Look and See
This morning, at waterside, a sparrow flew
to a water rock and landed, by error, on the back
of an eider duck; lightly it fluttered off amused.
The duck, too, was not provoked, but, you might say, was laughing.
This afternoon a gull sailing over
our house was casually scratching
its stomach of white feathers with one pink foot as it flew.
Oh Lord, how shining and festive is your gift to us.
If we only look, and see.
I drove to Provincetown through steady, pouring rain and spent my first day ensconced in a heavy, wet fog. I departed a week later, again, in both a drenching rain as well as a thick, rolling fog that, in fact, followed me to my home in Catskill, New York. However, the days in-between the needed rain were spent in munificent sunshine with daytime temperatures reaching just seventy degrees and nights cool enough to warrant a little heat upon waking in the morning.
Since the fog apparently had a firm resolve to remain for my first full day, I used this time to settle into my studio, buy food and other sundry supplies, and, finally, to simply breathe and listen. I was on the second floor of a sweet hideaway, which had everything I needed — all neatly packaged into 350 square feet. Windows were on all four walls of my room and I had a deck that looked out upon the owner’s gardens as well as the many trees in which sweet songbirds serenaded me every morning beginning around five o’clock. This was not a problem though, for I wake early.
On my second day a butterscotch sun rose, beaming warmth and illuminating things I knew (yet really didn’t know) were waiting for me to discover. I would be out walking very soon. First though, my morning ritual: I brewed a pot of Assam tea and sat on the deck in the cool morning air with my steaming hot mug of brew (always with milk), watching the sun kiss the water, then the roofs of houses and, finally, the treetops. I made notes in my handwritten journal, and struggled with a poem to the point of agitation. This frustration signaled that it was time for my first walk in Provincetown.
While my studio was hidden high in the tree tops, I was only five minutes walking distance from the shore and town. And, a portion of that small jaunt was through a storybook garden inspired by Monet’s gardens at Giverny. I smelled the sweet scent of wisteria before I entered “Suzanne’s Garden.” It was named after Suzanne Sinaiko, the mother of my temporary landlord. He donated the garden to Provincetown and I was blessed to walk through it many times during my stay. Of course, this time being mid-May, not everything was in bloom. Those flowers that were in radiant splendor, ranged from voluptuous wisteria vines, hanging like gushing waterfalls from the gazebo, to the morning-fresh faces of red poppies — a red that only poppies own, and large, imposing irises, presenting themselves in colors both bold and soft that would defy an artist’s palette. (Well, except for Monet’s.)
I began this Journal entry with a poem from Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer winner for her work. She has lived in Provincetown for many years and most of her poetry, weaving in and around Provincetown, provides keen observation, rapture, awe, and humility in the natural world of what most may see as ordinary, or do not see at all. Unknowingly, she has been my muse for several years now and her poetry has profoundly affected the way I see though the lens of my camera. She says, “Poetry is prayer.” I agree.
For me, the act of photographing is about ‘seeking the soul’ of the subject and not about a precise rendering of a place, person, or any thing — animate or inanimate. I bring an interpretation to my images in order to illuminate the quality of soul-spirit I see, and this often takes me down some interesting pathways.
My walks on the beach while in Provincetown provided a meaningful opportunity for me to look through my lens with eyes, and mind, wide open to what ever would be presented. I was on the bay side of the Cape so there were no dramatic waves crashing to the shore, or the sheer theater of Maine’s craggy rocks — just an unpretentious and fairly calm tide rolling in and out. Yet, there were treasures that were clearly there to be discovered if only by my camera and me.
A small duck stepped from the shore into the water for its morning swim just as I passed. A weathered blue-gray fence framed with rough sea grasses shooting out of white sand, appeared Zen-like in its austerity. Two classic old dinghies — one, half buried in sand on the shore, and the other lingering and turning on the water like a ballerina going through her daily workout making certain each movement was close to perfection. Then, to come upon an old retaining wall with wood pilings and iron hinges holding everything together, telling me stories of inclement weather that challenged the sturdiness of this aged structure, people of all types, sizes, and shapes who walked past it not recognizing it had stories to tell, and dogs that barked and played in the sand, chasing the water that lapped the shore so close to it … ah, it was all there in the wall. Even its colors hinted of mystery and happenings about which none of us will ever know.
On The Streets
On another day’s journey, I left the beach to stroll up Commercial Street to return to my studio. This is the street that is a residence for galleries, a variety of stores, restaurants, coffee houses, old homes, bakeries, inns, a museum, and more. I found my way to this now famous Street from the beach using a narrow, sandy pathway that, for me, epitomized the once quaint Provincetown that both lured and inspired artists, writers, and some of the foremost thinkers of the day in the early decades of the 20th century. There are other paths between the shore and Commercial Street from the top to the bottom of this one-way thoroughfare. However, none was as pristine and reminiscent of another time as this one — an era when Eugene O’Neill, Jack Reed, Louise Byrant, and other talents gathered to shape new ideas in art and thought and in so doing, disrupt the mundane.
As I walked closer to my temporary home, I noted this stately inn (no sign outside though) that cried out to be photographed saying, Am I not stately in my architecture? Have I not aged well? Do you realize that my back yard overlooks the water and I see the sun rise, experiencing every day the parade of life on the beach? I am so fortunate, yes? Yes.
I crossed over to a lesser-known street, Bradford, which runs parallel to Commercial. It is not heavily traversed by tourists, but those who live here year-round use it for conducting the business of every day life. However, on a backstreet off Bradford, there is a gate that belongs to a an old house in disrepair. I must state here that I do believe the house appeared to be haunted. The gate, clearly neglected and weathered with age (except for the mystery of the two pots holding freshly planted pansies), offered to my eyes a wizened beauty and spirit that stirred me within, taking me to other places and different lifetimes. And, it is this small, insignificant discovery that is the wonderment and joy of my work.
Finally, The Dunes
I waited all week before I visited The Dunes. I had walked about 35 miles at this point in my stay and I have to confess that I was not up to “walking” The Dunes. Neither was I prepared for what I encountered. It was mid-day with a hot, blinding sun that baked the sand, which ranged in color from the whitest of snow to unbleached linen. I wore sandals but should have had the sense to wear hiking boots. I had no idea how steep these magnificent mounds were. Since I was alone, I became keenly aware how easily one could lose their way on this desert-of-hills. I never walked to the ocean side, but perhaps next time … only with a walking companion though to help me mark the way.
Yet, I soldiered on and climbed a couple of these massive dunes. I do believe it was a worthwhile effort. The vast, undulating sandy landscape, punctuated by brittle brush as far as the eye can see, brings one to a true state of humility. I was but a mere speck among these majestic wonders.
Many miles were walked and 600 photographs taken. Fourteen survived my self-editing process. I loved the welcoming people, their willingness to talk and share on a deeper level other than social superficialities, and their pride about their historical town. I was enamored with all the dogs I met that abound in Provincetown, for their presence is fully embraced by everyone. I received the privilege to pet Fenway, an Old English Bulldog puppy of twelve weeks who gives as good as he gets, a Shi-Tzu named Curly, a Golden Lab, named Lana, a black Standard Poodle named Spike of all things, who ate entire ice cream cones in one sticky, drippy gulp, and a variety of other dogs whose names now reside in the deep folds of my memory.
Thank you Provincetown for your graciousness. And, thank you Mary Oliver for reminding me of the ‘gift’ we receive when we truly ‘look, and see.’
I hope you, the reader, enjoyed this walk with me on this particular journey, seeing through my eyes.