Life in the Fast Lane

Lessons Learned on a Photo Walk

Andrew WeidmanStreamside

I stopped to take pictures on a Friday a few weeks ago on my way home from work. There is a pull-off behind the local mall complex and beside a large stream — trout waters, according to a sign hung on a tree streamside. It may as well have been a different world from the one I left behind at work: silent, still, tranquil, and relaxed.

A flock of mallards patrolled the waters until my intrusion startled them into flight. I captured the takeoff, only to discover I had the shutter speed impossibly slow. Their exodus looked more like a mallard-colored grease smear than a flock of ducks. Lesson one: check your camera settings before you leave the car.

Later, a kingfisher swooped by in a brilliant flash of blue, intent on spearing lunch. There was no time to snap a shot or even lift the camera to my eye, only time enough to see its run. Later I spied it off in the distance, perched among the treetops. Lesson two: some things can’t be photographed, only experienced in the moment.

As I scanned the treetops for another chance at the kingfisher, I turned back towards the car ... and stepped into a muskrat hole I never saw. Fortunately, only my heel entered the hole and not my toe. Somehow I managed to stay upright and hang on to my camera. Had I fallen, I could have found myself covered in snow with a broken camera, or worse, a broken leg. Lesson three: maintain awareness of your surroundings, not just your target.


A covered bridge spans the stream, built on stone foundations. Covered bridges are picturesque, but I think they tend to be overdone. I found my eye drawn not to the bridge, but to a beautiful graffiti work of art. A primal, almost tribal fish in blues and reds rose to strike a stylized spray-paint tag. Had I simply dismissed the bridge as overdone, I would have missed the fish. Lesson four: everything is worth a second look from a new angle.

Long Shot

Motion caught my eye from across the water, a flash of grey among the grasses on the far bank. I studied the area carefully, first with my naked eye, then with my telephoto "monster lens," but saw nothing. I took the shot anyway. Later, at home, I zoomed in on the photo to discover a bold little sparrow, his head cocked to the side as if to say, “What are you looking at?” Lesson five: take the shot.


More movement and rustling drew my attention to another sparrow scratching for his supper among the fallen leaves on my side of the stream. He hopped and scratched vigorously, shifting constantly as I snapped a dozen or so pictures. The angle wasn’t always ideal, but the session yielded one shot mid-scratch and another mid-stretch, his wings at half-mast. Lesson six: keep shooting.


By this point my fingers were numb, and my camera’s battery was flashing empty. While I had another battery in my pocket, I was ready for some warmth and a coffee. Six lessons were enough for one day. I’ll be back, maybe when the weather turns warmer and things green up a bit.


Farm Show Family Traditions

Andrew WeidmanSheep in Wool Clothing-Media

My son, Thom, and I took a trip to the Pennsylvania Farm Show last week — a family tradition, and one that is inevitably changing, as it always has. Last year, all three of my boys went to the Show with me. This year, Finn had a conflicting evening class, and Izzie needed to complete a midterm project. Traditions change, I understand that, and one day my sons will likely take their children to the Farm Show, just as my dad took me.

Family Time II

The Farm Show our Big Event for January. How big? Big, and not just for us. This is Pennsylvania’s unofficial State Fair, the result of all the county fairs of the past year and held in Harrisburg, the state capitol. Imagine 23 acres of "fair" under one roof. The Farm Show is the largest and oldest indoor agricultural show in America — 101 shows to date.


Nearly half a million people come to the show each year, and many of them are farmers. Many, however, are not. For them, this may be the first time they see where their food actually comes from. Thom and I overheard someone excitedly talking about a sow and piglets on display. Thom couldn’t help but chuckle at the wonder in their voices. All I could say was, "You have to remember, that’s the first time they’ve ever seen a living, breathing pork chop." It’s true; when your chops come from the supermarket, a live hog is something to see.

At the Sculpture

Speaking of food, Farm Show food is not to be missed. True to the Show’s mission — yet surprising in today’s global economy — from the pizzas and chicken potpies to maple syrup cotton candy and baked russet potatoes, all of the food served comes from Pennsylvania. All of it. There’s no way to sample everything in just one trip. Most years we get the potato donuts and apple cider. This year, we split a blooming onion and pulled pork nachos, with milkshakes for dessert.

Horse Pull

I can’t describe the entire Farm Show in one blog post, so I won’t try. Between livestock-like dairy and beef cattle, goats, chickens, draft horses, rabbits, ducks, and alpacas; events like truck-and-tractor pulls, square dancing, rodeos, and sheep-to-shawl competitions; and youth projects like photography, sewing, rocketry, and small animal husbandry; you’ll tire of reading the list long before I even reach the middle. These photos are just a small taste of all you can see if you visit.

Bee Amazed

These family traditions help us stay connected to each other and to our heritage. I grew up on a working farm; my sons did not. Thanks to things like the Farm Show and county fair, they still know where food really comes from.


The funny thing about family traditions is that they change; it can’t be helped. Once I moved out on my own, I no longer went to the Farm Show with Dad; instead I went on my own or with friends. As always, life had a way of getting in the way. When the boys were little, I started taking them whenever work and weather allowed. Now they are growing up; two are in college, the third in high school, and their schedules cause conflict as often as mine does. I don’t foresee too many more father-son Farm Show trips to come, and that’s as it should be. I only hope that when their time comes, they continue to take their children to see "living, breathing pork chops."

Hand in Hand