Shot with my cell phone this morning, I'm marking spring with a series of short slice-of-life videos.
Hiking through the woods is one of my favorite things.. Another is to create short videos. I decided to combine the two on a recent outing to one our favorite St. Paul places, Crosby Farm Park. I brought our dog Ginger because she shares my enthusiasm for hiking and because she always finds something interesting along the trail.
How can we use video as a tool to document our outdoor experience and deepen our engagement with the natural world?
A producer looking for an excuse to get outside and shoot, I grabbed the video camera on a beautiful fall day, determined to find out.
Creating a video of my walk with Ginger intensified my outdoor experience.
1. Creating the video slowed down the walk. Because I was shooting a story, I took my time to capture footage of things I found interesting along the way.
2. In shooting video, I looked for relationships and patterns. I consciously set up sequences of shots to show the way things are connected. For example, featuring two varieties of maple leaves back to back. Showing a muskrat house compared to a beaver lodge in the same lake. A tree stump chiseled by a beaver, another one with a dragonfly in the sun.
3. The process of video creation lead me to double-check my facts. I looked up red maple to confirm it's identity, checked resources to learn the dragonfly was a ruby meadowlark.
4. With a video audience in mind, I looked for fun. I found myself creating the video with young viewers in mind. I wanted to create something that would make kids laugh. The narrative quality of the piano music I selected is meant to set a light tone.
WHAT DID I LEARN?
Because I had a positive experience with this exercise, I think it would be fun to collaborate with nature centers to arm youth with digital tools and guide them through the process of creating short videos about their outdoor adventures. I believe that the act of creating and sharing short videos strengthens our engagement with the natural world and with each other.
In July I had the privilege to be embedded with summer campers and their counselors at University of Minnesota Mississippi River Water Journey Camp.
The assignment: capture highlights of two weeks of camp spent tracing the journey of water to and from the Mississippi River.
We traversed the Twin Cities and met professionals that shared their knowledge about our water in St. Paul. Water from the sky, and drinking water from the tap.
An innovative environmental education camp, the children were handed digital cameras to document their experience and the photos became part of an exhibit they shared with their parents and the general public at the end of the week. The children’s photos are extraordinary. Equally extraordinary was my experience with them.
Principal Investigator: Beth Mercer-Taylor, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota
Lead Researcher & Concept Design: Jonee Kulman Brigham, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota, Creator, Earth Systems Journey Model
Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund
A treasure map of stories
As my mother hands over the keys to the new owner of her lake house, my childhood home, I feel a rush of emotion, a desire to share with her a treasure map highlighting stories of this beloved place.
I want to warn her about the poison ivy over by the birch tree. Tell her the west basement door sticks when it’s humid, that I feel the tiger lilies to the east have been grandfathered into the property, as they were there before we moved in, over forty years ago.
I look out from shore and reminisce about the time we had a big party on the lakeside patio and the dock fell off it’s footings while the United Methodist minister and youth group stood on it, slowly sinking into the water while calmly eating home churned ice cream.
The time my dad had a stringer of fish in the lake attached to his boat and I grabbed them, pretending they were dogs on a leash while I took them for a walk on the dock.
The hours I spent watching my dad skillfully clean fish while swatting mosquitoes on the east side of the house. The sunfish and crappies I scaled, working by his side, trying to keep up with his fast paced fish cleaning assembly line. The hundreds of fish my mother cooked and her creative recipes she concocted to introduce a new way for us to experience fish for dinner.
The bushels of rhubarb, asparagus, carrots, radishes, green beans, corn, swiss chard, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, onions, squash, pumpkins, raspberries, grapes and everything else under the sun my parents grew for decades in the garden.
The award-winning flower arrangements my mother created from the flowers she and my dad tended in their flowerbeds. The gorgeous floral arrangements she created for our wedding in 1997, all from flowers they grew themselves.
In this kitchen, the decades of homemade meals prepared, pies baked, bread kneaded, tomatoes canned and jelly strained.
In this sewing closet, the garments tailored and clothes mended. On that shelf, my grandmother's button box.
On these walls, framed watercolor paintings by my mother who was happy here, enjoying nature and creating art.
In this shop, the radio plays in my mind where my father crafted furniture pieces for the family. I can still smell the sawdust.
Living here brought a privilege of seeing both the sunrise and sunset reflected in the lake. From my bedroom window, I saw fish swimming in the lake, loons, muskrats, ducks, beavers, hundreds of birds and the Milky Way.
Will my mother show the new owner where the wildflowers bloom in the spring? Encourage her to continue her diligence in feeding the hummingbirds nectar and the orioles jelly? Highlight to her the bounty of the grape vines my father planted in the garden?
No. We’ll probably keep it to ourselves, knowing the new owner is now the steward of this land. She will discover the wonders and grow to love this place on her own. Just like we did.
I say a tearful goodbye to my childhood home, knowing I’ll carry my treasure map of stories with me forever.
In honor of National Night Out, my in-laws invited us to their community potluck at Inver Glen Senior Apartments last night. We were introduced to their friends at dinner, a couple from South Saint Paul.
Making conversation, I asked our dinner companions if they were history buffs. “Do you know much about the Civil War?” I asked, hoping to find kindred spirits. (I’ve been reading books about the Civil War this summer and am eager to find like-minded friends.)
Myrna, age ninety, jumped into the conversation with both feet. She said, “I don’t know that much about the Civil War, but when I was two I traveled by train from Saint Paul to Charmain, Pennsylvania to meet my great grandmother. Charmain is near Gettysburg and my great grandmother told me she heard the cannons of the Battle of Gettysburg as a child.”
Wow. That blows my mind! In 1927, my new friend Myrna had a conversation with her great grandmother about hearing the cannons of Pickett’s charge on July 3, 1863.
We talked about how that story makes the war feel like recent history. I would love to know the rest of the story about how her family was affected by the Civil War. So many questions to ask!
My ancestor, 1st Sergeant of the Co. I, 37th Wisconsin, Charles P. Brown served in the war and died of disease in 1864, stationed in Virginia during the final months of the war. Aformer teacher that grew up in upstate New York, Charles was a well-spoken man. He wrote letters to his wife Francelia who stayed behind in Bay City, Wisc. during the war. She saved the letters and passed them on to her daughter Carrie, who passed them onto her daughter, my grandmother Francelia.
We treasure those letters and as I read his words, I feel connected to my family of long ago. Charles chides his young children for their poor penmanship, asking his daughter, my young great grandmother Carrie, to, “...do better in the future and keep her paper clean.” He cheers his wife on from the war, telling her to, “Be wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove…be thankful for every little favor: for this is a very selfish world.”
Charles' letters offer hints of the cruelty he witnessed and the challenges his wife and four young children faced in his absence… a history I know we share with many other families from both the Union and Confederacy. One letter asks his wife to, “Pray for the Soldiers of the Union.” From where I sit now, four generations later, I hope they prayed for the Confederacy soldiers too, with that harmless dove in mind.
How do you capture the essence of a music school in a video? The faculty, students, hard work and flow of notes? In the case of theSaint Paul Conservatory of Music (SPCM), the essence of the school is interconnected with the historic building they call home.
For nine years I’ve been privileged to be part of the Saint Paul Conservatory of Music family. When Executive Artistic Director Cléa Galhano approached me to create a video to raise awareness about the outreach the school does in the community, I jumped at the chance. Together we crafted a piece that serves to entertain, inform and hint at what’s so special about the school.
POIGNANT VOICE OF A STUDENT
When possible, I like to use the voices of youth in my work. SPCM violin student Beth Fyxell wrote a short essay about her experience with the school that was published in The Saint Paul Almanac. For the open of the video, we adapted her prose for the screen, recorded her voice and shot a sequence to capture her affection for the building. “…the door creaks closed and you get a sense of loneliness, missing the comfort of the building,” she says.
The comfort of a building. I believe we've all experienced that feeling in our lives, but probably never put it into words like that. Thank you Beth, we identify. Especially those of us who have squeezed into that tiny elevator with mirrors on the walls...
The historic Exchange Building was once home to an order of Catholic nuns. Years ago, the Mother Superior put in a tiny elevator lined with mirrors. Still operational, the elevator offers a cozy ride for 2 musicians and their violins. My son and I often have a race. He takes the stairs and I ride the elevator. He usually wins!
I belong to the Association of Personal Historians and have been invited to share a bit of personal history, starting with a questionnaire.
1. Where I lived @20: Fargo, North Dakota
2. What I did @20: Full time undergraduate student at North Dakota State University. Like a lot of people, I worked through my college years. I juggled three part time jobs when I was 20. I was a lowly camera operator for the evening news at the CBS affiliate KXJB. I worked a split shift and would punch out after the six o’clock news. Sometimes I would leave the studio and run across town to run camera at my second job at the studios of Prairie Public Television. At the end of that shift, I would punch out and run back to the news station to make the ten o’clock news. Crazy. By contrast, my third job was intentionally quiet. I worked at the university art gallery monitoring foot traffic in and out of the gallery. My boss let me do homework in the gallery. Talk about a cushy job!
3. What I dreamt @20: traveling abroad, documentary filmmaking
4. My favorite song @20: Another Brick in the Wall, Pink Floyd
5. What I wore @20: Preppy
6. Who I loved @20: my big family of sorority sisters. Over achievers and lifelong friends...
7. What made headlines when I was @20: The Iran hostage crisis. John Lennon’s death. And the defeat of President Jimmy Carter by former California Governor Ronald Reagan. I vividly remember that somber night, November 4, 1980. I worked election night at the news station. CBS and The New York Times miscalculated the election polls and predicted President Carter would win in a tight contest. Later that night, the network was humiliated by bad data. It was a glum night in the newsroom. And so began my life in the Reagan Era, which begat the Bush Era. Tough times for a liberal cat like me, but great fodder for decades of spirited conversations with my father, a conservative Republican.
What I didn’t know @20: Journey into self
When I saw Apocalypse Now@20, I realized how little I knew about Vietnam. How little I knew about anything at all, really. I'm afraid Francis Ford Coppola’s genius was lost on me.
@30, I revisited the film with a grad student I was dating from the University of Minnesota English department. He urged me to read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, first published in 1899. He promoted it as being one of the greatest short stories ever written. I followed his advice and as I read it, my understanding of the story grew immeasurably.
A few years later, in1991, I saw the documentary Hearts of Darkness. Directed by George Hickenlooper, the documentary came out more than ten years after Apocalypse Now was released. It provides an inside view of the making and madness of Coppola’s film. It includes footage and sound secretly shot by Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, Eleanor Coppola, who also narrated the film. Stories are crafted together skillfully to reconstruct the fear and vulnerability the team experienced during the making of Apocalypse Now, revealing a tumultuous time.
In the documentary, Eleanor Coppola said, “The film Francis is making is a metaphor for a journey into self. He has made that journey and is still making it. It's scary to watch someone you love go into the center of himself and confront his fears, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of going insane. You have to fail a little, die a little, go insane a little, to come out the other side. The process is not over for Francis.”
Journey into self was foreign to me when I was 20. By 30, I understood. By 40, I really understood.
What were YOU like at 20? Create your own Me@20 blog post today, or share the
Me@20 questionnaire in your social networks.
See more Me@20 blog posts from personal historian colleagues:
Michelle Beckman - Sunday Dinner Stories, I Have a Confession
Tom Gilbert - Your Life is Your Story, Me at Twenty
About Me@20 Day:
Me@20 Day celebrates personal history and the 20th anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians on May 20, 2015. APH supports its members in recording, preserving and sharing life stories of people, families, communities and organizations around the world. #APH20 personalhistorians.org
A client recently told me a story about climbing Mount Olympus in Greece. When he started the story, I anticipated hearing details about the challenging terrain, the gorgeous views, the pilgrimage up the majestic mountain of ancient Greek mythology.
Instead I heard a hilarious story about the food he ate at the hiker's hut on the mountain. Stories about keeping a watchful eye on a struggling fellow hiker, and a magical moment they experienced together, meeting a goat herder on the trail playing a silver clarinet.
It was a magical moment for me too, hearing the story of his Mount Olympus climb from so many years ago. I am grateful.
One glimpse and we’re transported in time.
UK Documentary filmmaker Greg Ward set up his camera in a quiet location and asked people to hold one of their school portraits and talk about themselves in the past, present and future.
Simple unscripted methods of storytelling.
I think this technique would work great at a class reunion, a family reunion or even a business retreat setting. It's an affordable approach, a great way to tell the stories of a group of people.
Creating video memoirs can be as simple as recording someone’s voice while they page through a photo album.
I used this technique with my brother in-law Chris when I saw him in August last year. I set up my microphone and prepared myself to hear a great story about his memories of being a kid from New York City, picking apples with his cousins in Pennsylvania.
Funny. The story I got didn't match the photo we started with. He said he didn't really remember much about picking apples, but he sure remembered his unhappiness at a party he went to that same weekend. As I listened, I learned about what his life was like as a teenager in 1969. I learned he was independent at a young age. I listened to his voice and better understood his values, his personality and sense of humor. He drew me in.
Tragically, Chris died after a brief illness recently and I can’t bring myself to listen to the audio recording right now. Not yet. But I will. And I will share it with our family, his grandchildren, niece and nephews.
I’m so grateful I recorded his voice in August. We will treasure hearing it again when we’re steady enough to listen.
Producer Audrey Robinson Favorito explores the craft of digital storytelling