Early “photo of summer” candidate

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.

Chris Christie, meme muse

Chris Christie is always good for inspir­ing memes but he out­did him­self this week when NJ Advanced Media staked him out and found him enjoy­ing a emp­ty beach on a closed state park with his fam­i­ly. The sto­ry behind the get is won­der­ful and all kudos to Andrew Mills and the team.

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: 

Lighthouse Challenge 2016

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.

Francis declared the Twin Lights of Navesink to be his favorite of the weekend.
Fran­cis declared the Twin Lights of Navesink to be his favorite of the weekend.

Tinicum Rear Range Light

Sea Girt Lighthouse

Twin Lights of Navesink

Sandy Hook Light

Bleak Batsto day

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.

Up Into The Cherry Tree

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Gar­den of Verses

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.

Crows Woods in Haddonfield NJ

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