Construction at Envoy’s Elevate Office co-working building across the street from the Renaissance Hotel.
Photo Gallery – Faces at Westerville Community Culture Day celebrating Westerville’s diversity and the experience of its residents and immigrants.
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I’ve been late for many a dinner, skipped a few meals, ripped clothing, muddied shoes, driven faster than necessary, and trespassed, all for the possibility of getting a photo different and better than the last.
Had another of those moments Thursday when I finally found Westerville Electric workers installing the new Hendrix cabling in a section of circuit 41. My house is at the end of a portion of circuit 41 and I almost always could expect a power failure after a heavy storm. The new Hendrix cable and the clearing of nearby trees along the circuit promise to fix that problem.
The crew has been working on the installation for several weeks and I had not yet been able to find them in a place that lent itself to a good photo. Made that discovery Thursday while heading home after telling my wife I was done for the day. She’s come to expect my promises of a quick return often are broken when I discover a photo opportunity on the way.
What made this photo so difficult wasn’t the promise to my wife, or having to stand in and near late afternoon traffic on Sunbury Road.
Qfm96 was playing “Free Bird.” I gave up “Free Bird” to make photos of the Westerville Electric crew installing Hendrix cable. I gave up Lynyrd Skynyrd for a photo. Not a great photo. A pedestrian photo. A perhaps very ordinary photo with little significance to advancing any important storytelling about Westerville.
I would have like nothing more than to have continued on my way home listening to “Free Bird,” singing off-key, playing air guitar, and slapping the steering wheel. But, I stopped, made photos, got back in the car and made sure the radio was turned off. I’d missed “Free Bird” and nothing could easily have followed.
Except for “Hotel California.” If “Hotel California” had been playing when I saw the crew installing the cable, you wouldn’t see this photo.
The meeting chamber inside city hall serves many purposes. At least twice a month Westerville city council holds public meetings to decide law and proclaim the city’s greatness. Once a week a magistrate determines justice for accused offenders during Mayor’s Court. Wednesday night it was the planning commission.
Local developers explained to the commission their best purpose for land use citing increased tax revenue, pleasant and appropriate design, and a future for the city that included everyone profiting from their proposal.
Outside city hall activists protested the national policy that separates children from parents when they cross the border in defiance of the law.
They stood in the public green-space where once a large planter bearing the colors of tulips in the spring and a winter posthole for the Holiday Tree had anchored the entrance. Now an open lawn with planters and bricks removed, it hosts Tuesday music concerts, weekly yoga classes, Fourth Friday, and a set of plaques dedicated to the memory of two police officers killed when answering a call.
About 60 people gathered close to the microphone to hear the speakers. Closer than a comfortable social distance because the speakers spoke softly and the portable sound system wasn’t good for outdoor acoustics.
A series of lighted candles emphasized each point of the activist’s purpose. Most of the candles in the crowd were battery powered with flashing LEDs.
Both meetings lasted about two hours.
After everyone’s voices were heard, the lights inside city hall turned off, the portable speaker system outside removed, and the candles extinguished, one thing remained.
At the corner of the lawn is “The American Issue.”
Dedicated less than two weeks before, “The American Issue” depicts the moment in Westerville history that divided a nation and the reuniting of disparate voices to correct a failed experiment.
Named for the weekly newspaper published by the Anti-Saloon League once headquartered just down State Street, the bronze, 14-foot-tall sculpture shows a wedge driven by a shattered barrel cleaving a large rock into two sections. One side of the wedge’s raised letters are comments advocating the 18th Amendment that began prohibition. The other side’s comments center on prohibition’s repeal with the 21st Amendment.
Westerville Law Director Bruce Bailey, who commissioned, paid for, and donated the sculpture to the city, hopes it not only highlights Westerville’s role in prohibition but also acts as a way for people to better understand the democratic process and how citizens can act together to solve differences.
“The story isn’t Prohibition, the story is how the divide on an issue in America split the country,” Bailey told This Week Westerville, a local weekly newspaper.
Sculptor Matthew Gray Palmer echoed Bailey’s comment telling the paper, “It was a really intense topic to tackle. It’s so rare … the way it has legs into the future and everything we’re dealing with and having issues with today.”
Bailey and Palmer would have been pleased to watch as soft voices expressed discontent with government policy in the shadow of “The American Issue” while government went about its business inside city hall.
Public art is a reflection of how we see the world. It can express our values or question our assumptions. It might even be a silent sentinel telling us that how we go about our lives matters. That even the most public of protests and acts of government are important. “The American Issue” tells us that even when we make mistakes, democracy will continue to solve our problems. It will even help us find a way to express gratitude in a piece of public art.
He was as old as my father. I was as old as his son. Even this wasn’t a measurement that explained why he was difficult to work with, quick to anger, impersonal and remote.
I wondered if it was because we belonged to different unions and our duties sometimes overlapped. I’d never worked in an office where duties were defined by contract, especially a union contract. If a button need pushed it didn’t matter to me who pushed it.
Bob didn’t have the same perspective. He was very protective of the tasks outlined in his union contract. I stayed on my side of the aisle between us.
If there was any hint that I strayed beyond my territorial limits or intruded on his duties, I would soon be on the receiving end of a verbal tirade or the subject of an official grievance.
We rarely talked about anything beyond work. Talk about family, our personal lives, and sports were brief with little shared insight that might allow me to better understand Bob.
Other technicians weren’t nearly so quick to anger over territorial and job transgressions. We often shared our woes about the Braves, a new BBQ restaurant, traffic, MARTA, family mishaps, hunting trips, and past exploits.
I thought Bob’s demeanor might have been the product of a long-ago contract dispute resulting in a lockout and failure of my union to honor picket lines. Even then, the dispute didn’t anger other technicians enough to make it difficult to have conversations beyond what was necessary to get our jobs done.
Bob played golf. I didn’t. I knew he liked to play after overhearing him talking about a specific course he’d played.
But that changed with an inexpensive gift. A gift I thought was insignificant.
One day I brought Bob a copy of Time magazine. The cover story was about golf becoming a global phenomenon. Knowing Bob’s affection for the sport I offered it as a way of showing my understanding of his pleasures. And, perhaps, to soften him up a bit.
I stepped halfway across the narrow aisle between our desks, leaned into his space and offered the magazine. He accepted my totem with a grunt, glancing at the cover before setting it aside and returning to his work.
Later I heard the impossible.
“Hey, Kid. Come over here. Look at this.”
I’d knew that Bob’s space was private, a shrine both personal and professional and that I was a place where I was refused entry no matter the reason.
Now I was being told to step across the threshold.
Bob held up the magazine, its pages spread open. He pointed to a photo.
“Look at this! I was there!” he said, pointing to the small image. He was excited, his voice evoking a joy I’d never heard before.
Like a child bathed in the excitement of an invitation, I looked over his shoulder at the photo keeping my feet ready for a quick exit when he realized where I stood.
The photo showed a small lagoon, it’s blue water and coral beach ringed by lush foliage under a sky with clouds casting no shadows across the postcard-perfect fairy tale view. It was the site of a new golf course, an indicator of how the sport has moved even onto small South Pacific islands.
“I was there. That’s where I landed.” he continued to explain.
I quickly looked at the caption to see which island held this idyllic lagoon.
I began to understand. Marine. Guadalcanal.
For the several hours, I listened as Bob found his voice.
Each story he told began with his head down in reverence to the memory. At its conclusion, he lowered his head returning to the reverential pose.
There was little excitement in the telling. Each sentence seemed measured, weighted with memories of the battle. Nervous laughter filled the empty spaces between tales where death, or fear, or futility, or the smell and viciousness of death, revealed his history.
Dead Marines. A hilltop several feet shorter after a battle against Japanese fighting from the high ground. Layers of dead Japanese soldiers, their bodies tossed down the incline by the soldiers ordered to replace them. The search for and discovery of alcohol to anesthetize the wounds. His friend dying during the search.
More battles continued when he returned, his ship docking in San Francisco. Stories of infidelity, drinking, and fits of anger tempered his return home. There was more nervous laughter but this time it punctuated his personal battle against an invisible enemy.
He never went into battle again although he trained for the invasion of Japan, a task that ended at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I’m not sure when our conversation ended. Perhaps when his relief came to work. Maybe I stepped across the aisle to do my work and I didn’t get invited back. All I remember is Bob, his head down, staring at that photo.
Bob and I never spoke about that afternoon. His exposition conversation was a one time reveal of his Marine experience.
We continued as coworkers for several more years until I moved to another city. Bob no longer seemed angry, so quick to disagree, no longer hostile to transgressions.
Then again, may I no longer let these emotional outbursts get the better of me.
I knew about Bob and Guadalcanal.
The morning was bright, the beginning of a warm spring day. The promise of new life. The light was perfect.
A tree branch’s curve followed the tree-line across the small meadow. It’s shadow etched a dark frame along the edge of the walkway.
I stood in the shadow, looking through a viewfinder for the best angle.
There’s a constant for photographers. It’s waiting, patiently watching, knowing where to stand, where to look. To know the right place. To know that the moment will happen. It always does.
The light just inside the woods along the walkway is near perfect. It comes from the north filtered through leaves and branches, reflected from the pond and the grass and sky, funneling to softly fall where the older trees begin.
The mosses, leaves, and lichens in the moist cool air at the edge of the canopy saturate themselves in dark color holding tight to anchors of earth and limb. In the fall the small trees growing at the feet of their older relatives join in the splash of bright colors as greens turn to yellow and gold. When blue disappears into the darkness of winter and the time of blue sky is shorter and life-sustaining sunlight has to move across more miles of the sky to arrive where earlier there was growth. Now begins brown, soon to be decay to feed next year’s growth.
And spring again.
This moment was a woman in a sleeveless yellow cotton dress.
The spring light brightened her dress. Her dark hair glistened,
swinging gently as she quickly walked into my view. With her arms gathered behind her back, hands clasped at the waist, she smiled, said “Hello”, moving toward the moment, that spot on the path where everything is perfect.
The moment went black, disappearing when the shutter opened and the camera viewfinder closed.
It’s odd, the way photographers never see the moment they’ve recorded. Sudden darkness. A flash of black and the view returns. Only the film, or today the memory card, holds the secret of that ever so brief slice of time.
Some physicists insist that what the camera records is a different reality than what I would see without the camera. I’ve never understood the math. My existentialist friends say both the physicists and the subject should be of no concern to me. It only matters that I am concerned with my observation. I’m only concerned with the moment.
I never saw her again. Most of the people I see in the park stroll past at least one more time. She never did. Perhaps she was there only for me, for one of my moments.
There are many moments in the day when everything falls into place. Then we move on to the next. The next moment to observe or miss, or dismiss.
There are always moments.
I stood in the funeral home parking lot during my mother-in-law’s wake to escape the warmth of too many bodies in too small a space and too much emotion in too brief a time. A steady, gentle wind blew across my face and hands and whipped the cuffs of my trousers.
The dry North Dakota air felt pure, having moved across the upper plains, fed by cold shielded in the earth’s winter penumbra well north of the Tropic of Cancer. My eyes closed and taking deep breaths, I walked across the snow-covered gravel parking lot into the wind refreshing memories of the years I spent there in the military. The dry snow crunched beneath my feet, its desiccated surface a reminder of the death so nearby.
The wind gently caressed me, creating brief eddies across my face and fingers. I remembered the Old Testament scripture when Elijah recognizes the presence of God in a gentle whisper, not in the brilliance of earthquakes, fire, and storms.
Family had gathered to celebrate the gentleness of a woman whose tumultuous life never betrayed her love for her children. We stood together, in tears, not afraid to speak of the good things, the moments of congratulations and celebration bequeathed to her children. A gift to pass along to the following generations without condition or regret.
Early winter’s fresh snow changed the landscape ever so briefly reminding me of that moment, when brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews gathered to celebrate a life.
We were in that moment of cold between death and resurrection when only memories brighten the day and tears wash away the sadness.
The mind’s moment of joy and despair. Of losing something important and wondering when there will be another moment to grip us so hard.
smithsonian.com For years afterward, the scent of jet fuel and scorched hair were powerful sensory cues that transported Sadie Burkhalter Hurst back in time to the day when fire and death invaded her tranquil world. “Most of the time,” she said 40 years later, “you don’t remember it until things trigger those memories.
My photo from the crash illustrates a Smithsonian Magazine story about the impact on the people who lived on the country road where it happened. Still in the first month of my probationary period at The AP and alone in the office, it was the event that signaled “Welcome to The AP” for me. I passed probation this day. Next time you see me ask about the plywood sitting in front of this house. (AP Photo/Gary Gardiner)