July, 2014 Archives

Door County

July 26th, 2014

Island hopping with Cousin Dick

Driving 12 hours from Detroit, we crossed a drawbridge onto the island. Then we took a car ferry to the next island. Finally, we rode a small passenger ferry to this remote rock. If we want to go any further, it’ll be by kayak or backstroke.

Standing at the tippy top of the lighthouse, my daughter Skye points out Escanaba, a zillion miles across the bay. Either that or she’s eyeing the enormous spider. It’s about six hours from here to Escanaba; the spider’s six inches away.

It’s a bit strange standing here at Death’s Door, so labeled because of the treacherous passageway that has claimed many a seafaring vessel. Door County Wisconsin, named after Death’s Door, is a curious mix of rural farmland, super upscale summer homes and a healthy schmattering of quaint little towns with quaint little galleries. “Tourist traps” cousin Dick calls ‘em. It reminds me of what Cape Cod might have looked like 50 years ago.

A series of islands and bays make up this peninsula jutting off into Lake Michigan, separating it from Green Bay. Cousin Dick spends a lot of his time here. The not-quite-80-year-old is the only one we know who remains on my father’s side of the family. We have recently become reacquainted, fortunately. He graciously opened his home to our invading throng, (all ten of us, when in the past, the most he’s hosted was two!).

After leaving the two northernmost islands along Death’s Door, I am regaled by my cousin’s stories. He has traveled the world over, including a trip to Antarctica last fall. This fall, he will outdo himself with an early-morning balloon trip over the Serengeti. Did I mention he’s almost 80? My journey in the minivan to get here pales somewhat in comparison.

But I had no real preconceived notions about what this trip would hold. I felt it would be more about the journey, as opposed to the destination. Sure, my brother and I wanted to hear stories about Dad from way back when. But something fascinating began to happen. Dad’s stories gave way to Dick’s stories. Somehow he became more fascinating to us than our long lost father.

Maybe it’s because he’s still thriving. Educated in economics at Harvard, he thought he’d become a lawyer. But his own father’s illness pushed him to become a doctor. His deceased wife was a high level ad executive, living the Mad Men life as a woman. Remember Peter Pan peanut butter being “the pea-nuttiest?” That was one of her many slogans. I still sing the jingle in my head.

On the last night at his place, we spent time stargazing at the eye-popping display above us. In sweats and socks I stumbled across the sand down to his beach to see if I might snap the Big Dipper rising above his house. Fiddling around with my camera and bracing it against an incongruous pole that had sprouted up in the sand, I got lucky and scored Ursa Major.

Looking closely afterward, I couldn’t believe I’d also captured the binary stars in her handle, the horse and rider — Mizar and Alcor for you star buffs.

Dad loved looking at the stars. He loved sailing and flying too. It turns out his cousin is a lot like him in those respects. We caught various glimpses of our father in his cousin. But no, we weren’t looking for a replacement dad. That undercurrent never really surfaced during our time gallivanting around Door County. More importantly, I like that we have made a strong connection with someone who represents both our family’s past and its future. Dick says we’re welcome back any time.

Also — and this can’t be understated — I like that I can now claim I’ve been to Death’s Door both figuratively and literally. The first time around I feared the destination and hated the journey. This time, I bought custard, lots and lots of custard. Whipped cream and hot fudge do wonders for the soul (if not the waistline).


Driving around, snapping photos

July 18th, 2014

It’s what we used to call feature hunting

Sometimes I simply love being a freelance writer and photographer. This past week was one of those times.

A large company in Southeast Michigan hired me to travel around photographing people, towns and neighborhoods in and about Detroit for the sole purpose of putting them in a brochure to attract potential employees.

I got to put on my photojournalism pants and drive around “making images.” This time  — as opposed to when I was a newspaper photographer — I was only tasked with showing the Good. The Bad and the Ugly could wait for someone else. How fun!

Recovering journalists, like me, can just show up at a situation and portray only what the client wants me to share. I’m okay with that.

Real journalists are tasked with giving a balanced report on their stories. Just this week, another Malaysian plane crashed and a ground war began in Gaza. My heart goes out to the journalists who have to cover that type of news. More so, my heart goes out to those civilians actually living those stories.

For years I photographed fires and tragedy, inhumanity and — ugh, death. It’s so much more enjoyable picturing only the bright side of the human condition. So while I read and witness from afar all the ugliest this world has to offer, I remember how fortunate I am living where I live and covering what I cover.

And yes, I feel guilty for feeling this way. There will always be a part of me that feels as though maybe I should be putting myself on the line to tell the real story. But that guilt quickly evaporated when I pulled into one of the area’s most affluent neighborhoods and two little boys, not more than seven-years-old, waited for me to drive by before shouting, “pecker head.”

The adrenaline surge hit and I was instantly transported back to all the dangerous situations I’ve been in as a journalist, like the pushy crowd gathering around me in Haiti or that semi driver who threatened to put my camera somewhere extremely uncomfortable. Those guys in Boston — who said if I took another picture in the courtroom, they’d make sure it was my last — also flashed in my memory.

Nah, just kidding. Those two little boys made me laugh, especially with the way they said it, “PEKuh head,” with a pronounced lisp.

But don’t tell that to my freelance client; I’m trying to put in for a little extra combat pay.

Back in the day, we called driving around aimlessly taking photographs “feature hunting.” Most photographers grew to hate it since that meant it was a slow news days and there wasn’t enough stuff for the next day’s paper.

We liked to whine a lot back then.

Give me a “fluff” piece any day to write or photograph. But what do I know; I’m just a pecker head, but at least I’m a happy one.