It’s been a hard year. We’ve lost a number of family members and dear friends. Had job changes. Experienced new aches and pains. Dealt with little annoyances like losing an iPad and a coat (how does that happen?? Are our minds slipping?!) And we’ve suffered through continuing bouts of ennui and this great restlessness. A combination of things that leaves our hearts hurting, our thoughts scattered and worried, our confidence tested, and our energy exhausted.
We wonder, how many more Christmases will we have? How many more summers? How many more times will I get to hug this person–or hear that story again–or ask those questions? How many more times can I say “next time, we’ll do that” –before there is no “next time”? So, this Christmas, when I went home to Nashville to see my Mom and Dad, I also made plans to see some extended family–people I love, and used to spend more time with, but who I don’t have a lot of chances to see on quick visits home from Chicago. It was good. We shared laughter, stories, meals. I need more of this. And I have made a promise to myself to do more of it in 2015, and make it count.
I also spent a little time driving around Nashville…visiting some places I love…places that are scratched into my memory. Former homes, old neighborhoods, favorite streets and parks. Maybe I only spent a little time there–or maybe a lot. But these places remain in my heart. And while I can see them –any day– when I close my eyes, I wanted to touch them again. It was good. This too, I need more of.
Things change. Buildings get knocked down. Trees get cut down. We change. People move in and out of our lives. It hurts sometimes. And while we can’t always see them anymore, they live on in our memories. And there is this magical kind of peace and grace in remembering those memories, and visiting those old places.
So, here’s to peace, and to a new year spent making good memories. Happy New Year!
Early one morning, two days after Thanksgiving, my best friend and I met to go on a photo jaunt. When I’m home, it’s a tradition for us to meet early in the morning when the sun is coming and the mist is still fogging over the roads, and head off into the wilds of Tennessee. We are Nashville-raised girls–so these old roads, falling down barns, abandoned buildings, lonely graveyards and remote train tracks draw us to them like birds to a nest. We drive for a while, jabbering about our lives, and stopping every few miles for some shots of something that speaks to us. Later, we stop in some little diner for a late breakfast before hightailing it back to town. These scenes, these drives, these little traditions remind me of what matters in life….family and friends, and roads to be traveled.
This post is all about the dogs at The Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary. Yeah, yeah, I know that my project is about the dog rescue organizations and the people who run them…but I find all the dogs and puppies so distracting! All those personalities, those smiling faces, and all the wagging tails and busy feet–it’s too much for me sometimes and I only want to sit among them and play. So, today, it is all about the dogs…and maybe a horse too. I hope you enjoy the characters. Hug a dog today…and everyday!
And please — Volunteer. Donate. Foster. Adopt a shelter dog.
In March, I spent some time at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary, a rescue located on 100+ acres outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Founder and Director, Natalie Owings cares for, and lives among, over 200 animals–dogs, cats, rabbits, wedding doves, horses, chickens, guinea pigs, ducks, llamas, alpacas, goats…. If any animal in the area needs a home, a meal, and some compassion, this is the place.
For the abused, neglected, sick or starving animals who have found safe haven here, this can only seem like heaven. Many of the animals are rescued from shelters in the area. And will stay here until adopted or transported to another state for adoption. Some may live out their days here.
About 30 dogs have the run of the Giant Doghouse and surrounding grounds. While they are fenced out of spaces for some of the other animals in order to keep the peace, they have ample selection of beds (inside, outside, in the sun, in the shade) and can help themselves to kibble anytime they are hungry. There are no cages, no leashes… and no fights. Every creature here is loved, respected, and safe …and they know it.
Please take a minute to visit the website: http://www.animal-sanctuary.org/
During the last 3 years I’ve been asked that question thousands of times and in a hundred different ways: What is the appeal of Cuba? What do you see in it? What do you do there? Why this absorption, this obsession? Truth is, I’m not sure I really know why I go. I just know that I have to return.
Before I went the first time, I read Carlos Eire’s “Waiting for Snow in Havana” and was enthralled by his description of Havana’s radiance… the turquoise water, the light, the sunsets. But one part of his childhood description stuck with me–and came rushing back almost word-for-word the first night I arrived in Cuba–the part where he describes the car nearly tipping over as his dad drives through the crashing waves along the Malecón: “That was the beauty of it, and the horror. So much freedom, so little freedom. Freedom to be reckless, but no genuine freedom from woe. Plenty of thrills, and an overabundance of risks, large and small. But so little margin for error, and so few safety nets.”
So, what does that have to do with why do I go? Why have I been six times in the last 3 years? Why do I already want to return?
Cuba seems to call to me…beckoning things that I’ve forgotten, lost or restrained. Adventure. Audacity. Creativity. Purpose. There, I feel an openness and confidence that seems compounded and exquisite.
I’ve tried to explain why I go to Cuba with photos, and with stories of what I’ve seen and done there. It’s hard to define, to draw a picture that helps a curious person understand…How can I explain the light of the sun and the shade, or the smell of the humidity, or the raw elegance in the decay. How do I explain hearing in my Cuban friends’ stories the vast hope and repeated frustrations as Cuba’s many reforms zig, zag and snowball? How can I explain how my skin tingles from partaking in the random little bits of risk in Cuba, or from seeing the creative resourcefulness of their fixes for things broken or not available?
Maybe I can never really explain my enchantment with Cuba because I don’t yet understand it well enough myself. Or maybe because I don’t understand myself…what draws me to these raw edges. The pattern is not yet revealed. I do know that I will keep on going back…witnessing the changes–both in Cuba and in me.
Time and time again, I miss Cuba. Really miss it, with an ache, with a feeling that I should be there right now, among the raw beauty, the surprising quirks, and the magnificent people with such life and humor and hope. Some people would say “time stands still in Cuba”. It does not. It moves at a speed and in directions all it’s own. There’s no explaining that with logic or words. Nor even with photos. I was sleepless there, trying to pin down all the little moments, the tiny things that remind me, “you’re in a special special place in time…remember everything!”
Three quiet October days in Telluride. The place holds a special place in my heart.
I first visited Telluride on a media trip in 1999, just a couple of weeks after my Grandmother passed away. I was tired. My heart hurt from crying. And I ached to see her again, to talk to her some more…just a little more. While the rest of the group skied, I spent time in solitude…staring at the mountains. And in those moments, I found a peace that comforts me to this day.
So, when I realized that I’d be within a 6 hour drive of Telluride just a few days before my birthday, I decided to return.
The “6 hour drive” from Santa Fe turned into an 8 hour drive because I stopped so many times to admire the wide open spaces and the long winding roads through the pueblos and reservations of New Mexico .
I arrived in Mountain Village just before dark, threw my stuff in the room, and took the first of about a dozen gondola rides up and over the mountain into beautiful little Telluride.
I would spend only 3 nights there–waiting for the sun to rise and set on the mountain top, soaking up the sun on the streets of Telluride or my sweet little balcony, walking the side streets and trails with my camera, looking for the even numbered magpies, sketching and writing in the coffee shops, and savoring a little time in the spa. Good days.
On my birthday, I was on the first gondola to the mountain top. I walked across the ridge waiting for the sunrise, my boots crunching the frosted grass. Three elk stopped about 50 feet in front of me. I could see their breath clouds. After a silent few minutes of mutual acknowledgement, they returned to grazing and I to walking. I heard their antlers tapping together a few minutes later and turned to see two of them playing like puppies on the mountain side. Just after sunrise, I called my mother and father from the mountain top. I talked to several friends that day, had a massage, enjoyed some home-made ice cream and had a perfect little day. And as I went back over the mountain the final time that evening in the quiet dark of my own gondola, I whispered a few things to my precious grandmother.
I drove out of Telluride in the still pitch black morning…at one point a family of deer ran on the windy road alongside my car. Ah, Telluride…I’ll be back!
I’m am woefully behind in posting some of the things I’ve been working on these past six weeks. But I can’t be too sorry as it has been an extraordinary time filled with little journeys. Two weeks ago today, I returned from my first visit to my 32nd state, Washington. Things that impressed me?
The low, dense fog that covered the city when we landed. I thought it was a cloud. But upon clearing it, we were seconds from the runway.
The neon in the Public Market!
The gum wall in an artsy/gummy alley. How exactly does this kind of thing get started and “go viral”?
The Starbucks mother-ship…for my coffee-like blood, this was like mecca! Put this coffee with one of the chocolate croissants from Le Panier and a potato and cheese pastry from Piroshky Piroshky Bakery, and a bite of fresh made cheese from Beecher’s…and well, I could have stayed there all day.
The bar called Canon. Beautiful. Extraordinary light and atmosphere.
And last but not least? Where was that mountain?! The fog was thick for 3 days. I told friends that the only way I could possibly see that mountain was if I was standing on it. On the flight back home…I thought I had missed it, had sat on the wrong side of the plane…but lucky me! The plane did a U-turn and as soon as the wings leveled off…there it was! Mt. Rainier…massive, majestic!
I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from “the career” to focus on my photography…this week a series of short workshops, seminars and presentations by Filter Photography Festival and next week an intensive workshop with National Geographic photographer, Sam Abell, in Santa Fe.
At the mid-point of Filter’s 4 days, here are the things sticking in my head:
1) Filter is about ART. Photography as ART. It’s eye-opening to see the constructed projects that may begin with photos (the artists’ or someone elses’) but certainly doesn’t end with the photograph. For some, there’s washing out bits with bleach, or putting the photo onto plastic and warping it, or cutting precise little holes in exact spots to add meaning. It’s also photography with WORDS. The metaphors explained. Artist Statements to bring the viewer along…how did the idea happen? what’s the process? what does it mean? what to see? what thoughts should ride along with the photo when you view it?
2) The PRINTs. LARGE prints. On RICH papers like bamboo, kozo or deckled rag. Portfolios brought in boxes and displayed on tables. Eric Joseph from Freestyle pointed out that when we were in the darkroom years ago, “the paper mattered.” It was an important decision in the darkroom. We had our favorites for their warmth or texture, or cool smoothness….Ilford, Oriental… But somehow with digital printing, paper was forgotten. He was at Filter to remind us, to show us…to let us feel and see the differences…(and yeah, to sell us papers). It worked. I’m convinced.
3) Kelli Connell’s 23 questions for portraiture. A technique to question yourself…quickly and periodically…to see themes and threads through which you view the world, and photograph from. Wow. More on this later.
4) Debbie Fleming Caffery’s sweet and sassy southern voice. I can hear it still. Her workshop was to be on sustaining long term projects, but instead turned out to be more of a portfolio review. I showed up with glossy and puny Walgreens prints expecting to use them only to give an idea of my work…my project that needs sustaining…and articulation. I felt like I was a day late and a dollar short. Regardless, I learned a lot from listening to the dialogue of the others…the Artists. For example, making selections to tie themes or colors or moods together. The self-published books, and again the papers and the printing processes. The possible sources for more knowledge, more photos, more words (or videos) to add to projects. And the outlets…ideas for my big question of “What do I DO with the projects?”
The overwhelming response…that I’m hearing across Filter Photo Festival: GET YOUR WORK OUT THERE. Enter contests, print large and show in festival portfolio reviews, be active in social media, blog, and JUST DO IT. Make your own exhibits. Be tenacious. Make connections. And keep on shooting…keep on creating.
Heading out for Day 3. But first, a dawn walk with Charlie on this gorgeous Fall morning. Let the day begin.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about going with Judy early one morning to transport 10 rescued dogs on a 60 mile segment of their journey to Minneapolis. A rescue mission that felt good…happy…exciting. I had held a parvo-surviving puppy. She was lucky to be alive. Lucky to be out of the shelter on that sunny day and lucky enough to be healthy and on her way to a rescue. I felt her little heart beating, felt her tiny breath–felt her sigh as she gave in to a few minutes of sleep. I was happy and full of hope holding that little dog…so, so full of hope.
Later that day, after the transport was complete, we went to animal control…a place where hope is hard to feel. This is the place where almost half the dogs who walk in never come out alive*. This is the place where so many people who love animals have the sad job of collecting unwanted, lost or abused dogs and cats. This is the place where volunteer doctors and staff work tirelessly to save animals, and yet have to euthanize many healthy and treatable animals simply because there is no more room. This is also the place where rescuers go to begin their work, where saving a dog begins. They identify dogs for rescue, posting and sharing snapshots to network the many homeless faces, hoping that just maybe someone somewhere will fall in love and they can pull a dog out of there. Rescuers go to Animal Control often, especially when they know their fosters have room to squeeze in just one more.
The place is a maze of “pavilions”, rooms separating the animals into those ready for adoption, those being held as “evidence” for court cases, those in medical care, or those simply doing their time in hopes that someone will come looking for them before their 5 days are up. There are no outside windows in these rooms full of cages. The rooms can be loud with echos of barking, crying dogs. Or the rooms can be silent…like the air has been sucked out of the place, like dementors have been there.
Today, we were there to look for a couple of dogs that had been posted online for potential rescue, to temperament test another. I followed Judy and her scrap of paper with the cage numbers. All those sad eyes on us. All the life behind those bars. Some of the dogs desperate for you to slow down, to look, to touch, to acknowledge that they are alive. Other dogs cowered in the cages, terrified, trembling, lost and confused, and maybe broken forever. These dogs seemed not to want anyone to look at them, to see them, matted and dirty, shrinking into the bright orange tile and concrete corners.
It is hard to witness. I tried to concentrate on photographing Judy with the dogs, on learning what she was looking for when she studied their paperwork. I followed her–her golden ponytail, her scrap of paper with the cage numbers, her voice. And I watched her…I watched her muster her spirit, her smile, her hope in this hard place. I watched her giving hope to each of those shelter dogs. “Are you ok?” she asked each of them with a smile. “Are you ok?” Sometimes it was a question. Sometimes it was a statement, willing them to be ok when options looked bleak. Whatever it was, even if she spent only a second with each soul–it mattered. That little heartbeat of a moment, a smile, a kind voice…It means everything…to the dogs…and to Judy.
It is a cruelly hard job for animal lovers to work in this place, to remain hopeful, to not give up at the sheer magnitude and the never ending streams of needy faces. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the dogs.
* Most current (2011) Asilomar Accords records from CACC: “Jan 1 holding 863 dogs. Thru 2011: Took in 11,115 dogs. Adopted out 943, Transferred out to rescues/other organizations 3,407, Returned to owner 1,355. Euthanized/Died in care: 5,477. Dec 31 holding 793 dogs.” (corrected math on records shows 796 dogs remaining.) Please see www.asilomaraccords.org for more information on shelters in your area.
I’ve had Cuba on my mind a lot lately. Such a beautiful, colorful, extraordinary place. I spent some time today walking through my photos. Here are a few that spoke to me this afternoon… I was in a mood to edit them in black and white…what do you think?
Ever wonder what happens with the dogs saved by rescue groups? Transporting rescue dogs gives many a better chance of adoption or foster in a new state. Almost every weekend, hundreds of rescuers move these precious souls miles in 1-2 hour bits of travel. It’s an incredible network, and a feat of organization and determination, and sheer love for the dogs.
Last Saturday, I rode on a dog transport with Judy, picking up 10 dogs in Merrillville, Indiana and driving them to Itasca, Illinois. This was just one leg of their 8-9 hour journey from Indianapolis to Minneapolis.
I arrived at Judy’s just after 7 a.m. as she was configuring the van with her crates and cages. Like a Tetris puzzle, she arranged the crates to maximize the space and to make sure there would be enough separation for the parvo survivors we would soon meet. There was a smell of fresh laundry–bleach maybe–from the clean padding, beds, and towels lining the cages. Some towels were strategically placed on top of the cages under the air vents, so no dog would get blasted with the AC. Behind the driver’s seat was a bag of slip-leads and collars, some towels, baggies, water dishes and water.
We had a list of the passengers to expect…
1. Shelby – Poodle-x, 9y F(S), 30 lb.
2. Goofy – Pomeranian, M(N), 5 lb.
3. Maltese – F, 8 lb.
4. Juno – Terrier, F(S), 30 lb.
5. BeaglePup – 10 weeks
6. Lil Bit & Skittles – APBT puppies, 8 lbs. each
7. Frenchie – 10 weeks
8. Dexter – 4 months
9. Puppy – 8 weeks. WILL TRAVEL IN OWN CRATE
The list also told us the that these dogs were traveling with health certificates, collars and that all were up-to-date on shots. There was an updated e:mail with more specifics on the meeting places for each of the 7 legs of the journey and who would be receiving the dogs upon arrival in Minneapolis. We pulled out of Judy’s driveway around 7:20 a.m. with the crates, the list and the sunshine, headed to meeting place #1 in Merrillville, Indiana.
We arrived a little early to the parking lot where we’d make the transfer from one car to another. A text let us know that Tara and Gwen were 10 minutes away, coming in 2 cars from Indianapolis. While we waited, Judy reminded me to be careful not to touch another dog after touching a parvo-survivor puppy. The parvo-surviving pups would also have to take their potty breaks in a different place.
And then, they arrived! Two cars pulled up, on either side of Judy’s van. Introductions, hugs and brief chatter as we jumped out to make ready for the transfer. I think I laughed and cried at the same time as Gwen’s hatchback opened to reveal a carload full of dogs looking back at me. The next 30 minutes was a whirlwind…get the dogs out, walked, watered and then situated in Judy’s crates and car.
After all the walks, after all the crate moves, Judy and I got back in the car with our passengers. Lucky, lucky me–I got to ride with Jema in my lap! This little girl was recently spayed, and a parvo-survivor. She tried so hard not to sleep…she wagged her tail and smiled at Judy, at me, at the dogs in the back, at the scenery out the window and for a few minutes chewed on my hair. And those of you who know me, know that I was in heaven holding this little happy and curious girl with her sweet puppy smell. Everyone settled in. Some stared out the window–and I wondered what they were thinking, their lives so changed. Some slept peacefully, despite the one who cried and voiced her opinion about a few things.
We arrived in Itasca to meet the next 2 cars who would take these babies on to Rockford, Illinois. Once again, walks, water and a transfer of crates and cars.
It was only in the last few minutes that I realized how bittersweet transporting days were, as we petted and hugged these lucky dogs one last time. Saying our goodbyes, and wishing them safety on today’s journey and much love and happiness for the rest of their lives.
Transporting rescue dogs, from August 3, 2013.
Want to know more? Check out these websites for dog transports–and donate, volunteer, foster or adopt–anything and everything helps:
By the way, I had planned to write a little more about Avery, the beautiful pup who had 17 broken bones. Shortly after I met her, she had her last two casts removed. I plan to see her again soon and get some additional photographs and details. So, more to come. Thanks for your patience!