Crazy Beautiful

I lost a batch of pictures from my vacation – all from the first day. I suspect something went wrong in the upload and, without realizing that, I deleted them from the camera. They’re the least painful ones to lose – pictures of our CRV holding all it can, bikes strapped to the back, boxes on top; snapshots taken on the drive up to Humboldt; our arrival.

It’s okay that I don’t have them. I’ll remember the subjects of those shots. I wrote about them – our little apartment above Arcata’s Plaza, the sign on the bedroom dresser inviting us to call the police if the noise from revelers below our window prevented us from sleeping. I spent a lot of time chilling (and writing) on the rooftop patio. I’ll remember all that.

But there’s one picture I’m really sad I don’t have. I took it on the way up, in a little redwood park just past Leggett, California, where we stopped for lunch. At the edge of a clearing, a trail wound down to a canyon where families were camped out for the day. The river that flowed through it looked festive, decorated with children, brightly colored rafts; parents, umbrellas and toys scattered along its edge like jewels.

In the middle of a wide river bend was a giant boulder. Kids swam around and scrambled over it. Some boys with water guns stood on top and shot at other boys splashing in the water below. There was something intensely nostalgic about the scene, right down to the fingers of sunlight reaching through the trees that rimmed the canyon. It looked like a postcard sent to me from my past, like if I looked closely, I’d see my own ten-year-old self playing with my brothers in a Santa Cruz creek behind a rustic old cabin: red hair, crooked smile, freckled, sunburned shoulders. The summers in my youth looked just like this.

As I watched, a boy, maybe eight years old, caught my eye. From the top of the boulder, he looked down at his friends in the river below. He had a giant squirt gun in his hand, which he turned and handed to a little girl who’d followed him to the boulder’s edge. His friends, noticing him finally, began yelling up. He didn’t yell back. He just stood there, poised, tense, unmoving, as high as the balcony of a two-story building.

I felt nervous. I knew he was going to jump and I knew exactly how he felt there on the edge of his moment, looking down. No doubt, many kids had jumped before, but not him. Not until now. He stood so still, knees slightly bent, staring. I put the camera to my eye, watched the little girl say something, the boy turn to her, turn back. I felt my pulse quicken, my stomach dance.

I whispered encouragement.

Several moments passed and I began to doubt he’d be able to overcome his fear. I lowered the camera, until I saw one of his friends climbing out of the water, clambering up the giant rock behind the boy, yelling something I couldn’t hear. I knew then that it was now or never. Jump or get pushed, I figured, and I put the camera back to my eye, focused on the boy, held my breath like it was me. It was just as his friend reached the top of the boulder that the boy leapt, and I snapped his picture – suspended between earth and sky, legs bent, arms up, so crazy beautiful I whooped in giddy recognition.

A few seconds later, his friend jumped too. I’d lost track of which splashing boy was “my boy,” the one I knew so well, the one who’d stood there thinking how different it looked from the top of the boulder, how much higher. The one whose stomach was leaping long before he did, whose limbs felt uncertain and infinitely breakable. The one who told himself, fiercely, that other people had jumped; he’d be fine, just like they were. (Even though it doesn’t matter in the moment of hesitation how many people went before, and it matters even less after the fact, when you’re so alive you think you might burst right out of your merely mortal skin.) That boy who sucked in his breath and jumped – on his own, because that was better (so much more triumphant-badass-rock-star-amazing) than being pushed.

I lost the pictures from that day, but I wanted to write this post to make sure I never lose him.


  1. Rita on August 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    OMG I forgot! I forgot August was the month of grand gestures. And I just happened to make one..take one…do one…well you know what i mean. I just let someone I can’t stop thinking about know that I can’t stop thinking about him, and that he doesn’t need to do anything about it, but that I didn’t want to have any regrets and that it matters to me that he know that in the interest of leaping fearlessly and not holding anything back. I think that qualifies. Wow! August IS going to be amazing.

    I adore you. Tell your parents thank you. xo

    • lunaJune on August 3, 2011 at 7:18 am

      love those kinds of gestures !!

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 7:48 am

      Wow! That is brave and just the kind of gorgeous I want to be and be around more. I think the best gestures (grand or otherwise) are done without expectation. Unfettered, untangled generosity of the soul. Thank you for reminding me.

      I love that you did that. I hope you feel the big, bold beauty of it, no matter what happens. You just showed yourself to be amazingly kickass. THAT is worth celebrating.

  2. Joanne Marie Firth on August 2, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    That is one lucky little boy, to be immortalized here on Zebra Sounds. Wonderful!

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 7:49 am

      Awww. Kinda felt lucky to have sneaked in and shared his moment. I suspect he will leap a million more times in his life, but that one is “ours.” πŸ˜‰

  3. Pam on August 2, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    Wonderfully evocative. I’m sorry you lost your photos, but I love the picture you put into my head.

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 7:51 am

      In a way, maybe losing the photos was good. It made me want to capture that moment in all the detail I could. As a writer, I probably need to pretend I never have the photo. πŸ˜‰ Thank you!

  4. Rita on August 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    PS…I’m really sorry you lost your photos too. I have been there and it’s not pleasant, but it sounds like you have them saved in your head and heart.

  5. Sanford Lewis on August 2, 2011 at 10:43 pm


    • j on August 3, 2011 at 7:51 am


  6. careymjones on August 2, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Judy — I’ve been absent for so long (from posting, but not in my thoughts of you) . . . just read this and I feel so inspired by it/by you — of course! Oh, if only I could capture every Photo moment in my mind the way you have here. There is no need for a picture – you illustrated it perfectly with your mind’s eye and your words. I saw it in vivid detail as I read what you wrote. It made me think of the film “Stand by Me” for some reason (?!). Was that not based on a Steven King novel? I believe so! Thank you, as always, for being a source of motivation for me. I am also standing on boulder up high above a canyon and river (a symbol for this stage in my life) . . . in my life, looking down at the water I soooooo want to reach . . . having many of the thoughts/feelings you described. Was this your intention? To have this boy’s experience mirror the “grand gestures” of this month? And, what about losing the photo? Is there also a message in that? Good Heaven, I’m always analyzing — but, I do see this . . . do you? Whatever the case — thank you, thank you, thank you!! I’m a bit sleep deprived at the moment, so forgive typos, etc., in advance. Here’s to August!

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 7:56 am

      Well, I loved Stand By Me (which I think was a short story or a novella, I’m not sure), so reminding you of that works for me. And yes, the actual physical leap of one beautiful boy made me think about the metaphorical leaps we all stand on the edge of as adults, hesitating, feeling no reassurance that others have gone before. But then that other part, the exhilarating, holy-shit-look-what-I-just-did part (see Rita’s comment for proof), is the magic that keeps us leaping.

      I think the only message in my losing the photos is that I always need to check that the upload worked, before I delete. I know that, but I got sloppy on vacation because I wanted to clear the camera every day… and because what are vacations for if not to get sloppy! πŸ˜‰

  7. terrepruitt on August 2, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    I am so sorry you lost your pictures especially that one of the boy. I think that I got a better sense of the boy and the adventure from your re-telling than if I would have seen the picture. I was holding me breath along with the both of you! You told his story way better than a picture could have–to me. I will definitely rethink that saying (a picture is worth a thousand words) before I say it now.

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 7:57 am

      Now THAT is high praise. Thank you, Terre. This ginormous smile I’m wearing is just for you. xo

  8. James on August 3, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Wonderful, powerful stuff. As precious as photos are, it’s the meaning/memories that we extract from them or impart into them that’s most important.

    You don’t have the photo of that boy but you have that moment and all the feelings, inspiration and understanding that came with it. A photo only captures a split-second and means nothing without context, but you’ve retained that context and a whole world of depth. I’ve seen so much more here than I would have simply by looking at a holiday photo. Thanks, Judy. πŸ™‚

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 7:59 am

      Thank you, James. As it turned out, I agree. I was so bummed when I realized I didn’t have it. I’d have used it in this post I think, I knew I wanted to write about him, but not having the picture itself changed what I wanted to say, made it important to me that YOU see it all too. Little writerly lesson wrapped up for me all of this. Always good.

  9. Estrella Azul on August 3, 2011 at 4:47 am

    Wow, j, despite misplacing the physical copy, you most certainly don’t seem to have lost that picture – and even showed it to us in all it’s beauty! Thank you for that!

    There are programs you can recover photos with. I should know… I once deleted ALL the pictures from a three-day trip the night before we left. All couple of hundred of them. But we managed to recover them. I’m emailing you now with a link πŸ™‚

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 8:02 am

      Thank you for those kind words! We checked the camera thoroughly and then did run a program that checks all photos in my laptop directories. That day just isn’t there, but I’ll happily check out your link in case it tries something fancier than I did.

    • Estrella Azul on August 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm

      We checked the SD card itself with that program and it worked like that (haven’t tried it out on laptop though). Hope it will help πŸ™‚

    • terrepruitt on August 4, 2011 at 1:35 am

      Oooo! Let us know ifit works.

  10. Valerie on August 3, 2011 at 4:54 am

    The picture you painted with words said more to me, I believe, than my eyes would have percieved by merely looking at a snap-shot. My stomach was dancing as well. Beautiful!

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 8:05 am

      Thank you. I remember exactly that very fear, though I was much older than he was. I was on a rafting trip with my boyfriend at the time, and the raft had been punctured going down a rapid. Our guide was fixing it and our group was playing – cliff jumping. There was this one cliff all the guys jumped off of, but none of the girls would. I couldn’t stand to be “one of the girls,” but I stood on that cliff’s edge for what seemed like an eternity, wrestling my fear until everyone lost interest in me because no one thought I’d jump. And then I just sort of stepped off. (Not nearly as cool as that little boy, but that feeling after it was done… wow.)

  11. Jack on August 3, 2011 at 5:34 am

    Good luck with the retrieval program. That would be awesome to see since we thought it was lost. Reminds me of the day someone told my ferrier that the pony died. When he arrived to trim their feet he was overjoyed to see the pony had not died. He nicknamed it “resurrection pony” from then on & smiled every time he did. Sorry, I see a joy loop similarity here but I am not sure I have explained it.
    Grand gestures: I wish everyone good luck in making them happen. I have a fuzzy one in mind to work on. πŸ˜‰

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 8:07 am

      I love that story, and “joy loop” is such an awesome phrase! Does your grand gesture involve coming out and sipping wine with me in California? (THAT would be grand, Jack.) πŸ˜‰

  12. Casoly on August 3, 2011 at 5:41 am

    Lovely. So nice to read a happy story this week. Thank you J. That’s all I’ve got, but thought I would share anyway. xox

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 8:10 am

      So happy to have one. I feel the same way this week – it’s been a while since I felt so outnumbered, so frustrated and helpless in the face of a lunatic fringe. I wonder how some people look at themselves in the mirror every day. (Oops, sorry. See how easily I slide back into that yucky place? Remember the boy.)

      Thank you for the comment, C. xo

  13. lunaJune on August 3, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Stories.. were once the pictures we shared…and they stayed longer in most peoples heads …and hearts… I see you boy… I know that fear…I held my breath as he jumped in the air !
    thinking long and hard about what grand gestures I can make this month hmmmmm I will be in Italy for the last week.. so who knows :~)
    I lost over 400 pictures from Ireland…at first I was sad… but then I realized the Universe just wanted me to come back..
    Thank you as always for your inspiration


    • j on August 3, 2011 at 8:12 am

      Italy seems made for grand gestures if you ask me! (Don’t forget to look for love for me, snap some pics… or tell me stories.) I suspect your whole life is a grand gesture, June. πŸ™‚

  14. keith on August 3, 2011 at 8:27 am

    You’ll want to try recovering the images from the card, they don’t actually get erased when you delete them. So depending on how many times you’ve shot/written over the data you can retrieve them. As for finding the images on the computer that you’ve downloaded them to, I do like like a program called Picasa – its an image editing program & when you first install it – it scans for image files in every nook & cranny of you computer and puts them on a light-table for viewing.

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      We checked the camera – in both the places i know pictures can be stored. I searched all my files and opened Picassa which checks your computer for image files), and didn’t find them. I’m pretty sure they’re really gone.

      I’m not that worried about it. My time is worth something, and other than the boy (immortalized now), there’s nothing I need to get back.

  15. keith on August 3, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I’ve been using a free program to recover image files, I’ll to remember the name of it. Or, you can use most image recovery program -for free- to see if it finds the images, before having to purchase the program. I forget the names of the programs but can find out.

  16. keith on August 3, 2011 at 8:32 am

    and with your -such- vivid descriptions, you don’t really need the images either. if you turn the old saying around, picture’s worth a 1000 words, then how many pictures are needed to match your words. 2-3 gigabytes worth I’m sure

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      Awww. Sweetness. Thank you!

  17. Prudence MacLeod on August 3, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Judy, thanks so much for sharing that moment total triumph. You didn’t lose that picture, J, you posted it here for us all to enjoy, and a beautiful picture it is.

    Bless, Pru

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      Thank you! I kind of think the moment meant more to me than him, but when he’s old like me, he’ll appreciate it more. πŸ˜‰

  18. jojowheeler on August 3, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Amazing! You had me ‘whispering encouragement’ too! I so enjoy your posts…. you really capture the emotion of the moment πŸ™‚

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to say that. Big smile! xo

  19. Kathryn Dyche Dechairo on August 3, 2011 at 10:59 am

    You captured that moment so beautifully with the written word. Such a wonderful post.

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm

      Thank you. It helps to have such a cool moment to capture.

  20. Michael on August 3, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I’m glad that you lost that one particular picture. You might not have written about it otherwise, and that would have been a huge shame. This is pretty wonderful.

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm

      I certainly wouldn’t have written about it in the same way. Thanks, Michael.

  21. kaleighsomers on August 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Sometimes I think the world throws you just what you need when you need it, even if you don’t realize it. The boy jumping off the cliff seems small to other people like his buddies, but you felt it. You felt that moment. I’m with Michael on this one. I’m glad you told us because maybe if you hadn’t lost it, the significance of that nostalgic moment might’ve just slipped through your fingers. And that would’ve been a beautiful thing we all didn’t know we missed.

    • j on August 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      I think the world throws us treasure all the time, and sometimes we’re smart (or alive or awake or aware) enough to catch it. I got very lucky on this one. Thank you, Kaleigh. xo

  22. Milliver's Travels on August 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    This was mesmerizing! I opened the ZS email to see how long the post was, intending to read it tomorrow. I was on the edge of my chair, ready to go take a shower and have an early night. I was absolutely determined to do nothing else on the computer, except shut it down. Then I opened your post and got sucked right along. From the first sentence I was hooked. I got so involved in the unfolding story, I was actually holding my breath until he jumped.

    I’m terribly sad you lost that picture. But I guess we’re lucky, because if you hadn’t lost it, you might not have written this specialness.


    • j on August 4, 2011 at 8:29 am

      Can’t ask for a better reaction than that! Thank you, Milli!

      I’m actually not as sad that I lost the picture now that I’ve written this piece, and even before, while I was disappointed, it was just one day, and not even one of the prettiest days.

      Once upon a time, I lost a truck with everything I owned on it. My perspective is a little skewed. While pictures are a little bit magical to me, they are still, in the end, “stuff.”

      Thank you so much for staying up to read me! xo

  23. C. Fassett on August 4, 2011 at 12:11 am

    I love this post, j! Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m in agreement with everyone here — your delightful description of the photo, and what occurred within it, is way better than seeing the photo itself.

    However, I’m sorry you lost your pictures. Been there, done that, with the majority of what was lost being of my daughter’s wedding :(. Yes, we cried over that one.

    I’m looking forward to some Grand Gestures :D, even though I think I already did one πŸ˜‰ And once again, the timing of this month’s plan is perfect, cuz I’m just gettin’ started, baby!

    • j on August 4, 2011 at 8:32 am

      “I’m just gettin’ started, baby!” made me grin. Me too!

      I think the key to August is to define your own “grand.” I already have people telling me they don’t think they can do it, but I think they can. Some people are in a place where any gesture they make in the name of love and openness and vulnerability is grand, and if so – take a baby step.

      You, on the other hand, you’ve got “grand” down. πŸ˜‰

    • C. Fassett on August 4, 2011 at 11:40 am

      Yes, I think they can too. It’s an individual thing, and we get in trouble if we start making comparisons. Well, that’s what I found anyway. What feels big and skeery to me isn’t necessarily big to anyone else, and vice versa. I HAD to make baby steps, one little step at a time, grace to grace, because at one time, I had way too much fear in me, and fear always makes a thing seem bigger. We have to listen to ourselves, what it feels like we CAN do in this moment, and go from there. What has been helpful to me in a tremendous way is to simplify it by reminding myself that, in the end, it is merely a decision I’m making right now, nothing more. I don’t have to jump off the cliff, I have a choice in this moment, then I gauge if I’m ready. If not, that’s okay too. It’s all good. πŸ™‚

  24. Torre – Fearful Adventurer on August 4, 2011 at 8:21 am

    This is my first time on your blog and I adore your writing. Pictures never do justice to those moments like words do, especially when they’re high emotion. I had a big adventure a few years back and I decided to turn it into a book for the same reason: to immortalize it. I spent two years dwelling in the pictures of my mind and turning the experience into words. Just between you and me, I think it was better than the real thing! One day when I’m old and senile, maybe my dear old husband will read it back to me (a.k.a the Notebook). Please keep on losing your photos. πŸ˜‰

    • j on August 4, 2011 at 8:41 am

      Ha! Or maybe i just need to keep writing as if I’ve lost the photos. πŸ˜‰ Thank you so much for commenting. I just checked out your blog, and I adore YOUR writing. In fact, I’m going to go tweet it and I hope everyone clicks your link. Your open letter is one of those, “Yeah! That’s just what I was thinking” kind of posts.

  25. jb on August 4, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Your picture isn’t lost— it’s right in my imagination, where you put it with your amazing words. Seriously, I wouldn’t bother to take pictures if I could write like you, j. What a beautiful picture/story!

    • j on August 5, 2011 at 8:19 am

      High praise from my photographer friend. Thank you! xo

  26. Gina SuuperG Stark on August 8, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I’m shaking my head here…because of the gift you share with us. I have a precious photo of a similar scene but not at all with the story you have that accompanies…it’s of several boys in Thailand jumping off a bridge. On my old desktop Mac…MUST retrieve it! (Especially as I have not your eloquence with which to share the details of it!) xoxoxo Gina

    • j on August 27, 2011 at 11:37 am

      Belated thank you, Gina. Did you find your picture?

  27. Shelby on August 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Wow that was truly amazing and I am so glad I got to read this now, I think it’s exactly what I needed to read and feel in all the craziness happening around me. You really create an amazing image with your words, and as a photographer I hope my pictures can make people feel the way your words do, and express all the different emotions you capture so well. I always enjoy reading your blogs they always put a smile on my face and make me think about things so thank you!! you really are an incredible writer!

    • j on August 27, 2011 at 11:40 am

      Thank you! I’ve been getting more and more caught up in photography – in the idea of trying to capture the emotional content or the unexpected beauty of everyday scenes. I’ve never taken a photography class, so I’m just figuring it out as I go, looking at the pictures I take and trying to figure out why some work so well. It’s fun. Like a new language. And I’m letting myself be an absolute beginner.

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