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A Bird In The Hand

My sister Karen and I are exploring Quebec.  It is beautiful territory, both the city and the surrounding countryside.  We seek out hikes when we travel together, hoping to catch glimpses not found without the exhilaration of exploration.  Cap-Tourmente National Reserve delivered:



After a steep uphill climb, marvelously maintained by the park service, we arrived at an observation post giving up an overview of the Saint Laurent River and the farms and park land below.

It was my turn to drive as we left and I pulled our rental car into the artisan shop along the road out.  An old man and woman and grandson were collectively oiling the entry door as we stopped.  Graciously switching from French to English so we could converse, the older man showed us into a shop filled with duck decoys.  The front room contained his own creations, painted by his wife, and the adjoining room held his huge collection of decoys he had gathered over time.

As we listened to him share how the decoys were made, what kind of birds they were, and many other facts, I was reminded of my father and how he loved to talk–both with his hands and his mouth.  The old man seemed to delight in our attention, even though his milky eyes could no longer see our faces clearly.


He explained that his grandson was now carving and painting decoys since he and his wife were too old to continue.  His grandson, he shared, wasn’t interested in school much (in fact, he seemed most interested in girls–go figure!) and so perhaps the tradition would continue.

By the end of our time, after chatting and hearing the voice of my father in the background…imagining how he would have loved to spend some time in this shop, guess who left with a bird in the hand?!


A Contained LIfe

My mother, always proudly independent, leads a contained life.  The only thing she can now do on her own is feed herself, that thankfully due to her being right-handed, her arthritic left hand sits useless in her lap.  Even her speech has become an exhausting effort and words come haltingly and with great struggle.

Standing, sitting, walking, dressing, bathing, and all things in between are now done with help.  While she can still read, her most beloved pastime has become a chore.  Keeping her mind focused, her holding hand steady, and her memory of what’s been read all on task is daunting for her.



My siblings and I have often remarked that it seems cruel.  Cruel that when Mom could finally relax (Dad, with his intense needs and demands, gone) her body has literally gone to pieces.  Her mind is sharp though showing the characteristic aging-in-place signs of a confined person.

I asked her, this trip, “So, Mom, when you are sitting there in your chair all those hours…what are you thinking?  Are you pondering things or remembering or just “spacing out”?”  Mom looked at me and without a pause said, “Just “spacing out”. I never wanted to get to this point, needing help to go to the bathroom, to do everything…” and her voice trailed off.

This brings me back to an oft considered subject:  how can we deal with our aging loved ones with dignity and honor and love?  In an age where extended family is often, well, extended all over the country, how can we take their needs into account and keep watch over their care?

It’s a well documented fact that good care correlates to watchful, involved family. In my mother’s case, she is extremely fortunate to have two daughters intimately involved in her life at her nursing home.  Mom planned well and has long-term care, but now that she’s using it she understands the shortcomings.

She and I talked briefly about her living situation.  In the past she always staunchly held that she would never live with her children and burden them. Now, now that she has arrived at her old-age-reality, she can admit she’d consider it. We spoke of a time when the family might put Grandma out in a rocker on the porch, checking on her through the day…grandchildren blowing dandelion seeds for her to see. Funny thing, my mom, my independent mom, isn’t laughing about that vision anymore.

I’m so grateful to have sisters who live near Mom and carry the bulk of the responsibility.  I do feel a long-distance guilt.  The best I can do is pray, visit as often as I can, and bring her my yearly batch of her apricot jam.



Parts Unknown

My travel usually consists of flying over the American West to the Heartland and back.  On the rare occasion I fly to Hawaii.  So flying to Quebec on a relatively small airplane gave me a chance to view Eastern landscapes I have rarely seen. Greens.  Blues.  Small puffy clouds dotting the sky below casting shadows on clumps of  little towns.  Strip mines with their artificially created, brilliantly colored lakes.  Small farms.  Large swathes of dense forests, reminding me that this country was once covered in first growth hardwoods.


My eastern geography is patchy.  Flying over a huge lake, I wonder which it is?  My sister doesn’t know, the guy in front of me (tap…tap, excuse me?) doesn’t know. The flight attendant doesn’t know (yeah, I’m too busy to know what’s down there!).  I pity our ignorance and vow to study my maps.

I get immense enjoyment from peering down on landscapes of our country…wondering about the people, the the communities, the economies, and the histories.  I’d like the chance  to drive some of those tiny serpentine roads I see from my window seat from so far above.

My camera stays out most flights I take.  I delete the majority of the images, but not until I enjoy them enlarged on my desktop computer where I can muse again about the places I’ve seen.

imageMy first view of Canada.



Gunner Michael

I have a new grandchild, my first.  A tiny soul named Gunner Michael.  I’ve hesitated in writing about him, savoring the moments and soaking up the amazing love that I feel for this new life.

Much has been written about the bonds between grandparents and grandchildren and I do not qualify to write more just yet.  But suffice it to say that my world has shifted and the sun seems a bit brighter since his birth.

Family and friends bore witness to his baptism recently.  I took some photographs of him lying on a lace cloth that was made by his Great-Great-Great Grandmother Freitag.  Gazing at Gunner I could almost feel the long line of family connections reaching across time to welcome him to the fold.


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Gunner in baptismal dress on lace cloth, 1

High Summer

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It is high summer here.  I drink in the gorgeous sights and sounds, almost guiltily soaking in the mild, windy weather.  We know what we have here, living on the left coast, and I try to take time to be grateful and to savor.  An old friend came to town and we fell easily into our old walk through Henry Cowell State Park.  He and I do not spend much time keeping in touch besides the big announcements (spelled B A B Y) and holidays.  And yet, like old friends can do, we begin our conversation almost as if it has only been a week or two since we last talked.  Does this speak more to the fact that our lives have settled into routine or that our ties are just that strong?


August field at Henry Cowell, 2014


And August brings my annual trek to the boardwalk to ride the Giant Dipper.  On high I can see the last of the beach crowd and the busy summer evening wharf crowd.  My head is whipped away as we rocket down and around the next curve and back on top again.  The ride, like the summer, is always over too soon but I exit grinning and knowing I’ll be back.


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Perhaps I can use this photo taken on a recent whale watching trip with my sister, Pam, to herald my return.  We just happened to see the spout in just the right light, creating a technicolor delight for which we appropriately cheered.

Six years ago I began this meandering account of my travels and musings.  For the better half of a year, I’ve neglected it, feeling that I had begun to repeat myself (and not just in the manner of old people coughing up the same old tales).  No, I wasn’t telling the same stories, I was living the same stories.

Same trip to Illinois to see my aging mother and try to relieve my sisters.  Same walks seeing the same people–I was even getting hit up for money by the same homeless people using the same lines each time.  Same wedding photography, same locations, same family dynamics.  Same tacos, same margaritas (OK, so some things are best left alone!).

I needed to step away and let some things sift out.  Is six months enough time? Well, as I write this I’m sitting on my same swing listening to the music of my same fountain, but I’m beginning to feel like I just might be able to write again.  It’s a start.

I contemplated changing the name of this journey, snakeskin journey being potentially off-putting, but it is out there and I can neither be bothered or worried. I’m still shedding skins and uncovering new ones and I hope to be until the day I die.  I will, however, look seriously at another format in order to better display my photography.  But for now, while no one is any longer listening, I think I will just begin again.


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A puzzle of pelicans.


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It is difficult to show the scale of this massive flock of sooty shearwaters.  We learned that they migrate from New Zealand each year and they were the inspiration for Hitchcock’s film, The Birds.  Apparently Hitchcock was living in Santa Cruz in 1963 when the birds actually were attaching humans.  Scientists now know that it was the red algae bloom that poisoned them and they went a bit crazy.  I was happy to see them for as far as my eye could see without them turning on our boat.

Darker Waters

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As my mother heads into the last phases of a long life, I find myself pondering the mystery of it all.  I’ve recently returned from a two week visit, hoping for some quality time with her and to give a tiny bit of relief for my sisters who hold down the fort back in the Midwest.

As is typical of me when faced with a quandary, I have been reading. Reading about “end of life” issues.  I read to gain insight and information and hopefully a handle on what is and what is to come.  The reading is helpful, but it is also making me sad.  Sad to be so far away, sad that the quality time I hoped for is not really possible anymore, sad at the loss of my father to death and my mother to the process of dying.

It is a necessary sadness, one I would not avoid if I could.  I am familiar with sad and feel no need to push it away, but as we row through these darker waters I also want to be prepared and aware and helpful and encouraging to those with whom I share this boat.

The First to Know

Today, just as my New Zealand 365 photo project friend, Kath, boldly launches her beautiful new website Katherine Parrott, Anchors and Wings I am taking my photography site Wendy Russell Photography down.

My photography site no longer represents something I wish to pursue and promote as a career, wedding and family and child portraits.  I have been a long time coming to this step, unwillingly to let go of the dream of photography satisfying my financial as well as creative needs.  The time and effort, studying and financial investment, emotions and love are hard to calculate and hard to release.

It took me a very long time to work up to wedding photography.  My biggest stumbling block was myself.  I had the classic case of what is referred to as “impostor syndrome” (look hard enough…there is a syndrome for everything).  I often believed, for a variety of reasons, that I was masquerading as a professional and at any moment my mask could be torn away.

Much of this feeling came because I felt I had entered the business by the back door. Self taught, I was always catching up and running to understand the latest technique or technology.  I repeated (over and over and over) the cardinal sin of comparison, combing through wedding sites with a mounting sense of doom as I viewed the stunning images and confident copy.  Who was I to think I could produce this level of product?

Working with a terrific wedding photographer, gracious and encouraging, helped build my confidence but the nagging never went away.  I am willing to consider that had I come to this a few decades earlier the outcome might be different, but that is not the case.  I have come to know that for all of the investment of time, equipment and education I do not have the fire in my belly to pursue wedding photography as a career any longer.  The complexity of the business–and it is a very big business–the demands of people and places, the phenomenal importance of that one day, that one special unrepeatable, most important day, requires all-in focus that I cannot sustain.

I do love weddings.  I do love wedding images.  For the most part, I even love the way the day plays out and gradually builds to the tender moment of commitment.  I love how some receptions are pure expressions of the joy and love of family, community, and couple.  I love how the best weddings reflect, in the tiniest details and the quietest moments the careful planning of the bride and groom.  I love to stand at the sideline and catch the expressions of the in-laws and the out-laws.

But.  But, oh, the production.  It can be a pressure that causes me sleepless nights and a constant low rumble of worry.  It is not worth focusing on the more difficult aspects here.

My photography is a daily practice and one I continue to love and explore and expand.  I’m mulling over the opportunities and will surely find other forks in the road as I travel.  I am not eyeing a darkening sky, but rather awaiting with anticipation new dawns.  It feels good and right.


Last look…

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New Year, Old Images

With the holiday events I managed to let December get completely away from me. Oh, I took the daily photos and I finished the year:  365 days of photos.  As simple as taking a daily photo sounds, there were times when I almost forgot or felt so completely uninspired I had to literally force myself to take something  But most days it was a pleasure to pay attention, look around and find some small thing of beauty or interest.  Here they are, the final photos for the year:


11-27-13, 331-365Portland, my niece Ryan’s dog, on a Thanksgiving visit.


11-28-13, 332-365Thanksgiving with my sister and her children, my group, and my cousin and his wife and son.  It was a lot to be thankful for and we were.


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Taking Christmas card photos…with a bit of distraction with the foliage.


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After the crowds left…


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We are very fortunate to be on the migratory path of these monarchs.


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More Christmas card subjects–not the image they used, but full of little personalities!


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Annual tradition, still intact.


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The Santa Cruz Harbor Annual Lighted Boat Parade, a favorite of many, including me.


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My dear friends, mother and daughter.


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I love the old ornaments, pulling them out, one by one and remembering.


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It is incredibly dry here.  The leaves have simply shriveled up on the tree making a beauty of its own.


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On the second anniversary of my father’s passing, I pause to take this photo of two of my most important influences.


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12-14-13, 348-365Dawn at the ocean on a cold December morning.


12-15-13, 349-365My kids.


12-16-13, 350-365Another full moon calling me.


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My mother painted this tree long ago.  It was out of character for her and I am so grateful to have it in my home now that she no longer has room for it.  I see it in the window and I think of her.


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The warm glow of Christmas.


12-21-13, 355-365Time for reflection…


12-22-13, 356-365An old friend, mother of nine, told me tearily that what she most wished for was a photograph of all of her children together.  Merry Christmas, Laurie.


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12-25-13, 359-365Christmas Day in front of the tree.


12-26-13, 360-365We haven’t had much needed rain, but I confess I have been reveling in our unseasonably sunny weather.


12-27-13, 361-365Gabby making jello jigglers.  I watched her for a day…park, errands, jello and reading.


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12-30-13, 364-365Went to see the clusters of monarchs.  So amazing.


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A walk around an old neighborhood.


12-31-13, 365-365And my last day, December 31st.  Ending this particular journey on my swing.  Contemplating the next steps.


A Gorgeous Autumn

It has been a very beautiful, warm, sun-filled autumn in Santa Cruz.  Afternoons where sitting in the sun in shirtsleeves is a great pleasure.  Having passed Thanksgiving, we are now on a run toward Christmas and, perhaps accordingly, the weather has suddenly turned cold.  I’m coming off of a week of company and enjoying the quiet time.  Wondering how to proceed when this year of photos ends on the last day of the year…


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Thinking these were birds, I went to get a closer look.  Turns out what I was seeing was flippers and heads!  A gathering of seals at sunset.


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Beautiful full moon.  This is when I appreciate my camera equipment.


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My friend, Hannah, is studying for her master’s in nursing.  She asked me to help her on a project that involved her aerial class.


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A small amount of rain…lovely, but not enough.


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On the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death, I pulled out the newspapers I saved from those days.  I was 8 years old and remember being sent home from school by crying teachers and met by my crying mother.  I am still deeply affected by this memory.


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For weeks the Monterey Bay has been mobbed by birds and seals and whales, all feasting on a mysterious abundance of anchovies.


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The low flow of the San Lorenzo River allows for a clear reflection of the trestle bridge.


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A wreath for my daughter’s new home…done by our friend, Zondra.


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On a walk through Henry Cowell State Park with my sister, Karen, we saw these horses with their riders.  As we left the area we saw them again…I guess their humans were thirsty after their ride.



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