January is often a boring month, at least to my way of thinking. Gone are the bright lights of Christmas and the celebratory mood of New Year’s. The world is plunged into a long month of wintry struggle in which we are expected to go about our daily lives as if everything is as it should be — when the days are cold, icy, and dark. Now the days are getting longer I know, but this business of leaving the house in the dark and then coming home in the dark is distressing. I truly don’t mind winter, but I do struggle to find ways of giving my life some direction until I can turn the calendar to February.
This January, now don’t laugh, I tried rock painting. I had some acrylic paint in the house and of course plenty of rocks available. I know there are rock painting parties, but I am not going to go and embarrass myself until I see what I can do. Actually, I turned out a few pieces worth keeping and anyway it was all “just for the fun of it”. Once in awhile I like to surprise myself with what I can do when I try something new.
I stumbled on another little project that was a bit of a surprise. I became intrigued with the Bell Street Bridge over the Yellowstone River as a subject for some architectural photography. The bridge is lighted at night and if you stand on the east bank of the river and look toward the bridge it really is impressive with the light and shadows that play out across the water or the ice (depending). Going in the late afternoon there was some light still available on the western horizon. Shooting west across the river I can take in most of the bridge. Some of the results were really arresting. One or two pictures I took standing on the east end and then shooting the length of the bridge’s walking area. When I did it at night with only the overhead lights for exposure the results in stark black and white, were startling.
I was sharing my thoughts and photographs with my cousin who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We stand at opposite ends of the spectrum in our families — he is the eldest child of the oldest child, a daughter. His mother and mine were sisters, but my mother was the youngest. I enjoy hearing him relate his mother’s memories. She was twelve years old when the family homesteaded in western South Dakota in 1912. He talked about bridges.
Bridges are so interesting, a means of connecting with others, seeing new sights, getting away from things; so many songs about bridges, also movies. The pioneers dealt with fording the rivers and streams, swimming the horses and cattle across a river. There were many tragedies, people, livestock as well as wagons and supplies. Think it was Ed Lemmon, a pioneer cowboy (Lemmon SD) who wrote about bringing cattle across the frozen Missouri River. One of our family stories is about Grandpa Larson with other homesteaders working with state and local people to get a bridge across the South Moreau River. The big ranchers were strongly opposed to such a convenience, being on one side of the river, threatening violence, but peace prevailed and the bridge was built. The “honyockers”, homesteaders, had been successful. The bridge over the South Moreau was much needed, a nasty runoff in the spring, trees, ice chunks, etc. Ranchers were very unhappy, waved guns in the air but calmness prevailed.
Spending time studying the bridge in these cold days I stretched myself a little and I found something worthwhile to work on. January was, as a result, a bit more bearable this year. I have always believed it is important to look at our world with “new eyes” once in awhile and see something in my own backyard which is beautiful, unique, and worthy of spending some time observing.