Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Layers of the Soul

Sometimes I find it difficult to separate Native concepts of spirituality, and those imported through western influences. Even the oldest tribal leaders sometimes mix traditions, making it nearly impossible to identify "pure" concepts from pre-Christian history.

There are clues, however.

The Salish word for soul is: snxpew's. I often wondered if this word is of ancient origin, or if it bears a Christian influence. One source I recently found seems to indicate an ancient belief in the soul, though it does not reveal the level of Christian influence.

The Flathead Indians by Harry Turney-High says, "All (tribal informants) agree that people recognized the existence of the soul and its survival after death, and that it was considered the substance with which a man is lined. The same term used to signify the soul also indicates the lining of a garment."

The photograph of the river above reminds me of this concept of the soul. The water is like a flowing lining over the riverbed, much like the soul within our bodies.

Without Art

These are the Bloomsday runners wrapped in black plastic, like body bags, as a representation of what the world would be like without art. Imagine your world without art. Sad.

Whitney's Whale

A couple days ago, Whitney gave a presentation at her school about minke whales. Parents were invited to view the presentations and ask questions. She was very cute tour guide and did a wonderful job.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dressed in White

My family gathered at the house to clean; as I drove to Wellpinit, I passed these spectacular sights near the top of the hill. All the land was dressed in white; it was beautiful.

The Mystery

Can anyone guess what this is? Interesting.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Memorial Service

Kim's friend asked me to perform a memorial service for his father Randy Krupke, near Reardan, Washington. Friends and family gathered in a circle to share memories, then I shared a few words and sang a traditional song. Afterwards, they scattered his ashes near his wife.

The Frozen House

Frost covering the doorknob...

Ice covering the banister...

Kim and I visited an abandoned house; the door was open, allowing the ice and frost to settle on the banister, the walls, and the door. It reminded me of underwater photographs of the Titanic with its calcified ornaments.


I visited the grave of Mike Alley, Senior this morning. His funeral happened when I was away on the east coast. There was no marker on the grave, but these flowers still looked fresh several days later under the morning frost.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A New Beginning

Anthony came home today after 122 days in the Spokane County Jail. He stood trial for a serious felony charge and was found NOT guilty by a jury of his peers. It's a good thing, too; otherwise, he would have served 3 or 4 years in prison. Hopefully he takes this chance to make good on his promise to start a new life.

Leaving the Metro

I emerged from the metro tunnel at the Capitol South Station, and immediately the cold humid air confronted me and seemed to penetrate my skin. Large drops of icy sleet fell onto my head from a solid covering of gray-white clouds hovering low upon the District. The sound of ice crunched beneath my feet as I approached the United States Capitol Building, now mostly obscured by high barricade walls, scaffolding, and various forms of construction equipment. The barrier prevented pedestrian access to the Capitol from the east, so I continued walking past the Library of Congress toward the Supreme Court.

Equal Justice Under Law

The area immediately surrounding the Supreme Court of the United States resembled a religious convention, as people of faith from all walks of life began to assemble and to voice their opposition to abortion. By chance, my visit to the capital coincided with the annual commemoration of Roe v. Wade and the resulting March for Life.

The public display of of faith was both moving and disturbing. On the one hand, people of many cultures and backgrounds came together to engage the democratic process, but some used shocking methods. One woman carried an over sized placard bearing the image of dismembered fetuses under a large banner reading: "American Holocaust."

Looking up from the Supreme Court steps, I felt a sense of reverence as I read the inscription above the great marble columns, "Equal Justice Under Law." No doubt, the hope of justice brings comfort, and yet I'm struck by the irony of that statement against competing ideologies across the land. Both supporters and opponents of abortion would likely point to those words to sustain their respective causes. Pro-choice advocates would suggest Equal Justice Under Law protects the right of every woman to choose to end her pregnancy, while pro-life advocates would say Equal Justice Under Law protects the right to life of all unborn children. Both sides appeal to justice and equality under the law, and yet both sides are divided with scarcely a chance of compromise.

The Capitol Building

The western side of the capitol was not obstructed in any way. Despite the bleak weather, I actually like this photograph. I know it's very "tourist," but it's mine.

March for Life

Circling around the Capitol Building, I observed many others gathering to express their opposition to abortion. By the time I reached the National Mall, many thousands more arrived; a broad mix of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Jews.

A group of Catholic nuns clutched oversize rosaries, while hundreds of priests wearing their black robes and white clerical collars led parochial school children in procession. Many carried banners depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe, or other religious icons.

Never before have I personally witnessed such a demonstration on a national level. Bus loads of Evangelical school children wore matching sweatshirts with brightly colored slogans like, "Yo Mama Chose Life," or "Face it, Abortion Kills."

I overheard conversations that were both urgent and informative. An orthodox Jew explained to his children how this event was organized on a such a large scale. A Christian minister urged a young woman to to make a pledge promising to tell at least ten other people about pro-life issues. A young college age man spoke passionately to a small group of listeners about joining a "pro-life activist training camp." Still others stood on street corners urging me to "Vote Brownback for president; 100% pro-life."

I have to admit, the March for Life had a much more profound effect than I would have expected. Several times, I felt like crying because of the divisiveness of this issue upon our country. I'm sad to say I don't foresee any resolution in the near future.

World War II Memorial

I paused to honor my grandfather Gibson J. Eli and Rhonda's grandfather James Carl Merchant, for their valiant service in the Second World War. This memorial honors their memory.

The Lincoln Memorial

I always feel a sense of reverence when I visit the Lincoln Memorial. Apparently others feel it too. When I visited on Monday, a young man was taking a photograph of his friends inside the memorial. I overheard him say, "Hey! Stop making gang signs for the picture!"

The other kids laughed, but he became very adamant, "I'm serious. Don't make those signs in here."

They laughed again, to which he said, "I'm dead serious. Don't make those signs while you're here." They finally relented, and I was very proud of him for respecting this sacred place.

Vietnam Memorial

Myles D. Westman was my uncle's friend during the Vietnam War; and while I don't know the whole story, I know he died when my uncle Richard lived. When I found his name on the wall, a wave of unexpected emotion brought tears to my eyes. I bless his memory and pray for my uncle. More on this later...

The White House

The White House on a cold Monday afternoon, as seen from Pennsylvania Avenue; just moments before, the presidential helicopter landed on the South Lawn, but I didn't focus my camera in time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cold and Alone

When I was a child, I used to have this horrible, recurring dream about getting lost in a strange, faraway city. I would find myself wandering the dark, gray streets feeling cold and desperately alone. The crowds of people hardly paused to notice my distress, and those who saw me seemed to look with suspicion. Pitifully, I searched in vain to find my parents, friends, or relatives.

On some level, I was always a stranger, even among my closest friends.

As I did my errands in downtown Spokane this week, I was reminded of my childhood dreams. On days like today, I sometimes wish I could hibernate during the bleakest months of winter, and awake when the air is warm and the sun shines brightly in the sky.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wedding Announcement

Once again, Jenny Wiltse has asked me to photograph a special occasion in her life. Some time last year I took her senior pictures, and just this afternoon I photographed Jenny and her fiance Joshua Alent for their wedding announcement. They plan to marry in the Manti Utah Temple of the LDS Church.

We returned to Manito Park and Duncan Gardens for the photo shoot. We also took a few pictures on Manito Boulevard, between the frost covered trees. This is my favorite, though I suspect they may choose a different shot for their announcement.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Manito Park and Duncan Gardens

The Rose Garden at Manito Park...

The fountain at Duncan Gardens...

I spent the afternoon scoping out potential sites to photograph Jenny and her fiance Josh. They plan on getting married in March and asked me to photograph their wedding announcements. If you recall, I also did her senior pictures a while back.

They want a winter background to their pictures, and we had thought about Mount Spokane, but it's been too cold. We decided to visit Manito Park and Duncan Gardens. Even in winter, they possess a certain elegance and charm. I'm excited to do this for them. I only hope the weather will cooperate tomorrow.

Visiting the Garden

McKenna was happy to model at Duncan Gardens and Manito Park, that is, until the cold started to settle into her hands. After that, she could only think of leaving.

The Conservatory

Gaiser Conservatory at Manito Park is an oasis of color and warmth during the cold winter months. Sadly, it will not be open tomorrow when I take pictures for Jenny and her fiance.

The Spokane River in White

The Spokane River under the cold winter chill; beautiful and bright. I feel blessed to live in a region with so many natural resources and beauty.

Canada Island

This photograph was taken on the suspension bridge leading to Canada Island, looking south toward downtown Spokane. The mist rising up from the river left the trees and branches a beautiful white.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Deep Freeze

An arctic blast descended upon the Spokane area, pushing sub-zero temperatures onto all the region. We've settled into a miserable deep freeze, hoping for an early thaw. Earlier tonight, I went outside with wet hair, and within 60 seconds, my hair froze into a solid, and rather stylish looking spike. It reminded me of the crown worn by the ice witch of Narnia.

I really hate the cold. I mean, I really hate the cold. Even so, it casts an eerie beauty over all the land. Just an hour ago, I drove through downtown Spokane, and the falls under the Monroe Street Bridge created a beautiful cloud of steam. Despite the obvious discomfort of stepping outside my warm car, I had to stop to get a couple pictures. It was worth the momentary misery.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Teaching the GED

My schedule with the community colleges changed somewhat this quarter to include teaching GED classes at the Hillyard Center. I absolutely love it! Whether I'm tutoring math, or teaching someone how to improve their essay writing, I truly enjoy my work. This is the kind of teaching that gives my life meaning.

I took the photograph shown above between meetings at the Adult Education Center on Monroe and the HIllyard Center. The picture shows a portion of the Spokane Falls at Riverfront Park.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Remembering the Dead

Jesuit Cemetery at Mount Saint Michael...

Today is the 13th anniversary of my father's death. His birthday passed only a few days ago. Every year I pause to remember during this week.

A little after 2:00 in the morning, my dogs freaked out and started barking, which they NEVER do. It woke me out of a dead sleep and sent me running down the hall pumping with adrenaline. Even my girls woke up and panicked, asking, "Daddy, what's the matter?" I let the dogs out the back door and they ran straight to the back fence, on the opposite side of where they normally go.

I don't know what made my dogs bark, but it left me with a creepy feeling for more than an hour. Being the anniversary of my father's death, it brought up many unsettled feelings I still carry.

The photograph above represents my thoughts toward the dead. The Jesuit Cemetery at Mount Saint Michael bears a stone with this inscription:

While others find this place
Deserted, it will be
Ever pulsing with life
For me.

For over simple stones
On this wind-caressed height
A host of vibrant men
Stand bright.

Their eyes and words more clear
Than any I now know
To all the crowded town

I see the living here,
Though spirits may have fled,
And moving numbly there,
The dead.

~John Masterson.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Rhonda and I got tickets to see the Broadway musical Hairspray as a Christmas gift. We went to the show this afternoon and had a wonderful time. The production is something of a twisted comedy, bordering on ridiculous, but if I'm in the right mood, I end up laughing my head off when I watch it. As things turned out, the mood was perfect. We laughed and kept on laughing long after the show ended.

Through all our laughter, there really is a serious message underneath the crazy jokes by Edna Turnblad and company. The story brings us back to the days of segregation and the resulting struggle to integrate the races. I wonder how much we learned from the Civil Rights Movement, and how far we have to go.

National Mourning

Rhonda and I walked through Riverfront Park this afternoon, and saw the massive flag by the American Pavilion still stands at half mast. Flags everywhere continue to mark the grief of a nation at the loss of President Gerald Ford.

You know, I was just a wee lad during the Nixon years. I have no direct memory of the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate, Nixon's resignation, and his subsequent presidential pardon. What little I know comes from the popular culture and political re-hashing of my childhood America. I have nothing of consequence to add to the national dialog; however, I will make one observation:

I grew up around people who demonized the Nixon-Ford scandal, and regarded the pardon with special contempt. How is it possible now, with the president's passing, he is treated like a hero by all who remember him? As I read the eulogies from conservatives and liberals alike, I began to think he really was a great man for his times. Regardless of his legacy, either positive or negative, I find the political climate of our age conflicting and downright disgusting. How can a person be a villain during life, and become a hero after death? If we were truly honest, and if we could put aside the bitterness of partisanship, I think we would find the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In truth, there are very few honest-to-goodness demons or villains in the world. Most of us are just people following our conscience the best we know how.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Winter in Spokane

Friday afternoon, I went downtown to the District 81 office to request a form for my continuing teacher certificate. Afterwards, I was able to spend a few bone-chilling moments photographing Riverfront Park, and the Spokane River; beautiful, in its own miserable way (I hate the cold).

Today was also my father's 59th birthday, if in fact he were still alive. They tell me he was born during a terrible snowstorm on this very day back in 1948; at Sacred Heart. His mother arrived at the hospital with no time to spare, and delivered barely 15 minutes later. Monday will be the 13th anniversary of his passing. Ironically, his death also occurred at Sacred Heart, though it rained that day, as I recall it.

Today I feel a light wind piercing my jacket with its icy tentacles, and a slight skiff of snow falls gently to the ground. The old people say the snow covers our tracks from the previous year, but no amount of cold, rain, wind, or snow will cover the memories in my heart.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Barbed Wire

Sometimes beauty emerges from the details. Nothing about a chain-link fence with a barbed wire top would seem appealing, and yet this close-up shot creates a much different effect; it looks forbidding and harsh, almost like it has a story to tell. And sometimes, black and white makes ordinary photographs even more compelling. I would certainly have lost something if I had taken the picture farther away. It would have ended in a blurry jumble of gray lines with no real meaning.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The sadness I feel during the long winter months is very real, prompting me to seek colors and light in my surrounding environment to fend off the effects of prolonged darkness and overcast skies.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is said to be rare in the tropics, but noticeably common above 30 degrees north, and below 30 degrees south. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is directly related to decreased exposure to daylight during the winter months, and causes depressive symptoms in people who otherwise enjoy good mental health. Treatments range from light therapy to anti-depressant medication to cognitive based therapies.

My approach to addressing feelings of sadness during the dark winter months depends primarily on cognitive strategies. In fact, my photography serves a distinctly therapeutic purpose of helping me find beauty in the world when all I see is gray.

The photograph shown above represents my personal attempt to receive the light. Even though the sky had been overcast and gray throughout the day, and the drizzle made conditions positively miserable, just as the sun began to set, the sky illuminated a deep blue hue for the briefest of moments. The contrast between blue sky and the orange glow of street lights combined with the reflection of water on the field. I stopped my car and captured that moment.

With all I know about the feelings of darkness, it's no wonder the ancients hailed the return of light during the shortest day of the year; to bring hope of life's return. All this talk of light and darkness reminds me of a poem I read once. It would make a great prayer during this season of sadness:

In this fateful hour,
I call upon all Heaven with its power
And the sun with its brightness
And the snow with its whiteness
And the fire with all the strength it hath
And the lightning with its rapid wrath
And the winds in their swiftness along the path
And the sea with its deepness
And the rocks with their steepness
And the earth with its starkness.
All these I place,
By Heaven's almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

~ Traditional Rune.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Embrace the Gray

As I drive through city streets, the cold gray sky warms just enough to scatter rain over sheets of snow and ice. Warm enough for rain, yes, but still cold and wet and miserable. The blur of passing cars reflect on freezing asphalt, chilling my senses, numbing all sense of hope. At any moment I threaten to sink into a dark seasonal depression.

But then I remember to accept the rain falling on my head, for hardship waters the green grass of tomorrow. I embrace the gray, and find freedom from despair.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!!!

Our New Year's celebration did not turn out as planned.

We originally made big plans to stay at Ed's cabin for the night, but Whitney came home from church this afternoon looking positively green and complaining of a tummy ache. The other kids already had the stomach flu, so I was not about to drag our daughter an hour's drive away feeling as she did. We decided to stay home, and enjoy the New Year as a family.

I prepared more snack food than we could possible eat in one day; shrimp salsa, clam dip, cheese, crackers, summer sausage. I'm sure we all gained 10 pounds in one sitting!

In short, we played games, watched a couple movies, and then watched Dick Clark announce the New Year from Times Square in New York City. (Incidentally, that man looked forever young for at least the last 150 years, but it seems his age finally caught up with him). As they announced the New Year, my little family cheered and I snapped the first photograph of 2007 (above).

Blessings and joy to all this coming year!


Sparklers for the New Year, saved from the Fourth of July; I had forgotten all about them, but my children remembered. To think they waited half a year for ten seconds of flame, followed by fizzle. :)


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