Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Seen Better Days

“Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.” Robert Browning

Last week’s Photo Challenge was all about Autumn color, the beautiful garb of aging, death and decay. How appropriate that Tina chooses for this week’s challenge the idea of how dilapidated, vintage, older things that have “seen better days” capture the photographer’s eye as things of loveliness and interest.

“The love of old things is a way of respecting time.”
― Wu Ming-Yi

 “Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.” 
― Gautama Buddha

The more I study the beauty of aging and death, the more I am drawn into the transformation of cells and matter. Consider that Life is marked by change, that change is the continuation of Life in new forms. Below is a photo of a petrified tree stump in the Flourissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado, illustrating the change from vegetable into mineral.

Is it any wonder we photographers are fascinated by the visual evidence of the dance of Life and Time? As humans, we are definitely a part of this process. As humans, we take our experience and create Art to celebrate it.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Quest

questAt this point in my life, I am Over the Hill for sure. The sun is setting – how rapidly is anyone’s guess. Anticipating the unknown sounds like an exercise in futility. Any build-up is likely to increase anxiety. I think what is more important is simply practicing being the character I want to be. I am not on a quest to challenge my mortality, but to be at peace. I am looking forward to moving to a more rural part of the state in a month, on 56 acres of restored prairie that’s owned by the Conservation Foundation where I work. My quest will allow me to spend more time in Nature and more quiet time writing.  We’ll see how rapidly that sunset arrives. I’m not looking to jump on any fast trains to get there. 



This Old House

In the late 1960s, a couple with 2 young children bought their first house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

the house

There were small trees in the back yard that grew and grew…

back yardThe trees shaded the house and the garden.  The children played beneath the trees, and the mother and father planted flowers in the garden so that they could sit outside and enjoy their color and fragrance.

gardenThe children grew, too, fed at the kitchen table.

kitchen tableThey grew tall and strong…

stairway…and enjoyed their own place to dream and read and learn.

Steve's roomAs time went on, the children grew to adults and moved away from the house.  The couple lived there still, and grew older together.  Then the father died, and the mother lived there alone.  Finally, she decided to sell the little home to another young family with small children…and a baby on the way.  So she and her grown-up son said ‘good-bye’ to the place together.

Steve & MomThank you, little house, for sheltering this family.  Thank you, trees and garden, for living and growing with them.  May you continue to shelter and live and grow with the new family, in peace.

When 900 years old you are…

…look this good you will not!!

yoda selfieStar Wars Day at Discovery World museum is this Saturday.  I’m the OLDEST female guest service team member; most of my colleagues weren’t even alive when the first movie came out!   Yoda is going to be my alter-ego for the day.  I’m old, wise, and I know what an introductory adverbial clause is! 

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background

“Back of the bread is the flour, and back of the flour is the mill, and back of the mill is the sun and the rain and the Father’s will.”  So goes a table grace that I learned to sing at Girl Scout camp.  Back of the photos that I post here is little ol’ me, with camera in hand, and often my companion on adventures, Steve.  The challenge for this week is to Take a picture of yourself or someone else as a shadow, a reflection, or a lesser part of a scene, making the background, or — as in the example above — the foreground, the center of attention.  Let’s see what I have in my treasure chest…

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Oh, and here’s another one…

antique shopKind of a goofy shot…had no idea my stomach had crept into the photo, and hadn’t really thought much about the composition.  I was standing in the middle of an antique/rummage shop, trying to take in all the bizarreness around me, not sure where to look.  I am an observer, and often passive.  I am actually doing a lot of soul-searching these days, trying to be more intentional about what I do with my life.  I have a habit of looking around, appreciating everything and not engaging with much energy in any particular thing.  It’s kind of a surrender-based position.  Not that it’s bad; it can be useful at times.  It can also be very frustrating for Steve who wants to know more about what I really want.  I have a tendency to fade into the background: social conditioning? lack of self-confidence? fear of commitment/rejection/judgment? Not that I want to promote my ego, but I do want to attend to values with some assertion.  If I don’t stick up for what I think is important, then my days will be incredibly dull and my life energy not very well spent.  As I get into my senior years, I want to avoid slipping into the routine of enduring and not enjoying my time here.  How do I practice that daily?  That’s what I’m hoping to figure out.   

I’m 50! Me & Jodie Foster

I’m not a media watcher.  I don’t even own a TV, but for some reason, I found myself drawn to Jodie Foster’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards this morning.  I read the transcript online, then did a youtube search to see her performance of it.  How do you get to be a gracefully aging woman of 50?  How do you leave behind the fluff and come out real and wise and honorable?  That’s what my blog project has been about, so I wanted to see Ms. Foster’s take on it.  I was not disappointed.  No doubt the lady is intelligent.  No doubt she has compassion for the human race.  What essence did she distill and pour for us in those 6 minutes of impromptu address being recorded for millions to see?  Art is significant work.  Media without privacy is exposure and becomes ridiculous and dangerous.  Gratitude is important.  Relationships are essential even though understanding is fleeting and loneliness is inevitable.  And change is the atmosphere we live in, grow in, and die in.   Resisting it is a waste of energy.  Embracing it is mystically regenerative.   I get that.  I concur.  Maybe I could be her soul sister, too. 

Last Day of the Year

I started this blog 365 days ago.  Today is the last day that I can claim to be “in my 40s”. 

“What have you learned, Dorothy?”  “I’ve learned that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.  ‘Cuz if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.  Is that right?”

Umm…not exactly. My initial post said,”this blog is dubbed scillagrace to symbolize ancient elegance of manner, action, form, motion and moral strength.  It is my goal to post entries worthy of the name.  It is my goal to avoid being dogmatic and prissy.  I want to challenge myself to go deeper into subjects that explore the ancient grace of life.   It is a lot of name and a lot of subject, to be sure.  We’ll see how it goes.”

Did I go deeper?  Did I go beyond my own backyard?  Here are my top ten Most Used categories: Awareness.  Photography. Philosophy.  Nature.  Relationships.  Writing.  Psychology.  Sociology.  Education.  Spirituality.  I have 200 followers, but the most “likes” I’ve ever gotten on any post is 24.  Which I suppose goes to show that you can’t please all of the people.  Not even once.  But statistics don’t tell the story.  Numbers have no meaning; it’s the narrative that goes along with them, the interpretation, that gives any statistical information its significance. 

Here is an ancient grace of life: deepening a relationship.  I have made new friends in far away places through this blog.  I have re-connected with people I haven’t seen for some time.  I have bonded with my mother in a new way, and I’ve even come to know myself better.  That will probably remain the enduring value of this blog.  I have grown up this year, and I hope to continue to do so as I go on aging. 

Last year…

I am planning to continue to blog, but probably not as often.  I am planning to get a new camera for myself and to spend more time writing.  I will be going on a 3-week adventure in October when I end my season as a living history museum interpreter.   There will be more change, more grace and, hopefully, greater awareness to come.

Close Up

There are a million wonders along the path, many of them missed if you’re traveling too fast.  You have to slow down to catch life in close up.  Our culture resists this vigorously, of course.  So I choose to live differently than most.  I suppose this difference has been highlighted this week while I’ve been filling out government tax forms, listening to party politics and preparing to step back into the 19th century for my new job at Old World Wisconsin.  I am not trying to move “up and to the right” like the business graph.  I want to follow a different trajectory.  

This morning I’ve been reading some blogs written by women who are caring for their aging mothers through stages of dementia.  My father died two years ago from Alzheimer’s, but I was not a care-giver in his life because I live halfway across the country.  I was a care-giver to my husband who died 4 years ago from coronary artery disease, kidney failure and diabetes.  The perspective of life across different physical, mental and psychological ages intrigues me, and provides the inspiration for today’s poetry and photos.  The photos are again from our trip to Wyalusing State Park.  The first one was something Steve noticed as we walked.  “Look,” he said, “little teenaged Priscillas!”  He was looking into a stream where some water striders were sheltering between the rocks.  My mother used to refer to me as a water strider when I was in high school.  The poetry prompt from NaPoWriMo was to write a sonnet, 14 lines because today’s the 14th.  I did not attempt to compose anything with a more formal frame than that.  No iambic pentameter or rhyming scheme, just 14 lines.  So, here we go with the pictures and poetry!

Skimming the surface, supported by tension

Riding the tide of everyone’s angst

A mere shadow in the depths, a dimple of contrast

Slender legs splayed out, weightless, of no consequence

A teenaged water strider, this youngest daughter.

What rock will plunge her universe,

Reverse the level of her lens and fasten her,

Securely, where the current flows and tugs?

In the wet of things, completely drenched

Attending top and bottom feeders, gasping, flailing,

Always moving, face in the water with wide opened eyes

Until another metamorphosis, an aged knife,

Severs the lines and sets her adrift

Above the ripples once again, that much closer to the sky.

Dutchman's breeches

Shooting star

Try a Triolet

Day #2 of NaPoWriMo today!

I am learning a lot.  The prompt for today is to write a “triolet”, which is an 8 line poem where lines 1, 4 & 7 are identical and lines 2 & 8 are identical.  The rhyme scheme goes like this: ABaAabAB.  Having never studied poetry, this is all new to me and fascinating to engage.  What do you do with a structure?  Play with it for a while, then take it apart and do something else, like with toy blocks?  There’s no “right” way to play, is there?  I think not.  So I go ahead and see what happens.

I was thinking about the repetitive nature of this particular pattern, and it reminded me of a conversation I had with Steve on a recent neighborhood walk.  We were talking about getting old, how older people spend their time until they die, the change in energy and the prelude to death.  My husband was technically “working” the day before he died, although by that time, he was working from home at the dining room table, from a laptop equipped with Zoom Text that made each letter on the screen about 4 inches high.  My father, in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, didn’t move or eat or do anything on his own.  He eventually succumbed to pneumonia after he lost the ability to swallow food without aspirating it.   My grandmother died in a nursing home rather uneventfully.  She had lived with us for several years before moving into a place that could care for her more comprehensively.  She spent her days watching TV in her room and would come to the dinner table and try to make conversation, often beginning with “They say….”  My father always insisted she cite her sources.  “Who says?  Where did you hear that?”

Our concepts of dying are so complicated and irrational.  What makes “sense” economically often offends morally.  Questions, decisions, choices, preferences and emotions arise.   What do we do with them?  How do we communicate our wishes for life and death?  To whom?  I don’t have any definite answers.  I hope I get to communicate what’s important to me to someone who is listening.  I hope my views are respected.  What that might look like, I cannot tell.  Steve mentioned casually at breakfast that he’d like Schubert’s Octet played at his funeral.  I asked him who he thought might be there.  He couldn’t even say.  I guess what matters is that I heard him when he said it.


Triolet for My Grandmother

There was nothing good on TV that day.

She turned her face toward the wall and died.

The years had slipped by while she wasted away.

There was nothing good on TV that day.

She’d listened and heard what they had to say.

They might have been right, but often they lied.

There was nothing good on TV that day.

She turned her face toward the wall and died.

(photo credit: Josh)

As Time Goes By

My daughter is a certified massage therapist.  This makes visiting her an extra special occasion. Not only do I get the pleasure of her company and hospitality, I get a 2 hour massage as well.  As I lay there thinking about my body, my cells, and the amazing things going on just under my skin, it occurred to me that the whole process that I call my biological life began exactly half a century ago.  Yup, I figure I was conceived Thanksgiving weekend, as my parents celebrated with joy their gratitude for life.   Not that they ever divulged so private a story to me, mind you.

I marvel at how life is sustained over time.  I mentioned this to my kids as I was sipping my post-therapy water.  My youngest piped up, “Yeah, well, half a century is nothing when you think about how mountains grow and change.”  Touche.  I have to get better at taking a longer view, getting a bigger perspective.  I look at my kids bustling around in the kitchen preparing food together, all grown up, and a second later, they are playing a patty-cake game from their childhood.

We are all still so young on this earth; we are such a blink.  What kind of impact will we have on the bigger picture?  What will be the most lasting legacy of this family whom I love so intensely?  The trees that we’ve planted?  The children we beget?  The words we pen? The votes we cast?  The ashes we give back to the soil?  I can’t say for sure.  It could be the love that we circulate, although it would be impossible to document.  I am just grateful to have been a part of it, a crinoid in the limestone, among thousands of others.