Friday, January 9, 2009

Time After Time

"What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” (St. Augustine)

"Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” (Theophrastus)

So I finally train myself not to write 2007 on checks anymore, and here it is 2009 already? Whose idea was that? Seems like only last week, it was 2008. Where does our time go? We keep spending all this time but, really, where does it actually go? Maybe it is gone forever, but maybe it just changes faces.

While putting together Christmas cards last month, I browsed through lots of old photos of friends. I have to admit, being my friend appears to take a heavy toll on the innocents. They all have such young faces in those old photos. What happened? Smoother skin, darker hair, no grandpa glasses. There's an old photo of the energetic little puppy playing with our full-size dogs. Nowadays, that puppy is a “mature” dog who refuses to go out if the snow’s too deep for her liking. Which, come to think of it, sort of sounds like me these days.

'Leap of Faith' (c) 2009 John AshleyThe snow turned to rain yesterday, so I was happy to stay inside and read a thankful email from someone who received our “Leap of Faith” photograph as a gift from her family. That photograph is a scene that we wandered into while walking our dogs back during summertime weather. The mother duck’s behavior sparked my curiosity and encouraged me to stop and sit near the nest tree. I watched her for almost two hours before I ever saw her little chicks. Now if we take this scene and trace the timeline backwards, I think we can follow the inspiration for this photo back at least two generations.

The “walking the dogs” part seems pretty straightforward. As a scruffy kid in a house full of boys, I remember always having at least one dog and cat around as part of the family. My wife, Tracy, went so far as to breed and raise dogs – big dogs. Huskies and malamutes. She even trained some of them as sled dogs. Our current dogs would much rather ride in the sled, but I digress.

The “curiosity” part of my timeline is less direct but maybe more obvious. I received it as a gift from my mother, who in turn learned it from her father -- my grandfather. As the youngest of four girls, my mother grew up as a beautiful, red-haired tomboy. I almost feel sorry for any boys her age who tried to keep up. Some of her favorite days were spent on the back of her trusty donkey, “Pete,” exploring the wild brambles between a few lonesome ranches of that time, deep in the hills of central Texas.

(After grandpa bought him, Pete got into big trouble with grandma for chewing a hole through the kitchen window screen to get at some Cheetos left on the nearby table. Apparently, Pete had his own curious side and knew how to spend his time well. Earlier in his career, when Pete belonged to another family, he had a staring role in the school's Christmas program in Bryan, Texas -- but that's another story.)

When I close my eyes I can see the two of them, mom and Pete, spending their hours wandering amongst the winter oaks and spring wildflowers, listening to the rhythmic ebb and flow of summertime cicadas (“locusts”), following their curiosity down the river and then back home again as evening falls, just in time for chores and supper.

Scruffy Young Photographer (c) 2009 John AshleyThe “ranch” where mom grew up was the gift of my grandfather’s life. Away from the river, it was a sweaty patch of prickly pear and stunted mesquite trees where, after retiring from Texas A&M, grandpa could enjoy the outdoors and continue dabbling in genetics research. Think cows and catfish. Rabbits and roadrunners. The occasional rattlesnake notwithstanding, it was a great little patch of wildness where a red-haired tomboy and, a generation later, a scruffy little boy could spend their days following the curiosity that flowed into them, through grandpa, from some older, unknown source. Over the years, that curiosity has wandered aimlessly from cows to cicadas, and eventually to cameras.

So while “Leap of Faith” captures a simple moment in time, the photograph is really a byproduct of grandpa’s curiosity, a curiosity that keeps getting passed along in time (mixed with another family’s lifelong love of dogs). My grandfather is long gone, but how he spent his time still influences us. Everyone who gets a daily chuckle from this photograph has grandpa to thank. His time ended while I was still very young, but I’m grateful for the way he raised my mother. I’ve known her all my life, and she’s still the curious type.

So as we spend our cache of time, does it really disappear? I don’t think so, not really. Because we are spending it on the people around us, even on the strangers we cross paths with. This is your time, and now we’ve crossed paths. So I’m hoping that my time spent behind a camera sparks your curiosity about those little patches of wildness that remain out there. And I hope that you give in and follow your curiosity out the door a little more often this year. That simple act would please the generations – just watch out for a red-haired girl riding a curious donkey.

Happy new year, all.

"There is no cure for curiosity.” (Dorothy Parker)

No comments:

Post a Comment