the American Dingo. Passers by who find my categorization of his breed as a simple street dog to avoid lengthy discussions, usually override me and categorize him as part Labrador (all dogs are "part Labrador" according to categorizers) and part Chow (because he has black spots on his tongue). I only know this because I have had this conversation a few times. I stand there and nod my head wisely.  I told a vet employee once that I was told he was a Carolina Dog and she snorted and said that was  fancy name for a mutt. Cool I thought, except that he has all the characteristics of that mysterious breed except the pointy ears. 
As it is he is the smartest dog I've ever known and I can see how living with people not tuned in to his particular needs  would make him crazy. He and I have a deal where he does as I ask but I don't ask unless I have to. I have found that when he hears gunshots or fireworks or backfires he runs to me not away and I cherish his trust. Thunder has become less of a problem though it still makes him anxious yet he no longer dives for the darkest corner of the darkest room in the house. He shivers and sits closer to me which is an improvement.
I'm not sure how much he will enjoy life on the road as he does like his routines but we are already creating new routines for him as we take short trips and his concern about the weird noises the van makes has abated already. He won't sleep in the back by himself when we are under way but an afternoon spent in the van while my wife teaches noisily by zoom upstairs is an experience he has learned to enjoy.
Oh and what is a Carolina Dog? The only wild dog found in the US, still living wild in the marshes on the South Carolina border with Georgia. Pure Carolina Dogs are a form of dingo, not bred by humans and only identified by characteristics peculiar to their breed and thus not properly recognized as a separate breed by the authorities of such things. I read the Bitter Southerner article linked above and now when people ask what breed is he I refer them to that which they probably ignore. Rusty is as Rusty does and I trail along behind him. I hope for several more years to come.
From the Bitter Southerner article:

About a year after I got Penny, I googled ‘American dingo.’ I can’t remember what exactly drove me to search for it, but I remember what I found. Picture after picture of dogs who all, in some way or another, looked like Penny. Some looked like clones. These dogs had all kinds of names: Carolina Dog, American Dingo, Dixie Dingo, porch dog, and — there it was — “yaller dog.” Dad was right.

I was sucked into a hole, reading descriptions and looking at photos of people’s dogs. I was shocked that behaviors and traits I thought were unique to Penny appeared in most Carolina Dogs. The hooked tail and the almond eyes were present in all of them. The behaviors are what convinced me, though. I always bragged that I never potty-trained Penny. She just learned not to go to the bathroom inside within the first two weeks I had her. Ditto for all Carolina Dogs. She would dig small holes in my parents’ front yard to stick her snout in. Ditto again. She was more loyal than any other dog I’d ever been around. Carolina Dogs have an extreme pack mentality.

The more I read the more amazed I became. Carolina Dogs are hypothesized by their discoverer to be the only American dog breed with no European ancestry. All of their forbearers are said to have come across the Bering land bridge with the first humans to inhabit North America. They’re dogs that look and act the way they do because of the natural selection they endured over thousands of years in the South.