The Good Life

37623-Cute-DogTo escape the bickering, and whining, and needs and desires and everyone’s demands, I took our dog for a walk on a quiet fire trail near our house. Bright and beautiful out, a sweet sea breeze came over the Oakland Hills with the afternoon sun. The mile and a half dirt path cut along the base of the foothills was mostly vacant, rarely used by even residents of the neighborhood, so I did not leash my dog for the walk.
 
I saw someone from the ridge while I waited for the dog to finish marking her territory in the open field atop the hill. A woman was coming towards us on the trail below, and I tensed as I scanned for the dog she was most likely walking, but saw none. Still, I called my 70 pound Shepherd-mix to me. My beautiful pound hound was passionately in love with people, but most didn’t appreciate her bounding up to greet them.
 
My dog came to me and I held her collar as we stood on the ridge and watched the woman trudge up the hill; her white hair looked almost like a silver helmet in the sunlight. She walked slowly, and carefully, and hunched. I made her out to be in her mid-70s. The dog started whining the moment she noticed the woman approaching, pulled to get away from me and go meet her potential new friend.
 
The woman was 30 feet away when she noticed us, looked up and stopped. I loudly assured her my dog was VERY friendly and loved everybody, that I held her securely, asserting there was no need to worry. The old woman looked at my dog wagging her tail wildly and whining incessantly, and she smiled. She confidently told me she loved dogs and then called mine to her. I let go of my dog’s collar and joined the woman on the path where she stood stroking my hound.
 
She gently ran her hand along the length of my dog’s back again and again while extolling the animal’s Sphinx-like appearance and friendly nature. Dog was mesmerized with her touch, as she was with just about anybody’s, but the old woman seemed to really enjoy the contact as well, her expression set in a soft, contented smile. She explained she’d had several dogs during the years she and her husband raised their three kids. The dogs had passed on, the kids had moved on, now with families of their own. Her husband died two years back and for the first time in all her life she was alone.
 
Her kids, even her grandkids kept telling her to get a dog. I chimed in with words of encouragement, told her about getting my dog at eight weeks old from a kill shelter in Manteca, and ranted about some great local shelters where she could rescue a dog.
 
My graceful hound took off after a squirrel, startling us both. The woman began brushing the dog hair off her pants, but a lot of short hairs were woven into the navy polyester and clung to her pant legs where the dog had leaned against her. “I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life attending to others needs—cooking, cleaning, and more cleaning, and taking care of everyone else. I told myself I deserved a break after my husband lost his three year battle with brain cancer. I would travel, get out to the movies and play canasta, live the good life.”
 
Dog came bouncing back, long tongue dangling from panting (grinning?) mouth. She came up to me first to get my pat then went back to the old woman for more strokes, which the woman gave willingly. “I’ve been on three cruises in the last two years. I play canasta twice a month, and see all the new movies I want.” Again she seemed…pacified, by patting the dog. “Turns out, the good life was when I was needed. Being counted on made me feel vital, and valued. Now, no matter what I do, I mostly just feel lonely.” She straightened and brushed her pant legs off again as my dog swaggered over to the tall grass and lay in it. “I think you all may be right and it’s time I got a dog.” She gave me a pleasant smile. “It’s been a pleasure chatting. Good day to you.” And she went on her way.
 
My dog trotted after her a few steps then came after me as I started home in the opposite direction. I stroked her as she walked by my side, glad to have her with me, counting on me, as my kids and my husband did, and probably would for many years to come. I imagined the old woman’s empty house and anticipated the tumult in mine.
 
And suddenly I felt very lucky indeed to be living the good life.
jcafesin.com

The Layering of LIFE

Hiking on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska a few weeks ago, I was trying to capture the iridescent blue/green light coming through the ice below my feet with my Canon Digital SLR. I took a few shots, with different apertures, from different p.o.v.s, but knew when I put them on the computer the picture would flatten. The spectacular translucence would be lost—look like a blue/green patch on dirty white ice.

At a photography store in Anchorage a few days later, I asked the guy behind the counter how one could pick up that exquisite depth of field of the light coming through the glacial ice on camera. Can’t, he said. But you can create it in Photoshop. Layering the image multiple times should bring back some of the depth the camera can’t pick up.

Layering…

It was like a light bulb went on in my head. He was right, of course. The camera can’t pick up the photons moving through ice, only the ones reflecting off the surface. But the word LAYERING reverberated in my head, as I’d been thinking about layering for quite some time.

When I’m not writing fiction [or blogs], I’m developing and designing marketing and advertising campaigns. I recently created an illustration of sound waves using an image off Google. Simply adding filers to the image made it brighter, or weirder, but still left it rather…flat. I lifted another image of radio waves, and layered it over the sound wave, filtering it to 50% opacity. Then I went back to Google Images and got another light wave, and another, and layered them with effects too. As I built out the image, layer upon layer, the picture became richer, deeper, more 3D, almost in motion.

A while back my father took a painting class where students replicated a favorite work of a Great Master. Dad picked Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. It took him five months to paint, which upon completion looked virtually identical to the real one.

How did you do that? I inquired upon seeing his work. Did you know your could paint like that? My dad had been a weekend painter most of his adult life. This class, a first since college, was his attempt in retirement to reinvent himself as an artist.

No! He practically giggled with delight. Honestly, this teacher was fantastic. She taught us all about Layering, from when the Romans began using it, to the Masters to the Impressionists. I’ve been painting for 40 plus years layering two, maybe three colors or tones. But in some areas on this canvas I must have used fiftyHe proudly showed me highlights on the girl’s face that nearly glowed, bringing her right off the canvas, as in Vermeer’s original. It’s all in the layering, my dear, he’d said back then with a grin.

Layering…hmm…

I’ve always been scared of old age. The prospect of getting old is so terrifying, at times not getting there seems the better option—hasten the end than drag it out with modern medicine. Watching my mother die of cancer and my father age hasn’t been pretty. It’s pretty scary. And I’m right behind them. Other than senior discounts, the upside of aging seems rather illusive.

Driving my daughter and her teammate to soccer last Friday, they chatted in the back seat about science class, both amazed by the video of Neil Armstrong on the moon, each trying to quote his words upon stepping on the lunar surface for their test on Monday. They didn’t know he said it grammatically wrong. They hadn’t been there to see the grainy black and white image turn upside down on TV. They hadn’t held their breaths, or felt the collective sigh of a nation, and of the world, when our astronauts returned safely home. They hadn’t experience the layers of that moment, that day, all the days of the moon mission, or the ones leading up to it, or since, for the most part.

Mankind’s first steps on anything but our home planet is a mere footnote to the two 5thgraders. The video image they watched in Science was a flat view of a definitive leap in human history. I’ve learned an undeniable gift of adulthood is understanding the significance of a given moment because of the layers of experience proceeding it. At 10, kids images are still just forming, their depth of field still limited to what reflects them, like the photons on the glacial ice.

Living through the moon landing created a page, a layer, a memorable slice of my time. Aging’s saving grace may be these collection of moments of living, layered upon each other, giving, if not wisdom, at least a broader range of knowledge and experience for a vibrant life picture.

jcafesin.com