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Feb. 5, 2006
At my age, you don't celebrate your birthday because you're another year older. You celebrate because you made it through another year alive. So I celebrated by getting up at 4 a.m. and heading off to Dismal Creek, and oh, was there ever so much celebration in store for Junie and me that day.

When an engine belt that had been squealing all the way over suddenly went quiet a couple of miles from the Dismal Creek pull-off, my first thought was that it had finally blessed us with a little silence, but the tiny light on the dash said I had just lost the alternator belt. Ah well, I'll be able to make it home on the charge in the battery. Let's go take some pictures.

Down under the overhanging bluff the Glory Hole falls were flowing at just the barest trickle, but more importantly for what I had planned to do that morning, there was no water seeping from the bluff anywhere, and so there would be no ice ball pictures from Dismal Creek this year.

I didn't even unpack the camera gear. We started to hike back up the hill to the car, but then I decided to veer over and noodle around a little at the pools behind the falls, and you guessed it, they were frozen over and covered in delicate patterns of ice. Now all I needed was some light and we would be in business, but the uniform, diffuse light of a heavily overcast morning like this just does not work at all for shooting these delicate ice structures.

Patience is a virtue I possess only in moderation, and isn't moderation a virtue in its own right?, but this morning I waited around long enough for the sun to escape the hills to the east and wax and wane behind the waning and waxing overcast, just the kind of light needed to sharply define the topography of the surface ice, which is a mirror with glorious imperfections, lines and fractures and furrows and seeps that crystallized as the pool froze over.

Around noon my one and only memory card became full at just about the same time as the light became too harsh to continue shooting. So we packed up and headed back to the car and headed home.

A couple of miles down the road I was lucky enough to notice the little gauge on the dash that told me the engine was overheating, and it was then that I had to come to the sad conclusion that the belt that turns my alternator must also be the belt that turns my water pump. We were 65 miles from home. And we actually made it through about 15 miles of that in the next hour by driving a mile or two and then pulling over and stopping to let the engine cool down enough to drive another mile or two. But when the battery got low enough that it just about wouldn't start the car, I finally acknowledged that we were licked, and I stopped at a house not too far outside of Pettigrew and called for a tow.

It took about an hour for a fellow named Rick to get there from St. Paul with his tow truck because just as he was setting out his truck blew a water hose and he had to tape it up. But he did finally make it. Just as we were rolling through Pettigrew his truck started to run out of gas, and as some of you may know, the only store in Pettigrew closed months ago. Rick carries a five-gallon jug of gas in his truck, though, which was enough to get us to St. Paul for a fill-up.

It turns out old Rick is a pretty great guy. He and his wife have taken in and adopted a bunch of kids, above and beyond their biological offspring, and they scramble to make a living for themselves and the whole brood, which is no mean feat in rural Madison County.

Anyway, we did finally make it home, and all in all, and all things considered, any day you make it home alive and in one piece is a pretty good day, and in this case made for a birthday that turned out, I'd say, not too bad.

Today's Back Light photo was taken on a foggy winter day a few years ago along Hurricane Creek Road as Junie and I were headed toward White Rock Mountain.