Dog, Gone

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Thirty-six hours before my dog died, we played fetch in the dark. It was something she loved to do, something still within range, but it was more than that. It seemed to liberate her from the indignities of age and make her feel like a puppy again.

Her eyesight was in decline, and in the glare of day it was hard for her to distinguish shapes. But against the curtain of night she could spot and chase our glowing, LED-lit ball. She’d lope across the field in the gathering blackness, tongue out, tail wagging furiously.

And then on a floodlit day that dawned too soon, the blackness closed in. On her last morning alive, I tried to get her to share my vanilla ice-cream cone, an existential bribe. Please, Isis, eat something. Anything. She ignored the treat but rewarded me with a tail wag for the gesture.

My dog is dead and I am lost. I’ve never been much for the drumbeat of routine, but if Isis taught me anything, it’s was this: Routines and rituals are rhythms that lend a richness to our days, a soothing pattern, one I followed and hardly noticed.

I notice it now, morning to night. I find pieces are missing, the puzzle incomplete. The 16 years, 8 months and 27 days of Isis’s existence flowed through my life like a river carrying the steadiest and sweetest routines of my adulthood, and I am lonely where being alone was never before an issue.

Named for the Egyptian goddess of the moon, fertility, magic and healing, Isis was never farther than a whistle away. Like people and dogs will do, we woke together, her head popping up from her bed as mine from my pillow. We walked, ran, paddled or swam together daily, exercise coach and workout buddy. Weather permitting, she worked with me, sleeping in the car between photo assignments, occasionally nuzzling forward to remind of her presence. She ate when I ate, played when I played, worked when I worked.

I joke that my siblings and I were raised by dogs. With the number of mutts, mixes and pedigrees that have shared our lives, there’s truth in that. It’s hard to tell who gets the better end of the deal. Who’s taking whom for a walk, and who gains more from it? A recent Swedish study found that, other things being equal, people with dogs are less likely to contend with cardiovascular disease and premature death. There’s a lot of research, analysis and common-sense articles chronicling the physical and psychological benefits of canine company. “Man’s best friend” has the power to regulate our blood pressure, soothe our anxiety, stress and depression, encourage socialization and enhance our physical well-being.

Am I who am I am because of Isis and the other dogs who have shared my tracks? Probably not, but I know their unfettered, unfiltered, unconditional love has shaped my sensibilities.

There are far greater tragedies in this world than the death of a pet, especially one who lived so well for so very long. But right now I can’t think of one. Things will stay quiet at home for my wife and me. We will adjust. I’ll donate Isis’ pillows, toys and treats to animal rescue.

But I’ll keep the LED ball where it is for now, in a fruit bowl on the counter. There’s probably one more dog’s life in our future, and one day there will be another reason to turn it on, head out under the cerulean sky of a summer evening and race against the dying of the light. It won’t be the same, of course. It can’t be. The timeless quest is a fresh expedition each time. That’s the point.

I imagined Isis would leave this world running full speed across a field, tongue out and tail wagging furiously. I think we came close enough to call this one a win.

____________________________________________________________________________________________           This photo was taken by close friend and photographer Cheryl Senter during a short visit in NH. I’d gone north to the woods to be away from people and by myself for a few days and of course, my dog came with me.

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SO NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND

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I watch the man edging toward a large marker in a family plot.

Clutched in his fist are pristine — dowels holding bright, crisp, napkin-size renditions of the Stars and Stripes. They’re a contrast with the flags wedged under his arm, mere remnants of their past glory — dowels broken and warped, cloth edges shredded, stripes torn, and the once-blue fields of stars sun-faded. He handles them all, new and old, with the respect they command.

Around the big marker in the plot there are smaller stones bearing mere initials. There’s nothing to indicate a war veteran is interred here, but Farrell W. “call me Sal” Salgueiro has been here enough times to know. He pushes the dowel of a new flag into the ground next to one of the small markers. Before Memorial Day, he will have done this again and again and again, at about 400 graves of East Providence war veterans.

At 72, Sal knows he won’t be able to do this forever. He’s a Vietnam War veteran who spent 1966 as an Army motor-pool records clerk in that ravaged country halfway around the world. About 17 years ago, he began joining his father-in-law, a World War II veteran, on these flag-replacing rounds. Eventually Sal and a few other guys, veterans like him from VFW Post 5382, relieved the older men. The post closed down some years ago and Sal outlived his buddies, so these days it’s just him and his flags.

“This is the toughest part,” he says, pointing off to the right, “the old part” that is Newman cemetery, one of three cemeteries — Newman, Hunt and Rumford — in the perimeter that he tends. “These are tough. They are slate and hard to read. You got some [graves] that go back to the 1700s in there. You got some old stones, old soldiers.”

Across the street, in the larger cemetery next to the Newman Congregational Church, Lions Club members replace flags for the veterans holidays. The Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter has offered up Cub Scouts to help Sal, but he’s declined. “They don’t know where the markers are,” he says. “They wouldn’t know how to find them.” He’s concerned that some who served their country would be missed.

Slowly, Sal heads back to his SUV to carefully slip the old flags into a bin for a proper decommissioning in Exeter. He’s placed about 140 flags and he’s done for the day. He’ll come back again soon to finish, to make sure he didn’t miss anyone just because their grave was hidden or so old that the name has faded away. By Memorial Day there will be a new flag at each grave, old and new, of every veteran here, all of them treated with the respect they deserve.

copyright 2018 / Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

The Lighter Side

The lighter side

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when I met East Greenwich sisters Olivia and Sydney Estner visiting the RISD Museum on Jan. 7.

It was the museum’s Super Art Sunday, a family-oriented, free-admission affair, and most visitors were wandering the main galleries or gathering in family-oriented sketching, craft-building and kids’ programs scattered among the art and design exhibits.

But the Estner sisters made their way down to the quiet reaches of the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery on the first floor. I asked Olivia, a college freshman on break, and high school student Sydney, who would “like to do something in arts or fashion,” what brought them to the student gallery on this fine day.

It was the light, they said, the sunbeam painting a broad swath of the room in the searing white and sidelong shadows of winter, a fashion-noir runway perfectly suited to their real imperative, which they revealed with sisterly laughter: “We like taking pictures of ourselves.” In this frame, Olivia poses while Sydney photographs.

The work behind them is “Buldge,” a series of fabric, poly-fil, rope and acrylic paint on panels, by Lily Angotti and Matthew Shelley.

copyright 2018 / Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

A Man for All Seasons

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The stars were the hardest part, he tells me, showing off the American flag he has painted on the side of a haphazard-looking shed, an agglomeration of boards, lattice and scrap plywood that sits smack in the middle of the wide, muddy space. When stencils failed him in his quest to neatly frame the nation’s firmament, he says, he used a cookie cutter to “get ’em right.”

Surprisingly, the “water shed” is as solid as the man showing me around his community garden plot at Walker Farm. He is P.J. Russell, and he resides in Providence, but it’s out here that he really seems to live. On the day I visit, the 70-year-old is in his element, walking straight and tall and projecting like a character in a Turner Classic Movie.

Russ, as he likes to be called, talks about working the soil, growing peas, tomatoes, garlic, watermelons and other things. Rotating his crops so he doesn’t exhaust the soil. Relishing the hard work he’s plowed into this 83-by-42-foot plot for a decade now.

We take the stairs to the “upper floor,” a reinforced plywood roof with gutters to channel precipitation down into industrial-size blue plastic barrels. In this offseason, if you could call it that, Russ has already collected about 200 gallons of snowmelt and spring rain to use during summer dry spells.

From the top of the shed we can see Hundred Acre Cove and its marshes. In the summer, he sees everything — sailboats, osprey and the rising green of the 20 or so plots of his Walker Farm neighbors. “I know everybody — ‘Hey you want a hamburg? You want a hot dog?’” he half-pantomimes. It is a very social place.

We head back down, past the protective boundaries of his kingdom lying in wait, rolls of wire fencing that he’ll install to keep out crop-stealing pests, some on four legs and some on two.

Russ is grinning as he picks up his saw and starts through a board. “Work” isn’t a word he uses for his labors out here in the place where life comes out of the ground and the stars shine even on the brightest days.

“Eat, play, garden, exercise,” he says. “The outside — tons of stuff to do.”

copyright 2017  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Putting It All Together

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‘Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.’

— J.M. Barrie, author of ‘Peter Pan’

Standing on a ladder inside the Strand building in downtown Providence, Joseph Bautista was framed inside a small opening in a very big brick wall as he worked to replace a window on the building’s Mathewson Street side. I didn’t get more than his name, didn’t ask if he was a window guy, a builder or a carpenter specializing in the installation of windows.

But this much I could see: He labored on a ladder, Sisyphus with a saw, scaling the rungs again and again to fit a brand-new window into the 102-year-old wall. He sized and fit each board, nailed it in place and headed back down for another piece until the window was more than just panes. And then on to the next.

He reminded me of my late friend and neighbor Bob, a regular guy who learned a trade young and worked hard at mastering it. Bob knew floors like nobody I’ve known, and he was insanely good at installing and fixing them, mostly the industrial kind — carpet, wood, tile, vinyl — in places as big as malls and as small as my kitchen. To me, Bob was the Tom Brady of the conjured world we walk on, a master of all that is uniformly and beautifully flat.

Last year Brady signed a two-year contract for $41 million.

There’s no Super Bowl in the trades. Guys like Joe or Bob never make millions even if they’re the very best at window or floor installation. Their victories are quiet and often unseen. But they are victories still, everyday triumphs of astute perception, seasoned analysis and measured response.

Their fields are altogether different, and every Tom, Bob and Joe has his own game, his own playbook. But each knows both the joy of a play well executed and the pain of a botch. Maybe that’s why so many will be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night. Maybe, beneath the height of the stakes and the froth of the spectacle, what they really hope to see is what they pursue at work every day: a job consummately well done.

copyright 2017  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

HEART IN THE GAME

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Let’s face it, you see a guy like Willie Barr walk into a church on a Sunday in a dress sports coat of red, white and blue, festooned with the name of his favorite football team, and you might take notice. You might assume that Willie is an over-the-top sports fan: one of those guys in the stands on TV that are always pulling off their shirts in frigid weather to display the team logo painted on their belly, complementing their two-toned face as it peeks out from a giant inflatable helmet, but that’s just not Willie Barr’s style. For the 68-year-old Barr, a deacon at St. James Baptist Church in Woonsocket, fandom is about friendships, not fanatics.

Willie followed the Minnesota Vikings in his younger days but was introduced to Patriots football by his best friend, Steve Frechette, and his interest grew when their favorite player, Vikings running back Chuck Foreman, was traded to New England. The two men bought their first season tickets in 1977 and bonded as they watched years of games together on the aluminum bleacher seats at the old Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro. Steve died a few years ago, but the Patriots games keep his memory going.

While Willie admits that not every one in church will be happy when he wears his Patriots sport coat to church this Sunday (the same day the Pats take on the Steelers for the AFC title), he won’t mind the glares because he says there are a lot of Steelers fans at St. James, and others who just don’t like the Pats’ success. That’s probably why this Sunday he’ll accessorize with the jacket’s matching pants, tie and hat.

copyright 2017  Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Shadow of a doubt

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I had been waiting at the Garrahy Judicial Complex for an afternoon arraignment in connection with a Pawtucket murder when I saw this scene through the fourth-floor window. Walking below across the bricked courtyard, people moved in and out of the building, their shadows elongated by the low, late-day sun, the color of the day bleached to a monochromatic hue.

The fourth floor is not a happy place. This is where lives change, where arraignments are done for drug cases, assaults, robberies, civil unrest and murder. It is a purgatory where the accused, shadowed by their actions, wait for their deeds or cause to be judged as mistake, mischief or malevolence.

Where families, friends and lovers float helplessly outside courtrooms under a shadow of uncertainty and concern, knowing that many, be they righteous or rogue, will enter the labyrinthian judicial system never to find their way to the light again.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Two Winners

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“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.”
— Bill Watterson (creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”)

Two years ago, when he was in first grade, Gus Kletzien of Providence joined his classmates from the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School to compete in a CVS Health Downtown Youth Race. His mom, Ilse, walked alongside, keeping a close eye on her son but trying not to interfere.

Gus, who uses a walker, was the last participant to cross the finish line. But, his mom says, his first words to her were, “I won.”

This year, Gus wanted to run the boys 400-meter race, but in the interest of safety his parents couldn’t let him join his classmates on the starting line. He would instead take part in the shorter, less chaotic “All Kids Can” 200-meter inspirational run/walk.

As he reached the starting line with his walker, Gus found himself surrounded by about 10 of his school friends and their siblings.

With each step, moving slowly up the Francis Street course with him, they chanted an encouraging, “Go, Gus! Go Gus!”

Gus was about halfway to the finish line when he began to tire. At his side from the start was his best friend and classmate, Brandon Ballou.

Brandon had skipped his own race to run with Gus. On cue, Brandon took up a position behind the walker, and Gus got on. The two BFFs, powered by Brandon’s legs and an abundance of boy spirit, zoomed through the remainder of the course, over the finish line and into the hearts of all watching.

“That’s the fastest I have ever pushed you,” Brandon told Gus. And as they gathered with their buddies for a post-race picture, it was clear that, once again, Gus had won.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Spin Cycle

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I home in on her giggles like I’m laser-guided. I am looking for a quick standalone photo between assignments and find myself in familiar territory: Park, playground, kids, family, fun. This time, I encounter Adrianna Phann and her family spinning merrily around on a ring-shaped playground ride. They get the Hollywood treatment. Rework a stock scenario, insert a new cast and add special effects to make this time, this playground, this group of kids, a better photo.

I love Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray cult-classic movie about a TV weatherman trapped reliving Feb. 2 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Murray’s character, Phil Connors, awakens to the same day again and again. Sometimes it’s hard to be a photojournalist and not feel like Phil Connors. We dwell in deja vu, covering the same festivals, protests, parades and press conferences week after week, year after year. An event unique in one community is amplified and echoed by the similar unique events in many of the state’s other 38 communities.

Covering a neighborhood meeting recently, I watched as the group began to overfill the room. The crowd grew more vocal, individual voices melding into a chorus of protest against a common foe. A middle-age woman, her T-shirt testifying to her community allegiance, asked if I’d ever seen anything so crazy. I gave her a noncommittal smile but said nothing. Yes, I could have answered, a hundred times yes, but then I’d have to explain that it was not in this town, not this issue and maybe not even in this decade. This might be the most important issue her town will ever face; she doesn’t need to know I covered a similar situation years ago in a place on the other side of the rainbow.

That’s not a complaint. There is comfort in the predictable and routine, in life coming around again. And it tests your powers of perception and reflection.

At the end of the movie, Phil Connors’ spin cycle ends, but only after he accepts the absurdity of his predicament and embraces the challenge of making everyone’s lives better in each episode. Like Phil Connors, we can tweak our perspectives each time we awaken in the same orbit. We can frame each new day with others perspectives, layering new insight over familiarity to get beyond the routine to the truly remarkable.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design

Gallery

Something greater than ourselves

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“You never know when you’re making a memory.” — Rickie Lee Jones, “Young Blood”

Every day at The Providence Journal, photographers wade in to cover a variety of assignments.

We photograph key people, places and events, often for stories that are still unformed, still works in progress, their significance unclear when the shutter drops.

They’re like Polaroid prints fresh out of the camera: nascent, embryonic scenes whose importance materializes over time, often quite a bit of time.

Sometimes we don’t know what we’ve gotten until we see it in the context of the page or on the website.

We shoot in the moment, but that’s not where the impact lies. The present yields the image; the future holds the scale, the significance.

Occasionally, however, we find ourselves immersed in things that become larger than life as we watch.

That was the feeling Monday evening as people gathered in front of The Dark Lady and Alley Cat nightclubs on Snow Street in Providence.

The LGBT community had come together to hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings.

But by the time the procession reached the steps of the State House, it had morphed into something greater.

I found myself swimming in the familiar waters of an expanding event, something truly marvelous to see.

In a somber parade initiated by the gay community but fueled by the Rhode Island community, many people coalesced into one, under one roof, with one mission: Care and support.

For me, at least, that image will be memorable forever.

copyright 2016 Kris Craig / The Providence Journal / 2 Much Time design