Happy Memorial Day, Everyone!

(Special thoughts to those serving or with loved ones serving in the armed forces.)


The Unknown Soldier

by Melvin B. Tolson

I was a minuteman at Concord Bridge,
I was a frigate-gunner on Lake Erie,
I was a mortarman at Stony Ridge,
I fought at San Juan Hill and Château Thierry,
I braved Corregidor and the Arctic Sea:
The index finger brings democracy.
These States bred freedom in and in my bone—
Old as the new testament of Plymouth Bay.
When the Founding Fathers laid the Cornerstone
And rued the thirteen clocks that would not say
The hour on the hour, I nerved myself with them
Under the noose in the hand of the tyrant’s whim.
I’ve seen the alien ships of destiny
Plow the sea mountains between the hemispheres.
I’ve seen the Gulf Stream of our history
Littered with derelicts of corsair careers.
I’ve heard the watchman cry, “The bars! The bars!”
When midnight held the funeral of stars.
I saw horizontal States grow vertical,
From Plymouth Harbor to the Golden Gate,
Till wedged against skyscapes empyreal
Their glories elbowed the decrees of fate.
These States bred freedom in and in my bone:
I hymn their virtues and their sins atone.
The tares and wheat grow in the self-same field,
The rose and thorn companion on the bush,
The gold and gravel cuddle in the yield,
The oil and grit and dirt together gush.
The Gordian knot to be or not to be
Snares not the free.
My faith props the tomorrows, for I know
The roots of liberty, tough-fibered, feed
On the blood of tyrants and martyrs; the judas blow
Tortures the branches till they twist and bleed;
And yet no Caesar, vitamined on loot,
Can liberty uproot!
I am the Unknown Soldier: I open doors
To the Rights of Man, letters incarnadine.
These shrines of freedom are mine as well as yours;
These ashes of freemen yours as well as mine.
My troubled ghost shall haunt These States, nor cease
Till the global war becomes a global peace.

Capturing Spring: Predominantly Pictures!

Last week I mentioned that I was retiring my old Nikon camera because it was no longer reliable, and learning to accustom myself to taking digital photos. In the spirit that practice makes perfect (or at least, much improved), I’ve taken to bringing my cell phone with me on my morning walks and taking photos of the various flora and fauna.

Jacaranda4May and June are very pleasant months in SoCal: mild and sunny, but without the scorching heat that sets in around July and lasts through September. And the gardens are blooming with a will.  When I see the jacarandas starting to put forth their first purple flowers, trumpet-shaped and fragrant, I know that spring is truly here.

California star jasmine is another harbinger of spring. Around here it first begins to flower around late March or early April, putting out a few tiny white blossoms that are easy to overlook. StarJasmineBut when May sets in, star jasmine can be seen–and smelled–everywhere: twining around low fences, climbing up arbors, spilling abundantly over walls. The spicy-sweet scent, especially prevalent on cool, slightly cloudy mornings, is irresistible to me.

Of course, spring wouldn’t be spring without roses, and I see some gorgeous ones on my walks, all varying sizes, shapes, and colors. But this bush of blood red roses is so striking I had to stop and capture it. Roses like these must have grown in the Beast’s garden–no wonder Beauty’s father was so tempted!RedRoses2

Spring mornings also bring the fauna out early. Crows hopping territorially over suburban lawns, squirrels running up trees or across telephone lines–just today I saw a crow dive-bombing a squirrel, first on the grass, then up on the roof (the face-off ended in a draw with both participants heading in opposite directions). Alas, this was one occasion on which I didn’t have my cell phone, though crow and squirrel were probably moving too fast for me to have captured them.

But there are always the local cats, who are abroad and stirring much earlier than the local dogs. P05-11-13_08.12Or not stirring, in the case of this handsome fellow who was dozing on a lawn chair when I crept up on him.

Other felines, less somnolent, can be found slinking under bushes or sidling along garden paths, like this shy tortoiseshell. TORTOISESHELLShe deigned to come a little closer for a brief stroke or two, but preferred to remain aloof. (She had a black-and-white companion who was much less standoffish, but he was too busy stropping against my legs, butting against my hand, and generally making a nuisance of himself to pose for pictures!)

GARDENI leave you with a picture of my neighbor’s front garden, an oasis of color and bloom. (It’s also a favorite hangout of several neighborhood cats, although none are in residence in the photo.) Makes me almost wish I could garden too, but my thumb remains resolutely brown!

“K” is for “Kodachrome”: A Parting of the Ways

“I got a Nikon camera, I love to take a photograph, Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away . . . “ –Paul Simon

Resize_P04-19-13_11.49Well, it was bound to happen one day. And I suppose, in the end, the parting was relatively painless, with no hard feelings on either side.

I received my trusty 35 mm Nikon camera more than 20 years ago–a Christmas or birthday present, I can’t remember which–and we’ve been semi-inseparable ever since. On holidays, on vacations, on other notable occasions, I’d whip it out to capture a moment or an image–or try to, at the very least. People, places, and things, immortalized as 4 x 6 glossies, suitable for framing, passing around, putting in albums (although that last part tends to be indefinitely put off).

Time marches on, though, and digital cameras have taken over to the point where my loyalty to my Nikon has become something of a family joke. I shrugged it off, reasoning that it didn’t matter as long as I was satisfied with the picture quality or my camera’s performance.

Over the years, my old partner in memory-making has become a bit less reliable. At one point the shutter stuck and would not budge. I took it to a camera shop and had it repaired. Then, a few years ago, the counter was off by a few shots. I learned to adjust and work around this issue and still took some damn fine pictures.

Unfortunately, on this last trip, the counter let me down completely, to the point where I was happily taking pictures with film that wasn’t there: the photographic equivalent of shooting blanks! If it weren’t for my newly acquired cell phone, I would have had no photos of our recent Palo Alto trip and the friends we’d come up to visit. And while I’m still learning the ropes of operating the camera in my phone–resulting in several wobbly out-of-focus pictures–I did end up with some nice shots, which is preferable to having nothing at all.RoseEmilyEleanor

The Birthday Girls (right)

So, regretfully but with a sense of inevitability, I am retiring my Nikon from active service. It’s been a great twenty-something years, old pal–thanks for the memories! I hope whatever (digital) camera succeeds you gives me as much joy as you have.

(All preceding photos, courtesy of my trusty cell phone!)

Do you own a favorite bit of outmoded technology? And are you still together, or have you put it out to pasture?