Weekly Photo Challenge & Photography 101: Triumphs Converging

Yesterday was a wonderful day, a triumph of change, of many changes coming together.  Thanksgiving is Steve’s favorite holiday, and what’s not to love?  Fall colors, harvest time, lots of great food, a crisp chill in the air, wood smoke, and an all-pervading sense of gratitude for the process of life. 

triumph 2We’ve hosted Steve’s family for dinner at our place for the past 4 years.  “Our Place”, however, is not just a home.  It’s an online book business, which means that our inventory is stored under the same roof.  That roof was replaced this year, bringing inches of old cedar pieces and dust down on top of our piles of books.  It was a mess.  The clean up and resorting was enormous.  But Thanksgiving was the deadline: we wanted to host as usual.  Piles of books, CDs, video tapes and packing materials carpeted all the rooms and stairwells in the house.  We literally had to pick our way through for months.  Steve took infinite trips up the narrow, steep stairs to the attic, laden with heavy boxes and stacks.  But yesterday was a triumph!  The place was clean, the table glistened, the food was colorfully delicious, and everyone had a great time.  And Steve got to put his feet up and read aloud in Italian.

triumphWe are really getting good at team work.  The next triumphant convergence will occur tomorrow, when we get together with all my children and their ‘significant otters’ for a holiday which we call ‘Galassoween’.  Five couples, two generations and as many various lifestyles merge to create a feast of conversation and edible togetherness.  And it will take place in the house that my daughter and her fiance have rebuilt. (see this post, “Harvesting Hope”)  I’m looking forward to it!  (but first, I have a lot of dishes to wash…)

triumph 3


Photography 101: Double

Happy Thanksgiving!  I am doubly thankful for you, the blogging community.  Thank you for your visits and thank you for hosting me when I visit.  It’s been great fun and great learning doing this project.  There are (at least) twice as many wonders in this world to see than I imagine.  I am grateful to be opened and broadened and expanded by your lives and your art.  Thank You, Thank You!!


Photography 101: Edge

When I first saw Michelle’s photo of Angkor Wat, I immediately thought of this shot I took in New Mexico at the ruins of a settler’s ranch:

edgeWe recently saw a glorious Korean film called “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” in English.  It takes place mostly in a monk’s floating temple.  Inside his humble place, he has a shrine and a place to sleep.  The “bedroom” is set apart by a doorway, but there are no walls.  Still, every time he retires, he stands up and goes through the doorway.  It would take him two crawling motions to go from his knees before the Buddha statue to his bedroll on the floor, but he never does that.  The door is a reminder, a discipline, a practice, I’m sure.  It represents some kind of edge or divider, and yet, all is One inside as the open space prevails.  I like how this ruin recaptured that feeling.  We put up our boundaries, but they are mere illusions.  Or perhaps delusions.  Edges are not the Truth of the world, but we cling to them nevertheless.  They give our organized Western minds that compartmentalism that makes us feel secure and in control.  The hazard there is that when the compartments are breached, we feel that something is “wrong”, and we become anxious…needlessly.   Learning to be at peace with being open is a practice I’m following lately. 

In case that’s too philosophical for you, I’ll give you some more literal illustrations:

Photography 101: Glass


Half full, half empty.  Worn and washed up on the beach. 

“Land Ho!”  “Pass me the glass! No, not that one, the telescope!” 

Through a glass, darkly.  Nose to the pane.  The ceiling.  Don’t throw stones.

Cool and transparent, insulating, sparkly…glass is all around.  I look through it all day long, even when I’m outside and have for years.  I remember leaving the optometrist’s showroom with my first pair of glasses on.  I looked up to the foothills and saw leaves on the trees up there.  Suddenly, there was depth and contrast in the distance.  It was a miracle.  The first time I looked through a microscope was a miracle, too.  I imagine indigenous people finding obsidian and cutting their fingers on it, rejoicing.  What stuff! 

I feel my life getting dull.  I’ve been working hard at the book-selling business, rather repetitively.  I need to wake up to the scintillating delight of life.  This is a perfect visual reminder!

Photography 101: Treasure

Treasure: what is it?  I’ve worked at museums long enough to know what an artifact is.  Usually, it’s an object that you find or dig up.  It can tell you about the environment, what kinds of things lived there, what they did and when.  Paleontologists like to say that archaeologists study garbage, stuff people throw away, while they study bones and fossils.

Some artifacts get handed down from one generation to another instead of being thrown away.  There is a sense of value in the thing itself.  It’s special to someone in some way.  It carries attachment, and those attachments are preserved along with the object.

So, maybe ‘treasure’ is really about our attachment, the things we want to hold on to.  Many times those things are ephemeral: feelings, living beings, pleasant moments in time.  We know they will not endure, so often we transfer their significance to objects that may last a bit longer. 

And, of course, this is just what we’re doing when we take photographs, isn’t it?  But what is it that we actually treasure?  Life and love.  How do you preserve that kind of treasure?  You can’t, really.  What you can do is be absolutely present while it is within your grasp.  Celebrate it, bring yourself to it, flow with it.  Enjoy it, with all your heart. 

Photography 101: Landscape

This is my passion.  Landscapes – wide open spaces, gently rolling hills, big sky.  When I was a little girl, my family went on outings to places like the Morton Arboretum.  We would follow a walking path and come upon an open field of dandelions or daffodils, and I simply couldn’t contain myself.  I would take off running, cartwheeling, spinning and singing….like Julie Andrews in the opening shots of “The Sound of Music”.  Freedom and joy as big as all outdoors is the feeling that landscapes give me.  I have met a few expert landscape photographers on the blog scene.  They go above and beyond (literally) to get spectacular shots.  I am not likely to be up at 3am to climb a snowy peak.  I take my camera where I’m going and shoot the scenes that present themselves.  I am still picking up techniques for making those shots more compelling.  One is to have something really interesting in the foreground:

the myth of nothingOr to put a person in it for perspective:

Storm in Western Oklahoma

It’s more challenging to get depth and interest in a scene without those things.  Of course, equipment plays a part.  I don’t use a tripod; I don’t have a special lens.  I end up with more flat, snapshot-type scenes.  They’re missing a bit of drama, I suppose.  Something to work on.

Photography 101: Swarm

I witnessed a perfect example of this theme last month.  The sight of this swarm was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes.  I did not bring my camera to record the event because it was prohibited.  We were invited to watch the emergence of 300,000 bats at dusk from Carlsbad Caverns and instructed to sit in absolute silence and be still.  We did not want our presence at the door of their habitat to be disturbing to their natural activity.  To disrupt their nightly venture to find water and forage for insects would be disastrous to their livelihood.  There were school groups in attendance, and the children were remarkably respectful.  The park ranger began the program by taking some questions and giving some information about the bats.  He was, in effect, stalling for time.  When the bats began to emerge in a climbing spiral behind him, he left.  All were silent.  The rubbery slap and flap of wings became audible and the bats poured like pepper into the evening sky.  Lines of dots headed for the horizon in waves, like bait balls in the ocean, like starlings over the fields, like natural creatures who live and move and have their being in great numbers, synchronous and individual at once.  They came from deep within a cavern so huge it had taken me an hour to descend to its first level on foot.  They rose in an unbroken ribbon for 45 minutes.  Steve & I were the last to leave the arena.  It was like tearing ourselves away from a cathedral after a sacred service.  I am glad that I don’t have this image in my camera, only in my gut.  Here is a shot of the arena before the sun set:

swarm siteI do not have any photos of what Dave Foreman calls “Man Swarm”.  I shun crowds when possible.  I do live with inanimate objects in number — namely books and CDs. 

Visually, I think the most effective compositions of swarms of things are the ones that are aligned with the vanishing point.  In other words, as James Taylor sings, “Line ‘Em Up” like Nixon’s staff when he left office, like wedding couples under Sun Myung Moon.  It gives the feeling of infinite expansion and maximizes the impact of sheer numbers. 

And now that I’ve figured this out, I’ll try to keep it in mind the next time I find myself pointing my camera at a swarm. 

Photography 101: Moment

What’s the difference between capturing a moment and just taking a blurry photo?  I struggle with this…and in that struggle, I suppose, is where Art is born.  There is one photographer whose blog I follow who has elevated the art of photographing motion to an exquisite level.  Her name is Karen McRae, and her blog is draw and shoot.  You should check out her stuff.  It’s no wonder she has 12,000 followers.  

So what have I got?  Well, there’s low light and people who can’t stay still.  Like my daughter at an outdoor evening concert, talking with her hands. 

momentA moment of scintillating storytelling, or just another blurry photo?  You decide.  There’s the moment of movement in falling water…but it’s way overdone, probably.

moving water

And the actual “OMG! I have to get my camera out because THIS is happening!”

spider blurAnd it’s barely recognizable, and you hope you can adjust your settings and try again before your surprisingly swift subject disappears into some shelter off the trail.  Here goes:

tarantulaYes!  That’s what it is, clearly, right there on the path in New Mexico.  A tarantula.  Now, do I feel better that I’ve “nailed it down”, so to speak?  Or do I more enjoy the breathless, life-is-a-dynamic-thing, fuzzy ’round the edges illustration?  I have this debate with myself.  I believe in the dynamic; I habitually strive toward the “perfection”.   Maybe this is the struggle that will someday birth some Art from me. 

Photography 101: Architecture

I notice something about my architecture preferences.  I don’t have very many shots of modern, abstract, minimalist architecture.  I prefer old buildings, old styles which mirror nature in their profusion of contrasting textures, lines and patterns.  I suppose I find the clean and “techie” look sterile and scientific.  It’s just not me.  I’m not Danish modern.  I’m Victorian, more likely, all gingerbread and painted lady.  My mother would shake her head,  “Just more difficult to dust.”  Who dusts, anyway? 😉

(go ahead and click on these for a bigger view)


Photography 101: A Pop of Color

Not to be confused with a soda of color, say Nehi grape or orange… 

Here in the Midwest, ‘pop’ has another meaning.  If I happened to have some, that would make a perfect combination for this theme!  But the pop I have in the ‘fridge is 50/50, and it’s not even as colorful as Mountain Dew.  So… back to the natural world, and natural liquids.


green stream

Green stream at the Madison Arboretum

And perhaps a double pop on this one…

out my window

Out the window

This one is a gentle, soft ‘pip’…


Old World Wisconsin visitor

May you find some eye-popping delight today!