Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Trees. Dog day afternoon.

My Trees of My City series is about dormancy, death and decay. I hike around a city filming, photographing and writing about trees and the cycle of demise and regeneration. Follow my meanderings on this geotagged satellite map with embedded video, images and text.

After a week of rain, the sun is shining cheerfully through a partly cloudy sky. But my emotions are mixed as I hike a scant mile from my home to a nearby hilltop stand of maples.

Today I'm backpacking my HD filmmaker's camera, a DSLR, the HDSLR, the digital audio recorder, a tripod, extra batteries and assorted other paraphernalia.

I'd guess I'm schlepping about 50 lbs.

The weight isn't the problem. I am burdened with the thought that I look like a homeless nut job -- laden down with backpack, shoulder bag and tripod as my neighbors flash by in their SUV's, glancing at me with suspicion, derision or sympathy. "Poor bugger must not have wheels," I imagine them thinking.

But it's important for me to walk to these locations. If I drive to a site and then unload my gear, I tend to miss myriad photographic opportunities along the way. Also, hiking -- as opposed to motoring -- allows me to see slowly enough to notice small, exquisite moments, such as a clump of brightly colored fungus at the base of a rotting tree. Oh yeah, baby.

Furthermore, the effort required to make my way on foot to a location is roughly equivalent to the level of intention I will bring to the picture-taking.

So, I labor under 50 pounds of gear, odd glances from the neighbors, and my own rising expectations.

I get to what I call Albemarle Wood, scale a short hill, pass a grotesquely decomposing stump and almost literally stumble over the bizarre sight captured here in StaDium -- a spectacular case of multi-level trunk ring decomposition. Up close, it reminds me of, well, a section of seats at a sports arena. The delicate, paper-like leaves of ring remnants contrast with the almost-decayed-to-dirt layers in between.

About 100 yards away I see what looks like the right wings of two birds who have violently embedded their bodies into this trunk. WoodWings presents their exposed pinions, forever frozen in mid-flight at the moment of impact.

Using a macro setting, I threw the background out of focus to emphasize the frenzied madness of that final suicidal charge. What drove these magnificent fliers to such a catastrophic end?

Reeling back from this sight, the peaceful perspective of DiJon relaxes my eyes. Why Dijon? All I can tell you is that this image makes me think of the French countryside.

Lost in reverie, humming "La Vie En Rose" under my breath, I suddenly become aware of a presence. I turn to see a large, grey, perfectly coiffed Standard Poodle eyeing me with a "what the heck are you doing with MY tree" look.

"Beignet," which is French for fried dough, starts barking. His owner, a friendly German fellow, comes up quickly, shushing Beignet and apologizing to me, his eyes grazing over the small mountain of electronic gear I have transported to the woods.

I start to explain, but he signals that it's not really important. "Isn't it a beautiful day!!," he jovially announces. I break into a broad smile. "Yes, it is. Am I messing with Beignet's tree?" "No my friend. You are messing with his Forest!" We both guffaw.

Beignet  bounds off, the jolly German yodeling behind him. Okay, he wasn't yodeling. But the dude was just so happy that I grin and start stereotyping for all I'm worth.

I go back to setting up the big HD motion picture camera, noticing KryPton along the way. Again, this is an example of layered decay. It reminds me of the depiction of the destruction of the planet Krypton in Christopher Reeve's first (and best) Superman movie.

Again I feel a presence. Looking up, I find myself nose-to-nose with what appears to be a miniature (2 ft tall) Irish Wolfhound. No name, no bark. He is accompanied by a tall Terrier-ish looking companion. The owner soon follows. Turns out we are acquaintances. Pat is a neighbor and a fellow cameraman. We chat amiably about new media stuff. The Hound is actually a greyhound/wolfhound mix. That accounts for the short stature plus the noble bearing. Hmmm. Sounds like my Dad.

On the way home,  with two blocks to go, I see a third man with a dog. Dog day afternoon, indeed. The guy is friendly. Walking, we exchange hellos. I put my hand out to pet his cute little mutt. In a flash, she bites me. Yep. That's right. Friendly Guy's dog bites me on the hand. Luckily I have a thickish leather glove on.

I feel sorry for the owner, who is perplexed and very upset. "Are you alright?" he asks with genuine embarrassment. "Uh, sure, no problem." I respond.  I'm across the street from my house. "Have a nice day," I say, crossing the street. The poor guy looks like he wants to crawl into a hole.

Note to self:  Never assume a dog is friendly because her owner is. Keep your eyes on the dog, dodo.

But it's too nice out to be ticked off. The bite didn't break the skin and I consider myself lucky to have met three cool neighbors on such a beautiful day. ###

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