A Fayetteville Christmas Story

_C1_9718 smallThis picture looks ominous, but believe me, the story I got to write for today’s paper to go along with this photo is a happy one.

That’s what remains of Paul Pannell’s car after a major fire destroyed most of his home Monday evening and Tuesday morning. All of those icicles are from fire fighters’ efforts to dispel the blaze.

Pannell is 92 and lives toward the northeast edge of town. His son-in-law, Bill Meissinger, lives next door.

From my story here (requires a subscription):

Meissinger said he grabbed an extension ladder and smashed it through Pannell’s bedroom window. Gray smoke billowed out and he couldn’t see, even with his flashlight. He hollered several times for Pannell but got no response, he said.

Then he said he remembered Pannell fought in the Battle of the Bulge and still dreams of it. Meissinger called out his rank: “Command Sgt. Maj. Pannell!”

“‘What, what’s going on?’” Meissinger said he heard immediately. “I said, ‘You gotta get to this light!’ As soon as I felt his hand the war was on.”

Meissinger was able to pull his father-in-law to safety, and he was shortly taken for treatment of minor injuries. Meissinger said nurses told him Pannell was likely a dozen seconds from death.

Just an astounding story from here, and it’s really a coincidence only that I got to be the one writing about it. I’m sharing it also because these are the first photos I’ve been able to take at my job here, though they aren’t much to look at. Meissinger’s on the left:

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Thanks for looking, and if you celebrate Christmas, I hope it was a merry one.


After the Solstice

_C1_9687 smallAt the edge of Fayetteville, pavement becomes gravel and neighborhoods become farms quickly. Just a couple of miles is enough to convince me I’m in the middle of nowhere._C1_9644 smallToday, the day after the solstice, was very gray. I headed out near Lake Wilson, an old reservoir just outside of town that mirrored the flat gray sky. I had been out there a few weeks ago for a story on a local group trying to keep clean the lake and the river flowing from it.

Today it was cold — below freezing. A few tiny flurries blew in my face. I should’ve brought a hat. Despite the cold, however, water still flowed on all sides. Creeks and streams wove under and around the road every few yards. Despite the gray, color still showed.

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_C1_9699 smallHere it was very quiet, the kind of quiet where you can hear an approaching car a mile out, and there were only a handful of those. As I walked a rooster called out insistently. A red-tailed hawk swooped silently over a field. The wind picked up. I really should’ve brought a hat.

_C1_9648 smallAfter a good hour’s walk I got to my goal:

_C1_9673 smallMaybe it’s not a whole lot to look at, but I’d wanted to get a photo of this basketball hoop since I first drove by a month ago. To me it seemed to hold just a little something of life here, where instead of playing basketball in front of the garage door, they play it in front of the hay bale shed. Maybe I’m too sentimental.

_C1_9669 smallThis boat was easily worth the trip, though. I don’t know if I’ll ever see such a thing again.

It was around this time that I turned back around and met Lisa, a woman who looked to be in her 50s and wore brass-colored glasses with small lenses and a woven, brown wool hat with a matching vest. She said hi and that she lived nearby — and that I should get a hat. I should’ve gotten her picture.

_C1_9694 smallFurther down the road I saw a black lab standing outside a house’s front door. As I kept walking I heard a soft padding behind me and turned around. The lab, now motionless, looked at me without a sound. I kept walking. I turned around again. Sure enough the lab was still there, sniffing where I’d walked. He followed for a few minutes before turning around and running back.

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I love dogs. And I really do plan on getting more people into these pictures, I swear. I’ve put up a lot of introverted photography lately, to be blunt. Maybe I’m always tired of people by the weekend. But I hope these are OK to look at. Thanks for looking!


Welcome, Winter

_C1_9951There was almost a reverence to the muffled hush that a soft snowfall brought here, like when no one wants to whisper too loudly in the church. My breathing took the place of the earlier day’s wind. No one’s footsteps mingled with the crunches of mine. Police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck rolled past, their sirens silenced.

_C1_9959 smallYesterday brought the first wave of winter to much of the lower Midwest. Here it included a dose of freezing rain, more sleet than I think I’d seen in my entire life, then hours and inches of soft snow. The snow and cold are unusual here, and nearly everyone retreated to warmth. Even the highway was quiet when I took a stroll.

_C1_9940 smallNow and then the sounds of a few oddities broke the apparent solitude, like the beeping of the bulldozer backing up in the Wal-Mart parking lot (because why not?) or the sound of a ghostly flock of geese against the sepia sky.

_C1_9995 smallIn a nearby neighborhood, four deer darted ahead of me, quiet as the snow. They were fast. I only got their hoof prints.

_C1_0010 smallMany parking lots had that one car, that one single vehicle that surely must have carried some intrepid customer or stoic employee. Others were empty.

_C1_9975 smallAnd then there were the lights, shining on snowflakes that danced like sparks beneath them.

_C1_9996 smallFinally I came to a small graveyard near here, where the reverent stillness seemed most appropriate. The grave markers would’ve been invisible without the snow, but there they were, dotting a hill that overlooks the western edge of town. _C1_0016 smallMy nose and cheeks protested the cold, but I stood for a moment, thinking about all I didn’t know about these graves. The snow kept falling.


_C1_9812 - smallThis little set of photos started Thanksgiving morning. I’d had the actual holiday meal the weekend before, and I wanted to see if I could find anything interesting in the opposite of the cozy family gathering: the wide parking lots where people weren’t.

_C1_9800 - smallI decided to expand my goal a bit when I thought about the photographer’s task of capturing nothing, emptiness, something missing. It’s a tough thing to do in an interesting way (and I can’t say for sure if I succeeded), focusing on what’s not there.

_C1_9868 - smallI’m no authority on the philosophy of nothing, but I can say the lack of something can be a powerful and compelling story-telling tool. Like I wrote weeks ago, many of the best photographs leave some question raised and unanswered, some desired knowledge that we either have to read more about, or to look at another image for, to think about for a while, or simply to accept that we can’t have.

_C1_9873 - smallQuestions like, where is what was once here? Where did these stairs go? Or, more concretely, how is that person who lost several clothes and one shoe doing?

_C1_9820 - smallIt turns out, of course, that there are a lot of spaces around us where something was and is no longer. Something is missing, even lost. I hope we always wonder what.

_C1_9877 - smallAnyway, I hope the pictures are worth reading my silly thoughts.

_C1_9881 - smallAs always, thanks for looking.

_C1_9898 - smallDan