Camping

My earliest memories of camping were Dad taking Zach and me out to Black Jack, a vast wilderness owned by the paper company I think. We would set up a little dome tent and build a fire. Dad would let us play in the fire with a stick, probably the best part for a little boy. We always camped in the fall, no sense in camping with mosquitoes and rattlesnakes. 

Most of the time we roasted weenies and marshmallows, but one particular time Dad went all out and made some barbecue chicken quarters over the fire. He seasoned the chicken, wrapped it in aluminum foil and placed it on one of those flimsy folding metal grills that set over the fire. We sat patiently around the fire on our five gallon buckets staring into the flickering flames.  Just before the chicken was finished cooking it began to rain. First softly then a steady drizzle, then we retreated into the tent as the bottom dropped out of the sky. The water began to rise as we sat huddled in our sleeping bags hoping for the rain to subside. After about a half an hour and half an inch of rain in the tent, Dad decided to abandon camp. We loaded our essential belongings into the truck and headed home. We ended up leaving the tent to retrieve another day, but the saddest part was that we never even got to try the chicken. I don’t think we ever camped at Black Jack after that.

From then on we camped on some relative’s property that had a small lake where we often fished. Looking back now, I realize how little I was, out of diapers, but not in school. It was Dad’s rule that you had to be out of diapers to go camping. In the mornings, we would go hunting not far from where we had camped. I would sit against a tree with Dad while Zach sat by himself a few yards away. He probably had a better chance of killing a deer by himself, because I was making too much noise playing with action figures. I never did catch the hunting fever like my brother, but I still like to go camping, and it just doesn’t feel right to go camping without a gun.

Zach and I camped with Jared and Creed once on the back border of their Dad’s property. Mr. Sherwood McDaniel, their father, had cleared the perimeter and it was here that we spent many hours playing. Zach and Creed were old enough to work at the store, so Jared and I were supposed to tend the fire until their shift was over. The gainfully employed older brothers had gone shopping before hand and brought some provisions for that night. I’m sure they got some good food but what I remember is the knock off Grapicos, they were nasty. We, the keepers of the flame, discovered that a can of Coke, knock off or genuine, will explode with a tremendous noise if you place it in the fire and forget about it. Creed and Zach were not as impressed.

While Zach was still in high school it was not very hard to talk him into camping. We’d often make the decision ten minutes before the store closed and then rush to set up in the dark. I can’t tell you how many times we camped like this as teenagers. 

The older we grew, the less sleeping we did when we went camping. The most miserable part about camping is waking up about half frozen and filthy with smoke, your breath tastes like you been eating dirt all night, and then having to clean up all of the camping gear. There was a point when we stopped fooling with bringing a tent and just stayed up all night. This made it easier to camp at the drop of a hat, all we really had to pack was food. Food is the best part of camping when you’re a young man.

One night it snowed on us, a rare occasion in Alabama. It didn’t last long, but it was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. A big bright moon shining on freshly fallen snow, a few guys sitting around a campfire not fully appreciating the moment. 

I do not recommend taking your wife camping on your first anniversary.

This morning the air was crisp and cold, and full of that certain smell that comes with fall, a cool damp fragrance that almost burns. These are the conditions in which to camp. 

Last year my church organized a men’s camping trip. We had two fires, one to play in and one to cook in. It drizzled rain on us all night, but the little boys that went hardly seemed to notice. I still enjoy playing in the fire, and you better believe that I still enjoy eating around the fire, but as an adult, what I like most about camping is the comradery. There is something significant about the gathering together of men for the sole purpose of fellowship.

2018 Men & Boys Camping

“We’re going camping on November 1st Wesley.” I told Wesley a week ago.

“Do I need to start packing?” He replied.

Sports Page

I’ve always thought it was a strange to ask the losing coach what happened after an upset.

When I was growing up, the comics section was sometimes located in the Sports Page of the Birmingham News. Which created a bit of tension as the funnies were the most valuable part of the whole paper in our household: everyone read the comics. Added to their desirability was the fact that the crossword puzzle was attached to the comics; and Mom and Dad loved to work “The puzzle”, as Dad called it. It was a nice activity to exercise mental prowess and created a welcome diversion from a busy day.

The Sports section was only read by Dad and Zach. From time to time there would be something interesting in the Sports Page. Like when Perry Hodge shot a thirteen foot alligator not far from where we used to go fishing. Or the time an eleven year old boy killed a wild hog that weighed over half a ton and had five inch tusks. He shot it with a pistol. That kind of stuff is interesting, but the rest of the sports page I found pretty boring.

A friend recently sent me a job posting for a newspaper publisher. Not for the Birmingham News, but a smaller paper. I guess he thinks since I’ve been writing for a few years that I’m qualified to be a newspaper publisher. Do you ever wish that you believed in yourself as much as your friends do? Not that I hate my job, but I am for hire. All the happiness in the World can’t buy you money.

So I’ve been entertaining the thought of being a newspaper publisher. It must be something in my romantic nature to rally for dying causes like film photography, and print newspapers: and I like to day dream. The first thing I thought about was what would I do with the Sports Page? I mean, there has got to be a way to make it more interesting. If nothing else, it would confuse the tar out of a few old men who look forward to reading a football article every weekend.

Something fresh that I’m certain would get people’s attention would be to publish the half time marching band set from the lowest ranked football team in the wrong division. That article would need to be on the front of the sports page. I’d also like to get some post game analysis from some of the inebriated fans as they were leaving the stadium after their team lost. I’ve always thought it was a strange to ask the losing coach what happened after an upset. What kind of journalism is that? Did they not watch the game?

Covering some of the more odd ball sports out there might be fun. Cycling, fencing, chess, maybe thumb wrestling. Someone once told my brother, “I never knew that eating was a spectator sport until I met you.”

Let’s face it, most people in Alabama don’t even really like football; they just like Auburn or Alabama. Furthermore, I wouldn’t quite classify the attitude toward football in Alabama as a sport. The closest definition of sport offered by Webster that could apply to football is: a source of diversion. You can hardly call year round coverage of a seasonal activity as a diversion.

I’ve often made sport of the football situation in Alabama by referring to it as the State Religion. While I find it humoring, there are many who may wince at this because it hits close to home. During football season, many will not make it Sunday because their god was defeated on Saturday.

So if I ran the sports page, I would do my best to offer a genuine source of diversion. It’s safe to say that at this point in my life I can name more Grand Sumo wrestlers that I can football athletes, whether college or professional. What if the sports page covered Sumo Wrestling? Grand Sumo is a year round sport; but then again, it is also quite literally a religious ceremony. The only difference is that the Sumo Wrestlers don’t hide this fact.

There are something things in this life that I know I will never understand. Maybe the comics and crossword puzzle should always be in the Sports Page.

“Clean Family Comedy”

Much of what society calls entertainment today is, to use a light term, altogether unwholesome in every way.

I spent the last week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee playing guitar at the Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship Summit Conference. It’s always a lot of fun and I’m glad to be asked. For the musicians, it’s a rigorous schedule and I’m usually exhausted by the time the conference is over. One of things that makes this trip special is sharing a cabin with my family and friends. It’s like family camp on steroids. I think there were nineteen people staying at the cabin. My Mom cooked for us so we didn’t have to fight the lines at a restaurant. We attended a show at the end of the week. All twenty-four of us, we picked up some stragglers along the way. We took up a whole row at the Comedy Barn. It was great fun, Kids spilling drinks and eating popcorn off the floor, the way shows should be.

Wesley knows how to enjoy a show.

It really is a good show and I laughed quite a bit. It reminded me of our variety show efforts at youth camp. The routines were funny, but the human interaction on the fly is what makes the show worth attending. Even with all of that, what struck me enough to make me set down and write this was possibly the only serious moment of the whole show. During intermission, a man got up to sell T-Shirts, which come with a life time warranty. If you wear it out, they will replace it for free. It was a novel idea, and I almost got swept up in the moment and purchased a shirt before I remembered that I don’t really like wearing T-Shirts. The man held up the shirt,”The only catch is, you got to wear it. Word of mouth is the best advertising, and when you wear this T-Shirt you’re letting everyone know that you support Clean Family Comedy.” He said it with emphasis and gusto.

This statement resonated with me. One of my goals through essays and videos has been to provide clean entertainment for people of like precious faith. I’d like to make a case for clean entertainment. Much of what society calls entertainment today is, to use a light term, altogether unwholesome in every way. To use a Biblical term, it’s sin. I think the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans sums up the state of entertainment today.

Romans 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. KJV

This is why I don’t have a television in my home, or watch movies and Netflix. This is why I don’t listen to your favorite band. This is why I don’t do a lot of things that are done in the name of entertainment. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy clean entertainment. Much of my audience understands this.

Entertainment doesn’t have to be corny to not be vulgar. Comedy doesn’t have to be a snarky. I think this is where some Christian comedians get it wrong. It’s as if they run out of material and go from being funny to making fun.

I don’t even think entertainment has to be funny. I may play a hymn on the guitar that brings back fond memories to one person and makes another person wonder why anyone in their right mind would have ever sang that song in church. Some of my most popular material has made people bawl, but they still tell me how good it was.

I won’t go so far as to say that entertainment is necessary for good spiritual health, but I do believe that it can be edifying.

Proverbs 17:22 A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. KJV

There was something else that struck me last week. I was surprised by the amount and variety of people that spoke to me and mentioned my (let’s say efforts in creating safe entertainment because I think blog is such a dreadful word). One particular friend remembered my attempts at entertainment when we were teenagers. Every evening after church during youth camp we had Midnight Madness, a makeshift variety show. She said, “You have a gift. You used to have us rolling. I hope that you are successful in whatever it is you’re trying to do.”

What I’m trying to do is to entertain people. I believe there is a unfulfilled need for safe, godly, clean, edifying entertainment. If you’ve read this far you probably believe it too. Thank you for reading. Thank you for watching my videos. Thank you for sharing and helping get the word out.

If your church or event needs clean entertainment, I’d love to talk to you more about what I can offer. -Zane Wells

Contact and Booking

Tragedy and Memory

What is it about tragedy that makes the memory so poignant?

I suppose that every generation has an event that is cemented in the collective conscious memory. Ask anyone old enough and they’ll tell you minute details about where they were when they heard the news about the President Kennedy’s assassination. A generation later would remember the Challenger disaster. My generation remembers the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.

Watching the second plane hit the tower. Seeing desperate people jump to a preferred death to escape death. Watching the towers fall almost in slow motion. These are vivid images that you and I cannot escape. The memory is so vivid that I call smell the English classroom where I was sitting. What is it about tragedy that makes the memory so poignant? Your memories testify with mine, and are intensified.

September 11th is one of those events that would be horrifying to forget, but is agonizing to recall. Maybe that’s why we tend to describe where we were and what we were doing at the time, instead of the sickening helpless feeling we felt watching thousands of people die.

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.” -J.R.R. Tolkien.

Oh I wish that I could remember pleasant times as vividly as I could remember the tragic times.

Film Photography

Do you remember taking photographs on film?

I love yard sales. Previously loved merchandise. Everything you never knew you couldn’t live without can be found at a yard sale. Part of the fun of a yard sale is digging through the junk to find the treasure. Sometimes it’s only digging through junk. Even when you do find treasure, it sometimes only seems like treasure because the junk makes it look better. This is how I got back into film photography.

I have a recurring dream that I find a cache of treasure (usually guitars) for sale dirt cheap at some yard sale or thrift store. From time to time it comes true. Like the time I found a bunch of pocket knives at an estate sale. Today I’m thinking about the time I stumbled upon the motherlode of film camera equipment at the church yard sale. The yard sale itself had a half acre of merchandise spilling off of tables and onto tarps. There was an entire table full of lenses, filters, flashes, and bulbs. On the edge of the table was whicker basket full of film cameras. My mind went back to photography class when I spotted a pristine Canon A-1 Camera with a 50mm lens. I picked it up and instinctively focused the lens on one of the yard sale characters walking around. I advanced the film lever and clicked the shutter release button. There was the unmistakable whir of a shutter quickly opening and closing. A sound that even kids born in the 21st century will recognize from their iPhone camera.

I was hooked. Camera in hand, I walked over to Sis. Tina Updike, who was running the cash register that day. “How much for the camera Sis. Tina?” I asked. She frowned at me like she’d never seen a camera before she asked, “Is $10 too much?” I quickly paid for the camera before I had a chance to talk myself out of taking up a new hobby. I also went and scooped a couple of lenses, another SLR camera, and an enlarger so I could develop my own film.

As I fiddled with the camera and did a little bit of research to refresh my new found venture in to film photography, I began to think abstractly how film photography is more like life than the convenient digital photography that has cemented it’s place in our culture over the past twenty or so years. There was a time when cameras were investments, now they are just features on our phones. Camera phones have made us all photographers.

Think about when you were a kid. Unless you don’t remember having to take pictures with a camera, take your undeveloped film to Wal-Mart, shop around for an hour until you could finally pick up an envelope of actual pictures. Not only did you have to purchase film, but you had to pay for the pictures before you could decide that you were a terrible photographer. You kept the pictures anyway, and couldn’t wait to show them to your friends. The next time you had company, you’d pass around your pictures and you’d all laugh at the ones that didn’t come out like you wanted. The few pictures that came out great got an elevated frame or refrigerator status.

The first roll of film that I shot with my Canon A-1 was interesting. There were 24 frames. It made me stop and think before I snapped the shutter. I had to manually focus each picture. I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could see the fruit of my labor. Long enough to almost forget what I’d shot. Opening that first envelope of pictures was quite emotional. I sat down and looked through them with my wife. Like any roll of film, there were some duds. An image with uninteresting subject material, a poorly focused shot, or improper exposure. Even so, there were few really good pictures that I framed.

A photograph is frozen moment in time. Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke of the decisive moment, or the perfect moment to freeze in time. You can’t retake the same picture, because time will move forward. You’ll stop and refocus, changing the composition. Life is much more like a roll of film with a set amount of frames than a digital phone camera where we can take endless pictures in order to capture an image of how we think we should look. It’s a sobering thought, time.

Mostly From Memory is me sharing with you my life’s roll of film. Sure, I get to edit the pictures a little bit to make the subject material shine, but I can’t go back and take more pictures. Neither can you. Each season in our life is a frame of time on a limited roll. I wish that we could simply “delete” some pictures in life because of uninteresting or embarrassing subject material. Or a poorly focused shot. Or improper exposure.

I have a strong desire to make each season in my life count.

I can’t remember if I was thinking along these lines as I loaded the second roll of film into my now beloved Canon A-1, but I did know that I hoped to make every shot count. I think I took a few pictures of my kids, who wouldn’t be still to for anything in the world. The next day I took my camera to work so I could take pictures of downtown Winchester on my lunch break. There was one shot that I planned on taking. Every day I looked out from the fourth floor of the parking garage across the alley to the fire escape of the George Washington Hotel. The metal staircase against the backdrop of brick formed a perfect Z.

Z for Zane. I focused my camera on the target, but to get the composition just right required me to stand on the concrete barrier a foot from off of ground and lean against the railing with my knees. I took my time focusing and double checked my exposure before I firmly pressed the shutter release. Satisfied that I had not wasted a frame of film, I stepped back from my perch into reality. I was a hair higher than I expected and when my foot didn’t reach solid ground I grabbed for the rail, which was only barely above my knee. I panicked. In my desperation to regain my balance, my prized camera slipped from my hand. I watched it tumble through the air from four stories up. It fell for a long time, almost in slow motion, getting smaller and smaller until it smashed into the concrete and burst into pieces that fled the impact. I stared at the wreckage for quite a while before I realized that I could never take another picture with that camera. Then I walked down the stairs and picked up the pieces.

My busted Canon A-1. A testament to fragility of life.

Spring Water

On the winding road to Nonna and Pop’s house, just after you crossed the railroad tracks, there is an iron pipe that sticks out from beneath the parking lot of an ancient store and gushes crystal clear spring water. Dad would stop there occasionally when we were rambling and we’d drink with cupped hands out of that rusty cast iron pipe. The water was always freezing cold, and on a hot day there was nothing that could compare in taste.

HR Justice Store. The spring is on the opposite side.

I remember going to that store, the HR Justice Store, with my Dan-Dan, but for most of my life the store has set empty. A memorial of time past. I do remember that the store had hardwood floor, and a there was an old man behind a counter who talked with my grandfather. I was too young to pay attention to what kind of merchandise the store stocked, I only remember that they carried Grapico. I think it was once a genuine general store.

Until today, I’ve never really thought about where that water came from, I just new that it was good to drink. Long after the store had shut down, folks would still go there to fill up old milk jugs with the refreshing water flowing out of the pipe. It seems strange now to think of doing that, especially in a world where many people only ever drink water out of a plastic bottle. If you close your eyes and think hard, you can remember a time when buying bottled water at the grocery store seemed ridiculous. And maybe it still is, but we’ve just gotten used to it. It makes me wonder what else we’ve gotten used to.

The Comics

For as long as I can remember, we got the Birmingham News delivered to our house. It was nice of the editors to add all the extra pages to keep you busy while you were waiting on your turn to read the comics. I doubt if I’d have known who Moshe Dayan was if I hadn’t been looking for the funnies. I guess reading the headlines and the blurbs beneath the pictures became part of my routine over time. The static photographs in the Newspaper were probably more effective in arresting my attention that any talking head could dream. I really learned how to keep up with current events by reading the newspaper, and what got me interested in the newspaper was the comics.

There were two pages of comics in the Birmingham News in the era of my childhood. I read them all, even the ones that I never seemed to catch on to the storyline, like Mary Worth, Rex Morgan M.D. and Judge Parker. I later realized that some people had been following these characters for 40 years. Sometimes I saved my favorites for last: Phantom, Zits, Pickles, Peanuts, Baby Blues, Wizard of Id, Beetle Bailey, and Hagar the Horrible.

After years of reading the comics it became apparent which comics were no longer being drawn and written by the original artists. It didn’t stop me from reading, or even enjoying those cartoons, they just seemed like reruns. It made the strips currently being written by the original artists stand out a bit, like Zits, Pickles, and Buckets. There was a freshness about the humor. Then again, some of the strips just weren’t as funny to me no matter who was writing them. Not everyone’s humor is the same. I’ve never been a big Garfield fan, so I’m always a bit wary of people who think that Garfield is hilarious.

Some comic strips resonate with you. As a kid I liked cartoons that made me laugh usually because it was silly, like Sarge pounding Beetle Bailey into a little knot of assorted body parts. Other comic strips made more sense as I got older. Like Peanuts, which can be much deeper than it’s seemingly sparse art would imply. And Dilbert, which really comes to life after you’ve worked in an office. The comics gave me an appreciation for wit, and really how to understand a joke.

I find it interesting to read other Newspapers because each one is unique. The AP articles were all the same, but the character of the Newspaper is in it’s local news coverage, and it’s comics page. Reading another Newspaper’s comics page is like going over to a friends house and playing with his toys. I discovered Cul de Sac this way. Having worked in an after-school program for a number of years, this strip resonated with me. Whenever the comics page was rearranged and old strips shuffled out and new strips shuffled in, it caused a stir in our house. It was similar to getting a new student in class, and you read it with interest testing the waters. I learned to like Get Fuzzy so much that I forgot what it replaced.

Gary Larson and Bill Watterson had both retired, the cause of much sadness among my adult relatives, by the time I had learned to read well enough to enjoy the comics, so my introduction to The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes was through the printed collections. These two comic strips were popular for a reason, they’re extraordinarily good, and they are probably my favorite. Most everyone would enjoy Calvin and Hobbes, but I’ve met more than a few people who did not like The Far Side. I’ve always been a little wary of people who fail to see the humor in the Far Side. They’re usually Garfield fans. We had several volumes of The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Zits, Baby Blues, and Get Fuzzy at home. What’s nice about reading a comic collection, is that you don’t have to wait until the next day to find out what happened. You can consume a lot more than the daily prescribed dose of comic strip. It’s kind of sad to consume a year’s worth of work in an afternoon. Part of the beauty of Newspaper comics is that you have to wait a whole day before you can pick up the storyline. You also think more about a single strip that way instead of blowing through them in the books.

Sarah got me the Complete Far Side collection when we were dating. Which reaffirmed my plan to marry her. But the Complete Calvin & Hobbes has evaded me for years. I found it over the weekend in a Thrift Store for a deal too good to pass up. I don’t think that it had ever been opened. I’ve been introducing Wesley to Calvin & Hobbes since then. Let’s hope it helps his joke telling.

This is why I love Thrift Stores so much.

Comic strips, not to be confused with comic books, have always been a big part of my humor. If you ever catch me laughing aloud by myself, there is a good chance that in my mind I’m rereading a comic strip from years ago. The humor is lost in me trying to describe the strip to you. But if you had read the strip as well, then all I have to do is say the punchline and then you can laugh too. I sometimes answer the phone with a punchline from The Far Side. “Oh yeah? Chief say your horse ugly too!” or, “Ooh, this not be cheap.” The result will be a belly laugh from my Mom or Brother.

As I became an adult, it became apparent that the highlight of everyones day had not been reading the funny pages. It’s a wonderful thing when you do find someone with the same humor as you. I seem to get along quicker with people who grew up reading the comics as if we share a common language. With all that, I’m a bit ashamed that I have not subscribed to the paper since I moved away from home. I hope my kids don’t turn out to be Garfield fans.