Thursday, May 29, 2008

It Rocked

Late last night, I returned home from my geology trip in Utah. My muscles are sore from hiking and canoeing, my shoulders are burned, my clothes stink, my camping gear is covered in dust and my bottom lip is sporting two voluptuous sun blisters. It was everything I needed.

Canoing down the Green River, through the giant red rock cathedrals of Labyrinth Canyon, I was consistently in awe of the power and beauty of this rugged place. My eyes quickly became accustomed to waking up to deep reds, bright greens and pale blues with no evidence of mankind; today, they are bitter for having to deal with emails and computers.

There were 24 of us, including three guides and one very special geologist, Dr. Bob Raynolds. He's a tall, lanky fellow who is like a cross between Neil Young and the Man with the Yellow Hat from Curious George. On Friday, when I went to pick up my car pool pals, I didn't realize that the 'Bob' character I was picking up was the THE Bob. I had his brain all to myself up and back and let the questions rip. He was extremely patient and would occasionally sneak in bullshit stories with the same dry monotone, strictly for his own amusement. It took me about 1.5 days to catch on:

Me: "Hey, Doc! What are the grooves on this rock all about?"
Dr. Bob: "It's actually an ancient Indian washboard that was used to ... er, wash all their Indian leggings."

I immediately returned to an old habit of grabbing gorgeous rocks from the landscape and getting attached to them. My many pockets overflowerd and it became a bit of a joke. At one point, Dr. Bob was quizzing the group on how rocks travel from place to place (wind, water, glaciers, etc.) and one gal brightly offered another mode of global rock transportation: "I know! Heather!"

I continue to marvel at how the great majority of people I meet in this world are pretty damn funny, incredibly smart and always interesting. Our lead guide, Ward, is a grizzled man who is both a scholar and a gentleman. When he is not leading groups through the wilderness, he travels the country teaching young people etiquette. The other guide is also an actor and stagehand. Then, there was the father-son duo - the father being a respected scientist and published author and the son, a New York artist who is occasionally jailed for his public protest performances. They stayed up late every night debating God and/or science and they LOVED it.

I met at least four beautiful souls on this trip that I plan to stay in touch with and many more that I may never see again but feel richer for having met them. There's something about camping with total strangers to makes me open up. The only thing that works in a group travel environment is total acceptance of one another couple with tons of laughter. It's a little exercise in a utopia - minus the "Groover", of course.

Highlight of the trip: I have long been practicing the Fleetwood Mac song, "Landslide" on the guitar. It's not perfect but I can pull of 80% of it. I had planned to perform it for the gals at CCW since it is about getting older, changing, self-realization and a bunch of other female-y things. However, the song never got played.

On Tuesday night, I was fiddling with one of the guide's guitars. We had all eaten S'mores and stories were told. Eventually, everyone went to bed, one by one, until it was just me, Dr. Bob, Mike - the assistant guide and a very sweet kid named Chris, my strapping young paddle partner. For whatever reason, I started singing it - I figured it fit the theme of geology - rocks moving and all.

They were stone quiet around that fire as I sang like I was alone. Here I'd rehearsed this song for women and its debut was performed for three good-hearted men I hadn't known until three days before. When I finished, they were silent for a beat or two and then GUSHED. I may have even caught a tear in the eye of Chris, who asked me to sing it again the next day as we paddled downstream. Even the quiet, shy Dr. Bob was impressed. Mike just nodded, dragged on his cigarette, and said in his great gravel voice, "Uh, yeah. You need to keep singing that. Definitely."

I think the key here was catching myself off guard - being ready by not being ready. Or something like that. Anyway, I learned a lot this trip; rocks and life are always on the move.

(Pictures may take awhile since I opted to go the disposable route - less risk of moisture and regret. I had to snag this one from Sheri Griffith Expeditions in Moab.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Offline and Down River

I'm packing for the next adventure and it's gonna be a good 'un. Last year, when I went canoeing down river over Memorial Day Weekend to kick off the summer, it was one of my better decisions. The scenery was breathtaking and it reminded me that I was once madly in love with geology.

I was attending Long Beach City College in the late 80s and getting my required classes out of the way - classes like .... ewwwww ... science. Someone told me that there was a crazy-ass geology teacher who made it fun. "Um, so, what's geology? Like, rocks and shit?" Oh yeah, I was an intellectual, even back then.

Dr. Howard "Doc" Shifflett
And then the skies opened up and delivered unto thee Dr. Howard Shifflett, probably one of the most amazing teachers in my academic career. "Doc", as we called him, brought inspiration to an unlikely place and it spread like wildfire. Many of us caught the fever and formed a little geology gang; I still have two close friends I met in Doc's class.

The class required multi-day camping field trips into the California desert which only intensified our dedication and closeness. We accompanied Doc on his many journeys and saw examples of what we'd only read about. Those geology camping trips were some of the best times of my life. Keep in mind, I was in peak party girl mode and yet, completely willing to forgo Spring Break to dig for fossilized rocks (extra credit) that Doc could send to DC for carbon-14 dating. No joke, I was into it.

Eventually, I got distracted with Life and my brain spit out the Hardness Scale that I once painstakingly memorized. But I never forgot how Doc permanently changed my perspective on the world. I now see the landscape as Earth's history book, cracked at the spine and laid wide open to be read by anyone, even ditzy party girls. Once you've cracked the code, the topography looks dramatic forevermore.

So, last year when my jaw dropped at those massive black and red canyons along Gunnison River, it all came flooding back. Then, I remembered that I missed knowing the how's and the why's behind such epic scenery. The river guide informed me that the there was a crazy-ass geology dude at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science named Bob Raynolds who leads geology tours down rivers every summer and .... BINGO!

Sooooo, tomorrow I'll drive 5-6 hours to Moab, Utah with two friends I haven't met yet - Cat and Bob. Then, it's five full days of canoeing and camping along the Green River with yet another crazy-ass geology dude leading the way, pointing stuff out and helping me see the stories that are there before me.

And, just like that, I'm back in the world of rocks. Doc would be pleased.


(Dr. Howard Shifflett passed away on May 25, 2014 at the age of 86. Visit his memorial page here.) 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Blood Demons

(Photo by Dorsia via Flickr.)

Verbs mean everything. Do-gooders are always pleading for us to "give blood" which I realize is important. But when you are unwilling, the blood is definitely "taken."

I definitely had my blood taken today and it didn't go so well. Some historical insight:

During my first 21 years on Earth, I spent a good chunk in hospitals, at least in the regular annual sense. There was one time I contracted some weird disease (undiagnosed) when all my limbs became paralyzed and my skin flaked off like peeling after a sunburn. Freaky. (My second-grade classmates even made get well cards for me, including one that said: "If you die, can I have your eraser collection?")

Anyway, I got my blood "taken" more times than I care to remember. I always dreaded it to begin with but then there was an Incident which I cannot bring myself to fully revisit here. However, I will say there was much screaming and crying, some blood on the walls and at least one nurse who left the profession after said Incident. My best friend, Cindy, was in the other room and she started crying just listening to it.

Instead of being toughened by all this experience, it has reduced me to a sniveling crybaby who will actually cross the street to avoid walking near a parked Bloodmobile. This phobia also disallows me from seeing films like, "Kill Bill" and "Sweeney Todd."

So, today I met a new doctor and told him of my many mysterious biological developments. Like some grown up woman I'd never met before, I uttered the responsible words: "I really think I should have some blood tested. It's been many, many years and we might get some answers." I did mention my fears but insisted that I could handle it. The kind doctor assured me that they had a great gal who could do this procedure in her sleep with no problems.

But that gal wasn't around. Instead, I got a sweet-but-less-competent woman named Erin, who poked me once, twice and three times before she realized she was in over her head. Wisely, I'd insisted on being horizontal since I planned on fainting but after two arms and the third vein, I began to shake with some deeply rooted primitive fear; my life-giving fluids were being extracted and I was intrinsically against it. As my pal, Lynn, said of blood-drawing, "I hate seeing things leave."

It was when she started apologizing, that my dormant emotions were fully released. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she said, with genuine sincerity, "I don't normally have these problems. Are you okay? Do you need a cold cloth?"

Now I was full-on crying. Even though I was horribly embarrassed, I could not stop. It's so strange how you think you are over something and then it just rises up and says, "Ha! Think again."

Finally, another nurse (the "expert" the doc mentioned earlier) had arrived and did some magical things with my hand and something called a "butterfly." Ultimately, they got the blood they needed and then kindly entertained me with stories of big, burly men who start crying before they are even stuck. I hugged them both and then got the fuck outta there, still shaking.

Then, I went home and watched Season 1 of "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" and felt better. ("Fucking bloodsuckers! Get 'em, Buff!")

Maybe tomorrow I'll try to be grown up about something else but I think this is one childhood trauma that I am ... er, stuck with.

Life = Risk

Admittedly, I'm stealing this idea from Boulder blogger, Brad Feld, but it never hurts to spread a good message just a little bit more.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

CCW X - Post Reflection

I'm still hanging on to those big threads of peace that I picked up last weekend at the annual Chick Cabin Weekend in the SoCal mountains. Clinging with my greedy little hands before the rhythm of daily life drumbeats it right out of my memory.

Just the day before yesterday, I lay buck-ass nekked on a big granite rock, enjoying the perfect hot sunny day and the light, cool breeze. The warmth and roughness of the rock and the sound of wind through pine needles were my only concerns. Okay, maybe red ants too - yeah, definitely concerned about those. Anyway, it was sheer bliss. I kept thinking about these women I've collected - how beautiful and brilliant, how loving and generous, how smart and hilarious - and it lifts me up. Many of them I do not see more than this weekend but they are with me always. Cheesy but true.

The day before, me and nearly a dozen of my best girlfriends, threw a ladies tea party to honor my mother, who kindly lets us use the family cabin every year, despite her better judgement. She took her grandmother's vintage blue velvet and plumed hat (circa 1800s) and made the drive from Long Beach - about 2 hours.

Lisa G., pictured with mom here, did most of the food. Man-o-man, she created a delectable and slightly evil menu of pastries - shortbread, iced banana bread, carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, white chocolate scones - on and on. Later that evening, she couldn't stop herself and made Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake and an elegant last-minute fruit pie. I hope to marry her someday.

Evidently, Lisa G. had stayed up until 3:30 a.m. baking in the cabin's tiny kitchen while dancing to her iPod and reading paranormal erotica. All the while using crude pots and pans and not disturbing the slumber of 10 other women who were all sleeping in a tiny space. Her powerful Zen powers keep her always somehow floating around us like some smiling Martha Stewart hovercraft. Very comforting and kinda trippy.

Then there's Kim, pictured here in satin and pearls (which she continued to wear while hiking down an ash-covered mountain side). She'd actually been living in the cabin since last Wednesday - "It's a surprise," she said.

I walked in on Friday morning and the place was immaculate and the long-neglected patio room had been fastidiously arranged, organized and rearranged using all the family's vintage props and furniture. Full decorations - balloons, streamers, Chinese lanterns - it was a glorious makeover. Kim had smeared love all over the place - it looked notably less forgotten. Y'see, "Airman Fraser" has always been something of a house decor artist, not to mention one of the funniest people I know.

But we were incomplete without one member who we were missing, a gal who could not make due to an urgent family illness. Debbie has - as she likes to point out - a "perfect attendance" record to CCW and usually plays shuttle driver to yours truly. The bottom bunk - which is practically in the kitchen itself - is unquestionably hers. No one dare suggest any other body occupy this space - which is a perfect arrangement since she is a mother of four who can sleep through anything.

So, there we were, getting funky on Prince's often overlooked classic, "Housequake", when the front door opens around midnight on Saturday. "Hey, is there a party going on here?" It was Debbie - she'd driven there in the middle of the night after her family had wisely enforced the idea; she needed a break for herself. It wasn't long after she sat down on HER bunk that the tears came and a dozen women encircled her in some giant mama bird wingspan hug and handed her tissues. Then, we do what friends do best. We listened.

Such are the riches of friendship - I feel like the wealthiest woman alive. All these women amaze me. Can't wait until next year.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Chick Cabin Weekend X

I'm about to head up the mountain to my family's well-worn cabin in the woods for the annual Chick Cabin Weekend. I'm looking forward to seeing all my homegirls and being unplugged. I brought my guitar so hopefully, I'll get up my nerve to play for them.

This is a special year, the 10th anniversary, so everyone has secret surprises to spring on one another. One girl, Kim, has been living at the cabin since Wednesday, doing something secret, something special and we don't know what until we get there. I'm guessing it involves cleaning and getting long-dead heaters to work.

We're also having a Tea Party on Saturday to honor my mother, who will attend. Big hats, gloves, long pearls - basically, what you wore when you played 'dress up' in your mama's clothes - will be the order of the day. Of course, there will be tea but mostly booze cuz that's how we roll.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"There's No Words There"

I'm enduring a highly pressurized day at work and finding the Bill O'Reilly stuff highly satisfying. Stephen Colbert's reaction is even better.

So the dance remix was inevitable, right?

To my great not-scheduled-on-my-Outlook joy, I found it incredibly dance-able. I even got up from my chair and chanted, "Fuck it!" a few times - it felt like Festivus here at Mama Iva's.

Finally, Bill's made a real contribution to society.


Life is relentless, is it not? Lately, I feel like a hamster on the spinning wheel. Only I am not making the wheel go, some 13-year-old boy is spinning it faster and faster for his own cruel amusement. If it's not work deadlines, visitors, houseguests, social obligations and creative commitments, then my body is breaking down but mostly, this has all been happening at once. Makes me feel old, defenseless and yes, spent.

I flew to LA last night and had hoped to grab some sleep on the plane. No such luck. I had two kids in front me who had never flown: "LOOK, MAMA! A CLOUD! I SEE HOUSES! ANOTHER CLOUD! WHERE ARE THE BIRDS, MAMA????? WHEN DO WE GO BACK TO THE AIRPLANE STATION???"

And then there was the 2-year-old directly behind me practicing her monotone humming and/or screaming fits while her father tried to tickle her into happiness, which most definitely did not work: "KOOTCHIE-KOO!!! KOOTCHIE-KOO!!!" coupled with "'WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Holy fuck I was so tired, I wanted to cry too.

Kids are cute, don't get me wrong, but when you haven't slept in a week and are not related to them, they become less so. Combine that with that fact that you can only hear them and have no visual reference of said cuteness, they become strictly Enemies of Peace.

Then, I was picked up by that famous angel, Mama Iva, and whisked away to my childhood home where I dined on a solid Midwestern meal of roast chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. I tried to work, honest I did, and even sent a few purposeful emails to folks in China and Europe, just so they knew I still cared. I took numerous pills and elixirs to quiet my pounding headache but in the end, I just needed to fucking sleep.

I finally gave up, gave in and layed down. I slept for 12 hours and every so often, I would wake up and realize I was enjoying a long-awaited Sleep Fest. I would smile big and think, "Yay! I'm sleeping! This is so fun!" and then return to slumber. I must have done this three times. What a dork.

Today, for the first time in a long time, I feel well rested and there are no obvious maladies to speak of. Hopefully, I'll catch my breath today before it starts all over again tomorrow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Heart 'O Gold Comedians

Not since pitching P-Nuttles and Almond Rocha for Camp Fire Girls have I asked the general public for money. But I'm pulling out my Citizenship Beads and doing it now. Here's the deal:

Despite my outward surly demeanor, I'm one of those squishy types that faithfully donate to National Public Radio during those painfully long pledge drives. My name has found its way onto bleeding heart lists of all kinds - hungry vets, homeless pets, abused wives - you name it and I've caved. Finally, I had to stage an intervention with myself: "Heather, while it is very nice that you, in your own distant way, care about others. You need to pick just one issue and focus, otherwise, you'll end up being your own cause."

And so, in light of the many, many surgeries I endured as a child (hemangioma) to fix my face and eye, I chose Smile Train. Their mission is very simple: They provide materials and medical training so that Third World kids born with cleft palates can be remedied. An American baby born with this problem will have it fixed almost instantly but most of those born in, say, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, are not so lucky. They are often ostracized and not allowed to attend school or get a job. They bring 'shame' to the family and are often abandoned or killed.

Applying the 'teach a man to fish' philosophy, the Smile Train folks pull in to villages, train the local medical community, donate supplies and leave lots of fixed faces and sparkling smiles in their wake. Because my comedy improv troupe, Rodents of Unusual Size, also likes to leave 'em smiling, we are putting on two benefit shows for Smile Train on June 18 & June 19 at the Avenue Theater in downtown Denver. Our goal is to provide full surgery (cost of $250 per child) for at least four kids - that's $1,000. Tickets are $10 and it comes with a comfy seat and a free beer, wine or soda.

So, whattya say? If you want to purchase a ticket, you can contact me directly, or you can go here. We promise to make you laugh in addition your kind donation. If you can't make the show but still want to donate, you can visit our donation page at the Smile Train site.

C'mon, people, do it FOR THE CHILDREN! (Ah, I've always wanted to pull off that line for real ....)


While I'm all benevolent 'n stuff, Monkey's Uncle - our talented improv brethren - is putting on a benefit show TONIGHT to help our pal, Howard, who's got 'the cancer.' Howard, a member of the troupe, is bald and everything and facing some medical bills. Word on the street is, other Monkeys will be shaved on stage tonight in support. If you are around, drop by Jazz @ Jack's at 7:30 p.m. to view some naked primates. Or, you can donate here.

Howard not only does all the lighting and important nagging, I mean, stage managing for the Rodent shows, he lights up our lives in general. He's just organically hilarious and incredibly lovable so come on down and let the shaving begin!

Even if you give nothing at all to anyone ever in your life, thanks for reading this far.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

PC v.Mac

I'm a woman torn.

Though my job forces me to exist in the world of technology, my brain does not naturally take to it. If it paid the same, believe me, I would happily be a horse groomer, the second wife in a polygamous sect (less pressure) or have my own daytime talk show.

My day job requires me to work on a company-issued laptop, a PC. As a lifelong Mac owner, this originally offended my sensibilities but after nearly eight years in the Biz, I've grown somewhat attached. In fact, I now understand why people have workplace affairs. You spend 50 hours a week with someone, you get used to their personality and yes, you might even start to like them. You might even come to - gulp! - depend on them.

When the time came to buy another computer, I asked around and discovered that humanity is passionately divided into very strict PC/Mac teams, not unlike the Ford/Chevy, Broncos/Raiders and morning people/night people teams. Ultimately, after the urging of my best friend, Lisa, and my best buddy, Fang (who promised to be my own personal Mac Computer Service center), I invested in the G4 laptop which was thin, silver and sleeker than anything I'd ever seen. (They even beat out my beau at the time, a game designer who was strictly PC. He still chides me about my choice.)

And so, the Mac tradition continued. When I graduated from college back in 1990 (!) Dad bought me the appropriately named Mac Classic. It's been love ever since. And when I go to hip tech events like SXSW or BlogHer, a Mac is pretty much a required accessory. After all, only stiff, square corporate goombas have PCs, right?

Trouble is, when you spend so much time on one machine, the other gets neglected and sometimes the personal items end up getting on the workplace machine. Not a good habit. So recently, I have been setting strict rules: No PC action on weeknights or weekends, Mac only. I had to restrict myself because I was starting to feel like a traitor or worse, the guy on the left.

I'm determined to get some new action going - like making lil' movies and playing around with editing on iMovie. Having spent a bunch of quality time with my iTunes and my Final Draft 6, the relationship was back on track. I even thought about signing up for the One-to-One service that Apple offers - $99 gets you your own personal creative Mac guru, one hour a week for a year. A great deal and much better than the Genius Bar which never fails to make me feel like an inbred moron.

So, earlier this week, I tried to upgrade my operating system and visited the Apple store. I bought the Leopard and the 1-to-1 and then it was brought to my attention that my laptop was so old and out-of-date (G4 purchased in 2002) that unless I bought a new computer, I was basically stuck with its limitations. In fact, it could not even handle the new system - it would have been like trying to put an outboard motor on the back of a horse.

I threw a mild tantrum at the hipster sales guy, Jason, who ultimately had the patience of a nun. Why I was in denial about the age of my Mac seems quite odd to me now. Fer chrissakes, I work in this world, why would this news such a shock? In my professional life, I'm acutely aware of how fast things change but I never really thought such rules applied to my stuff. Not my laptop!

Technology is like dog years; applying that formula, my computer is 37 years old. Definitely time for an upgrade. I now realize that I was mad at myself because I hadn't spent enough time with the G4 and it was already time to move on. She was destined to become a glorified music file holder. Sniff.

Jason, bless his bandanna-ed, pierced head, he hung in there with me, for like an hour. We talked about options - $200 for extra RAM for the old gal or save it towards a new laptop? He even had grabbed me square on the shoulders, looked deeply into my eyes and asked: "What do you want to accomplish with this machine?" My answer: "I want to make movies."

In the end, I opted to wait for some cash to pile up and vowed to return with the intent of living and creating with more modern tools. (Until, of course, they become outdated the following year.)

Before I left the Apple store, having not spent a dime, Jason pulled me aside, "Do you have a minute? Are you in a big hurry?" Ironic questions considering how much time he and I had already spent together. Jason had to show me the many, many examples of art projects made out of retired computers - fish tanks, photo frames, bombs, cat holders and so on. It was depressing but also made me feel not so alone.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Winning Filly Goes Down

While I realize we are a country at war and mankind faces bigger problems right now, I am completely depressed today by the sudden demise of Eight Belles, the filly who ran her heart out in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, broke both ankles and had to be euthanized right on the track. I'm trying to figure out if it is my love of horses or my strong feelings of sisterhood that this tragedy has aroused; possibly, it is a little of both.

Eight Belles was no ordinary gal. She was first filly since 1999 to run in the Derby and much was made of her ability to "hang with the boys." She was poised to be the wagering favorite in Friday's Kentucky Oaks, an all-filly showcase. But her owner and trainer decided to run her against the boys despite the fact that she had never done so before. She had, after all,solid credentials with a four-race winning streak.

"There was no way to save her. She couldn't stand," trainer Larry Jones said. "She ran an incredible race. She ran the race of her life."

Jones' voice broke and tears glistened in his eyes as he considered his barn without Eight Belles' head poking out of her stall.

"Losing animals like this isn't fun. It's not supposed to happen," he said. "We're heartbroke. We're going to miss her, no doubt."

Hillary Clinton, who made a comparison between herself and Eight Belles, asked her constituents to root for the filly on Saturday. Though Clinton didn't attend the race, she'd asked Chelsea to bet on Eight Belles, who still came in second at 13-1, thus repaying her fans' faith by returning $10.60 and $6.40.

No doubt, numerous allusions, jokes and comparisons to the filly will be made when folks, once again, ask Hillary to pull out of the race. I can hear the lines being typed out even as I write this - something about her still being proud about coming in second or some such nonsense.

Anyway, I'm heading up to the barn today, to have my father and stepmother meet all my horse friends. I now realize there is only female in the bunch, and she is pregnant and picked on by her paddock mates, both boys, Ben and Robbie.

Maybe I'll bring her something extra.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Protesting Through Photography

(This is a cross-post from my other gig at BlogHer.)

"Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still."

--Dorothea Lange, American photographer, (1895-1965)

A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, but some photographs can be worth just one heavy handful of potent words - words pregnant with meaning, set in bold with exclamation points and a severe emotional font, like Toxica.

The use of photographic storytelling in political protests and social revolutions has a long history of quiet effectiveness, whether it's Dorothea Lange documenting the plight of the Dust Bowl immigrants or Jeff Widener's shot of the lone protestor at Tiananmen Square. Of course, the brave souls who documented the fire hoses, sit-ins, lynchings and marches of the turbulent Civil Rights era did humanity a tremendous favor. For those of us who were not there or unaware, the photographs tell a very simple story, not just of black and white but of wrong and right.

The well-known image of a hateful Hazel Bryan taunting a stony silent (and probably scared to death) black student, Elizabeth Eckford, as both made their way to the front door of Little Rock's Central High is the one that chills me most. (Everyone in the crowd is wearing those lovely Donna Reed dresses of the '50s and when people talk about how idyllic that era was, I just cringe and this image comes to mind.)

The photograph, taken on September 4, 1957 by Will Counts, is not only iconic (named as one of the 'Top 100 Photographs of the 20th Century by the Associated Press) but it sparked real change, specifically, in the heart and soul of Hazel, the white woman who is the source of racial hatred in the photo.

Years Later, as the photograph became globally infamous, Hazel was forced to deal with the angry young woman she was that day in 1957; she simply could not escape it and was forced to ask herself some hard questions. In a 1998 interview, Hazel explained:

"I am not sure at that age what I thought, but probably I overheard that my father was opposed to integration.... But I don't think I was old enough to have any convictions of my own yet."

After a lifetime of soul searching, Hazel took the difficult first step of contacting Elizabeth to offer a formal apology. Their first meeting - four decades later - was reportedly "awkward" but Hazel was quite sincere and eventually, a real friendship blossomed. And, like all heartwarming tales of modern times, the story concludes with the two women hugging it up on Oprah.

The only reason we know this story today is because just one photographer saw history in action, took aim and pressed a button. In this case, the actual photograph was the lone catalyst, as noted in this 1998 editorial from the Arkansas Democratic-Gazette:

"One of the fascinating stories to come out of the reunion was the apology that Hazel Bryan Massery made to Elizabeth Eckford for a terrible moment caught forever by the camera. That 40-year-old picture of hate assailing grace - which had gnawed at Ms. Massery for decades - can now be wiped clean, and replaced by a snapshot of two friends. The apology came from the real Hazel BryanMassery, the decent woman who had been hidden all those years by a fleeting image. And the graceful acceptane of that apology was but another act of dignity in the life of Elizabeth Eckford."

In a more pro-active approach, the photographs of Chinese artist, Shen Qi, make a silent statement of their own. For starters, he took the liberty of cutting off his left pinky finger to protest the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989. (Somewhere, Van Gogh is grinning ear to ... well ....) Then, he placed a series of photographs in the palm of his own mangled hand, using it as a backdrop, against another backdrop of solid red.

Some shots are old family photographs, while others depict Chinese propaganda, but it's the image of the lopsided hand that gets you. I found myself staring at the empty space where his finger used to be and pondering the frustration and pain a person has to feel to go to such lengths. Qi's work is sad, brilliant and brave. Most of all, it is important.

Then there's Terry Evans, another great photographer who points her lens at a world that most fly over without a thought: America's prairies. Thanks to my deep love for all things North Dakota, I happen to be aware that this part of the world currently faces turbulent times.

Terry's work has been "primarily an inquiry into the nature of prairie from its native state to its use, abandonment and care." Many of her best shots are taken from the air, where one can almost grasp the expansive beauty and deep loneliness of our nation's midsection. As Terry's bio explains:

"Her intention has been to tell the prairie's stories, past and present, through visible facts and layers of time and memory on the landscape."

I'm especially fond of her series entitled: "Prairie Images of Ground and Sky, 1978-1985." The seemingly-simple photographs inspire me to breathe deep and hum the "America the Beautiful." For some reason, they also make me crave gravy.

Must be a Midwestern thing.