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"The Beginning"

There is a passenger ferry, worn down but seaworthy, hauling travelers and vehicles back and forth from Brindisi, Italy to the Greek island of Corfu. It is a "red eye" route; takes about 10 hours depending on the mood of the captain. The seafarers at the boarding dock are carefree and jovial. Adventurous youth with backpacks, sleeping bags and bottles of cheap wine taking on the world. That evening was humid and warm, a late August breeze pushing back against the forthcoming chill of autumn.

A deck hand sauntered down the gangplank and released the chain holding us back. We scurried up the plank, cheerful "whoops" and "yeahs" leading the throng up to the deck. Most of us veered right towards the stern, choice property for the Eurail pass crowd and those in the know. We scattered and claimed our ground at the back of the ferry. Life was good.

It was my first trip outside America's borders. First time overseas. Just finished undergrad studies and with diploma in hand. I traded it for a Eurail pass. Four of us set out that summer to see the world. Or at least the European part of it. As we counted off countries and the summer faded to fall, the four adventurers turned into three, then two, then me. I wanted to return to Greece.

The afterdeck is the place to be when on the open ocean. No debate. Much better than the bow; less wind, quieter. Most important is the view of the sea, the water churning from the ship’s propellers, a white wake stretching back to the horizon. Evidence that your journey is underway. You are here, one spot on the ocean, on the earth, then you are gone, moved on to another spot on the ocean, on the earth. It gets deeper after a bottle of Shiraz.

This is not a photography page. But take note. This was a few years ago. Before selfies. The camera was a Nikon SLR F2A. My mother gave it to me upon college graduation. She certainly knew something and it remains the best gift, besides a mother’s love, that she ever gave me. It came with a 50mm, f/1.4 NIKKOR lens. I mostly shot black and white, but at times I used Kodacolor 400 color slide film. And that was that. No auto focus; no auto exposure; no zoom. Additional lenses came later when I had a job. For the Europe trip, it was my Nikon F2A and me.

The vessel slipped her lines and began a slow drift to the open ocean. As if on cue, the deck passengers stood and leaned into the rail. “Ciao” for now, Italy. It’s on to Greece and a new chapter. The sun was waning, as suns tend to do at the end of their day, and I know no one who can stay away from an open ocean sunset. Wine flowed. Cheese was shared. Smiles everywhere. Sailing to Greece. Life was very good.

As the sun slipped down and dusk bloomed, the birds appeared, trailing behind us, dipping and weaving along the warm air currents above the Mediterranean waters. At first, I just watched. Enjoying the spirit and freedom of the whole scene. Though tempting, sunset photos are a dime a dozen. Plus, I had to ration my film, saving my lira or drachma or deutschmarks for wine and cheese. I’m not really a bird guy anyway. I like people. Faces. Birds and sunsets are for the pros. And travel magazines.


But the temptation was too great and so I pulled out the Nikon and slung the strap around my neck. I wrapped the strap a few times around my right wrist to help keep the camera close to me. Helps your confidence. I watched the birds do graceful dance, bobbing above the water. Maybe 10 or 15 gulls. I assume they were seagulls. Again, I’m not a bird guy. There wasn’t really a shot here. I aimed the viewfinder and just scanned for a while, never releasing the shutter. The sun dropped, and dropped, and dropped. The ship was rolling a bit as well. Hard to keep my balance with two hands on the camera and with glass in hand. I leaned my hips into the rail to prop my balance. Nothing.

At the end of the day, sometimes, after a glass or two, you just let ‘er whistle. I opened the lens all the way and set the focus on infinity. I set again and pressed the shutter. That’s it, done. Remember, I’m not a bird guy.

Sometimes, it just works. One lucky bird crossed in front and held forth against the breeze. I pressed the shutter. Done. The bird kept soaring, the boat kept floating; the wind kept blowing and the wine kept flowing. A big mess. The shot was in the can, but I had no idea it was there. I wouldn’t know it was there until months later when I returned to the states, dropped the film off at the photo print store and went on with things.

To be sure, it’s not a high-quality photograph. But it must be the photo that opens the blog. The trip to Europe opened my eyes, opened my mind to everything. I roamed about the continent, rode trains, boarded ferries and bummed rides. I slept on the ground, in cheap hotels, youth hostels and train station floors. I kept going, pausing to go back to school, to get married, to raise a daughter. And I’m still going now. The trip to Europe provided the impulses to what became a life’s journey. The freedom of a bird in flight and the freedom of life’s choices. The setting of the sun on a never-ending ocean providing never-ending possibilities on a horizon I crossed again and again. I hope my photos and my thousand words a pic gives you viewers and readers the same inspiration to take the risks, take the shots and keep on dancing.

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