pictures of 2021
The past year resists any attempt to weave a narrative or theme around it. There were some major ups and downs, which sets it apart from 2020, a year that had no ups. But I can’t say if it was better or worse. Different and less linear, for sure. So rather than the usual year-in-review thing, I decided to pick some photos that feel like good illustrations of some of the big moments, and share a few words about them.
In January we made our first trip out of state—out of the county, for that matter—since the pandemic started. Danny’s club had a volleyball tournament in Indianapolis, and the team did quite well. On the last day, after we thought the playoff bracket had concluded, there was confusion about whether we could go home or not. The first story we heard is that a team from St. Louis had been caught cheating and their wins vacated, so we might be going back to play someone else in their place. One of their volunteer line judges, a sister of a player, was relaying plays and other information via hand signals to her brother’s team. We saw this happen against us, and were elated when we heard that they’d been busted. Sadly, the truth was less interesting: some other team had misread the schedule and already left, so there was a chance we could play in their spot. Eventually, that hope also faded and we went home, but there was an interesting hour where the boys sat around the beautiful neo-Renaissance lobby of the Omni Severin hotel, waiting to learn what would happen next.
Late last winter I turned into that old man who’s into birds. We have an abundance of interesting songbirds around here, and I thought putting a feeder right outside my office window would bring some color, sound, and motion into the flat, gray spring. I bought a motion-triggered wildlife camera, too. And at first, it all worked beautifully. Even though they’re a bit out of focus, and the female is a bit camera shy, you can see this mated pair of cardinals enjoying the seed mix. But after a couple of weeks, the sparrows arrived. Dozens of them at a time, usually. And you might not know it, given their tiny size, but those little bastards are mean. They bullied away the cardinals, the finches, the jays, and even the mourning doves who are twice their size. They also shit all over the place. I finally quit restocking the feeder, because between the violence, the noise, and the huge mess they left, it was like having a little January 6th in my yard every day.
I didn’t snap this Great Blue heron. My father-in-law Jack did, on what we believe was his last trip to the Morton Arboretum, his favorite spot for wildlife photos, before his sudden and unexpected death in May. After he passed, my mother-in-law Mary Ellen gave me all of his gear. I took a look at the photos that were still stored on the camera’s memory card, and there was this bird, among some other shots of daffodils and trees just starting to bloom. Jack was the official family photographer, a job that I’m trying to fill now in his absence. I have a lot to learn, still. I’m grateful for all the times we talked about photography and gear, and for all the pictures he captured through the years. And I’m grateful to have of all this wonderful equipment. Feels like he’s still with us when I’m using it. I’ll keep working to master it. (Photo by Jack Barry.)
Leah graduating eighth grade was one of the major milestone moments of the year. The last third of seventh grade was fully remote, and eighth grade was on a half-in / half-remote hybrid schedule that was one of those split-the-baby moves that desperate school administrators tried. Unprecedented times and all that. But there in June, before the Delta wave had really taken hold and while we were still riding the optimism that we might be on the way out of this nightmare through vaccinations, was a moment of true joy as we soaked up some early summer sun while watching Leah and her friends mark their accomplishment. For a little while, there, it looked like things were going to be just fine, and I think their faces show it.
The varsity volleyball season was muddled by covid like everything else. Boys volleyball is usually a spring sport, but this season started quite late and went much deeper into June than it normally would. During the regular season, Danny got a fair amount of playing time, but there were a couple of seniors ahead of him on the depth chart. When the school year ended, those two boys had pre-college summer commitments in other states, and couldn’t be with the team for the playoffs. Danny moved into the starting outside hitter role (even though he’s on the right side here) and didn’t look back, going on an absolutely dominant run. He led the team in kills through regionals and sectionals. Maybe the most exciting sporting event I’ve ever been to was the sectional final against Lane Tech. It was a tight match, going three sets, all close. He really shined in that match, getting huge points every time the team needed one, including for match point. The team went on to lose in the state tournament to a team of genetic freaks from Lake Park, but it was a heck of a run. Next year’s varsity season starts in March and we just can’t wait.
June was busy, as it always is, and another highlight of the year was Leah’s first public performance since the lockdowns started. She lost her spring recital the year before, and the Nutcracker, but when another fledgling dance school up in Schaumburg asked Leah’s school to help them flesh out their recital program, they jumped at the chance. It was beyond wonderful to see her performing again. This was my first effort at dance photography, and here I realized just how much more I have to learn. There’s just not enough photons in there, so it’s a pitched battle against shadow and grain and blur. I figured a couple of things out during this trial run, something to build on. The main thing is that she’s out there making her art again.
In August we took our first full family vacation in over a year to Winter Park, Colorado. That was a bit of a departure from form for us; we’re more the beach/resort type. But getting out of our comfort zone was great for us, even going on a hike! (We don’t hike.) We also explored Rocky Mountain National Park. That was a bit jolting, as the western half of the park was still charred from a fire the year before. We’d all seen TV footage of wildfires burning out of control, of course, but this was the first time any of has experienced the aftermath up close. Fires are part of the normal life cycle of forests (despite the fact that we’ve made them all too frequent by wrecking the planet), and it was at least some comfort to see this mother moose and her calf wandering around a burnt area, as she foraged for little shoots and other greenery that was popping out of the blackened ground, and baby moved in for a snack of her own.
Another post-covid milestone, this time for me: my first time playing music with other humans. My friend Dave hatched a fantastic idea during the worst of the lockdown. He put together a few different lineups of musician friends of his, and tasked each group with learning a classic album top-down. When things opened up a bit, we’d get together in a rehearsal studio and play the album in full. It would be just for ourselves, with no friends or family to watch, and no major effort to record or social mediafy the experience. We did throw a phone in the corner of the room to record a little bit of this session, and I just grabbed a still from it, as Dave, Seth, Gary, and I came in for a fist bump after absolutely crushing the Black Crowes’ “Sometimes Salvation” from The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Shortly thereafter we adjourned to Kuma’s, where we ate preposterously huge burgers, drank whiskey, and shot the shit for a couple of hours. An evening of profound soul healing.
The next milestone was playing music for other humans, in this case with The Good as Ozzy Osbourne. For the last few years (except 2020, the year that wasn’t) we’ve been part of a group of bands who get together around Halloween, all doing covers of some other act to raise money for charity. We chose to “be” Ozzy, and the performance was just about everything I could have hoped for. I’m not sure what was more terrifying for me—having to learn all these iconic Randy Rhoads and Zakk Wylde solos, or performing in a sleeveless leather vest. Nobody LOLed, so it must have been OK. Regardless, being back out there with my brothers from other mothers was a personal high point of the year. (Photo by Lisa Rothkopf, I think?)
The smile kind of says it all: with his club team at the Point Series tournament in Bedford Park, Danny won all-tournament honors. It’s been so great to watch this kid become the player he is in such a relatively short time after taking up the sport. He works so, so hard. He has to, to overcome the lack of athleticism he was cursed with in his DNA.
One of the major downs of this up-and-down year was breaking my foot while out for a run just before Thanksgiving. I rolled my ankle, and initially thought I’d sprained it, but it was clear pretty soon that the problem was further south. The X-ray the next day at urgent care confirmed it. I wore a boot for a few weeks, and am now working with an orthopedic surgeon on a plan to get back to action. That’s been a bit of an up-and-down ride, too. My experience with these jock docs is that they seem to think that people over 50 are happy just to be walking around without too much discomfort. Like if I can get from the car to the buffet line, that’s good enough? No, dude. I have miles to go before I sleep. We’ll see where this goes, but I can tell you I’m not ready for the farm just yet. (Photo by Loyola University Health System.)
No moment was more crushing in 2020 than when Ballet Légere had to cancel the annual performance of The Nutcracker. It’s my favorite part of every holiday season since Leah started doing it in 2015. We were elated when we heard it was coming back this year, and even more so when Leah bagged a whole slew of “serious” ballet parts in the second act in addition to her (hilarious) reprisal of the Maid in the first act. I figured out a couple of things about how to shoot in a theatre, and got really lucky with this shot, easily my favorite of the year. Look at my baby fly. <3
This got a little long, so thanks for sticking around. I suppose after further review, if any theme does tie this year together, it’s emergence, though cautiously, and with no guarantee it’ll continue.
I hope 2022 brings you more of what you want and less of what you don’t. Have a happy, healthy, prosperous new year. And stay in touch!