When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully
able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.
As I grow older
I get surer
Man’s heart is colder,
His life no purer.
As I grow steadily
I come less readily
To Christmas each year.
I can’t keep taking
Without a thought
And presents bought
In crowds and jostling.
Alas, there’s naught
In empty wassailing
Where oblivion’s sought.
Oh, I’d be waiting
With quiet fasting
A joy more lasting.
And so rhyme
With no apology
During this time
Judgement and warning
Come like thunder.
But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.
 “The birth of wonder” by Madeleine L’Engle. Published in the book WinderSong by Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.
Yesterday’s afternoon walk was a bit chilly. Air temperature was around 10°F with wind chill of -7°F. Especially at the corner of Broadway and East Wisconsin. It was practically a wind tunnel. Crossing Water Street was not much better. But I finally made it across the bridge and to the River Walk.
The river was not quite frozen. And for the most part, very few people are out for a wintery stroll. One woman pulled her faux fur lined hood over her head and quickly shuffled out of the Wells Fargo building to a waiting SUV. A couple guys, both dressed in thick dark coats, waited for a bus. There was a man waiting at the street corner smoking a cigarette. He wore a red flannel jacket and no gloves.
Funny how cigarette smoke is so distinct in the frigid air. The subtle distinctions between Camel Turkish Gold 100’s, Marlboro Red, Newport Menthol Blue and Chesterfield Bronze is almost as unmistakable as the scent of a fajita or a falafel. Wondered why he had no gloves.
There was a Tranströmer poem I tried to recall as I walked along the River Walk. My breath, thick clouds, attempted to signal a line of the poem. What was it about? A train? A couple in a hotel? Something about night? Or was it a horizon? The frozen river surface does not help. And forty minutes in the cold temperature sent me back to the warm harbor of the office building.
It is difficult to believe that it is winter in Wisconsin. The weather reports offer that snowfall is in the forecast for this weekend and sub zero temperatures. But for now, a lunch time walk along Milwaukee’s River Walk is a damp pleasure.
Often, lunch time is in opportunity for a walk. It breaks the day up and offers a time to disengage from work-related tasks and refresh the mind. Walking also allows some exercise for the body. Or at least that is what I try to tell myself as I walk down Mason to Prospect in below freezing—but sunny—weather.
I brought my camera along to see if I could capture some construction site photos for an ad I am designing. Once I get to The Calling sculpture by the art museum, I start thinking about composing shots of the subject. It is a high-rise building under construction.
I remove the lens cover, select camera filters, and compose a shot; the sound of heavy machinery fill the lakefront. It is a sound of one clattering, moaning creature that rises into the sky. The sound from the building site can be heard blocks away—as far as Cathedral Square. Some days I get to the office early—before the construction site roars to life—and I hear the call of lake gulls echo off the crowded buildings of East Town.
I take a dozen shots before walking a block to get a different angle of the subject—new perspective, change of lighting, and so on. That’s when I notice her.
I had been scanning through the photos on the camera’s display screen and dodging patches of ice on the bridge walkway to the War Memorial Center before I noticed her. She stands to the south of the bridge in a space outside the War Memorial Center that overlooks Lincoln Memorial Drive.
She looks at me as she switches cameras. There is a vintage quality to the camera in her gloved hands. Looks like a Hasselblad 500C/M. The other camera looks like a Yashica-Mat. And a third camera looks more like mine—a DSRL. I slow my pace. Do I want to photograph the high-rise building from the same spot has her? Based on her gear, she knows what she is doing. I hate to disturb her shot.
But she packs her camera gear. We pass on the bridge. I take a dozen photos where she once stood. I cross the bridge, pass by the Cudahy Tower, take a few more shots on Mason Street and return to the office.
A thought follows me like a shadow. In anonymity we captured the same subject matter. On the same spot. The same day. During the same hour. We will both have a record of that moment. But we will never meet.
Sometimes you have to share a moment with a stranger.
The wind chilled my hands as I walked. Needed to stretch my legs after a long commute. I had watched the sky from the green space west of Oak Leaf Trail. Had not planned to compose a photo of the scene. Only enjoy it.
But the desire to compose a photograph won over and I moved closer to the walking bridge over Lincoln Memorial Drive. I stood for awhile watching the beauty of the morning unfold. There will never be another morning like this. Not in thousand years. Once a morning is spent, it can never be duplicated. I have read how the great masters of haiku captured moments in a few lines. Saved them for centuries. Could I do the same? With a photograph?
I do not know how long I stood there. But after I composed a few shots, I placed my camera back in my bag. I noticed an older man to the north. He stood near the walking bridge. I had seen him while walking, but did not notice him while photographing the scene.
We stood there for a moment together watching the sun rise, the clouds, the lake, the lights, the darks. Amid the roar of construction behind us and the wind, it was a quiet moment. My hands grew cold. I saw the stranger pull a mobile device from his pocket. He held it to the sky. Tried to capture the same thing I did. We tried to haiku a morning in a thousand pixels.
He still stood there when I departed and walked north on Prospect Drive.
Memories and images from Fourth of July 2015 swim in my mind as the day comes to a close. Some of the photos I posted to my Instagram feed. Memories of a parade, a cook out, a game of croquet, … Continue reading →