"Reality and Me" by Gretchen Huntley with photographs by Sam Battams

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 15, Issue 11, November 2020

It started with a  phone call from a name I recognized, Gretchen Huntley, but someone whom I had never met. I asked what Gretchen did to keep herself busy during COVID-19 and life in general, and the answer has led me on a lovely path of discovery.  


© Photo by Sam Battams, Gananoque, ON. The poetry below is by Gretchen Huntley and appears in "Reality of Me" a book of poetry and photography

Don't Cry For Me

I remember the summers now long gone
When I stood proud and oh so strong
I'd get so excited when the families arrived
They'd show up in bunches of four and five

I could smell the smoke from the fire pit
Hotdogs roasting on an old broken stick
Kids skinny dipping when nighttime came
Or curled up on the porch hiding from the rain

Oh summer days were like heaven to me
I'd start to feel sad when fall leaves I'd see
But I told myself to think about spring
My family would return and my heart would sing

But one year they didn't return at all
I waited patiently and then it was fall
The next year they didn't return again
I knew in my heart it was the end

Now if you pass the island you will see
A broken down boathouse, yes, that's me
But I'm not alone I've been blessed with a friend
My reflection keeps me company and will to the end

By Gretchen Huntley


By now, you know that I love small-world stories plus, I never have enough books about the Thousand Islands. At the end of my call, I had a beautiful book of poetry and reconnected with a family that had played an enormous role in my life!

Gretchen writes poetry and recently published a small book of poems, many of which are about our River. "Reality and Me" is illustrated by some of the region's most spectacular photographs.  It is a small book measuring 8.5" by 5.5", and stapled in a softcover. I found my copy at the Pharmsave store in Gananoque. It was $5 and came with a brown envelope so you can mail it to a friend.  Unique? Yes!

When Gretchen told me about the photographer, I got excited. You see, Gananoque's Sam Battams is the son of my best friends Marion and Doug Battams, both of whom died several years ago. Suddenly, all the great memories of years gone by were front and center again. But enough about this editor's excitement, let's meet the author and the photographer!

Meet Gretchen Huntley!

Gretchen started writing birthday rhymes for the staff of the insurance agency where she worked. She thought it was just fun. But sadly, she said, "When  my son was fighting his 22-year battle with cancer, there were so many ups and downs that I turned to rhyme as a source of coping with the hurt, frustration, and pain." After he died at the age of 44, Gretchen wrote a book called, "He Was Here" and enclosed a few poems in the book. She then discovered that poetry had become her friend, and it was her favourite way to write.

What inspired her to write Realty and Me? Like so many, she struggled with the isolation of COVID and kept seeing Sam's photographs on Facebook; they seemed to speak to her. Sam was a high school friend of Gretchen's daughter, so contacting him with her request was easy. Could she put her words to his photographs? The answer: "Yes."

I asked if ideas came to her quickly, or did they take a long time to compose, and like many poets, she says, "When I have an idea for a poem, I sit down immediately and type a rough draft. Then I go back. Sometimes I will finish a poem in ten or fifteen minutes and it is fine; other times, I will rewrite it over and over again until it feels right."  

Photo by Sam Battams, Gananoque, ON accompanies "Talking Leaves" in Reality and Me by Gretchen Huntley

Talking Leaves

I walk the road slowly on this fall day
Leaves are scattered everywhere
I stop for a moment and pick up a few
Studying each one with care

Each leaf tells me a story
I relive a memory
I stop once more and pick up another
Remembering how things used to be

Some of the leaves are crumpled
While others are golden and bright
I drop the leaves once more to the ground
Soon I will be out of sight

But I will draw comfort in knowing
I've left my story behind
Every year when autumn comes
These leaves my loved ones will find

By now I will have disappeared
Around that final bend
But because I've left my memories
My life will never end

Meet photographer, Sam Battams

In the 1980s, Sam Battams learned photography using 35mm photography, as film faded out, and digital photography took over, Sam waited until the image quality improved, and he could afford it. The passion, he admits is his desire to improve with every image.  

When I said  photography looks easy but it is not, Sam agreed. He told that me his love of photography has taught him to be disciplined. He says, "Modern digital becomes easier as technology improves; however, if you don’t have the eye for the shot, you are beat before you start. The bottom line is, basically the camera isn’t the most important part of it; it is to have the eye, the timing and the light to get the proper result.

About six years ago, friends and family started requesting copies of his work on Facebook, and he soon started selling prints.

I asked Sam for advice, and he kindly gave me four points: 1- Learn your camera, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, and how all three work with each other. 2- Decide what type of photography you are going to do, be it wildlife, portrait, etc. 3- Buy the proper equipment for the type of photography you have chosen, and 4- Research and watch what the pros do.

Sam Battams has photographed across North America, but he says emphatically "morning reflections in the Thousand Islands are hard to beat."

© Photo by Sam Battams 

I conclude with some of my own advice: return all phone calls since you never know what discoveries you will make, and be sure to purchase Reality and Me, you will thank me over and over!

By Susan W. Smith, Editor, into@thousandislandslife.com  

Note:  Reality and Me is available at Pharmasave, 220 King Street East. Gananoque K7G1G2, ON or by contacting the author, Gretchen Huntley, khuntley1@cogeco.ca

Sam Battams Photography is found on the site: https://500px.com/sambattams1965

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 11, November 2020, Book review, Photography, People

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