Staying Home

“There's no place like home.”     Dorothy Gale (L. Frank Baum)

Like many U.S. states, Montana is “reopening” in phases, after shutting down in March, 2020, in an effort to minimize cases of COVID-19 in the state. From mid-March through early June we were under “stay at home” orders; only businesses defined by the order as essential were permitted to open. Some cities and counties had their own rules requiring closure of even some of those businesses. Montana is home to seven Native American reservations, and most of those had their own, often stricter, rules. I think this is a good thing, but naturally some folk feel differently.

Overall, here in June, the state is in phase two of the governor's reopening plan. This means expanded services are available from many businesses, and most that fell outside the “essential” category earlier are now open, some more open than others. There are restrictions on the headcount permitted at gatherings, social distancing is required when possible, and the wearing of masks is recommended. In my experience, in the area in which I live in western Montana, compliance with these rules and recommendations is quite variable, and sometimes nonexistent. Recent causes for public protests, demonstrations, and rallies have put large numbers of people in the streets, on courthouse lawns, and in front of police stations. These gatherings have been largely peaceful (but not without the occasional weird or scary happening, because, uh, this is Montana). But peaceful or not, these gatherings are without question virally unsafe; evidence of that is clear on TV news and social media video postings, and reflected in increasing infection numbers. Distancing is a joke, face masks are only randomly evident, and there's lots of shouting and other spraying of droplets. Who'd'a thunk the number of cases would skyrocket?

It's weird being in a high-risk group simply because of my birth date. I'm fairly healthy, reasonably fit, and stay active, so I don't feel “high risk.” But I'm old, and therefore at higher risk for a potential bad result from COVID-19 infection. And because of that I'm staying pretty close to home regardless of reopening phases or simply a desire to go out and do things. Pat and I have relaxed a little: we've gone to grocery stores, the local hardware store, even Costco a couple of times (crowds are minimal during their new “old folk” shopping hours, and we've been impressed with how well Costco manages that, keeps things clean, etc.). We've ordered and picked up carry-out. We try not to be too loony about things, but we take the recommended precautions, clean ourselves and anything we bring in to the house, and when in public areas we always wear face masks. I like to think we're careful, but not batshit crazy about it. Glacier National Park reopened on 8 June, with limited services and with the alpine section of Going-To-The-Sun Road still closed because snowplowing work hasn't been completed yet. The pull to visit one of my favorite places is strong, but we've not gone yet this year.

Our very people-oriented (read that “needy”) cat thinks our being home all the time is wonderful.

Getting Rusty?

The April, 2020, full 'supermoon' setting at sunrise

The April, 2020, full 'supermoon' setting beyond a ridge several miles away.

It's obvious enough that to photograph a thing one has to be where the thing is. (I once heard someone ask about this. Really.) Sometimes I think Adobe's increasing “AI” additions to Photoshop are an attempt change that, but for now, you gotta be there to photograph there. For a landscape photographer that means being outdoors, in the landscape. That often puts us in people-free places, which sounds perfect during a pandemic. But for many of us that also means travel. And travel often requires hotel rooms and bathrooms, restaurants (or carry-out/take-away), campsites, and public restrooms in all of their various forms. Everything in that last sentence is why I've stayed close to home, and why our camper, which is too small to have a self-contained bathroom, is still in winter storage. In normal times we might have made several camping trips by now (late June). But we haven't.

Time behind the camera is necessary to maintain (and, one hopes improve!) whatever photographic skills and ability one might have. I know I'd get out of practice pretty quickly if I didn't frequently think about the art of photography, mull over specific subjects and compositions, and then go out to look for whatever subjects or scenes I'd previsualized. I'd get rusty, and also go a little bit crazy, probably. Or crazier.

Working From Home

Get outside. See things. Make pictures. Come inside and process them. Share with photographer friends, critique when asked, accept the same. Make a print now and then. Retain a bit of sanity. This is my short list of (mostly) photography goals. That list isn't all-inclusive, of course. There are other things I have to do, other lists. But, no surprise, working through the items on the photography list is more fun and often most satisfying than slogging through the others.

I live on a small lot, a bit under two acres (.8 hectare). But our place is surrounded by wooded hills thick with spring wildflowers, migrating birds, interesting geology, views of Flathead Lake and Polson Bay and the Mission Mountains, all under a big sky often filled with amazing clouds and color. I can walk out the door and into some of that, or make longer treks or short drives for the rest. In April, 2020, a few weeks after Montana's governor announced the stay-home order, I photographed and wrote about a crumbing wooden fence not far from home. The following month I wrote about photographing the April and May (2020) “supermoons” from the top of a ridge a short walk from our house. I really enjoyed those outings, and got keeper photos of images I'd long had in mind. In both cases I didn't see or hear another human, and the outings met all of the goals stated above. Since then I played around making some “artistic blur” photos of wildflowers growing a few feet from my front door. I started by making some radial blurs, zooming the lens (changing the focal length) during a long exposure. Looking at the result led me to try some other ideas to make, I hoped, something a bit less usual than the radial blurs. With the subject being at my doorstep I could experiment with the camera and then come in to see the results right away. And then go out and try again until the light became unfavorable. I spent several hours over several days getting those photos, with results that once again met my goals, mostly the fun part.

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A radial blur of a trillium blossom.
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A rotational blur of the trillium blossom.

Opening Up

Most U.S. states, along with much of the rest of the world, are opening more businesses, entertainment venues, parks, services, and, in some places, nearly everything. The reasons are a little bit economic and a whole lot political, an attempt to get re-elected along with restoring markets and jobs, and perhaps more than anything just to calm things down. Whether doing this now (and doing it for those reasons) is a good idea remains to be seen; so far, in just a few weeks, it's clearly both good (for economies) and bad (for increasing COVID-19 infections and death). Time will tell if it's an overall wise plan, and where we go from here.

A safe vaccine is months away. Until that's available I've no reason to change my stay-at-home plan, and I'll continue to minimize contact with others when staying home isn't an option. But I can still make photographs with little risk, and doing it makes the world feel far saner than it is.

June, 2020

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