Thursday, August 2, 2012

Eric's Hysterics: Helen Peppe

Eric's Hysterics: Helen Peppe: The Situation and Story: Survival of the Writer Fiction by Helen Peppe You nod pleasantly to the other five students. You are ...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sheila Boneham's Writers and Other Animals: Artsy Fartsy Friday! Guest Blogger Helen Peppe

I wrote this post for author Sheila Boneham. Bookmark her blog. She posts entertaining and enlightening articles several times a week by a variety of creative professionals.

Sheila Boneham's Writers and Other Animals: Artsy Fartsy Friday! Guest Blogger Helen Peppe: It's my pleasure to welcome professional photographer and writer Helen Peppe, who is blogging today about photographing dogs, especially sh...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mount Eisenhower

Presidential ridge copyright Alexander Peppe Photography
I sat down this morning eager to begin revisions on my novel, my mind overflowing with sentences that had waited impatiently while I fed the dogs and cleaned up the breakfast dishes. But when I opened Word and pressed the control key, I hit “n” instead of “o.” “It’ll just take a second to write a few notes about hiking up Mount Pierce,” I told my German shepherd. “Then I’ll get to the real work.” Runja had hiked the 4312 foot mountain with Alex and me, and she always took interest in my decisions because at any moment I could say, “Get your ball,” Let’s go,” or “Want a bone?” It is exhilarating to have eager and attentive listeners. Any mother of teenagers will tell you that.
I titled my new document “Where Eisenhower Should Have Been,” having decided on my personal essay’s name when it was still just a seedling as I sat on Pierce’s summit. My intent was to just input raw notes such as the feel of the monorail of snow and ice beneath my feet the last half mile of elevation gain, the scratch of evergreen branches against my face and shoulders when I slipped into thigh deep snow, the intense quiet broken only by birds, chipmunks, and the crunch of my boots. In seconds, I became lost in remembering and bypassed the words at the ready for my revision, words that sat like a presence in my brain while I did anything that didn’t involve letting them out.

copyright Helen Peppe Photography
Alex stood to my right with Runja, pointing to a wall of silver fog. I sat on a rock that seemed made for sitting, a bowl of red seedless grapes balanced on my thigh. I watched my son move confidently over the shrubs and boulders, his fitness evident. I had expected he’d be in graduate school at twenty-one, MIT or Princeton, studying computer programming. I’d never considered that he’d one day be a Maine guide. “That’s where Eisenhower would be if we could see it,” Alex said. He was dressed in a gray synthetic shirt and shorts. It made me shiver just to look him. It couldn’t have been more than 40 degrees. “It’s impressive how close it is, but we can’t see even a hint of it.”

copyright Helen Peppe Photography
I placed my Tupperware container of grapes on my open backpack and picked up my Nikon to take a picture of the nothing that was something and took a picture of Alex and Runja instead. In the stillness of the alpine region, I could sense the rock’s presence, almost feel it behind the shimmering fog. “It’s a bit like all those gray jays you said I’d see when we climbed Jackson,” I said, throwing liver treats in Runja’s direction. She leaped and her teeth clacked together with a loud snap followed by a tiny echo. “Those were invisible to me, too.”
I teased him, but we both knew he’d mentioned the birds’ friendliness eight months before only as an incentive to get me on a mountain .
“Wildlife and views are always a gamble when climbing,” Alex said, his breath puffing softly in front of his face. The fog was so thick that water dripped through the air in a way that couldn’t be described as rain but felt like drizzle. Then he said something which stuck with me, which planted the seed that would become the essay that sidetracked me from my novel. “People shouldn’t hike mountains with expectations of views because if they don’t see what they expect, they miss what’s actually there.”
I knew he wasn’t slamming me. We’d hiked together enough that he was aware I no longer had any expectations beyond eventually reaching a summit and reveling in the absolute sense of isolation while I ate fruit and dark chocolate. That day the aloneness was even more intense because of the fog that wrapped itself around us on the flat ledge of the summit. What I hadn’t been aware of was how introspective he’d become, how erudite.  “We should start down,” he added. “We want to get out of the snow and ice before we lose what little light we have.”
copyright Helen Peppe Photography
I gathered up my pack, throwing more liver treats Runja’s way and handed Alex a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As we adjusted our hiking poles and began the descent, I thought about what we can’t see when we’re intent on seeing what we expect. And then I thought of how many things I lose. I can’t even find my car keys or cell phone seconds after I set them down. It was as if sometimes all I could see was what I wasn’t looking for as if everything was hidden by a layer of fog. I remember my mother exasperated with my failure to retrieve what she wanted when I was a child. She’d often say, “If it were a snake, it would have bitten you.” Oddly, she was the one who also said, “It’s silly to be afraid. Snakes don’t bite.”  The Eisenhowers in my life, in anyone’s life, are numerous.

copyright Helen Peppe Photography
My notes did not take only a few seconds. Few things do. I think Runja knows this because she’d sighed when she settled at me feet. I wrote for several hours, exploring the idea of how something so large and obvious as a mountain or a son growing into a man can’t be seen regardless of proximity. I wrote, ferreting out the details and realized, even as my brain was taken over by the idea that Alex hadn’t actually changed his career goals, but had turned aside from the ones I’d made for him, that my novel revisions sat in my brain much like that of the towering  presidential beside Mount Pierce. When I stopped writing, Runja shifted impatiently against my leg causing me to wonder for an instant what she had seen at the top of Mount Pierce. What must it be like to have so few expectations?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Click! Click! Click!

Threes are significant in my life: I often think how great it would be if I had only three things to get done in a day. Juggling my life would be fantasy-like manageable. I take full responsiblity for my decisons however. For example, I used to have three dogs, the ideal number, which I know because when I had two I wanted another. Three were so much fun that I adopted a fourth. Now that I have four, I often reminisce about what it was like to have two plus one. Because of my special relationship with the number three, this will be my last post with a triplet-word title, and  it should not go un-noted that it is my third attempt at blogging, and it is the third of January. 

I began to consider the number three more seriously when I noticed the conflict between the negative "three's a crowd" and the positive menage a trois, specifically the repeated references on the sitcom Two and Half Men. How can there be the undesirable third wheel if the third sex partner is such a desirable boon? And two and a half men? It's clear the show features three males, all child-like, which is the opposite of Lionel Richie's song that features one female who is three times a lady. But if a man goes once, twice to the end of a metaphorical rainbow with a lady, wouldn't consistency of language call for "thrice" on the third trip?

Teaching my son portraiture last August, I noticed that Alex fired his Nikon D200's shutter not thrice but in groupings of four, which sounded odd to my three-canaled, three-ossicled ear. "Peculiar," I commented, and tried his four count method as an experiment, but by December when I photographed Shona Michaud's Australian shepherd Heelside Race You to the Top in Minot, Maine, I'd reverted naturally back to firing in threes. Called Nevis for short, this Aussie is named after Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland and the last of three mountains in a race that is routed through three countries. This ambitious dog is named perfectly, so perfectly that I had to stop firing my camera in triplets and watch first in surprise, second in admiration, and third in wonder: surprise at this Aussie's determination, admiration for his strategies, and wonder about threes, not only for their significance, but as the ideal number. Ask any juggler.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Go! Go! Go!

Tonight, the eve of a new year, ripe with beginning in a way that can't compete with spring, the time of true rebirth and growth, I opened eBay to pictures of weights, a stability ball, and a Polar heart rate watch with the words "Commit to a New You" headlining the page. What's wrong with the old me? I thought, instantly offended because eBay's marketing department assumed I was fat and unfit. The weights were even a light three and five pounds, as if some Internet profile had informed the advertisers that I was too old and weak to lift tens and fifteens. I clicked out of the site, unwilling to search for a new seller of Lindt's dark chocolate bars, the reason I'd logged on, and closed my laptop with the hope that a few eBay employees might experience a blast of disappointment in failed marketing strategy.

An hour later I sat at a takeout dinner of Thai food, and my son's girlfriend, having read my "Now! Now! Now!" post from yesterday, asked, "You don't really mean that, do you? About not making resolutions?" To convince me how I was missing out Katie listed her own resolves: 1) complete a marathon, 2) train for a triathlon, 3) run at least four days a week, 4) lift weights, and 5) get married. "Want to swim with me?" she ended, her young eyes bright, and her young body bursting with energy, not much unlike Bella, the fawn boxer of my recent photo shoot. Instead of feeling inspired to swim in a pool that groups of small children and seniors had peed, spat, and dripped mucous in, I felt like she, too, was saying I was fat.

"I don't have time," I answered quickly, remembering how Bella had encouraged fun activities in dog-speak, not soul-sucking drama like middle-aged naked women in the YWCA  locker room.

"That's the point," Katie said. "You make the time."

If I could actually "make" time, I'd be selling minutes like nobody's business. I didn't say this, though, not wanting to crush her youthful idealism, but time can't be stolen, taken, or made. It isn't even really possible to divide it. Time does what it wants just like a teenager, regardless of the power I try to wield.

So, back to the lessons dogs teach: Not Bella this time, but Heelside's Crankin Rankin Reel, Shona Michaud's Austrialian shepherd. As I photographed him, I marveled at how Rankin ignored basic laws of gravity and time. He leaped and raced in a life's-so-wonderful style. And as he returned everything I'd given him, dropping it gently at my knees where I knelt on the frozen ground, I did not feel that Rankin believed I should eat less chocolate and exercise more. When he looked into my face, his head tilted softly to the side, and his muscles ready for now, I felt this dog believed we should cut back on the planning, the bemoaning, and the wasting of time, and simply Go! Go! Go! before all time runs out.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Now! Now! Now!

In this in-between week of the year where people say goodbye to the past and hello to the future, I thought I might deny the dreary concept that I am falling behind in all that I want to accomplish. I might even forgo New Year’s resolutions, forging recklessly ahead without a list of resolves. Why risk reasons to be disappointed in myself later for not living up to my idealistic goals? And for those of us whose birthdays fall in January—yes fall, just think if there hadn’t been hands to catch us at that last push—the month can be dreaded for its reminder of age or welcomed for the prospect of receiving those few Christmas gifts that thrifty and organized family members set aside for the upcoming celebration. I choose, this year, to ring in my age, to think of 45 with joy instead of words that sound like they originate from the Tasmanian Devil, regardless of how many times my nine-year-old asks if I will still be alive when she is 45.

Bella rescued me from the soul-sucking end-of-the-year-birthday-doldrums a few weeks ago on a sharply cold Saturday morning at Hinckley Park in South Portland, Maine. Bella reminded me that, unless it’s time for her raw meat patty, which might be any moment, that time, as a topic of consideration, is inconsequential. Bella is a boxer I photographed with her Weimaraner dog buddy Gordon, for her owner Jennifer Luc Lariviere. She raced to me and away from me, she danced on her hind legs, and struggled to make herself sit so she could earn her treat, she bounced, zig-zagged, and danced with delight at me, at Gordon, at Jennifer, at the trees, at the puddles, and at a ball she didn’t even want. Bella even loves life when it chases her and nips her on the butt in the form of a furry mixed breed who wasn’t quite as enthusiastic with his walk in the park.

Bella, packaged in fawn fur, reminded me to stop worrying about the mud and spit on my water-resistant pants, the dog poop wedged into the treads of my insulated boots, and the mountain of work at home. “That work,” she seemed to say as she twirled on her flashy white legs and slung drool from her black velvety lips, “will always be there.” She didn’t add carpe diem, as she is only a year old and a dog trained in obedience not in influential ancient poets, but said with wiggly-butt energy,”Have fun now. Now! Now! Now!”

So anything less, minus the slobber on my knees, would be ignoring the wise advice of a Canis lupis familiaris and falling behind in all that I want to accomplish.