Beauty Now

I haven’t been writing because something has come up and I wasn’t sure when to tell you, but I want you to know that my husband Bill was diagnosed in January with cancer.  

It’s been quite the clarifying process as I’m sure you can imagine, and I am going to try to limit myself to saying just a few things about it, with special respect for people who have been through something like this themselves, and who already know everything that I could possibly say about it.

It’s like someone said, “In three weeks, we’re going to give you both a million dollars or else we’re going to blow your heads off.  We haven’t decided.  And in any case we lost your file (because that actually happened).  But, oh wait.  We changed our minds.  In five weeks, or maybe in seven weeks we’ll tell you - a few weeks won’t make any difference.” 

So what could we do with news like that?  What could we do after we had done everything we could do to affect where that most important ball in that giant pinball machine might fall?   After there was nothing left inside of me, sometimes, except for silence?  Well then, I listened to that silence - that is all that I could do, all I wanted to do.

I don’t think that ever in my life before, when faced with anything, I have ever said, in quite this way, “I really can’t do this.”   Well, I can’t do this.  But I have found that there are people who have gathered, weaving themselves into a net.  And some have been through things like this themselves and they are wise and very strong.  It makes me proud, Donald Trump notwithstanding, to be a human being.  Because I see how this is an instinct, how people want to be there for us, how they feel with us, how they actually need to help.  It gives me hope for all of us.

I look at my life and my marriage with Bill and I realize that someday, one of us will bury the other.  And this might be trite, but you know all that stuff that I thought was important?  It’s not important.  Then other stuff is very important, like the ways in which we protect and carry each other, how we both have needed that in very different and specific ways, and how we fit together like pieces in a puzzle. I think we have been gifts for each other, and we have both become more ourselves in the years we have been together. 

And I like to remember that everything that has ever happened between us, everything that’s happening now will always be true forever.

I go around like everything is fine, even when there is a lot to deal with, especially when there is a lot to deal with.  But I was at the fish hatchery and for some reason I just felt like I wanted to see the river, even though I really didn’t have the time.  So I thought, “OK, just for a minute,” and I went down.  And as soon as I saw the river, I started to cry.  Because there it was.  And I was so glad for the many times I have gone to take its picture because I realized that we have gotten to know each other, and that it has become my friend.  And I set an intention right then for taking my pictures.  I said I would never think that anything was an object to be taken, even to show its beauty.  I said that pictures are a way to be in a relationship.  I said that nature deserves this and that a picture taken any other way, at least for me, is porn.

While we were at my mother’s house in Moosup, we had a blizzard and the power went out.  It was getting cold in the house and I had to get Bill to some place warm.  So our niece came to get us with her four-wheel drive just as the snow was ending and we were getting into her car.  And I saw the sun break through and I asked if they minded if I ran and got my camera.  And so I took some pictures of the trees in our yard.  You know, they are just trees.   They aren’t in Block Island where everything is widely known to be gorgeous.   But I used to climb one particular tree when I was a child.  I used to sit on one particular branch and lean my head and feel the rough bark and see the green leaves and I just loved to sit there because it was my place and my refuge.  I realized it had been so long, almost 50 years, since I had spent any time with that tree.  But I saw that the tree was still there and that I still had a chance to thank it and love it properly. 

And when I got into the car I was worried that I had taken too long but both Bill and our niece said, “Oh, we didn’t mind.  We didn’t mind at all.  Aren’t they beautiful?”  And they were, and especially so because they had put on their diamonds for us.  Then I thought how I never have to be in an officially beautiful place to take a beautiful picture, because the beauty is everywhere and it is also inside of us because that’s how we are able to see it. 



First Frost

We went back to Moosup for Thanksgiving and my brother George came up from Virginia for the week.  While we often met in Nova Scotia, with his job and his family and whatnot, he hadn't spent more than a night or so in Connecticut, in over 30 years.

So it was a good thing for the whole family, but I wanted to tell you a little of my own experience about it.  We went to the fish hatchery almost every morning, George to run, like, 3.5 miles in 20 minutes, and me not to do that.  We still were almost exactly like we were when we were children, when it came to loving nature, for example, but there were some pretty big changes.  For one thing, we both had cars. 

There was this mixture.  We were living our lives together just as we had done when we were children, and we were also living like grownups - old-ish grownups, with separate lives, and with separate stories about the past thirty years, and with our own grown-up children.

It was 18 degrees Fahrenheit on this particular morning, which I found a little disconcerting.  (When I had gotten on the ferry on Block Island, it had been 45 degrees.)  I hadn't even brought a coat.  Everything had frozen at the hatchery, but it was newly frozen.  Things hadn't had time to get pulverized by the winter, so they still had their beautiful fall formations, with just a layer of frost upon them.  The ponds were still warm, and steaming, and that made for a lot of localized, heavy frost and for some very interesting pictures.

I feel compelled to tell you that George is a lot thinner in fact, than he looks in this picture.  It's just that his arms are up and that's stretching out his hunting vest.  That's Molly with him.

George said he liked my pictures, but that was because they made him remember he had been at the hatchery on a beautiful morning with his sister.  Wasn't that a nice thing to say?

60

I thought this might be interesting for you, just for something different.  You'll see a picture of grasses below.  This picture is the same one, only with just the heads of the grasses picked out.  I like the purple color of the grasses that I might not have noticed in the mix with everything else.  I like it that such small things can be as elegant and beautiful as anything else.  I love it that nature doesn't measure out its bounty.  It doesn't look for anyone to notice.  It makes the beauty anyway.

We moved out of the house on my 60th birthday.  I had tried to plan so it would not be a heavy move-out day but there is a law of nature that applies especially to summer rental.  It takes exactly as much time as you have. 

When people asked me what I did for my birthday and I said we moved out of the house, they said, “You must be pretty good at it by now.”  Well, that’s true, more or less.  We’ve been doing this for 17 years.  We now have a whole system of boxes that go into the basement, out to the studio and onto the boat.  The dogs have learned that the most important things in our lives are boxes.  They know that we love and follow our boxes.  They have learned this so well that they plant themselves in the car as soon as the boxes come out because they know that big things are happening and they don’t want to be left behind.  They actually refuse to go back into the house until they see the boxes come with us.   

Our lives have a seasonal and nomadic quality, which takes planning and energy.  I keep trying to learn how to do it better.  I have developed a habit of watching how people work.  We have a friend named Larry, and he is without exception, the most productive person I have ever seen.  One time, I asked him to build a little display table for me for the Gallery.  I came back 15 minutes later, and he had materialized a beautiful little pedestal table, with beveled edges and finely fitted pieces of wood.  Judging from that, I’d say he could build a kitchen full of custom cabinets in about a day and a half.  The thing about Larry, and this is what amazes me, is that he never appears to be trying. I think he has worked so long and hard that he carries his knowledge in his whole body.  He doesn’t push himself.  He never hurries.  He doesn’t waste a motion.  The energy seems to well up in him, matched to whatever he is doing.  He organizes everything, down to the way he keeps his van, the way he eats, the way he packs his clothes.  He just turns on his music and off he goes. He rests well, at the beginning and middle and end of each day. He doesn’t get side tracked.  He paces himself.  He does only so much, which is plenty.  I asked Larry to tell me how he works and he doesn’t have a philosophy about it.  He said he used to run around like a crazy person.  He said he never got much done and he never made any money.  He said one day he just decided to make things as easy for himself as possible.

Larry’s work is always fine and clean and beautiful and it’s beautiful to watch him.  I’ve learned from him, the way I’ve learned from photography, that the greatest gift is the ability to pay attention. I think that skill and balance and order and energy and integration and beauty are connected to paying attention; that if I pay attention, all of these things can follow. 

After we finished moving out, we went to the mainland and stayed with my mother and brother.  My mom loves to watch “Fox News”.  I also read a book called “Zen at War”, about Zen’s ideological participation in World War II, including that of esteemed patriarchs in many of the major Zen lineages that have now come to this country.

I thought a lot about whether the role of these teachers made any difference, whether they were leading or following the charge.  They were in a military dictatorship after all, and the emperor was absolute Lord.  There were some Zen folks who opposed the war and they were imprisoned, beaten and killed.  But both the Japan story and Fox News got me all worked up about how ideology and power can work together to create such spectacular suffering, about how it can happen in any culture, about how it distorts the best things, about how it takes so much from people and always betrays them in the end.  It didn't make me feel any better when I learned that the people in Japan starved for another four years after the war was over, primarily because of corruption. 

I thought of a time about 16 years ago.  I was working in Japan, and I took some time to visit and stay at a number of Zen monasteries, including Eihieji, Hoshinji and Myoshinji, some of the founding monasteries in the Soto and Renzi traditions.  I also stayed at one small monastery, a wonderful place that was also a sort of youth hostel.  One day, the head monk had us all dress up in monk’s clothes and go into town for a traditional Japanese begging excursion.  I had been specifically instructed not to say anything, especially not to say “Domo arrigato goziamus”, one of the few Japanese phrases I used all the time, which means, “Thank you very much, indeed.”  But an old woman came out from behind her house to give much more than the small change that people normally gave.  She was sobbing.  All I could do was thank her and imagine her life, imagine what had happened to her in the war, imagine what it meant for her to give so much to an American Zen student.

So after I worried and pondered and enlightened my husband about all of this I went out to the fish hatchery to take a few pictures.  I told myself this was not the time to analyze the problems of the human race.  I told myself to slow down.  I said it was time to rest.  I said I was going out, not to hunt for pictures but to gather them to me, not to spend energy but to restore it and take it in.

Here's the whole picture.

Here are new leaves reaching.

I liked the morning.  I liked the cool, dewy light.  I liked to see the shoots curling and reaching, the tiny leaves unfurling. I liked that all the green still looked as new and fresh to me as it did at the beginning of spring.  I went back to see where the river had been boiling out from under a log the last time and I knew it would still be boiling.  I took its picture five different ways to see if I could match the speed of the camera to the speed of my sight.  I liked what was happening in nature. I liked what would burst out in big and small ways in every possible direction.  I liked how it was closer to the truth of everything.

And the same stretch of river that I put in the blog this spring.  This time, the leaves have filled in and the river is reflecting more green.  This picture was taken at 1/1250th of a second.

Here is another picture of the same river, except this one is taken at 1/10th of a second.  This is more accurate to the way my eyes know the fast moving river... a little more blurred together.

A blue heron in flight at the fish hatchery.  I usually feel fine about taking pictures of these heron because all the fish at the hatchery keep them happy and fed all the time.  Also, there are so many people that come to the hatchery, fishing or walking through, often with their dogs, so I assume they are used to us.  But I've been worried about the heron and their diminishing numbers.  I've wondered if they've had to defend themselves against the Eagles or the Osprey.  This is the first time I've seen a heron with so many missing feathers - the signs perhaps, of a fight.  When I saw that, I stopped taking pictures.  I stopped walking toward the trees where they were resting.  I wanted to leave them in peace.   (As an aside, that blurry smudge at the end of the heron's wing is a swallow, out of focus in the distance.)

I need my times when I can dwell in all the beauty, to see it again and again until I finally decide to trust it.  This is how I rest.  It’s better for me than anything else I do.

I like that it doesn’t belong to any institution, but that it does belong to me and to everyone else, equally and without qualification.  I’m 60 years old now.  I’ve have studied a lot of things and lived a lot of lives.  No one can tell me that I haven’t meditated long enough or that I don’t believe the right things.  No one can tell me that I’m not saved or enlightened or good enough or ready or that I don’t have the right politics or the privilege of knowing what I  know or feel or need.  I know enough about things that can’t be twisted or betrayed or broken.  I know that I belong on this earth and that my life and life itself are the same thing.  I know that life will always care for itself, yearn for itself and make itself into beauty.

Early evening and light fog in Rodman's Hollow.

The Hollow and the dimming light beginning to glow in the fog.  Wilson and Molly need this too.

The Hollow that night.



 


A Good Person

This is a picture from Patchaug.  The man's house in this story is to the right of this picture, out of the frame, and the waterfalls are behind me.

I went to Patchaug State Forest on the way to work on the boat this week.  I went in the back way.  There was a big marsh with many birds, and two waterfalls, and bridges over the falls. There was a parking lot next to a little cottage.  The cottage was modest but nicely kept. There were signs of careful attention, and of the particular French Canadian esthetic that came with the workers who once filled the textile mills in Eastern Connecticut.  Everything was clean and freshly painted.  Every leaf and blade of grass was in its place.   There was a lighthouse, about five feet tall, with pilings and real dock lines neatly wrapped around them.  On the pilings were wooden pelicans.  There was a black metal eagle over the garage, and four large concrete lions were sitting on their haunches, guarding the sidewalk that led to the front door.

I got out of the car and I thought that Wilson and Molly would stay with me, so I was organizing my cameras and lenses.  I looked up in time to see the dogs scampering straight to the man’s front door.  He was there with his little grand-daughter.  I hurried toward the dogs, but the man called out, “Don’t worry!  Don’t worry.”  I knew I was in the wrong, but the man’s kindness made me more willing to admit it.  I said, “I should have been paying closer attention.”  He said, “They’re wonderful.  This one is older isn’t he?”  I said, “You have a beautiful spot here.  You’re very kind about the dogs.”  To aerate the point, Wilson chose that moment to pee on the man’s perfect shrubs.  I said, “I’m sorry.”  He said, “They have to do that, you know.”

So I left the man, liking him so much that I wanted to buy the house next door or buy him a house on Block Island so that I could have him for a neighbor, and I thought about the times when it is very important to fight for something and times when it is not important at all.

I have never gotten a bird landing quite from this perspective.  I didn't realize how the feathers in his chest spread out and flatten to slow him down.

I went off to see the birds, and I love the earliest days of spring, when the birds are full of electric energy.  I saw this big guy coming in for a carrier landing. 

I liked the simplicity of this one, especially the little grasses, the texture on the bird's wings and their reflections in the water.

I used my telephoto and got a few more pictures of birds, but then I decided to use my close-up lens, because there were these leaves.   I love these also, these remnants that have stayed through a brutal winter, getting thinner and more transparent, but still holding on.   All this fragile strength, all this staying to the very end with the light coming through, all the beautiful ways in which the beating they have taken has changed them, this is what I wanted to show you.

I can’t show this in a picture but I want you to know that these narrow leaves were trembling, almost vibrating in the breeze.

And then I got interested in the waterfall.  It was yellowy brown from all the tannins, from decaying leaves in the water.  I take so many pictures of the ocean, and I’m not used to water this color.  I considered making black and white pictures, but then I thought, “This is the clear, clean color of a living system.   How can I think that’s not good?”  In any case, I thought it would be interesting… I never get this close to crashing water, not with my camera in my hand.  Here was my chance to see what was happening right inside.  I set the shutter speed to 1/2500th of a second, just to see what that would do, and then I switched to much longer exposures. 

Here's the waterfall, looking across the marsh to the forest.  Those two legs are part of the bridge.

Here's a close up, with me just inches from the water.  The shutter speed is 1/2500th of a second.

This shutter speed is 1/15th of a second.

I realize that living next to the state forest the way he does, that man must get a lot of people, right there next to his yard.  Some of them might not be watching their dogs the way they should, and some of them might leave litter, or misbehave in other ways, and it would be reasonable to expect the he would have gotten a perfectly justifiable attitude about it by now.  He could have put “no trespassing” signs all over the place.  But he didn’t.  Not at all.  In fact, I get the feeling he enjoyed seeing us. 

I’m still thinking about him, because he made me see how it was in this particular case, how it can be when someone decides they can just relax about something.   I took a nice picture from across the pond, with the light on the water, and his yard and his lions and his pretty house.  I thought I’d print it for him and drop it off some time, to thank him.

My beautiful trouble makers.

The Heart of a Place

This picture is from Block Island.  It's called "The Sun Drawing Water".

So I’ve been feverishly working on my show for several weeks and I wanted to tell you about it.   (The show by the way, is this coming Saturday, from 5 - 7, at the Spring Street Gallery on Block Island.)

I went through my pictures for the year.  I picked out a little over a hundred pictures, and then I studied them every which way.  I culled through the pictures and then culled them again, favoring the ones I liked the most and the ones I hoped others would like.  I also imposed upon the good graces of family and friends to give me their opinions.  I kept casting around for a concept… a story to tell that would make the selection of pictures make sense.  That was tricky because I liked so many pictures from so many different places.

OK, well there are waves from Block Island.  What a surprise.  But have also have many others.  I should tell you that I actually desaturated this picture from what you saw before, taking it half way to black and white.  While the actual colors at sunset were more vibrant, I liked the softer colors.

I finally got down to a few dozen pictures.  I printed some small ones to see how the colors on the screen would work out on actual paper.  I made adjustments.  Then, I started to think about sizes.  I liked some when they were nice and small… only six inches square, and some got bigger and bigger and until I had a few that were almost four feet tall.

This is one of the small ones, only six inches square.  It's hard to give you a sense of scale, here in the blog, because some pictures change completely if you change their size.  I'm doing this one, both on paper, matted and framed, and on wood in encaustic wax.

Here's another Block Island wave picture, taken the same evening as the one with the big rock above.  The real colors were in melon oranges and greens but the black and white was my favorite.

I printed them and then there were the inevitable reprints.  I was framing one large picture, leaning over a 19” by 29” image, and a drop of my sweat fell on the picture.  Another one was entirely about a large span of perfect calm water, glowing through the fog.  After I printed it, I found a few tiny dots from sensor dust.  There was another long picture, with rocks going back into the distance.  It posed a classic photography problem because a camera “sees” in a narrower “dynamic range”, or span from light to dark, than a person sees.  So the bright water and the dark rocks stood in more contrast to each other than was actually so on that day. I lightened the rocks to be closer to what I remembered.  Then, I thought they were too light and so I went back and reprinted the original file.  But then they were too dark and I went back and lightened some of the rocks.  Then I changed my mind and went back to the one I printed the first time.

This is the one from Nova Scotia where I kept fooling around with the color of the rocks.  What happens is you see it on the screen when it's back lit and then when you print on mat paper it's darker.  So you have to account for that.  The folks at Pro Digital Gear (see below) are suggesting I buy a calibrated monitor, where what I see here on the screen would be much closer to the actual print.  I'm tempted.  It would save a lot of time.

I made this one really big, and as you can see, if there is the tiniest little spot in all that expanse of flat calm water there is no place to hide.  I had to reprint it.  This is also from Nova Scotia.

Now it was time to give them names.  Sometimes an excellent name pops into my head, and sometimes not so much.  Edie named the first picture in this blog, “The Sun Drawing Water” because that’s what her father used to say when rays of sun came through the clouds, presumably sipping water from the ocean.  I named the one with all the stones “Long Walk” because that’s when my 85-year old mother got a much longer outing than we planned on the tippy shores of Nova Scotia.  At other times, I fell back as usual onto the simplest, most functional names.  It’s like when I was a kid and the six of us children could not agree on a name for our cat.  So we finally named her “Cat”.  So I have names like that:  “Egret 1, 2, and 3”.  And “Blue Heron 1 and 2”.

There were also moments of synchronicity.  For example, I’m doing a new thing this year because of my friends Karen and Robin, called “encaustic wax”.  You prepare a wooden base and then glue on a picture using special stuff and then you paint it with bees wax mixed with resin and then you take a heat gun and you melt some of it off.  I asked my friend Larry to make the wooden bases for me.  I went to see him in Moosup, bringing the intended pictures, so there would not be any mistake.  We took an hour one morning and measured very carefully together. 

Now, Larry’s work is perfect.  I’ve never known him to measure anything incorrectly. But he made the wooden bases and I went and picked them up in Moosup and I could see that they were too tall.  I decided to save them for another time.  Then I thought of a pair of pictures I had worked on.  I was attached to them because they were from the morning of the anniversary of my father’s death but they were an odd size and I had put them aside.  I didn’t want to do them.  I argued with myself.  I had enough pictures.  I had never done anything that big in wax.  I didn’t have the time and isn’t that why I drive myself so crazy anyway, trying to do too much in too many directions?  Wasn’t it better to simplify?  That would be my new motto…to simplify, especially when I’m living like a nomad in the summer… That was the secret… the key to everything…to live an orderly, serene, intentional life.  But I couldn’t get those pictures out of my head.  I finally said, “Oh fine.  If the pictures are the right size I’ll do it.”  And they were.  They were 23 ¾ inches wide and 43 ¾ inches tall.  When things slot in like that, who am I to object?  So I’m not making any promises but I’m going to work on them.

This will be a super big one in the encaustic wax.  There is another one to go with it, taken at the same time.  As I said, I've never done this size before, but if it works, they'll both be in my show.  Waterfront 1 and 2.

Pretty soon, I’ll see the final pictures, all matted and framed or covered in wax and done.  As my niece Elisabeth (who helped me, by the way, with matting) would say, “Done and done.”  That’s when I will feel lucky and grateful. 

Because everyone has his or her own way of seeing and choosing what to see.  And not it's just people who do so.  In my whole year of pictures, there were Wilson and Molly, and birds and turtles and deer and insects and many other creatures and they were all out there seeing exactly what they needed to see, in exactly the way they needed to see it, for their own particular purpose.  Every landscape, every crashing wave, every still, calm pond, every span of stones sweeping into the distance, was holding a world of creatures, alive and breathing and watching.  And there I was with my little camera in one particular spot and I got to see it in my way also.

It is something to review your life as represented in a year of pictures.  And then to choose and choose, progressively narrowing down to the ones that seem most beautiful or significant.  And then to have them in front of you, and then to put them up on a wall. 

You feel exposed at first when people come into the Gallery and start looking, but sometimes you get to know a person in the connection that is made around a picture, and you know her in a way that is beyond the ways that people often get to know each other.  And because people are normally kind and because you get stronger, you become willing to take more risks in your pictures and more willing to stand up and let yourself show what matters to you and in that way, you get to be more of who you are.

Our house is still rented, and will be until the day after the opening for the show.  With moving around so much and with my congenitally short attention span, there is major coordination going on all the time just to know where my toothbrush might be.  (It is missing at the moment.) That means I’m tired.  That means that putting a show together, with mats and frames and papers and printing and all the associated stuff, not to mention the food for the show, not to mention figuring out what I’m going to wear when I’ve worn the same thing every day for three months, is going to be interesting.  But things are moving along.  It will all get done.  It’s getting done now. 

I hope when you read this you don’t get overtaken with all the complications.  I mean, they are there. I just have to get through them.  And if I didn’t have this pressure, this show to put on, I would never have pushed it the way I am pushing, I would never have begun to find out what is possible.  In the end it’s wonderful.  It’s my life, affirmed in all these pictures, lived and seen and remembered and shared.

This is one of three egrets, creatively named Egret 1, 2, and 3.   They are little 6" pictures, on paper, matted and framed.

Now I’m standing back and looking at all my pictures for the show, which are arrayed because of boundless generosity and kindness, along the walls of a bedroom at our friends’ Paula and Greg’s (and Ricki and Alex and Max's) house.  There are the ones you've seen in this blog and then if the encaustic goes well, 17 more.

Why did I pick these particular pictures?  I was always looking for light… light on or through the water… special light breaking through the fog… the last light of the day or the first light of morning.  I am struck by how much is always happening everywhere… light dancing, wind blowing, waves crashing, plants growing or going to seed, birds flying.  The pictures remind me of what was happening on the day of each picture, of what those places mean.  They reflect what I hope is close to the heart or spirit of these places, at least to my eyes.   

So that will be the name of my show, The Heart of a Place.  That’s whether it’s Block Island or Moosup or Nova Scotia or anywhere, there is always a heart to be found by paying close attention. 

This wave is from Block Island again, and it's similar to some of my others.  I like it because it looks a little smokey.  I called it Salt and Smoke.

 

PS.  For those of you who are photographers, I want to tell you about some colleagues who have also become friends through the years.  I go to the folks at Pro Digital Gear in Salem, CT. for my cameras and lenses and papers and printers and inks.  They are the people who cheerfully helped me when I spilled a can of soda on my camera or when I have to do a repair on my giant printer myself rather than bringing someone over from the mainland.  I also went there just last week because I have another big project and they were very generous with their time and expertise.  John Fast, one of their experts, is having a photography show this coming Friday.  Here is info about his show at the Artist's Cooperative Gallery of Westerly, RI. And here is Pro Digital Gear's website.  Best prices anywhere.  These folks are professional and good to every single person who calls them on the phone.

And also Stu-Art Supplies.  They cut my mats and provide me with the parts to do all my framing.  They have beautiful, thick, museum quality materials and Nielsen frames.  If there is the slightest question or problem they help immediately, even if I am stammering my way through an order on the phone, calling at the last minute. getting dyslexically confused between mat outside sizes and inside sizes and frame heights and widths and so on.  They are wonderful people also.  Here is their site.    And here is their blog.

You've seen this picture before if you've been following this blog.  It's a great old tree from Amy and Stan's farm.  It's one of the pictures I still have to frame and I haven't named it yet.  Or maybe it will be Great Old Tree.  In any case, it's in the show even though it's different from the others because I love it so much.






Sunflowers

Sunflowers track the sun only when they are in the bud stage.  (This is an example of heliotropism, aka, science.)  When they turn into flowers, they face east, in this case away from the evening sun.  This may protect  their delicate petals from too much sun exposure.

I’ve been in Moosup, which has been pretty light duty, really.  Nick can do stairs and take care of many things himself, and my mom has been scheduling the pills and nurses, so my part has been to keep Mom and Nick company and to buy groceries with an emphasis on salt-free items as well as fruits and vegetables.  Today, for the first time, Nick will be up for an expedition and so we’ll go for a drive.

Yesterday, I went 15 miles from Moosup to Buttonwood Farms in Griswold, CT, to take pictures in a field of sunflowers.  Like the hatchery, I expected to have it to myself.  So I was quite surprised to see a whole thing happening.  Scores of cars lining the roads, a hundred people, long lines to buy ice-cream, a farmer pulling a train of little carts, painted to look like black and white cows, completely filled with children, another ride for grown-ups where the farmer stopped at intervals to expound I assume, on interesting facts about sunflowers.

I thought, “Where did you people come from?  I’ve never seen you outdoors for any reason.  Why aren’t you home playing video games?”  But there were so many people.  There were many professional photographers, or at least people with very expensive cameras.  There were also people from China. You don’t see that every day in Griswold. 

It was a beautiful evening.  Great cumulus clouds had been building all day, so much that I was sure there would be a storm, but the clouds began to dissipate as the air cooled toward the evening, and the light was unexpectedly breaking through.

I took my pictures and then sat on a hill, facing the sun and waiting.  This was new… so much of my time in nature is spent alone, or rather, with Wilson and Molly.  But here I was with many people, all of them strangers, and we were all there and instinctively happy together, to see the big sky and the clouds and the setting sun and the light splayed across the fields, dimming and deepening. 

 

Here are sunflowers in the few moments before the last light.

Here is the farmhouse across the street, with reflected light from the setting sun.  The farm house is actually cream colored.  You can see the light is very red.

I drove back to my families’ house along dark winding roads and saw a line of little animals.  I thought they were ducks, but as I drew closer, I saw that they were baby skunks.  They were completely destabilized by my arrival.  Two went across the road.  Two more started to follow, but changed their minds and scurried in the opposite direction, then they changed their minds, then changed them again.  Then they walked along the side of the road for about 10 feet.  Then they went back into the road again.  Then one changed his mind and in turning, bumped into the other and then they circled around in a panic, and then they finally made it.  Phew.

I stopped for groceries and decided to buy a six-pack of beer.  The clerk carded me.  I said, “Really?”  She gave me that look that only a sixteen-year old can give.  I said, “Thank you very much.  I haven’t been carded in thirty years.”  I thought, “I’m old enough to be your mother.  I’m probably old enough to be your mother’s mother.”  But I gave her my driver’s license and somehow she determined, my apparent perpetual youth notwithstanding, that I was over 21.

Quite an interesting day…and one more thing.  When all schedules and plans have been disrupted by sudden illness, when I’m busy taking care, it’s good to have my photography.  It's something to return to, something that’s mine.  It helps to bring me back to the will for what I do for anyone, and to the nourishment for my life.

I wanted to crop this to just the flower, but my sister Amy said not to do it.

Edie's Garden

This is a young rose near Edie's split rail fence on the south edge of her garden.  She has carefully paired it with lavender.

I had just come back to the Island and Edie invited me over to see her garden.  I came the next morning.  The sun had just come up and the dew was still on everything. 

The back door to Edie's house.

This is Edie's farmhouse.  Edie has improved the insulation and the windows and the electricity, put on a new cedar roof.   She’s restored the house with careful respect for the past.  It’s a true old Block Island farmhouse and she’s kept it that way.

Edie loves her garden, but it’s not just flowers, it’s the memories … Edie's garden contains flowers that have been given by friends.  She remembers each person and the name of each flower.  There is a rose in memory of her mother and a beautiful young red maple tree in memory of her son, Peter.  There is another rose planted by her grandmother.  And yet another, the rose you see to the left of the door, is called "Seven Sisters".  It was planted by her great-grandmother.  This is a close-up of that rose.

Edie’s is one of the old Block Island families.  It hasn't been easy to endure through years and generations on this island.  I knew that… I have heard the stories.  (I've been lucky enough to have heard Edie’s many wonderful stories through all the many years.  I have heard of strength and skill and courage and constant, diligent attention.  And hard, hard work.  And love for the ocean and for the depth of beautiful, difficult lives.)  But nothing brought it home to me as much as seeing her great-grandmother’s rose.

I think of Edie and her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother tending that rose …keeping it going through wars and recessions, through illness and hardship.   Edie’s great-grandmother planted this rose in this spot for her new home.  That was in the 1850’s.  Edie is 85 and she tends it still.

Here are some of the flowers in Edie's garden.  And there are many, many more.

Here is a close-up of the pansies in the container to the right of the back door

Here is an especially good example of the morning dew. 

Here is the rose as you come up the long driveway, to the left, just before Edie's son Christopher's house.  It's apricot when it first opens, and then it turns pink.

Like this.

Here is a bearded iris.

Here is a peony.

I love this peony, perfect and new, in the very first seconds of new morning light.  

I have always thought of flowers as symbols of ephemeral beauty, but until hearing about Edie's great-grandmother, I never thought of their endurance.  Some of these flowers will likely outlive us all.  

Here is a picture of one of Edie's sheds: 

I thought you might like to look closer and notice the little white stones. 

Edie's mother was born in Sicily.  She transplanted herself here to the island where she turned herself into a Yankee, a hardworking Block Island fisherman's, farmer's wife. 

Edie's mother picked up a child's sand pail and filled it with only white stones when she went to the ocean.  She lined the wooden walk Edie's father installed from a piece of dock wreckage found on the east beach. 

There isn't one little thing in this whole garden that doesn't matter to Edie, that isn't done on purpose.  She knows every plant and every story.  She does exactly what each plant needs exactly when it needs it.  She does it every day.  This is what Edie really does in her garden:   She tends and keeps and considers and loves and remembers.  This is what makes her such a good friend.

I know when Edie needs to rest her mind she goes out into her garden… she loves her roses the way I love my pictures. 

She just got a camera… and she already knows how to use it.  She's begun to take pictures of her garden.  There’s no telling what she’ll do next.

PS. Edie called to especially remind me to thank Lexi Dewey and Marybeth Jarrosak for their diligent labors in her garden.  They have helped her, always, even in Marybeth's case, coming from Colorado, just when she's needed it the most.

 



Back in Moosup

Here are last year's milkweed pods with the new grasses of early summer.

I’ve been in my home town in Moosup, Connecticut all week.  (Sorry to tell you if you were hoping for a bit of Block Island.  I’ll be back in time for next week’s post.)  In any case, I also drove to New Jersey to visit some friends.  We had good company and an exceptional lamb dinner.  Plus, after knowing them on Block Island for almost 15 years, I finally got to see their house.  They are art dealers and in addition to many, many pictures of their much-loved family, their house is full of the most spectacular art. 

I learned a lot.  For example, there is much to be said for a big picture.  I mean, BIG, the size of a wall.  And there is such a thing as a perfect colorAnd the really good artists… and my friends know how to find them… have their own language and you can feel it even though any you might find it difficult to put into words.  And those paintings can speak so powerfully that you can drive all the way back from New Jersey and not be able to think of anything else. 

I've been waiting to get a picture of a blue heron, wings outstretched and feet pointing down, and in full display of all her wonderful feathers, just before she lands.

Tiny little new wildflowers.

I also went to see my niece and nephew’s graduation from kindergarten where one child was so overcome by the magnitude of the occasion that he burst into tears, and the next day went to see another nephew’s graduation from third grade, and then unfortunately yesterday, I went to a funeral. 

And in between I went to the fish hatchery to take some pictures.   So all of this has been mixed together all week… my friends and their art and the very young children and their brand new lives and the unexpected, untimely death of my cousin. 

I thought about all of this and then I went out and took pictures and I thought about how it is when a person goes out to try to know or feel or express something about the depths of this life and this world.

These ducks for some reason, did not fly away when the dogs and I came closer than they liked.  They just threw out a big commotion as they powered themselves around the corner.

I noticed this guy first after investigating when I heard something plopping into the water.

All of it... the example of really fine art and people who have made it their passion, the wonderful, deeply felt lives of children, and the fact of my cousin's death... it all affected my photography.  I want to spend more time and go as honestly as I can.

I didn't expect to see these turtles.  In fact, as many times as I've been to the hatchery, I've never seen them before.   So here is some new information for me about more creatures and their self-referencing lives....about their complete, self-contained experience...about the way that life expresses itself among them. 

There is all this thrum and energy and every time I see something new or something expected and still so beautiful...I just feel it is worth the closest attention I can muster.

 

(PS.  Happy Father's Day, especially to my step-son Kevin on his first Father's Day and to Bill who is far away, having just arrived in Southeast Asia.)

It took me a minute to realize that all these little dark spots in the water were turtles.  There were many, many more, even, than what I'm showing you in this picture.

 I've been watching this nest whenever I come to Moosup, because I thought it might be an eagle's next.  But it's for osprey.  Here is one osprey, dropping a fish into the nest.  It's way up on a pole for high tension wires.

I've been watching this nest whenever I come to Moosup, because I thought it might be an eagle's next.  But it's for osprey.  Here is one osprey, dropping a fish into the nest.  It's way up on a pole for high tension wires.

This is how the osprey feels about us coming this close to the nest.

Here is a field at the fish hatchery.  The river is just beyond those trees.  I can imagine it as a complete world for someone.

 For this guy, for example.

For this guy, for example.

And here are some young geese, in the "kindergarten" of their lives.  I wonder if the world looks as new to them as it did to us.

And another old milkweed pod, still standing after a hard winter.

Two Evenings

Rain on grasses. 

I took these pictures with just the normal lens on my camera.  Too bad I didn't have my close up lens, but that was locked in the car.

It rained all day on Thursday and it started to clear toward sunset, which is the best possible thing because then you get light bursting through in moments when everything is still so nice and fresh. 

The dogs and I went out for a walk, which turned out to be longer than expected because I stopped at Southeast Light and Wilson took off to make friends with some people in the road.  I tore after him, locking my keys in the car in the process.  And so we walked home.

It wasn't far and we cut through our extremely kind neighbor’s yard and saw the grasses, all wet and sparkling.  And then I saw this wild iris.  And this blackberry flower. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And all of this was very good until the sun dropped below heavy, low hanging clouds with just about the most amazing light I’ve seen.  It cut through with precision, making deep dusky places and brightly lit places and the sharpest distinctions between them.

This is our neighbor's house and that light.

This is our neighbor's little pond.

This picture is from our yard.

And then the sun went down, bright under all those grey clouds.

This is from the next night, at the Hodge Property.

The next night I went out with the dogs to the Hodge Property, again at sunset. (We had been moving out all day, which was work, made much nicer by the fact that Bill is here this year, so could we pass each other every so often while carrying our respective boxes and we could both roll our eyes and make little remarks.  I found this to be quite companionable.)

Sturdy little tree..

It was cool and clear and the light was wonderful.  I took a picture of one of my favorite trees. When the unobstructed wind comes down from the north the first thing it hits is this little tree.  That’s why I like it.  I’ve taken its picture about a million times. 

The other thing I want to tell you and I hope you can feel it, is that while the sun was setting, while the colors were deepening and everything fell into silhouettes, and while I got these pictures, other things were happening.  The wind was softly blowing.  There were many birds… all kinds…gulls and sparrows and egrets and all of them were calling or singing.  I could hear the waves from many directions.  And also because the beach roses are newly blooming and the shad is blooming, the wind smelled like roses.  There was a sweet, beautiful young couple, walking hand in hand, and meeting Wilson and Molly, and talking and laughing.  Anyone could fall in love on this night.

So that was last night.  I knew we’d be moving out today, and leaving the island for a week or so.  On such a night, that seemed like a pretty long time.

We’re out of the house now, because except for one week, the house rented for the rest of the summer.  We had that expected fire drill of a morning.    Without Gabby and Aldo and Janelle, who came and worked very hard today to help us, I’d still be there right now, cleaning and having a nervous breakdown.   But we all worked together and then we were done and Bill and I got to rest.  And do you know what Gabby and Aldo and Janelle are doing?  They went on to other jobs.  This is what people do on the island in the summer.  They work so hard.  They work without stopping. 

Obviously, it is time to declare a Sabbath, then Bill and I will get the boat ready to bring it back to the island, which is where we will live.  In the morning we’ll also unpack the cars.  We'll see family and friends and I've got some photography projects planned and then I'll go back to the island (and so will Bill after a business trip) and then we'll have our summer lives.  I won't say our summers are simple because they're not.  But there will be many fewer boxes, and I'll be able to clean our whole space in about ten minutes and we'll mostly live in the open air and that is the best thing about it.

As the sun set the water turned that luminous blue.  This is North Light and off on the horizon is the mainland.

Little Things

A new leaf.

Rodman’s Hollow was formed 22,000 years ago when melt water from the last glacier came through.  The deep hollow itself was likely formed by a giant ice chunk so big, it cut through layers of sedimentary clay, exposing a layer of sand below.  (That allowed the water to drain away and is why Rodman's Hollow is a deep, cup-shaped valley rather than a deep, cup-shaped pond.) 

I went there a few evenings ago.  I was tired.  You already know this because I’ve been going on and on in every post about how we are moving out of our house at the end of this week.

I went down into the Hollow. The sky was soft.  The light was soft.  The air was soft and down I went and I was the only person and the paths wound around and down over stones and branches, turning but always down.  And I began to look for pictures.  First I saw green leaves.  The new leaves above looked like they were coming out in order to fly away. 

And then I saw the shad buds opening…

This is shad.  Very famous on Block Island.  It fills Rodman's Hollow.  In a little while there will be so much shad in bloom that the Hollow will look like it's covered in snow.

There were layers of green… tangles leading to thickets, all in different early stages of blooming. 

These vines are dry remnants from last year’s growth, draping or falling down like hair or like a waterfall.

Here in the Hollow, I felt like a creature in my own place.  And my mind left that other world of cleaning and closets and cupboards and lists of things to do.  I didn’t hurry in this place.  I didn’t have to organize anything.  I only had the chance to notice the order that was already there. 

And of course I had Wilson and Molly with me.  Here is Molly being a good girl and coming when she is called.

I can’t tell you how much I liked this…how happy it made me, how it softly soothed and harmonized the frayed ends of my mind.  I just looked for light and focus and the path brought me deeper and deeper down.

Here is Wilson, thinking about it.  I wanted you to see the layers and layers of green in the Hollow.

There are many dramatic places on Block Island…big places to see long vistas and the ocean crashing and sparkling.  But sometimes it’s good to go where small things are happening, small leaves and blossoms in their millions and millions, coming out quietly and (almost) unnoticed in the perfection of their new green beauty.

Another new leaf.

More shad.

A stand of wind-shaped trees in the Hollow.

Elva's Trees

A great old tree in Halifax, Nova Scotia, taken in August last summer.  Abundant and green in the full glory of summer.  Something to look forward to.

Elva stopped me in the Block Island Grocery (the BIG) this past winter to tell me how much she likes my blog and how she particularly loves it when I include pictures of trees.  I decided right then that I’d do a blog about trees for her and I've been waiting for a good time, which is now.

 This picture was taken last November.  Oakland Forest is an old growth forest of American Beech Trees in Middletown, RI.   I went to visit when my brother Nick and I went to Newport for this 60th birthday. The forest was purchased and preserved in 2000.  It's small and kind of scrubbly actually, but it's the only old growth forest in Rhode Island.  People worked very hard to save it.  Some of the trees are 300 years old. 

This picture was taken last November.  Oakland Forest is an old growth forest of American Beech Trees in Middletown, RI.   I went to visit when my brother Nick and I went to Newport for this 60th birthday. The forest was purchased and preserved in 2000.  It's small and kind of scrubbly actually, but it's the only old growth forest in Rhode Island.  People worked very hard to save it.  Some of the trees are 300 years old. 

Elva likes things to show their age.  She thinks the true beauty is in the wrinkles on a woman's face.  She likes it that tree bark grows deeper and richer with years.  She likes things to be what they are...weather worn and unadorned and complicated and enduring… more than enduring… bursting with life through all the many twists and turns.  I agree with Elva, especially about trees, and as I am certainly getting older, it is good to more fully embrace her definition of personal beauty. 

My life is still busy like it was last week.  And company is coming… a good friend I’ve known for almost 30 years.  And she's bringing her friend. 

I plan to rest when my friends come.  Or more accurately, lapse into a coma.  I can rest into this friendship.  I can always zoom around again on Monday.

Here's a little contrast for you, taken on the same trip to Newport.  I believe that people actually have to shape these trees by hand.  They have to climb up there and cut them.  (Don't ask me how they keep track of what they are doing.  I don't think I could do that.)  That turns them into story-book trees.

It’s been good to go back and pick out tree pictures from the many that I’ve been saving for Elva. It’s good to see the light coming through leaves and to see the wonderful forms that trees are so good at making.  I like to see that the myriad details have taken care of themselves.  I've been working on these pictures all morning and the longer I look at them, the better I feel.  My mind is slowly unwinding from its over-compressed condition.

A tree on my sister Amy and brother-in-law Stan's farm.  I don't think anyone has been up there, trimming this tree.  It definitely shows the marks of a long life.  I think if it goes much longer it may turn itself into stone.

This tree came down a big storm in 2011.  I love the red wood grain and the cobalt blue interior.

I’ve got so many more trees to go and see.  They’re beginning to bloom right now and that’s a nice thing… to know there are more pictures out there waiting.  Next week… while it’s still spring and things are still budding, I will make the rounds and visit all my known good trees on Block Island.  I can make time for that.  I will.

A really nice thing… a wonderful thing about living on Block Island is that someone will stop me in the store and tell me they like my pictures.  And then they’ll tell me what they see and love about the world in their particular way.  And then I’ll think of them when I’m out taking pictures.  And then I’ll feel like I'm part of this community and that we love the same things together.

 

PS.  My friends called.  For some reason they would prefer not to drive seven hours from Delaware to Point Judith and then take a bumpy ferry ride to sit on Block island in the rain that is prophesied for this weekend.  I will have to lapse into a coma by myself, but I'm sure I can squeeze in a few pictures.

Tree growing in the marshes of the James River, near Williamsburg, VA.  Taken a few years ago when I was visiting my brother George and his family.   Very big and stately and Virginian. 

I Like Light

When I go out to take pictures, I’m sometimes on a mission… I want to find the owl again or find another wave… but I’m always looking for light.  That’s what started me as a photographer… the clean green light inside the ocean.  But even in childhood, my earliest memories always included light.  There was light on the apple blossoms when I sat in my tree fort, light in shafts full of dust when we played in the hay in the barn, light on my bedroom ceiling when a car went by, even light in a glass of water.  I couldn’t get over that.  How could anything be almost invisible if I could touch it… feel it…hold it in my hand?

Light draws me to it.  I think it’s human instinct.  Light, illumination… those words mean truth to us.  I’m not like Wilson and Molly, my golden retrievers who sit facing the wind with their noses upturned together, reading the news of the day and building their world around what they smell.  I’m a person.  I know the world through light.

We specialize in sight, or more precisely, in daytime sight, with eyes that see color and look forward and rotate in their sockets. We are unlike owls, with their widely spaced, unmovable eyes.  They have to turn their whole heads to see anything, but they gain spectacular depth and nighttime vision.  (Their eyes weigh as much as our own.  This is so interesting when you think of our relative size and of all the elegant economies built into owls for flight.    And I might as well say, since I’m already digressing, that eyes are never made hollow like feathers and bones.  Even cameras and lenses are hollow, but all eyes are wet and full and heavy to carry, especially for owls.)   

Photography is just a modern way to assist us in a most instinctive and ancient form of perception… It can help us pay attention.   It can give us a way to connect to what’s real. It can help us see faster or slower, or closer or farther away, and that can surprise us, the way we were surprised by everything as children.  It can move us into wonder.

So there I was, back on the path to Mansion Beach again, taking pictures in the same place again, like I’ve done a hundred times.  (There was a black and white picture a couple of posts back… these are the same trees… just made different by the different light.)  I looked for light in the ice that was coating the branches and in the snow that had come down wet and refrozen.  I removed the UV filters on my lenses.  I left the lenses unprotected.  I wanted the light unfiltered. 

And then of course I took my pictures home. That’s was another chance… a really good chance to live with what I’d seen…to take the time I needed to let it soak in, to catch up with how it was out there.

Words are like wind, churning up waves in a train that continues even when I’ve stopped writing.  I think of something else and then I run back and change things around and then I do it again.  And it’s not just the words but the rhythms beneath them, that start roaming around in my head.

Pictures put me in a different mind.  I don’t cogitate the way I do with writing.   I feel more certain and settled.  I don’t build things bean by bean.   The whole thing is altogether.   I know what to do just by knowing.  It’s closer to the core.

When my thoughts get overcrowded, I look at my pictures or I stop and look out the window.   I run my attention out through my eyes.  Then my brain starts getting some room to breathe; my mind starts feeling a bit more smooth and clean.

I want to try to bring vision and words together…to be instinctive and simple.  I want to say what I know when I’m only looking.  And what the owl knows and what Wilson and Molly also know, despite our different ways.  I want to say it in the present tense, for how it is right now.

There is light here.  I like it.  I’ll stay.

In a Small World

It was ten degrees Fahrenheit this morning, which was warm compared to the mainland, and it was up from zero yesterday.  My intrepid friend Lisa has just come indoors.  She's been outside skiing for hours.

I thought I would go out today and similarly impress you but we just came back to the island yesterday.  We had a snowy, slippery drive from upstate New York - plus, we still have colds.  So I decided to work from my warm house instead.

I took this picture of a milkweed seed pod at the Fish Hatchery in Central Village, Connecticut, and it was in the blog, back in the hard-to-remember-warmth of November.   I have wanted to look at it more closely for some time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been zooming in.  It has been a revealing process.  I've looked closer and closer...and with time,  a different world has impressed itself upon me.

First, I cropped the picture one way and then I cropped it another and couldn't make up my mind, and then I cropped it a little bit more and it seemed like a whole new picture.  I told myself (and this is the only way I could get myself to commit), that I could keep all the versions and show you as many as I wanted. 

 

 

 

 

It became a game of balance.  I noticed what was interesting and what I didn't see before.  I wondered what the "truth" of this seedpod might be.  How could I demonstrate the significance of its particular life?  Would the best information be in the whole thing altogether or in the intimacy of one small part?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I kept looking... and I actually started to worry a little bit.  I liked this little plant, and it started to bother me that it is out there right now where it's so terribly cold. 

Then I thought about the seeds... I was there when they opened and went everywhere.  So it was easy for me to picture them tucked in each space between the grasses, blanketed in snow. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the Fish Hatchery the way it is now.  All the plants and grasses are done with everything, stripped of everything, down to their winter forms.  I like it that the seeds are waiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is picture at the Fish Hatchery after the blizzard last year.  The milkweed pods are mingled in with the grasses at the left of the picture and there are more in the fields beyond the trees in the distance.  I did stomp around in the cold and in three feet of snow to get this picture.  The frozen fog was clearing, and light and color were coming back to the sky and to the land. 

(This is actually a panorama... It's a lot of pictures stitched together.  So I could print this picture very large... the size of a wall.  I can't make it big enough on this page for you to really see it, but if you click on it, it will show up in its own box and it will be a little bit bigger.)

By the way, you might like to know that the first thing I did when I got home was fill the bird feeders, and because we have no squirrels on the island, scatter the food on the snow. 

It has been so cold... so ridiculously, bitterly cold... so many storms one after another... so much wind.  Only two birds came last night and I called my friend Edie who is an expert on birds.  I said, "Do you think they're all dead?"  She said, "No, they're just discouraged by the fact you haven't been feeding them while you were away.  They'll be back tomorrow."  And she was right.  They were here today, in force. Healthy and quick.  Hungry and busy.   I really can't imagine how they stay alive out there but I like to think that when I got closer to my picture today I got closer to the way they see the world.

What the Wind Has Made

A Flurry of Geese, Quinebaug Valley Trout Hatchery, Central Village, CT.  November, 2013.
 

I’m at my family home in Moosup for the holiday and Wilson and Molly and I went to the Trout Hatchery on the Quinebaug River in Central Village.  This hatchery grows a half a million pounds of trout each year for restocking the ponds and rivers in Connecticut.  It attracts ducks and geese and blue heron and sea gulls and hawks and in the last year or so, bald eagles.   I went early and stayed long, hoping to get some good bird pictures.

The picture above happened unexpectedly when I was trying to creep up on some heron.  A flock of geese burst upward and I heard the flurry of wings behind me.  I turned, reflexively taking a wild and lucky shot. The only other opportunity came later when four heron flew straight over my head, proud, well-illuminated, calling to each other, close and beautiful.  And what was I doing at that moment?  Changing lenses.  Welcome to bird photography.

Hunters came to the woods and the birds went into hiding.  I took to the fields to see the milkweed seedpods I’ve particularly loved since childhood.  It was easy to imagine a world… fairies in orderly choirs, riding their seed parachutes, living in pod houses. 

Now they evoke in me a tender sadness… about the last moments where the life that used to be summer is offered to the wind.  The seedpods wait, one sliver open, so fragile I could change everything by brushing by, but they hold their place and time happens and they open a little more, and more threads and more waiting and more wind and more opening and more endurance in these delicate things.  And finally, what’s left is a grey and golden shell and the seeds have gone everywhere. 

I was thinking about it… about the wings and seeds, and it occurred to me that they were created by the wind.  I mean, without the wind to hold them up and carry them they never would have been the way they are.  They are perfect together.. the wings and the wind; the seeds and the wind.  I like this.  It makes me think there is a way to live easily with the earth.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah, everyone.

 

 

Seeing More

Tiny berries in the woods at my sister and brother-in-law's (Amy and Stan's) farm last week.

In November, the bushes in the forest behind my sister and brother-in-law's farm turn a wonderful color.  I don't want to say they are pink.... they are deeper than pink, I feel, but softer than red.  In any case, I go back every year to take their pictures, and try to do them justice.  Here on the left are leaves from one of those bushes and up top are its berries.  The berries were so tiny I almost didn't see them.  I took their picture with a macro (close up, magnifying) lens.

And here is a bit of the forest.  It's my ongoing quest to take pictures that make "sense" of the tangles in nature.  They don't after all, cooperate in arranging  themselves for a photo.  I crawled over a wall and around a few obstructions until I could find an open space to stand. Then I could show the chaos and complexity I love, let the colored leaves and the silver twigs weave through, and still have the trunks of the trees for a little sense of balance.

Here is a rich orange leaf. 

I think before I started with photography I still would have loved this forest.  I would have exclaimed at the colored bushes and that would have been the end of it.  I wouldn't have seen all the different worlds... not the just the worlds in these four pictures but more I didn't even show you.  The worlds in tree bark, mosses, a carpet of leaves, the stones, the roots of trees.  Looking through a camera has trained my sight.  It has taught me how to notice - see the colors, spend some time, look in many directions.  It has helped me see each little thing as something in itself, and then see everything together.  It's helped me especially, to look for light.  These have become my habits of seeing whether I have a camera with me or not.  Sometimes it's not so much that I'm looking for something as much as it comes to me.   I can't walk with anyone without interrupting our conversation many times:  Look at that... no look at that! 

 

 

 

Doing Many Things

Great Old Tree, Halifax Public Gardens, Nova Scotia, August 14, 2013.

 

I don't have to tell you about the demands of life and the many, many things that have to be done and how hard it is to make space and time for anything extra.  I also don't have to tell you the many directions we are pulled in, the many pieces of our lives and how hard it is to make them feel like they belong to a single purpose.  I struggle with this, and I can tell you what is helping me the most. 

A little Photoshop magic...just the edges in this image.

I remember when I worked in a corporation with its insatiable hunger for production, and then I think about trees.  I'm glad that a tree doesn't have to build a measured number of leaves by noon today, according to specified specifications.  Instead, it nourishes its life.  It reaches in every direction.  And wind and sun, moisture and earth conspire, and the wild tree grows, not according to plan, but according to its natural habit.  And it rests in the winter,  gathering its deepest forces.  And then it is spring.  And there come more leaves than can ever be counted - more life, more food, and there is chaos and rhythm and complication, and it makes its own form and then the tree comes into the magnificent perfection of its beauty.

When I'm in the middle of what I could easily call the muddle of my life, it helps me to think about trees.  Their lives are out in the top-most swaying branches.  The light is there, the growing edge is there, the green is there, the pattern, the shaping and unfolding of the story of a life is there.  But the many, many things, the countless, uncounted, uncountable things, return and return to one trunk, to one single center. 

My trunk bears the rings of 58 seasons and the marks of many choices and it feels like I've lived many lives.  My trunk takes its shape from things that have happened and from things that can never happen and what does that come to?  I mean, what am I supposed to do with all of that?  I don't know, but I usually wake up in the morning with one more step I can take.  I know that sometimes when I take a picture or write some words, I feel like everything I've ever learned is in that moment.  Am I wise enough, old enough, strong enough, yet, to do the next thing?  I am.  Can I work back through the twigs and roots and branches?  I can.  Do I know and feel my still and singular center?  I do.

I find it works a bit better... to return to the core of things, even if only for a moment.  There is no revolution here - just a decision to feel the trunk of my body, my feet on the ground, the edge of my skin where it meets the rest of everything, the living silence from which the tree and I both come.  And something tangible to return to... a room, a notebook, a webpage, a picture, my dog's head on my knee, a chair in the sun.  It helps me to hold the edges lightly, to embrace the shape my life has taken, to let details unfold, to pull less tonnage, to let some things take care of themselves.  Enough gets done and things keep growing and energy comes after resting.