Monthly Archives: September 2016

Not Lost

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, lost on October Mountain, photoshops the lake onto a cozy matelasse stitched quilt.There wasn’t enough time to walk in the woods near my mother’s house before lunch. And it was cloudy. A chance of rain. Desperate to try out my newly repaired camera, I drove my little Prius up October Mountain. Car-hiking.

The road narrowed as I drove. Up. Into dark woods, past quiet campgrounds all but abandoned now that summer was over. There was supposed to be a lake somewhere. I followed the road, zigzagging up and down, to where the trees were backlit with light. Water. Found.

Returning to the car after taking my fill of photos, I saw there were three roads, not simply the one I’d doggedly pressed ahead on in search of the lake. The road I headed out on soon became so pitted with potholes that the Prius, whose front bumper barely clears the ground by three inches, bounced like a ship in a stormy sea. Its belly scraped bottom at each depression. I had to make a twelve-point U-turn to come back to where the three roads met. And then everything looked different. One road was paved. Had I taken the paved road?

This was turning into an adventure. I plugged in the GPS, setting it for my mother’s house. It beeped and blinked red question marks as I continued along the second road, looking for something familiar. The road roughened and grew rockier, and finally petered off into a muddy trail. Another twelve-point turn, and I retraced my path to test the third road.

My mother would be worried. “I’ll be back in an hour-and-a-half and then we’ll have lunch,” she’d said. It was now lunchtime. I needed a bathroom. The grating of the Prius’s bottom was grinding into a headache. Enough of this driving endlessly around the mountain. I wanted to be back home, in my sweet bed with the cozy pillows and new matelassé stitched quilt. Maybe it was time to call 9-1-1. But then I’d have to say I was lost, because you can’t phone 9-1-1 to tell them you’re simply disoriented.

Lost. I’m careful about how I use that word. It’s such a sad word: A long-lost forgotten friend. A lost dog. Lost opportunities. ‘Lost’ sounds so hopeless: A lost soul. Love lost. To me ‘lost’ means irretrievable, consigned to oblivion. Gone. But six years ago I did not lose my father; he shows up whenever I spend a dollar. My daughter who died is not lost; she was with me when I photographed the lake at October Mountain. Besides, I had half a tank of gas and a GPS. I was not lost.

Finally, after I retried each of the three roads, the GPS found a signal and led me back. “I got lost,” was the first thing I told my mother.


What does ‘lost’ mean to you? What is not lost?


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Turn it Around

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, uses painting tools in Adobe Photoshop to draw a broken clock with glitches.Glitch
by Marika Warden

I sit before a clock of time.
It ticks and tocks and stops.
It’s broken and I can’t rewind
My life stands on its edge.
A record skips when there’s a glitch
But such a glitch I cannot find.

My daughter’s poem floated in my head. All week. It was a week of glitches. Setbacks. Malfunctions. Breakdowns. My camera was being repaired so I couldn’t take photographs. My favorite bakery, where my work was to be exhibited, announced it was “closing for good,” so there would be no exhibit and no more scrumptious Sixth Avenue cakes. My father’s old watch, with its new battery, stopped working. Summer ended. I was left with an unidentifiable longing, an ache like erosion.

I’m trying to dig deep to find what is really at the bottom of this dark pit of depression. Am I missing my camera? My daughter? My father? The summer that was over before projects begun could be wrapped up? The lost opportunity to show my work in a place I loved? What’s really bothering me? Because I need to turn it around. Insignificant glitch or gargantuan loss, I have to find and fix this daunting thing.

“When one door closes, another opens,” a friend tells me. And I’m thinking I don’t need to hear this for the billionth time. But I do. We all do. Because sometimes we have to remember to look for those doors. We have to recognize what is really closing as well as what may be opening. Door by door. They don’t open automatically. There’s usually work involved. And if we can’t find the door we may need to climb through a window, perhaps a barely-recognizable window of opportunity, instead. Or we may need to get help.

We can’t always find and fix everything.

No camera. No new photos. I opened the Photoshop program, with its seventy tools inviting infinite possibilities for control and change, and drew a blank white canvas. I checked my email, ate cake, raked pondweed, and brushed the dog. Finally I sat down, took a deep breath, and tried out some of the painting and drawing tools I’d previously ignored. Having no camera was one glitch I could scratch off the list.


How do you get to the bottom of what’s bothering you? What are ways to keep going when you feel crushed by setbacks and loss?


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Photographs and Memories

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs a nightblooming cactus plant, epipyllum oxypetalum, Queen of the Night.The Queen of the Night glistened in the dark. It was late, past my bedtime. But she was so beautiful. Magnificent. People pointed and smiled, milling around her with flashlights.
“The cactus is blooming.” That was the message on my cell phone. What? Why would I care about some cactus, I’d wondered. Then I learned: Epiphyllum Oxypetalum. They bloom rarely, and only at night. And by the first light of day the flower would wilt and die.

The plant had only a few blossoms. In the dark, I photographed it up and down. I would immortalize it, post it on Facebook and Twitter, print it up BIG on premium archival paper, adhere it onto gatorboard with a polycarbonate laminate finish and polished German silver frame. This was my new way of memorializing things.

My old Omi Rosie used to tell me to take pictures in my mind if there was something beautiful or special I wanted to remember. No camera. Just in my head. So over the years I gathered “snapshots” in my head…. Like my first real kiss, on a summer night, the guy had a full set of braces that cut into my lips making them swell as we sat under stars, on a dock that rocked over a fishy-smelling black lake that lapped loudly…. And later, newly arrived at college, walking on the quad over fallen ginkgo leaves, yellow and stinking like dog-poo, my arms ached weighted down with just-bought textbooks and I told myself to remember this beginning of the adventure that was my own, not my family’s…. Later still, my newborn son’s eyes that could turn into any color…. “Snapshots” in my mind. That always worked for me. Because most of my life I hated cameras. “They keep me away from what’s going on. Why would I want to put a box between myself and what I want to remember?” I’d say. That was before my daughter died. The daughter who loved photos.

The night I visited the Queen of the Night I couldn’t sleep. I drove back, through thick fog early the next morning before sunrise, to see the plant once more. And I thought of the other beautiful, short life I’d witnessed at its end. Five years ago. On the morning I knew would be my daughter’s last day, I filled my eyes with her face, to plant a “snapshot” in my head, to always remember. And that image, indelible in my mind, is infinitely more breathtaking than this photograph I took of the Queen of the Night in her last glory, just as the sun came up.


What do you do to always remember something beautiful, important, loved? Do photographs work for you? Or do memories?

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In Another World

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops her daughter who died, Marika Warden, with a tessellation of puppies in the background.Right away, the old mother was drawn to the girl at the end of the table who sat clutching a stuffed animal, her mascaraed eyes staring straight ahead.

How could the mother not be reminded of her own beautiful daughter? From the million images tessellating in her head, one arose of her daughter sitting up in a hospital bed, clinging to her stuffed puppy as doctors announced, “You’re eighteen. So you’re the adult in charge.” And now, here was this unknown almost-adult girl seated across the table, hugging her stuffed animal and looking dazed. Why was this girl here?

“ …When my mom died,” the girl said, shortly after. Then something inside the mother burst. “My mom won’t be here for my graduation, or when I get married, or when I have kids,” the girl continued, and the old mother remembered for the billionth time that her own daughter would never get to graduate college, get married or have kids.

She had watched her daughter suffer and wondered why she herself hadn’t been the one to get cancer. Maybe in a different dimension of existence, in an alternate reality or some parallel universe, things were different. In another world her daughter might still be alive. But here, in this world, at the other end of the table was a daughter who lost her mother.

Suddenly the girl sat down next to the mother. The girl’s eyes were even more radiant up close, with a familiar hint of opalescent eye shadow and perfectly painted waterproof mascara. There was much the old woman would have liked to say to the girl but she couldn’t find her words, couldn’t begin, and now the girl was so close, smiling and crying at the same time. Tears ran down both their faces.

“I’m gonna get a tattoo with my mom’s name,” the girl said.
“I have a tattoo,” the mother said, peeling off her sweater to show the girl her shoulder tattooed with her daughter’s name. “Can you read it?” the mother asked. “Yes. That’s right. It’s Marika.” The girl beamed.

“And who’s this?” the mother asked, already knowing, pointing to the stuffed animal the girl clung to, thinking of the stuffed puppy she’d given her own daughter at birth and now kept on the mantle in the middle of her house (and kissed goodnight most nights). The girl held out her fuzzy stuffed dog.
“My mother gave it to me,” she said, turning it over to show the stitched-on tag that spelled LOVE ME.


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