A Walk in the Colombian Countryside

Author’s Note: This article also appears at Medium.

I often ponder what my own photographs mean to me. At times, I’ve felt like my images represent my only voice in the world. And sometimes, like the present, I struggle with my photography because I’ve burdened it with the task of earning a living for me. But more than anything else, my photographs represent little life nuggets that I carry with me from moment to moment and from one life chapter to the next. They speak to me of people and places and moments, great and small, constantly reminding me that I’ve been somewhere and done something in my life.

I’m a one-camera, one-lens kind of guy these days, so whenever I walk out the door I carry the little leather bag that holds my modest gear. As I go about my day, I run into the most amazing things–canaries on a wire, the moon rising over a palm tree, a child with a toy horse, a real horse grazing in a park, a puddle of water shaped like a continent…

A few weeks ago, I discovered a valley near my house that I didn’t know existed before. With a companion and my camera in tow, I strolled down the mountain to explore this new destination. We were headed to a spot in the valley where my companion used to go as a child.

As we strolled, he told me the story of walking down to the valley at 5:00 am with his great-grandfather, an uncle, a younger bother, and a herd of little cousins. Their destination was a small lot on which a cow lived and the purpose of their journey was to milk the cow to earn money for the family. Along the way, Uncle Guillermo–who recently passed away at the age of 90–would gently herd the pack of children by tapping them on the legs with a stick. When they reached the lot, Abuelo and Guillermo would go to work tending to the cow, while the kids explored the marvels of the valley. Back then, the valley was home to dozens of farms, one of which had a multi-level coffee drying building designed like a Japanese pagoda, which the children referred to as the “Chinese house”. As the sun rose, the children and their elders would walk back up the hill, carrying containers of fresh milk.

As we walked that morning, cars, jeeps, and motorcycles zoomed past us, but I didn’t know where they were going. Today, many of the valley’s farms have given up coffee cultivation for fish farming–specifically a popular species called mojarra. And on Sunday afternoons, the mojarra farms host visitors for one of Colombia’s most charming and unique traditions–a Sunday lunch in the country.

As we walked from farm to farm, I first noticed the small fish ponds. From a distance, they looked empty, but as we walked closer, I noticed fins darting through the water and small circles forming at the surface as fish gobbled up insects. Along the edge of one pond, thousands of baby fish congregated at the edges. A chicken coop ran alongside one pond and a horse pasture bordered another. Several of the farms had swimming pools, where children splashed in the water, as their parents enjoyed abundant platters of fish and chicken, washed down with cold Colombian beer. Colorful red and yellow hibiscus plants encircled the swimming pools and hummingbirds buzzed from flower to flower indulging in nectar.

We lunched at a small farm–operated by a former classmate of my companion–where we spent the afternoon sitting at a table on the lawn outside the main house. While we waited for our food, a little gray kitty with golden eyes befriended us, gently caressing our ankles, as we watched a table of celebrants enjoying a birthday party.

When it was time to go home, a jeep rounded the corner just as we began walking up the hill. My companion landed a seat inside the jeep and I attempted to hang onto the back like a campesino. A film crew–likely producing a story about one of the new resorts in the valley–joined us on our bumpy but brief journey up the hill to Líbano, my Colombian hometown.

By the end of the day, my simple stroll in the country had evolved into a rich cultural experience. Best of all, I returned home with a small collection of nature photos to remind me of a special day.

Two Ferns, Libano, Colombia, 2017
Two Ferns, Líbano, Colombia, 2017

 

Bosque de Guadua, Libano, Colombia, 2017
Bosque de Guadua, Líbano, Colombia, 2017
Wild Fern, Libano, Colombia, 2017
Wild Fern, Líbano, Colombia, 2017

 

Mojarra Pond, Libano, Colombia, 2017
Mojarra Pond, Líbano, Colombia, 2017

 

You can purchase prints of these photos in the shop.

Want to join me for a walk in the Colombian countryside? Subscribe to this blog at the bottom of the page to receive information about upcoming weekend workshops and photos tours, beginning in 2018 in association with Colombia Eco Travel.

Colombia Calling YOU! Podcasts, Photo Tours, and More…

November begins with a flurry of activity at Michael Evans Photography, as my new book, My Colombia: The First Seven Years, continues to attract attention. Earlier in the week, journalist and hotelier Richard McColl interviewed me for his Colombia Calling podcast. In the interview, I discuss my life in small town Colombia, my new book, and a host of future plans. Listen to Colombia Calling, episode #207, on: iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher.

Black and white photograph of tall wax palm trees in front of a mountain in Cocora Valley, Colombia, near Salento.

During the podcast, I announced my new photography tours, which begin in early 2018. I’m teaming up with Colombia Eco Travel to offer six- and seven-day photo tours to Colombia’s most spectacular places. To start, we’ll offer tours of colonial Colombia, including popular destinations such as Villa de Leyva and off-the-beaten-path locations such as San Juan de Girón. We’ll also begin tours in Colombia’s coffee regions, which will include visits to the famed Coffee Triangle, Cocora Valley, Los Nevados National Natural Park, and my neck of the woods, Líbano and Murillo, where I captured many of the photos in my book.

I’m finalizing the tour details with Daniel Buitrón Jaramillo, Colombia Eco Travel’s co-founder and general manager. Colombia Eco Travel is Colombia’s premier custom and luxury travel company, so you can look forward to a truly meaningful and memorable photography adventure.

For expats living in Colombia, and travelers exploring Colombia on their own, I’m also offering monthly weekend photography workshops in Líbano

Please subscribe to this blog at the bottom of this page to receive further information as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, here are some of the amazing places you can discover with me on our upcoming photo tours:

Black and white photo of clouds hovering over a large cobblestone plaza and a colonial-era church.
Villa de Leyva
Black and white photograph of four men playing guitars on a sidewalk in front of a traditional colonial house in Salento, Colombia.
Salento
Black and white photograph of four mule and two dogs waiting in front of a colonial-era house in Murillo, Colombia
Murillo
Black and white photo looking up at a water tower next to a tall palm tree.
Manizales
Black and white photograph of angry bird balloons in front of the Basilica Menor in Giron, Colombia.
San Juan de Girón
Black and white photo of teenagers dressed in costumes with angel wings, masks, and tall hats perform for a crowd in Libano, Colombia.
Líbano

They Call Me Memphis Mike: A Memphis Native’s Colombian Life

Black and white photograph of two palm trees set against a weathered stucco wall.

Text and photos by Michael Evans

Author’s Note: The following text is an edited excerpt from my new book, My Colombia: The First Seven Years, which features a collection of photographs I’ve taken throughout Colombia. See more information about the new book at the end of this article. The article also appears at Medium.

 

The story of how a Memphis dreamer landed in rural Colombia is too long to tell in detail. After all, I wouldn’t want to bore you. I’ll give you an abstract sketch of what I’ve run into from there to here, but don’t expect it to make any sense.

I sometimes think of life’s chapters as a quilt of mismatched swatches never intended as companions. Over the years I’ve crossed paths with teachers and politicians, celebrities and grifters, leaders and terrorists, humble natives and greedy interlopers. I’ve stayed in luxury hotels and slept rough beside the sea, sold ice to fishermen and helped launch technology. I’ve witnessed political unrest in a foreign nation and marveled at whales in an ocean wilderness. I’ve seen dreams shattered and new visions emerge, industries rise and then fall, nations achieve peace and families tear themselves apart. I’ve felt the rejection of loved ones for returning home and the acceptance of strangers for being an oddity in a rejected land.

If I knew today was my last, I’d tell you I’ve learned nothing. Absolutely nothing. But as proof of my existence, I’d offer you a collection of pictures I’ve taken along the way.

 

It’s 6:25 a.m. when the clanging bell of the garbage truck awakens me. I stumble through the house heading toward the door, where Buddy waits for me to set him free. He isn’t really my dog, but he thinks he is and thinks my house is his, too. He’ll spend part of his day at the butcher shop, where he’ll get bones and scraps of meat, before going to Señora Amanda’s store, where he’ll sprawl spread-eagled in the middle of the floor, while Amanda’s husband feeds him pieces of salchichón. Such is the life of the most beloved street dog in Barrio Protecho.

I live two houses away from the town’s biggest park, Villa Olímpica. On weekends, from dawn until dusk, the motocross kids rev their engines and leap from one dirt mound to the next, as their neighbors play basketball or tennis, or splash around in the pool. The other day I saw a dog chasing a bull on the soccer field in the middle of a match, which, oddly, isn’t so unusual. From time to time, an old-fashioned circus sets up a tent in the park for a week or two of shows. When they’re in town, I can set my watch by the firing of the cannon that launches an acrobat through the air each night at 7:00 and 10:00 p.m.

Black and white photo of girls wearing white traditional dresses dancing in a parade in Libano, Colombia.

Downtown, the main plaza has a park, too, which is why, I suppose, they call it Parque Principal and not Plaza Principal. By the way, the name of this town is Líbano, Colombia, a place most people haven’t heard of before, situated five hours west of Bogotá. To get here by bus from the capital, you have to travel down the end of the plateau, through a narrow valley, over a mountain, through the Magdalena River Valley, and halfway up another mountain. I recommend taking a Dramamine® tablet before you get started and another one in Vianí, the halfway point.

Líbano sits in the middle of the Tolima Department’s coffee region. The Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia has an office and warehouse here, where farmers deposit their harvests and collect their pay. You probably know of Juan Valdez and his trusty mule, Conchita. Juan isn’t just a fictional character in coffee commercials; he’s the trademarked mascot of the federation — invented in 1969 — and through the magic of casting, he always remains young and fit. And although Juan always looks a little too clean and well-groomed for doing manual labor, his outfit is spot on, because Colombian coffee farmers still wear straw hats and ponchos, still strap machetes to their belts, and some still bring their harvests to market on the backs of mules.

Black and white photograph of four mule and two dogs waiting in front of a colonial-era house in Murillo, Colombia

That’s not to say Líbano is behind the times. People here follow trends and keep up with new technologies, but traditions die hard around here. Everyone, except me, has a smartphone, and the cable TV companies recently upgraded their customers to satellite dishes. You’ll find internet cafes in every neighborhood and the government just installed free Wi-Fi in Parque Principal. On the other hand, if you wanted to move a refrigerator from one house to another, you’d call on a horse and wagon team to handle the job.

I still see little kids shooting marbles and spinning wooden tops on sidewalks, while teenagers rocket past them on skateboards. Colombians tend to choose an activity in their youth and stick with it for life. So if you see a kid riding a wheelie on his bike today, he’ll likely graduate to touring gear and full riding attire by the time he’s an adult. August is kite-flying season, and while some folks like to show off their fancy manufactured kit, most people here like to make kites with bamboo strips and craft paper.

Black and white photograph of many children flying kites in Salento, Colombia.

As I step back inside after depositing the trash, Cyndi Lou, my glamorous kitty, beckons me to come back to bed for a while and I oblige without hesitation. Buddy comes and goes at will, like a young prince making demands on his court, but Cyndi is my constant companion, except when she’s on a hunt. In the early evening she hovers around the outdoor sink, waiting to leap up and capture moths and beetles that flutter and creep around the light. She’s an insect connoisseur, and instinctively knows what’s safe and what’s not, which is good, because Colombia has flying insects the size of bats.

By 8:00 a.m. the streets are buzzing with vendors. The tamales man peddles by on his bicycle, barking his never-changing spiel, as a produce seller announces the prices of his fruits and veggies. “Plantains, seven for two thousand pesos. Tomatoes, one pound for one thousand pesos. Avocados, one thousand pesos a piece. Fresh mangoes, papaya, bananas, lulo, passion fruit, guanabana…” You’ve probably never heard of some of those fruits, and I hadn’t either, before I moved to Colombia. Most produce comes from family farms or commercial growers in the Magdalena River Valley, one of several agricultural sectors that produce everything from sugar cane to cotton.

Black and white photo of mountains, hovering clouds, and large farm in a valley.

Líbano sits above a well-known spot in the valley — notorious, really — where the town of Armero once existed. In 1985, the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted, sending a giant lahar down the mountainside and into the valley. Unaware of their peril, Armero residents never stood a chance as the massive mudslide engulfed the town, killing 23,000 people. The Red Cross set up an evacuation and triage center in Villa Olímpica, and six inches of ash blanketed Líbano. For days, parents sent their children to school wearing gas masks, and one fearful mother wrote her contact information in permanent marker on the flesh of her son’s back. One of my Colombian relatives told me the harrowing tale of a family member, an Armero resident, who arrived in Líbano wrapped in a blanket, after losing his wife and children, house, and all of his belongings, including his clothes. Today, only a few concrete slabs and a giant cross remain where Armero stood. As I write this story, the volcano belches steam and spits ash, threatening to erupt again.

Mid-afternoon a pair or blue-gray tanagers land in the cordoncillo tree, which towers above the edge of the roof, after making its humble start through a crack in the patio’s concrete. Cyndi Lou pokes her head out from underneath a blanket and peers out the window, captivated by the beautiful birds. Around the corner, dozens of yellow canaries perch on the electrical wires, waiting for the kindly neighbor to toss out a handful of rice, their favorite afternoon treat. Near sunset, a variety of small birds will appear, flying chaotically at first, before ending in a beautifully choreographed finale of thrusts and dives toward airborne insects.

I hear a strange clomping noise and when I glance out the window I see Hushpuppy dolled up in a new pink dress, eating an ice cream cone, and wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes that look at least three sizes too big. My partner and I call her Hushpuppy because as a young child she used to run around almost naked, with her ungroomed hair sticking out in all directions, like the main character — Hushpuppy — in the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild. Today, she’s a beautiful young girl — probably eight or nine years old by now — who commands the attention of all the neighborhood children.

Daily, a group of mothers and their children meets on the sidewalk outside my house. North Americans might call this a “play date” but folks here just consider it a routine. Little Samuel shuffles his feet to propel his plastic bicycle and Wallace toddles around in his cowboy costume. Hushpuppy holds tea parties in front of my door and often steals the water containers I set out for Buddy and his amigos.

In downtown Líbano, Café Moka sits at the corner of Parque Principal. Situated in a traditional colonial-style building, pairs of double doors open to create an open-air setting. Waitresses hop to and fro, taking orders for coffee and desserts, while baristas work in steamy clouds behind a counter adorned with an antique coffee percolator and modern espresso machine. Scattered throughout the café, businesspeople chat about their work, families catch up on life’s happenings, politicians plot their campaign strategies, and coffee farmers sip the fruits of their labor from dainty porcelain cups.

Across the street, under the cover of ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss, merchants fry potato chips, grill arepas and pinchos, pop popcorn, and swirl soft-serve ice cream from machines powered by generators. In the center of the plaza, children take turns driving miniature electric cars, or riding an old-fashioned toy horse, while dealers hawk everything from used books to leather belts.

The Catholic cathedral occupies one corner of the plaza, its doors opened wide, revealing its ornate alter. Along one side of the plaza sits the vacant remains of the Yep department store, beside the Superdiamante supermarket, where people buy packaged foods from cluttered aisles and overstuffed shelves. At night, revelers will flood the square, drawn by the pounding music of the discos and the lust for love and drink.

Black and white photograph of angry bird balloons in front of the Basilica Menor in Giron, Colombia.

Jeeps and old-style chiva buses, with loads of groceries, farm supplies, and bunches of plantains piled high on their roofs, line the streets around the market. Nearby stores cater to farm families with a mishmash of goods: fertilizers, seeds for kitchen gardens, live chicks and ducklings, pet foods and livestock medications, fabrics for making clothes and curtains, and kitchen staples such as rice, panela, lentils, and frijoles.

In the center of the market, folks sell fresh fruits and vegetables, often picked before sunrise and still covered with soil. Along one side, merchants sell burlap coffee sacks, homemade barbeque grills, tinctures, and fresh herbs. The row of herb stands supplies spices for Líbano’s kitchens and plants used in traditional medicines. On New Year’s Day and birthdays, townsfolk prepare a bath with seven types of plants and flowers — a practice I’ve adopted, too — meant to wash away the negativity of the past and promote prosperity and good health for the future.

As the sun fades, Cyndi Lou caresses my ankle, signaling that it’s time for her special treat, a few spoonfuls of tuna. The smell of grilled chorizos wafts past my window from the corner fast food stand and I hear mothers calling their young ones home for dinner. In the distance, Buddy barks at strangers, as the Colombian national anthem plays on televisions sets and radios. A neighbor blasts Vallenato music, as a tiny lizard darts across my wall. The high school marching band practices in the park, while a nearby monastery broadcasts Gregorian chants over its public address system. Later, as my head hits the pillow, a gentle rain will fall on the tin roof, lulling me to sleep.

Another day has passed, not unlike yesterday, or the day before that. But unlike so many other places where I’ve lived, my Andean home reminds me daily that life is all around me. Life makes a sound and has an image and a smell. It’s chaos and ballet, death and birth, war and love, played out at the same time.

This is my Colombia.


Preview and purchase My Colombia: The First Seven Years

Black and white photograph of tall wax palm trees in front of a mountain in Cocora Valley, Colombia, near Salento.

You can view and purchase museum-quality prints from the book through this website.

Black and white photo of a palm tree covered with parasitic plants.

SALE! Limited Time Promotion Ends October 31

Each month I offer up to three Limited Time Promotions. This month’s Limited Time Promotions include a trio of colorful images from Colombia. Subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page, or on the Contact page, so you won’t miss announcements about these special deals. This week’s promotions end October 31.

Limited Time Promotion

This month’s first Limited Time Promotion is an 24×36-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of a Colombian Coffee Plantation. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on an 24x36x1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $358
SALE price $179

This promotion ends October 31. Click for details.

 

Colombia Coffee Plantation

 

Limited Time Promotion

The second Limited Time Promotion is an 24×36-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of Street Musicians. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on an 24×36-1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $358
SALE price $179

This promotion ends October 31. Click for details.

 

Color photo of Colombian street musicians in front of a colonial house.

 

Limited Time Promotion

Last, but not least, is an 24×36-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of The Old Spanish Church. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on a 24×36-1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $358
SALE price $179

This promotion ends October 31. Click for details.

 

Color photograph of a colonial-era church in Salento, Colombia. The church is painted white, with blue doors and sits in a cobblestone plaza.

If these photos don’t suit your fancy, you’ll find a variety of others in my print shop. I’ll offer new Limited Time Promotions next week, so subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page, or on the Contact page, to receive the announcement.

Waiting for Grace: An Uncle’s Story of Loss and Rebirth

Two brothers” by Scott Granneman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Michael Evans

Author’s Note: This is a true story. Some of the names have been changed. This story also appears at Medium.

Stuck at malfunction junction, I thought, “What happens if they don’t eat between five and six o’clock?” My parents had invited me to supper at their house and I couldn’t figure out why they always had to eat before seven o’clock. Maybe it was an age thing; after age 60 you have to eat before prime time or chaos ensues.

Memphis’ malfunction junction, where Interstate 55 meets the Interstate 240 loop, is the expressway disaster nobody in civil engineering has ever solved. At rush hour, I-240 turns into a parking lot of weary downtown workers, mixed with long-haul truckers passing through Arkansas and Tennessee. Meanwhile, more truckers join the entanglement driving rigs from the Gulf Coast to Chicago along I-55. To make matters worse, the intersection lies a stone’s throw away from the Memphis International Airport and FedEx’s hub. It all combines to create a massive headache for drivers who just want to get home to their families.

I had rushed from the mayor’s office a half hour earlier, taking just enough time to stop by my apartment for a quick change of clothes. As I darted from the office, my co-worker Barbara asked, “When will you be an uncle again, it should be any day now?”

“It’ll probably be a couple of weeks. My sister usually goes past the due date,” I said. The again part of Barbara’s question referred to my nephew, Cole, whom my coworkers were watching grow up though the assortment of family photos I kept on the credenza behind my desk. He recently had turned six and the photos showed the progression of a bald-headed infant in a christening gown to a curly-headed little athlete, mingled in with pictures of my parents, my sister Louise, and her husband Bernie.

As the traffic finally started moving, I felt relieved and hungry, so I rode the accelerator hard the rest of the way. I used my key to let myself into the house in which I had grown up, where I found my parents in their usual end-of-the-day places, Dad in the dad chair watching the news and Mom in the kitchen preparing dinner. After a quick greeting, I plopped down on the sofa to get my first breather of the day. I had worked as the mayor’s photographer for about a year. Since I was the first full-time photographer, the stacks of assignments never seemed to end, making the pace hectic at times. It felt good to relax, and the smell of Mom’s fried chicken—one of my favorite meals—teased my taste buds.

Just as we sat down to supper, the phone rang. My mother answered and I could tell she was getting some news. “Well okay, we’ll be there as soon as possible.” As she hung up the phone, the color faded from her face and her eyes filled with tears. “Louise is going into labor. I’ve been praying it wouldn’t happen on this day, but I guess we don’t have any choice.” 

This day was the seventh anniversary of Lexie’s death. Lexie, Louise and Bernie’s first child, was a beautiful little girl who one day, at the age of three months, stopped breathing and never started again. The coroner ruled the death Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which occurs with no warning and no answers to make any sense of it. Everyone in the family read the literature the SIDS Institute mailed to us. It gave us all the known data, including the names of movie stars who had lost children to SIDS, but the answers to how and why such a thing could happen weren’t known. It was one of those gut-wrenching, unexplained life experiences that leads to confusion and anger—and one that shattered my family.

We quickly finished eating and I jumped in my car, headed to Baptist East Hospital. Nothing in Memphis is close, the result of urban sprawl and white flight. The trip from my parents’ house to that part of town usually took half an hour on the interstate. Mom and Dad trailed behind to pack a bag, knowing they would need to stay the night at Louise’s house to babysit Cole. As I drove to the hospital, old memories and feelings started to rush back in, like floodwaters raging past a collapsed dam.

Cole was born a year after Lexie died. Louise and Bernie decided the only way they could move past Lexie’s death was to have another child as soon as possible. By the time Cole was five years old, his parents decided he would be an only child. They couldn’t bear the thought of putting themselves through the anxiety of another infant in their lives. The rest of the family felt the same way, but shortly after Cole’s fifth birthday, Louise discovered she was pregnant again.

The traffic was still heavy with post rush-hour commuters, as I turned into the hospital’s parking garage, wiping tears from my eyes. Baptist East was new, but had already become the suburban choice for labor and delivery. As I walked into the maternity wing, I saw the family room just to the left, where Maggie and Bennett, Bernie’s mother and stepfather, sat waiting. Cole was there too, and as I entered he ran to me, his red curls bouncing, “Uncle Mike, my mommy’s having a baby.” His eyes were big as baseballs and his exuberance filled the room.

Cole had already gotten a lesson in what having a baby in his family would entail. He’d asked for a brother or sister for several years, so Louise and Bernie included him in everything concerning his future sister or brother. He had attended a sibling course one Saturday afternoon and joined in a CPR class with the rest of the family. Doctors strongly advised CPR training for SIDS families, so Cole practiced life support on the dummy with the rest of us.

“What do you want the baby to be Cole, a boy or a girl,” I asked. With a shrug of his shoulders he answered, “I don’t care.”

Maggie greeted me with a smile, which seemed to hide an uneasiness behind the veneer. She gave me the update; it was still early and the baby was not likely to arrive for a few more hours. Before I could settle in for the long wait, my parents walked through the automatic doors. Cole ran to them, shouting the same message, “Mimi, Pawpaw, Mommy’s having a baby.”

“I know,” said my father. “Do you think you’re going to have a little brother or a little shister?”

As a small child, Cole had a slight speech impediment and we had grown accustomed to hearing a shhh sound in some of his words. Dad was an avid fisherman and Cole often asked to go shishing with Pawpaw. We were classic enablers; we thought he would outgrow the problem, and knew it was best to encourage correct pronunciation, but we thought it was cute, so we often lovingly mimicked him.

Mom walked toward Maggie, repeating what she’d said at home earlier, “I was hoping it would be any day but today.” Maggie, trying to keep the occasion bright said, “Well, I think this might be our miracle baby.” It was a hopeful sentiment, but one that made me feel a little apprehensive at first. It was hard to believe anything could erase the pain, anger, and confusion that lingered after Lexie’s death. I wanted to cling to the memory, to defend myself from hope. Anything could happen, at any time.

It was clear the anniversary was on everyone’s mind. Talk of Lexie began to work its way into conversations. We’d swept a lot of emotional baggage under the carpet and it was starting to leak out. How could we hold it back and how could we ever hide it again?  It was as if life had ripped off a bandage; as much as we hoped to find healing, we instead found the same open wound, desperately needing air.

That night, seven years earlier, brought much darker news. I was living in my parents’ house at the time, working two jobs as I finished college. My primary job was a graveyard shift, so I had to sleep from mid-afternoon to early evening, after attending a full morning of classes. I was asleep at the back of the house when my mother’s piercing scream awakened me at about 6:00 p.m. Running into the living room, I saw my parents sitting with my sister’s priest, Father Morgan. Mom was screaming and crying, and Dad’s face was red, tears flowing down his cheeks. “The baby’s dead,” my father said. I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. Maybe I was asleep, just having a nightmare.

“What do you mean, what happened,” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“She was at the babysitter’s, it looks like crib death, but they don’t know,” Father Morgan said.

I started going numb and my mind switched to autopilot mode. I ran to the neighbors’ house to tell them what had happened. My parents had lived next door to them for thirty years and both families attended the same church. I asked them to call the family doctor, who attended my parents’ church too, because I thought my mother would need a sedative. When I returned home, my parents were still sitting in the same places where I left them, sobbing. From my bedroom, I called my parents’ closest friends. I explained that Lexie had died and asked them to come to our house immediately. They lived twenty-five miles away, on a small lake in Mississippi, but I thought my parents needed them. After checking on Mom and Dad one more time, I jumped into my car and drove to Louise and Bernie’s house.

When I arrived, several cars sat outside the house. As I found a place to park along the street, I peered through the distant living room window and saw a small army of Louise and Bernie’s friends. As I started across the lawn, I felt faint. I could see my sister through the window and she got a glimpse of me. I continued walking, but my pace slowed. As Louise walked onto the porch, my knees buckled and I went to the ground, weeping. Louise walked over and hugged me, as we cried together. I couldn’t think of anything to say and or do. Both of our lives were devastated. I felt a closeness with her that I’d never felt before, the type of connection that emerges in the midst of tragedy; a feeling one despises because of circumstances, but hopes will continue after the suffering ends.

Cole, filled with excitement, could not restrain himself. He moved back and forth between playing, asking when the baby would arrive, and fighting to stay awake. Among the waiting room crowd, Cole was most enthusiasm. His parents had never kept secrets from him. He had always known about what had happened to Lexie, but he still wanted a little brother or sister, and this pregnancy was giving him the family of his dreams. Cole had always been such a little man. For him, the reality of a SIDS death was part of the family history. He understood Lexie’s death, but it was difficult for other children to comprehend. On a couple of occasions, when he told his friends that he had an older sister who had died, some of them seemed uncomfortable, but Cole always took it in stride.

Brooks, Bernie’s brother arrived at the hospital with his daughter Abby. She was two years old when Cole was born, an only child herself, and the pair had become like brother and sister as they grew up together.  We were glad she was there, because Abby would create a distraction for Cole and occupy his time on a kid level.

When Bernie made an appearance from the labor room, I thought of a comedienne’s routine I once heard about childbirth. She was talking about fathers’ presence in the delivery room so they could be “part of the experience.” The punch line was, “unless you’re passing a bowling ball, you aren’t part of the experience.” Bernie said it was still early; the baby likely wouldn’t be born until late in the night. He spent some time with Cole, telling him he would have to be patient—a difficult task for an excited six year old, but Cole was no typical little kid. He had waited years for a little sister or brother, so he could wait a little longer.

Lexie died on what seemed like a normal day. At the end of her workday, Louise drove to the babysitter’s house directly from her office. But as she walked through the door, the babysitter called out from one of the rooms where the children slept. She had gone into the room before Louise arrived to gather Lexie and her belongings; that’s when she discovered the baby was blue and wasn’t breathing. She immediately pulled Lexie’s medical file, and after calling 911, she started CPR. Louise took over life support, as the babysitter waited outside for the paramedics to arrive. The EMT’s did everything they could to revive the baby, as did the doctors and nurses at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, but their efforts couldn’t bring her back to life.

Lexie’s death touched more people than we could have imagined. My family and I felt removed from the world around us, but dozens of calls and letters started arriving at my parents’ home—some from people we didn’t know. It seemed so unreal, the child who recently had visited the doctor and received a perfect bill of health, and the child whom I had held just days before, was gone.

The day of the funeral was like a slow, endless slog. Louise and Bernie decided to forgo a funeral and only have a graveside service; it was all anyone in the family could bear. Family, friends, and well-wishers packed the funeral home before the service. People we had not seen in years suddenly appeared. Many took their turn viewing the body of the tiny child in the casket, a teddy bear tucked under her arm. A chill ran down my spine as I watched the funeral director carry the tiny casket to the hearse, with no assistance. The finality of the situation flooded my mind and bore a hole through my heart.

Cole started to fade. He had fought sleep all evening, but by 10:00 p.m. he nodded off on a sofa in the waiting room. By then Brooks and Abby had gone home and Cole had a hard time playing in such a small space. Normally, play meant anything involving a ball, so trying to keep his attention with toys and books proved futile. During one of Bernie’s visits to the waiting room, he told Cole we would not let him sleep through anything, we would wake him the moment the baby arrived. That seemed like enough reassurance for him to stop fighting the inevitable slumber.

Cole’s delivery had been very different. After carrying Cole for nine months, Louise was in such an emotion state that the doctor decided to admit her into the hospital and induce labor. The doctor had become her partner in grief during the months following Lexie’s death, because around the same time he had lost a son-in-law in an automobile accident. He was the doctor who had delivered Louise and me, but by the time Louise conceived Cole, he had become her friend, too.

Because of SIDS’s mysterious nature, after Cole’s birth he remained in the hospital for a series of sleep tests, to monitor his heart rate and breathing. He passed each test with flying colors, but remained attached to a monitor for the first nine months of his life. It seemed like a curse for families who lived with a SIDS death. Even when a new child arrives, machinery has to be present as a constant reminder of the past. The first time I heard Cole’s monitor squeal—the result of a normal breathing pattern—my pulse quickened and I felt panicked. Although I wanted to be enthusiastic the night of his birth, I ended up feeling fearful.

We all began to wear down from the long wait and emotions of a new birth. Over the years we had recognized the anniversary of Lexie’s death less and less, but as Louise went into labor on the same date, it was difficult to keep those memories at bay. I would occasionally see a tear come to my mother’s eye, as she talked about the impending tests and monitors, while trying to balance the conversation with hopes and prayers for good health.

Even so, the anticipation of childbirth surrounded us, as we talked with the other families in the waiting room. Throughout the night the population dwindled, as we heard the news “it’s a girl” or “it’s a boy” and then more people would arrive to start the waiting game. Mom and Maggie divided their time between talking with each other and calling family members to relay the news of the coming birth. Dad, Bennett, and I spent most of our time keeping Cole occupied. And at times, I drifted away, alone in my thoughts.

Shortly after Louise became pregnant with Cole, she and Bernie moved to a larger house. It was a short move, just around the corner, but the need for a new environment overshadowed the desire for more space. The year between Lexie’s death and Cole’s birth challenged them, to say the least. The death ravaged their lives as individuals and as a couple. During the first few months I visited them almost daily and Bernie uttered the same comment every time, “We just don’t want to be alone.” Those words troubled me, because they looked like they were spiraling into an emotional abyss. Theirs’ was the sort of anguish that could galvanize a relationship or tear it apart. They were alone, and their suffering made everyone around them feel helpless, unable to do or say anything that would spark even the slightest joy. My parents, consumed by their own grief, could only watch as their daughter suffered even more than they did.

My own sorrow, coupled with everyone else’s pain, left me feeling fragmented. Grief is such a strange experience; it stops the clock, puts hopes and dreams on hold, and sneaks up behind you when you least expect it. One day I found myself driving down the street when a song came on the radio that reminded me of Lexie. The next thing I remembered, I sat parked on the side of the road, crying, cursing, and begging for answers. Heartache remained for what seemed like an eternity, as I tried to go through my life mechanically, after my co-workers and fellow students had forgotten what had happened in my life. It was there, and would stay there until it decided to let go. There was no negotiating with my grief, it had control, and like everyone else in my family, I was in it alone.

By the time Cole was born, my own agony throbbed. For a year it seemed like I constantly moved back and forth between trying to comfort Louise and Bernie and my parents. I had to push back my graduation, because concentrating on my studies became impossible. My emotions were raw and at first I was hesitant to open up or get close to Cole. But as trepidation subsided, everyone in the family rallied around him to give him the abundance of support he needed. We attended all of his school and sporting events; my father even helped coach some of his little league teams. And I, with camera in tow, documented his early life.

It was just after midnight when Bernie, looking like a doctor in his green scrubs and surgical cap, made another appearance in the waiting room. This time he walked over to the sofa to wake Cole, who at first seemed disoriented, but soon remembered where he was. Bernie leaned over and whispered in his ear, “It’s a girl.” Cole filled with excitement as he walked hand in hand down the corridor with his father to go visit his mother and see sister for the first time.

I was excited and nervous when Bernie returned to the waiting room to invite us to meet our new niece and granddaughter. As we walked down the long hallway, Bernie told us that she had been born at 12:06 a.m. It was a new day and a new child had entered the world. A fresh, unfamiliar feeling passed over me—neither dread nor excitement.

The hospital room was dark, with pools of soft golden light. As I entered, I saw Louise lying in the bed, looking exhausted, but radiant. I looked around the room and spotted Cole, sitting in the corner, holding the tiny baby. His excitement left him almost speechless and a warm glow seemed to emanate from his entire body. He looked down, with eyes transfixed on what he was holding in his arms. After a long silence, Cole looked up and said, “This is my new baby shister, this is Grace.” As I gazed at my niece and nephew, and heard those innocent words, the wound in my heart healed.

LensWork Announces My New Book!

I want to thank LensWork Publishing for announcing my new book, My Colombia: The First Seven Years, in their alumni news. The book  contains a collection of photographs I have taken during my travels throughout Colombia. Preview and purchase My Colombia: The First Seven Years at Blurb.

Black and white photo of tall palm trees in front of a mountain.
My Colombia: The First Seven Years book

 

In 2006, LensWork honored my Whispers project with a feature spread in its #65 issue. The project explored architectural survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. You can purchase prints from the Whispers collection directly from this website.

Whispers Series - Architectural survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Whispers Series - Architectural survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Whispers Series - Architectural survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Whispers Series - Architectural survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

SALE! Limited Time Promotion Ends September 24

Each week I offer up to three Limited Time Promotions, which run for just five days. This week’s Limited Time Promotions include a trio of abstract floral designs. Subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page, or on the Contact page, so you won’t miss announcements about these special deals. This week’s promotions end September 24.

Limited Time Promotion

This week’s first Limited Time Promotion is an 16×20-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of The Valley of Shadows. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on an 16x20x1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $180
SALE price $89

This promotion ends on September 24. Click for details.

Valley of shadows promotion

 

Limited Time Promotion

The second Limited Time Promotion is an 16×20-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of Elephant Ear Plant. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on an 16×20-1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $180
SALE price $89

This promotion ends on September 24. Click for details.

Elephant ear plant promo

 

Limited Time Promotion

Last, but not least, is an 24×36-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of Shadowland Tetra. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on a 24×36-1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $358
SALE price $179

This promotion ends on September 24. Click for details.

Shadowland tetra promo

If these photos don’t suit your fancy, you’ll find a variety of others in my print shop. I’ll offer new Limited Time Promotions next week, so subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page, or on the Contact page, to receive the announcement.

 

SALE! Limited Time Promotion Ends July 31

Each week I offer up to three Limited Time Promotions, which run for just five days. This week’s Limited Time Promotions include a trio of photos from the streets of San Francisco. Subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page, or on the Contact page, so you won’t miss announcements about these special deals. This week’s promotions end July 31.

Limited Time Promotion

This week’s first Limited Time Promotion is an 11×14-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of Marian And Vivian Brown. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on an 11x14x1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $131
SALE price $59

This promotion ends on July 31. Click for details.

Black and white photo of the famous Brown twins in San Francisco.

 

Limited Time Promotion

The second Limited Time Promotion is an 11×14-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of Big Hair. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on an 11×14-1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $131
SALE price $59

This promotion ends on July 31. Click for details.

Black and white photo of a female impersonator with huge blonde hair and a diamond necklace.

 

Limited Time Promotion

Last, but not least, is an 11×14-inch gallery-wrapped canvas print of Butterfly. I’m offering this canvas print through Fine Art America, a company renown for their museum-quality prints. Fine Art America has fulfillment centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The image is printed on canvas and mounted on a 11×14-1.5-inch stretcher frame–ready to hang on your wall. With proper care this canvas print should retain its beautiful appearance for at least 75 years.

Regular price $131
SALE price $59

This promotion ends on July 31. Click for details.

Black and white photo of a shirtless man wearing butterfly wings.

If these photos don’t suit your fancy, you’ll find a variety of others in my print shop. I’ll offer new Limited Time Promotions next week, so subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page, or on the Contact page, to receive the announcement.

 

New wholesale product line!

I’m excited to announce a new wholesale product line, which includes press-printed greeting cards, photo cards, and wall art.

This isn’t my first venture into the greeting card business. In the early 2000s, I sold a line of cards and gifts under the business name Trailer Park Creations. The line of humorous political merchandise proved successful, and sold in stores at New York City’s Times Square, along San Francisco’s Castro Street, in the Newbury Comics chain, and in a variety of middle-America card and novelty shops.

Colombia Art

Nature Art

Architecture Art

The new product line focuses on my photography. Since I live in Colombia, and just two blocks from the nearest coffee plantation, I’ve put together a collection of Colombia- and coffee-themed products for cafes and restaurants. But that’s not all. You can find cards and artwork from my Urban Abstract and Material World collections, as well as of architectural, nature, and street photography scenes.

Street Musicians, Salento, Colombia

Traditional Colombian Dresses

Farmer with Poncho, Libano, Colombia

Greeting cards start at $21 for a pack of 25 cards and envelopes, and wall art ranges in price from $40-160. All products are manufactured in and shipped from the United States. I charge just $7 per order for ground shipping.

Until July 31, you can receive a 10% discount by entering coupon code FIRSTORDER at checkout.

Please stop by the Design Store and take a look around. And if you know an interior designer or a gift shop, cafe, or novelty shop owner, please pass along this message to them.

https://www.d76.us/wholesale

 

 

The City Paper Bogotá – July 2017

Big Picture from Colombia: A meeting of mules in Tolima

By The City Paper Staff

Big Picture from Colombia: A meeting of mules in Tolima

Photographer Michael Evans has explored the mist-covered towns of Tolima for seven years since taking a bold decision to settle in this department nestled between the the Magdalena River and coffee growing region of the Central Cordillera. While on one of many trips to the most rugged regions of the altiplano Tolimense, Evans came across Murillo, a town founded in 1872 that preserves a rustic Republican heritage.

As the last municipality before entering the Parque Nacional de los Nevados and craggy folds of the Nevado del Ruíz volcano, Murillo is a small farming community dedicated to cultivating potatoes and tree tomatoes, with no shortage of friendly mules to greet you as you wander this town’s half empty streets… continue reading at The City Paper Bogotá