Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad

I just read a blog by one of my favorite photographers, Darwin Wiggett, about his grandmother. It was about how he appreciated her delight in the details of nature, in taking walks with no particular objective or destination, and her sharing those experiences with him when he was a child. He figured that her influence was largely responsible for his pursuit of nature photography, and shared some fine images he had taken in celebration of her spirit.

As always, Darwin's images are enjoyable and moving, and certainly worth passing on. But his blog also reminded me of a recent phone call with my brother. He had gotten in touch to remind me that our dad would have turned 100 years old in March. Our conversation reminded me that his influence has opened many of the doors to my enjoyment of life, including camping and photography.

Camping in the 1950's, when my brother and I were adolescents, involved canvas center pole tents, with that delightful odor of waterproofing, pump-up Coleman stoves and lanterns, and slippery blow-up plastic air mattresses that would go flat in the middle of the night if you hadn't already slipped off of it. While dad led us on some fun hikes in those early days, he really got into camping with the acquisition of an 18-foot travel trailer in the late '50's. Dad had always been into automotive pursuits, doing all the maintenance on his vehicles including top-end engine rebuilds, and he took pleasure in the maintenance of the trailer and solving the issues related to coaxing a 1950's era sedan into pulling it.

Inside the trailer was much like a wooden boat, with wooden paneling and cabinets that fit into its curves, Dad kept the inside varnished and the outside aluminum skin shining. He would tinker with the car's engine (a '52 Plymouth) and the hitch setup, then take the trailer "on a ride" just to test everything out. These rides would often become weekend day trips to the Marin and Sonoma County coasts and parks. When we got there, dad would often tinker with some tune-up or maintenance issue, while Tom and I would explore. In later years I came to realize that dad's enjoyment of the details of trailer travel was a way for him to share and overlap fun things for all of us to do.

In 1956 between my sophomore and senior high school years trailer travel culminated in a three-month cross-country trip. It was a hugely memorable family event, hitting most of the major parks, roadside attractions, and the cities of the east coast and southern Canada. All of this in the pre-freeway era. Through Kodachrome slides we shared this trip again many times in the following years. The slides were taken with my dad's 35mm Argus camera, which he had used during the '40's and had put into my hands when I had shown an interest in photography in the beginning of my high school days. The cost of processing came to about $90 when we picked them up at the Rexall drug store after the trip. A huge sum at that time, but with no questions from dad, and the slides repaid that many times over anyway in the pleasure they gave our family reliving the trip.

So, as I sit here with Hilda in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, on yet another enjoyable trailer camping trip, looking forward to a photographic outing this morning, I give thanks to my dad for introducing me to the pleasures of road trips and photography. I'll be thinking of that as I explore new places with my camera today.

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