Photographing the Cahaba River Society for the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation. The Society is a 30-year old non-profit with a mission to preserve the last free-flowing river in Alabama.
We had a visit a month or so ago from our friend Carl Schinasi who lives in Birmingham. We've known Carl for ten or twelve years. He is a retired English professor at Miles College, a native of New York City, a writer, painter and budding photographer. We met over pottery and baseball, but have found over the years we have so much more in common than that. We share literature, art, and political leanings born in the sixties. Last summer we visited him and went on a great tour of Civil Rights/Birmingham with his good friend Virginia who was on the front lines of that struggle during the sixties.
A few years ago Leslie and I were taking a trip to Maine and Nova Scotia and were looking for someone to house and farm sit. Carl was interested as he could hunt for pottery while staying centrally located and free. Seemed good for all involved. We had some initial concerns like when he got out of the car and mentioned he was deathly allergic to cats. We had five in the house at that time. Later, explaining our feeding and egg collection system, Leslie suggested he watch out for black snakes who sometimes ate eggs and rested in the nests. "Why," he asked, "don't you kill it or remove it?" "Well," Leslie responded, "He helps with the mice and rats." Carl, in his best NY accent said, "Great. Rats and snakes, my two most favorite things." He had never really been on a farm before or even out in the country all that much.
But we left. Carl called a few days later to check in and mentioned he hadn't been sleeping that well. "Why?" "One of the dogs, Ralph I think, barked all night long, just wouldn't quit and I was sure there was something out there. Then I remembered the headline of the newspaper that came today and was sure the guy was out there, coming to get me." We assured him that wasn't the case and if, in fact, the guy had been out there lying in wait for Carl, he would already be dead.
A few days later we were staying in an old sea captain's house on the Bay of Fundy that had been turned into a B&B. It was quite idyllic. Our phone rang about ten that night. The house was asleep. It was Carl. "I think Isabell died under your bed." "Why?" "She's been under there for thirty-six hours and won't come out." "Why? Did you have any rain, thunder?" "Yes, and she's been under there ever since." "Get a bowl of grease or a hot dog and try to lure her out." Next call ten minutes later. "Didn't work. She didn't budge. She growled at me." Leslie grabbed the phone, "Plug in the vacuum cleaner and shove the nozzle under the bed. See if that works." Next call, "She ain't dead. I stuck that nozzle under there and she came out like a greyhound."
One of the more moving visits from our recent trip, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with Carl Schinasi and Virginia Volker. Got to see an amazing exhibit of photographs by Spider Martin, one of the great documentarians of this period of time in our nation's history. The sculpture gallery in the top two photographs is haunting. Rosa Parks (below) is resolute. A good day.
One of America's truly sacred spaces and the man who showed us the way across this seemingly unbridgeable gulf. He continues to lead the way today. It was an honor to walk where he and the patriots with him had walked. It was far easier for me - no tear gas, no clubs, no attacking police - just heat and humidity and a town mostly empty of people. Still, the symbolism of this holy place was clear, as was the knowledge we still have much walking to do.