|Every year Ms Keogh
(my more significant other) and I try to produce a
homemade Season's Greetings card to send to family
and friends. We succeed to varying degrees and don't
always have it done on time.
This year's Season's Greetings card began a few years
ago. I was driving along Wood Lane in Langhorne and
was witness to a vision. In the distance was the
Styer's apple orchard and its twisted trees
silhouetted against snow. Sadly, by the time I
returned with the camera, it was too dark. I was
determined to capture it and came back multiple
times, hoping for the right amount of snow, the right
angle of the sun crafting the same shadows as I saw
that first time. It took years of waiting for the
right snow to happen on a day I was off from work.
I had lost the habit of seeing the world as would the
camera. The brain edits what appears in the retina.
The vision of the apple orchard in snow as I had it
in my mind, did not include the disrupting foreground
and distracting background. When, finally, the right
combination of sun and snow came together, the camera
saw more than I wanted to record. The brambles by the
road had grown taller, further blocking the distant
view. Switching to a telephoto lens took away the
orchard's depth, flattening it. There was no other
choice than to get closer on foot.
This little adventure began with parking the car on
the opposite side of the road in an unplowed parking
lot of a lonely machine shop that hadn't opened
because of the inclement weather. Removing myself
from the coziness of a warm car, I confronted the
frigid air, harsh against my cheeks and earlobes.
Crossing the street, I sought an opening in the
brambles and zigzagged my way through the gaps, often
pressing down a thorny stalk with my boot. They would
spring back behind me.
There were deer prints in the snow. I tried to
follow, but the deer was thinner than me and must
have also been indifferent to thorns. The tracks led
to the animal's droppings, then to a place where the
animal had laid on the ground. It had rested there
long enough to melt the snow to the grass underneath.
It all seemed fresh, but I never saw the deer.
Coming out the far side of the brambles, I had to
cross a small gulch, then climb the slippery gradient
of gravel to the railroad track. On the other side of
the tracks I had my shot looking out over the tilted
landscape, the rising apple orchard with a house at
the top. I waited for the sun to come out from behind
a cloud. Then I waited for the sun to go back behind
a cloud, just not one as thick. I waited until there
were no cars on the road behind the house. No matter
how long I waited, the power lines that draped across
my picture were not going away. Of the several
pictures I shot, not one satisfied me. The trip back
through the brambles was twice as long. But the image
would be rescued.
Ms Keogh received a commission to paint four murals
on the empty walls of a local medical facility. She
chose as her subject the four seasons represented by
four different local landscapes. She painted with our
daughter's help and I am quite proud of what they
accomplished together. Furthermore, I was honored to
have her base the winter scene on my failed
photograph. She excluded the power lines. Painters
can do that. There it was, spread nine feet along the
otherwise drab walls of the clinic, a winter scene
that I knew could serve as our Season's Greetings
card. I photographed the mural. We reproduced the
image on this year's cards.
Déjà vu! There was an earlier winter when I stood
knee-deep in snow to photograph sheep standing
outside stables at the Thompson-Neely House. This is
a stone house that was used by General Lord Stirling
while he commanded the Continental troops stationed
along the Pennsylvania bank of the Delaware River.
They were there to prevent the British crossing from
New Jersey. None of this had anything to do with the
sheep penned into stone stables covered in snow. It
was another case of taking several years and multiple
return visits to get the perfect picture. Each time
Ms Keogh and I ventured up the river, we had to hope
the sheep would be outside. Once we were pulled over
by a policeman in his four-wheel-drive vehicle. He
said we had no business being out in a small Japanese
car during a blizzard, but that was the day we got
our shot. To this day we still argue whose image was
used, since we both took multiple pictures.
Perhaps our funniest card was the one year an idea
didn't come to us until after the New Year. The very
lateness became our inspiration. We took a
photo-image of ourselves and had a computer program
convert it to appear as a sketch. We then doctored
our images further with felt tip pens until I looked
like a uniformed Cossack and Ms Keogh had the
appearance of a Chinese maiden. We photo-copied the
results, cut them out, and posted them onto note
cards. The inside caption read, "Merry Russian
Christmas & Happy Chinese New Year (You see, our
card wasn't late after all.)"
My favorite was a note card that was decorated with
the large knocker on Ebenezer Scrooge's door, a
lion's head with the brass ring passing through his
mouth. When the card was opened, the lion's face was
replaced, the brass ring was in the mouth of Marley's
ghost. Inside I quoted Marley's ghost,
"Business! ... Mankind was my business. The
common welfare was my business; charity, mercy,
forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my
I asked Ms Keogh which was her favorite. She said it
was the one in which I drew the manger scene - ah,
yes, the one where everybody said my cow looked too
much like my Newfoundland dog with horns. There was
the infant Jesus in his mother's lap being breast-fed
while the rest of the barn-life looked on. The
caption was my poem about the Christ being a mammal,
his first apostles the occupants of the stable before
the Three Wise Men arrived.
The invention and manufacture of our own Season's
Greetings cards, I do believe, are more fun for Ms
Keogh and me than they can be for their recipients.
The time sacrificed in the endeavor, and the effort
to be original, focuses our appreciation on the
significance of this time of year and the value we
place on our friends and family.