Once upon a time my husband and I use to have date days. One day each month we escaped, taking turns planning surprise outings. It was great for our marriage.
I don't remember many of the places we went, and I didn't journal at the time, although now I wish I had. But one particular date day does stand out in my mind, and its not because I planned it. No, it was because we both contributed to it without even knowing it.
One day in early summer, my husband brought home a brochure for the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, a nature center with seven miles of hiking trails. He had been to the Institute on a work sales call, and picked up the brochure while he was there. He showed it to me as soon as he got home, saying "we should go here sometime, they have lots of scheduled activities, including a firefly viewing party". As with most "sometime" things the brochure was placed in a pile and promptly forgotten. Until one day when I was sorting through that pile. It was my turn to plan the next date day, and since it was now October with fall in full technicolor glory it seemed the perfect time to go.
The day of our date we set off as soon as we dropped our daughter at school. My printed turn-by-turn directions tucked discreetly into the driver's door pocket. I had planned it so we would be there as soon as the gates opened.
We had a great morning and early afternoon, at one point stopping at a bench beside a lake to eat the snack I had packed in my small backpack. But eventually the snack wore off and we were hungry, we had hiked quite a bit of the seven miles of trails. We decided to drive into the town of Hastings, about nine miles from the Institute for a late lunch. Not knowing the area, I let my husband drive us there. He had been to a brew pub there once for work, and wanted to take me there.
Now eight years later, I found myself back in the small town of Hastings on a solo adventure. I stood in front of the same brew pub, but this time I noticed a whole new world of details that photography and writing have taught me to see. I parked downtown, a short distance from the pub. I didn't want to rush the memory, I wanted to walk slowly and savor all the things around the pub, things I was unaware of last time.
First order of business was to look for a coffee shop. A coffee shop tells a lot about a town, and a lot of small towns don't have anything besides a Starbucks located next to the strip mall on the outskirts of town. The best small towns still have a local coffee shop in the heart of their downtown. I was fortunate, this small town did. I paused outside on the pavement, trying to determine if this was my kind of coffee shop, when a gentleman headed for the door said to me "Go on in, best coffee in town". Well, who can argue with that, so in I went. Adorable coffee shop located on the street level of an old Masonic Temple. Oh, how I wanted to go upstairs and explore, especially when the sign outside said there were offices to rent. I am certain there will be a return visit to this coffee shop.
Back out on the pavement with a 16 oz. chai latte in hand, I set to wandering.
Here is a glimpse into my thoughts while wandering:
- I wonder if I look more like a local if I have a coffee cup in my hand as opposed to my dslr slung over my shoulder.
- I wonder what that yellow building is over there...
- That looks like an old train depot...
- I love old doors.
- A his and hers shop, how practical.
I have found I need a minimum of two hours in a town to get a good feel for it, and the only way to explore is on foot.
I had put in my two hours of wandering time and was back at my car, feeling I had discovered everything of interest, but also feeling disappointed. There had been no defining moment in those two hours. The defining moment for me is something that gives my heart that fluttery feeling. As I was driving toward the end of main street preparing to turn around and go back the way I had come, I saw it...the defining moment. A river walk that actually went past decaying industrial grunge buildings, my heart was a fluttering.
There was a convenient parking lot right next to the bridge leading to the grundy buildings. I grabbed my dslr from the back seat, not caring if I looked like a tourist anymore, and set off for more wandering.
The defining moments, the heart fluttery moments, are the moments that I get lost in. Although I do try to stay aware of my surroundings and who is around me. So it came to be that I noticed the gangly high school age boy leaning against a telephone pole across the street, watching me. A lady with a german shepherd came walking by, and the boy stopped her to chat and tell her what a nice looking dog she had and give it a scratch behind the ears. I dismissed him, figuring he couldn't be too harmful if he liked dogs. The lady walked on, the boy resumed his watching, and I returned to my moment.
Shortly thereafter I heard him cross the street behind me, turning around I saw that he was now leaning against a telephone pole about ten yards away. I had two options here: continue to ignore him and let him watch, or make eye contact and acknowledge him. I chose the latter. He was a brave boy, a curious boy, he asked the question I have been anticipating forever "What are you photographing?". Even though I have been anticipating the question, I failed to find the words to express what truly lies within my heart.
He was looking at a chain-link fence, an overgrown yard, brick buildings, windows encircled in rust, and couldn't see what I saw, the defining moment, the heart fluttery moment. Maybe if he saw my photographs he would understand, but then again maybe not, and maybe it doesn't matter.