Personal, Stories Told

What the ice storm could have taught me about myself

What a great day, walking through the park with my camera after the ice storm!

After the ice storm

It was 1990. I was 23 and didn’t know myself yet. Who does at 23? College was about a year behind me; I had gone to work. Trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult, I mimicked what I saw growing up. My parents went to work come hell or high water, even when sick, even in treacherous weather. The ice storm had blown hard all night. The radio said that roads were dangerous. Dutifully, I drove to work anyway.

The trees sparkled, their bare, drooping branches coated in ice. How beautiful they were! I wanted to stop and look, not drive, not pay attention to the road. But keeping my car straight took all of my concentration.

Ice-laden power lines had snapped and lay in the streets. Power was out at the office. Dim light from distant windows lit my way past cubicles to the break room. There I found a few co-workers huddled around tables drinking gas-station coffee, shivering in their coats, hands around cups for warmth. A couple of them nodded at me when I entered; most stared blankly into their cups.

I stood there for a minute, uncertain. There would be no work until power returned. I wanted to be out among the trees. And then, impulsively, I did it: I left.

As I stepped quickly toward my car, I felt free, elated — and anxious. Would I be in trouble the next day? Could I be fired? But I was in all the way. Driving slowly, carefully toward home, I made my plan. I would stop at the drug store and buy film. I would walk the one block from home to Collett Park and photograph whatever I found glistening with ice.

After the ice storm

I walked carefully; the sidewalks were as slippery as the streets. When I stepped into the grass, it crunched under my feet.

After the ice storm

Growing up in South Bend, I was used to bitterly cold winters with heavy snow blowing in off Lake Michigan. Terre Haute’s relatively mild winters were so easy! But Terre Haute got about one ice storm each winter. I’d never encountered anything like it. Such joy I felt in the discovery that morning that every inch of a chain-link fence would be coated in ice, just as would an enormous slide on a playground.

After the ice storm

Ice dripped off horizontal surfaces. Had it thawed a little and refrozen? I wondered.

After the ice storm

On the playground, the chains on the swings were frozen solid. I pulled one of the chains and the ice broke at a weak point. I thought that was so cool that I operated my camera with one hand while I held the chain with the other.

After the ice storm

There would be no tennis this chilly day. Ice clung even to the net!

After the ice storm

I had no camera skills at 22 and didn’t know that my point-and-shoot camera couldn’t focus closely. My intended subject, the branch, was out of focus. But thankfully this miffed shot gave me this broad view of the park. I so enjoyed Collett Park. I walked up there all the time and took strolls, or sat on a bench and watched people go by.

After the ice storm

The sun came and went all morning. When it came, the ice in the trees lit up with a paradoxical warmth.

After the ice storm

The cold stung my hands, bare so they could work the camera. I suffered for as long as I could because I didn’t want this rare joy to end. But my hands finally went numb. This time would have to end. I walked back toward home, stopping at the top of my street to photograph the street sign and the tiny icicles hanging off it.

After the ice storm

Back home, I took one more shot, of stubby icicles hanging off the clothesline.

After the ice storm

What a great morning! Returning inside, I made some coffee, turned on the radio, and puttered around the house the rest of the day. I felt great peace and surprising satisfaction — until the next workday, where anxiety struck over the hooky I had played. But the boss never said a word. I heard that the power came back on too late the day before for any real work to get done anyway.

25 years have passed. Today I know that this day was so me. I didn’t then, and I’d like to go back now to that happy afternoon of puttering and have a chat with myself:

Middle-aged me: Young me, pay attention to today and learn from this. You had a great day! Why do you think that is?

Young me: I’m not sure. But the ice really captured my attention, and spending the morning taking pictures of it really energized me. I really hope those photos turn out! I don’t really know what I’m doing with a camera. But I wanted to remember what I saw today.

MAM: You will. Actually, you will never forget this day, in part because you will always have these photographs and every time you see them they will bring back all of the good feelings this day generated. Do you have any idea why today brought so much joy and pleasure?

YM: I don’t.

MAM: Young me, please listen carefully to this: You felt this joy and pleasure because this morning you were fully you. You went off by yourself to explore. You experienced something new to you. You tried to really see it, and you used a camera to do that. And so when you came home, you felt lighter and happier. You felt energized and more ready to go out into the world. Young me, know that going off by yourself is how you restore your energy. And you love to experience new things. And you do see things best through a camera’s viewfinder. And every photograph you take will catalog a memory you might have lost otherwise. Make time for this to happen regularly in your life.

YM: But film and developing are expensive. I don’t make very much money.

MAM: Budget for it. You will not regret it. When stress runs high, explore with your camera. When you’re lonely, explore with your camera. When you are all peopled out, explore with your camera. You will refresh yourself.

YM: But …how do I even say this? I’m the only person I know like this. I feel so weird and out of place.

MAM: I understand. I know you wish you cared about football or golf so you’d have something to talk about with the guys. But I want to urge you to pursue the things that make you happy anyway, and try not to care whether anybody else gets it. And know this: in time, you will find others who love to spend a morning out walking with their camera, too. They’ll enjoy looking at your photographs, and you’ll enjoy looking at theirs.

Alas, that conversation didn’t happen. I didn’t figure this out for another 20 years. I’m glad I did! But I would have liked to figure it out then.

When this blog was brand new in 2007, I wrote a post about these photos called “A good icing.” It was my fourth-ever post; read it here. That post used scans I had made from prints. When I scanned all of my negatives last year, these images looked startlingly better than the print scans. I thought I’d re-run “A good icing” with these new scans. But when I reviewed that old text I decided to start over and tell this story from a different perspective. 

Terre Haute Coca-Cola Bottling Company

Shortly after I moved into my Terre Haute apartment in 1989, I rode my bike around the neighborhood with my camera in my hands. The local Coca-Cola bottling plant was only four blocks away, in a great art-deco building where they filled glass bottles of Coke. They still produced 10-ounce bottles, a real throwback even then. You could buy them in six packs at most local grocery stores. I drank a ton of them.

Times were changing. The plant stopped producing 10-ounce bottles within a couple years; by the mid-90s, even the standard 16-ounce bottles were done for. I hear that this plant now only warehouses Coke bottled elsewhere. And this great sign is gone. So much has changed in my old neighborhood since I left. I wish I’d shot a dozen rolls of film on that ride, rather than just this one. But film and processing weren’t cheap, and I didn’t have much money then, so I’m happy to have even this photo.


Captured: Terre Haute Coca-Cola Bottling Company


Brown Rolls, brown brick

Brown Rolls, brown brick
Kodak VR35 K40 (review), Fujicolor 200

Camera Reviews

Kodak VR35 K40

The Kodak VR35 K40 was part of Kodak’s return to selling 35mm cameras. Kodak had some success with its lines of 35 mm cameras in the 1950s and 1960s, cranking out plenty of Retinas, Signets, and Ponys. But Kodak quietly exited the 35 mm photography business in 1969 to focus on building the very popular Instamatic cameras that used 126 or 110 drop-in cartridge film.

Then in the 1980s other camera makers introduced new lines of moderately priced, easy-to-use compact 35 mm snapshot cameras. Suddenly everyone could take good snapshots using 35 mm film, which had the cachet of “real” photography. It ate into Kodak’s Instamatic business. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; in 1986 Kodak introduced the made-in-Japan VR35 line of 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras. Like this one, the VR35 K40.

Kodak VR35 K40

It set my mother back $83 when she bought me my first VR35 K40 in 1986 (that’s about $171 today). It featured a fixed-focus 35mm f/3.8 (I think) Ektanar lens, which was a little soft but not terribly so. It had a pop-up flash, motorized winding and rewinding, and an autoexposure system probably driven by a CdS cell. It operated on two common-as-pennies AA batteries.

At right is my old friend Gary taking a picture of me with my K40 in 1988. I photographed him simultaneously with my backup camera, a crappy Keystone 110. Ah college days, where the excessive homework would make us loopy enough that photographing each other like this seemed like excellent fun. I also used the K40 to photograph a spring morning over the pond adjacent to my residence hall (see that photo), and to photograph the aftermath of an ice storm in 1990 (see some of those photos). My K40 was a reliable and easy-to-use workhorse, and did a fine job for the simple snapshots I liked to take then.

My K40 disappeared somewhere along the way, but I didn’t miss it all that much. When I started taking road trips and needed a camera, I spent $20 on a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 and never looked back. But I had a little time to kill a few weeks ago and stopped by a Goodwill store to see if they had any bargain cameras. Glory be, they had a K40 for just $5.

Kodak VR35 K40

There’s nothing to using the K40, starting with loading the film. Drop in the film cartridge on the left, pull the film across the back until it touches the yellow outline of the film leader, and close the back. The K40 winds the film to the first exposure and you’re ready to go.

To take a photo, slide the lens cover out of the way, frame the shot, and press the button atop the camera halfway down. If the red light next to the viewfinder glows, pop up the flash by pushing up the slider below the flash. Then press the shutter button all the way down to get the picture. The camera’s winder is on the noisy side. When you’ve shot the roll, slide the rewind button (upper right on the camera’s back) to the left and wait until it stops. Easy peasy.

By the way, if you like compact 35mm point-and-shoot cameras, check out my reviews of the Canon AF35ML, the Yashica T2, the Olympus Stylus, the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, and the Minolta AF-Sv. You can also have a look at every camera I’ve ever reviewed here.

I dropped a roll of Fujicolor 200 into this camera and spent a lunch hour in Broad Ripple looking for things to photograph. The Monon bridge is a reliable and colorful subject.

Monon bridge

This is my favorite photo from the day. In real life, the wall is a little more vividly blue. I also wasn’t thrilled with the unusually noisy scans I got from Costco this time. But after I posted this photo so my Facebook friends could see it, one fellow said that its imperfections are part of its charm. I suppose he’s right.

Colorful clothes

This is my second favorite photo of the day, simply because I like how all the lines converge. The fellow walking toward me on the sidewalk gave me a very funny look when he passed by.


This mural is on the wall of a pool sales and service company. Notice how the frame darkens a bit in the corners; the lens is subject to vignetting.

Blue mural

I took this photo because I wanted to see how the K40 compared to my Canon AF35ML, which I also used to photograph this wall. The lighting conditions differed for the two photographs, which certainly matters, but I think the colors and sharpness are better on the photo from the Canon. I used the same kind of film for both shots.

The Bungalow Inc

It was lunchtime in Broad Ripple. It was unseasonably chilly, so everybody was eating inside.

Today's specials

On a later outing with the VR35 K40 I visited Lafayette, Indiana, where I found this great alleyway. I was shooting expired Kodak Max 400.

Lafayette alley


Drink Coca-Cola

I found this little pocket park in a neighborhood on Indianapolis’s Near Westside. The VR35 K40 didn’t mind the cold, which is nice. I did keep it in my coat pocket until I needed it, however.

Pocket park, Hawthorne, Indianapolis

Before we wrap this review, let’s look at a couple photos from my first VR35 K40. I made these photos in the early 1990s on whatever Kodak’s everyday color film was then. This is my car parked in front of my house, on a residential street in Terre Haute, Indiana.

My first car

Terre Haute’s Coca-Cola bottler was a few blocks away. I’m glad I went over there to photograph this great sign, because it’s gone now. Looking back, I got a lot of great use from my VR35 K40. It handled every kind of subject I threw at it with good color and sharpness.

Terre Haute Coca-Cola Bottling Company

See my entire VR35 K40 gallery here.

Even though my Canon AF35ML is a more capable camera, I think the K40 is more pleasant to use. I’d have a hard time choosing between them for an afternoon of easy shooting.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Film Photography

Captured: Rose-Hulman spring morning

RH Spring Morning

As a boy, summer was my favorite season, but as I grew up spring began to overtake it. I remember well the day that spring clinched the top spot. It was the day before I took this photograph, one May morning in 1987.

These were my college days, and this was the view from my residence hall’s back door. I walked this way to breakfast every morning, my mind always preoccupied. But on this morning the scene shouted to me so I had to notice, and I stood there a few steps from the door startled and amazed by how beautiful the campus was. I realized I hadn’t even noticed spring as it arrived. I didn’t want to look away from the still pond, so lovely with all the reflected trees. For the first time I smelled the clean, sweet air, noticing how cool it felt on my arms in contrast to how the sun warmed my skin. I heard birds chirping in the distance and I wondered how many days it had escaped my notice. I felt elated and slightly dizzy, as you feel when you smell something strong but pleasant like fresh lavender, and I enjoyed the feeling for several minutes before I pushed on to breakfast.

The scene repeated itself the next morning. I went back to my room for my camera. I lingered longer that day.

You’d think that I’d always notice spring because I dislike winter so much. But even winter sometimes has its beautiful moments.