It’s been awhile. Lured by a promise, I cancelled my Squarespace subscription and moved over to Adobe Portfolio. A disappointment. The price was right (free) but I didn’t have the control I wanted. And between Adobe and Squarespace, I couldn’t move my domain name over. Unaware of its self-renewal, I thought I had cancelled it with my Squarespace subscription. A billing statement told me otherwise. Thinking that, as I had the domain name, why not use it, and thinking why not find an inexpensive way to do so, I struggled with Drupal. I struggled with its installation on Windows 10. Building a site using the Danland theme, I then struggled getting it to work on the Hostinger server. (There was a .99/month sale.) Once it worked on the server, I struggled to get it to appear properly on mobile devices. I subscribed to a youtube channel with a large library of drupal tutorials. A lot of the code did not work for me, and when I took a closer look at the comments, I read how the instructor had given up and had moved to another content management system. I threw in the towel, reinstalled wordpress, and rebuilt the site in a short time. www.paulvreeland.com is back up. Drupal coders may want to argue. Don’t bother. I’m not a professional developer and I don’t have training in PHP and CSS.
Looking at the dates of my posts, you’d think I’ve been in absentia for more than a year. It’s true that I haven’t posted to this wordpress site for some time, but I have been posting to paulvreeland.com, hosted by another provider. I’ve decided not to renew my subscription with that provider, to move my photography to Adobe Portfolio (either paulvreeland.myportfolio.com or paulvreeland.com — whatever I can get to work, groan. Anyone else out there having problems?), and to start writing again at artsconflicted.wordpress.com.
Stay tuned. (Has anyone written travel-logs about their experiences in Absentia?)
… the title “In Search of Lost Time” gets to the heart of what the book’s about, because this very long novel by this very strange Frenchman is mostly a consideration of how time, as it were, slips through our fingers, how we are alive but most of the time not properly attuned to the world around us. In other words, we’re constantly wasting our time. — Alain de Botton, author of How Proust Can Change Your Life, interviewed on NPR (Time, Memory and Proust) December 2005.
It begins simply enough with two photographs—one of my grandfather, Nicholas Vreeland in army uniform, taken upon his arrival in France in 1918. He didn’t see any action, having arrived just in time for the armistice. Get off the boat, have your portrait taken, get on the boat and come back home. But this is not about him. It’s about two photographs and what to do with them. You see, we’re culling; we’re going through 43 Tupperware tubs of materials that have been neglected in a U-Haul storeroom for the past several years. We pay rent for that space, and now it comes to mind, how much more than money we pay for the objects of our neglect.
Alanna sorts clothing, utensils, small appliances that will go to the thrift stores, and stuff that will be given another life and put to use again. Stuff. That word, a vague catch-all. I’m tempted to apologize for it, but think it to be the most appropriate. Then there’s the other pile, other stuff that will be re-stored and reinstated as objects of neglect for another five to ten year sentence. Maybe less, it’s not going back to the U-Haul rental space; it may sit protected in a not-so-temporary-yet-not-so-permanent hiding place like behind a sofa. Out of sight may be out of mind, but five years is a stretch for exercising neglect in a living space.
The thought of a closet may have crossed your mind. Poor farmers built this house which, more than a century ago had but four rooms. A generation ago, an addition was tacked on. Now it’s a cottage with two closets. Both are stuffed.(That’s what you do with stuff, the noun. You can use stuff to satisfy stuff, the verb.) There’s a spare bedroom that’s stuffed as well. It’s a store room except when we have an overnight visitor. Then it’s a guest room for one willing to sleep amid filing cabinets, chests of drawers, and other dubious furniture with overpopulated and overcrowded surfaces.
Alanna sorts through the tubs and hands me the two photographs with a gesture that says, “Do something with these.” I remove the portrait of my grandfather from its frame and scan it. The frame goes in the trash. Perhaps I should give the photograph to the Winsted Historical Society in the town where I grew up, and where Nick lived most of his life. The society might be interested but I have reservations. It seems to be more devoted to displays of Revolutionary War memorabilia. There is also the Connecticut Historical Society. Historical societies and public archives are great places to which decision-making dilemmas—such as what-to-do-with Old—Nick can be passed. And I can hide the digital image on a hard drive, out of sight, out of mind. Until … I don’t want to go there.
It’s the second image that takes me down the rabbit-hole. In it, five men are seated around a table. I don’t know if they have been arranged with their heights taken into consideration. I don’t know if they have been posed. “Al, would you tilt your head a bit to the left? George, cigar in the right side of your mouth. Yes, that’s it.” Five men. The one on the left, Wilber Deming, sets himself apart, not by distance, but by appearance. He’s wearing a worker’s cap while the other four are sporting bowlers, or derbies as they were called in Winsted. Deming holds a long-stemmed pipe while the others have cigars clamped in their jaws.
A unique feature of this photograph is that the photographer is in the image. Wilber Merton Deming (1851-1916) was a well-know local photographer. Some of his images are in private collections, and some have been catalogued by the Connecticut Historical Society. On this day, Deming positioned himself, and someone else pressed the cable release activating the shutter on his camera. I know this because of the penciled notes on its back. Howard Merton Deming, Wilber’s son, wrote in August 1943:
Picture probably taken before 1893, perhaps by Will Ackley, brother-in-law to Deming. Photo gallery was on the third floor of wooden block opposite residence of E.P. Jones. Picture found among effects of Edward R. Holmes, died 1943.
I’m taken as much by the notes as I am by the image, and my interest in the complementarity of photography and texts is rekindled. (My earlier blogged essays on this subject include, “Work that Matters and the Interdependence of Photography and Texts”, “Photographs and Texts — Functional Codependency”, Photo Stories — a Follow Up to Functional Codependency” about The Old World and Other Stories [House of Anansi Press] in which Cary Fagan takes photographs as writing prompts for short stories, “Fine Art, Photography and Texts: Bieke Depoorter.” Those essays are no longer available on line.) I’m particularly taken by Howard’s description of Charlie Chase. He notes:
Son of D.B. Chase, Plumber. Brother to Nettie Chase, home florist Prospect St. Chase shop was where Colt’s Block is now. After D.B. died, Charlie was with Wills Norton as Chase & Norton. Charlie ran Steamer Carrie for some time in its later years.
Steamer Carrie? That takes me deeper down the rabbit hole. The fruit of time spent in subsequent research informs me that the “Carrie” was a passenger boat on Highland Lake, a pleasure resort in the days when the town was prosperous and had a future, long before the summers I spent swimming and fishing there..
Take a look at Charlie. I see an attitude there, perhaps a braggadocio that wants to conceal the risks he takes as an entrepreneur. See how he’s the only one with his arms folded over his chest somewhat defensively. I see a guarded man with a lot of energy—a gamesman, a scrapper.
Howard tacks two words to end his notes about Charlie—“Shot himself.” Oh? There are branches deeper down the rabbit hole. Howard may have had it wrong. Continue reading
Photographers of differing skill levels, from occasional snapshotters to internationally known professionals, stalk icons. That should contribute to the proof that there’s a least 1001 ways of seeing the same thing. The more difficult quest is not as much for adding another image to our collections, as it is to see, and to show, the subject from a different perspective, or, to use the cliché, in a new light. On Prince Edward Island the most frequently hunted icons include lighthouses, particularly the one at Covehead, sandstone cliffs and stone formations such as Elephant Rock and Teacup Rock. Some photographers can’t pass the fishing village of French River without stopping and pointing their camera out the window. Some get out and stand by the road’s edge. They go to the wharf at Malpeque because of the way the boats tie up there–bows pointing out towards their lenses. Province House is on the list, as are a multitude of farms and fields and lupins and heritage roads in autumn. And fox.
Back in 2009, when John Sylvester’s work was published in Wild Island, he didn’t see a fox every day and he had to be patient. Especially patient in waiting for the instant when the fox leapt—a predation technique naturalists call mousing. In 2009 that was an unusual photo defining another sort of ‘decisive moment.’
Last year Dylan Roberts entered the Annual PEI Photo Club Show with “Playful Leap”—a quick shot of a silver grey fox jumping by the cannons at Victoria Park. Dylan was more lucky than patient. Sally Cole quoted Dylan in her June 10, 2017 article in the Guardian, “`I managed to snap a picture,’ says the Charlottetown resident, who won first place in the nature category for ‘Playful Leap.’”
“`I was changing my (settings) when the fox started jumping, so I ended up shooting the picture from my chest. I knew that if I looked in the viewfinder I would never get it in time. I was hoping that I’d have one and, when I got home, there it was,’ says Roberts with a smile.”
Foxes are ubiquitous on the Island now. And so are images of them. Hundreds are posted on social media by folks with fox dens under their garden sheds. When the kits are born in the spring, the number of images posted increases seemingly by a factor of 10. I know of one photographer who has given his backyard foxes names and who documents their lives like an unbridled grandparent. The animals are so ubiquitous that Riverview, New Brunswick, nature photographer Brittany Crossman comes here to shoot them. The CBC news captured the truth of the matter in the lead to its article: “Friendly P.E.I. foxes featured on National Geographic site — New Brunswick photographer finds Island foxes less shy and easier to photograph” (Shane Ross, CBC News Posted: Jan 01, 2017) The problems of climate change exist elsewhere, while nature is genial on the gentle Island.
Foxes have become so commonplace, there’s no need to hunt them. My wife and I walk the trails at Robinsons Island several times each week. This summer, two young foxes were often seen lazing about the parking lot—a parking lot usually crowded with vehicles coming and going carrying nature lovers and tourists who were taking advantage of Canada 150 free park passes. I suspect that some of the visitors fed the foxes because the foxes became nuisances. They followed the hikers. Then the Parks Canada vans and trucks were often seen in the parking lot with the uniformed folks scratching their heads.
“What are you going to do about them?” I asked one staffer.
“We’re going to get rid of them,” he said.
“How?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. Had he been reluctant to tell me an ugly truth? Or was he without an answer?
Well, they started by putting up a sandwich board warning us in both official languages not to feed the wildlife. It sported a picture of a fox in case we needed a hint. A week or so later, the signage increased. Posters were taped to the garbage bin and tacked to the posts. It wasn’t unusual to see lots of people toting cameras, crouched in front of the foxes in the parking lot. The animals seemed to have learned how to pose.
I thought about writing speculative fiction about Parks Canada deploying “tame” foxes in a pilot study to increase tourist traffic. One of the tamed foxes was named Peppie. He was the extravert—a real poser. His sister was a tad more camera shy. So much so, she didn’t earn a nickname.
My article would have quoted animal handler, Jamie Earnscliff, a UPEI biology graduate and former employee of the provincial government when the department was known as Fish and Wildlife. But Jamie said that because this was a pilot study, he really couldn’t say anything publicly.
The CBC ran an article in which Paul Giroux warned the public about feeding the foxes. “`They need to be respected’: Parks Canada reminds visitors not to feed animals–Reports of an aggressive fox prompted the reminder” (CBC News, August 5, 2017) My article would have included what another staffer whose name must be withheld said off-the-record about the experiment and how it might be extended to other national parks. “Our numbers are definitely up,” she said. “We’ve never seen traffic like this before in Brackley. The trouble is we don’t know how much of it is due to open park passes this year, or the renovations made to the trail system here at Robinsons Island, or the pilot study with the foxes.” She shrugged her shoulders. “There are just too many variables,” she continued. “Four, if you factor in the weather, but that’s a stretch.”
When I pressed her about expansion of the experiment, she said possibilities existed for introducing tamed foxes at Cavendish West and Greenwich. “What about other animals?” I asked.
“You mean the pet bears at Banff? You didn’t hear anything about that from me.” She gave me a stare, then smiled. “They’d have to be black bears. Grizzlies are too unpredictable, too dangerous. And the costs. Forget it.”
“But it’s on the books.” I said hoping for confirmation.
She shook her head.“You didn’t hear nothin’.”
“So, if Parks Canada sees record numbers, we shouldn’t be surprised to see prices of tickets and passes go up next year.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were doubled,” but don’t quote me on that. Don’t quote me on anything.” She gave me a frown and a pause long enough to let the frown register. “Why doesn’t anyone ask about the work we’re doing with the forests here? Haven’t they seen the cutting and the clearing and the planting? We’re bringing back the original Acadian forest.”
“You mean like the MacPhail Woods Project that started 20 years ago?” I realized my mistake as soon as the words were out of my mouth—words that didn’t make her any happier.
“Shit. I shouldn’t be talkin’ to you at all. We’re done.”
As I said, I’d have to say my piece was speculative fiction. A week later, a much bigger sign went up. I honestly don’t know if things got out of hand, or if this was phase three of the study. Some days the lot was so full, people were parked along both sides of the road along the cause way.
Back in the days when John Sylvester was rewarded for his patience, I had wanted to take a decent image of an Island Red Fox, but I’m not an icon-stalker. Let the opportunities come to me. But it was rare then that I saw a fox, and rarer still when I had a camera with me when I saw the animal. The foxes that did present themselves were wary and skittish. They hadn’t learned to pose and they didn’t stick around. As a photographer, you had to be patient and quick, and I was neither. I have to confess, I had wanted to take that different image, that different point of view to contribute to an expanding vision and countless ways of seeing the animal. I had wanted to capture an image of a fox as strong as the one imprinted on my memory one pre-Sylvester winter.
A clear, blue-sky day in January or February when the snow-covered fields seemed to radiate light. We were living in Darnley near the north shore in an old two-story farmhouse. The only upstairs window facing north was in my son’s bedroom. It was the only window in the house from which we could see the ocean. In the early afternoon, I went upstairs and happened to look out. I saw a large red fox, coming down slowly along the fence and the tree line, then approach the field beside the house. Blue sky above the thin, deeper blue line of the ocean, a red fox against pristine snow. The image framed by the window was stunning in the simplicity of its composition. Time slowed long enough to register as a moment. I was alone, as I had to be, because moments like this don’t happen when you’re not alone. How much does the strength of such a moment, such a vision, lie in the fact that it is unshareable, unlike a painting or a photograph.
Now, when fox photos are as common as construction sites and roadway flagmen in July, I’m not so interested. Pedestrian should replace ubiquitous as the descriptor. So what does it mean when I drive out to Robinsons Island, park in the lot, and there’s Peppie the problem fox posing in front of the car? What does it mean when the fox is in my face? I’ve learned to carry a camera most of the time, and there was only one thing preventing me from shooting Peppie from the driver’s seat. Dirt on the windshield. I grabbed the camera and got out of the car. Peppie didn’t move. I was alone, as I had to be. This is so not right, I thought to myself. “Hurry up,” Peppie seemed to say. “Because, you’re so boring, I’m going to lie down and go to sleep.”
I took a shot. Definitely not an iconic image; Tourism PEI wouldn’t want it. Think of it as a “revenge” image. A failed revenge image. What’s become of nature conservation? This is so not right. Like setting up beach umbrellas in times of tsunamis.
I remember a story I’d heard from the wife of a moose hunter. Every fall her husband, Todd and three of his buddies went to a hunting lodge in Newfoundland. They spent big bucks to an outfitter to get in by float plane. The idea was that they’d have five days to hunt, which was really five days of guy-time together in the woods. They wanted to bag a moose, but the animal was really an excuse to take time off, to get away and to enjoy each other’s company. One year they invited Jimmy. Jimmy wasn’t an experienced hunter and he’d probably never held a high-powered rifle before. Jimmy was also a very early riser. They flew in to the lodge site, carried in their gear and supplies, settled in and Jimmy was given rudimentary instruction in the handling of a bolt-action 30-06. The next morning Jimmy was the first one up, and as the mist was rising from the surface of the lake, he saw the moose through the picture window. If the lodge could have been said to have had a front lawn, that’s where the moose was standing. Less than 15 meters from the front porch. Jimmy grabbed a rifle, checked to make sure a cartridge was in the chamber, just as he had been taught, stepped out onto the porch and shot the moose. The shot woke the others who scrambled out of their beds. They came down and looked out at the dead animal, steam now rising from the carcass. “Jeezus, Jimmy,” said one of them. “Fuck,” said another. “What,” said Jimmy, rubbing his shoulder. “Does this mean the holiday is over? Shit, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Is the holiday over? Is that the meaning of the fox? One night Peppie the Problem Fox came to me in a dream—the kind of dream that replays itself over and over as though it’s trying to get it right and push on through to resolution—a borderline nightmare. The first time Peppie spoke, he said, “People have lost their totems.” He spoke without words being uttered—a fox language that surrounded the animal and emanated from it, like an energy. During another recycling of the dream, he said, “Who are you to call me the problem?”
Summer is officially over and the number of park visitors is declining. With intimations of cold weather, there are times when the parking lot at Robinsons Island is empty. And Peppie is not always to be seen. Yesterday, as I returned to the lot having completed my walk, I saw him sitting on the road at the entrance. An approaching SUV had stopped beside him, and the driver had lowered his window and was leaning out taking photos of the animal with his phone. Peppie was sitting on my side of the yellow line and fortunately there was enough room for me to drive around him. He looked at the driver of the SUV, and then he looked at me. He wasn’t about to move.
Last night he returned in a dream and in fox language he said, “It’s time to wake up. I’m here. People notice but they’re not noticing. They see but they don’t see. Not like in the time of the ancestors.” As far as I can recall it, this dream was not cyclical, just a fragment among a collection of seemingly unrelated images from elsewhere. He returned. “Don’t you think it’s time to wake up?”
6 am. It was, and I did. But I don’t think that’s what Peppie meant.
It’s been awhile since I posted to ArtsConflicted. Several months ago I moved the photography, and blogging about photography, over to paulvreeland.com. Recently I’ve been thinking of coming back to this page. And now I have the excuse–almost the perfect excuse. I’d like to share the writing of Louise Burley, particularly as she blogs Meanderings of an Amateur PEI Herbalist. Her latest post, “Feed Me, Seymour!” https://amateurherbalistblog.wordpress.com/2017/10/02/feed-me-seymour/ is so skillfully articulated; yeah, I wish I could write like that. Read it. I think you’ll want more.
You can find my latest blog and a collection of my images at www.paulvreeland.com
Four boulders blocking access to a logging road. Having visited my mother in Connecticut, we were driving through forests of Maine when I saw the four boulders and I thought, now, there’s a place to hide a body. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to tell you this: the month was October and earlier my daughter had lent me No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty. Subtitle: A Low-stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days. The book appealed to me because I had written thousands of words comprising the beginnings of three novels. My problem was that my interest and energy fizzled and my books were orphans without proper endings.
You need to know this as well: Chris Baty is the founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Each year hundreds of thousands of would-be novelists sign up committing themselves to the task of generating at least 50,000 words and a story with a beginning, middle and an end within the month of November. (In 2014 more than 325,000 people registered, and over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been published.) Successful NaNoWriMo authors don’t start writing before November 1st, and verify a word count of at least 50,000 by November 30th. I had read the Baty’s book and I had gone online and registered with NaNoWriMo. We were driving through the state of Maine and I was stressed. It was the last week of October and I didn’t know what I was going to write about. Didn’t have a clue, until I saw the four boulders. Later we stopped at Wal-Mart in Calais before crossing the border. I sat in the car while Alanna went in and I heard the voice of a character. And then another. I wrote down their words in a memo pad I keep in my shirt pocket. Now I had something with which to begin.
On November 1st I awoke at 5 a.m. got up, made coffee, opened my laptop on the kitchen table and for the next 5 hours I typed. Alanna was very supportive enabling me to free myself of daily commitments, and each day I rose before dawn breakfasting with my keyboard averaging more than 4000 words a day. I was exhausted by noon each day, and I completed my 50,000 plus draft, titled Accidental Accomplice, for lack of a better title, on November 11—a novel in 10 days.
That was 2013. I blogged “A Novel in Ten Days: Bragging Rights & Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 2013,” https://artsconflicted.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/a-novel-in-ten-days-bragging-rights-lessons-learned-from-nanowrimo-2013/ in which I wrote:
Experience tells me that for every hour of generative writing, I need to spend four in editing. Having drafted my NaNoWriMo novel in ten days, I will let it sleep awhile. And when I pick it up again, I will have to stock up on coffee beans and wood for the stove and be prepared to retreat into its wilderness for forty days.
That’s a laugh. The novel slept in the proverbial desk drawer for a year, then, in 2015 I started to edit. By no means a 40 day job, it’s taken more than a year. This was the real work. The characters cried out for development, the timeline was tangled and confused and typographical errors and inconsistencies needed to be rooted out. I hired editors and invited the members of my writers’ group to read the manuscript.
Here are the lessons learned from editing a NaNoWriMo novel.
# 1. The draft was written using a word processor. I saved each day’s work with different file names. When I began to edit, I pulled all the smaller files into one large file that I found difficult to work with it, especially since my time line was complicated. I purchased Scrivener, a product that enhanced my productivity substantially. For a free trial try https://www.literatureandlatte.com/ The Scrivener folks write on their web page:
Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.
I found that to be true. It enabled me to break up my smaller files into manageable scenes and to manipulate and move them so as to straighten out my time-lines. Furthermore I could make notations about scene. I had tried other products, but Scrivener, while not perfect, carries my endorsement.
Later, I decided to layout my novel myself. Scrivener was no help here, and although I knew I could do the job with Word, I opted for Adobe’s InDesign. (http://www.adobe.com/products/indesign.html) Self-publishing a novel is a three step procedure: generating the draft, editing the draft, and laying out the finished product. My experience informs me that there is no software that adequately meets all the start-to-finish needs.
# 2. The editors I hired read my manuscript three times, each with a different focus. They raised a multiplicity of questions. What helped them, and me, was the development of a personal style sheet. The style sheet answered questions such as: Was I going to use American or Canadian spellings? How do I treat the titles of songs, movies, and pieces of art? There is more than one school of comma placement. Which did I belong to? Where should I use em dashes and where should I use ellipses? The answers to these questions enabled me to be consistent and enabled the editors to move on to more weightier recommendations. The personal style sheet put us all on the same page.
# 3. I’ll Tell You One Thing’s timeline was a particular challenge and while Scrivener helped me to sort it out, I needed another timeline document. I used Wendy Clark’s spreadsheet template (http://wendyswritingnow.blogspot.ca/2012/12/wendys-story-timeline-here-it-is.html) and eventually I used MSWord to date-stamp scenes and events. Like the personal style sheet, this document helped me as much as it helped my editors.
#4 I uploaded the pdf generated by InDesign to Createspace (owned by Amazon) on March 1st. I’d like to say there is another lesson learned here, but I can’t put that in past tense. I’m still learning about this aspect of marketing and distribution. One thing I can say is that while I had hoped to print the book in Canada, Amazon produces the books in the US and shipping costs to Canada need to be considered. Perhaps there will be another blog posting about it.