The Black Church at Búðir

Fujifilm GFX 50s, ISO 400, FL 40 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/11. Encaustic wax overlay.

In 1703, Bendt Lauridsen built the first church at Búðir, which was demolished later and rebuilt again.  In 1816, the parish at Búðir was abolished.  Steinunn Sveinsdottir, one of the ladies of the parish fought strongly for a new church, but the national church rejected her request.  Eventually, Steinunn received a royal permission to build a new one, which stood ready in 1848.  A quote on the door ring says “this church was built in 1848 without the support of the spiritual fathers”.  In memory of Steinunn’s achievement, this noble woman is buried in the churchyard in Búðir.  Between 1984-86, the church was reconstructed and consecrated in 1987.  Among the valuable possessions of the church are a bell from 1672, an altarpiece from 1750, an old silver chalice, two messing candlesticks from 1767, and a door ring from 1703.  The church is protected and one of the oldest wooden churches in Iceland.

The Black Church of Búðir has become a very popular spot for photographers visiting the Snaefellsness Peninsula.  The striking dark tones of the small church stands out in sharp contrast to the moody dark skies and the rugged Icelandic mountains surrounding it.

Dust to dust….

I will never forget the first time I saw someone die. I was a very naive, very inexperienced 3rd year medical student. Up to that point, I had only been in the classroom and the gross anatomy laboratory where my focus of study was on the long-dead, well preserved human body. I was doing my first clinical rotation in the hospital and I was assigned to the emergency room.

A man was brought to the major trauma room by emergency medical services. Although he was not much older that I was at the time, he was well known as a ‘frequent flyer’ in the ER because he was an alcoholic and a drug abuser – cocaine being his preferred addictive substance.

Within 2 seconds of his arrival, he was surrounded by circles of ER personnel – nurses, techs, doctors. As a medical student, I was the lowliest member of the team and occupied the outer periphery of all those circles of people. My job was to watch, fetch, and stay out of the way.

The man was attached to monitors that displayed beat to beat heart rhythm, blood pressure, respiratory rate. Intravenous catheters were placed in both arms, a urinary catheter was inserted into his bladder, oxygen cannulas were placed in his nose, chest radiographs obtained and blood samples taken. All of this within 7 minutes of his arrival. When it was obvious that he was not going to immediately die, the medical team began dispersing to analyze all the data. The plan in place was ‘expectant observation’. If anything went awry, all the equipment to which the patient was attached would immediately begin alarming.

Ten minutes after his arrival and I was now the only person remaining in the room with the man. He was pretty agitated, thrashing around on the bed, and I felt pretty helpless watching him. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do but decided that maybe a few words of comfort would help so I advanced toward the stretcher.

Suddenly he sat bolt upright on the stretcher, pulling tubes and catheters and restraint straps with him as he violently propelled himself up. He looked straight into my eyes and said, ‘Please don’t let me die!!’ Then – he died. That is to say, his heart quit any functional beating, he stopped breathing, and he lapsed into unconsciousness. Pulmonary edema foamed from his mouth and nose and every alarm in the room was shrilling.

The entire medical team rushed back into the room and I was unceremoniously shoved into the corner. Everyone was shouting and equipment was being pushed and pulled. The ‘thumper’ was started – a machine that was placed above the patient’s chest with a piston that pushed up and down on the chest to massage the heart through the chest wall.

All to no avail. His heart had fibrillated – a chaotic, functionless spasm of cardiac activity that did not propel blood through the system. Then, his heart stopped all activity and even after 30 minutes of frantic effort by the medical team, never restarted. The ER physician finally ‘called’ the code – he asked the team members to stop what they were doing, looked at the clock, and pronounced the time of death. Once again, the entire team, moving almost like a single entity, exited the room. The doctors begin dictating all the events that had transpired, the nurses gathered material to shroud the body and arrange transport of the body to the morgue, and the ER secretary began the long series of telephone calls to the medical examiner, the police, organ donation, family members.

Once again, I was alone in the room but now with a corpse. I was stunned. Up to this point in my life, I had believed that no one was really aware of the moment of their death. That dying was just a slow ebb of life away from the body and consciousness ceased long before the actual moment of death. The only experience I had with death up to this point was being with my beloved pets when they needed to be ‘put to sleep’ and it was always a very sad, tearful, but quiet, peaceful death. The moment of death occurred AFTER sleep – one was not aware of it at all. I guess that’s the only experience I had of death.

I had never experienced this violent, wrenching, tearing tug of war between life and death. I had never known anyone that was acutely aware of the moment their life had ended.

I have since witnessed many, many different ways of dying and I know that some ways are better than other ways.  I know that some go ‘gentle into that good night’ and some do not.  I don’t know how many of my patients were aware of their moment of death. Who are we to say what transpires in the mind of someone in the last few seconds of life? Perhaps, we are all aware of that moment.

But I will never forget the eyes of the man who looked right into my eyes and begged me not to let him die and I, helpless to intervene, served only to witness the moment of his dying.

 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Reynisdrangar, Iceland

Fujifilm GFX 50s, ISO 100, FL 28 mm, 1/30 s @ f/20.

Reynisdrangar and the black beaches of Vik have got to be one of the most desolate places on earth.  Raging waves and winds whip across the seascape and even if you are with others, you feel vulnerable and alone, isolated by the extreme environment.  Vik is located in southern Iceland under the shadow of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, Reynisfjall mountain, and one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes – Katla.  A population of around 300 brave souls call the town home.  The seascape is notable for basalt sea stacks as high as 60 meters and known as Reynisdrangar.  One area of  clustered, rocky stacks is iconic for the region and is known as ‘the trolls’.  Legend has it that 3 trolls – Skessudrangur, Laddrangur and Langhamar – were attempting to steal one of the village boats and were caught in the process at dawn and punished by being turned into rocks. Another legend (and the one I prefer) is that a husband caught his wife as she was being held captive by two trolls.  The trolls promised not to kill her but could not return her home.  So the love of this man’s life, whose free spirit he could not contain at home, lives out among the trolls, rocks, and seas at Reynisfiara.

It is a haunting landscape.  In 1991, the black sand beach of Vik was named as one of the ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world.

The Handmaid’s Tale

fujifilm xpro2, ISO 800, FL 200 mm, 1/60 sec @ f/4

 

Two things in the news recently have made me think, once again, about the roles of women in our society.  Last week, Bill O’Reilly – one of the top grossing TV celebrities on Fox News was terminated because of allegations of sexual harassment.  His misbehavior was not a new item.  The network had paid millions of dollars of hush money over several years but an investigative reporter was able to unearth the gory details and published the findings in a print source.  And then, lo and behold! Current Mad Men began to pull their marketing dollars from his show.  As that movement escalated, Murdoch and his sons decided the negativity outweighed the positivity and O’Reilly was no more.

That was last week.  This week, HULU – a streaming media service – began their made for TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale.  The book, a dystopian science fiction, was written by Margaret Atwood.  I had read it years ago when the feminist movement was at its strongest.  I was particularly attracted to the book because Margaret, a Canadian writer, actually finished writing the book in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where she held an MFA chair.  So, that attracted me, a native Alabamian – a book started in West Berlin and completed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  The book was published in 1986 and, at the time, I was a second year medical resident in a pediatric residency program in Alabama.  I remember when I read the book that I found it somewhat frightening but was reassured by the rapid changes that I had personally witnessed of the way women’s roles were changing in a positive way in our society.  There was no reason for me to think that the steady forward emancipation of women from traditional restrictions would not continue to surge. The book was interesting but definitely science fiction.

Understand, I was not naive.  I had personally experienced some of the obstacles often placed in women’s paths.  Some of those obstacles were blatantly obvious.  Some were very subtle.  It is only now, in my more advanced age (smile), that I realize that I had been so indoctrinated to the accepted role of women that I was blind to prejudice and discrimination when it happened right in front of me.  It was what had always been – those subtle little reminders by society of what the female identity should be.

I felt so privileged in my first year of medical school.  I had been an outspoken feminist and member of the National Organization for Women in college and I felt that choosing a male-dominated profession that I yearned to be a part of was a reflection of both my career goals, my desire for service to humanity, and my politics.  My class was a small one – that’s why I chose the medical school that I did.  My COM 1 class was exactly 68 students – 10 of which were women.  In the 4 years that we were together, we got to know each other very well.  Never once did I feel anything but equality with my fellow students.  The attitude was – we were all comrades on this very stressful battlefield and we supported each other without reservations.

But what was also very true is that there were very subtle whispers that constantly reminded the female students that women were different from men.  How?  We spent very long hours in the first year of medical school trying to absorb massive amounts of knowledge – gross anatomy, histology, cell biology, embryology, genetics, immunology, neuroanatomy, physiology.  The classroom hours were long and tedious.  One of the common distractions that the professors would use to try and jolt students awake after hours and hours of the eternal slideshow lectures  would be to insert random ‘pin-up’ slides of women, scantily dressed or nude, into the lecture slideshow.  I remember one example in physiology when we were studying the very complex Kreb cycle of chemical processes employed by all organisms to release energy.  I’m sure the professor, after hours of a long drawn out, complex lecture, decided it was time to wake us up. The distraction pin-up that he used was a woman on a motor cycle, dressed all in leather, with her jacket unzipped to her naval and a skimpy leather skirt pulled across her legs as she straddled the machine.  Kreb cycle – motorcycle.  And, as usual, everyone in the class laughed, some applauded, and the professor would smile approvingly.  Even the female students laughed!  And why?  Because we were told, both by our male colleagues and by our professors, that women frequently could be seen as sex objects but not all women.  Certainly not the female students in the room.  We were different than other women – we were professional equals.  Looking back at all those episodes, I realize now that we were as much a part of the problem as the men.  We condoned and we colluded and we did it from the viewpoint that it didn’t apply to us – we were different. I’m sure part of it was that we were also afraid.  We were a minority group in this fraternity of physicians in training and their medical school professors (not a single one of my medical school professors were female).  We felt so lucky to be part of the experience. If we raised a ruckus, if we questioned these subtle discriminatory practices, we might lose our place in line.

How often does that happen?  How often does an individual participate in subtle discrimination because they don’t see it as applying personally to them?  How often does an individual collude because of fear of being excluded, of having hopes dashed, of having dreams shattered?  How naive I was.  How imperfect I was (and still am).

Two years later, I’m pulling very long clinical hours in the hospital.  Basically, I would work two 12-18 hour days in a row and then a third day of 36 hours.  This was my schedule, week in, week out.  The only place that I could take a shower while working these long hours was in the physician’s locker room, which should have been okay because I was a physician in training.  BUT – the physician’s locker room was a male only locker room.  There was a nurse’s locker room but because nurses didn’t work longer than a 12 hour shift, they took their showers at home.  There was a shower in the nurse’s locker room but it had not worked for years and was basically used as a storage area for stacks of boxes of hospital scrubs.

Fortunately, my best friend in my medical class was also pulling the same long hours.  So, we had a deal.  We both wanted a daily shower so no matter how little sleep we had gotten on our 36 hour on-call stretch, we would meet in front of the physician’s locker room at 3 AM.  One of us would go inside the locker room and take a shower while the other stood guard outside the door, ready to give an alert if someone approached.  Then we would switch places.  This is what we did rather than asking for shower facilities for female physicians and medical students.

Why didn’t we ask? We were working the same hours as our male colleagues so certainly we were entitled to the same considerations.  But we accepted the subtle discrimination, we didn’t even question it.  I suspect fear played a role in this also.  The fear that if we pointed out the inequalities too aggressively, that we might be excluded, that we might lose the position that we had worked so hard to achieve.

Oh, we weren’t completely meek and humble.  If there was overt, blatant discrimination, we spoke up against it.  But there was so much of the subtle, pervasive, way it has always been discrimination that we just accepted.  Some of it, I dare say most of it, we just accepted as the way it had always been and we honestly didn’t see it being any different.

And now, we have as President of the United States a man that manifests all those subtle, pervasiveness nuances of discrimination toward women.  He wouldn’t even shake Angela Merkel’s hand!  He speaks trash about women when he thinks he won’t get caught saying it.  He is writing executive orders that severely restrict women’s choices and freedoms and he does it surrounded by men, posing for the television cameras.  This was not a faux pas.  This was deliberate.  He was sending a message to his base of male power and male machismo and male domination of women and their issues.

In my later years of wisdom, I’m a lot more perceptive than I was when I was a naive 30 year old.  I have seen equality among people, regardless of gender, religion, or culture.  I recognize the subtle, pervasive, erosions of that equality. And I will not accept it.

And I’m rereading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ with a new recognition that equality and democracy, once achieved, may not last forever.  It’s more frightening to me than even my first reading.

 

On eating coconut butter on toast

 

This coconut butter is NOT what I had as a child.

I got taken by the wizened, wrinkled, sun-dried woman at the Florida roadside stand.

‘Cause I REMEMBER coconut butter.

That’s when Momma made beds in the car and Daddy drove all night.
When I woke up, I saw palm trees whisking by, past the car window.
And then the cottage – with the funny windows and tile floors
and the window AC chugging out cold air
into rooms that looked nothing like home but felt like family.
And the sand, everywhere, everywhere.
Seagulls plaintive cries.
And the siren call of the ocean.

Daddy said ‘Not now’ and Momma said, ‘He needs to sleep’
But still we would run screaming through the dunes to the water.
And both of them would follow, laughing.

Daddy would crouch down in the waves so that the water was at his chest.
He would pull me onto his knees.
‘Get ready’.
I would crouch down on his knees, most of my face under the waves.
1, 2, 3 – Takeoff!!!!
And he would push up, up, up on my crouching butt as he stood up
giving me wings to fly.

I swear to you! My head was in the puffy, white clouds and when I looked down
the water glittered far, far below and then my heart thumped, thumped, thumped me back down
and I hit the water and all the splashes around me sparkled
like diamonds in the sun.
‘Do it again, do it again!’

Coconut butter on white bread toast was so good.
Momma and Daddy hugging each other in the corner of the kitchen.
Like I didn’t see them, ha!

My gloomy sister scalded red.
She never tanned, only burned.
The rest of us brown as pecans in just a few days.
My brothers with identical crewcuts but nothing alike
Fighting over plastic ‘diver dan’.

This coconut butter is NOT what I had as a child.

Daddy saying ‘I don’t like the covers too tight on my feet’.
My Daddy that lifted me to the clouds is barely there.
So small, a tiny, tiny little swell in the white bed in the white room.
I can see him fading away right in front of my eyes.

And my Momma says nothing.
Just the beep, beep, beep of the machine
Tying her to the life she no longer wanted.

This coconut butter is NOT what I had as a child.

Diana Davidson, 2017

 

The Ties That Bind

Fujifilm x-pro2, ISO 300, FL 50 mm, 1/60 sec @ f/3.6

Do not cut those ties

To those you have lost.

The blade hurts beyond bearing

And cuts more than you know.

Let those ties fray rather

In the winds of passing time.

Thread by thread

Strand by strand,

Time wears the fabric down.

The first to fray is need;

Wiry like old roots,

It shrivels without feeding

Becoming dry and brittle

Before finally snapping

And becoming dust

That the wind catches

And blows away.

The next to go is illusion:

Flashing through rainbows

Of coloured pasts

That become slowly

Monochrome and clear.

You see things as they were

You see the truth

A skilful pen and ink sketch

Showing the bare lines

Of what there truly was.

Anger goes next,

Serpent-strong, writhing

Shrieking with fury

Dull red and thick with misery;

It grows quiet, finally

Stills its thrashing

Lies quiet and subdued.

You look again,

And it’s gone.

Each strand that bound you

One by one wears out

Frays to nothing

Snap!

It’s gone.

And when each tie is gone,

You may find that one alone remains,

Bright shining silver,

Gleaming in the kinder light

That time will bring you.

This is the thread that never frays

Never breaks, never snaps.

If at the end of all the threads

This one remains,

Then leave it be.

Cutting this one

Only cuts your heart.

-Vivienne Tuffnell

Golden after-glow

Fujifilm x-pro2, ISO 6400, FL 50 mm, 1/80 sec @ f/3.6. WB @ 5600 Kelvin

I’ve been very fortunate.  I have traveled all over the world and have been able to witness some incredibly beautiful landscapes.   Despite all my travels, tho, I still feel that America has some of the most incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring vistas on Earth. And sometimes, sometimes – I witness a part of the beauty of my country and it grabs my soul and reminds me that the love I have for my country is deep and heartfelt. Last night was one of those times.  Abba and I were walking our usual, sunset beach walk.  I try to photograph as long as there is light but always, I run out of light before I run out of inspiration.  My camera was off because now the shadows  were a deep black and we had turned back for the trek back to the beach house.  The light was absolutely beautiful – the highlights in the ocean and the water-swept sands were the same color as the golden afterglow of the sun.  And then – just a flashing of gold on the surface of the water and it was gone.  I stopped and watched closer and sure enough, once again – a flash of a golden fin tip above the wave and then it dove back into the water.  Even though the light was quickly vanishing, I stood and watched for about 15 minutes as a group of dolphins danced in the waves.  They really seemed to be playing because two of them would surface at the same time opposite each other and then dive back into the water. The water was sheeting off their fins and off their backs and because of the backlighting, the water had the same gold as the dwindling sun.  It was amazing!  The ocean was very dark – the light was almost gone – but the breaching dolphins were bordered in this glowing, golden light.    Even Abba seemed to know that something profound was happening because he stood and watched the water as closely as I was.  It didn’t last long, maybe 15 minutes, before even that golden after-glow was gone.  But now I KNOW, even when I can’t see them – that somewhere underneath those dark waves – dolphins are playing. 🙂 

End of day

fujifilm xpro2, ISO 10000, FL 60 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/4.5

There is a quiet space, between waking life and sleep.  A transition from the busy, keep moving, check off the to-do list, yes, that’s been done, what’s next?  It is an in-between time, a pause, like the deep inhale before the exhale.  In this time, I focus on being rather than doing.  It is like slipping into a poem and it prepares me for the deeply metaphorical dream state. 

Left behind

fujifilm xpro-2, ISO 600, FL 50 mm, 1/250 sec @ f/8

“Recently abandoned women can be complicated.”
 Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian

Searching for natural darkness

Fujifilm xpro-2, ISO 250, FL 50mm, 1/250 sec @ f/8

“When I lie back and close my eyes, this farthest lip of beach right next to the end of the ocean feels like being up close to an enormous breathing being, the bass drum surf thump reverberating through the sand. Living out here with no lights, alone, you would indeed become sensitive to seasons, rhythms, weather, sounds- right up next to the sea, right up under the sky, like lying close to a lover’s skin to hear blood and breath and heartbeat.”
Paul Bogard, The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light

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