Flowers Film and Floods
The Mesa Verde plateau, a sunny day, a girlfriend, a camping van, a camera -- and fields of wildflowers. The perfect day, the perfect place, and the perfect vacation.
While Susan sat in the van reading and enjoying herself, I ran happily around the fields with my macro lens, taking pictures of all the different flowers. I had my pocket guide and my photo log with the will to annotate every single photograph.
In the matter of a morning, I amassed several hundred Kodachrome frames of blossoms, leaves, seed pods, and even insect inhabitants. The day turned into a hot one, but the meadows were lush with green, yellow, red, pink, blue, purple -- every shade of nuance the sun could coax out of mother nature's unbelievable spectrum.
Later, we climbed down to Spruce Tree House and stared at Cliff Palace from the vista point, had dinner at the national park's dining room, and laid out our sleeping bags under the clear starry night sky.
A thousand miles later, the boxes of slides arrived one by one at the photo finishers. Eagerly, I mounted each one in a carousel and flipped on the projector's switch. Voila, there in flamboyant hues were the fruits of my sightseeing endeavors.
In my head, I dreamed of compiling a chapbook of these fabulous photos and my memories of the park tour, the trip, and my impressions. It would be my retirement gift to myself. I speculated about the end result, a best-seller, even worthy of retailing at all the national park souvenir shops.
Seven years later, I married a different girlfriend, Terri, the faith-filled love of my life. We started a family, two bright, beautiful children. I filled more carousels of slides of them at home, at school, at the zoo, at all the places we took them for entertaining and education.
As the family grew up, I ran out of room in the house for my growing collection of photos. I moved them, first to a shelf in the garage, and when that was needed for other things, under the house where I could easily access them.
That proved to be the wrong choice; easy access meant the front of the crawl space -- directly under the water heater. I should have thought through my location. But sadly, the hazard didn't occur to me.
It' will be no surprise that eventually the water heater burst, flooded the laundry room, and leaked through the floor. In a matter of hours before we discovered it, 2500 slides fatally degraded.
The slides in the upper slots in the carousels were washed clear, their dyes opaquing the slides in the bottom slots. The middle sets of slides retained their same colors but were embedded with rust. Oh, the anguish when I discovered the catastrophe.
I took a day off work and called my trusted photo store. They didn't have any suggestions except to wash everything off as soon as possible. I bough a bottle of PhotoFlo, a photographers' water conditioner, and loaded the slides into all my darkroom trays.
I threw away the destroyed slides and clipped the saved slides to hangers using all my photo clips and several boxes of binder clips. They hung on the shower rod to dry for days until Terri demanded I move them.
By then, it was obvious there was no use trying to salvage even the rescued slides. PhotoFlo hadn't removed the days of accumulated rust, even though I shook the trays vigorously. Sadly, I deposited the remaining slides in the recycle bin. My full collection was gone.
Also gone was my long-held dream of authoring a book illustrated with the fruits of my high desert excursion with Susan. With tears, I closed that chapter of my life. Even my children recognized my loss and they grieved with me.
But there's never full closure on dreams. I became a poet, recognized for my word skills and imagination. I began to accumulate a collection of poems. I joined a poetry critique group and got precious feedback on language, structure, and concepts. I traveled the region, reading my poetry to open mics.
Among my poems, I began to write about minor figures in the Bible -- men and women who appeared once or twice and then vanished. I imagined their back stories based on my New Testament study and scripture reading. I took pains to make them as authentic as possible in verse.
Slowly another dream began to emerge. What if I focused on these new poems, polished them until they shined, vetted them to theologians and religious scholars? What if I published the end result, the poems my faith had conceived, in a special chapbook I could sell at Christian bookstores?
As my children aged out into the world on their own, I had more motivation to focus on these and other poems. When my grandchildren arrived, I set aside my writing to appreciate them. But the dream remains. There will come a time when the little ones grow up, start school, and drift away from Pahpa to other interests.
Then, as I reminisce, the moment will come to resume composing my imagined histories of the men and women I discovered in Bible study, adult Sunday school, and sounding out the opinions of elders and ordained theologians.
I have no sequence for these stories in verse. I don't know if I'll put them in chronological order, ordered by parable, or mixed up in a pattern I have yet to discern.
But my spirit dances with joy that creativity has returned to my life. Though my original dream washed away in an uncontrollable, unexpected, uninvited disaster, an outside force came over me and this new ambition was born.
I was not religious when I took those many photos of wildflowers. It took years of shared experience with my wife before my spirit was overcome with the Lord's grace and love. As my church education progressed, as I learned more about the holy dwelling I was destined to achieve, I embraced this new chapter.
Gradually, my regret, my long sorrow over my water heater mistake, turned to joy. I relegated wildflowers and colorful illustrations to my own back story, and envisioned a fresh, immaculate narrative.
My photos may be gone, but I think my words will paint vivid pictures of colorful characters who were briefly prominent and then consigned to the grayness of antiquity.