Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yesterday AM

Yesterday I was a guest blogger for Hunger Mountain, and at the last minute was asked if I could contribute some photos to accompany my words. At first I panicked: my daughter was with me all day--how could I get away to take decent pictures? But then I threw some food into a bag, strapped her into her car seat, put my camera in my jean-jacket pocket, and started driving.

"Where we going, Mama?"

"Ummm...we're just going for a little drive."

"Why?" (Her favorite, two-and-a-half-year-old question.)

"Because I need to take some pictures."

"Of what?"

"Ummm...(driving, looking)...of things I like. Of things I find interesting. Of things that catch my eye. Here. Want this apple?"

In my grandmother's field recordings from the early '60s you can hear my two-year-old aunt in the background of many tracks. It's one of my favorite elements--this record of how my grandmother followed her passion and made a career happen for herself despite the fact that she was a mother of five without childcare. It also speaks to my ideals of parenting: that our children our incorporated into all aspects of our lives--not just our gardening and cooking and housecleaning but our art-making as well.

We stop at an abandoned farmhouse and snap pictures of broken windows behind which sixty-year-old curtains still hang. We drive to the lake, slip off our shoes and dip our feet into the cool water. We climb back into the car and drive past the dairy farm down the road where I try to surreptitiously snap photos of the broken machinery littering the yard without stopping long enough to let anyone catch me looking and acting like an ass. We snake through the skinny back roads of Guilford, going slow.

"What you looking for, Mama?" She asks, crunching on her apple.

"Umm...some kind of interesting house to take a picture of." The truth? A turquoise colored trailer I once saw down this way, somewhere.

"Our house would be good. How about our house?"

I laugh. There's no one like your two-year-old to call you out on your habit of aestheticizing poverty. Why not our house, or any of the well-manicured and recently-built ones we're passing?

After thirty minutes or so I think she's getting restless, that we should turn around, but soon she's joining in. "Oh Mama! I saw something!"

"What? What was it?"

"It was a really pretty tree." And so I stop the car, back it up a few yards and she points out a Maple with a towering crown. It is pretty. I climb out and snap a photo. I show her the shot. We both smile.

I heard Sally Mann speak once about how she was always throwing her kids into the back of her van and setting off through her Virginia landscape to take pictures. I'm sure there was a fair amount of eye rolling and complaining from her young cohorts, but this trip with A has me thinking. About how, through this enforced road trip, I'm giving her a window into my creative life, something that, with writing anyway, usually happens behind closed doors. How I'm teaching her the art of looking. How I'm modeling how to be both artist and mother and revealing the expression on my face when I'm passionately and creatively engaged.

And best of all? We're having fun. We're listening to music we both love, and feeling the warm breeze on our faces, and talking. On the way home she drifts into sleep and I drive the skinny back roads home, my eyes still scanning the front windows for that evasive turquoise trailer, but glancing into the rear view mirror a whole lot as well. To watch: my daughter's apple-and-dirt-stained sleeping face. And think: what a friend I have, and how she and I might just have to start doing this kind of photo-essay-road-tripping, by car or by foot, more often.