Saturday morning. Sunrise. I grab my cameras and a coffee. I get in the car with one of my kids, and we head out of town, toward the national park, or the nearby reservoir with its surrounding forests and winding roads.
Sometimes what we’re seeking is obvious.. A heavy snow overnight has turned Earth into Narnia, the sinew of every living thing transformed into a winter wonderland of ice sculptures like the contents of C.S. Lewis’ imagination.
Even better, snow is still falling, an opaque sheet of dotted Swiss waving and dancing for my shutter to freeze in mid-air against the landscape.
“Go slow here,” I say to my designated driver, as we come across a stand of trees. They are precisely coated on one side, reflecting how the wind blew in from only one direction in the night.
Here is a dip and a curve in the long, snowy road, a Christmas-card image, the likes of which must have motivated Robert Frost.
Here is a long, gnarled branch, its dark, weathered skin contrasted against the lake it stretches into, its own half-frozen surface painted in variegated shades of gray and white.
Here too — quick!— is a fast-moving murmur of winter-brown starlings against the white sky. And now they have landed, hundreds together in a bare cherry tree, their bodies appearing as chirping leaves on naked branches. I know already I will make this photo into a black-and-white.
If I’m lucky, we’ll come upon a train on the tracks next to the bog. The colors and textures will be stunning, billows of snow kicked up around the shiny black engine as it blows down the track, a stack of gray-blue smoke casting a plume against the sky.
On these mornings, inspiration comes easy to me and my Nikons, as my companion child and I fall into the an easy chat about the happenings of the past week. This is part of the beauty of Saturday morning, too.
Other days, I got nothing.
It is simply February, the surrounding scenery reflecting what Ohio artist Joe Culley calls the “Eternal Wisdom of Gray.”
My cameras sit idle in my lap. Our coffee growing cold in our cups and Yo-Yo Ma, stale on Spotify.
On those Saturday, we pull back onto the streets of our once-vibrant, now COVID-quiet college town in northeast Ohio and head home empty-handed.
Suddenly, Emily makes a turn onto a side street.
"Maybe we’ll see something,” she says.
And then, “Oh my gosh. Look, Mom.’
It’s a bus.
A very old turquoise and silver bus, with a license plate proclaiming it “Historic bus 1957,” taking up the whole of somebody’s side yard.
Across the bus in faded, cursive are sprawled the words “Ethel Delaney and her Buckeye Strings.’
We pull over and reach for Google, and learn that Ethel Delaney, who spent formative years in Ohio and West Virginia, was not just a singer, but a yodeler, and not just a yodeler but regarded worldwide as one of the greatest female yodelers of all time.
So great a singer was she that in 1970, the Country Music Association nominated her Top Country Western Female Artist. That same year she was voted into Sweden's Top Five of Country Western Female Artists. She produced four records, including songs like “Swiss Miss Yonder,” before she died at 78 in 2005, having spent the last 15 years of her life Las Vegas.
All along, at least part of this grand lady’s headquarters was a quarter mile from our house.
Laughing and howling at our find, my daughter and I are perked up now, enough to keep driving, to find and photograph other human things, giant valentine hearts on door fronts next to Christmas lights on the same house. We find a house that makes a statement about gossip in painted block letters on its front steps: “What Sally says about Sue says more about Sally than it does about Sue” and another with a hand-lettered sign on the front: “Work hard. Be kind to people.”
“I love our little town!” I blurt, new inspiration intact, not this Saturday for the apparent, deep beauty of Mother Nature, but for the often- hidden, just-as-deep beauty of human nature.
“I think we should agree to never go home on these Saturdays without finding something to photograph," says Emily.
We head home now, energized with renewed hope for the future and plenty of photos to share on Facebook, as I am reminded of a quote by the photographer Alvin Coburn: “Nothing is really ‘ordinary’,’ said Coburn, who was known for his photos of the everyday, ‘’for every fragment of the world is crowned with wonder and mystery, and a great and surprising beauty.”
I make a vow then, just like my daughter suggested, to always find beauty, wherever I go, in the snow, in the rain, on a train, in the house, with a mouse, on a Saturday in February or a Monday in April.
Even in the second year of COVID on a bus.
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)
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