Tag Archives: sartore

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

That title’s a nod to my oldest daughter . . . and her favorite record. (see, I do know music from this century!)

This week I grew more than a little jealous of my kids.  Not because of their youth, or their exuberance, or their innocence or even the fact that, even today, after losing their mother two years ago, they think they’re immortal…invincible.  Those are all good, but I’ve been there.

And there’s still part of me that’s like a little kid.  I pick up a guitar and the world changes around me.  I see the notes, I hear the music and feel it all around me.  I’m a little kid who thinks someday when he grows up he’s going to be a musician, even though I’ve grown up and have a day job.

But my jealousy stems from their location.  Today all four kids are in Nebraska, my home state.

I know people on the left and ride sides of the continent are scoffing now, laughing, derision in their eyes.  Liberals see only red states.  Conservatives see honor.

I see home.

It’s not just that my family is all in that state, though.  There is just something about where I grew up that is nothing like anywhere else.

Joel Sartore pic of Holmes Lake Park.
Joel Sartore pic of Holmes Lake Park.

The skies in that state are gorgeous.  The blue is electric, and after a thunderstorm . . . the sky is alight with colors that you thought would never hit your retinas in nature.  I’ve lived in Denver, Dallas, Sacramento, and others.  I’ve visited places around the world.  I’ve seen amazing sights and felt wondrous emotions.

But sunset where I grew up is like nothing else.  Violet and blue, melding into each other.  After a thunderstorm, the violence of nature crashing into itself, with flashes of brilliant forks dancing across the clouds, the sky gives itself to the release of the storm.  A shelf of grey and black will ride away as the sun dips below the clouds.  The orange of the sunlight reflecting off the bottom of the shelf, creating a dance of red, pink, electric and royal blues . . . and hues that bounce off the green of the grass below them.  The fence posts stick up in shadow as the wire between them lines a road and you lead to the sun, crawling down like it cannot leave behind the beauty it’s seeing in itself . . . until tomorrow when it crawls up for a similar, but different show.

I had a window that looked out the the North just the other side of my bed.  I used to stay up at night, looking out at the electric storms and marvel at the crash of thunder after each flash.  It bothered me the, and does to this day, how movies would show lightning and the thunder would boom with the light.  The delay helped you time how far the storm was from where you stood.

The last month the kids have seen a myriad of storms and they all marvel at them.  My wife, who grew up on the West coast never liked them.  She was scared of the sounds.  She hated the lightning and it all frightened her.  But my kids get to see and hear them and they don’t fear mother nature, they respect her.

Under a Big Red Sky by Joel Sartore
Under a Big Red Sky by Joel Sartore

They also get to see that bright blue color of the sky, even in the summer.  There’s no temperature inversion, like Denver gets.  There’s no “brown cloud” like both Denver and Sacramento have.  There’s no dusky grey haze on the grass like Texas of “golden” brown like California.

My friend Joel Sartore, a Geographic fellow and creator of the photo ark project still lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.  He won’t leave, says he never would move.  He says the same thing . . . the skies are just different there.  The land and the people and the colour of the sky are worth every minute.  He calls it “Under a Big Red Sky.”

I just call it home…and I’m glad my kids can see it that way, too.

(If you can, please check out Joel Sartore’s work, he’s brilliant, his pictures capture Nebraska and the world in intimate and important ways and he’s one of the nicest, funniest, most interesting people it’s my privilege to know!)

Baby, don’t you pity me . . .

It’s not a literal line, that title, it’s a line from a Freddie King song, one of my favorites: Someday After a While (Live) by Clapton from the LP From the Cradle

It’s an appropriate title because it’s something that seems to weigh on myself and those around me an awful lot.  I talked a bit yesterday about Joel Sartore’s segment on CBS’ Sunday Morning program on Sunday.  The part I didn’t really say as succinctly as I should of is how I totally understood the “looks” that he got from people who had just heard what his family was going through.  To recap for him: his wife came down with breast cancer a number of years ago.  At the beginning of this year she had a recurrence.  Not long after treatments her mother passed away.  Then in the summer, their son was diagnosed with Hotchkins Lymphoma and has to have chemotherapy for the rest of the year.

One of the things people don’t get is how you can have a sense of humor about these things.  Joel’s line in the middle of the piece was “I thought the only way things could get much worse would be if she backed over the dog in the driveway.”  How true that is.

My own situation, though not like Joel’s, is not too dissimilar.  My wife passed away on the day of our 18th wedding anniversary.  Then we lost our house.  My work decided to “make a change” just a couple weeks after I returned.  I couldn’t afford the school my oldest, Abbi, was attending so I had to move her to the public school.  If you wrote all this down, as the events unfolded, in detail, nobody would believe that it was true.

My oldest, Abbi

Abbi and I had a discussion just about an hour ago and I think it’s what was keeping her from falling asleep.  Abbi is not like her mother, she’s more like me.  I may write about how things happen here, but I don’t share them person-t0-person often.  Nor do I talk about them here, not most of them.  This is a snippet of our day, not the whole day.  But she was affected by someone asking her if she helped her Mom make Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s a simple enough question, but for her, or any of us, the reaction to her answer is much more weighty.  Like Joel’s line in his segment, he mentioned that people walked up to him, tears in their eyes, acting like their son had already passed away.  We get that . . . a lot.  She gets the glassy-eyed sympathy.  I get the “how do you do it alone?” thing.

What people don’t get is that we’re okay.  Could we be better?  Well . . . yeah, what the hell do you think?  But couldn’t everybody?  I mean, short of Richard Branson, who can say their lives are perfect?  Even before losing Andrea our lives were far from perfect.  They were hard.  Now they’re hard in another way.

What worries all of us, though, is meeting that person the first time and wondering if they’re sincere or nice . . . or if they’re just pitying us.

Don’t you pity me.

Please, don’t.  If you don’t like me, then fine.  Don’t.  I can honestly tell you that I could really give a sh*t.  My kids love me.  I have a close cadre of friends who are amazing.  I have people around me who care and help, even if I’ve been neglectful and failed to talk to them for a long time.  Don’t pity me, Abbi, Hannah, Noah or Sam.  It’s easy to look at us and say “oh . . . if she’d just lived on. . . ”

My four munchkins…
Yeah.  If.  You can’t buy happiness with a fistful of “if’s”.

The discussion I had with Abbi centered around the fact that other people can’t accept that we could be happy.  They can’t accept that, maybe, we’re okay.  We are.  I’m not saying it to convince myself!  It took a really, really long time to come to terms with the fact that we could be okay without Andrea.  It took even longer to come to terms with the fact that, in some ways, some things are better.  You never want to admit that.

But I told Abbi the same thing I’ve said here before: we have to keep going, not necessarily by choice.  Andrea gets to be pretty and perfect and sweet in the memories in our minds and we have to keep trudging along.  It’s harsh and difficult sometimes, yes, but it’s just the way it is.  I could sit and wallow in misery or grief but then there are four kids who suffer because of it.  People assume, my daughter said, that she’s picked up all the slack and is doing tons more.  They don’t believe her when she says she simply ferries the kids and watches them for a couple hours until I get home.  They look at her and wonder how Hannah, Noah, Sam and I will cope when she’s gone and won’t accept it when she says: “they’ll figure something out.  My Dad will do it.”

When you face what others see as unimaginable they can’t fathom that you come out on the other side unscathed.  The reality is, we’re not unscathed.  We’re strong, though.  We’re bonded.  Holidays aren’t as hard as you might think, it’s the buildup to them and the questioning after that are harder.

In the end, when asked if she helped her Mom with the dinner, Abbi said she simply said “no…I didn’t” and left it at that.  It’s easier, sometimes, not to have to tell the story all…over…again.

Beside, Abbi told me, “Mom wouldn’t have cooked any of it anyway . . . and I know for a fact I probably wouldn’t have helped.”

That’s my girl.

At Close Range

If you read the previous post, you saw Joel Sartore mentioned.  While I could not find the episode of National Geographic Explorer that featured Joel in Alaska and lambasting the REI store for some of their bear protection merchandise (if you find it, watch it, it’s some of the funniest television I’ve ever seen), this clip from Geographic features Joel and you get an indication of his humor and his passion.

You can get prints of his photos at: http://www.joelsartore.com

Give him some business.  He’s a contributing photog to NatGeo, but freelances as well and he’s just a good guy.

How to win friends and influence people . . .

Joel Sartore at Work . . . pardon the photo theft, Joel!

http://www.joelsartore.com

Whether you know it or not, every day you have an effect on people. It’s really up to you how you’re remembered. I know that sounds cheesy, very “Remember the Golden Rule” kind of a thing, but I’m hoping that what I have to recount will give you pause and make you realize, if you ever have that George Bailey moment you take into consideration just what one little interaction can mean to someone else.

If you’ve read this blog at all, you realize already I’m mentioning Andrea in this post. It’s always strange to realize that you have no idea what an impact you have until you’re gone. There’s a reason that Samuel Clemens used Tom Sawyer’s funeral as a literary device. The downside for me is that the reports of Andrea’s demise are not exaggerated.

I could mention the funeral here, it would fit. There was a myriad of people there. Sure, there was the contingent of people that were at the church simply to show support to me and the kids, that’s a given. That wasn’t the full measure of the response, though. The church, which holds a good many people (just go to any Easter or Christmas mass, you heathens) was filled. Not a scattering of people throughout the church but standing room only. It was a testament to the fact that when she was healthy and able, Andrea spent a ton of time up at the school and the church and wanted to be involved with the people there. She loved it.

But that’s an obvious simile. My story goes back farther, and as always, was an example of how she went above and beyond just because she was doing something nice for me.

A good many years ago I had been a member of the National Press Photographers Association, or NPPA. It helped me learn, gave me opportunities to steal ideas from other shooters, just was a good organization for storytelling. In their monthly magazine they’d run a profile of a National Geographic photographer by the name of Joel Sartore. I was already familiar with Joel’s work, and if you’re not, you should be. I had always wanted to be a Geographic shooter, but I didn’t take that path, I went into television. With kids, a family, travelling most the year and waiting in a tree canopy for a week for a single shot of a pig isn’t in the cards any more, but it would have to be an amazing career. (If you roll your eyes and wonder why I’d be excited, if you can watch Joel’s segment on shooting Grizzlies on Geographic Explorer, talking about the “bear bells” he finds at REI and NOT laugh, well, you’re made of stone) He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska . . . because he wants to. He loves the state, the people, and thinks the Midwest is an amazing place, so I obviously had a soft spot for his work. Just a couple days later our consumer help line – the unit I was now producing and shooting for – got a call from, of all people, Joel. He was having trouble with directory assistance. He had lost dozens of clients because when freelance hires would call to get his number they’d be given a twelve-year-old number. He’d run into people who told him “I had a job that had you written all over it, but . . . just couldn’t find you. Have you moved?”

His wife forced him to call. He thought she was nuts. I, however, jumped at the chance to talk with him and already had contacts with one of the phone companies. I was new to the consumer thing, had a little cockiness, probably came across a bit too confident, and talked with Joel and his son on-camera, talking with his wife off-camera. I won’t bore you with details, but we got the Lincoln phone company’s competition to fix the national database and his phone was his phone number again.

So where my wife comes in is some months later. Joel had done a profile of Nebraska for Nat Geo. The magazine let him use all his unused photos and create an amazing book called “Under a Big Red Sky” for publication by the University Press. It was all I could talk about because a lot of the Northern Nebraska cities I frequented were featured in the book. I kept trying to buy it and Andrea kept blocking me asking me to wait.

What I didn’t know was that Andrea had wandered into the Barnes and Noble in the Crossroads Mall in Omaha specifically to buy the book. They had a few left – it sold well – and noticed that she had missed, by about an hour, a signing by the author. She looked, though, and in a corner of the store, packing books and paperwork up, was Joel, cleaning up after a very long afternoon. She walked over, apologetically asking him if he’d sign her book. She told Joel it was for her husband, someone he’d met awhile back. She wasn’t sure he’d remember me, but Joel’s book was all I would talk about and she was hoping she might convince him to sign it. When she told Joel who her husband was, he lit up. He signed the book, put “my phone is still ringing!” in the inscription and talked with Andrea for a long time inside the store. When I opened it she told me about meeting him in the store, talking with him for a long time, listening to his regaling tales of the pictures in the book. She thought he was funny, intelligent and talented. That was the only contact Joel had with her.

Every year or so, when something changes, I send Joel a note letting him know where I am and asking how he’s doing. As I was getting ready to send out Christmas cards I realized I hadn’t spoken with Joel in over a year. It’s always odd sending a note and starting off with the fact that your life has taken an odd sort of tragic turn. But I told him where our lives had gone, that my wife had passed (remember this, and notice I didn’t use her name) and that we’d moved. I did mention that he’d met her once and that she’d talked about how much she’d liked him.

Joel is busy, mind you. He’s either on assignment or off with his family, both of which are insanely important. But he got right back to me, and indicated that he “remembered Andrea”. The woman who’d found him in the store and asked him to sign, and I know from her description that she wouldn’t have left until he did, he remembered meeting her. She’d had an impact. I may seem a little thing to you, but it’s a big deal to me. It verifies what I keep saying: she was just an amazing, memorable, brilliant woman. A man who I know, but my wife had met only once and gave him pause.

You can meet someone once, simply once, so what impression do you want to give? Andrea met this person, a man who travels the world and sees those amazing people, places and creatures you can only read about, and she made an impact. This man, with his own story, 3 kids, a wife who is battling cancer, and he took the time to talk with this woman who made it a point to show how much she loved me. Did I push as much for her? What impact did I have on someone hoping to get her a present? There is part of me that hopes in the end my thoughts of her go far beyond this simple writing. She met and impacted people everywhere, from a church full of people, to a world-renowned photographer, and the influences pop up in the most amazing places.

What impact to you want to be remembered for? I see and hear stories about this amazing woman, this beautiful person, and I am saddened by the fact that I am no longer part of our story. But when I hear people who met her only briefly speak of her with fondness and I can’t help but be uplifted. I can only hope I have half the impression she did.

Joel Sartore, Photographing your Family