Thursday, June 16, 2016

What do you do with old photos?

Binders circa 1930
My mother asked, “What will you do with all my photographs when I’m gone?”

Being her smart aleck kid, I said, “They’re going with you.”

The joke’s on me, though. After sorting through a small fraction of inventory during her move from house to apartment, I developed a sentimental attachment to quite a few.

The problem is she has several large plastic bins filled with family photos. I don’t know how she collected so many, because I don't recall ever seeing her with camera in hand. My brother thinks digitizing them is the answer. I don’t know if it’s worth the trouble and, even if it was, would we really be able to throw away the old prints?

This is more than a philosophical question for me. I printed my first black & white photos in a small science-class darkroom in junior high. In high school, I converted a closet into a part-time darkroom and continued printing there. For a few years, I worked for a pharmaceutical giant as a photographic specialist. There I furthered my skills printing photographs used, in those pre-PowerPoint days, in business presentations and also for product publicity and scientific test results. One perk of the job was the freedom to print my own work as well.
A recent and rare sighting: 35 mm film on store shelves.

Now I have a walk-in closet packed with slides, contact sheets, negative sleeves, and prints, prints, and more prints. Compounding the problem (or the riches) is the fact my husband is an avid photographer, and so we also have boxes of prints cataloguing his early years of documenting events for family and friends. If it weren’t for digital photography, we would have had to build an addition years ago to hold our growing collection of images.

Lately, I’ve taken to giving old photos to the people who are in them. I don’t know if I’m doing them any favors, as most focus on how young they used to look 20, 25, even 30 years ago. Seems no one likes to be reminded about time marching on.

And so my closet shelves will continue to groan under the weight of boxes of memories of years past, barely lightened by the few photos I manage to give away. If I can avoid adding to the stockpile, and not inherit my mother’s stash of photographs, I will consider myself a very, very lucky girl.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Are you smarter than your critters?

This gazania lasted one day before being chewed to the ground.
Some people are street smart. Some are book smart. Some know a lot about one or two things; others know a little about a lot of things. But few would be able to consistently outsmart the critters in my neighborhood.

Whether it’s the squirrels commandeering bird feeders, rabbits chewing garden plants, chipmunks snacking on flower bulbs, or carpenter bees boring into picnic benches, they are quick to adapt and find their way around any human-designed barriers.

Enter the search terms “squirrels” and “bird feeders” into YouTube, and you’ll get more than 50,000 results. Obviously, my household isn’t the only one trying to baffle one species while feeding another.

After the failure of several guaranteed squirrel-proof bird feeders, I have conceded that territory to the animal kingdom. Let the squirrels and birds duke it out for seed. I’m just there for the show.

My line in the sand is the garden. Here, rabbits are the culprit. Cute, yes. But there are oh so many. And they are oh so bold. I can be reading on the porch, only to look up into the round, black eyes of a rabbit nonchalantly chewing my flowers. He won’t stop. He won’t leave. And he ignores my pleadings to eat the weeds.

I am agreeable to compromise, willing to sacrifice a few plants as appetizers. What I hate is losing freshly planted plots of greens. Fences won't work in this area of the yard, and traps are out because I don’t want to cause bodily harm to bunnies.

After some strategizing and head-scratching, I came up with a plan to protect the latest batch of tender, young basil plants. The solution seemed plausible and possible, with the added bonus of finding a new use for my growing stack of old take-out soup containers. By cutting off the bottom, I was left with a plastic cylinder that would protect lower leaves and stems from easy rabbit pickings. Time will tell whether I’ve really outsmarted those rascally rabbits, and if I buy enough time, the plants will mature enough to survive a nibble or two.

Now my battles in the animal kingdom have moved indoors, where the contestants are cat claws versus lace curtains. The cats won round one, and I have since replaced the shredded panels. I also attempted to stack the deck for the inevitable round two by imposing tighter access to window sills and installing curtain holdbacks. But the cats are cunning, showing off their advantage by sharpening and stretching their claws whenever I’m in sight.

Forget about the TV game show “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader.” A harder challenge would be to find contestants who can prove themselves smarter than the average house cat or squirrel. These critters have proven their ability to outwit, outlast, outplay as well as any Survivor castaway, with clear evidence of their victories throughout my home and garden.