It is all new to me, my rookie season I suppose.
A friend of mine here in Ithaca has been trying to talk me into hunting with him for years. An interesting guy, the only meat he and his family eat, he hunts. As a conscientious omnivore, I’ve always admired this way of life.
I’ve finally given in to his prompting, and this season I am trying out deer hunting for the first time. In all began about 2 or 3 weeks ago, the two of us went out on Saturday for about six hours, to some open farm lands in northern Tompkins County. And I’ve gone several times since then.
A few weeks ago, I took a hunting safety class in Wellsville through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. I got my license, and borrowed a shotgun from my friend. I missed opening weekend, but have finding time each week since.
We went out for close to six or seven hours, but all this time, and I never saw a deer. I saw some lovely things, and learned something about being alone in the woods and reading that world.
We were out for several hours in the morning, and my feet got cold. I went for a little walk about on the land designated as my spot. I’ve stationed myself in a grove of trees about a mile for a dairy farm in North Lansing, NY. For my walk, I headed out of the woods into a dormant corn field, and up to a man-made reservoir used to water the cattle and the corn. I rounded a small hill up to the lip of the reservoir, and looked down. Sitting on the water must have been about 50-60 geese; when they saw me, they all took flight in perfect unison, honking feverishly.
After a lunch break, we both headed back out to try some more. I went to a different spot further up the road. Right as I parked my car, a hard snow began, pushed about by an intense wind. As I walked into the woods, I held my chin against my chest, and kept my eyes on the ground. Not long after I made into the trees, the snow stopped as abruptly as it started. The sun came out for a few minutes, giving the trees a wonderful and surreal color.
I went out again on my own 2 days later, just during the afternoon. I saw lots of hoof prints in the show and mud, but still never saw a deer. After about an hour, I head lots of honking again, and looked to the sky. The clouds were a light grey as far as I could see. Just behind my grove of trees, I could see hundreds of geese flying in the air, all headed in my direction. There were so many of them, they flew in several formations. Their honking loud and syncopated.
As it grew dark, I walked back to my car feeling discouraged and dejected.
I made it out to North Lansing at 5:30 in the morning. It was 9 degrees outside, and not a cloud in the sky. I had a clear view of the morning stars, and horned moon illuminated the corn field as I traversed my way out to the same grove of trees. There was about 2 inches of snow on the ground, leftover from a Thanksgiving storm.
I bundled tight, and crunched my way through the snow. I followed deer tracks out to spot, and I stood on the mounded earth containing the reservoir, with a clear view of the woods on either side of the field. I watched the sunrise, various shades of orange, pink and purple filling the sky.
I heard deer in the woods to my left, the north side of the field. I heard a few shotguns going off in the distance, but again never saw an animal. I stayed out for a little more than 2 hours, and then the cold got to be too much. It took me another three hours after I left to really feel warm.
So I went home around 8:30, took a long hot shower, and took a nap, before heading back out for the afternoon hunt.
It was 20 degrees warmer, but the sky covered with a thick layer of grey clouds. The corn field before me had a harsh beauty about it. The winds were strong; I could no longer see the footprints I left in the morning, swept away by the wind.
I walked across this frozen tundra, back to my spot in southern grove of trees. I started to climb up a tree into a stand we’d posted before the season really started. I was about two thirds of the way up the tree, and saw my first deer of the season. A large doe. She bolted when she saw me.
I decided to climb back down. Now that she saw me, I figured the chances of her coming back my way were slim. I ventured into the woods, to see if I could find this doe, or really any other deer for that matter. I walked quietly through woods, trying to walk against the wind so as to help keep my sound and scent at a minimum.
I was excited, my heart beating fast. It actually felt like a possibility that I might find and hunt down a deer. I found and followed lots of tracks in these woods (not too far fetched to think that I had actually heard them on some of my previous outings), but never caught sight of them again.
I walked out of the woods to a beautiful sunset, mixes of a fiery orange, pink and purple threading the grey clouds above.
I can’t remember the last day I’d watched both the sunrise and sunset. There’s a harsh beauty to these winter days alone in the woods.
So bow season starts a couple of weeks before shotgun season. The week before shotgun season started, I headed out to my friend’s house to make a plan for our hunt (they repeated it time and again in my safety class, Plan the hunt, hunt the plan). Each year, another friend of his comes down from Vermont, Herb, during bow season to hunt in Central New York for a couple of weeks.
This guy from Vermont, he’s hardcore. Only hunts with a bow, or when the shotgun season starts, he’ll use a muzzle loader. When I arrived in the late afternoon, Herb had just returned from a day’s hunt. There were two doe hanging from a tree in the yard. Herb had spent the day chasing after another deer, another doe he struck with an arrow the evening before. He didn’t take her down with his first arrow – still lodged in her back – and spent the day trying to follow her blood trail to finish the kill.
When I arrived, Herb was preparing to butcher the two hanging doe. He took them back into the barn, and began his work.
When field dressing the day before, he saved the hearts. Herb decided we’d have the hearts for dinner that night. He cut them down, rubbed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then grilled them over a hardwood fire, cherry.
We talked a lot that night. Herb thought I’d be a good hunter. It’s clear you respect the animal, he said to me.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the heart
So I went back out again, again for the afternoon hunt.
It was pretty warm that afternoon, mid thirties. I started the walk from my car into the woods, and quickly found some coyote tracks in the snow. I followed them back to my grove of trees. I climbed back into my tree stand, and began the wait.
The sky was an even grey across the horizon, really as far as I could see, and the air was remarkably still. I sat in the tree, saw a few white moths flutter from tree to tree, and watched the winter birds scavaging for food before returning to their hollowed trees. I felt I heard deer in the brush behind me, but it was hard to get a decent view behind my stand. Regardless, I thought it would be best to stay still and quiet, rather than trying to venture down to try and flush them out.
Again, I never saw deer that day.
I was sitting in the tree for about an hour when a light snow began to fall, quite lovely actually. And again, that same symphony – or perhaps cacophony – started up again as the sun approached the evening horizon, as hundreds of geese filled the air above me. This experience has given me a new window on the landscape.
And besides, I’m always thirsty for new experiences.
The other day, my friend Katie Hargrave did a tarot reading with me.
This was my first ever reading. It seemed important to me – or at least noteworthy – that she used a deck of cards designed by photographer Bea Nettles, The Mountain Dream Tarot
Bea Nettles was a remarkably innovative photographer in the 1970′s, who spent some time working at RIT, near where I live and work now. Back in the day, Bea wrote a great little book about alternative process photography, and experimental darkroom work (not unlike a book I am working on now).
Katie is still new to reading, but I loved the discussion we had, and some things we read together in the cards (above, you can see the first laying of my cards). While preparing the deck, I asked a two pronged question, and without going into detail here (even with Katie, I asked my question internally), they were a question about the trajectory of both my personal and professional life (both feel full of changes, and in some strange and interesting ways, entirely connected).
Typically, a tarot deck is divided into four suits (like any deck of cards) – swords, wands, cups, and coins. Within the suits, the cards are classified into major arcana – greater secrets, the trump cards – and minor arcana – lesser secrets.
The two cards crossed in the middle were the first laid out, and create the core of the reading. Katie was enthusiastic about the cards, and saw them full of power, potential and energy. The first card was the IX of wands, a card full of creativity, and in this case, stability (perhaps of character). Placed on top of this card, was the hierophant, a major arcana card representing spiritual and mental strength and knowledge. Read as a religious or spiritual figure, the hierophant is full of essential ideas and philosophies.
The next two cards played are on the left and right, and serve to strength the initial core of the reading. Here are the King of Wands, and to the right a cup submerged in water (thus a cup of abundance). Together these cards support the initial findings of creativity, knowledge and power, all with depth and resolve.
Next played were the two placed above and below the cards in the middle, and represent my past and future. On top is the V of wands. In the image, five wands (wooden staves) are held by four people, and represents unity and strength, and the wand in balance the potential for change. Below, the VI of wands. Here is rider holding his wand, with a wreath of victory draped around the top. This is my future (sounds good, huh?!). I like that he’s a rider (strangely, and abstractly, horses are this periferal theme cropping up in my life – hard to explain that one).
The four cards on the right were played bottom to top. First, I of wands. The singularity of the wand, strengthening the wand energy/presence in the reading, perhaps offering a decisiveness to that core energy. Above the wand, the moon, one of the major arcana. In this card, you see two wolves, printed positive and negative, howling at the moon (over the summer, I had an interesting dream about wolves, that at the time seemed to be about coming changes in my life). This represents something that can’t be seen, but is present nonetheless (like the other side of the moon). It’s change, positive and/or negative, a primitive energy in the wolves looking for a hidden knowledge.
Above the moon, VI of pentacles. Here we see two – potentially three figures, as the shadow seems an important presence – a man holding a set scales, and the back of a (woman’s?) head bowed before him. The central figure (Bea’s husband) is changing a scale slightly out of balance, and in our discussion of this reading, we see his gestures as bringing the scale back into balance, rightly correcting something just off kilter.
Lastly, the ace of pentacles, showing strength in its singularity, helping to further support and resolve the balancing scales in the previous pentacle card.
We then did a second reading from the same shuffle. This time, just three cards were laid in a triangle. All in a new suit, swords – the knight, the emperor, and the page. In this lay of the cards, the knight is my past, the emperor my present, and the page my future.
The knight can have many meetings – courage, passion, recklessness – though here we read it as all of this, good and bad, and as a character making decision about how to reconcile these differences (again, I’m interested in the horse pictured in this card). The knight, in our reading, represents decisiveness, or at least a need for decisiveness. Next the emperor, the king of the suit. Again a strong card, the emperor is power and austerity, power with wisdom and insight. The last card, the page of swords. We read this a growth, its youth symbolizing potential, though with a secretive nature.
The meaning I most take from the reading is that I asked the right question. In a strange way, I know my life is changing, and I like the idea of strength, balance, and decisiveness being apart of these coming changes, my growth.
I am still trying to work together this new project on Denver, which entails sorting through the hundreds of rolls of film I’ve shot, a few images I’ve gathered from the internet, and a small box of family photographs. And then I also want some of my own writings about my childhood in Denver, and then this current investigation, to make it into the the project.
I like this particular passage, written while flying into Denver last January. And I hope some of these iPhone shots might make it in. All still a work in progress, but I like how my ideas and the pictures are progressing.
So in preparation for my trip back West, I went online – mostly Facebook – looking for people from my best. I spent a long afternoon scanning in photographs from a trip to the Canyon Lands in Utah from back in the day, and doing so I spent way too much time on Facebook. I didn’t attempt much contact, but did send some friend requests, looking at old girl friends, and classmates from high school and even back to elementary school. Most of my requests were ignored, which really might be for the best actually, because the curiosity and inquiry about these people was the real search; somehow it still feels like part of the journey, a way of reconnecting with who and what I am, as well as what this place means as part of my personal history.
I perused the Internet like this for about a week, looking for trances of an earlier self. When I finally flew into Denver, it was a cloudless day on the eastern plains, with a dusting of snow over the landscape, bits of brown visible beneath this layer. I took some photographs with my phone out the window of the plane. Somehow, I wanted this act of looking down to replicate my own looking back. And I was so excited to be back and photograph, to see what pieces I could find.
I’m quite interested in how my own photographs today mix with the family pictures from my childhood. The pieces I’ve discovered have an interesting fit, though that is a harder negotiation than I was expecting.
I want multiple facets to the photographic voice, though with one clearly emerging to complete and define the perspective.
I’ve been photographing seriously since the mid 1990′s, and the puzzles keep getting more interesting, the questions I can find to keep myself engage. Perhaps that’s why I feel so settled as a photographer.
Just the other day, I was rummaging through a box of old photographs – literally an old shoebox full of snapshots – looking for pictures I can use in a new project.
My sophomore year in college, my maternal grandfather died. He lived out in Ohio, where my mom grew up. He came out to Denver to die, to be with family (my grandmother died about 18-24 months earlier). I made the mistake of reading Sartre while he was dieing, Nasea.
When he finally died, my mom flew out to Ohio to help clean out his house. My grandfather was an avid amateur photographer, really a child of the Kodak revolution. He traveled a great for work, and liked to shoot color slides while away from home.
My mom came home from Ohio, and gave me his camera equipment. This was my first gear. My girlfriend at the time was really into photography. She made money for college making fake id’s. Once I had his camera, we’d go to the wastelands around Denver to photograph. I was kind of involved in an industrial art scene that populated the Denver underground, going to the broken places of the city seemed like the right choice for making photographs.
This photograph of the graffiti was on the first roll of film I ever shot. Not sure where all the rest of the pictures are now, but I am beginning to think this picture might make into my new project on Denver – an attempt to photograph my roots in the city.
I was back out at Foster Lake this week for two nights.
That first night, the lake was beautiful at dusk. The sun setting was warm along the horizon line, and there was a light mist on the surface of the water.
Not long after dark, I had a momentary panic, a little jolt of fear. Not far from my camp, I heard what sounded like a very large bird (there are geese and heron nesting around the lake) being killed, or least warding off a predator. It was a sound of power and vulnerability.
It made me feel vulnerable, alone on the lake after dark.
I told myself, to settle my nerves, that sometimes you need to fully embrace both beauty and chaos. At the time, these seemed like the real dominant forces of life.
In the morning, I was awakened by the loud honking of a small flock of geese. I crawled out of my tent to watch them fly down towards the water, and then skid to a stop on the surface.