That Time When I Almost Cut Off My Finger

Thank you to everybody who read last week’s blog post. An extra thank you to everybody who reached out to me after I posted it.

I forgot a pretty major part of last week’s story about my struggle to learn about photography.

I forgot to tell you about how I almost cut off my finger.

In last week’s blog post, I mentioned that I took a course on photojournalism during my final semester of college.

I NEEDED to pass this class in order to graduate. Saint Vincent required this class to graduate with a degree in Communications. Also, Saint Vincent charged tuition by the credit back then. I purposely took the absolute bare number of credits that I needed in order to graduate in order to reduce my student debt. So, I needed the three credits from this photojournalism class just to meet the minimum credit requirements for a bachelor’s degree – any bachelor’s degree.

I had a pretty eventful final semester of college. My youngest sibling was born less than two months before I graduated from college. (March 20, so happy belated birthday, Little Sister.) Now, my parents had FIVE children, not four children. I am the oldest of their five children. I absolutely could not just move back home with my parents for the next year or two until I found a well-paying job.

I worried about the photojournalism class until it made me sick. I KNEW that I would fail the class and NOT graduate on time.

Anyway, for our final photography project, we had to crop our photos and mat them for an exhibit to be held during finals week in Saint Vincent’s student union, which we called “The Shack.”

We held at least one workshop during class time to mat our photos. We each purchased Exacto knives and photography mats ahead of time.

Now, I will out myself about what a big idiot I can be. I don’t have a very good track record with knives. When I was a kid, my dad gave me my very first Swiss Army Knife. The VERY NEXT MORNING, I watched a videotape of the musical “The Sound of Music” as I played with my new knife. I closed the knife on my hand. I cut myself. I didn’t show my parents. They would take my knife away from me. I just grabbed a paper towel from the kitchen and pressed it against my bloody hand as I continued to watch “The Sound of Music.” I quietly waited for my hand to heal.

Apparently, I didn’t get any better with knife safety after I became a legal adult. I screwed up an entire bulk foil package of ketchup when I worked at Wendy’s (next to the PA Turnpike in Somerset) the same month that I turned 18. I was supposed to cut it out of a cardboard box with a box knife. I used the box knife to slice through the bulk ketchup’s foil container instead. The manager was pissed. She had me transfer all of the ketchup to another container so that most of it could be saved. I kept my job because apparently Wendy’s Next to the Turnpike desperately needed employees.

Anyway. I know – NOW – that I must never, ever, ever cut towards myself when I cut something with a knife.

I apparently did not know this when I was a final-semester college senior.

I cut towards myself with the Exacto knife.

I sliced through the tip and side of one of my fingers.

As soon as I cut myself, I knew that it was bad. I sliced though the top of my finger and along the side a bit.

My finger bled.

I ran out of the classroom without speaking to anybody.

My dorm was connected by a walkway with the room where we held the photography mat workshop. The workshop was on the same level as the walkway, as was my dorm room.

I ran into the hallway of my dorm and showed my finger to my very good friend, “Saoirse.”

Saoirse said, “I’m driving you to the hospital.”

Saoirse drove me to the Emergency Room at the hospital in Latrobe.

We got to the ER. We arrived at pretty much the same time as a woman who came into the ER on a stretcher.

The medics said that the woman had just gotten hit by a car.

The woman said, “I can’t feel my legs.”

The ER triaged me ahead of the woman who got hit by a car.

That’s right. I cut myself. At the hospital, I got to cut the line ahead of a woman who got hit by a car.

The ER sewed my finger back together. My finger eventually healed, just like my hand eventually healed that time that I closed a Swiss Army Knife on it.

Nobody in my photography class realized that I cut myself. Not the instructor. Nobody.

I returned to the classroom later that day and picked up the rest of my stuff. It was all still there. Even all of my photography workshop stuff. It was all exactly how I left it. Including the Exacto knife.

I got a B in the photojournalism class. I don’t know how that happened, because my final project looked pretty terrible.

I will forever be greatful to Saoirse for driving me to the ER that day. Saoirse, if you are reading this, thank you.

After this incident, I dreaded ever matting anything again. So, maybe my fear and anxiety of photography actually all came from the day that I almost cut off my finger.

Years later, my husband Jonathan walked me through how to properly mount a photo – you know, how to do it without ending up in the ER. He helped me to mat a photo that I actually like for an exhibit that I actually wanted to enter.

So, maybe my key take-aways from this story is that I have a gem of a friend in Saoirse and I have a gem of a husband in Jonathan.

Also, be careful with knives.

Photography Blog Confession

Here is a photo that I took of my husband taking a photo at Phipps Conservatory

I enjoy spending significant amounts of time in pursuit of a skill that other people had already written me off as unable to learn.

I’m talking about photography here.

Just as a background, I have a strabismus. I can’t see out of both of my eyes at the same time. I don’t remember ever being able to see out of both of my eyes at the same time, so perhaps I was born this way. I don’t know. However, in kindergarten or the first grade, I had a lot of trouble learning how to read. We had to sit at tables with other kids in our class, and take turns trying to read words. Then, we all got moved to tables based on which words we could read.

I got moved to the table with all of the rest of the kids who couldn’t read any of the words.

I resented my classmates who were moved to the tables with the kids who COULD read words. I thought, “Oh, hey, I bet that they think that they are better than me!”

Then, when the teacher tried to teach me how to read, I got pounding headaches. I got sent home on more than one instance due to my headaches.

My mom took me to my very first of many eye doctor appointments. The doctor determined that I had trouble with my vision.

(One time that I was in college, I told this story to some of my friends. They told me that this was the plot of a “Little House on the Prairie” television episode. Well, that may have been the case, but it also happened to me in real life.)

At the age of six, I ended up with my first pair of bifocals. At this point in my life, my mom also drove me an hour or so on several occasions to that I could visit a specialist in regards to my strabismus. Since we lived in the middle of nowhere, these visits to the specialist were a major trip for me. During each visit, I had to do eye exercises that involved trying to focus on an object tied to a string.

(I know a lot of parents who brag that their four-year-old child can read. If you are one of those parents, good for you! I could NOT read when I was four years old. When I was six, I had to sit at the table with all of the other kids who couldn’t read. And look how I ended up. Tomorr0w – March 18 – is the third year anniversary of my blog here.)

I’ve seen it suggested on the internet that Hitler and various serial killers such as H.H. Holmes had strabismuses. (Strabismi?) Well, I have one as well, and I haven’t killed anybody yet.

(Also, in the past five years, I visited a new optometrist AND a new PCP, and they both asked me whether I could actually see out of both eyes. Then I had to explain to both of them that I visited a specialist for my strabismus when I was younger, but that I still can’t see out of both of my eyes at the same time, and I have to switch back and forth.)

I mention all of this because I still struggle with my depth perception.

I mean, I can drive a car and dress myself. However, my depth perception issues frustrate me in learning new skills such as, you know, photography.

So, I didn’t really learn much about photography when I was a kid because I’m old and there was a larger barrier to entry back then in regards to equipment and technology. Smartphone with cameras weren’t a thing. Neither were DSLR’s. We had point-and-shoot cameras that required film in our house. However, my parents had four kids at that time. (It was later five kids because my youngest sibling was born when I was in college.) Camera film was expensive, and so was the cost of having photos developed. So, for instance, if I wasted an entire roll of film trying to photograph an inanimate object in an artsy way and then my mom paid to have the film developed, she wasn’t very happy to get the photos back from the developer and discover that an entire package of newly developed photos were just of the sky or a tree or a building. If I wanted to take a photo, it should be of a person or people, and they should be photographed head-on as they posed.

I had access to ONE film camera that wasn’t a point-and-shoot when I was in high school. It was the camera that belonged to the school newspaper, and I wrote for the school newspaper in 12th grade. However, I didn’t understand how any of the settings worked on this camera, so I happily passed all of the photography duties off on a classmate who actually knew how to use the camera.

So, anyway, fast-forward to my years at Saint Vincent College. I switched my major from accounting to Communication Arts, but my heart wasn’t in it because multiple people had made it very clear to me that I was destined to work at Wal-Mart for the rest of my life. (I DID work at Wal-Mart after college – for three months! Then, I moved on to something else. I ended up finding better-paying jobs. Majoring in something “unworthy” is NOT a moral failing that automatically consigns one to a lifetime of being a Victorian chimney sweep or something.)

So, my heart wasn’t really in my Communications classes because multiple people told me that I wouldn’t be able to succeed in the field. Saint Vincent College’s poor quality video equipment also frustrated me.

Looking back, I’m sure that my history of depth perception problems also caused me trouble with the one or two college video classes that I took. This didn’t occur to me at that time, though. I got B’s in video production, and I was more than happy to just take my B’s and just forget about the shame that I felt at struggling with all of it.

Anyway, for my final semester in college, I took my only still photography college class, which was called “Photojournalism” and was cross listed in the course catalogue for both Communications and English. It was required for my degree program. I had to pass this course in order to graduate. I didn’t have any background in still photography and the only camera that I owned at that time was a point-and-shoot. I didn’t understand still photography or camera use very well. I felt that the instructor was frustrated with me the entire time. I honestly worried all semester that I would fail the class and that I would not be allowed to graduate or walk at the end of the semester.

I finished this photography class with a B. I’m not at all sure how I got a B in the class. My final project was total crap. I think that the instructor just wanted to get me out of his hair.

So, as a result of these college experiences, I left school with a very bad taste in my mouth for video and still photography.

I ended up working in the financial services industry instead. I didn’t do anything creative for several years after college because I was made to understand that creativity didn’t pay the bills. And the people who told me this were right to tell me this. I still work in financial services. I can afford camera and blogging equipment now because I work in financial services.

I eventually met and married Jonathan Woytek. Jonathan enjoyed photography when he was in high school and college. He took photos for his high school yearbook. He drifted away from it. Then, on the way to our honeymoon in South Carolina, we drove off of the interstate at a very specific shopping center in North Carolina because Jonathan had learned that this shopping center included a very specific camera store. You see, Jonathan’s Best Man gave him wedding gift money specifically to use for the purchase of a new camera. Jonathan bought that camera on the way to our honeymoon.

Jonathan restarted his own love for photography.

A few years after this, I became interested in blogging. I told Jonathan that one of the things that I didn’t like about other people’s blogs were poor quality photos. Jonathan told me that if I wanted to create a decent blog myself, then I would have to learn how to create my own photos for it.

Then, Jonathan spent hours giving me photography lessons. We had to start pretty much from scratch because I had such a bad taste in my mouth with my prior experience trying to do photography. I cried more than once when Jonathan tried to get me to understand such concepts as Depth of Field.

Now, I might not be the best photographer in New Kensington or even in my own household. However, I consider it to be a very big accomplishment for me to go from “I don’t think that I am going to graduate from college because I can’t figure out this photography thing and I can tell that the instructor hates having to explain things to me,” to this: Last summer, my dad’s neighbor got socially-distanced married, and I took a photo of the bridal party’s socially-distanced car parade as it drove through my rural hometown. I emailed the photo to my aunt because she went to the same church as the bride, and a few weeks after this, I learned that MY photo had appeared in my childhood home county’s only daily newspaper as a “Photo of the Week.” Somebody had decided that MY photo was good enough to forward on to my childhood hometown newspaper.

Now, I mentioned that in the past, one of my barriers to entry to photography was my lack of equipment and technology. I have a lot more resources now. Heck, I use a program called Lightroom to straighten every single photo that I take because all of my photos are crooked when they come off of my camera’s memory card. (See above re: strabismus.) But I would argue that it’s pretty snobby to suggest that I shouldn’t enjoy or work on a discipline just because I need specific equipment in order to do it now. Ever since the 1800’s, photographers have taken advantage of the most high tech equipment to which they personally had access at that time.

I say all this, because I was thinking about all of the times in my life when I have observed people shutting other people down in particular disciplines. I thought about all of the times when somebody told me that I “wasn’t any good” at a skill, so I stopped trying to be good at the skill. I thought of the times when I observed the same thing happening to other people.

Heck, I STILL remember that time when I was six years and I had to go sit at the table with all of the other kids who couldn’t read. This ceased to be a problem shortly after I got my first pair of glasses. So, now I feel terrible if I ever made any of my classmates feel this same way. I hope that I didn’t shut down any of my classmates for trying to get better at school themselves.

I wrote this post because I wanted to share my experience about how I believed for YEARS that I was really terrible at a particular discipline, and that I would never improve at it, but now that I have fewer barriers to entry, I really enjoy this discipline as a hobby. I will probably never make a living doing photography. However, photography and blogging (and going on long walks to find things to blog and write about) significantly helped me get through my mom’s death in 2018 and also the past year of Covid-19 stress.

Happy third-year blog anniversary to me.

My Very First Haunted House

The Allegheny Mountains. Simon Girty crossed the Alleghenies as a child in the 1700’s. I crossed them as a child in the 1900’s.

I’ve blogged in the past about Simon Girty. I don’t feel like linking everything that I’ve ever wrote about him. I created “Girty” as a new category on this blog tonight, so you can just click on this to see what I wrote.

So, I mentioned before that the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission installed a marker along the Susquehanna River to note Girty’s birthplace near Harrisburg. I actually Googled the distance between Girty’s birthplace and my very first childhood home in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Turns out that I spent the first seven years of my life only ten or twenty miles from Girty’s birthplace. We both started out in Central PA and then went on to have new adventures on the OTHER side of the Allegheny Mountains.

I’m a Central PA native because of economics. Both of my parents grew up in the Greater Pittsburgh area. (My mom grew up in Carrick.) My dad’s first teaching job out of college came from rural Perry County. So, he moved there a month before their wedding. Mom moved to Perry County the weekend that my parents got married.

I mean, if you want to get technical about it, the Girty family and all of their fellow colonial settlers of European descent lived in what became of Perry County due to economics, too. They moved into the already-occupied lands along the Susquehanna. They struggled with the indigenous people who already called dibs on that whole place. Girty grew up to see the the non-European point of view on this whole mess. If you want to get even more technical, this land around the Susquehanna wasn’t Perry County back then. The county was later named after the War of 1812 hero Oliver Hazard Perry. Girty was born in the early 1700’s. He was an old man taking refuge with the British when the War of 1812 happened. (Though, I just found out through a Google search that Simon Girty only preceded Oliver Hazard Perry in death by a year and a half. Girty died old. Perry died young. So, I guess that nobody wins in the end? Except for me. I made out well because my husband just made me fresh stove-popped popcorn to eat as I write this.)

I should have warned you about tonight’s history dump. That way, you could have closed out this post to go read a Reddit message board about vaccine shaming or about that physical fight that happened last weekend at a Bath & Body Works store.

Anyway, I spent the first seven years of my live in a pretty rural town in Perry County, near the farm where Simon Girty was born in the 1700’s. I wasn’t born in the 1700’s, but some days I feel as if I am indeed that old. “My first hometown” in Perry County was so tiny that it made my “second hometown” in Somerset County seem like a regular little city.

For instance, back in the Perry County days, we lived next to the town’s elementary school. (The high school was twenty miles away.) It was still light outside when I feel asleep each night in the summer. I fell asleep looking out of the window at cows in a field on a mountain. The other thing that I saw on that mountain each summer night were trees with no leaves or dead leaves. (The area had a gypsy moth infestation in the local forests.) The town itself was only about one mile long or so. I walked and biked the entire length of it many times before we moved away.

An Amish community farmed in the area. Some of these Amish were teenagers. Some of these Amish teenagers hung out with the teenagers who lived next to us. These teenagers all drove around in a car meant to emulate the jalopy known as the “General Lee” from the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” That is, the neighbor’s car played the song “Dixie” just like the car in the TV show did. Also, the neighbor’s car was orange and I think that it had Confederate battle flags on each side, just like the “General Lee” did.

We all had huge backyards. The neighbor’s teenagers allegedly grew weed in their backyard garden, according to my mom. One day, a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter flew low over our little neighborhood in our little rural town.

So, back to the house that became my first childhood home. My parents bought it shortly before I was born. It was an old house. It was a fixer-upper. (I keep ending up living in fixer-uppers in interesting neighborhoods. Story of my life.) Also, somebody was electrocuted on the power lines. Whoever this poor man was, he died right in front of the house. This happened before my parents bought the place. This was all before The Internet happened to us, by the way. Google didn’t exist. After my parents moved into their new home in their little town in Perry County, the neighbors came over and told my parents all about the terrible accident. Caveat emptor!

So, my parents told us kids this story about the electrical accident after we had moved away and we were all adults. And one of my siblings said,

“I used to hear a man’s voice calling out when we lived there. I used to call back “Dad, is that you?” I thought that it was Dad. Except, Dad was at work when this happened.”

This particular sibling was five years old when we moved away from the house.

And that’s how I found out that my first childhood home was haunted.

March Confessions

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh. March 2014. We didn’t have a piano in our high school marching band. However, I was looking for a photo that was tangentially related both to music and also the word “March.” This seemed to fit the bill. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I marched with my high school’s marching band for four years.

However, I learned about the existence of football game halftime shows on the first day of band camp in my very first season of marching band, in the ninth grade.

See, I never cared about the actual sport of football. Up until the ninth grade, I never actually watched an entire football game. Not a single pro game, college game, or high school game. None.

Then, I started to play the clarinet in the fourth grade. My parents and I planned that I would study the clarinet in school until I qualified for the elementary concert band. Then, I would play for the junior high concert band. Then, I would participate in the high school marching and concert bands. This way, I would have an extracurricular to pad my applications for college scholarship money.

By junior high school, I wanted to quit the clarinet. My parents and my music teachers always had to get on my butt to practice. I did all of my required weekly practice in one bulk, pain-filled session, the night before each weekly lesson.

(I’ve since learned that playing the clarinet is A LOT like writing.)

My parents by that point had invested so much money and time in my music (see my post about terrible, painful Christmas concerts ) that they needed me to just power through with the band thing. They reminded me that the only way that I would be able to visit Disney World is if I visited it with the high school marching band. See, my parents had no money or interest for a family trip to Disney World. However, the school marching band traditionally visited Disney World once every four years.

So, I stayed with the clarinet. (Note that on the year that it was “my turn” to visit Disney, the decision makers determined that such a trip would be too expensive and require too much fundraising. Our marching band travelled to Hershey Park instead. We marched in a parade in Harrisburg and ate at a dinner theater.)

Our school district’s elementary and junior high school bands joined the high school band by performing at the opening ceremonies of one home football game each fall. We “helped” the high school band play “The Star Spangled Banner.” Afterward, we elementary and junior high musicians received free admission to that night’s football game. However, each year that I performed such in elementary and junior high, I headed to the concession stand as soon as my musical duties ended. As soon as I finished my hot chocolate and nachos, I went home.

So, even when I “performed” at football games during elementary and junior high school, I never saw a single football game halftime show. I didn’t know that the high school band even had to put on a show at halftime.

On my first day of band camp in ninth grade, we started learning the choreography for that year’s halftime show. I said to another musician halfway through that morning, “Do we have to practice stuff like this often?”

My band classmate said to me, “This is our halftime show!”

I said, “What’s a halftime show?”

I learned that week at band camp what a halftime show looked like. So, the very first marching band halftime show that I ever saw was one in which I personally performed.

I have another marching band confession. A few weeks ago, my husband Jonathan and I had a short discussion about school music programming and the purchase of sheet music for such programming.

I told my husband, “Mr. B. (my high school band director) had a very close friend who also taught music in schools. This friend got busted by the FBI for photocopying sheet music. He had to go to prison for it. In fact, he had to teach Monday through Friday, and then every Friday night, he had to report to prison until Monday morning.”

My husband gave me that look that he gives me when when I repeat a made-up story as if it were true.

“Oh,” I said. “That’s an urban legend, isn’t it?”

My husband confirmed that this was indeed an urban legend.

I complained above that I “stuck with” playing the clarinet for years so that I could go to Disney, and instead I went to Hershey Park. However, I’m grateful that my parents pressured me to stick with the clarinet. During the last two or three years of high school, I listed my band participation on applications for non-band-related opportunities. I “won” some of these opportunities. I have no idea if my time in the band made me a strong applicant for these. I bet that it didn’t hurt me. (See here about the award that I “helped” our band to win.)

I was a mediocre musician. The girls from my elementary school who started to play the clarinet at the same time that I did were all better at it than I was. (They practiced more than I did!) We had to compete each year for “rows” and “chairs” in concert band, just like a real orchestra. I was last row – last chair. The other girls from my grade quit the clarinet at the end of junior high so that they could be cheerleaders and majorettes. I stayed. I learned about the existence of halftime shows.

So, I have another confession. For the past month or so, when my husband leaves the house, I sometimes put together my old clarinet and I play it. I don’t actually play songs, unless you count “When the Saints Go Marching In.” (That’s one of the first songs in one of the first lessons in the instruction book that I had in the fourth grade.) No. I pretty much just warm up, and then try to hit a bunch of high notes that I struggled to play in high school. I stop when I get tired or when my husband gets home. (I don’t want to torture Jonathan.)

On that Saturday back in January when I first picked up the clarinet, I had to take a two hour nap after trying to hit high notes. I had forgotten how to breath!

It’s actually pretty freeing to play a musical instrument for which I never excelled. I can sound like crap and not let anybody down. Present Jenny doesn’t disappoint Past Jenny.

Back in the pre-Covid days, I worked in downtown Pittsburgh. (I guess that I still do. The City still taxes me for Emergency Services as if I still do.) I worked directly across the river from PNC Park. On the days of Pirates home games, this one busker always stood on the Roberto Clemente bridge and played the theme song from “The Flintstones” on his saxophone, over and over. I listened and missed my clarinet.

Now, I miss the saxophone guy.

I could busk when this Covid mess is all over. I carried my clarinet to school for a decade, and I marched with it for four years. I can take it downtown on a PAT bus. I know how to play “The Flinstones.” I know how to play “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I am learning how to hit the high notes in “Sweet Child O’ Mine” that I couldn’t hit very well in high school. I would give any money that landed in my case to the saxophone guy. I just think that it would be funny if I went from playing “last row – last chair” in a school band to busking downtown.

I wonder how many ex-marching band kids miss it the way that I do now?

Overcome by Engagement Photography

Gristmill and Covered Bridge at Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. This is the one-lane road on which we walked from the parking lot. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

So, just as a heads-up, you are not going to see any engagement photos in this blog post.

Yesterday, my husband Jonathan drove to Butler to run an errand. I came with him and we brought our cameras along so that we could take photos if we saw anything scenic.

After Jonathan finished his errand, he drove us to McConnells Mill State Park. The park has a mailing address in Portersville, Pennsylvania. However, the park is surrounded by woods and includes woods and hiking trails. The park features an 1860’s-era gristmill next to Slippery Rock Creek.

The mill sits at a small waterfall.

Next to the mill sits a covered bridge built in the 1870’s. The bridge crosses Slippery Rock Creek at the bottom of the waterfall.

Here is the park’s official website.

A ghost story exists about the gristmill. So, if you want to conduct a ghost-related internet search, there you go.

The park includes very limited parking between the mill and the covered bridge. However, I don’t think that I have ever actually visited the park when any of this parking was available to me. A majority of park visitors have to park on the hill above the park. A one-lane road leads from the two parking lots on the hill above, down to the mill. You can have a shorter walk (instead of walking from the parking lots down the one-lane road to the gristmill) if you use a “multi-floor level” set of wooden steps from one of these parking lots, down the extremely steep hillside, to the mill.

Now, when Jonathan first suggested that we visit the park yesterday, I got nervous thinking about the ice.

Serious accidents happened on the hillside and also on Slippery Rock Creek. In fact, one of my former classmates was involved in a fatal accident at this park shortly after we graduated. For this reason, even though I visited this park with my parents when I was a kid, I get nervous about safety (mainly, falling over the hillside or into the creek) at McConnells Mill.

However, we both brought spikes to wear on the bottoms of our boots. We agreed to not use the hillside steps. We decided that if we could not find a place to safely park, we would give up on the visit.

Also, of course, we brought masks and agreed that we would leave if we weren’t able to social distance. The inside of the mill building is currently closed for the winter and also for Covid-19.

We did park in one of the parking lots at the top of the hill. That parking lot was pretty empty. We walked down the one-lane road to the mill. We saw and heard people “ice climbing” on the steep hillside (which, by the way, is actually a cliff).

I felt more confident about the ice than usual because I wore the spikes on my boots. Still, I stayed pretty close to the mill. I did cross the road in front of the covered bridge at one point for a photo. However, I didn’t walk through the bridge for a look at the mill from the other side of the creek.

Gristmill and Covered Bridge at Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. The covered bridge was directly behind me. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Jonathan trekked more adventurously than I did for his own mill photography. However, he told me that for some of the shots that he wanted, he had to wait for other visitors to get out of the way. Then, he had to get the shots that he wanted and get out of the way of other photographers.

Looking through my photos of our trip, I don’t have that many people standing in my shots. Maybe that’s because all of the people were over with Jonathan, trying to take photos from the same vantage point as him.

Covered Bridge. Slippery Rock Creek. McConnells Mill State Park. February 20, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

At the mill, I saw a young woman wearing what looked to me to be a “winter engagement photo outfit.” You know, boots with jeans. But not the type of boots that one wears to shovel a car out of snow. The type of boots that one wears when trying to look cute. A cute top. A cute coat. Red lipstick. The entire look was the look of a woman trying to look cute.

Jonathan and I never actually had our own engagement photos taken. However, Jonathan took the engagement photos for several of our sisters. I acted as his “photographer’s assistant” for these events. That is, I held Jonathan’s lighting equipment where he needed me to hold it. (So, I guess that I was actually a human light stand.) I served this same function for several other photography sessions that Jonathan did for other people’s senior high school photos and engagements.

It’s been several years since Jonathan’s last customer contracted him for a photography gig. At one time, Jonathan looked into the possibility of swapping his day job for the life of a professional photographer. However, then a completely different job opportunity presented itself to Jonathan.

I should also mention here that I took my sister O.’s senior high school photos on my own. On the day that I did this, Jonathan rested from a sprained ankle and thus he wasn’t around to offer assistance. I am flattered that O. asked me to do this.

Here’s the tl; dr to all of this: I like to scout out tourist attractions for spots to take portrait photography. When we visit parks and other attractions, I like to detect which people are part of a high school senior or engagement photography session. Obviously, at least one person in the party has to have at least one camera. Sometimes, the people in the group carry multiple cameras and / or lighting equipment.

So, anyway, I saw this woman at the mill who looked as if she was dressed up to have her engagement photo taken.

Jonathan showed up. Jonathan offered to walk back to the parking lot himself, then drive to the mill and pick me up. I accepted Jonathan’s offer.

I waited at our agreed-up pick-up spot directly across the road from the front of the mill. I saw the “cute engagement outfit” woman, accompanied by two men and a woman with a camera.

The woman with the camera directed the “cute engagement outfit woman” to pose with one of the men. I assumed that the “cute engagement outfit woman” and the man with whom she posed were an engaged couple. The woman with the camera posed them in front of an ice formation.

The woman with the camera then asked the second man to get out of her shot.

Then, the woman with the camera posed the “engaged couple” in front of the mill’s front woodwork.

The woman with the camera again berated the second man to get out of her shot. Actually, I think that her exact words were, “Get the hell out of my shot.”

To be honest, I kinda got the impression that the second man was the photographer’s significant other or else some other man with whom she was extremely familiar. She spoke to him as if he was on this trip specifically to accompany her. Maybe he was even supposed to be her photographer’s assistant. Except, he was a photographer’s assistant who annoyed the photographer.

I heard the photographer say to the engaged couple, “Now, show us the ring.”

Just then, Jonathan drove up to me. I jumped into his truck. I was pretty cold.

“Hey, I think that somebody is getting engagement photos,” I said, pointing to the group.

“I saw them earlier,” said Jonathan.

Jonathan then said, “I think that the photographer brought her guy along as an assistant, and he is in trouble.”

Jonathan explained that he heard the photographer ask the guy, “Did you bring it?,” apparently referring to a piece of equipment. Then, she said, “Oh, nevermind,” as if she were already upset at him.

Then, Jonathan told me that he got the vibe from observing this group that the man in the “engaged couple” was in trouble with his woman as well.

I mentioned before that Jonathan and I didn’t get engagement photos. Jonathan proposed to me on a cold December 22 at night at Pittsburgh’s West End Overlook, on the mountain above The Point- the confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers. Jonathan brought his camera in order to photograph me as he proposed. However, when he went to take my photo, his camera’s batteries were dead. He looked through his pockets for fresh batteries. I was sick with an earache and infection and in no mood to pose in the cold. The morning after our engagement, I visited my doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics.

A few months after our Christmas Eve-Eve-Eve engagement, we road tripped to Toronto for a long weekend. We stopped at Niagara Falls on the way up AND on the way home. We watched the icy Niagara River flow over the icicle-covered ledge of the Falls. I pressured Jonathan to get down on one knee with my ring in front of the Falls for me to take a photo. I intended to tell people that it was a photo of Jonathan proposing to me at the Falls. I don’t know what happened to that photo. I don’t know how I managed to keep from scaring Jonathan away.

I’ve been to other parks where I’ve watched other couples as they pose for photos. Sometimes, the couple seems happy. Sometimes, the couple seems unhappy. For instance, the man seems unenthusiastic about posing for the photo, and the woman seems unhappy about the man being unenthusiastic.

This other time, Jonathan and I picnicked at another park and a bunch of people showed up and held a wedding at a pavilion near our picnic table. We overheard the entire ceremony. The couple wrote their own vows. The bride said to the groom, “I’ve loved you ever since the day that you ran up the wrong set of stairs and knocked on my door.”

On the drive home from our picnic, Jonathan said to me, “Poor girl. She had to marry a guy who couldn’t figure out which stairs to use.”

I am glad that Jonathan put up with me when I made him pose on one knee in front of Niagara Falls.

Girl Scout Confessions

My niece is selling Girl Scout cookies right now. I ate an entire box of thin mints by myself this past week. That’s not my real confession today, though.

I was a Girl Scout for years. My school district didn’t have a Girl Scout troop for high school kids, which is pretty much why I stopped being a Girl Scout. (That’s okay, though, because I was busy with marching band by then.)

Anyway, I attended two different Girl Scout camps: Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp in Meyersdale, and Camp Conshatawba in Summerhill. I also went cabin camping with my Girl Scout troop at a state park. I was kind of a brat at all three of these places.

(See my post on my other blog about the Girl Scout Mother’s Day cabin cooking adventure. Apparently, I had a real problem with learning to not talk about other people behind their backs.)

The Maple Valley camp was actually held at a public park (Maple Valley Park) in a wooded area outside of Meyersdale. The park had a swimming pool open to the public back then. The Girl Scouts only occupied one section of the park for one week each year. The Boy Scouts had their own week and their own camp at this same section of this park.

The Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp was held one week in August from Monday – Friday. A school bus picked us up in Berlin each day, and took us the ten miles to Meyersdale. Other Girl Scouts from all over Somerset County also attended this camp with us.

Once we arrived at camp, we were assigned to a temporary Girl Scout “troop” and we did most of our activities with that troop all week. The troop usually included other girls around our same age who attended our same school, if possible. (So, our “troops” often included the same girls who belonged to our “school year” Girl Scout troop.)

We went swimming each day if the teenaged lifeguards who supervised Maple Valley’s public pool didn’t hear thunder.

We sang songs when the camp leaders wanted to keep us busy and tire us out.

We learned how to prepare food in the woods so that we could camp by ourselves and still be able to eat. One time, we mixed up instant pudding in plastic resealable bags just in case we needed to make pudding and didn’t have any spoons or bowls or something. One of the plastic bags burst all over one girl’s jeans. In my adult life, I have never mixed up food in a plastic resealable bag, even when I was in the woods. I think that my Girl Scout camp experience turned me off from ever preparing food in plastic bags.

We played in the small creek that ran through Maple Valley Park. Then, one day, a camp leader approached our “troop” and told us that we couldn’t play in the creek any more because one of the other “troops” just saw a snake in the creek. Looking back, I think that it’s just a pretty good decision to not let large groups of pre-teen kids play in creeks that aren’t pre-inspected for broken beer bottles and discarded fishing hooks. (That’s actually how my sister K. later cut her foot one time when she was on a trip with just me and our dad.) Also, I have feared snakes my entire life. (In fact, my dad kept me out of his woodshed and also the upper loft of our garage for DECADES by telling me that snakes lived there.) However, on this particular stint at Girl Scout camp, I was PISSED that an adult told me that I couldn’t play in a creek “merely” because somebody saw a snake. I was convinced (with absolutely no basis for my reasoning) that the Boy Scouts were totally allowed to play in the creek, and that I was only told to not play in the creek because I was a Girl Scout.

The “snake incident” is not my real confession, either.

Despite its name, the oldest kids at Maple Valley Girl Scout Day Camp actually camped at the park on Thursday night into Friday morning.

We had to “put up our own tents,” even though I am pretty sure that the adults did most of the real work.

Looking back, I wonder how much “fun” the adults had with this.

Anyway, one year, I was in the same “troop” as a girl that I shall call Padmé.

Now, Padmé and I were both from Berlin. We went to the same school and she and I had been in the same “school year” Girl Scout troop. However, Padmé was actually a grade level above me in our school. Our “school year” Girl Scout troop had thirty other girls in it. Padmé and I were not really friends during the school year.

However, during that week at Girl Scout camp, Padmé and I became best buddies.

On Thursday night, Padmé told me that I could “sleep on one of her pillows.”

Guys, this was all pre-Covid.

Also, just for the record, I did bring my own pillow.

However, I accepted Padmé’s offer. I slept on one of her pillows that night.

However, I also fell asleep that night with chewing gum in my mouth.

I woke up the next morning to discover that my chewing gum now covered one side of Padmé’s pillow.

I picked some of the gum off of Padmé’s pillow. The rest of the gum stayed on Padmé’s pillow.

I chose not to cop to Padmé about getting gum on her pillow. When I returned her pillow, I turned the “gum side” so that it faced away from her.

We said our good-byes. I stared at the gum side of her pillow.

I don’t think that Padmé and I ever had another conversation . As I said above, she was a grade ahead of me in school. I don’t think that we were together in Girl Scouts again. Years later, I saw her often in the hallway of our high school. I don’t think that we were in any of the same high school activities.

I wondered now long it took Padmé to see the gum.

I wondered now much trouble she got into with her mom.

I don’t think that I ever again fell asleep with gum in my mouth.

We Met Tonto, the Ohiopyle Cat

Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania. February 6, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

We drove to Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle State Park today for a short walk.

Ohiopyle State Park sits on the Youghiogheny River. There is a story of some historical significance from the 1750’s involving George Washington as a young British officer. This blog post is supposed to be about a cat, though, so I won’t bother telling the George Washington story. You can Google it.

Ohiopyle features several rapids and waterfalls. I myself have gone whitewater rafting on the Youghigheny River (“the Yough”) at Ohiopyle. I shared a raft with a girl who wore her contact lens on the trip. After each time that we fell out of our raft into the water, she panicked that she had lost her contacts. She kept asking her boyfriend to check to see if her contacts were still in her eyes.

(I don’t have room to make fun of this girl. I once went white water rafting on the Cheat River in West Virginia in April. I wore my glasses instead of my contacts. I fell out of the raft several times, and on the rapids known as the Big Nasty (or maybe it was the rapids known as the Coliseum), my glasses swam off of my face. I grabbed them, but I lost one of the lenses out of them.)

The bicycle and walking trail known as the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) runs through Ohiopyle State Park. The Ohiopyle trailhead and restroom is actually right across the road from the main falls and almost right next to the Falls Market. (More on the Falls Market in a little bit.) I have personally biked to the Ohiopyle trailhead from the trailheads in both directions. However, this blog post is about a cat, so I will write about the GAP some other time.

We did not visit Cucumber Falls because the Cucumber Falls parking lot was completely packed when we drove past it. Not only that, but there was a truck sitting in the parking lot entrance with its engine running, waiting for a parking spot to open up. There was no place to (safely) park alongside the road. Finally, we realized that even if we were to snag a parking spot, we would have a very difficult time trying to social distance on the narrow trail that leads from the parking lot down to the bottom of Cucumber Falls.

So, no Cucumber Falls for us today.

We did visit the main waterfalls, though. I took the above photo with my new camera.

The Cat

Tonto, the Ohiopyle cat. Ohiopyle State Park. February 6, 2021. Photo: Jonathan Woytek

When we were at the main falls, an orange cat came over and sat down on a retaining wall in front of us. Next to the snow.

Jonathan petted the cat and read the tag on the cat’s collar.

The tag said:

I am Tonto. I live here.

We said hello to Tonto.

Then, after we both backed away from Tonto, some other people came over and said hello to Tonto.

Tonto stretched.

Tonto sat in the sun for a few more minutes.

Then, Tonto ran off.

So, I Googled “ohiopyle” and “cat.”

Almost everything that I found on my Google search was hidden by some media website’s paywall. Some of these paywalls had “free trials” if I gave them my email address and agreed to let them spam me until the end of my days. Still, I didn’t feel like putting forth any extra effort to get behind any of these paywalls.

So, I learned from the non-paywall content that Tonto was one of several cat siblings that a heartless person dumped on the grounds of Ohiopyle State Park.

The owners of Falls Market Restaurant & Inn adopted Tonto.

Falls Market sits directly across the road from the main falls at Ohiopyle. Tonto likes to cross the road and visit the falls. Tonto is quite social and he poses for photos.

Falls Market, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. Home of Tonto the cat. February 6, 2021. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

The Facebook page for Falls Market Restaurant & Inn asks viewers to post photos if they have the opportunity to meet Tonto.

So, I posted this above photo that Jonathan took of Tonto.

Nice to meet you, Tonto.