Marcy climbed Marcy: She was a beast

17 Marcy and Randy selfie on Mt. Marcy

“And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden”
— Crosby, Stills & Nash (Joni Mitchell)

Trip report for Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York state, elevation 5,344 feet (climb of 3,121 feet), Aug. 21-23, 2016

  • Day 1: 3.5 miles from the Garden parking lot to Johns Brook Lodge
  • Day 2: 11 miles to Mt. Marcy summit and back (Hopkins Trail)
  • Day 3: 3.5 miles from Johns Brook Lodge to the Garden parking lot

Day 1

I love the beginning of every hike. The buzz from the road quickly fades away and is replaced by the gurgles of streams and the rustling of the wind through the trees. For long stretches of time, the cares of the outside world fade away too, with the only concerns being which line of stones to take across a stream, or the looming thunderstorm that quickens my steps.

01 High Peaks Wilderness Area sign   02 Trail to Johns Brook Lodge

We’d arrived in the Adirondack town of Keene, NY, in the early afternoon and had 3.5 miles to hike to the Johns Brook Lodge. By staying at the lodge, we shaved a few miles off the trip to the fairly remote peak of Mt. Marcy. I’ve “retired” from hiking a few times, after summiting Katahdin pushed me to the utter edge of my abilities and the Inca Trail was so amazing it seemed like the perfect capstone. I’m not someone who naturally loves hiking — I’m miserable pretty much the whole way up, and I am clumsy and scared when climbing on rocks — yet I love being in the woods, taking on a challenge, and sharing the experience with my husband, who loves hiking. So I came out of retirement at least one more time for the mountain that shares my name and a peak I’ve always wanted to climb.

Thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon, and we tried to outwalk the rain, but we were stuck in it for about 20 minutes before we arrived at the Johns Brook Lodge, not too bad since the hard rain was still to come.

07 Adirondacks in the Adirondacks

Adirondacks in the Adirondacks

03 Weather on Sunday Aug 21 2016 Johns Brook Lodge   05 Fireplace Johns Brook Lodge

The lodge is beautiful and well-run, and a friendly staff of young women served up a delicious hot meal of chili and rice for dinner. It was fun to hang out and relax with other hikers and hear about their adventures. The lodge is in the heart of many high peaks and several of the people we talked to were working their way through the 46 Adirondack High Peaks.

04 Our bunks in Johns Brook Lodge   08 Inside Johns Brook Lodge

And how often these days can you look around a room full of people and not see one person on his phone? No signal, no distractions.

09 Nighttime in the Adirondacks

Day 2

11 Trail signs at Johns Brook Lodge   10 Johns Brook Lodge

13 Randy and Marcy at Johns Brook Lodge

We took the Hopkins Trail up the mountain and had 5.5 miles to hike to the summit. We were warned it was the “messier” of the two ascents, and with the previous night’s rain, it was indeed a boggy, muddy mess. A rivulet flowed down our trail for hours, and I methodically picked my way from rock to rock.

We made slow but steady progress throughout the morning and talked with a “summit steward” at the edge of treeline. She was there to remind people to stay on the rocks and not step on the fragile plants in the alpine zone above treeline.

She said she would usually be on the summit, but with the extreme cold and strong winds up there, she was huddled at the edge of the little dwarf trees. We had 0.6 of a mile left to the summit.

We added a fleece and a jacket and headed upward. Once above treeline, the wind instantly became cold and fierce. We passed several pairs of hikers coming down who all commented on how strong the wind was up ahead. Those final six-tenths had long stretches of steep (to me) slabs of rock to climb.

I did pretty well and only got foolishly stuck on my hands and knees once when I got a little panicky about where to place a foot. I was keeping a running tally of how many times I’d whined during the hike in an effort to stay positive. I only had one whine up until this point, but I racked up five in quick succession. The wind was so strong and cold, and each turn was another false summit of steep rock. I was actually OK with going up, but my fear was building about going down the steep ledges, which always scares me. At one point I said to my husband, “Well, we can kiss dinner goodbye!” (scheduled for 6:30 p.m.) as I imagined myself crawling the whole way back down.

Onward I went. We finally reached the desolate and deserted summit at about 1 p.m. We took a quick selfie and a few other photos while in the middle of a freezing cloud with absolutely no view.

18 Randy on Mt. Marcy plaque   19 Marcy at Mt. Marcy plaque

15 Mt. Marcy approaching summit

(Video link)

I now faced descending the steep ledges of rock. I wish I had photos of this area to show, but my hands were blocks of ice, my camera was stowed away, and time was ticking! I’m proud to say, though, that for the first time in my long history of semi-inept hiking I made genuine progress when I was finally able to use my hiking poles and descend face first, rather than my usual technique of climbing down backwards or scuttling on my hands and feet like a crab. Randy even got a laugh out of me at one point when he noticed my ease descending a stretch of rock and blurted out, “Timid no more!”

Once below treeline again, we had a long and tiring slog down and back to the lodge. Within about half an hour, the skies started to clear, and it was beautiful for the rest of the day — pretty disappointing, I guess, but I was so grateful that it wasn’t raining that I didn’t mind that much.

Gray skies are gonna clear up. Put on a happy face.

22 Stream on Mt. Marcy   23 Boggy boots after hiking Mt. Marcy

Day 3

26 Marcy Adirondacks footbridge   25 Yellow foot trail blaze Adirondacks

The hike back to the Garden was easy as pie, which we treated ourselves to for lunch, having heard about a local diner renowned for its homemade pies. One slice of blueberry, hike safely completed, and a cup of coffee: Heaven.

27 28 Noon Mark Diner blueberry pie collage


I’m still ambivalent about hiking and don’t know whether I have more challenging hikes on my horizon. Eleven miles was longer than I’m comfortable hiking in one day, but for this remote peak, that was the closest we could get.

All in all, I’m grateful I was able to have a few days in the woods with the beautiful and formidable Mt. Marcy. Was I a beast? Maybe not, but she sure was.

For my Fitbit friends

29 38,000 steps Fitbit data Mt. Marcy 38,000 steps! (The miles are over-represented by my little steps on every rock. With the 11-mile hike and the rest of my day, I probably walked about 12 miles.)

Active minutes Fitbit

Some of my other hiking tales

The Inca Trail | Mt. Katahdin |Mt. Washington | Monument Valley | Skellig Michael (Ireland) | Costa Rica (canyoneering)

{Celebrate your courage: Send me a postcard.}

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Feeling Blueberry: Summer Odds and Ends

{Celebrate your courage: Send me a postcard.}

Feeling blueberryFeeling blueberry — “Explored” on Flickr

I’m a teacher who’s been off all summer, which means day after day of tennis and nothing, two things I adore, with both boys home before they leave for college, so all is good. Here are some tidbits from my endless summer–shh, I’m fully aware it’s not endless, but let’s not dwell on that just yet.

1. Feeling blueberry

On a whim, I snapped the above picture, some blueberries in yogurt, for my first contribution to the Macro Mondays group on Flickr. It got featured on Flickr’s Explore page (my first time!), which brought many views, faves, and comments. Viral blueberries–perfect for summer.

2. Tennis Hall of Fame

I bagged a few new 42s (a photo scavenger hunt) during a day trip to a tennis tournament at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI.

Bridge marker 42 Newport RI Match time: 42 minutes, Baghdatis v. Karlovic

{My 42 page of photos and microstories}

Speaking of “bagged,” this shot of Baghdatis was my favorite from the day. It was about a thousand degrees out, and Marcos Baghdatis was facing the serve of the 6’11″ Ivo Karlovic in a semi-final match. 

Baghdatis in the heat, Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, RI

Karlovic at Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport RII was close enough to see Baghdatis interacting with the lines people between points; he let them guess for him whether Karlovic’s huge serve would be wide or down the line.

Baghdatis played well, but Karlovic proved unbreakable and won the tiebreakers. 

The next day Karlovic went on to win the tournament.

3. So Jerry Connected

While watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, I felt a jolt of connection with Jerry Seinfeld when he said this:

“I like to explore things. I don’t expect to enjoy them, but I’m curious what is working for other people.”
— Jerry Seinfeld to John Oliver

I’ve felt the same way about many of the “adventures” from my 101 things in 1001 days quest. For example, I ended my tale of taking a trapeze class by saying, “And then I was free to spend the rest of the day in Manhattan with my husband, exhausted from adrenaline, and glad that the fun was over so that I could relax and enjoy myself.”

4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

It’s been ages since I’ve been so thoroughly charmed and delighted by a movie, and my husband and I really hit the jackpot because my two (newly) adult boys both loved it too. It’s from New Zealand about a “bad egg” of a boy going to stay with a foster mom at a remote farm on the edge of the bush. It’s quirky, touching, and funny. I really connect with New Zealand humor for some reason. If you get to see it, let me know what you think.

5. Mount Marcy Aspirations

I, Marcy, will finally climb Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York state (or that’s the plan anyway). Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

6. 42 Redux

When a photo scavenger hunt even makes ordering from the deli fun:

Order 42

Update 08/16/16: Another “Explored” photo on Flickr — Anyone for tennis?

Anyone for tennis?

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Wadsworth Falls and the Living is Easy

In response to The Daily Post’s prompt: Carefree

Honey, get down off that tree immediately! (But first just look this way and let me take a picture.)

Honey, get down off that tree immediately! (But first just look this way and let me take a picture.)

What’s the summer if not one jolly stream of “carefree” rolled into a bindle of sweaty tennis clothes and little chores I’d like to do, but maybe tomorrow? The living’s been easy for a month now. It’s time to take a hike in Wadsworth Falls State Park.

As we crunched our way through the dry leaves, I looked down to catch a glimpse of rustlings all around, hundreds of tiny toads scurrying about their day.

We came upon the “old foundation” that had been marked on the map, or did we? A gathering of ordered stones being overtaken by the forest was on our right. We checked it out dutifully, but I felt underwhelmed enough to keep my camera unused around my neck. I short while on, though, we came upon the ruins of another old building, also overtaken by roots and moss in spots. I usually hate coming across graffiti, but here it somehow made the building an incongruous delight.

Abandoned building at Wadsworth Falls State Park

I wanted to get down to it and explore, but a steep embankment kept me away. We continued on and finished our hike, and then we found a road that took us to the other side of the structure. There were even concrete steps leading down to it.

Abandoned building and forest at Wadsworth Falls State Park

I took a few pictures, but found the place spooky and didn’t linger. A particularly malevolent ladder led to depths of nightmarish damp and decay. No thanks!

Spooky ladder at Wadsworth Falls State Park

Marcy at Wadworth Falls State ParkBetween the litter of partying punks and the dark, dripping mess — plus the worry that we were trespassing (no signs though) — I was eager to get out of there.

Back in the car, it was a short drive to Lyman Orchards to pick up a pie for dinner. All in all, a great summer day!

Randy on railroad tracks at Wadsworth Falls State Park

Things to do in Connecticut

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Pokemon GO: Go Take a Walk

Marcy and Pokemon GoMaybe you could say that giving teens yet another reason to walk around in a daze with their faces buried in their phones is a bad thing, but so far Pokémon GO strikes me as a cool phenomenon.

My college-aged son is entranced, and just in the last 48 hours asked me to go for an hour-long walk around the neighborhood with him — it had been literally years since we’d done that together — explored local historical landmarks during a long walk with his girlfriend, and jumped up from the table with me for a stroll around the mall while we waited for our meals to arrive. He even handed over his precious phone to me on two different occasions during which I managed to catch the little monsters myself.

I was stuck in a fog of misunderstanding for a good 10 minutes while he tried to explain to me what it was, but once I saw it in action I caught on quickly. I grew up hearing projections about virtual reality, and now it feels like the future has arrived. These little creatures are all around, hidden on a different layer of reality on the very streets we’re walking upon.

I’m pretty much always looking for a chance to get some extra steps in, so I am intrigued by this new game that’s getting people out and about, even if I’m baffled about how and why it caught on with older teens and young adults so quickly.

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An Empty Nester’s Tour of the American West

Monument Valley, Arizona

My husband and I left our adult sons behind while we took our first “empty nest” vacation out to the gorgeous American West. We explored areas in Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. We also finished–unsuccessfully–our search for Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure that we’d begun during Easter weekend, when we were foiled by three feet of snow.

{Note: I wrote about searching for the treasure here and here.}

Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado

Outside the ghost town of St. Elmo, Colorado, we visited the Iron City Cemetery, which gave a poignant glimpse into the hard lives of those who settled in the old mining town.

A directory provided details about the people buried there:

  • Iver Gilbertson, who was “injured at the Decorah Mine at Grizzly Gulch by a premature powder explosion. He had been thawing dynamite by the fire at his forge” and died in 1884.
  • Greisser Severn, who died when “the shaft house caught on fire, while he was in the tunnel. He was smothered by the smoke” in 1886.
  • Tom Rupp, who was “killed by falling timbers in the Mary Murphy Mine” in 1889.
  • William E. Brown, who “fell 75 feet down a mine shaft at the Mary Murphy Mine” in 1891.
  • Robert Gaebner, who “became snowbound, probably was starving and finally froze to death. No one had seen him since November until his body was discovered in January of 1909.”

Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado

We next toured the ghost town St. Elmo, with its well-preserved main street and houses scattered throughout the area. (People still live there, too.) At one point, a hail storm broke out, and we took shelter under what looked like an old railroad car.

St. Elmo, Colorado

St. Elmo, Colorado

St. Elmo, Colorado

As we got into our car to leave, a semi passed us, laden with building materials. We watched for a good 15 minutes as it tried to back into a housing lot. With anxiety, we told each other that he was going to get stuck and block the only way out. And that’s exactly what happened, trapping us for hours, along with eight school busses on a field trip and some other cars. Finally, a resident cut the lock on a gate to a rocky dirt path, and we four-wheeled our way out of there. I don’t know how long the others were stuck, and it was hard to imagine how they were going to get that huge truck out of there.

Stuck semi, St. Elmo, Colorado

Leaving the mountains, we traveled south to the iconic desert landscapes of Monument Valley in Arizona. We toured the area by car before hitting the desert for a hike to and around West Mitten Butte.

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

As we hiked, the sun sank lower and lower until it hid behind the buttes we were walking among, changing the landscape from orange to brown.

The next day, we took a guided tour of Cathedral Canyon in Arizona, passing through a few narrow slots and climbing a ladder to reach the “Cathedral.”

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Finally, we visited Arches National Park in Utah on a hot and beautiful day, hiking to some remote arches and touring the rest of the area by car.

Marcy and Randy at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Trail to Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Randy at Arches National Park, Utah

While I’ve never been one to fantasize about sudden wealth, I’ve caught myself imagining over the last few months how our life would change if we found a treasure valued at $2-5 million. As I left the West, I let that dream go, and I imagined this new “empty nest” phase of my life stretching out before me, no treasure chest stuffed into my duffel bag, but the path ahead strewn with gems just the same.

Desert highway, Arizona

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How to Hike Mount Washington When You’re Young and Clueless (in 33 Easy Steps)

Mount Washington boulder field 1991

In the early days of our marriage, my husband and I would disappear every weekend to hike in the White Mountains. While I loved hiking, I never quite enjoyed it. Mount Washington proved to be especially formidable.

  1. Set your alarm for 4 a.m. to drive five hours to the mountain.
  2. Hit the road at 6 a.m. after snoozing too many times.
  3. Hiking Mount Washington New Hampshire 1991Arrive at noon when it’s 100 degrees and the exact worst time to begin hiking a mountain.
  4. Gasp for breath at 12:10 p.m.
  5. Ask yourself why you are doing this at 12:11 p.m.
  6. Stop hiking to take a photo to fool your husband into pausing so you can catch your breath.
  7. Stop hiking to take a drink.
  8. Stop hiking to take another photo.
  9. Realize you’re not fooling anyone.
  10. Mount Washington stream 1991Spy an achingly beautiful moss-filled landscape just off the trail — photo opportunity!
  11. Eat lunch during a blissful lack of movement.
  12. Observe after several hours that the trees might be getting smaller.
  13. Rue that you’ll be climbing over boulders for the next two hours.
  14. Think you are at the summit, but turn a corner and realize you’re not even close.
  15. Reach the summit.
  16. Feel annoyed that people who drove up in a car are all around.
  17. Have your summit joy cut short because you have a long way to go to reach the campsite by nightfall.
  18. Think you reach the campsite and see signs that say, “Revegetation Zone — No camping allowed.”
  19. Fail to find a flashlight as it gets dark.
  20. Stumble through the “Revegetation Zone” that wasn’t on the map.
  21. Twist your ankles on rocks.
  22. Tell yourself not to cry.
  23. Say things couldn’t get worse.
  24. Experience that scene in the movie when someone says things couldn’t get worse and, with a crash of lightning, a downpour starts.
  25. Cry.
  26. Mount Washington tent on boulder 1991Set up your tent on a boulder at the side of a river because you’re not allowed to camp anywhere.
  27. Curse your husband.
  28. Tie your tent to a tree because you are afraid the river will rise and wash you away in the night.
  29. Toss and turn on a boulder.
  30. Rise before dawn and hurry away so real hikers won’t scold you for camping where you’re not supposed to.
  31. Begin an eight-mile trail back to your car.
  32. Arrive at your car hours later, exhausted and miserable.
  33. Dream of your next hike on the long ride home.
Just take one step back...

Just take one step back…

Stop Mount Washington weather sign 1991

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Cantering: As Easy as Falling Off a Horse

Different horse in 2004 when no decisions were needed

Different horse, different course: We followed a trail, and neither the horse nor I had to make a decision.

I bounced along in a fast and much too dangerous canter, which I’d just learned is like a gallop with a missing beat. I had been trotting so well, too, even lifted a hand from the saddle to give my mother-in-law a wave as I went by. I’d given the horse a little kick, as instructed, and here it was a mere two seconds later and everything had changed, all confusion, like a wave knocked me over from behind and its pal the undertow snatched me and dragged me away.
Falling off a horse circle quotation
I’m not good at making decisions even when calm, and now I was just one yippee-ki-
yay away from a broken neck if I didn’t do something fast. That pommel was there for a reason, and I clenched it with both hands as hard as I could, the exact strategy I’d used when whitewater rafting
block everything out and focus all my will on staying on, never get out of the boat, don’t give an inch,
the opposite of the relaxed confidence I needed while riding a horse.

During all this bouncing and clenching, I got the impression that the horse was beaming a message to me:

Um, you’re aware that you have to tell me whether you want to go left or right up ahead, right? Um, human, excuse me and all, but a wall is approaching us, and you don’t expect me to canter straight into a wall, do you? Is that your plan or what?

Even though I picked up on an inkling of this, I was quite busy with my whole holding-on-as-tight-as-I-can strategy, so I started to imagine that the horse would turn left. The wall continued to approach us, and at the last possible second, the horse went right. Meanwhile my whole being, my legs, my hips, my arms, all my bits everywhere, were still operating under the idea that we would turn left.

At that point, it didn’t matter what my bits were expecting. They all leaned one way while the horse went the other way, and basic physics decided for me that it was time I made a clean slide off that horse, a fluid smashing of my face into a fine silt that seemed to rise up to meet me, that covered me so completely that my mother-in-law, who was one of the nicest women in the entire world, had to make sure I was not grievously injured while trying her hardest to suppress a smile at how much I was utterly caked in dirt.

I had thudded onto that ground hard. I was gripping and gripping the whole way down–never get out of the boat!–not even turning to instinct to break my fall. I just slid right off that horse like a diver off the 10 meter platform slides right into the water.

I looked at the horse standing a few feet away, twitching its ears at me. It beamed:

Really? That was your plan? Are you happy with how that plan worked out? Did you even realize that you were in charge?

Was it suppressing a smile? It was hard to tell with its horseface and horsemouth, but I think it was trying its hardest not to laugh. I made a decision right then and there: I would not get back on that horse.


This is part of an occasional series, Scene from a Memoir.

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Appointment at Tooth-Hurty

Pink flower Mardi Gras New Orleans 2007

Her hands are in my mouth, poking, scraping, setting up X-ray cards. I bide my time for a chance to complain.

I stare at a spot on the ceiling, bright blue sky, white clouds, pink spring blossoms in the corner of the light box. I once would have clung to this, a haven in my anxiety, but now I don’t care. Throw whatever you want at me. Pain. Blood. Small talk. Scheduling. I’ll endure. I tell myself, “You think this is bad? This ain’t bad.”

A lull in the small talk. It’s on the tip of my tongue. I was disappointed the last time I was here. At my now-an-adult son’s appointment, they ganged up on me. Bad hygiene. He’s got to floss. I don’t know that? It’s been a twice-weekly argument since he slept in a bed full of Beanie Babies. Wisdom teeth. Crowding. Risk of nerve damage. And the first I heard of “gummy smile.” I signed a paper to arrange the painful and expensive procedure, got home and Googled it, and it was just cosmetic, a way to make some sweet, sweet profit. I’d been scared, trusting them.

I have a deteriorating filling, but I get a reprieve. My gums are pronounced beautiful. She loves looking at my teeth. I rinse and keep my complaints to myself.

She writes down a date for six months from now. I stick it in my pocket. Two steps, and I’m outdoors, free. I look up at the bright blue sky, see white clouds and pink spring blossoms.

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Dance Like Pachamama’s Watching

Village square Amantani Lake Titicaca Peru

A lone woman, burdened by sticks, enters the village square.

Soon there’s another … seven … twenty.

Their bonfire warms our cheeks, ignites our imaginations.

They’ve circled, in blurs of accelerating joy, since before Spaniards arrived to conquer a land, but not a people.

Festival on Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

42 New York City subway station

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Deleted moments

I love the move to digital photography with its endless chances to get the shot right, and I delete the bad ones as I go along. When I sifted through a box of old, curled up family photographs, though, I realized all those deleted moments must have held some gems, and real history isn’t always composed just so.

In a film roll of 36 prints, I’d find at least a few good pictures, sharp and perfectly lighted, with a facial expression of my own I could tolerate, or my baby looking angelic, or a loved one’s eyes sparkling with affection. The other 33 pictures might be slightly out of focus, or have a head chopped off here, an angry expression there, or maybe a messy background that I didn’t want to advertise to the world. Those shots got stuffed into a drawer.

The rejects contained elements that it took decades to appreciate:

  • The kind of lousy shot of my parents with my son has in it my only photograph of the “Macquarium” my dad made out of an early generation Apple computer, a lasting reminder of his quirky ingenuity.

Macquarium, Apple aquarium

  • The series of pictures of me and my brothers sticking various numbers of fingers out reveals codes for the new camera settings my dad was experimenting with; as we goofed off, he earnestly took notes on the settings.

Brother secret code 1979

  • Dorky me, my dad, and my little brother pose with the heartbreaking Twin Towers looming behind us; to our naive selves it was unfathomable they could ever come down.

Twin Towers New York 1980

  • My brother and his curls that “grow so incredibly high,” as his beloved Beatles themselves might have described them.

Brother hair style 1979

Years after my father died I found an old camera with a half-used roll of film from an afternoon my kids and I spent with him in his backyard pool. I had switched to a digital camera and never finished the roll. After my nostalgic afternoon going through the drawer of old photos, I shot off the rest of the roll and dropped it off to be developed.

As I drove to the store to pick them up, I thought about how picking up developed pictures was a treat that’s been lost to the digital age. I would always rush through the photos looking for the surprises, the perfect iconic moments. Then I would go through again slowly, scrutinizing. I’d go through a third time, selecting the ones to save in a photo album, condemning the others to the drawer.

In the roll from my dad’s pool, there weren’t any hidden gems as I had anticipated. No unusual expressions captured, no special portraits of my dad. But I held the photos in my hands, and in those ordinary shots I saw my dad watching the boys see who could hold his breath underwater longer. He egged them on, as he had egged me on when I was small.

I saw a perfectly mundane afternoon by a backyard pool, one that was long gone and almost forgotten, and I was glad that those mundane moments weren’t deleted.

Boys underwater 2003


yeah write 260 staff picks nonfiction

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