The things I do to bring you all the swag and benefits of the Birmingham Weekly! Some say it is keeping the strict weekly deadlines that so quickly roll around again. Some say it is just finding time to sit down and keep paying the bills, and the country girl from Trussville who is no longer speaking to me would surely agree.
But this time I was just trying to do my job by getting a good photo of Lock 17 on the Black Warrior River. Lock 17 used to sit there open to and surrounded by the wilderness (think of a jar in Tennessee) where you could walk out on the wall and drop into the oblivious river below if your sweetheart did you wrong.
But now it is closed off with the perimeters draped in razor wire against such rash acts. Not just to stand there perplexed at how to get the camera shot I could clearly see with my own eyes, I climbed up into the fence, balancing each Calvin Klein sole on a strand of wire and parting the sharp, icy steel edges with one hand while working all the stops and shutters of my Nikon with the fingers left over.
I could hear the country girl from Trussville in my head, even though she still won’t speak to me: “Don’t expect me to put your digits on ice and take them to hospital when you slice them off—or worse.” And I could see her angry pointed nose all wrinkled up, nostrils and left lower eyelid flaring.
And, after I cracked off a few onehanded shots with deadly precision aim, even I was a little concerned about how I was going to crawl back down out of that twisted nest of tiny wrist-slashing guillotines without fulfilling the country girl’s fondest fantasy. But, hey, I’ve done worse in Iraq.
It was only after I got down to the ground and counted all my fingers and toes and checked my nose that I saw where a previous walker who longed to crowd the ledge had twisted a hole in the bottom of the fence at its farthest edge.
Man, everything I do to bring you all the perqs and benefits of the Birmingham Weekly, I have to do it the hard way.
So even though I already had my hard-earned shots, I crawled on my belly out onto the lock and dangled my toes over the edge. And then the voice from Trussville again: “I am not going to scrape you off those rocks with the spatula like the time you left that mess on the stove.” I just stared at the water below.
Last week almost every article in the paper, even from the religion and comedy writers, just happened to turn out to be about food. This week the unplanned and unscheduled focal point of harmonic convergence is water—more specifically, Alabama’s Black Warrior River.
Well I don’t have to tell you that the country girl would call me a poet (not a compliment) and sniff at the thought that it is not mere coincidence but something more. But if she is going to scoff at divine inspiration, I am just going to have to leave her to her Marxist materialism and her immaculate credit score. Thus Sprach the Country Girl. She can believe in the might of her own willful machinations. I’ll stick with what’s natural as revealed through the parted veil in the supernatural. To her that’s as irrational and impractical as her own true love she hates to feel.
Funny how we each think the other sacrilegious.
But I am saying a tumbler clicks in the hidden heart of the universe and the pitter patters of our puny heartbeats find their rhythm and fall in place better than we could ever rationally plan. Here’s the irrefutable, scientific proof:
First, our new environmental writer Katherine Bouma kicked it off with a piece about a lawsuit against mining runoff into a tributary of the Black Warrior.
And then we got in two reports from the Black Warrior Riverkeeper that seemed to relate. So I asked Ann Rose, didn’t I hear you tell some stories about olden days and coal barges on the river? And she remembered Lock 17. And so I set off to get some photos of the Black Warrior, and the journey set off the thoughts that are coming out of my head onto this page right now. Otherwise, I’d probably be reminding you it is the last chance to vote in our best restaurants poll.
(And, no, as many have asked, OUT OF MY HEAD, is not deliberately intended to be double-entendredly synonymous with out of my mind—I think that was only our layout designer’s idea) After I retreated off the lock wall and crawled back under the razor wire, I turned the car around and was on the way back from my trip to the river when I saw all the same scenery in reverse—and that is when I saw exactly the angle and perspective I wanted for an abstract shot of the river framed in its own reflections.
Voice (in my head) of the country girl (remember, she won’t speak to me): “But that is not what the river really looks like.” You are so rational, dear country girl, but I am afraid the camera doesn’t lie. It only records what is actually there and cannot help what that reveals. A lack of imagination can actually keep you from seeing what is real.
The other thing is, though I had been able to see the shot by covering the ground backwards, the only way I could actually capture it through a small break in the trees by the side of the road was to climb up on the guardrail. I had to balance there to point my lens through a small window through the leaves, and hold it steady, without any support, to frame the geometric patterns in my view finder and hold the camera ready for the shot.
In case you never tried this balancing act on a guardrail, you are standing on a linear surface area about a centimeter wide, with both hands occupied. It is basically a high-wire act. And the reason guardrails are generally present is the drastic if not fatal drop-off down to the river below.
I could still see the nose wrinkle but couldn’t even hear what she’d say to that. She must have been speechless for once. Well I guess that is why the heartbroken country girl couldn’t take it anymore even though I loved her more than ever before.
But the part her flawless logic couldn’t predict is that I didn’t fall, and my jarlike lens, dangling in mid-air, tamed that slovenly wilderness (it took dominion everywhere).
I did hear her repeat in my head if you flirt with some girl you meet in a fish camp I am going to poke your eyes out with a bobby pin. And I remember thinking, if, like Samson, my eyes are put out, then who is going to watch that crocodile tear cryin, eye-poppin little heartbreaker like a chicken hawk. But no need to worry there, since I can still see crystal clear.
Well, with all the visions that were revealed that day, I didn’t have time to make the deposit before the banks were closed. And I was in such a hurry to get out there and catch the light that, driving back from the middle of nowhere (insert your own, what if we break down way out here at night, passenger seat observations) on the last gas fumes, like the last gasp of exasperation out of Trussville, I try to take solace that she’s happy she’s got her checkbook balanced in a perpetual steady-state act of pure arithmetic…and her closets all organized by color-wheel coding…but all I can really think, to tell you the truth, is…she missed a really great trip out to the river.
And I missed the sight of her scrinching her face, and having someone to place my fingers on ice and drive me to the hospital, just in case.