Where Thought and Riding Meet

There's a weird, strange thrill riding in the sticks that's hard to describe. Part visual, part physical, part spiritual. The ride is important, an anthem to living, a meditation on feeling blood and breath course through the body. Problems, opportunities, secrets and answers unfold on the road. Those discoveries fuel my ride.

Frank Armstrong: Photographer

Vespa GTS scooter on a rainy morning

On the road early to have breakfast with photographer Frank Armstrong at the Naked Egg Cafe in Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania.  Grey mist shrouded the valley with a quiet threat of rain.  For a few moments I considered the seductive ease of getting into the car rather than pull on protective gear to ride.  A moment in the driveway pondering the monochrome sky and the choice was clear.

Frank was on a photographic walkabout starting a couple days in Worcester, Massachusetts.  I became part of a small email group of photographers that in the pre-digital era that included Frank and have been friends since.

Frank Armstrong, photographer at the Naked Egg CafeI associate two words with Frank — photography and Texas.  A camera is never out of reach and the Texan sensibility and storytelling is delivered with at Lone Star state drawl.  This quick picture was made while waiting for an order of dry toast.

Vespa scooter in a car filled parking lot

My chair faced the parking lot during breakfast and I noticed how insignificant the Vespa scooter looks amidst a sea of automobiles — a visual reminder of the need to carefully manage myself on the road and the American love affair with cars.  I predict this will not change in my lifetime and the Vespa will remain alone in the lot.

Frank is criss-crossing Pennsylvania making photographs on his way to Ohio to visit friends.  It’s been awhile since I engaged the kind of serious photography he has been doing for decades.
Gordon Harkins, Paul Ruby and Frank Armstrong at the Naked Egg Cafe

Gordon Harkins, a photography instructor at Penn State, Paul Ruby, a State College photographer, and Frank Armstrong are all members of the Zoners email group.  As much as I look forward to getting together with these guys, I have to say I was feeling glum as I considered the photographic work they are engaged in while my own creative output has spun down to images with my iPhone or point and shoot camera.     I’ve been in a multiple year slump.  Talking with Frank has me thinking it’s time to work again…

Vespa scooter in autumn leaves.

After breakfast everyone went their own way.  One stop on the way home to wonder how the summer slipped past so quickly and to think a bit about my own photographic next steps.  It’s probably time to abandon film and darkroom work and make a commitment to digital photography and printing.  I’ve avoided it for a decade now and the result is I remain frozen in time not making any new work.  Ebay here I come…

Frank’s visit this time and the ones in the past all provided some creative kick-in-the-ass though I suspect he didn’t realize it.  If you have a moment check out Frank Armstrong’s website to look at the complete collection of work.


Watching Clouds

The change in light and leaf vibrate in bone and marrow as the dance between earth and sun moves from summer to autumn.  An evening laying in the grass on a hill, watching the sun drop towards the horizon, I could watch the clouds swell and dissolve at the end of the day. Watching clouds has no use or purpose save for the nourishment it provides the soul.

clouds at sunset

Two jet planes move west towards Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit.  The sun will be gone in minutes, a dying swan in the sky.


As the seconds pass I sink deeper into the grass and grow more content in witnessing the aerial struggle between light and moisture.


It can be challenging to lay and do nothing other than inspect the slow but relentless changes as a contrail becomes a cloud.

a single contrail

I have to remind myself to take a few minutes to look skyward.  Too many sunsets and clouds have passed by without recognition.

clouds at sunset

In the final moments before the sun drops too far along the horizon the color palette changes.

contrail at dusk

And finally the light and color fades and only the fall of night remains.  Such a small investment of time to watch a minor miracle and asking myself why I don’t do it more often.

Watching clouds.

Remembering to Live

An email arrived today with a link to a video that’s a powerful reminder of how unfortunate circumstance can insidiously rob a person of joy and experience.  It might whisper a frightening refrain about safety, or a smug conversation about acting your age, perhaps a response to illness or age that seems too much to bear.  Whatever thief steals through the night of existence, it’s important to at least have our eyes open to the possibility that we can make different choices — some large, some small.

I’ve posted this video several times before.  Each time I watch it my throat tightens, part in anger towards a world that often devalues a person as they wear on in years, and part because I feel the exhilaration of saying “Hell no, I will not go quietly into the night!”.  So for anyone needing a reminder of the power inherent in each of us I share this video.

I hope I’m able to ride at 80, to have the good fortune to be physically and mentally able to embrace a last ride.

Ride safe.

Simplification of Life

Vespa GTS scooter

After a long week where the world feels like it’s closing in on you it’s nice to be going for a ride on the Vespa.  Simple, direct, with few cares or worries.

Riding makes me think of the words of Henry David Thoreau:

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.

A Vespa is part of my own simplification of life.