17 November 2016

50 Years ago on a Cold Dark Night

The Leonid meteor shower that rained down in the wee hours of November 17th, 1966, was the greatest meteor shower the world has seen since 1833. On grandfather’s farm, the skies were dark, the wind still and a bitter cold soaked into three bodies. Local photographer Charles W. Manion had loaned a camera & tripod to record whatever Tri-X film could capture of the meteors; he had intended to be present but flu laid him low the day prior.

A merry band consisting of your author and couple of high school friends lay shivering on aluminum reclining chairs purloined from our parents’ porches, staring upwards into the infinity of the night heavens from naval twilight until dawn. The shower was steady after midnight, with a brilliant meteor every few minutes - none present had seen, or expected, anything so dramatic. Frame after frame of film was exposed in Mr. Manion’s “Ciroflex” twin lens reflex camera, all the while praying  his instructions were being properly executed; young Mr. Fuzzy having never even touched a real camera before this night.

And then, as the sky began to evince luminosity of the impending daybreak, the pace of the shower accelerated astronomically. In the half hour from 4:00 to 4:30, over 400 meteors, fireballs, and bolides were witnessed. Some were as brilliant as flash bulbs, some whistled or roared, others fragmented into multiple meteorites. Eventually, even the most brilliant meteors were vanquished by morning light. Of course, all rolls of film were exposed prior to this explosive display of cosmic brilliance, the last frame having been opened to the sky about thirty minutes before the peak activity began…

The amateur astronomers dragged themselves home that morning, unable to articulate to  parents or friends the magnitude of what had befallen/fallen in the dark hours. Needless to say, after no sleep and that mind bending experience, the efforts of the high school teachers were wasted on wandering/drowsy minds that day. After a school day that seemed to last slightly longer than forever, it was a fifteen minute ride on the Schwinn downtown to Mr. Manion’s photography studio on Frederica Street, on the second floor above Thompson Homes. He was over the flu symptoms but devoid of energy.

 Nonetheless, he shuffled into the darkroom and therein Mr. Fuzzy observed in awe as he developed the rolls of 120 Tri-X exposed the night before. After the film dried, and an examination of the negatives on a light table,  he pointed out the streaked images of meteors amongst the star trails on the 6x6 cm negatives. He chose a frame, made an 8x10 black & white print and then a scurry to the local newspaper office - who instantly bought the print and ran it in the next edition. The Associated Press picked it up and it ran nationally - with no attribution line! So much for fifteen minutes of fame.

Mr. Manion invited me to return to his studio a few days after when he would be back to his normal self. He would teach me how to develop film and make a print, should that be Mr. Fuzzy‘s desire. His generosity inalterably redirected a youthful life. Almost every day after school ended (and to be totally honest, some days before school was over), it was a short bicycle ride into another world, the world of photography.

A career path had been predetermined for years: science. It was the era of the space race - beat those horrible godless Communists into space and preserve World Peace via scientific dominance. Mr. Fuzzy’s university degree program began in that direction but photography, the art and the science of it, lurked in the recesses of the mind, never out of reach. The tiny closet in his first dorm room was devoid of clothes (all folded/wadded under the iron frame bed) but held a Durst 35mm enlarger and a tiny, compact darkroom, the bare minimum to develop 35mm film and make a 8x10 print. Time and money for photography caused an ebb & flow of activity but always, always, a camera was nearby.

After a premature midlife crisis at age 30, a moment of extreme clarity struck, revealing that not being a photographer was denying a true identity … and thus back to university for a Master‘s Degree. Definitely one of the other pivotal moments of nearly seven decades, never regretted. New influences, all good and strong, indirectly directed the growth of art, science and craft. Professor (now Emeritus) J B Colson, photographer and philosopher Dennis Darling, historian Larry J. Schaaf (present in absentia), curator and scholar Roy Flukinger, all made, and continue to make, significant contributions to the fullness and rewards of Mr. Fuzzy’s very being.

Charlie Manion passed away at his home in 2001, missed by many but especially your author. He was a second father and that chance meeting precipitated by a meteor shower, shaped the next 50 years of my life. He always carried a little folding magnifier in his trouser pocket, hand for inspecting negatives, prints, camera parts, whatever his curiosity required. When executing difficult photographic exercises, that magnifier is in Mr. Fuzzy’s  trouser pocket, for the good luck and good memories it brings.

Tonight, fortified by several cups of strong java, Mr. Fuzzy will lay supine on an aluminum lawn chair, under the cold coal black skies of rural Virginia, camera ready on a tripod, awaiting the annual Leonid meteor shower, not predicted to be highly visible due to a bright waning gibbous moon. It would be immensely gratifying if the Creator saw fit send one or two great fireballs earthward to electrify dimming, old eyes. Regardless, his mind will be rerunning memories of a chance meeting, a kind, generous and immensely talented man and half a century of two lives lived through photography, with a well spring of gratitude for those blessings.

This landmark anniversary seems like an appropriate moment to end this blog. Mrs. Fuzzy, who wrote many of the best posts, left the room four years past. Chetworth is semi-retired, currently more interested in gourmet free range Peromyscus leucopus and organic Nepeta cataria than expository essays. Mr. Fuzzy is unsure of what to say as America enters The New Dark Ages. It may be time to hunker down.

The blog has, alas, been hijacked by Russian opportunists as a sort of click-bait. Most of the readers have been redirected here by scammers’ binary magic. To those friends who have read these 650 posts since 2008, thanks for coming along with Mr. Fuzzy on what has been a wild ride. It is my sincerest wish that your moments occupied by perusing this blog has not been a waste of your time.


Mr. Fuzzy, Esq.


JudyB said...

Mr. Fuzzy, this brought a tear (or few). If this is indeed the end of your blog, it is a fitting end. You are right, might be time to hunker down! Here's hoping you are able to see a few meteors tonight. And a most happy Thanksgiving to you. We will be driving eastward, to spend Thanksgiving with Sarah and family, and some of their friends.

Anonymous said...

Say it ain't so!!!!!


Ryan Riehl said...

Goodbye my new old friend. Been reading for a few years and enjoyed your intermittent authorship. I am a Floyd resident that has been working in the middle east for these past 5 years. Your writings have given me much comfort when my mind longs for greener pastures.

Anonymous said...

Quit this foolishness. Strong letter to follow.

Prof. Kenzo

Anonymous said...

I meant quit this foolishness about thinking to quit this blog.

Do not quit.


Tom Connin said...

I salute you kind Sir...sharing freely makes the world go round. You have contributed much and asked for nothing. Saaaalute !

Gerald Reisz said...

I too remember that night long ago (although I didn't remember the date). It was so cold. At one point I went in the nearby cabin, took off my shoes and socks, looked at my white toes, and thought "this is not good". I suppose today we would have insulated boots with electric socks. Heaven knows what we were wearing then. The heavens were beautiful. I never realized that evening was the beginning of your love of photography. Thanks for that additional piece of history.
Suellen and I will come to visit again one of these days. Remember the door is always open here in New Mexico. I think you will like the night skies at 7300 feet elevation.

Unknown said...

Oh bother! If you quit the blog, however will I keep up with what you're doing? Mel