Entering his 25th year in charge of Arsenal FC, Arsene Wenger has released a statement that he is still trying to find ‘the right players’ to spend his money on. In a statement released to the press, Wenger said:
“It is imperative that I find the right players who will fit into my system of playing. I am ready to spend $30-40 million if I find the right player. The fans want someone who is experienced and proven. So we have been looking for the right player, who is also experienced and proven, for about 10 years now but with not much success. We will continue to look for these players because otherwise there is no point in spending money on players without quality.”
Arsene Wenger, it must be noted, has been looking to strengthen his squad since the 2010-11 season that started the downfall of the club. In spite of selling Fabregas and Nasri for a sum close to $70 million, Arsene Wenger did not make any purchases that summer which eventually lead to the team finishing a dismal 10th in the league. It should be noted that Arsenal are still yet to win a trophy since the FA Cup all those years back in 2005. After the 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford towards the end of that transfer window, Arsene Wenger had maintained his intention to spend money only on the ‘right player.’ Though he did bid for many quality players in this time, all his bids were in the range of $ 5-12 million, which does not seem to have worked even once so far. It appears that Mr. Wenger is a very strong willed human being as he continues to believe in that philosophy to this day.
Ever since Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left the club for greener pastures (read more trophy winning probabilities), there has been a steady outflux of budding stars in their early twenties heading out to different clubs every year. All of them appeared to have developed the intention and desire to win trophies at some stage in their Arsenal career and refused to sign contract extensions, thus forcing Wenger to sell them.
The list of people who have left the Arsenal ranks, since 2010, after spending their teenage years under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger is pretty impressive. Theo Walcott, Van Persie, Alex Song are among many others who have left the club in the past 10 years. In fact, players like Carl Jenkinson, Jack Wilshere, Frimpong etc, who were just in their late teens and still learning the nuances of the game then, developed into star players under Arsene Wenger. They also left the club after they realized themselves that they were star players.
In all those years, Arsene Wenger continued to spend money on young teenage strikers and groomed them to become star forwards. As of July 2020, Arsene Wenger has signed a total of 58 teenage strikers since that 2010-11 season. 54 of these strikers have now matured into world class strikers and attacking midfielders and have moved on to different clubs and have won many trophies. Of the grand total of 4 defenders he had signed in the same period, all of them have left the club. Arsene Wenger has not signed a single goalkeeper in that same period. Wojciech Szczęsny continues to be the first choice goalkeeper today.
There have been a few significant consequences due to this continuing phenomenon at Arsenal FC.
First of all, Arsene Wenger was awarded a special Lifetime achievement award by UEFA for “spotting and nurturing young talent and then grooming them to become world class stars.” Michel Platini (yes, he is still the UEFA President), the UEFA President, had awarded the trophy to Wenger in a special ceremony that also felicitated Sir Alex Ferguson with the “Manager-who-has-served-at-a-single-club-so-long-that-nobody-remembers-when-he-first-started” award. Arsene Wenger accepted the award declaring his desire to continue running the club exactly the same way in the future too.
Secondly, Arsenal FC has been awarded the title of the Best Feeder Club in the history of Club Football. This award was constituted by all the teams who have directly benefitted from the continuous supply of world class players coming out of Arsenal with a desire to win trophies. A complete list of the teams essentially includes all trophy winning teams in the past 10 years from England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. It should be noted that some of the Arsenal players left the club to join Championship clubs, Segunda division or Serie B clubs in order to win trophies. All have been successful.
Thirdly, Arsene Wenger recently declared that, as a result of continued selling over the past decade, his available transfer budget currently stands at about $ 780 million. As revealed earlier, he has made many bids in the range of $5-12 million for what he considers as quality players, but none of them have been successful. In fact, on the few occasions that Mr. Wenger has indeed bid in excess of $30 million for players, all the players immediately signed a contract extension with their club as they believed that they had a better chance to win trophies at their own clubs than at Arsenal.
Later in the day, when Mr. Wenger was talking to reporters, he was asked what exactly constituted his ‘right player’. He responded:
“You see its not just about the ability of the player to adapt to and understand my style of playing. He also needs to have the right attitude. For instance, I cannot spend money on players who want to come to Arsenal to win trophies. That is out of the question. That is why I sign a lot of teenagers – because they do not yet have a sense of success with trophies. I get to groom them to stay that way so that they stick around when they become star players. But nowadays, they somehow get to know about winning trophies and want to leave the club.”
“So you see, I am ready to spend a lot of money on players who are good, experienced and more importantly, should not have won any trophies before and should have no intention and ambition whatsoever of winning trophies in the future. Arsenal FC is not a club that aims to win trophies. We just try to play beautiful flowing football. Our fans have understood that perfectly well and have stuck behind us all these years. We are not worried about our fans. They will continue to support us. So right now, we are still looking for that ‘right player’ who satisfies all these criteria. I am sure we will find him someday.”
In a sensational and completely unexpected development, Alok Kumar, an unknown liberal thinking youth from Bangalore began his fast-unto-death OPPOSING Anna Hazare’s Lokpal Bill. The news of his fast, however, came out only after he had already entered the 2nd day as not many people knew him in the first place. In spite of the delayed discovery, people from all over the city are paying him a visit just to see why somebody would do something as strange as this when the entire country seemed to be protesting WITH Anna Hazare.
When quizzed by curious and bewildered reporters as to why he was fasting to OPPOSE the LokPal, a visibly weak and tired Alok managed to respond, “People don’t seem to understand what exactly is happening here. Everybody is under the misconception that creating this Lok Pal will solve all corruption problems. But what they don’t realize is that it is a big risk to give so much power to one institution and hope that it does its job.”
Alok’s point of view, he said, was inspired by reading many articles online by bloggers, columnists and authors who he considers as “liberal thinkers.”
“These are the people who have influenced my thinking. These people have the courage to go against popular opinion. They are not afraid to write on their blogs and websites about things which the majority of the population would disagree with. One should really read their articles and consider their points of view. It will help people to think in a more sensible and liberal way. “
Alok managed to give links to a few of the websites and blogs he was reading that he said were influencing him. (This, this, this,this and this) He also elaborated about his actual objective of fasting.
“I am right now doing a fast-unto-death primarily to stop the Lokpal bill from going through to become a law. We simply cannot have an all powerful organization dictating this country’s fate. If the Government yields to Anna’s demands, then I will continue to fast until I am actually dead.”
It appears that, with Anna beginning his fast a couple of days back, the country is witnessing its first ever Fast-unto-death Off! On one hand, we have a widely popular Gandhian who has been fighting for this bill to go through for many months and on the other hand, we have a relatively unknown new generation liberal thinker who is fasting to protest the very idea behind the bill. This is an extremely unique situation and curiosity is building as to how this is likely to all pan out. Is Alok going to get enough attention to make his fast actually count? Will people take notice of what Alok is doing and recall the bill? Or will Anna Hazare, with his Gandhian ideals and populist base, out-fast Alok and get his demands met?
This brings us to another interesting question. When is one considered to have ‘out-fasted’ the other? Is it considered a victory for the survivor if the other person dies out of hunger? Or is it considered a victory for the deceased as it gives him martyrdom prior to the fate of the survivor? Who will be considered as the morally more right person? The person who dies first or the person who survives to fast another day?
[Even as this piece is being written, the writer has learnt that Arnab Boguswami has already called in a debate panel to discuss (read force-his-own-opinion-on-everyone) the nuances of what appears to be a moral paradox. ]
When confronted with this dilemma, Alok carefully considered the argument and said, “Honestly, I do not know. We will just have to wait and see till one of us dies I suppose. In either case, Anna Hazare holds the cards because he has a lot of practice fasting. He has been doing that for years now. I am sure he has been putting in a lot of fasting days in order to be on top of his game for this current fast. On the other hand, I will have to make do with absolutely zero fasting practice. I might very well be the one to die first. Lets see.”
Many of the curious youth who have gathered outside his house to see what the fuss is all about admitted to now being terribly confused. Shyam Prasad, one of the onlookers who knew what was happening said, “I really don’t know what to think honestly. We the people have always supported people’s agenda when they have resorted to fasting to get their demands met. Whenever someone decides to fast, it is usually for some very noble reason. That is why we supported Anna. Now there is this Alok who also fully believes in his point of view that the Lok Pal will do more harm than good for the country. And so I am confused which side to take.”
It also appears that the social networking websites have caught scent of Alok’s hunger strike and is apparently making waves in it. One of the onlookers outside Alok’s house, Ram, said he was posting updates on his Facebook and Twitter profile telling all his friends about this new development. “I want to do my bit for the country. That is why I am conveying this important development to all my friends through Facebook and Twitter. I am fairly confident we can get Alok trending on Twitter in a short while. I have asked all my friends to RT my tweet about Alok. One of my friends already said that he will start an online petition to create more awareness and support for Alok” he said. Asked whether he believed in what Alok was fasting for, Ram replied, “I don’t really know the exact reason why he is doing it. But if somebody is fasting, there must be a very noble reason behind it. We supported Annaji when he fasted. We should not treat Alok any differently.”
In an even more sensational development later in the day, Gautham Nayar, another unknown youth – this time from Mumbai- has also started fasting! But this young man is now fasting not to oppose or support the Lokpal bill. In fact, this youth appears to be fasting in protest of Alok Kumar going on a fast!
“This is ridiculous!” Gautham said. “How can somebody just decide to have a certain opinion about something just because they read a good argument on some blog? People like Alok Kumar need to look at both sides of the story to see what exactly is happening. Beginning to fast before that is like using the Jump-to-conclusions mat. You just conclude the same as whatever argument you end up reading.”
Gautham admits that he hasn’t read the Lokpal bill and so does not know where he stands on it. “Once I read it I will know exactly where I stand. But so far, all I have read are the articles that criticize the Lokpal bill and Anna’s method of getting this done. And I can tell you this. What they have to say really forms a very persuasive argument. They have a lot of points which raise some serious concerns about the subtleties of the bill. People, the youth mainly, read these cogent arguments on all these blogs and websites and immediately conclude that this bill is a recipe for disaster.”
When asked to elaborate, he said, “One of the points that the writers make criticizing the whole support behind Anna Hazare is that for the most part, none of the supporters have actually read the bill, yet they voice unconditional support to it. And this is truly a serious concern. However, what I want to point out is this. There are many people who have read these critiques and framed their opinion based on that. Now, how many of THESE people have actually read the bill before deciding that it is set for doom? For all you know, what one may read in these blogs and websites may as well be a clear case of Confirmation Bias. For every point that these critics bring out which appears to spell doom, there is likely to be one which streamlines and expedites the way corruption is handled. But these writers may have consciously or sub-consciously ignored to include those bits in their critiques just to prove their pre-conceived point.”
“The large base of support for Anna Hazare and the Lokpal bill may be largely ignorant about the nuances of the bill. But the small percentage of the population who seem to feel superior to the rest for going against the stream are not doing any better either. They feel smug about having this opinion as it goes against the popular voice. And with the general perception that going against the stream is a cool thing to do, these youth appear to be jumping to conclusions without sufficient basis. All those who seem to think they know better than the others about the bill just because they have read some well written critiques of the bill online are nothing more than self righteous hypocrites, because all they themselves know about the bill are just these small pieces that only serve to prove their point.”
While Gautham was making all these points about why people should read the bill before framing an opinion, this reporter was still trying to figure out if Gautham was fasting in support of the bill or to oppose it. When confronted with the dilemma, Gautham responded, “I am not fasting for the bill at all. I am fasting to get Alok Kumar to stop fasting and actually read the damn bill! I am fasting to make everybody, both who support the bill and those who don’t, to actually READ and get to know exactly about what they are feeling so strongly.”
This reporter was still not satisfied as he wanted Gautham to take a clear black and white stand. He felt it was not good for journalism to run a story wherein there was no story of a person who had a passionate bias towards or against something. So Gautham was asked if he was against all these critics who write online. To this, Gautham replied, “Absolutely not. We need such critics who can show us one side of the story and it also helps the case for freedom of expression. However, looking at the bigger picture, these critics do not serve any real purpose at the end of the day.”
Hoping that Gautham was going to take a clear stand against something, the reporter asked him to elaborate on that. Gautham, who was getting more tired by explaining everything to this reporter than by his hunger, managed to go on.
“You have to look at what is happening. On one hand we have Anna Hazare, who, in his own (perhaps questionable) ways, is trying to help the country by helping the corruption issue. And he is actually getting something done here. There has never been such widespread protests against corruption in a long long time and he was pivotal in initiating it. He is helping (again, in his own ways) to frame a Lokpal bill which is not just an eyewash from the Govt. It may not be the perfect solution to the corruption issue. But if it wasn’t any effective at all, there perhaps wouldn’t be such hue and cry from the Govt opposing it and trying to make it an eyewash. This will go at least some distance in doing something against corruption.”
“On the other hand, we have these critics. They sit in their office or home chairs, comfortable, searching for new and important developments in the country. They read about it, think about it and then frame their own opinion and point of view about the situation. They are able to understand the nuances and subtleties of the situation, which would otherwise be easily overlooked. They are then able to articulate these ideas and messages very well in a coherent manner in their websites, blogs or columns. Many of these points of view go against popular voice and when other youth read this critique, they frame their opinion based on what these writers have conveyed. These writers and critics may have a lot of very valid points concerning the situation at hand and they may want to communicate these ideas to the general public so that they are aware of what is happening.”
“But in the end, none of this translates to any tangible action. All that transpires out of them writing about critical issues, either in favor or against, online and a whole bunch of youth reading it to frame an opinion is that they write about critical stuff and a whole bunch of youth frame their opinion based on that. Nothing else ever happens. Everybody involved in this online process wants to be in their comfort zone in front of a laptop and think. And they feel good about it and believe that it is a job well done. There is nothing actionable that ever comes out of these things. You have to ask yourself. At the end of the day, what is all this critique and writing, if nothing more than just pointless intellectual masturbation?”
This reporter finally felt he had a quote. And immediately left Gautham’s house.
After the news of Gautham’s fasting became public, the news media went hysterical. And retarded. Actually make that MORE retarded. Arnab Boguswami lost his ability to think while thinking about who among the 3 was the one he was to support in the upcoming force-my-opinion-down-your-throat show. It is understood that his IQ was so low that he could not even initially comprehend what was happening and who was doing what. And then when someone explained the whole moral ambiguity involved, he just lost his (diminished) ability to think.
Popular blogger Amit Varma, who writes on the India Uncut blog, responded to what Gautham had to say. “I don’t understand why Gautham is getting all upset about us criticizing the bill. This is about freedom of expression and criticism. That being said, I really need to get back to blogging. You know I used to write a lot before. Almost 4-5 posts daily. I myself do not know where I go nowadays. Someday I will keep my word when I say I will be blogging more regularly. Oh by the way, that is not a promise.”
The cops on the other hand held an hour long meeting and, after realizing that this involves too much thinking, have decided to turn a blind eye to all these fasts. Local circle inspectors of both places were too busy to be bothered with ideas such as moral ambiguity and paradox. One of them said, “I have not received any orders to detain him. And moreover, I really do not know what is lawful and what is not anymore. So please wait till somebody higher up gives me an order for something.”
Note: This (really long) blog post is about my trip to Missouri and the writing is primarily centered around my photography with a fair bit about my experience there as well. All photos here are not modified in any way. I personally consider it unethical to do so. You can see all my photos from the vacation in high res here.
So I went on a vacation. I had worked for 15 days straight without a break – partly by choice and partly by force. And I was looking forward to some travelling and photography. Fortunately or unfortunately, nobody I know of shares my flexible work schedule – which meant that I had to go on my vacation alone. I had done it once before on a 1 day 800 mile trip to Minneapolis (and back) via a long detour on Highway 61. And I did not mind doing it again. Also, I needed complete freedom to spend any amount of time to my liking taking photographs. So I packed my gear and set off. My equipment involved a Nikon D3100 camera, 18-55mm and 55-200mm VR lenses, Omega Tripod, 1 UV filter, 1 ND filter and 1 Polarizing filter.
I was initially deciding between North western Nebraska (and surrounding) – which housed The Jewel Caves, the Devil’s Tower, Mt. Rushmore and the Chimney Tower- and Missouri – which housed Lake of the Ozarks, Mark Twain National Forest, Ozarks National Scenic Riverways and Meramec Caverns. I realized I only had resources for a 3 day and 2 night trip. So I chose the latter.
I left Des Moines, Iowa at about 0730 hrs. My GPS was set to the Lake of the Ozarks as the first day destination and immediately, it suggested the fastest route to be taking the Interstate. But that was not my intention. An alternate route suggestion on the GPS involved going through US highways and some county roads down right through the center of Missouri. That sounded good and I hit the gas.
The drive was initially non descript. The sun was already getting on its bright yellow and heading into the white. And for those unfamiliar with the Iowa landscape, this meant that there was absolutely nothing to admire on the flatlands that zipped by endlessly on either side of the road. The road took me east for a while till Ottumwa and through it I turned South to Missouri.
Following US 63 S into MO, the contrast in the landscape between Iowa and Missouri was hard to miss. I am not exaggerating here. But there was about maybe 10-15 miles of grey area on either side of the border. But apart from that, it was all flat and completely barren on the Iowa side and rolling green hills on the Missouri side! My guess is the topography was the deciding factor while drawing the border!
The road took me through a few Amish settlements. Spotted quite a few Amish horse drawn carts and the stereotypical long bearded Amish men. The road also made me narrowly avoid a totally drunk red neck who was trying extremely hard to figure out which side of the road he was supposed to be driving on.
I cannot term the road to be scenic. It was peaceful and easy at best. I was on cruise control for the most part and the traffic was light. I reached Lake of the Ozarks by about 1330 hrs and headed straight to the welcome center where an old man showed me all the places to go to find a good view. The sun was beating down at that time and though the welcome center offered a neat panoramic view of the lake, I did not fancy getting any great shots in that light. It was definitely more than 1000 F in heat index but in spite of it, I spent about half an hour trying to get a few good compositions to make up for the bad light. I changed my lens from the 18-55mm to the 55-200mm and presently, a bunch of people started parasailing and boating in my direction. That, with the buildings on the other side of the lake serving as the backdrop, did the trick. In the end, I did get a few half decent shots and a couple of good ones as well (thanks partly to my new polarizing filter).
I drove around a few places there for about an hour or two and did find a few good spots to get good views of the lake and the few buildings adorning its shoreline. But at 1530, the light was at its worst and no subject would have looked good in that light. So I found a small bar and downed a couple of Sam Adams beers with my lunch.
I had a map of the lake which showed all the tourist and scenic points. The Lake of the Ozarks is a significantly large lake which snakes its way through a few cities generating more than a few bends and turns. There were a couple of public beaches that got me interested and so I decided to check them out. One of them, (in the photo) offered a good swimming area and lay between 2 forests/hills. The sun was setting in the direction directly facing the beach which meant I could not take any useful photos of the other side. So I went for a swim and just hung around in the water for a while till the light started showing signs of the rich golden yellow every photographer yearns for. So I quickly got setup and took a few shots of the beach side with the sun angling its golden rays on the beach and the trees. Unfortunately, I still could not shoot the other side and I knew I had to come back early in the morning to do it.
By about 0800, I knew it was time to get to a good spot to shoot the sunset. The sun was already getting into its orange self and I was running out of time. I was frantically searching for a half decent spot to setup my camera and I eventually turned to a parking lot and got setup just in time to take a few good shots of the sun setting. I suppose I could have done a better job if I had gotten setup a bit early but I was fairly satisfied with the result. However, it was only after the sun had set that I found that I had got my tripod setup right next to garbage bin!
I narrowly missed capturing the sunrise the following morning, thanks largely to not waking up early enough. I immediately headed out to the public beach I had been to the previous evening and found a welcome sight of the sun angling its golden beam on the other side of the beach. I was able to get a few good shots, but I have to admit it was only the light that made the photos look good in the absence of any useful subject. So I headed out to some of the view points of the lake which I had missed out the previous day and found a few nice compositions. The photo below seemed to perfectly capture the quiet of the early morning at a nearby boating center.
I headed out to Big Springs at about 1000 and reached it in about 3 hrs time. Big Springs is a place near Van Bruner in central Missouri. It houses Big Spring, which as the name suggests, is a big spring. Not in terms of area of the spring waters, but in terms of the rate of water gushing out. It ranks as one of the largest in the world in this aspect. It is situated right next to the Current river (which it eventually flows into) which is more popular as part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway. What this means is that this river flows through some very scenic spots (usually between two tree covered hills) and flows at a very slow pace and is largely shallow. And by shallow I mean anywhere between 0.5’-5’. All this makes it very conducive for activities such as kayaking, tubing, canoeing and boating. So I decided to go tubing along the Current river for about 3 hrs.
The route took me through some really scenic and picturesque views. The water was bluish green all the way through and you could see the river bed all along the way. Unfortunately, I could not take my camera with me as it was not water proof. I missed out on a few very good shots in the process. Sitting in my tube and drifting along the river while taking in the beautiful scenery passing by for about 3 hours, however, pretty much gave me all the relaxation I needed. I suppose it could have been a better experience doing that with some good company but it was not to be.
Also, be aware. Alcohol consumption during the 3 hr drifting can sound like an appropriate thing to do. But do think of the part wherein you are stuck in a tube all the time without any opportunity to access a restroom. (Do I speak from experience?) Also of note is one lesson I learnt about the waters the almost hard way. Never under estimate the current of the water. It may look like it is just floating harmlessly but trust me when I say that you simply CANNOT assume you are going to be safe.
The only disappointing part about the tubing was that it ate into the sunset time. I was told of a really good spot to capture the sunset and I quickly set out to find it. After a bit of driving roundabout, I reached the spot. The spot was everything one can hope for to capture a good sunset or sunrise. Mountains and hills rolling all the way to the horizon with no trees or other obstacles blocking the view. A couple of houses below the viewing area that could serve as foreground subjects. And directly facing west. And I was too late.
I honest to god, had a strong urge to take a gun and blow my brains out to have missed what could have been the most beautiful sunset. I kept cursing myself to no end for having gone tubing the past few hours. I just could not believe I had missed it. The light was already fading and was almost gone. I could see the faint orange of the sky barely hanging over the horizon and I knew I had very little time to do anything at all. So I tried to capture a silhouette of my car with the twilight sky over the horizon as the backdrop. However, there was a lot of reflected light coming from behind me which made it impossible to get a perfect silhouette, irrespective of how much I tuned down my exposure. In the end, this was what I was able to get. Not a bad shot I would say, but could have been so much better.
I headed back to my cabin in the middle of the forest. Spending the night in a cabin amidst the wilderness of the forest was an experience I had missed for a very long time. So was reading a good book. And so I finished half of Fahrenheit 451 that night sitting in that cabin in the middle of nowhere. I was particularly happy that there was no internet service in that cabin. Else, I would have found a strong urge to post to my Facebook and Twitter accounts about my whereabouts and plans, all the while missing out on just enjoying the peace of the forest.
I woke up pretty early the next day to ensure I didn’t miss out on another sunrise. A map of the forest area indicated that there were a few hiking trails which led to a few viewpoints. So I decided to check out the ones which faced east. After a not so long and not so hard hike, I settled on 2-3 viewing spots with the Current river running below me. I setup my tripod and camera and waited for the sun to come out. Unfortunately, the viewpoint was not as elevated as I had hoped it would be. It made me miss the mellow orange of the sun emerging out of the distant horizon. Instead, I caught the sun coming out of the hills in front of me during its transition to the delicate yellow. It was still beautiful and I set about capturing the sunrise from different viewpoints. I caught a few silhouettes this time – mainly of trees and leaves. This one shot made me stop and think for a while. The leaves appear to be tendering to the sun in its innocuous infancy, nurturing it to rise further in the sky, blissfully oblivious to how harsh and ravaging the sun was to become in just a few hours time.
I took a few more shots of the place, one of them capturing the waters arising out of the Big Spring joining and losing its identity to the waters of the Current river. After being satisfied with the quality of shots of the sunrise, I headed to the Big Spring itself. I had no idea how it would be and how good the light would be there. I had not seen any pictures of it online and did not know what to expect. But when I did arrive at the Big Spring, what I saw simply took my breath away.
The water was pristine blue. The spring was gushing out water relentlessly as if it was on a never ending mission. The sun bestowed its golden rays angled directly on the spring. Beautiful color, a captive subject and golden light. It was a photographer’s paradise!
I do not know how many photos I ended up taking but it must have been about 150. I know I spent close to 2 hours there and I do not remember pausing from taking photos of the place. So much so, I never really just sat and enjoyed the view.
I was all alone, and for those 2 hours, the entire world outside of me, my camera and the spring ceased to exist. The light and the color was so overwhelming that I took photographs from all possible angles with all reasonable combinations of exposure. The first shot I took was that of the sight that greeted me. The water was gushing out of the spring extremely rapidly and in large volumes. And I knew THAT was what sparked the life in that scene. And so I did a slightly longer exposure of the scene in order to capture the motion of the water gushing out of the spring. The sun beams were angling in on the spring waters, lighting it up even more. The result was one of the best photographs I have taken so far.
But perhaps the best photograph of my entire trip was still to come. I went around the spring, now with the sunlight coming from behind me. And what I saw, was not only simply unbelievable but also completely invisible from my previous spot. Maybe it was the direction of the light or the direction in which I was viewing the light that made the difference. But standing on the other side of the spring and viewing it in the direction of the light, I was convinced that the light was playing some kind of a trick on my eyes. It was no mirage or illusion. It was just too good to be just another sunlight pattern. What I saw was a well of sunlight angling in from both ends of the spring, circling (or was it an ellipse) the spring waters and converging exactly at the point where the water was coming out. The sun light was dancing on the waters, without moving an inch. That sight was, for the lack of a better word, orgasmic.
A few years back, I might have been able to come up with a mathematical term for the exact shape the sun rays formed. Do leave a comment if you can now. I must have spent some half an hour taking photographs of that sight. And trust me when I say I just couldn’t get enough of it.
I eventually came around to take some self portraits. If I ever have to put up a profile pic on a matrimonial website in the future, I think I know which one is going up there. The spring water behind me makes me look a thousand times better. (I am betting on the girl falling for it).
In due time, the sun had risen far up in the sky and in spite of the spring still looking beautiful, I knew I had to leave. Next on the agenda was a drive through Mark Twain National forest to Meramec Caverns near St. Louis.
It must have taken me all of 3 hours. But how those hours zipped by. It felt like the shortest 3 hr drive I had ever done. And I thoroughly enjoyed it for more than one reason. First up, I switched off my GPS. I had decided to use a map. I actually sat down and marked my route to the caves through a pen on the map and wrote down the roads on a sheet of paper. My objective was to maximize the drive through the forest area. So I avoided all US highways and deliberately chose county roads going through the forests. And eventually, when I started driving, I realized I was enjoying it more than ever primarily because I was a lot more involved in what I was doing. I was taking in the scenery without glancing every 3 mins at the GPS to see how far was the next turn. I was more observant of the road and the drive as I was making sure I did not miss any turns. And it was a really satisfying feeling doing that. It was the same feeling I get when I read a book holding it in my hand instead of reading it on the computer, or when I go play football outside with my friends instead of on my computer.
The drive was scenic to say the least. It was filled with twists and turns and was by no means easy. It was not a drive you could do on cruise control. A two lane road for the most part, it cut through the dense forest areas, climbing and descending alternately. It is not a drive where you stop at a scenic view point and take photographs. There are no such viewpoints all along the way, even though the whole drive was set in beautiful surroundings. If anything, the route was particularly lacking in that department. But it was not meant to be that drive anyway. So I drove through it, without stopping once. I didn’t need to. With Pink Floyd’s Echoes playing in the car, driving through Mark Twain National forest was a surreal experience just in itself. And I hope to do it once more in the fall.
When I eventually got to Meramec caverns, the sun was blazing. I went to the caves with high expectations from what people told me about it. But in the end, it turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the entire tour. For the most part, the caves was nothing out of the ordinary. Actually, there really wasn’t ANYTHING out of the ordinary there. I took just one shot of note, and that was almost by accident too. Do you spot a face in this photograph? I am thinking Iron Maiden’s Eddie in one of its various forms.
And then at around 1600 I headed back to Des Moines, this time making deliberate effort to take the interstate and US highways. I drove through the city of Hannibal in MO, and if I had more time then, I would have stopped and looked around. I was told it was a beautiful small city. Perhaps some other time. When I eventually entered Iowa, it was just about time for sunset. With the sun’s golden rays peeking through the storm clouds that were rapidly building up, the flatlands that zipped by endlessly, again, looked particularly enchanting. I realized I was headed straight into what appeared to be a massive storm. But the best part about it was that I got to see the most spectacular lightning ever all the way to Des Moines. I had half a mind to stop the car on the freeway and setup my tripod to capture the lightning. It would have been an easy shot, with a simple long exposure, and it would have been a spectacular one too. But alas, I guess I just didn’t do it. Some other time for sure.
I eventually reached Des Moines at around 1030 and was pretty tired. And so after 3 days of awesome vacationing in the beautiful state of Missouri, I was convinced once more of the strategic position Iowa was in the United States. A lot of places to see and visit around it. Just nothing IN it!