A few years back, I recall a roll in the hay. On any given day during the summer it isn’t uncommon to find a gaggle of kids hanging around out house. Often, I boot them out the door to unplug them and create my own Fresh Air Fund camp. Our back yard extends well beyond our unenviable lawn. “Crabgrass, Dandelions and Clover Are Us”. Our lawn may not make it into a photo of a Scott’s advertisement, but things could be far worst. Beyond the green lawn is an acre of hayfield. I love this little piece of country that we can call our own. It looks beautiful with the backdrop of our neighbor’s horses affronted by a sea of golden hay. Twice a year, a farmer comes into our back yard and cuts the hay. I always laugh because we never have actually discussed with the farmer whether we want it cut or not. He does it anyway. Chris and I just shrug our shoulders and let him do it mainly because we don’t have a tractor to do with as we please. God knows I won’t be cutting an acre of hay with a scythe. One day, Kate has two friends over. After a half hour or so they realize that one of the friends has been missing for about a half hour…so is Peter. We look everywhere to little avail. The farmer had been by earlier and was half way through the process of cutting and baling. The hay was lined up in rows to dry out. After the exhaustive search, the worry is growing on my face. Out of nowhere, Peter and the girl show up disheveled with hay all over him. It is clear now where he was but I still have to ask where he had been? My eyebrows are raised. Matter of factly, he says, “Mom, I was just having a roll in the hay”. My eyes pop out of my head. He spoke literally, unknowing of the euphemism he had used. He was technically rolling in the hay and I am thankful for that. Good thing because some years later, this story could have had a distinctly different ending.
It seems like just yesterday when one of my kids would fall, the earth would stand still on its axis and the tears would flow. You would sit him down and practically need a microscope to actually find the wound. Usually a Band-Aid would instantly dry tears and within minutes the irreparable harm would just be a thing of the past. BooBoo’s are god’s way of making sure that mom is paying attention. It’s not like we can prevent the scrapes and falls, but we damn well better kiss them and make them better. It wasn’t until tonight that I realized that while my son is still in every way a child, his childhood is fleeting. For the past two months, Peter had done the run portion of our local triathlon series. After a week of nonstop riding his bicycle through Lake Placid, he begged to add the bike portion to his race. I raised my eyebrows and dear old dad looked at him mindfully giving him the go ahead. Since then, I have had a lump in my throat at the thought of sending my kid out with 250 thrill seeking adults on bicycles. Also to add to the fire is the fact that one portion of the bike course looked like a minefield of potholes. So off he goes on to the bike. I look at the 20 or so people around me and ask them to say Hail Mary. I think I look so desperate that they actually do. He conquers the first loop as I watch it through the camera. Like watching a scary movie, I hide behind the camera to help cover my eyes instead of using my hands. He makes the second loop look easy. As he comes into transition, he tries the flying leap dismount off the bike that he had perfected in the driveway with his dad. This time however, he doesn’t hit the landing. A sudden gasp comes from the crowd. In slow motion Ramboesque fashion, he leaps up, runs his bike into transition and starts his run like there’s no tomorrow. While proud of his resilience, a small part of me wants him to run to me crying to make his boo boo better. But this is what we wait for as parents. He needs no help, and I just sit and watch him spread his wings as he runs right by me. After the race, I watch my two guys drink a PBR and a root beer respectively and smile. There’s today’s miracle, I think to myself. Coming home in the quiet of my bathroom, I wash my 9 year old’s battle scar. He cringes and when the Band-Aid is stuck on, I kiss the boo boo and tell him how proud I am. It’s good to know that despite the fact that he is growing up, a kiss from mom can still do the job.
As Lake Placid has cleared out I can’t help but notice that my husband seems to have the post race blues. After Sunday’s monumental Ironman effort it’s not too surprising. For one day you are the center of the universe. Come to think of it, for one day you go from being a mere mortal to a muscled superhero that could squash kryptonite in your bare hands. Take that Lex Luthor. But not to worry Iron men and ladies. While you may have removed the cape and put it away until next time, we still know you’re super hero. Kind of the same way Lois Lane has always suspected something strange about Clark Kent. When she looked at him, she always seemed to have the peculiar look on her face like she knew he could look through her blouse with his x-ray eyes. What’s cool about super heroes is that they never really rest for long. There will always be something or someone that needs saving. Especially when that someone may be him or herself. In the mean time, it’s time to go out and earn some money so you can afford another Ironman entry. Then you can go out and buy that new wetsuit. I hear QR is working on a stylish cape to go with it. Aquaman would be proud. God knows, I am sure Cervelo is working on a new P5 that will rival the Batmobile. Now if only Newton, Kswiss or Brooks could make you some shoes so you could run like the Flash. Then we would have the perfect triathlete.
It’s very early in the morning on a Sunday in late July. One by one, athletes wake from a restless sleep. Most have an image in their mind of crossing the Ironman finish line and hearing Mike Riley say his famed phrase, “You Are An Ironman”. While the day promises to be a long one, it pales in comparison to the thousands of hours that have gone into preparing for the Ironman event. In life’s bucket list, the Ironman has become a common quest but uncommonly achieved. Each racer today will travel over 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running. Two men walk with transition bags in the dark towards the brightly lit area loaded with bicycles and gear. Chris Schulten of Middlefield will be racing his 15th Ironman while Scott Slater of Lyme, CT, nervously eyes his first finish. Schulten has prepared by covering thousands of miles through Connecticut via commuting to his job at St Raphael’s Hospital. Slater trains in the few allowable hours of working as a mason and caring for his newborn girl and his two year old son. Ironman Lake Placid is one of the many events hosted by Ironman Inc., but it is clearly the institutions most cherished child in the US next to Kona’s World Championship. The Lake Placid venue is unparalleled. The Adirondack Mountains envelope the picturesque town that surrounds Mirror Lake. While 2800 athletes make final preparation for the all day race, 3000 volunteers get ready to take their places. Thousands of supportive families know what today means to their athlete. They lug bags often with young children in tow and escort their athlete to the transition area. Here, they watch their loved one have a race number drawn with a Sharpie on the back of his or her leg. For most, a final kiss goodbye seals a bond of support that the athlete will carry throughout the day. The brothers-in-law both feel the nerves inherent in what will happen as the swim unfolds. Thousands of spectators squeeze around the small beach and the athletes begin to filter into the water. There is virtually no room to move both in and out of the water. Music meant to inspire pumps overhead and energy is undeniable. Schulten has something to prove, not to the crowd, but to himself. He is racing on the heels of an entire year of injury. Just a year ago during the marathon run of Ironman Utah, he experienced a career halting back injury that would remain at the forefront of his mind through out today’s race. For Chris, just being at the starting line today felt like a relief. Thousands of pink and green swim caps dot the waterscape as the cannon blast, signaling the start of the race. The water temperature is warm so the security of the wetsuit has been disallowed for those that are racing for few Kona Ironman World Championships slots. Schulten opts not to use the wetsuit hoping for his 5th qualification. Slater finds comfort in the buoyancy of his suit wishing to survive the agitated swim ahead of him. The surge of swimmers is a sight to be seen. The mass Ironman start rivals the best of any sporting moment giving goose-bumps to anyone witnessing it. It can be compared visually to what happens when a school of blue fish surges on a school of bunker. The swimmers battle each other really just looking for their own piece of real estate. Nearly two and 1/2 miles of swimming like prizefighters will hopefully bring the swimmers out of the water unscathed. As the pros have long left the water behind, the rest of the group begins the exodus from the water. One by one, they crawl from the lake with their goggle etched eyes, making them look like creatures from ‘Land Of The Lost”. When one enters the Ironman, the entry asks for one’s occupation. We know the pro’s occupations, but what about everyone else? For one day, everyone has left their occupation behind and taken on the job title “Ironman”. Doctors, Brick-layers, firemen, grandmas and a slew of others run towards transition clad in black wetsuits. One by one, each of the bikes are taken on their 112 mile journey that will carry riders through a course highlighted by a 14 mile descent, a beautiful valley, a 17 mile climb and a ride through town where the cheers will undoubtedly make each feel like a rock star. Despite the fatigue, many can’t help but smile, because each athlete has never felt so alive. Schulten averages a solid 21 miles per hour on the bike leg setting him up for a good run. His back muscles seem to be holding together at the six mile mark of the marathon run. Despite his misfortune from the year before, the ghosts of the past race doesn’t seem to be slow him down and he averages a 7:35 per mile pace. Meanwhile Scott absorbs the massive distance he has taken on one step at a time along with the other 1013 other first-timers. The marathon course will journey past the venues of the 1980 Olympic games. The towering ski jumps in the distance will remind each athlete that they too can achieve what may be seemingly impossible. The course teases each runner as he or she must skirt the Olympic Oval finish line and cover 2 more miles before returning to become a Ironman. The feeling of running on hallowed ground is undeniable on this day. Inside this oval, Eric Hieden won his 6 Olympic Gold medals and adjacent to that, the rag tag team of young US Hockey players defeated the Soviets back in 1980. Back then, Olympians were amateurs like most of the athletes running today. Perhaps, this is why one by one, the runners charge into the finish line beaming with pride. For the last 200 meters, all the pain is briefly forgotten and most look like children on Christmas. Slater makes his first Ironman finish and his grimace transforms into a smile. Schulten makes the turn into the stadium as the announcer realized his proximity to the 10 hour benchmark. With that, the stadium erupts into cheers and he sprints around the turn into the 10 hour finish then falls into the arms of the volunteer catchers just over the line. His children watch inspired and awestruck by how their dad ran like a superhero without the cape. The storied finishes continue into the 17 hour mark. Tears flow from one finisher as a photo of a loved one is clutched in his hand. National flags are waved, one makes a cartwheel, fist are pumped, legs buckle and personal histories are written. As midnight looms the final athletes are welcomed by a frenzied party of over-caffeinated spectators and volunteers cheering them across the finish line. The voice of Ironman announcer, Mike Riley, now raspy and strained can be heard across Mirror Lake. “You are an Ironman”, he says with the same energy he has had all day. It’s been an epic journey for all and collectively the athletes have covered nearly 392,560 miles. Schulten finished his 15th Ironman in 42nd overall while Slater’s 11:51 finish proves that he is no longer a beginner in this sport. Both Schulten and Slater rest now knowing that they were part of something big, something that will stay with them regardless of the fact that life goes back to normal in the morning. In place of the salt encrusted race jersey, the aching athlete struggles to to adorn his new finisher t-shirt over the sore muscles. Despite the wobbly legs and soreness throughout, for some reason life seems better; because after all, “You are an Ironman”.
I drove up to the Lake Placid Lodge with the girls tonight just to sit and watch the sunset. From the great lawn an unbridled view of the fantastic landscape spreads itself across the lake. Behind us people sit in refined clothing enjoying a gourmet meal as the sun lowers behind the mountains. The mountains appear like a set made of cardboard triangles in various shades of greenish grey. I see a family of ducks off to the side. Mother duck watches over her 12 little ones all huddled up like nap time at preschool. I realize that the most wonderful family portraits sometimes come pose-less and unexpected. This comes to mind as I think of our family dining experience from earlier tonight. We had spent dinner eating in a far less refined fashion. The word redneck comes to mind. Boxes of Annie’s were mixed together along with a big bag of frozen peas and some grilled chicken. Stuff of varying genres sat cluttered on the kitchen table and we opted not to deal with it. Rather, we all ventured out to the back stoop where we imagined up our own fine dining establishment. A bite of chicken and a roll down the hill would help the digestion process for the little ones, while tired parents eased their way through the evening. We laid no particular plans and we all felt relaxed. We should let down our guard like this more often. I think were better people for it. Like every time I come up here, by mid week, I have put down roots and found solace in solid family time. I wince at the thought of leaving knowing it will happen soon enough. But with comfort, I know this stays with me.
When you think of the cost of raising a kid today, factoring in the price of entertainment packs quite a punch. Brands like Nintendo, Lego and Apple are just some of the many money suckers out there. But thankfully we have toned down the pricy play things if only for a week. Maybe this alone is the reason we love coming to Lake Placid so much. Imagination takes the stage... front and center. No batteries necessary, no deep thoughts, just life the way we like it. Nothing is better than a flying leap into the lake, a handful of Cheerios fed to a duck, a bike ride, a float in a tube, a roll down a hill, or a simultaneous launch of squealing balloons. When we strip the complicated play things out of our lives, we tend to have more fun and the memories seem to become etched in our minds. We also seem to realize the important stuff like hugging your kids, holding hands and the importance of being together. It’s really a win win. Unplugging may just be today’s miracle. On that note, time to put this Mac to sleep.
As a child, Middletown, Connecticut was a place that I visited only one time a year. It would happen on the first Saturday of October as cooler air would begin to rush in. We would race the Head of The Connecticut Regatta, a rowing event that would bring us 3 miles downstream along the Connecticut River. I still have my medals, one of which was won on a day that virtually every rowing shell was swamped by huge waves under the giant Arigoni Brigde. I would never have expected to live within a stones throw of this town. I still go by the Friendly’s on Washington Street and remember my four brothers and I gorging ourselves on ice cream after a long day of racing. So now at almost 40, I find myself in Middletown all the time. It’s got the closest supermarket and the best bike shop around. It’s also has some great photo opportunities. Main street lends itself to a more than a glance. Local historians will tell you about how the great store facades of Middletown were instrumental in trade and mercantilism during the evolution into the 20th century in Connecticut. So a few nights ago, I took some photos of this diverse town. Few farms remain, but it is clear to me on topography alone, that all roads in Middletown lead to the river. The river is at the heart of this place and the memories I have of it stay with me. It’s calm as glass in the morning and swirls and rushes in the afternoons. Those unfortunate souls suck in their cars on Route 9 may never clearly see the beauty of Middletown until they see the perspective of it from the river. Once again, in adulthood, I am comparing life from what was experienced in childhood realizing our loves are one jagged line that really brings us full circle.
Who better to direct traffic leading onto the bridge than Jesus himself?
And a few oldies...
Morning shoot…check, Go Far grant submitted…check, run with Peter…check, a slow roasted chicken dinner…check+
For the first time in a long while, I got today’s list all done. I sat and watched the Tour de France cringing as the brave cyclist slipped their way around turns. One almost lost his life to a thousand foot drop off. On that note I decided that the day didn’t need to end on a tragic note. So I picked up the camera bag, gave my husband a kiss and confessed I may not be back until bedtime. I hit the top of Miller Road and played "eeny, meeny, miny, moe". The left hand turn would bring me towards urban Middletown, right to bucolic Durham. I love not having any particular place to go. It’s usually when the best opportunities arise. I drove by Davinci’s Pizza and hooked a sharp left. Soon I would be sitting at the end of a long driveway contemplating entering. I get gutsy…knock, knock…nothing. I hear news radio 880 loudly through the screen door. “Hellloooooooo” I scream. “Maybe I have over done it and they’ll come out with a shotgun”, I think to myself. I head back to the car and out comes a man my age. He finds it shocking that I would want to photograph his family’s dilapidated old barn. He ask if he should clean it up and have me come back another day. I chuckle and tell him the grittier the better. The sun lowers behind the barn and I start shooting. He has become curious why this complete stranger lay on the ground, camera stuck to her face? He’s thinking "she's crazy" and all I can think is,"it’s about time…I got the shot". It may not be perfect by any means. It may score low in competition, but who really cares if you feel some type of passion about what the way you capture something. Soon, a much older man comes out in true Connecticut yankee style. He looks at me untrustingly. The son eases his father’s nerves and soon the old man realizes our kinship in the barn that lay ahead. His weathered smile needs to be memorized, as he won’t pose in front of the old beauty. The years remaining for this barn are short numbered. He points out his collection of birds. “Facinating”, I think to myself that no one ever sees this when driving by this farm as they go to pick up their pizza. I feel more content than ever and the evening has just begun. I will journey further into Middletown as the sun sets and capture more, but I feel today’s miracle deep in my heart and truly need little else. Maybe it is the warmth of summer that has me in this ebullient state. The contentment could be born out of the historian in me that feels like I have done my job. Either way, it feels as good as it gets.
Like this hydrant, the busy mind runs out of control.
Why is is that our worst fears and anxieties seem to rear their ugly head minutes before we fall asleep? Problems always seem bigger than they are when its dark out. Situations seem more intense and if there is every any negativity in my mind, it happens as the sun sets. Last night my head swirled which silly enough began when I looked out the window and realized I missed the best photo opportunity of the summer. I had sat editing a job and inadvertently overlooked the most spectacular rainbow filled sunset. Mad at myself, I brushed my teeth and walked through my dressing room only to trip over the dog. For 15 years now I have tripped over black dogs. Some one remind me if I ever get another dog to make it a white one with better visibility or to purchase white carpet. Then I sat in bed thinking of the many things I had to do. Chris had fallen asleep so easily. On any given day, he’ll wake up at 4, deal with hospital stress, cover a hundred miles on a bicycle and be completely wiped out by bedtime. As he slumbers, my mind goes over the unattainable check list and the panicky feeling sets in. It keeps swirling and then I hear the squeak of the old door in my bedroom. There stands Peter unable to fall asleep. You would think I remember to oil that old squeaky door that can wake the dead. I growl under my breath and get out of bed. Great...now there’s two of us awake. Tiptoeing out I try not to wake Chris. Peter is in the exact same state I’m in. The boy has had difficulty sleeping since he was an infant. I go into his room and lay in his bed next to him. We stare at the ceiling realizing that at least were in this together. We sit and chat about all of the things making us upset. The realization comes to us that these little problems won’t be solved tonight. The issues that plague our minds late at night will somehow need to be checked on the reserved shelf for another day. As we try to clear our minds, I look at this little boy and feel fortunate to have him sitting next to me. He is my little miracle. Life is good, despite the discrepancies it sometimes has. Finally, I have a good thought that I can sleep on.
We managed to have a great summer getaway this past weekend using just about 1/2 a tank of gas. Chris has signed up for 1/2 Ironman in Providence. The race would meander it's way through this little city. When we think of great cities of the east coast, Providence would probably not be in the top 5 on most people's radar. But what a pleasant surprise it was. It has so many nooks and crannies, that Thomas's would be envious. We have been to Providence once every year or so for various events over the past 10 years. When you enter its city limits, you maybe surprised at how the city seems to be experiencing a rebirth of sorts. If you were there every day, this may not be so noticeable. Somehow this city seems to be defying the economic downturn. As I dropped Chris off at the beautiful convention center, Kate and I drove down Broadway. You could only have imagined it's grandeur during it's heyday with spectacular painted lady victorian homes and equally beautiful lace clad ladies pushing their prams up and down the Boulevard. The neighborhood has struggled through the mid 20th century trying desperately to keep the lifestyle up with its beautiful facades. But something special seems to be happening here in Providence. It seems that it's people realize just how special a place it is. You can smell the fresh paint on the grand victorians and you find yourself routing for the dilapidated ones adjacent to them, just waiting to regain their own spotlight. Street cafes help you take the pace down as you sit and appreciate the views while enjoying a delicious scone from Seven Star Bakery. Providence is home to one of America's oldest malls. With its massive columns, it like no mall you have ever seen. It too is a building just waiting for it's own renaissance of sorts. For the modern mall aficionado, the massive Providence Mall seen upon entrance to the city has everything and more. Our favorite store by far was a homemade cosmetic store called Lush where even Chris was sucked in by its enticing products. The state capital sits high on a hill rivaling the statehouse beauties of Connecticut, Wisconsin and even Washington DC. The curved and cobbled streets of the Financial District feel much like those of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. Walking up the steep hill to Brown University, one is taken back into Colonial time. But first, you must cross one of the beautiful adorned pedestrian bridges. These bridges cross over flower ensconced cauldrons that run the length of the river leading to Providence harbor. A pedestrian holds the keys to this city where you can cover the entire place on foot. No need for tricky subway maps or negotiating for yellow cabs. The beauty in this city comes in the architectural details canvasing from Colonial times, through the Industrial revolution, into the Victorian Era and up to the era of modernism. As I walked up the giant hill, you first see RISD. The school grounds then seamlessly blend in with Brown University looking high over the city. One can't help but feel like this area may contain the same colonial importance to its counterparts in Boston and Philadelphia. Returning down the hill, you look over the river and see a Venetian style gondola making its way down the river. Now I guess I don't have to go to Venice. This underdog city seems to be getting the miracle it needs. Beyond the stately facades a whole new generation seems to emerging. It's seems to have the endurance to stand the test of time, regardless of the faults and victories of it's dwellers. I have no idea of the inside politics of this town, but from this perspective, I can at least tell they really do care. In 48 hours, we came home feeling like we had had a real vacation and best yet, was that the distance home was covered so quickly that we still had some of the day left to enjoy.
Lots more photos from this series can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2057706876476.2120142.1058743819