# 146 It’s About Risk…and benefit…and later on about privilege and even later about responsibility.
A couple of weeks ago a photography and art teacher I like and respect http://www.jankatherphotography.com/ announced that she would be in a group show in Rochester, NY, a town we used to associate with photography and FILM ! I decided I would go to her show opening to scope out the mainstream of academic photo-art. Since it meant about five hours round trip on the road I would make a day of it spend as much time as possible before the evening reception to do some photography for myself. I’d even shoot some FILM.
The day and date of the trip was predetermined by the organizers of the show, so I made a place for the expedition on my calendar. A couple of days before I noticed that my vehicle, a very venerable expeditioner, had a loudly protesting alternator belt, and a positively bellowing exhaust note from a rotten muffler. Should I make the trip anyway ? The car has two alternator belts, and I’d once driven 1700 miles with no muffler at all…so I decided it was a GO. I checked the official weather forecasts which assured me that I needn’t fear snow nor sleet nor gale nor gloom of night.
About an hour on the road it seemed that the NOAA weather forecast may have been a bit optimistic. Flurries filled the air and the cloud layer lowered. I began to feel that this expedition was NUTS, and began to have serious doubts. I was past the halfway point when the omens got UGLY. I heard a little clink and discovered that a lens had spontaneously fallen out of my reading glasses. No glasses…no road map reading ! (It wasn’t really spontaneous, but that’s another story.) A nearly microscopic screw had come loose from the lens holder and fallen into my lap. The lens wouldn’t stay put without it. I pulled over to the roadside, found the tiny part in my skivvies and spent an anxious half hour trying to re-connect it. I could barely see the damn thing. After all…I couldn’t wear my glasses and fix them simultaneously. All the screwdriver blades on my Swiss Army knife were huge by comparison. I even tried making a tiny screwdriver out of a paperclip. Finally, after near despair, I thought outside the box sufficiently to just wrap the damn assembly in a rubber band and start back on the route. But by now I was really spooked.
Here I was, driving a 2 1/2 hour leg in deteriorating winter weather in a voting-aged 265,000 mile vehicle making ominous noises. Am I NUTS ? Why am I doing this ? What can I possibly gain from risking a car I can barely afford to repair, much less replace. If this sucker dies on the road it will cost more than a months income to get home…and this, just to see a selection of photos on a college art gallery wall ? What kind of Wacko does this ??
The privilege of my situation came flooding over me. I can take a whole day…commit resources like a third of a year for a family in agrarian societies just on this wacko whim to see a few pictures of the world… and make a few as crutches for my memory as the ones in my brain case begin to slip away. As for taking pictures on my own , I could almost as well have cruised the ground using Google Earth rather than driving all this way in person. How can I justify this ? I’m using my privilege. I’m committed now, but what kind of responsibility goes along with it ?
I’m coming inexorably to feel that all privilege comes with responsibilities that sometimes we can’t understand.
When I found I was unable to address this vast a question I was entering the suburban outskirts of the metropolis, had traffic to deal with, and could only feel that for some reason I really* wanted to see the show and might as well follow the plan I’d made a few day earlier…using Google Earth. BUT…something is compelling me to actually be there…not looking through the insect eyes of the Google Cruisers, but through my own.
I successfully navigated to my first of four possible sites of interest, a park at the narrows where Irondequoit Bay joins Lake Ontario. What I found was far more interesting than what I’d been able to see using Google Earth. There’s a seasonal bridge to the other side of the bay (interesting engineering ), a gaggle…not a google…of geese trying make the best of the day, a fine ice covered sand beach and a fine, scrupulously clean, all year round hamburger grill and ice cream stand feeding a gaggle of old foggies (sp?) like me. The ominous weather had found some other locale to intimidate, and I wandered, taking pictures until cold enough for hot chocolate.
The second possible photo site turned out barren…It had looked so interesting on the web, but I moved on to the Port of Rochester, thinking it might add to my theme of working waterfronts. It may yet, but currently it’s closed for the season and largely icebound. The ice became the focus, and gradually revealed hidden threads in the cables of my thought.
Stories have been explored about the Inuit native peoples notion that when a person becomes too old and perhaps too weak to carry their fair share of the tribal community’s work, a time comes when they are obliged to go out walking on the ice…a journey from which they may never return. This idea has even found its way into North Sea European folklore…to go out on the ice in joyous spirit of exploration even when it may well mean individual death…from cold, weakness, laying down to take a final rest, then sleep with no awakening. This is the responsibility that follows on the privilege of living in the warmth of the tribe. I don’t necessarily buy this 100%, but I can’t ignore it.
At the mouth of the Genessee I didn’t realize the metaphor I walking until I was well out on the rather long jetty to the outer light marker.
It started with just a tiny slip close to land when I wasn’t yet even out beside the field of jumbled floes. For milliseconds my feet are disconnected from the earth. The ice was lovely, a moonscape with stellar reflections for highlights. But, that tiny slip reminded me that I’m no longer an agile thirty something…that every step risked a fall that could dislocate a joint or crack a knee. In a very minor way I’d embarked on the ice road. I was standing on a twelve foot wide concrete and steel pier, and wire rope lifelines were threaded thru stanchions only a few feet apart, but the further from shore I got the less was the dominion of human engineering and more the realm of the ice.
Once I slipped and grabbed the lifeline with both well gloved hands and easily recovered my footing before noticing that the spacing of the lower line was such that someone…surely not me… could slide under it, over the edge and into the freezing lake where their shocked life expectancy would be a handful of minutes. Rescue ladders were few and far between. Sometimes the footing was the most treacherous right beside the handlines, forcing the choice of walking unsupported in the middle. At least the pier was not a ship’s deck rolling and pitching in a seaway. Something* was making me go further and further out. Something* gave me long pause at a break in the web of the lifelines where it would be possible to get off* the pier and actually out onto the ice itself !
? Were those packed, jumbled floes floating on the lake or resting on the bottom of a shelving shore.? Looking back, I had between me and the park maybe half a mile of what the Shackleton and the tragic Scott expeditions had faced for days on end. I got close enough to the outer light to know that I was close enough !
I wasn’t required to risk the last fifty yards. There was nothing more to be gained, and the distance back was near the limits of my arthritic hips. On the way back to shore I passed a courting couple…walking out for a lark. Young bones and reflexes are not old ones. I’d risked far more. It was worth it…What’s out there on the ice is NOT on Google Earth.
? The show…? Oh yes, the show….it was fine…lots of photographer looking at mirrors. One picture, seen thru a window, was chilling….human teeth scattered on the ground in the Cambodian killing fields.
‘Nuff for now:
Next Post: It may be a few weeks before the next effort. I’m still in writers block on two pieces in the pipeline and have to take some time off for some medical tinkering.