As a kid, I never heard anyone talk about road trips. The trips my family took were just "trips." It was a given that we'd be traveling by automobile, except for the rare occasions when we used the rail passes my physician dad earned by caring for the families of Santa Fe Railroad employees.
But now when I hear "road trip," the term conjures up all the wonder and mystery of those childhood excursions. I'm sure my parents planned routes, destinations and sight-seeing stops along the way, but I just hopped into the backseat—aware only in the vaguest sense of where we were going—and waited to see what would unfold.
Now I'm the one doing the planning, but I still like to leave plenty of room—and plenty of time--for mystery and discovery. That's why you won't be hearing from me for a few weeks. Ray and I will be heading off on a road trip, not quite sure yet when we're leaving, when we're returning or exactly what we'll do, other than visit some relatives and attend a family wedding.
When we decided to allow a little extra time for this expedition, my mind began roaming to past trips and some of the unusual sights we've seen, some by design, some by accident.
On our first trip as a couple—a swing through Northern California in the early '90s—we spent a good bit of time searching San Francisco for a wave-activated acoustic sculpture called the Wave Organ, a quest that turned out to be far more interesting than the organ itself. I'd read about the environmental instrument—the creation of two Exploratorium artists in residence—and imagined spooky, whale-like sounds echoing over the shore. A can't-miss destination for sure. But this was in the days before easy internet look-ups, and though my Bay Area friends had all heard of the Wave Organ, no one knew quite where it was. One finally ventured that it might be somewhere in the Marina District, so we headed in that direction, stopped strangers on the street (none of whom knew where it was either, even when we were getting warm) and listened for those eerie sounds.
After much searching, we found a tiny sign: WAVE ORGAN, with an arrow pointing toward a jetty that extended into San Francisco Bay. (The words on the sign had been graffitied into a suggestive remark involving "Simon Says," and the arrow into a crude illustration, in case readers didn't get the joke.) We had a laugh, snapped a picture of the sign and hurried on, still wondering why we weren't hearing anything.
It was because there was nothing to hear. Not unless you crouched or lay on the ground and put your ear right next to one of the sound-transmitting tubes. Then you heard a surfy sound something like you'd hear if you put a seashell up to your ear. Whoop-dee-do. But you know what? We created such hilarity taking pictures of each other squatting or sprawled out on our sides, cupping our ears, it didn't matter that what we heard was less than marvelous.
And my excitement compounded that evening when we checked into our motel and there, in the parking lot, was the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. What's more, we passed a French's mustard factory in Springfield, Missouri the very next day. Sadly, there was no enormous mustard bottle out front. However, we took a different route on our way back to Michigan and passed a farm silo decorated like an oversized Coca Cola can in Kansas, so my happy meal was complete.
Then there was the time we were driving through Nevada on our way to meet friends in Lake Tahoe. In one otherwise forgettable stretch of I-80, we caught a glimpse of an assemblage of concrete and junk that begged to be explored. At least it begged me to explore it, and Ray knew me well enough by then to find the nearest turnaround and head back. The conglomeration turned out to be Thunder Mountain, the work of one Frank Van Zant. Car windshields, old TV screens, typewriters, colorful bottles and a wild assortment of other items were set into the concrete walls of a rambling, three-story structure, and foreboding concrete sculptures guarded the grounds. Now, that was spooky (especially since we were the only visitors at the deserted site).
It always seems to be mid-day and at least 90 degrees when we come across one of these wonders. Ray, bless him, never complains as I dawdle, photographing every detail from every angle.
That's why, along with pictures of more typical attractions like Mt. Rushmore, Old Faithful and the Golden Gate Bridge, our photo albums bulge with images of places like Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park in Foyil, Oklahoma, and S.P. Dinsmoor's Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas, which has such a hold on me, I'm giving it a major role the novel I recently started writing.
Stay tuned for more about the novel, but since I'm working reaaaaaaaallly slowly on it, stay tuned in the shorter term to find out what we'll discover on our ROAD TRIP!
In the meantime, you're invited to share some of your travel memories. How do you like to travel, and what kinds of sights do you keep an eye out for?
Now, with Ellie's passing, our circle feels broken. Ellie always reminded us that life is not static—everything changes, and part of our growth is learning to adapt to those changes. True words. But this is one change we were all unprepared for, and we're finding it hard to absorb.
We can begin to heal by remembering Ellie and her lessons. In that spirit, I have invited everyone in the Monday class to share thoughts and images that evoke those memories. Interspersed among these remembrances, in italics, are parts of Ellie's obituary from the Grand Rapids Press.
Thinking about Ellie, my extraordinary yoga teacher and friend. She fine-tuned us every time to do our own best yoga. Who would have thought she would have taught me to do a headstand when I was 50. She pushed us to do our best, and we grew and grew in our practice. It was very difficult to do a few poses this morning without breaking down completely but I absolutely know she would want me to continue and I will . . .
-- Kathy Misak
Ellie was a strong, spirited, creative, beautiful soul. . . as a child of the 60's, she followed her heart to the epicenter of culture, California, where she lived life to the fullest until the early 80's. Missing home and family, she returned to Michigan, where she met and married her husband, Michael Randazzo.
Life’s gifts. There are times when a gift comes into your life—into all our lives. A very special gift was meeting Ellie and becoming part of her yoga group. Ellie, you had such a kind, caring way about you. You shared your knowledge and also your wisdom as you guided us in the intentions for the day, for our practice and for our lives. Your example and encouragement was inspiring: to reach for the highest goals. My life has been changed, and I am grateful for the gift of knowing you and learning from you. I will miss you.
-- Eileen Kent
Ellie, your passing reminds me of that country song, "How can I miss you if you won't go away?" I'm so aware of how, even though we haven't seen each other or talked in a while, you're with me constantly. Every birthday sun salutation we've done together at a distance, every time I lift a glass of sparkling wine, every time I waver in a balancing posture or an awkward conversation, you're there buoying me up. When did the teacher without become the teacher within?
-- Debra Mason (former student, now living in Vermont)
Making yoga part of my everyday thoughts is a gift that Ellie shared with me. I struggle with selecting a focus or "intention" and she gave us examples of how to include our lesson on poses as an all-encompassing thought for moving through the day. I continue to find that focus difficult to maintain but think of how she made it seem so natural to incorporate yoga and daily life.
-- Ruth Hetherington
From over 10 years of being in Ellie's peaceful presence nearly weekly, I remember . . . Monday morning, garden flowers, birds, incense, Ellie, friends, yoga, shavasana, peace, love. We were so happy when she started teaching yoga to our husbands. I can find no words to describe the ache in my heart and how much Ellie will be missed.
-- Valerie Deur
Who says yoga has to be cool, or blue, quiet, soft or mauve?
The last time we had yoga class with Ellie, the Hydrangea bushes outside her studio towered, exploding white snowballs into the morning sun. And, the Bee Balm, stately, fragrant, on four foot stems, burst crimson, shaggy point stars.
Commanding authority, as sure as Ellie’s poses, the potency of her voice, the guidance in her touch. Like the mastery of her garden, cultivating the strongest from her students.
Her Warrior One pose unfolds, legs rooted in lunge. Heart open, her back arches in a crescent, arms extend toward the sky, bursting crimson stars and snowballs of white into the sun.
-- Sally C. Kane
Ellie delighted in her passion for friends, family, and animals.
For those of us she has left behind, we begin a journey through the valley where there are far too many shadows. But with each pose and stretch that we do from now on, we understand anew that Ellie has left a considerable legacy of health, memories, and fellowship. She has in so many ways "passed it on."
-- Nancy Waits
I sat and wrote many wonderful memories and thoughts of Ellie but I kept coming back to a very simple thought: To have known Ellie was to have been in the presence of the best of humanity.
-- Sandy VandenBerg
How to find words that describe someone who has lovingly, patiently, and persistently challenged us to be the best we can be . . . Ellie has made such an impact on my life. . . From the early days at the Fly By Nite Gallery, when we drummed and played music, as well as marketing our art, to our group of strong women who practice yoga with serenity and power, Ellie has been the catalyst to hold us all together. . . She leaves us with such a challenge to carry on and share what we can with others the spirit she instilled in us. . . with a heart overflowing with love.
-- Brenda Huckins Bonter
Ellie was one of the most creative, loving people I know and will be missed immensely.
-- Kendra McKimmy
She had many pursuits; some of her favorites included: handcrafting jewelry, teaching yoga and meditation, appreciating and making music, creating a sanctuary for the many animals she lovingly cared for, and what a talent she had for cooking.
I've known Ellie for many years through her gifts of animal acupressure and communication, essential oils, intuition and most recently my yoga teacher. Ellie's ability to read a person or animal's energy was invaluable. Her quiet demeanor would pack a powerful punch of information for healing and transformation. These last 2 years of being her yoga student were wonderful! I learned lessons every week on using all the senses to move the body with strength and mindfulness. Being confident in the power of the body's ability to move, I was able to do poses that I had never done before. Her encouraging support helped me build confidence in knowing my body's ability to move. Her legacy lives on in my heart. She is missed.
-- Sue Schneider
This poem was written by my friend, Jim Northrup. He and Ellie began to walk upon the Path of Souls within hours of each other. Perhaps they have become acquainted.
-- Marsha Reeves
End of the Beginning
Someone said we begin to die
the minute we're born.
Death is a part of life.
Who knows why the Creator
thins the herd.
Another old saying says
we must all be prepared
to give up those we love
or die first.
Take time to mourn.
Take time to remember.
Everything happens in cycles.
The pain you feel was once
balanced by someone's joy
when that baby was born.
The loss you feel today
will be replaced by good
Is there a message here? Yea,
treat others like this
is your last day above ground.
-- James Northrup 1943-2016
When Ellie demonstrated a new, particularly challenging pose, we would all exchange dubious glances. She wants us to do THAT?? If she noticed our expressions, she pretended not to, and in her most enthusiastic tone of voice said, "So let's give it a go!"
Somehow her zeal rallied us to try that impossible-looking thing, and maybe even succeed in doing it or something close to it. Now, Ellie, we're facing the enormous challenge of adjusting to life without you. We look at one another and wonder if we can do it. But for you, Ellie, we'll give it a go.
-- Nan Pokerwinski
In one's life journey, God brings people in and out of your life. The conversation started when Ellie entered my life with her unassuming presence, showing me how to connect my breath with movement. Through teaching me yoga she gave me the centering that I didn't even recognize that I needed. Breathe, set your intention and be still. She deepened not only my understanding of things in my life but also my level of gratitude. Many times, with my legs up the wall, waiting for fellow yogis to enter class, Ellie and I shared animated conversations which were just what I needed. She introduced me to a world that I was missing as we went to different yoga workshops over the years. She taught me how to honor my body, to minimize the inner critic, to detach from the things of this world and most of all to be present. Now that the conversation has ended, I will miss her greatly and her wise words; thank you Ellie for entering my life and making it richer, fuller and much calmer.
-- Karen Kuck
Ellie was a bright spot in my world. She contributed in so many positive ways to my health, attitude and general well-being. She was a very special lady and will be remembered for a long, long time.
-- Peggy Straathof
A whole new, healing meaning for doing Sun Salutes: "When your heart is broken, when your heart has cracks in it, it lets the light in, it lets the Sun in." ~ Ellen DeGeneres
Yoga With Ellie, A – Z. . .
Alignment and Awareness of Asanas – proper posture practiced even when in line at the grocery store!
Benefits of Breathing and Balance – Pranayama, Ujjayi and Boat all gently "go with the flow."
Consistence of Core work – from cat/cow and down-facing dog to headstands.
eXercise – eXecuting a workout for Body, Mind and Soul.
Yoga – a Union of a Sisterhood of Souls, who together will heal our broken Open Hearts.
Zest of Zen – the peaceful relaxed essence of our friend and teacher, Ellie.
She has taught us well…
Namaste and Thank You, Ellie
-- Diane Sack
Cards given to Monday yoga sisters by Diane, with the Ellen DeGeneres quote written inside.
Note: You can enlarge photographs below (except for the first) by clicking on them. To return to this page from an enlarged photo, click on the X in the upper right corner of the image.
I've known for some time that my neighbor Kevin Feenstra is an avid angler and in-demand fishing guide on the nearby Muskegon River, but I only recently learned he's also an accomplished nature photographer. This I learned not from Kevin, who's a modest fellow, but from the bi-monthly events listing we receive from the Newaygo County Council for the Arts. There on the cover of the latest issue was one of Kevin's fish photos, and just inside, a full-page listing for "The Art of Fishing" exhibit underway at Artsplace in Fremont through August 15.
In addition to Kevin's photographs, the exhibit features fine art and fine fishing craft by a number of other artists, plus collections of unique lures and fishing tackle. At the exhibit reception, from 10 a.m. to noon on August 13, Kevin will make a presentation, "Photographing a Big River." He'll also teach a two-hour class, "Photography: Nature of a Trout Stream," on Sept. 6.
When I found out all of this, I wanted to hear more about Kevin's work and art and to share it with HeartWood readers. As it happened, Kevin was taking a rare break from guiding last week. When I trekked down the road to talk with him, I thought I might find him lounging on the deck for a change. But no, he'd just returned from a few hours on the river. Seems he can't stay away, even when he's not on the clock. In addition to guiding about 200 days a year, he spends another 50 to 75 days on the river fishing and photographing, he told me.
Here's more of our conversation:
Which came first, the fishing or the photography?
Definitely the fishing first. The photography became part of it because my business is all catch and release. When you release a fish, a lot of times the people want at least a picture of it. Then, because I enjoy nature so much, I started doing more and more nature photography, which, since I'm out on the river every day, is probably the only other hobby I have time for.
Another reason I got into the photography, besides the enjoyment, was that I do a lot of public speaking in the winter. When I go out and do programs, it's good to have quality photography.
How did you learn each? Did someone teach you to fish? Did you take photography classes? Or are you self-taught?
I started fishing when I was ten or eleven years old. At first I fished with my brother, but when he went off into the military I just picked it up more or less on my own. I read a lot as a kid, so I would go to the library and read every fishing book they had. In the beginning I was doing mostly spin fishing, but I picked up fly fishing pretty early on. My dad's great uncle died and left him some fly fishing gear, and since I was the only person that fished a lot in the family, I inherited the gear. Then I read the books and figured out how to do a little bit of fly fishing, and it took off from there.
With photography, I also read a lot of books, and the internet definitely helped. I posted photos on some nature photography websites and had them critiqued.
Do you see parallels between fishing and photography?
Catch and release fishing and photography are both great ways to experience resources—like the rich wildlife in and around the Muskegon River—without having to harvest the animals.
Another parallel is, to do either one right takes a lot of patience. You might have to wait quite a while for that creature you want to photograph to come along. For some of the photos I took of ospreys catching fish, I waited two days before one actually came down close enough.
I do some snorkeling and underwater photography, and that has actually helped me with the fishing. I tie flies to imitate the various types of food the fish eat, and going underwater has helped a lot with that.
Do you have favorite times of day or times of year on the river?
I love being on the river in the evening most times of year, just because the light's so beautiful. But with a two-and-a-half-year-old son, it's harder and harder to do. I treasure those days when I can sneak out. The beauty of doing underwater photography is that even when the light's pretty harsh, it's fine for underwater work, because that requires a lot of light.
What goes into a good nature photograph?
Good lighting, obviously. When it comes to wildlife, understanding their behavior and what they're going to do. Most animals are pretty predictable—that's one thing you learn from fishing. Certain birds will be in the same area every day, and they like to feed at certain times of the day. If you can get the right lighting combined with the feeding activity, you can get a really nice image.
And then seasonal things that happen on the river can make for interesting photos. The fall colors and all the salmon in the river in the fall, the winter ice, the renewal in the spring. There's always something that's beautiful.
When you're out on the river, what kinds of things get you so excited you just have to grab your camera?
Since our eagle and osprey populations are up, I sometimes see eagles and ospreys fighting. Ospreys taking fish is always a cool thing to see. At least a few times a year I see otter on the river. I also like colorful things like wood ducks. And this river has some turtles that are getting to be more and more rare: wood turtles and Blanding's turtles. Those are things you might see on the Muskegon that you might not see everywhere.
I keep a camera with me even when I'm guiding, and sometimes I'll say, "Let me have a break." I don't take too many liberties with that, and people are very understanding.
Some people may think being a river guide is a cushy, dream job, but I see you going out in all kinds of weather and I think it must have some real challenges.
Right. A lot of people entering the guiding business think it's going to be a great, easy job. They quickly learn that there's a lot of hours you put into it each day—not just the guiding, but then you get home and you have to prep for the next day and return all the phone calls and emails. And for me, I tie all my own flies, so that's another hour every night. By the time everything's said and done, sometimes it's a twelve to fourteen-hour day, six days a week.
What makes a good fishing guide?
There's really two types of fishing guides: those who are really good at fishing and those who are really good at customer service. It's best to be a blend of the two. I always tell people that guide for me to try their best, but to try very hard to be good at the customer service end of things. Then if the fishing's bad, at least people will have an enjoyable time on the river.
What about knowing the river? How do you learn the ins and outs of the river?
Sheer time. I've been fishing up here since I was in my teens. Probably every possible day when I was a teenager, and when I graduated from college I was up here every day fishing. Then eventually I started guiding a little bit. The first year I was guiding maybe thirty to fifty days, but I was fishing every day I wasn't guiding. And eventually the balance tipped, and now I'm guiding way more than I'm fishing, and it's harder to take time to fish now. But it still helps to go out every day. That's my number one suggestion: If you want to be a fishing guide, you really have to put the time in. And you have to do it before you start to be a fishing guide. Because it's a lot harder to do once you're actually taking people fishing.
And it's the same with photography, right? You just have to get out there and do it a lot.
Right, put the time in. I tend to obsess about things that I enjoy, so I do put a lot of time in.
You were single when you started your business 20 years ago, but now you have a wife, Jane, and son, Zach. Is fishing a family activity?
Zach loves being out in the boat. Any fish I catch, he always wants to look at it and touch it. He attempts to help me reel it in, but we're not quite there yet. Jane likes to go out in the boat, too, but she'd rather read a book while I fish.
Any parting thoughts or advice?
For fishing, my advice to people is always just to keep their eyes down at the river and look into the water. A lot of times you'll see fish and can come back and catch them. One of the best ways to learn the river is the most obvious: just to keep your eyes peeled, and if you have access to a boat you can learn a lot just by driving up and down the river. The same thing holds true with the nature photography. Just keep your eyes open and watch for natural behavior.
You can see more of Kevin's photographs at http://www.kevinfeenstra.smugmug.com/
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.