Cast Iron Seagull, part I

There is something just amazing about a super-duper low tide when you live on the ocean. It’s as if all the land has taken a deep breath into its lungs and floated just that much higher than it usually does, giving you the chance to go and gaze at its normally water covered navel. In local parlance, it is referred to as a drainer (pronounced: drain-ah). Our little corner of the coast takes up a diminutive bite in the greater Gulf of Maine and goes by the name, Casco Bay.  The particular island we live on is flanked by a few small, uninhabited islets, which offer adventure, discovery and poison ivy galore if you’re careless. To visit these little, cut off worlds though, you have to possess the means to get there.

That is to say, a boat.

Boats… Ah, boats. They are wonderful, fun and thoroughly evil little things. They are problematic right off the scale and unless you are a boat person who thinks of nothing but bobbing on the waves and smelling the sea breezes AND doesn’t mind pouring all their time and money into a hole in the ocean, then boating really isn’t for you. Owning a boat in freshwater is hard enough. Owning one that sits in salt water compounds the issues by a factor of about a hundred. The corrosive nature of the water, unexpected storms smashing the hull against the dock, filling with rain water and even just the relentless sun pounding on them does exhaustive damage requiring constant maintenance to keep them ship-shape. And that’s not even mentioning the engine!

Boats are one gigantic pain in the butt.

They are also, admittedly, fun and my wife wants one in the same way an eight year old girl wants a pony: with every fiber of her soul.

The problem is, the buying of said boat is the cheap part… and even that, if you’re careful, isn’t very cheap. If you want something that isn’t going to need to be completely overhauled from stem to stern before it’s safe to try floating off the boat trailer, then you’re going to need to pay up front for quality.

Then there’s the whole “ocean” aspect to consider. We do not live on a pond or lake and if you want to use a boat for transportation rather than just fun on a sunny and calm day then size, I assure you, does matter. Also you need to consider the hull shape, the type of drive system, the ability to get under some sort of shelter when it gets snotty out and how much fuel it burns per hour. All of this I let wash over me like a figurative wave as I listen to Action Girl enthusiastically expound on the latest boat for sale she’s found and how this one would be the perfect match for our needs.

The problem here is two fold:

Firstly, I am most definitely not a boat person. What I know about boats, I have pretty much learned from her. There is no doubt in my mind that she knows her stuff cold, don’t’ get me wrong!  Being a commercial boat captain, she’s out on the sea almost every day and after years of familiarity, can read the waters like a book. She knows where to go and when. She can make a many, many ton vessel dance like a dry leaf in a dust devil and not put down her coffee while doing it. She is incredible at her job. She is also at it quite a lot and thus, not exactly rich in free time. This means that caring for the boat will fall to… me, the “not-a-boat-guy” guy.

Secondly: I need a new hobby like I need a disgruntled porcupine in my underpants. Even if I was so inclined to dive head first into the deep, bottomless chasm that is being a boater, there is no way on God’s green Earth that I have time for it. When a person looks at taking a shower as a significant portion of their “me” time for the day, that’s an unmistakable indicator that the candle might just be burning not only at both ends, but a touch in the middle as well. I had hobbies once. I had lots of them. They all now sit in my basement with about eight centimeters of dust on them. I only hope that when the day comes that I again have the opportunity to get back to them, I won’t be so soft and squishy to get back to it all.

We obviously needed a solution that all parties could get something out of. A way that would keep me from getting devoured whole by a task not of my making or wanting, yet also get my sea loving wife out on the water when she wasn’t at work… out on the water. Hmmm…

Our answer came smunched and flattened in a huge, impossibly heavy and ungainly nylon bag. It was a boat, some assembly required. Happily for me, all the assembly entailed was adding air. Through a series of events both odd and unexpected, we had wound up with a rugged little inflatable boat. We couldn’t use it to commute, but it would be a lot of fun AND easy to take care of! Living with two, small children, if there’s anything I know how to do, its patch holes. The boat’s tiny, measuring only about three meters long and of the type that would be dragged behind something much, much bigger and more impressive as its dingy, but still, it was ours! It even came with a broken, non-fixable engine!

The engine was going to be a problem.

Calling it unfixable isn’t really fair. After all, everything is fixable if you sink enough cash into it. In this case, according to the marine engine mechanic in town, that number was going to be in excess of seven hundred dollars. That’s a lot of cash for a free, five horse power, two cycle outboard of unknown abilities or hours of use. It’s also indicative of how price structures work when talking about anything that goes on a boat. Every figure needs to be shot through the magical “boat pricing prism” so that a doodad that would normally cost ten bucks will now run into the hundreds. It’s magic, I tell ya! Fixing a lawn mower might have set me back a couple of hundred bucks, but THIS thing touches WATER! Needless to say, there was no way we were going to repair it and in one fell swoop, the dead engine graduated from “outboard” to “anchor.” Not literally, of course, but you get the point.

So, there was a lot of rowing to be done and row we did. We rowed here and there and the kids seemed to really enjoy their mini-adventures even if they did need to stay low and clear of the swinging oar ends as my wife or I pulled away hard on them. We got some fun use out of the little inflatable. The reality of the situation though, was that rowing is something more fun to watch than do, especially if the boat you’re rowing is essentially a beach ball that is at the utter mercy of both the wind and tide. I has no keel and so, doesn’t track well at all and because it’s only floating perhaps an inch and a half down in the water, any good breeze will move you where it’s blowing, regardless of where you want to go. With those two factors close in your mind, you stick pretty close to shore and none too far from the dock. After all, you need to have enough oomph not just to row where you want to get, but also to row back. Enter our friend, Ian.

Ian, like me, has a weakness for poking at broken stuff. The advantage he has over our affliction is that he’s managed to focus that weakness to just one kind of broken thing. He rebuilds antique outboards. I had no idea about this until I was chatting with him at a summer barbecue and telling him about my rowing related blisters as I cooled them with a cold beer.

For medicinal purposes only, naturally.

“What you need, is a Seagull!”

This is not a sentence you often hear used in Maine. In the past, I’ve heard people refer to pigeons as being, “sky rats” and to extend the analogy to seagulls, I think you’d wind up with perhaps a sky badger or maybe, sky weasel. In short, they are not pleasant creatures.

“Beg pardon?” I took another long pull from my cool pack.


To be continued…

The Junk Whisperer. Part III

My folks had discovered an actual camera store in Dover, New Hampshire at some point and when I told them about the Brownie, they were kind enough to stop in and pick me up a couple of rolls, ready to meet my sander and get resized to fit. Now with everything I needed to go put this old beautiful box into action, only one question remained: Color or Black and White.


Black and White film holds a special and dear place in my heart. Many years ago, a much younger and substantially more awkward version of me could often be seen stalking interesting shadows and high contrast compositions with my trusty steel body Minolta. It had belonged to my father when he was young and now I had taken to it with enthusiasm. It shoots 35mm and though it only has one lens and is not a snazzy SLR, (i.e., Single Lens Reflex, meaning that the range finder lets you look right through the lens of the camera and not out a separate little range finder in the upper left corner of the camera) it still took the best Black and White photos I’d ever seen. I spent many a happy hour, late at night in the campus dark room developing and making prints of my black and white images.

Color though, offered another, special possibility.

In this crazy-fast, laser like perfected digital age, the phones we have crammed in our collective pockets can take pictures of stunning resolution and clarity and for some odd reason, this ability has kicked off the craze of the “retro-ing” of pictures. The ability to saturate the colors, fade the edges and fake a little light bleed at a corner here and there has become increasingly popular. I have to admit, I find it somewhat perplexing.

I’m looking at you, Hipsamatic and Instagram.

Without a doubt, the images made with these bits of software do indeed look genuinely old school and  the filters and effects used on each uploaded image are often dutifully stamped into the accompanying text of the Facebook post by the shooters.

Lens: Edward Q

Film: Kobe’s 1971

Flash: strobe

…Or some such thing.

I mean no offense to the legion of happy iPhone photographers out there, but when I see these images, my mind quickly drifts to of all the actual filters and lenses that still lurk to this day in dark and dusty, forgotten drawers and backs of closets in homes across the world. They sit unused and unloved and it somehow seems a cheat to let the computer oldify the photo if you have the tools to do it the right way from the very beginning. To me, it feels like buying carrots at the store, sticking them in the ground only to pull them out and call them homegrown. Sometimes, doing something the hard way makes the end product that much better.

To my mind, anyway.

It also makes me slower on the draw, so I guess victory can be claimed on both sides.

Carefully loading the black box with my precious eight frames of ISO 200, color film, I carried the Brownie out side, trying to look at the world with my dusty, rusty photographer’s eye. Something I hadn’t done in far, far too long.

What initially came thundering back to me was the realization that I had eight shots and that was it. For the first time in a long time, I had to really consider my shot rather than just blaze away. It was going back to hunting with a muzzleloader after having used what is essentially, a machine gun. I had become used to snapping off a double fist-full of pictures, looking at what I had, and the culling the duds. In the end, I’d still have three or four pictures that were worth keeping of any given object or situation. Unless your funds are limitless, it doesn’t work that way with film.

I thought about subject

I’m drawn to photographing stuff. I like stuff! It doesn’t move, it’s timeless and you can fiddle with it to get the best effects. The problem is that it can also be impersonal. A photo of a boat on a beach is great and all, but it doesn’t get coveted by your great grandchildren, it doesn’t solve a family mystery and it probably won’t be attributed to you if you’re not there to claim attribution. This time around, I was shooting for something to go in a family album. I was remembering the picture that Great-Grandma took of her child and husband

Scooting around in the flower garden next door, a fancily dressed fairy princess and a serious butterfly hunter caught my eye. My son, Shortstack is six now and his sister Lulu Belle is four and to our great relief and enjoyment, they are each other’s best friend as well as sibling. I also tend to have a slightly biased eye when viewing them. They were the perfect subjects

In this case, their near constant movement would only add to the image. It is how I see them nearly all times unless they are asleep. Blurry.

Holding the camera at chest height and looking through one of the range finders, I lined up my subject.

The shutter swings. SNAP!

What a sound.

I catch her again as she flies along at the edge of the garden.


After a few seconds of cajoling and kindness, I get both of them to stand still long enough to line them both up, capturing a moment of their youth to celluloid.

SNAP! Number three out of eight taken.

The day is beautiful and breezy as the chilly afternoon wind kicks up off the Atlantic and blows the treetops. The three of us head out for some adventure and the Brownie comes with us.

As my two dear children enjoy their time with some kites at a nearby field, I stand off to squeeze them into the tiny field of my camera lens.


Sun at my back and turning the Brownie on its side, I look through the landscape range finder and take one more picture, just to be safe.

SNAP! Number five.

The kids are very interested as I take each photo and are more than a little bugged that I can’t show them the image like on my phone. I wonder if they think I’m making it up. To temper them I take a few more with my digital and we talk about which ones came out best.

That evening, I can’t resist the siren song of low angle sunlight and I joyously give in and search out my last three images. These are for me.




In the end, it wasn’t that long a wait to get my film back from the photo place in town. The hardest part was just getting around to driving it over, and then back to pick it up. I had forgotten how exciting it is to open that little glued envelope. Things could go so wrong. You won’t know until you fan them out and see for your self. There is no going back.

The Garden Series:

The Kite Series:

The Boathouse:

There they are. All eight in all their glory.

I still have the roll of black and white, but that will have to wait for another time and a different method of printing. The photo place I had brought this roll to only develops and prints black and white about every six months, so I’m left with a problem. I could leave my used rolls of film with them and wait like a patient little soldier, or…

It’s a thought to terrifying to think.

Should I?

I know how, after all.

There’s really not that much to… developing it all… my self!


All I need is an enlarger.

Oh, and a developing can.

Well, I need the chemicals too. And lets not forget the baths and a timer. Not to mention tongs, a water supply, drying racks and a bunch of other minutiae I’m no doubt forgetting.

I wonder what corner of the basement would make the best dark room?


Uh oh…

Slow and Steady Mows the Lawn

“Hey Dad, do you still have that old mower in the garage?”

The slightly guarded reply over the phone that followed was looking for more information. “Which mower do you mean?”

Action Girl and I had recently moved into our first house together after several years of apartment dwelling and suddenly I was confronted with the need to own things that I had not considered before. It was a simple and elderly house in an old neighborhood and came with its own foolishly small bit of grassy lawn. No mater how foolish it was though, it still needed mowing. Our two house cats could only chew it down so much. Give them credit. They would have done their best, but I wasn’t okay with cleaning that mess up later.

Growing up, we had a pretty good sized lawn. It wasn’t overly hilly or terribly large, but mowing it properly took an evening to do. It was just big enough that pushing the old, hand mower was a noisy pain in the neck. Your feet turned green with the sticky clippings and there’s just nothing quite like shoving a two stroke, blue exhaust belching engine in front of you for an hour and a half. As a small child, I was instructed to stay well away from it when it ran and like most small children when warned about an astonishingly loud, appendage eating machine, I took the direction to the extreme and mostly viewed it from the safety of the house.

This wasn’t my Dad’s first mower, however, but rather his first gas mower. As a young man at his first, real, career-style job, an older and more experienced coworker had gotten to know my father and saw an opportunity to offload some of his excess garden shed treasures on the “new kid.” When you’re new to homeownership and you are just trying to get up and running, free stuff is hard to turn down. Those of us who have reached that point in our lives where we have to make paths through the basement and garage just to reach the back wall, can sniff these young-uns out a mile away and offload on them mercilessly. An offer of some free necessity and a warm smile is cheaper than a trip to the dump, with the added benefit that they can often be convinced to even come and take it away themselves. If however, the item could possibly be turned down when seen in the flesh, it’s best to go with “the drop off.” It’s harder to refuse something once the offerer has gone through the trouble of bringing it to you. At least, that’s what he’s hoping for.

Such was the method of transfer of ownership that my father found himself in when the “lawn mower” that he was offered turned out to be a thirty pound, cast iron, rotary mower. A forced smile and, “thank you” from Dad, and into our garage it went. He immediately went out and got the gas powered finger chopper that I hid from, and there it stayed for as long as I can remember.

As time went along, Dad managed to get his hands on a riding mower and when I was old enough, I would pilot it around in ever tightening circles, pummeling the grass into submission as Dad did the small areas with the push mower he had bought all those years before. The antique rotary mower was left to gather dust and other than the few times I remember taking it out to oil and push a few feet, then hanging it back up, it never saw the light of day.

Now it was my turn to need new things necessary to the maintenance a house. I had been borrowing an electric mower from a nearby friend since we had moved in, but if you have never experienced the thrill of running over your own power cord, then you my friend, just haven’t lived. They are horrible little machines and after the second extension cord wound up in the trash, I decided that I needed something else.

Getting a gas mower for the five hundred square feet of lawn I had seemed worse than foolish. That type of blunt headed consumption, frankly drives me more than a little batty. I needed something else. Then I remembered the rotary mower.

“That mower? The one hanging up in the garage?” My dear father, sensing a chance to reverse the roll he played all those years ago when he came into ownership of the cast iron wall hanger, pounced.

“SURE! You can have THAT one! Tell you what, I’ll even go and get it sharpened for you before I bring it up.” He was going for full effect on the drop off. Once he had it cleaned up and ready for pushing, there was no way I could turn it down. With a light heart, Dad took down the old rotary mower and, leaving a large, oil stained outline on the garage wall, took it to the local shop for sharpening.

“Woah! Where’d you get this one?”

The guys at the shop all came over to inspect the machine as Dad wheeled it into the showroom. After a brief retelling, one of the workers looked down at it with respect. “Your son’s a lucky guy. They didn’t’ make them like this when the made them like this. This thing is the Cadillac of the rotary mowers. They do a way better job of mowing. The grass will look great after a pass with this one.”

My Dad related all this to me when he dropped it off and much to our amazement, we found that when sharpened and freshly oiled, not only does it purr like a kitten, but it cuts the grass beautifully, evenly and quietly.


There are a few things that can get in the way when using it. First of all, it weights a ton and you never forget that for a moment when you propel it across the lawn. Secondly, if you put off cutting the grass too many weekends, you are in for a lot of sweating later. Unlike its motorized brethren, rather than smashing the grass down with a whirling piece of metal, this snips at it like scissors, and just like scissors, you can only snip so much in one bite. It can be like trying to cut a phonebook in half with pinking sheers. Long grass means multiple passes.

I have a larger lawn now and though I suppose I could justify a gas mower, I still happily use this one. I never have to fill it up, it starts ever time and most of all, I love the sound. My new neighbor keeps offering me the use of his electric mower whenever he sees me with it out, but I just thank him and say that it’s my version of going to the gym. The fact of the matter is, I love it. I can hear the birds over the whirring blades and I smell like fresh grass rather than exhaust and burned oil when I finish. The old mower was built in 1918, and I always get at least one passer by who stops to marvel at it as they walk by. I have to admit, I’m proud of the thing.

The best outcome of all this was my father’s own revelation. He’s always hated mowing the grass and the ride-on and the push mower always seem to need something. Top that off with his dust allergy and high opinion of rigorous physical activity and he started to view cutting the grass in a different light. Shortly after I started using mine, he went out and bought one of his own. It’s new and lighter and easier to push, but the effect is much the same. Now his neighbors stop and comment about pushing such an old fashioned mower around the yard. Entertainingly enough, one of them has decided that it was a good enough idea to warrant him going out and getting his own as well. We just might have a minor revolution on your hands here!

I doubt that my son and daughter will enjoy pushing my ancient, iron monstrosity across the lawn when the job becomes theirs, but I won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. If they want a gas mower, they can get one. In the mean time, I’ll oil this one up and push it out across the grass. It’s been doing just that for about a hundred years now.

Why stop now, just when I’ve gotten it broken in?


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