Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Mice of St. Marks

I woke up early this morning and drove south toward the coast. It was about a 30 minute drive from Tallahassee to the road that leads into St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge. I didn't realize the road itself goes on for another 15 or 20 minutes winding through marshes and inlets before you finally arrive at St. Mark's lighthouse. Somewhere along the way, there's a guard post where I guess they'd usually charge an entry fee. But it's shuttered now, along with all the rest of the buildings in the refuge. So I drove on through without stopping till I came to the lighthouse.

I had come dressed to run, but realized I didn't know exactly where. A friend had told me there were some trails around, and that they'd been nice to run on, except that all these mice kept running across the path. I wasn't sure I believed this last part — and walking around the parking lot that seemed surrounded by water on every side, I started to doubt that there were trails at all. I eventually wandered around behind the boarded-up lighthouse and discovered what looked like a path leading between some battered looking palm trees. I set out onto it at a jog, and was almost immediately accosted by a mouse.

Or rather, a hispid cotton rat. As I trotted along, more and more of the little creatures sprang up off the trail and into the thicket on either side to the point it started to feel a little excessive. This only stopped when the trail came out into the grass along the shore and became increasingly marshy, so it almost felt like I was running in the surf and I could feel the watery sand sucking at my sneakers every step I took. 

A hispid cotton rat.

The little path ended at the point of the narrow finger of land that it was on. Water on three sides, I couldn't go any further. I was disappointed it hadn't lasted longer, but stopped at the end to take in the view for a few minutes. It had been cloudy when I arrived, but the sun was still low in the sky and a few rays were breaking through the clouds. Then I turned, and fought my way back through the mice. 

This little adventure was my first excursion out of Tallahassee in almost four months. I haven't thought about that often. I've been busy, and in some ways my life has changed less than most people's this year. But this morning I realized how much I miss going places and doing things. It feels like it's been a long year already. And it has been. But I suspect we'll get through it. And I look forward to doing things like I did this morning a lot more often.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Take pictures of what matters

I was chatting with three old friends on WhatsApp the other day when the conversation turned—as it often does—to reminiscing about the year we spent living in Lebanon together. It's been a full five years since that chapter in our lives. We're all spread out across the globe now. We have careers and significant others and, in one particularly extreme case, even a baby. We still use the same WhatsApp chat that we used to coordinate with each other back on the streets of Beirut and in airport terminals across the Middle East. But now it's mostly used for sharing updates on where we are and what we're doing now. That is, until we start talking about days gone by, and sharing photos and videos from back then.

But what's surprising is that—for a team that was devoted entirely to taking photos and producing videos—there's oddly little documentation of our actual lives together. This is something one of my friends lamented the other day, and said we should remember how fast our lives go by and to make an effort to capture what really matters. 

What it seemed like really mattered back then was our assignments. And we still have hard drives full of dramatic wide-angle time-lapses from Casablanca to Abu Dhabi, and reams of staged, stock-footage of locals interacting with each other. Yet the only videos of ourselves are some shaky shots with snippets of conversation when we left the camera rolling between takes. If we scroll back in our Instagrams, there are lots of slick photos of our silhouettes jumping on the horizon that got lots of likes. But the only photos of us in our normal life situations are a few that one of us shot with a disposable camera for the sake of being ironic. 

What we were working on at the time seemed important. And taking candid photos or videos of ourselves seemed like a distraction. But looking back now, I think we all agree that our relationships with each other probably had more lasting value than anything else we did that year. As everything else we did continues to fade into obsolescence, that will only become more true.  

I get a similar feeling when I watch home videos that my parents took from when I was a little kid. The are grainy, and absurdly long for modern attention spans, but they really focus on what clearly mattered then, and what still matters now: People and our lives together as they really are. 

Today, we all have cameras in our pockets that are a thousand times better than any camcorder in the 1990s could dream of being. And we use them with a regularity that would've been unimaginable a decade ago. But when I look at what we use them to capture now, in the age of Instagram and Snap and TikTok, I wonder if any of it is anything that will have any meaning at all to us 10 or 20 years from now? And I think it's even more true what my friend said the other day: Remember to take lots of photos and videos of your life and the people who matter to you now. It goes by so fast.