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Douglas John Imbrogno | WestVirginiaVille.com | dec17.2020
In a few days, for the first time in nearly 400 years, “a great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn will take place as the planets appear to almost touch and be one to the naked eye. Perhaps it’s a sign of the End Times. Or a sign of the End of Trump Times — indeed, a blessed event! A few astrologically-inclined friends draw comfort from stellar conjunctions. I wish I might find guidance amid the stars. But this is one of those winter days — an all-day rain and bone-chilling cold that leave me aimless and ambition-less. I give up trying to Figure It All Out. Instead, I sift through my photos, crop and lightly filter them. Maybe I can find order and meaning there. Or an aesthetic distraction, which is just as good.
Lately, I’ve been hanging out at the Guyandotte WV boat ramp. I go weekdays when few people are about. I can smoke a cigar, watch the sun last long in the sky, and enjoy the companionship of the ambling Ohio River. Then, there is the East Huntington Bridge (officially the Frank Gatski Memorial Bridge), one of West Virginia’s most elegant spans. In literally another century, I rode to the top of its central spire with a construction crew as it was being built in 1983. I was a cub reporter at the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, assigned to write a story on the cable-stayed bridge, designed by Arvid Grant — an unusual design at the time. I thought I didn’t have fear of heights. Rising to the spire’s apex in a rocking construction bucket, I was wrong. The bridge was later renamed for Marshall University’s first alumnus inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Frank “Gunner” Gatski. I find endless permutations of the above shot — the bridge’s sleek lines and swoops contrasting with Nature’s russet, tangled webs and river-washed textures.
Future historians will be able to research the current global pandemic by scanning our photographs and looking for masks. I snapped this fellow above while entering a local big box store. “Who’s the bear for?” I asked. “It’s for my big dog who loves big stuffed animals!” he said. The image of a large mastiff cuddling a large pink stuffed bear brought daylong smiles. The iPhone is an endlessly remarkable instrument for quick-snapping the world. It’s no wonder smartphones have changed how people focus on their lives — mostly staring down into these Romper Room Magic Mirrors. (That reference will date me — and you — if you get it without Googling.) The image below once called for f-stops, maybe a light-meter, and a hefty brick of a camera. Me, I just crouched over some grass growing upriver from the Guyandotte boat ramp out Greenbottom way. I clicked a few frames of waterdrops lined up on a leaf. They were as elegant a construction as the Frank Gatski Memorial Bridge.
I was raised on several mythologies. One, is Joseph Campbells’s ‘Life of the Hero’ and the ‘Life of the Village.’ Neither is more important than the other — they’re just different journeys. For reasons I’ll detail in a memoir (if I ever get it done, before the coronavirus or the stars get me), I spent several years attempting to live the classical Hero’s Journey, gallivanting across the globe. It almost killed me. More on that later. But as I have accepted and settled into a Life of the Village, I find immense recompense, day-to-day, with the pleasures of life around the various villages of WestVirginiaVille. I headed out to the West Village (to torture the analogy) of Huntington the other day to sample the organic offerings at the Wild Ramp. Exiting, the exterior of Cicada Books caught my eye. How could it not?
His name was Robert. I encountered him up a Huntington alley I was turning into on final approach to the drive-thru for Grindstone Coffee, a place founded by an Australian couple, which I heartily recommend. I asked his name, as I do with folks to whom I give money, so as to remember they are not charity cases but people trying to Figure It All Out, too, while also struggling to eat and heat their lives on cold days. “How are you getting by?” I asked through my mask. “I get by. I gotta house near here I rent with another guy.” He gets pennies a bushel selling cans he collects from dumpsters, among other places. “But it helps pay the rent and keep the heat on.” We wished each other well.
I am blessed and grateful for a house from whose windows, porch, and deck I may spy the sunrise and sunset each day. Here’s a sunrise, snapped through a bedroom window by the magic of the iPhone. Arthur C. Clarke once said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I count contemporary smart phones as sufficiently advanced to qualify.
Way back in 1970 when Earth Day began, we thought we could save the planet by flipping off excess lights in our houses, among other small-bore, well-meaning efforts. That is no longer true, if it ever was. To address the 5-alarm fire of climate change, we need concerted action globally, by governments acting in unison while reigning in transnational behemoths like ExxonMobbil and BP, which are wealthier and more powerful than most earthly nations. /end editorial. Old habits die hard. I still flip off lights when I leave rooms. And it’s still important. The small acts condition us to undertake big ones, such as leaving fossil fuels in the ground; supporting renewable energy supplies massively; and a host of other efforts we should have begun in … well, 1970. I will admit to climate despair, though, as a I park across the street from the new Menards in Cabell County WV. It’s a home supply store larger than an NFL practice complex under roof. One evening worth of the lights Menards keeps on daily undoes my 50 years of flicking them off. Still. Let us all keep flicking.
They call them ‘ghost signs,‘ the remnants of long-dead businesses. This one caught my eye in the West End of Huntington WV. To me, it means nothing other than an attempt at an aesthetic photograph — and the serendipity that sometimes results, such as the step-down effect of the Gino’s, he Security Bank and the green highway on-ramp signs.) But for someone who spent their lives as a bank teller or account executive at The Security Bank, its ghost sign might be a melancholy reminder of lost times, past lives. Or maybe a sign of freedom if they hated their job and are free, free, free at last.
The flat valley through which the Ohio River courses westward alongside Cabell County and Huntington yields daily vistas of setting suns and skies etched with contrails. One day, if the human race survives the self-administered wound of climate change and we figure how to live as stewards and not as thieves of Nature, powerlines and power poles like this may be as much a memory as The Security Bank is in West Huntington. Meanwhile, their vertical and horizontal lines make an aesthetic counterpoint to contrails.
I have just begun to play with my Magic Mirror’s ability to shoot panoramas. Were you to chart the mileage covered in this image of the Jenkins Plantation in Greenbottom WV — from left-hand ridge to right-hand ridge — it would certainly be at least 25 or more. NOTE: If viewing on a phone, click the photo large and turn your phone lengthwise, and you can scan and zoom in. Notice my shadow and the filter—called “underpainting” in the great BeFunky.com app, which pops colors a bit, closer to how you see them and gives photos a slight illustration feel. PS: For more of this view, but enflamed with ginkgos in fiery Fall splendour, see this photo essay.) Ending on a panorama of a sunny day turns out to be just the thing for coping with a cold and rainy West Virginia day.
PHOTO-ESSAY: Five WV Variations on the Art of Thankfulness: November 26, 2020: From horses on porches to possible sightings of Jerry Garcia in a rural marsh, here are five images from around West Virginia that spark our thankfulness. Happy Thanksgiving.
NATUREGRAM | 10 Variations on a West Virginia Ginkgo: November 20, 2020: It is an auspicious place, this former plantation and home to more than 50 slaves before West Virginia ever came to be. But on this Autumn Appalachian day, the ginkgo biloba trees recall a more illuminated present.
READINGS | A Stroll Deep into a West Virginia Marsh: July 10, 2020: If it’s true we are mother, father, sister, brother, related all to all, maybe that’s one way to comprehend and befriend the ten thousand things. The hundreds of voices, cries, and songs rising from this manifold marsh.
NATUREGRAM 1 | Sheltering-in-Nature during a Pandemic: June 26, 2020: Could you use some Canadian geese, chuckling water and scenes of nature not trying to sell you something? Here is a WestVirginiaVille Public Service Mental Health Pandemic Video.