I written many times before that I like to find family photos that encapsulate a feeling — a time and place, a moment in our collective lives. A few weeks ago I caught this shot, which I think will be one of my favorite photos of this summer.
Technical note: this was only possible with a water resistant phone, as I would not have dared wade out into a pool with previous phones. The 3D bokeh effect is courtesy of the iPhone 7 Plus “Portrait” mode. It’s not perfect: zoom in and there’s some distortion around his left arm, both at the top where it fuzzes around the mid background of the slide and on bottom where there are artifacts in the contrast with the far background of the fence line. But I’m still pleased and amazed at how well the 3D imaging works.
Here in no order and with no attribution (sorry future meme researchers) are some of my favorite re-workings. The Birdcage version made us laugh out loud so much that we knew we had to rewatch it that night.
And finally, a sand sculpture made on Island Beach State Park after the budget standoff ended and the beach reopened:
This weekend was the annual Lighthouse Challenge of New Jersey, a two-day celebration of shoreline sentinels during which every working lighthouse is open and staffed by volunteers. The truly committed drive hundreds of miles over the two days to visit the eleven lighthouses open to the public. Because of a scouting weekend for Theo, we just hit one on Saturday and three on Sunday. But these are the last four for our lighthouse-obsessed son Francis, who has been to the others over the course of the summer.
Tinicum Rear Range Light
The family looking off in different directions, of course
Francis goes full nerd talking about construction dates with the lighthouse volunteers.
The Tinicum light is closed because of some structural bowing.
The lighthouse is right in the middle of a bunch of ball fields. A neighbor has a great snow cone stand, a tradition in the town going back to his childhood at least.
The area where the Tinicum Front Range light used to be is now a sliver pocket park along the waterside. Pretty except surrounded by refineries.
Francis at Tinicum Rear Range
Sea Girt Lighthouse
The Sea Girt Lighthouses is house with a light on top.
The residence of the Sea Girt Light is incredibly homey and cute.
Climbing down from the light.
The lights of the Sea Girt light
Francis lectures on the fresnel lens.
Models of NJ’s lighthouse laid out on a map of the state.
Twin Lights of Navesink
Some family (Gregory is behind Julie here)
The giant 10 ton former lens.
Sign for the lens.
Beautiful workmanship on the bilding
Detail from light well
Looking through the window of the south toward toward the north
View from atop the light
Grill metalwork of the cage of the Twin Lights
Theo looking less wise-guy than normal.
Gregory tries the lock to the top of the south tower
The Twin Lights of Navesink are up a high hill, part of the Palisades perhaps, giving our kids a rare hill to roll down.
Francis looks out over the hill top.
The Twin Lights of Navesink
Sandy Hook Light
The Sandy Hook Lighthouse is on a former base.
The lighthouse house houses the museum.
The Sandy Hook is the oldest continuous light in the country, predating the country itself.
The original lighthouse was just the outer mortar. Later brick helped shore it up
Details of bricks
The setting sun coming into the Sandy Hook Light
Detail of stairwell.
Francis looks across the view
Two 1000 watt bulbs shine out over 19 miles because of the fresnel lens.
There’s a lot of cool old structures up on Sandy Hook.
Gregory unsuccessfully tries the heavy door.
Sandy Hook has pretty dunes
NYC skyline from an observation deck on Sandy Hook.
Sun setting, Gregory makes a mini sandcastle before we leave North Jersey.
My wife Julie heard that the Rowan University geography club was having an open hike at one of our favorite local spots, historic Batsto Village. Our kids are all geography nerds and we’ve been wondering if our 12yo Theo in particular might be interested in a geography degree come college so we came along. It was a grey, bleak, late winter day largely void of color so I leeched what tiny bits of green and red that remained to take black and white shots.
My mother died a few days ago. While I’m overwhelmed with the messages of prayers and condolences, at least at some level it feels like cheating to accept them too fully. This isn’t a new condition. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.
A little over five years ago my mother was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the testing done when she did. This had always been her most-feared scenario for aging. Growing up, we had befriended an active elderly neighbor who had gently died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Goldsmith had come to her in a dream the next night to congratulate herself, saying “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years afterwards, my mother convinced herself that she would go in a similarly elegant way.
My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a possibility when she scheduled that doctor’s visit. The news didn’t come as much of a surprise to us family. I had been joking for years that my mom seemed to have only twenty stories that she kept on rotation. After she read a study that crossword puzzles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obsessive crossword puzzler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had bravely bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeatedly, that she would be leaving it “in a box.” Caulking trim, replacing windows, and troubleshooting a mud room leak that defied a dozen contractors became her occupation, along with volunteering and watching grandkids. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.
When she called to tell me the diagnosis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doctor was putting her on Aricept. A quick Google search confirmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doctor later that afternoon helped map out the road ahead.
Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been disappearing from us for a long while. Regular outings became less frequent till we couldn’t even take her out to a nearby restaurant for her birthday. As words disappeared and speech began faltering, I’d show her recent kid photos on my phone and tell stories to fill the emptying space. Eventually she stopped showing interest even in this. On my last regular visit with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun taking pictures. Mom kept pointing out at the phone’s display as if it were a mirror. But conversation was too disjointed and after a few minutes, my kids started wandering in ever widening circles looking for interesting buttons and alarms to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.
In the past few weeks her forgetfulness has extended to eating and swallowing. Intervention would only buy a little more time until she forgot how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.
On my last few visits she was mostly sleeping. She’s was calm, preternaturally calm. Lying on her back, pale and peaceful, she looked as if she might already be a body resting in a casket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if barely. I felt awkward just sitting there. Some people are good in these kinds of situations, but I self-consciously struggle. With little chance of interaction, I struck on the idea of reading from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on countless nights as a child. “Up into the cherry tree, who should climb but little me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pictured the cherry tree in her haze, but it was a way for us to be together.
The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For reasons that go deep into biography, she was a wonderfully friendly person who didn’t have a lot of close friends anymore. It seems peculiar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so people notice your departure. But then maybe that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eighties. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of quiet ripples with which we entered.
The blogger behind South Jersey Trails organized a “dads’ hike” today in a small preserve along the upper reaches of the Cooper River.
The preserve is remarkably interesting despite its relatively small size and positioning between soccer fields and train lines. There’s lots of hills ands wetlands. We saw two turtles fighting and a snake of some sort swirling around an eddy in brackish iron-filled bog water. There was a lot of flowering mountain laurel, one of my favorite woodland flowers.
Many local trails in deep woods are on land that has seen waves of development over the past two hundred years but a check of the 1930 New Jersey aerial survey shows that this same patch was deep woods then. I