Way back in 2008, someone left me a blog comment on this post: “Photos are great. Like the ducks you’re managing to keep things looking well on the surface despite all the furious paddling going on underneath.”
Stan, if by any chance you’re still out there, I’ve never forgotten that particular turn of phrase. It’s just so wonderfully perfect, and often remains true to this day. For instance, the utter and RELENTLESS shitshow of setting up a photo in which I appear with my own children.
When I take a photo of JB with the boys, I often do it when they’re not looking. Or I ask them to look up from whatever they’re doing and quickly snap the photo. I don’t pose them, is my point, because posing is a fucking nightmare.
Photos of me and the kids? Almost always posed. And then this happens:
“Guys, can I — guys! GUYS! GUYS. Pay attention. Stand over here for a second so I can — GUYS!!!”
“Okay, Riley, you stand here, and Dylan, you — Dylan. DYLAN. Hello? Okay, can you — RILEY COME BACK HERE.”
“All right, I’m just going to stand behind … Riley, don’t do that with your tongue. Riley. RILEY. Okay, Dylan — Dylan?”
“Jesus, you guys. Okay, smile at Dad. Smile at Dad. Come on you guys, Dad is right there. Can you just … Riley. Your TONGUE. Put it BACK. In your MOUTH.”
“Dylan, if you don’t stop picking your nose I swear to god.”
“Okay! OKAY EVERYONE — what? Can you wait to pee for ONE SECOND?”
“One! Two! Three! SMILE! Whew. Was that really so har — what? He was what? Oh god.”
“Seriously you guys, come here. Huddle up. Look at me. Listen, I just want one photo. One photo. It shouldn’t be this difficult. Stand still and smile for one second and I swear I won’t bother you again. You can run around peeing and nose-picking for the whole rest of the day. Just one photo. Are we together on this? Are we a team? Okay high five! TEAM SHARPS!”
“RILEY YOUR TONGUE.”
“Last try. And then I hurl myself off this mountain. Last try. I’m a broken woman. You’ve broken me. Just smile at the camera. Or don’t. I don’t care any more. Life is unmanageable chaos, who was I to think otherwise. Entropy descends upon us all.”
“Dylan please open your eyes. For the LOVE.”
“You know what, I –”
“What do you mean, look at it and tell you if it’s good enough? It’s good enough. Whatever the shit is on that camera roll, it is now officially good enough. I hate everything and everyone. Let’s go.”
All that paddling, but the amazing part is when I look back on the image — even just minutes later — I only see the surface. The happiness of our outing rather than the shitty experience and imperfect results of the dumb picture session. Photos are truly a miraculous thing.
JB told me months ago about how he was in his tree stand near the cabin and the sound seemed to fill his body from the inside out. At first I thought I was having a stroke, he said, shaking his head. I couldn’t imagine such a thing until we were out in that same area yesterday and the noise grew from the pine-scented air around us, escalating in intensity until you felt it like the heartbeat of the forest. It did seem oddly internal, the bass from a concert, somehow both foreign and intimate. My brain skittered around trying to associate it with something familiar: a helicopter coming in for a landing, a mallet striking a drum, a rubber ball losing energy as its bounces become shorter and faster.
Like this, but deeper, louder, everywhere.
We never saw it, because the woods are thick with a million green secrets. That was AWESOME, the kids shouted. I worriedly imagine freaky heartbeat-monsters descending from above to devour us in ravenous gulps; they tumble through the endless blackberry-choked paths and press eager fingers into muddy animal prints. They dive comfortably into the mystery of the trees, fearless and happy and curious about it all.