Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise!

Life continues; a new cycle begins.  It’s the shortest day of the year.  Imagine our ancestors noting the the diminishing of  light and wondering anxiously if the sun would return…and it does!  We are so used to “knowing” all this that we can grow so jaded and incapable of surprise and awe.  But why not retain the ability to be surprised, delighted, bowled over by the wonder of Life?!  And also to include Death in that cycle.  One of my favorite passages from Walt Whitman (from Leaves of Grass, “Song of Myself”):

“What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”

Looking through my files of photos, I found two that I remember as being surprising moments of serendipity, both of which are of birds.  Birds are surprising.  They alight and fly off at their own whim, so catching one on camera is a gift.  The first shot is one I took with the little Lumix when a hawk landed in the maple tree right outside my bedroom window.  To have this elegant wild predator just a few feet from my hidden wide-eyed face was a real treat.  I had to take the shot through a dirty window, but still…

hawk surprise

This second shot is one I took the first time I went to a State Park with my brand new Canon Rebel T3i in hand.  Sandhill cranes were flying overhead, and I took a chance that perhaps with this new camera, I would actually get a clear image.

cranes

Dance like it’s the last night of the world

A song from “Miss Saigon” is running through my head… ‘a song, played on a solo saxophone…so hold me tight and dance like it’s the last night of the world’.  Not that I seriously think the world will end tomorrow.  Aside from the darkness and the rain (instead of snow) here in Milwaukee, all seems fairly normal. 

But it raises a good question.  What would you do on the last night of the world?  What would you want to be doing any or every night of the world? 

My husband sang that song from Miss Saigon on a recital one February, a snowy scene visible through the plate glass window behind him.  The tune was a tad high for him; his sweet tenor voice seemed a little strained.  He lived only another 7 years after that day. 

I would want to dance with him and Steve and my children and my mother, to hold them tight and look into their eyes until there was nothing else to see. 

scan0037

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

The first thought I had about this Weekly Photo Challenge word was of Simon Schama in “The Power of Art” DVD describing Bernini’s sculpture “Ecstasy of St. Teresa”.  The delicate touch of an angel, the intense and spellbound concentration of presence, distills the vulnerability of human existence.  It is a very spiritual moment of intimacy in which the soul is liberated and comes to the surface.   Bernini illustrates it masterfully in his sculpture.  I have not photographed the sculpture, nor have I seen it, even though I have been to Rome.  The best I have to offer is this shot, taken one luxurious morning at a historic hotel in West Virginia.  Yes, those are my legs. 

delicate

Two-Minute Cosmic Worship Break

My mother serendipitously re-sent me a video that I had been searching for amongst my 4,000 saved e-mails.  I am in need of this video on a regular basis, and once you see it, you’ll know why.  I think I may have posted it before, but like looking up to see the horizon, it must be done often to stay sane.  Enjoy, re-blog, share…repeat.  (Not like shampoo instructions, which are entirely bogus.  Who lathers twice in one shower?)

I can’t seem to get the screen posted right here, so click this link until I figure it out.

Well, okay, it seems that WordPress requires a space upgrade to get the screen to show.  Please click the link, though.  I promise your two minutes will be rewarded!

 

Cyber Monday

Scholar & Poet Books is the online book business that Steve & I run from our home.  We shelter books that we have rescued from Good Will, library sales, church sales and rummage sales.  We clean them up and put them up for adoption on Amazon, Alibris, ABE Books and eBay.  We find new homes for old standards, eclectic oddities, and arcane tutorials.  Pulp fiction with vintage cover art, lots of spiritual topics, Christmas and cookbooks and CDs and children’s books…you name it, we probably have it or something related to it.  So, if you’re in the mood for some cyber shopping today that supports the U.S. Post Office, a small business, and the non-electronic world of all natural BOOKS, you can browse our collection through this link.  We have a 5-star rating, but neither of us has a Facebook account.  If you like what you see and want to share the link with your friends, though, we would be very pleased!  Happy hunting, bookworms!

A Peace-lover’s War Hero

Veterans’ Day.  A very forgettable holiday for me.  If it weren’t for the bloggers who have mentioned it, I might have been altogether oblivious of its passing.  I am unemployed at the moment, so no schedule change would have reminded me — except for the fact that the Post Office is closed tomorrow, so we won’t be preparing packages for Steve’ book business.   The truth is, I don’t really know what to do with Veterans’ Day.  I don’t know any vets.  I don’t have any family members who have been in the service.  And I am absolutely opposed to war.  It seems like we should have figured out an alternative long ago.  I’m truly puzzled that we have computers relaying information from Mars right now while we have yet to find an effective way to live together down here.  Learning should lead to understanding, which ought to lead to compassion.  At least that’s the trajectory I’m hoping for in my life. 

It does occur to me, though, that I have been acquainted with a veteran whom I admire very much.  I have read two of his books and have now embarked on a third.  I’ve also seen a DVD documentary about his journey home from Auschwitz.  His name is Primo Levi.  I was attracted to him first because he’s Italian.  In high school, I was the Vice President of the Italian Club.  I was learning to speak Italian because I love opera, and I wanted to meet Italian guys…or at least Italian-American guys.  I finally married a Galasso.  Now that I’m (ahem!) more mature, my love of the Italian culture is much more broad-minded.  Primo Levi’s writing is truly astounding.  He was a chemist by trade, not a writer, but his experiences during and after WWII compelled him to share the intimate details, disturbing observations, and profound insights he hoped would prevent similar events from ever happening again.  He could not let his story go unrecorded, even though its horrors caused recurring bouts of depression.  I think that makes him a very brave soldier and a heroic humanitarian. 

Here is an example of his extraordinary insight:

“Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable.  The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite.  Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and in the other, uncertainty of the following day.  The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief.  The inevitable material cares oppose it: for as they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable.  It was the very discomfort, the blows, the cold, the thirst that kept us aloft in the void of bottomless despair, both during the journey and after.  It was not the will to live, nor a conscious resignation: for few are the men capable of such resolution, and we were but a common sample of humanity.” – from Survival in Auschwitz

Thank you, Signore Levi, for your service to all of us through the horrific war you survived and the work of writing your story.

Peaceful Sunday

Placido Domingo.  Quiet, tranquil Sunday.  Ah, me.

Last night, we saw our first Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of the season: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi.  An appropriate story for an election month, dramatic and political.  Two opera megastars were featured in the leading roles: Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto.  The story and the music are captivating.  (This performance was rather a disappointment, stiff and unimaginative.  I much prefer the La Scala production starring Placido Domingo in the title role, even if his voice is not as resonant as a baritone.) The point is that Simon Boccanegra is a man who spends his life and loses his life in the pursuit of peace.  The Italian political scene is characterized by vendetta, family feuds, curses, treason, and rebellion and peopled with villains.  The story shows, though, that everyone is a villain.  We all harm each other in one way or another.  Forgiveness and reconciliation is the only way to make a difference.  How many people must the Doge pardon by the end of Act III in order to die peacefully in his daughter’s arms?

                                                                                       

This morning, I logged on to the internet and began a conversation with my blogger friend, Helen, of 1500 Saturdays.  Her post was about brutal killings in Nigeria, titled “How did humanity get so lost?”.  How do we respond to suffering, to the villainy that surrounds each of us?  Which stories do we listen to; which do we tell?  How do we make a peaceful Sunday in our world?  Please click here to read her post, the links, the comments and spend some time considering your own response.  “May all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.”

 

 

Earth Work…Trip Phase 5

After a delicious Sunday breakfast buffet and a quick photo walk in downtown Parkersburg, Steve and I headed back into Ohio toward the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park.  Steve has always been drawn to Native American archaeology and has experience working for the National Park Service at Wupatki National Monument.  The information we gathered at the Hopewell site was truly fascinating.  The native Americans in the Scioto River valley constructed enormous earth works, mounds and borders of giant proportions, geometrical shapes duplicated exactly many miles apart.  The burial mounds contained artifacts made with materials from distant regions.  The scope of this culture, the complexity of the ideas they represent, is amazing.  Of course, our conjectures about the meaning of the clues they left behind will never be verified.  Mystery will always surround this place.  The sense of a sacred reverence hangs in the very air, though.  It felt, to me, very similar to what I felt when I visited Chichen Itza in Mexico.  Time, space, geometry, astronomy, mathematics, religion, life and death coming together in physical art.  These were a people who understood the interconnectedness of all things and represented that in a conscientious way.  To say that it’s “primitive” misses the mark completely.   It certainly seems more primitive to plow over the entire area time and time again to plant corn or bulldoze the hill to quarry gravel…which is just what the white settlers did and still are doing.  

We spent the afternoon slowly embracing the place and then drove home in the dark on speedy Interstate highways.  We were back by 11pm.  On Wednesday, we continued our research on Native American mounds and early Wisconsin history by going to Madison and visiting the Historical Museum on Capitol Square and the UW Madison Arboretum (which has an impressive bookstore!).  We are still in the process of discerning how we will contribute to the conservation of this sacred planet on a local level, to what work we will devote our energy, and how we will live in awareness of the impact we make here.   It’s a time to stay open to possibilities and opportunities and to be ready to move with a purpose when a specific vehicle of conveyance appears pointing toward our goal.

 

Photo Contest “Best in Show”

Old World Wisconsin Foundation hosts a photography contest every year, and this year’s Best of Show picture included ME, the Church Lady!   I remember meeting the photographer soon after we opened for the day.  The heat had let up a bit, there were puffy cumulus clouds playing with the light; it was a brilliant, inspirational sky, and I couldn’t help looking up at its constantly changing aspect.  He took several pictures and showed me with his viewer how the shadow of the window panes appeared and disappeared in various shots.  I told him that I was planning to buy myself a new camera for my birthday.  It was a very pleasant visit.  How exciting to learn this week that the picture had taken First Place in the Historic Structures category and also won Best in Show!  I saw the winning shot yesterday, framed and hanging in Harmony Hall.  I got the photographer’s name and e-mailed him a congratulatory note and asked if I could post the photo on my blog.  He graciously provided the jpeg and agreed.  So, drum roll, please!  Ladies and Gentlemen, Jay Filter’s award-winning photo of St. Peter’s Church and the “church lady” (me!):

Photo by Jay Filter

You can see more of Jay’s amazing work by visiting his website here.  I love seeing his dazzling images scroll by and exclaiming, “I’ve been there!”  Holy Hill, Lake Michigan, Old World Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake…and various sandstone formations that I think I recognize, but can’t remember where I was.  My next goal is to enter the contest as a photographer, not a subject!

Canon Practice

Last night I went to my first ever photography class to learn the basics of using my new Rebel T3i.  I find myself wanting to figure out how to approximate the feeling I had when I took pictures with my AE-1 film camera, so I’ve been experimenting with disabling automatic, computer-generated options.  It doesn’t always yield the best results, but I’m still learning.  I don’t want everything lighted evenly, nor do I want everything in sharp focus.  So, I’m learning how to tweak the white balance thingie and the depth of field.  It’s interesting that the viewfinder will not show you what the picture will look like, and the instructors knew that there was some way to view it, but they discouraged that, saying that the Canon representative hadn’t showed them how.  Well, I think I found something in Manual setting with Live View that approximates the final result.  But, hey, no film wasted, right?  Click and review.  So I’ve been fiddling around with it, using some of my favorite subjects.  Allow me to introduce them:

From my elephant collection

This guy was helpful with the monochrome, but he kept falling over on the bedspread.  He was an experiment in Manual Focus.

So I replaced him with a littler guy and worked on depth of field.

Then I pushed the ISO way up to see what kind of noise they’d make.

But this little guy just looks so special in his own portrait, all decked out like a museum jewel.

Anyway, I’m having a great time with my new toy.  The class was OK, but I didn’t appreciate the first 20 minutes where they tried to sell us on another truckload of accessories.  There is still so much I have to learn about the gizmos on the main piece of equipment!  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend following your own bliss!  And honestly, don’t think you have to spend a nickel to do that.  At the end of a photo session, I put down my camera and marvel at the eyes I got for free.