After the ice storm

I’m consistently surprised by what does and doesn’t work on this blog. I’ll pour my heart into a post and when it goes live, crickets: few views, few comments. Other times I’ll dash off something quickly, something I don’t really care about, just to feed this beast — and it will take off. My three most-viewed posts are like that: two about getting film developed (here and here) and one about grammar (here).

I was thrilled when last week’s post about photographing an ice storm’s aftermath was so well received. A few readers shared it around, and so it got five times the views a new post normally gets around here. I even got an email from a famous blogger, who I didn’t know read my blog, telling me that my story lingered in her mind for two days. So let me share one more photo from that day in 1990, at a moment when the clouds parted.

Film Photography

Captured: 8th and Maple

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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. 

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Photography

Photographs from an Indiana snowstorm

A foot of snow fell. Then the temperatures plunged well below zero. That was enough to shut Indiana down.

Just before the cold arrived, but not before the snow stopped, I went out to clear my driveway. The dense, heavy snow weighed everything down. Tree branches touched the ground, the same ones that clear my head when I mow in the summer.

Snowy day

Serious snows are rare in Indianapolis. But they were common in my hometown of South Bend in the late 1970s and 1980s when I was young but old enough to lift a shovel. I’m plenty familiar with removing this much snow, but since moving this far south I seldom have to do it. Thank goodness. My middle-aged body hurts for a good long while after this much exertion.

Snowy day

I frequently don’t bother shoveling my driveway because Indianapolis winter snows are usually pretty light and are often followed by a melt. If God’s going to take away what he gives, I’m going to let him! And that’s going to happen this time, too – it will be in the 40s this weekend. But the snow was too deep to drive through, so I removed it. Well, all except for around my second car. Thanks to the coming melt, it will hit the road again soon enough. Until then, I’ll drive the car I keep in the garage.

Snowy day

I was running out of daylight anyway. I needed to hurry and get the main part of the driveway done.

Snowy day

The snow didn’t stop falling until well after dark. Morning greeted us at 17 degrees below zero. The mayor declared an emergency and travel was forbidden. So it went across most of the state – this weather effectively closed Indiana. I worked all day from my home office.

I did take a break during the afternoon when the temperature rose all the way to -11, the high for the day. I went out and cleared four more inches of snow off the driveway. Fortunately, it was light powder and cleared quickly, because even wearing many layers and my heaviest winter coat -11 is mighty, mighty cold. My nostrils kept freezing shut! After I came in, it took an hour for my feet to warm back up.

By the end of the workday I was starting to feel a little isolated, so I turned on the local news for company while I ate my dinner. I also fired up my Roku to watch Tagesschau, the evening newscast from Germany’s ARD television network. I spoke German almost fluently a quarter century ago, but have hardly used the language since. Watching Tagesschau is a feeble attempt at keeping what’s left of my German abilities sharp. I understand about half of every newscast.

tagesschau
Image from tagesschau.de

I was delighted that Indiana’s weather plight was recognized even in Germany. It helped me feel better, especially since I needed to work from home one more day thanks to continued deep cold and ice-covered streets.

Also check out the ice storm we had a few years ago. Indiana winters, whee.

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Faith, Stories Told

Separated

I first shared this in 2008. It describes a scene from my childhood, of me walking up the hill my family lived on during a very bad storm. Thanks to the family I mention in the story, I now have a 1972 photograph of that scene in fairer weather. It was taken from that family’s front yard, and shows shows me, the friend I mention in this story, and another neighbor boy walking up the hill. We’re almost in front of the house I lived in. Click the image to see it much larger.

When I was 5 or 6, I was at a neighbor’s house a few doors down when a bad storm blew in. My friend’s mother sent me right home. I made it down the path to the sidewalk when the wind started to blow hard against me pushing me down the hill and away from my house as if a bully was pushing on me with all his might. My hair whipped around and stung my face. I called out, but I could barely hear my voice over the wind. I leaned in, pushed hard with my legs, and made slow progress.

Lancaster72

Our house was maybe a hundred feet away and I could see light in the window. I imagined my mother inside ironing or vacuuming, unaware that her son was in trouble. I had never felt so frightened and alone, separated from everybody who loved me and could protect me. As I struggled against the storm wind, for the first time in my life I thought I might die.

The wind broke when I made it to the path to our front door, and I ran all the way up and inside. Mom was standing in the living room listening to a tornado warning bulletin on TV. She had heard the wind howling past the house and had just become concerned about me. I burst into tears and tried to explain what had happened as she collected me into her arms. We learned later that a tornado had briefly touched down nearby.

I can see now that I was not in mortal danger that day. The worst case was probably being knocked down and left to lie on the sidewalk until the storm passed – frightening, but survivable. But as an adult I’ve been in much worse situations, some of which I’ve created and some of which were random chance. I’ve reaped serious earned and unearned consequences from them. Each of us goes through our own version of this. For some of us, those consequences do include mortal danger.

There are a couple ways to come away from the suffering these consequences bring. One is to conclude that if there’s a God, he’s not there for us. The other is to realize that life is often bigger than we can handle, and that we need a power greater than ourselves to help us through it.

God is always a hundred feet away, a light burning in his window, waiting for us to come home to him. Unlike my mother many years ago, he knows exactly what trouble we face. It’s not God’s way to ride in on his white horse or wave his magic wand to make our troubles disappear. He aches over our suffering, but allows it because he wants us to learn that life on Earth is not his primary purpose for us – life with him is. Through that suffering, if we choose to begin looking for God we will find him, and we will begin to experience his love and comfort, and even his rescue.

Growing up on that hill was all right. Read about it and see recent photos.

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Faith, Stories Told

Separated

When I was 5 or 6, I was at a neighbor’s house a few doors down when a bad storm blew in. My friend’s mother sent me right home. I made it down the path to the sidewalk when the wind started to blow hard against me pushing me down the hill and away from my house as if a bully was pushing on me with all his might. My hair whipping around and stinging my face, I called out, but I could barely hear my voice over the wind. I leaned in, pushed hard with my legs, and made slow progress.

Orange roadside flower

Our house was maybe a hundred feet away and I could see light in the window. I imagined my mother inside ironing or vacuuming, unaware that her son was in trouble. I had never felt so frightened and alone, separated from everybody who loved me and could protect me. As I struggled against the storm wind, for the first time in my life I thought I might die.

The wind broke when I made it to the front path, and I ran all the way up to and through the door. When I came in, Mom was standing in the living room listening to a tornado warning bulletin on TV. She had heard the wind howling past the house and had just become concerned about me. I burst into tears and tried to explain what had happened as she collected me into her arms. We learned later that a tornado had briefly touched down nearby.

Roadside chicory flower

I can see now that I was not in mortal danger that day. The worst case was probably being knocked down and left to lie on the sidewalk until the storm passed – frightening, but survivable. But as an adult I’ve been in much worse situations, some of which I’ve created and some of which were random chance. I’ve reaped serious earned and unearned consequences from them. Each of us goes through our own version of this. For some of us, those consequences do include mortal danger.

There are a couple ways to come away from the suffering these consequences bring. One is to conclude that if there’s a God, he’s not there for us. The other is to realize that life is often bigger than we can handle, and that we need a power greater than ourselves to help us through it.

God is always a hundred feet away, a light burning in his window, waiting for us to come home to him. Unlike my mother many years ago, he knows exactly what trouble we face. It’s not God’s way to ride in on his white horse or wave his magic wand to make our troubles disappear. He aches over our suffering, but allows it because he wants us to learn that life on Earth is not his primary purpose for us – life with him is. Through that suffering, if we choose to begin looking for God we will find him, and we will begin to experience his love, comfort, and even his rescue.

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Faith, Stories Told

Storm damage

Jesus said to the Two Listeners:

Turn out all thoughts of doubt and of trouble. Never tolerate them for one second. Bar the windows and doors of your souls against them as you would bar your home against a thief who would steal in to take your treasures.

What greater treasures can you have than Peace and Rest and Joy? And these are all stolen from you by doubt and fear and despair.

Face each day with Love and Laughter. Face the storm.

Joy, Peace, Love, My great gifts. Follow Me to find all three. I want you to feel the thrill of protection and safety Now. Any soul can feel this in a harbor, but real joy and victory come to those alone who sense these when they ride a storm.

Say, “all is well.” Say it not as a vain repetition. Use it as you use a healing balm for cut or wound, until the poison is drawn out; then, until the sore is healed, then until the thrill of fresh life floods your being.

All is well.

A thunderstorm rolled through last Friday night. I love thunderstorms and often find them calming. This one calmed me until about midnight when the lightning started to strike and the power started to flicker. Then, within a two minute span, the power went out for good, one lighting strike sounded awfully close – pow! – and then one second later, something hit the house – thud! It came from my youngest son’s bedroom. He slept through it, so I went outside to see what happened. I found a large branch hanging off the roof over my son’s room. Here’s what it looked like in the morning light:

Somebody call my insurance agent!

Not only did it twist the gutter, it punctured the roof in two places. I also found two other large limbs down in the yard, another hanging by a thread to its tree thirty feet up, and another lying across a downed section of the chain-link fence.

My sons and I got to spend our Saturday cleaning up the mess as much as we could. We filled four lawn bags with the small branches that littered the yard. Trying to remember what my insurance deductible is, I climbed up on the roof, pulled the limb off, and tacked a tarp over the holes. We also made a run to Kroger for supplies to get us through until power could be restored, which ended up being Sunday evening. Goodness, did we wish we could take showers, even cold ones, but the well pump doesn’t work without electricity. But we made the best of it. I kept a decent attitude, and so my sons did, too.

I’m not dancing for joy over my punctured roof, mind you; this is going to cost me money and time away from work. But I’m surprised that I’ve taken this so much in stride. Where does it come from? I’ve done a lot of work on myself in the last five years, but this calm goes beyond that work. No, I have to credit God who reminds me that I’ve been in plenty of unwanted and difficult circumstances these past five years, and he’s brought me through fine every time.

Another storm is rolling through as I write this. Let it rain. All is well.

Update 8 June: It rained hard for five hours yesterday. I checked my crawl space this afternoon and it has a foot of water in it. Guess my sump pump doesn’t work. All is well, all is well, all is well…

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