Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thursday-evening jackpot

Some fruits of Joshua's labor
Originally uploaded by gwilmore
I attended a dance exhibition at the Fred Astaire studio this past Thursday evening, where I took nearly 400 pictures, including about 50 which I deleted as I went along. Fast-action photography is quite challenging, so I figured I would be lucky if as many as 20 of the images turned out well enough to post on Flickr. Having looked at all of them in my computer, it now appears that only about 10 will ultimately make the grade, but that's okay; in fact, it really is about par for the course.

Besides, this image, standing alone, would have made the evening's efforts worthwhile even if none of the others had turned out at all. Click on the image and read the story, which I think adds some extra punch to the photo itself. I consider this to be one of the best photographs I have ever taken, and the expression on the young lady's face is what really made this one. She and her instructor, Joshua Smith, were doing a progressive waltz, and the line of dance passed within about six feet of where I was sitting with my camera. I took a number of photos during this dance, including several others composed essentially the same way as this one. But deciding which of them to upload to Flickr was a no-brainer if ever I saw one.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Originally uploaded by gwilmore
Another of my favorite images from among those I have taken myself. This is Johanna Summerville, another of the instructors at the Fred Astaire studio who have been appearing with some regularity in my Flickr photostream. Johanna was sitting just inside the doorway of an office at the studio when I pointed my camera at her, and I don't think I could have asked for a better subject. Or a more cooperative one!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Life is for the birds

Over the years, I have had several cherished pets, but none that I have enjoyed as much as our current flock of birds, which consists of three cockatiels and a budgie. We started out with Oochie, who was given to our son Colin by one of his aunts as a Christmas gift in 1998, and then sort of passed on to the rest of the family when Colin left home three years ago. In May, 2004, Ceci was given to us by a family in our ward who were moving out of state. I quickly became quite attached to her, and Ceci’s sudden death about 16 months ago hit me very hard. Within a day or two after Ceci died, I purchased another cockatiel at PetSmart; but this one, which never had a name, did not adjust well to his new surroundings, so I returned him to the store about ten days later. The unnamed bird was in turn replaced by Yo-yo, and three weeks after we acquired Yo-yo, I visited a local bird store and instantly fell in love with yet another cockatiel, who (naturally) ended up in our home and now answers to the name of Spoots. (After I purchased Spoots, my wife dubbed me the Birdman of Chandler, and the title is very apt.) Meanwhile, our former bishop’s wife found the budgie in her backyard and called to ask if we would take that one in, too. The budgie remained unnamed for about three months, until I came up with a name that stuck: Elbie Jaye. And as I am always quick to point out, she is indeed named after the 36th President of the United States.

The past few years have been very difficult for me, and the last 12 months have been especially so. But I have discovered that the birds, along with my photography and the dance lessons I mention here from time to time, have been very therapeutic for me, and I have a hard time trying to imagine my life without them. I never cease to find their antics amusing, and the dynamic among the three cockatiels is especially fun to watch. Spoots, at about 18 months of age, is the youngest of the three, and the others seem to regard him much as we would an obnoxious and annoying kid next door. If Spoots may be likened to Dennis the Menace, Yo-yo is probably the counterpart to Mr. Wilson. Whenever I open Spoots’s cage to let him out, he always goes to Oochie’s (presumably because that's where the action is); but has to cross Yo-yo’s cage to get there, and that often generates some sparks as the two birds hiss and snap at each other through the bars on the cage. (During his continuing efforts to establish a prescriptive easement across that cage, Spoots has been known to help himself to part of Yo-yo's honey-bar treat, which hangs inside the cage but within range of Spoots's beak.) All of the birds seem to acknowledge Oochie as the leader of their merry little band, and Yo-yo has become attached to Oochie to such a degree that he will scream in panic if Oochie is moved more than a few feet away, or if he flutters down to the floor and thus drops out of Yo-yo’s line of sight. (For that reason, I always take Oochie and Yo-yo together when it’s time to get their wings clipped, although Spoots is fine about making the trip unaccompanied by either of the other ‘tiels.)

Elbie is extremely timid, but otherwise is a very happy little bird, and she spends the entire day singing and chattering and playing with her cage toy. Yo-yo was evidently not hand-fed when he was young, and while he seems to like all of us just fine on his terms, I have never been able to get him to perch on my finger, and I don’t think my wife and daughter have even tried to do so. I have also learned through unfortunate experience that Yo-yo can really bite. I keep trying to train him, but it is very difficult. Lately I have taken to opening up his cage and letting him climb out, but he usually emerges only after prolonged hesitation because I am always in the room while the cage is open. And once he does get out, putting him back in is a bit problematic.

All of the foregoing leads up to this observation, which occurred to me last night. Spoots and I have developed a sort of evening ritual, in which he keeps me company while I lie on the sofa watching television. The bird will nibble on my watch, the TV remote, the buttons on my shirt, or whatever else is available at the moment, and sometimes I'll pet him or offer some kind of snack, as I did last night. (This time the snack consisted of Cheerios.) Usually we'll be together for an hour, sometimes two, before I return Spoots to his cage. It occurred to me last night, as I played with Spoots while watching a Christiane Amanpour special on CNN, that my little friend was a calming influence on me, and that my life somehow seemed better, or at least more manageable, with him and his three companions in it than it might have been otherwise. Spoots cares not a whit that virtually every single thing I have ever tried to do has been difficult for me, or that we struggle so hard financially, or that I've never had the kind of career I had hoped to have, or even about the fact that I have had many more failures than successes in my life. He accepts me just as I am, warts and all; and all that really matters to Spoots is that I am there for him, that I keep his food and water trays filled (while throwing in extra treats from time to time), and that I play with him regularly. And somehow he manages to reward me quite handsomely for all of those things.

The birds are probably ideal pets for me, but that obviously is not true for everyone. Cockatiels, in particular, are a bit on the noisy side, and can be rather messy as well. (Cockatiel owners tend to have a close relationship with their vacuum cleaners as well as with the birds.) Then there are the constant chores: cages to clean, fresh vegetables and fruits to chop up, toys to rotate around (and frequently replace), and the need for constant vigilance against hazards that would probably not even occur to people who do not themselves own birds. But to me, all of this has been well worth it, and our birds have brought me a generous portion of joy during a time when I have been badly in need of it. They have convinced me of the therapeutic value of pets in general, which I now invite my readers to consider, especially if life has dealt them a less-than-ideal hand of cards.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Return of the Natural

A few initial observations are in order here. First, I love baseball; second, I don't care at all for Barry Bonds, and will always regard his home-run record as tainted and bogus; and third, one of my all-time favorite movies is "The Natural." And then there is my oft-repeated musing that we are not distinguished by the problems we deal with in life as much as we are by how we choose to deal with them.

With all of that in mind, I found this column by Charles Krauthammer in today's edition of Jewish World Review, one of the ten or so websites I habitually visit every day. The story he tells here is wonderful, but I also enjoyed his anecdote about Ronald Reagan and "The Natural," which apparently was one of his favorites, too. (Parenthetically, I have read the Bernard Malamud novel upon which the film is based, and I definitely prefer the movie. Ronald Reagan could not understand why, in the movie, the woman shot Roy Hobbs. For my part, I could not understand why, in the novel, Hobbs strikes out in that climactic final scene, whereas in the movie he smashes a home run for the ages.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Me, in a typical moment

How typically me! :-)
Originally uploaded by gwilmore
This picture, taken by a friend at my request and using my camera, may be one of the most revealing photographs of me ever taken by anyone, although I did not intend that result. Click on the image or the link and read the story behind it. The Flickr crowd apparently likes this one, however, because it showed up this morning in Explore, ranked as #472 for the day it was uploaded.