On this 12th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001

I remember 9/11.


Photo illustration courtesy of PEO Soldier.

It was Tuesday morning. I was in Montana, stationed with the 341st Space Wing at Malmstrom AFB. We were in the second day of a wing-wide exercise.

At 6 o’clock that morning, I came into the battle staff to start my 12-hour shift as public affairs representative to the commander. It was going to be a day filled with various exercise scenarios and long periods of tedium.

Not much was going on after the change-over briefing. Everyone was waiting for the scenarios to begin.

Shortly after 8:45 someone from the adjoining support battle staff came in and told us to turn on the news. A plane had just struck the World Trade Center. The battle staff director did.

We saw coverage of the clear blue New York City sky. We also saw its iconic skyline marred by smoke billowing from one of the towers.

We all sat stunned and in disbelief.

I thought how could anyone not see such a large building on such a beautiful day.

People began calling their offices and families to tell them what was unfolding.

The live coverage kept unfolding before us. The assumption was this was some type of accident. Shortly after 9 a.m., I noticed the second plane slide into the screen. It came from right to left and was momentarily hidden by the towers. Nobody else seemed to see it, certainly not the broadcasters.

The second fireball erupted at 9:03 from the second tower.

This was no accident, I thought.

Everyone in the battle staff now knew America was being attacked.

And it didn’t end. Approximately 30 minutes later, another plane struck the Pentagon.

What was going on?

A lieutenant colonel sitting in front of me knew I had an upcoming assignment to the Pentagon. He turned to me and said rhetorically, “Do you still want to go to the Pentagon?”

Then the news reported a plane crashing in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Again, what was going on?

The base went into lockdown. No one came on, no one left. Everyone began refocusing their work to support whatever the future had in store for us.

The rest of my day consisted of preparing my commander for media interviews. Eventually, he turned that responsibility over to me. Requirements of the job and from higher headquarters demanded his time.

It was a busy day of answering media queries and conducting on-camera interviews.

After almost 16 hours, I finally came home. There was a voicemail on my answering machine.

“I know you’re probably at work…,” the voice of my mother came through the phone. She was crying. No mother wants her son in a war.

I will always remember 9/11.


Are you really seeing what there is to see?

“Two of those shirts are for you,” my wife said. She recently came home from a quick stop to our favorite megastore to by herself a couple of blouses.

I noticed the two checked shirts. “Are these mine?” They are, she said.

“They are the same color,” I said. Lisa knows I’m colorblind but is still taken aback when my weakness appears.

“No they’re not,” she said. “One is blue and the other is pink, which are the two colors you have the hardest time seeing.”

I’ve known my whole life that I am colorblind. It doesn’t really bother me. I don’t know anything else. People often ask me what being colorblind is like. They can’t imagine it. I tell them I can see colors but can’t always distinguish them. I say it’s like seeing a sign in Arabic–and you can’t read Arabic. You see the shapes of the letter but can’t understand them.

Another example is I invariable confuse red and brown M&Ms. (I would of had a hard time fulfilling Van Halen’s contractual provision of no brown M&Ms if it came down to me!)

That’s colorblindness.

This got me to thinking about how this was a metaphor for life. We all have weaknesses and limitations that constantly affect our lives. Sometimes we know about them, and sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes our family and friends know about them, and sometimes they don’t.

Is it no wonder disagreements, miscommunications and misunderstandings arise? We assume everyone “sees things” as we see them and is capable of understanding us.

But what if you can’t see pink…or blue?

Or what if your impression of a chair conjures up an overstuffed leather recliner but to someone else it’s a straight back chair?

People think and see things differently. No one is either right or wrong–unless they are violating law, ordinances or mores. They just see something differently from how you see it. Do you think that’s the secret to life?

Blue or pink checked shirts, I don’t care. I appreciate the lesson they taught me.

What have they taught you?

A morning at Cranford UMC

Cemeteries are not places I normally hang out at. Old cemeteries, however, offer great opportunities to take great textured photos.

Merton Sanborn.

Merton Sanborn.

Not too far from where I live is Cranford United Methodist Church. From its website, here is a brief write up the church’s history:

Cranford Church traces its history back to the 18th century. The sacred and historic spot is the site of three churches and two school houses. The first Pohick Church was located here from 1730-1774, making it one of the earliest sites of a religious institution in Fairfax County.

I envisioned most of the photos in black and white. The moss on Merton C. Sanborn’s obelisk

I love the age and graininess of the headstones. However, the solemness of this sacred spot brought to mind the lives represented here. Who were these people? What were their lives like? Does anyone still remember them?

Tri stones_1

A trio of headstones

Dennis E Hicks_1

Dennis E. Hicks

Margaret _2

Margaret L. Dawson

Metia V Wiley_1

Ametia V. Wiley

Ann Flaskett_2

Ann Flasket

Our Washington Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, Lisa and I spent the day in Washington, D.C. The best part was spending the day together. I also used the time to take pictures of what I found interesting at the Willard Hotel and the National Gallery of Art.

Ornate ironwork on a building near the Metro Center Station. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Ornate ironwork on a building near the Metro Center Station. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Floor tile pattern from the Cafe du Parc at the Willard. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Floor tile pattern from the Cafe du Parc at the Willard. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Arches at the ornate ceiling at the Willard. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Arches at the ornate ceiling at the Willard. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Cherubs adorning a fountain at the National Gallery of Art. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Cherubs adorning a fountain at the National Gallery of Art. (© Russell P. Petcoff)

Remembering my earliest memories

It’s hard to determine what is the earliest memory I have. Too long ago; memories clump together.

It’s hard to determine the timeframe, especially when one is too young to understand time. When we are young, there is that blissful ignorance of time. Youthful memories are like newspaper scattered on the floor. There’s no context.

There are three early memories I have. I’m pretty sure the first is my earliest but the other two equally stand out as early memories.

The first is laying on my left side in a hospital or clinic. Maybe I received some type of inoculation. There’s no memory of any pain from the injection. The room is dark. I see light coming through the door. It leaves a pattern on the wall I’m facing. It’s quiet except for subdued voices coming from the hall.

The second memory has to do with a trip to a fun fair at some type of Catholic facility. At one point, I’m with my brother and other children before a hallway door frame. There a sheet covering the door. It’s probably waist high. We can’t see over. We held fishing poles and sat on the floor. The fishing lines went over the top of the sheet. Someone on the other side placed a prize on our hooks. I could hear voices. I don’t remember what I “caught.” It might have been something round, like a plastic bangle.

Later, I remember walking outside in the grass. It was a sunny day. The terraced grounds had rock walls. Maybe it was a cemetery? I don’t remember.

The third early memory took place either before or after a wedding. It might have been a reception. I’m standing in a hallway with my parents and brother. The folks are talking to another couple. There were stone arches all around me. I could see the evening darkness through the arches. Someone gave me half a stick of gum.

What’s your earliest memory?

The idea for this blog came from “Writing Down The Bones” by Natalie Goldberg.

What is beauty? What is art?

What is beauty? 

I think of art when I think of beauty. So, what makes art beautiful?

This Pilatian question is hard to answer. Museums and colleges are full of people who try to define it. But do they really answer it? They likely are just adoding to a lively debate.

Artist try to express it with their vision. Their work spans from the grandeur of the Sistine Chapel, the simplistic doodlings of John Lennon, or the macabre works of a British artist who framed a cow sawn in two lengthwise.

Doubtful there will ever be a consensus of what is beauty in art.

I did read a definition today that I really liked. It comes the closest to defining beauty in art. It came from a historian but not known for art history. 

“…Beauty is any quality by which an object or a form pleases a beholder. Primarily and originally the object does not please the beholder because it is beautiful, but rather he calls it beautiful because it pleases him.”

“Art is the creation of beauty; it is the expression of thought or feeling in a form that seems beautify or sublime, and therefore arouses in us some reverberation of that primordial delight which woman gives to man, or man to woman.”

Here’s the part I really liked:

“…it may please us through color, which brightens the spirit or intensifies life; or finally the form may please us through veracity–because its lucid and transparent imitation of nature or reality catches some mortal loveliness of plant or animal, or some transient meaning of circumstance, and holds it still for our lingering enjoyment or leisurely understanding.”

Will Durant wrote this in “Our Oriental Heritage.”

Then it seems true, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

Seems true. The part where Durant talks about color and form–or lack of color and texture–is why I love this painting of a sunflower. It’s while I love black-and-white photography.

I did the painting on July 4 of this year. I’d never painted before. I saw the pattern in a crafts store. The colors captivated me, particularly the brilliance. Guess it has something to do with my color-blindness. I know it’s not a great work of art worthy of Michelangelo, van Gogh or Picasso. Nevertheless, I find it beautiful. 

Just as color captivates me, so does the lack of color and the relationship of black, white and intervening shades of gray. Black-and-white photography forces the viewer to examine the texture. It causes me to look more closely at a photograph. It makes me see even more by seeing less.

I don’t hope to have helped define beauty and art. Maybe I simply added to the confusion. It’s what struck me while reading Durant today.
What your take on beauty?