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How many columnists does it take to change a light bulb?

Mike Drummond, Columnist
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“That light is burned out in the cellar again,” my wife announced brightly.

“And which cellar would that be?” I asked.

“Our root cellar – home to grotesque semi-comatose vegetable species not normally found in nature? Or our wine cellar – final resting place to several vintages of home-bottled Chateau de Clear Creek wine in various shades of murky brown or gray (the contents, not the glass, which is dark green to obscure the floating chunks)? Or our brick-lined combination mildew farm/frog grotto – the one with the seasonally submerged chandelier?”



“You aren’t going to start singing ‘Sump-where Under The Rainbow’ again, are you? That always scares the cats.”

By the way, we have only one cellar, but it has served all the above-mentioned purposes over the years. I hand dug it during my “Voluntary Simplicity” phase. (Voluntary Stupidity, perhaps?) Its sole function is as a reliable gauge for the level of the local water table. Just check the high water marks when the light isn’t burned out or submerged.




“Let’s convert the cellar to a darkroom,” I said.

“What’s to convert?” my wife said dimly. “With the bulb burned out, it’s as dark as it gets in there.”

“I mean a photography darkroom. I can develop prints documenting the quaint aspects of our rustic lifestyle.”

“Tell me, Prints Charming, how much will this cost?”

I gave her a dollars-and-cents answer, but forgot to include the sense, i.e., the emotional wear-and-tear factor. She agreed, but thought it was an elaborate way to avoid changing a light bulb.

I had a new focus in life and couldn’t wait to see what developed.

There were things to buy and plans to make. I pictured a pleasant pastime zooming into a new career. Perhaps, I could produce a slick coffee-table book of poignant black-and-white photographs.

My wife reminded me of my tendency to flit from one project to next, rarely completing any of them.

“You could write an autobiography,” she said. “Call it ‘The Great Gadfly.'”

“I prefer the lens name F-stop FitzDrummond.” Literary critics are everywhere.

I did not buy a point-and-shoot, automatic-everything camera. They are fine for tourist snapshots, but not for the epic volume I had in mind. And there is something macho about owning a telephoto lens so big it needs straps and a tripod to support it.

I took a crash course in photography: shutter speeds, diaphragms, lenses, aperture settings, emulsions, chemistry, physics, light meters, enlargers, tripod etiquette and more. I acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of cheese names, as in “say cheese,” “edam and weep,” etc., depending on the mood required.

Soon, I was a vision in my photographer’s vest, festooned with film cans, spare lenses, camera straps, pouches, filters and more straps.

But no one told me about the Rule of Thumb. Mine is always there in the foreground of every print, out of focus, somewhere between the lens and the subject, giving new meaning to the term camera obscura.

As my wife had predicted, F-stop FitzDrummond’s darkroom soon reverted to its more primitive nature – home to stalagmite and stalactite wannabees. (No, I do not know which is which).

And, at the risk of being charged with Polonius assault, I’ve finally

learned a lesson from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Neither a burrower nor a lenser be.”

Or for you Latin lovers, “Caveat Snaptor.”

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at miked@theunion.com


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