I finally got around to sorting the slides and photos that have been tossed into bins for the past 20-plus years. There were many, many landscapes from my travels across this country. I’ve been to all 50 states, and have the photographs to prove it.
Some are good, others improperly exposed. After more than 40 years, I finally put those in the large round file beside my desk. Of course, there are hundreds of family photos that were shot at events like Christmas, but many are from our adventures.
The problem was sorting them all. Thousands of Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides were in sleeves, still in the little boxes from the developer, and simply tossed into the bins. I’m one of those photographers who remembers almost every shot, and the War Department is on me to label each of them with the location and approximate date. That task is daunting, but each photo comes with a story.
One of the first slides was a timed-exposure stream of water winding through trees. I laughed when I saw it, because I could almost hear the chuckle of water, the voice of 4-year-old Taz laughing.
While the War Department cooked fresh-caught lake trout back at camp, Taz followed me to the stream. While I found the perfect location to set up my tripod, she wandered around like all 4-year-olds, investigating everything that caught her interest.
I found a perfect columbine, one of the few growing beside the stream. With the camera set up, I looked through the lens to compose the shot, getting the flower in exactly the right spot. Knowing I had little time because the sun was setting, I hurried to take a light reading. Everything ready, I set the aperture and shutter speed, and when I looked up, Taz was tugging at my sleeve.
“This is a pretty flower.”
I looked from what she had in hand, and then over to where I had been growing. There was nothing but a stem beside the water. Shaking my head, I took the photo, put her on a log, and using a new light reading, took one of the best photos of little Taz I’ve ever taken.
Another photo brought back a day at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Sands sucked up from the floor of the San Luis Valley are deposited at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
While on vacation in 2002, the War Department and I decided to climb the highest dune in the park. I wasn’t sure I could make it, because the dune’s height is 650, and at an altitude of 8,170 feet I knew there wasn’t much air up there.
I was right. While the War Department led the way, I followed with both girls on either side. Taz and the Redhead were somewhere around 10 and 12 years old, respectively. Nothing bothered either of the three females I climbed with, but I was sucking air after about 10 minutes. The sand is so soft that each step in our climb was only a foot or so, because a three-foot stride was reduced to only inches.
The smart ones were the girls, who saw other kids sliding down the dunes on large pieces of cardboard. They peeled off and joined the others while we gave them appropriate adult instructions.
“Don’t go anywhere else.”
“Don’t get hurt.”
They gave the obligatory responses and we resumed our climb. By the time we neared the summit, I was using both hands and feet on the soft, steep hill. The War Department reached the top and looked down. “Better hurry. The light is good for pictures.”
I couldn’t answer, wondering how she could breathe without air. I wasn’t getting any at all, and to top it all off, I began to get queasy from motion sickness. Somehow the displaced sand that flowed downward like water was getting to me.
After a couple of weeks, I reached the summit. My bride pointed. “You better get your pictures.”
I managed to adjust the camera, thankful for autofocus. The light was perfect and the resulting photo brought back that near-death experience.
I came across other images I’d forgotten, because somehow the photos are gone, but I still have the negatives. One I need to get printed is the Old Man helping me with a Woods and Waters campout on Pat Mayse Lake back in 1978. It was my second year of teaching, and I brought a dozen middle school youngsters on their first ever campout.
Of course, I haven’t forgotten that weekend, but I didn’t remember my granddaddy, Constable Joe Armstrong, came out that evening. Easily recognizable on the negative, he’s leaning against a tree, watching the boys. The holstered .38 on his hip was the first thing I noticed.
Another shot was the Old Man showing a couple of boys how to cook on a camp stove. Not one of those kids had ever been out of the city in their lives, and I wonder if that trip sparked an interest in the outdoors for those kids.
There are thousands of other memories in those boxes, but I don’t have the room to tell them now. Wait, there’s one other. The picture is of a 10-year-old me, with two cousins around eighteen years old, camped on Muddy Boggy River in 1964. It’s where I became one of the guys and had my first beer, but promised not to tell Mama.
Dig around in those old shoeboxes full of memories and enjoy those days and people gone by. You’ll thank me.