Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Winter

White-Eyes

In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird
with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us
he wants to go to sleep,
    but he’s restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds
from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last…

The cycle of seasons in the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge has come around to Winter. I have spent all my winters living in the northern hemisphere, the last nine of them being in Wisconsin. I have heard residents remark on how the winters have gotten milder in general, with less snow.  

I have, however, heard a new term since moving to Wisconsin that I don’t remember from my childhood: the polar vortex. There were two occasions in two different years that this term came up. What it meant to us was that temperatures hit -20 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime, not factoring in wind chill. During that first polar vortex, my housemate was working as a Postal Service carrier. He was walking around delivering mail in those temperatures. He found it absolutely thrilling to be able to do it and revel in the superlative extremes of Nature.   

I marvel at the robust character of animals who over-winter in this climate – deer, cardinals, field mice, and all the rest who tough it out. I learned another term while volunteering at a local Nature Center. In the ‘sub-nivean zone’ beneath the snow, small rodents make trails to their burrows, accessing stores of food. Imagine all that activity going on under inches of frozen precipitation! Then imagine all the humans that complain about a dusting that makes their morning commute more inconvenient.

I appreciate the way Winter teaches me to accept what is and live in the moment. If it’s cold, it’s cold. You have to deal with it. Complaining and wishing do not make the Earth move closer to the Sun. Only Time can relieve you of Winter, so you might as well slow down and enjoy it.  

Our host for today’s challenge is Ann-Christine, who lives in Sweden. Her photo story shows that there are numerous ways to enjoy the beauty of Winter. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ambience (or Ambiance)

This week’s challenge reminds me of that old joke, “Why are there no restaurants on the moon?”

“No atmosphere.”

So, what’s my ambience? or ambiance? (seems there are two acceptable spellings). It’s Wisconsin. It’s January. The light is distant, southerly, and often behind clouds.arboretum in winter

The air is dry, sharp, and very cold (even in my living room!).  frosty-window

The mood is stark and immediate, like survival, but it brings a certain excitement to the senses. We are alert, light on our feet. 

driveway

There’s a certain pride in the folks who are out and about in this weather. febThey are hardy and happy, eager and resilient.

There’s something in the silence of snow – in the wide, white spaces – that brings out a solitude from which we derive a certain strength.

Welcome to Winter Wisconsin. I find it refreshing. snowy emergence

Ambience

Wisconsin Wonderland

If I want to see the magic of a winter wonderland, I have only to step outside my door. No need to represent it inside my home. No need for a “holiday tree” when you have a holiday ecosystem! I only wish I had a fireplace…

I’m grateful for the world as it is. It may seem harsh, but it is home. Chickadees and sparrows and cardinals and juncos are at the feeder. Deer lie under the trees at night and walk away during the day.  Somehow, they live on in the darkness, in the cold, without complaining.

I have a lot to learn.

Cold Comfort

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.  

— from Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

 

morning frostThe truth is, it’s cold here. 

evening frost 2And the beauty is, it’s cold here.

evening frostMay you enjoy the true beauty of this world today, wherever you are.

 

Winter Solstice: “…oh, the night…”

 

Yesterday, I lost the sun at 4 p.m.  I arose this morning at 6:30 a.m.  It is still dark.  There is no snow on the ground, but the air hovers at the freezing point.  I wish I were in New Mexico still, where the stars are so close.  Steve read me a poem yesterday, and I’ve been trying to digest it ever since.  There are so many heavy, rich ideas in it: angelic terror, love and death.  And then there are sensual images I recognize immediately and viscerally, like this one: “…the night, when the wind full of outer space gnaws at our faces…”   It made me think of exiting my tent in New Mexico, turning my face upward, and beholding the heavens.  The translation I’m working with is by A. Poulin, Jr.  It is quite long.  Take it in doses.  Meditate on parts that speak directly to you.  Search for your own vibration in the Void.  

Rainer Marie Rilke — The First Elegy from Duino Elegies:

And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic

orders?  Even if one of them suddenly held me

to his heart, I’d vanish in his overwhelming

presence.  Because beauty’s nothing

but the start of terror we can hardly bear,

and we adore it because of the serene scorn

it could kill us with.   Every angel’s terrifying. 

   So I control myself and choke back the lure

of my dark cry.  Ah, who can we turn to,

then?  Neither angels nor men,

and the animals already know by instinct

we’re not comfortably at home

in our translated world.  Maybe what’s left

for us is some tree on a hillside we can look at

day after day, one of yesterday’s streets,

and the perverse affection of a habit

that liked us so much it never let go.

arboretum in winter

     And the night, oh the night when the wind

full of outer space gnaws at our faces; that wished for,

gentle, deceptive one waiting painfully for the lonely

heart — she’d stay on for anyone.  Is she easier on lovers?

But they use each other to hide their fate.

   You still don’t understand?  Throw the emptiness in

your arms out into that space we breathe; maybe birds

will feel the air thinning as they fly deeper into themselves.

Yes.  Springs needed you.  Many stars

waited for you to see them.  A wave

that had broken long ago swelled toward you,

or when you walked by an open window, a violin

gave itself.  All that was your charge.

But could you live up to it?  Weren’t you always

distracted by hope, as if all this promised

you a lover?  (Where would you have hidden her,

with all those strange and heavy thoughts

flowing in and out of you, often staying overnight?)

When longing overcomes you, sing about great lovers;

their famous passions still aren’t immortal enough. 

You found that the deserted, those you almost envied,

could love you so much more than those you loved.

Begin again.  Try out your impotent praise again;

think about the hero who lives on: even his fall

was only an excuse for another life, a final birth. 

But exhausted nature draws all lovers back

into herself, as if there weren’t the energy

to create them twice.  Have you remembered

Gaspara Stampa well enough?  From that greater love’s

example, any girl deserted by her lover

can believe:  “If only I could be like her!”

Shouldn’t our ancient suffering be more

fruitful by now? Isn’t it time our loving freed

us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:

as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering momentum

becomes more than itself.  Because to stay is to be nowhere.

ancient sufferingVoices, voices.  My heart, listen as only

saints have listened: until some colossal

sound lifted them right off the ground; yet,

they listened so intently that, impossible

creatures, they kept on kneeling.  Not that you could

endure the voice of God!   But listen to the breathing,

the endless news growing out of silence,

rustling toward you from those who died young.

Whenever you entered a church in Rome or Naples,

didn’t their fate always softly speak to you?

Or an inscription raised itself to reach you,

like that tablet in Santa Maria Formosa recently.

What do they want from me?  That I gently wipe away

the look of suffered injustice sometimes

hindering the pure motion of spirits a little. 

It’s true, it’s strange not living on earth

anymore, not using customs you hardly learned,

not giving the meaning of a human future

to roses and other things that promise so much;

no longer being what you used to be

in hands that were always anxious,

throwing out even your own name like a broken toy.

It’s strange not to wish your wishes anymore.  Strange

to see the old relationships now loosely fluttering

in space.  And it’s hard being dead and straining

to make up for it until you can begin to feel

a trace of eternity.  But the living are wrong

to make distinctions that are too absolute.

Angels (they say) often can’t tell whether

they move among the living or the dead.

The eternal torrent hurls all ages through

both realms forever and drowns out their voices in both.

At last, those who left too soon don’t need us anymore;

we’re weaned from the things of this earth as gently

as we outgrow our mother’s breast.  But we, who need

such great mysteries, whose source of blessed progress

so often is our sadness — could we exist without them?

Is the story meaningless, how once during the lament for Linos,

the first daring music pierced the barren numbness,

and in that stunned space, suddenly abandoned

by an almost godlike youth, the Void first felt

that vibration which charms and comforts and helps us now?

mysteryThe cloudy sky grows lighter.  I wish you peace, my friends, in your night and in your darkened day. 

Long, dark nights – brief, sunless days

A poem I wrote many years ago, re-written slightly.  Originally about Advent, it works well with Solstice, too. 

A cold dissatisfaction oozes poison into hours

of solitary boredom that once tasted summer’s warmth

and rejoiced in sensate ponderings of heaven’s languid clime.

 

Now prayers lie frozen on my lips these bitter, ashen afternoons.

 

Glossy catalogs and magazines lie orphaned at my door,

but I will not adopt their cheer

nor bed th’insouciant whoring of our winter holy days.

 

So melancholy punctuates the numbing march of time

into that darkened solstice of medieval isolation —

propelled into the farthest arc, forsaken by the sun.

 

Thus emptied into neediness, to famine and despair,

I search the yawning pitch-smeared void

and there behold a piercing Star!

 

No gaily burning candle nor twinkling hearthside glow,

this is the hard-edged hopefulness forged pure and straight of cosmic might,

arising out of nothingness toward Life’s salvific land.

 

My soul, a silent universe,

lies naked in its beam,

a prayer more fragile and profound

than any summer dream.

For warmth and life, nothing beats baking and eating tasty treats!  Steve made a Pear Rosemary quick bread the other day.  It filled the house with a savory aroma of sweetness, tartness and tangy evergreen. 

May your brief, sunless days be warmed with life, your long, dark nights with be warmed with love!

© 2014, poem and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Photography 101: Glass

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!

Christmas Day 2013

Thank you, blog followers, for counting the days with me and considering the many gifts that we receive in life. 

May we be filled with gratitude;

may our gratitude transform our spirits;

may all beings be happy. 

From icy Milwaukee, I wish you peace!

christmas eve

And to close, I simply must share my favorite Flash Mob scene of all time, from the 1970 movie musical “Scrooge”.  I cry happy tears every time I see it and find myself dancing and singing along.  Please click on this link and Enjoy!  I was 8 years old when my father took me to see it in a theater.  When we emerged, a beautiful light snow was falling on the Chicago streets.  Years later, my youngest daughter was cast in a production of this delightful (and musically superb!) show, and Jim and I helped prepare the chorus in rehearsal.  I also got to conduct the band from the orchestra pit for every show, and it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had.  Imagine me waving my arms enthusiastically, caught up in the joy of “Thank You Very Much”.  Thank you all for supporting my blogging efforts over the years.  Your company is a great privilege!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

Home

Home.  A weighty concept in some ways, but also tending toward the sentimental.  It can connote fortification, shelter….and yet, homey can be quaint and trivial.  We invent and reinvent our relationship to home throughout our lives.  A place to go to, a place to run from, a place without, a place within.  Maybe the truth about ‘home’ is that it is changing and fluid.  That’s what I want to illustrate. 

This photo was taken out of my bedroom window, from within the warm nest where I find safety, comfort, and respite.  And yet, the window is transparent.  It doesn’t completely shield me from the cold visually, nor does it keep me from feeling it (it’s an old drafty house, not well insulated at all!).  It lets me come face to face with the physical realities of frost and even pulls me beyond the immediate perimeter of my house, across the street, up into the trees, and all the way out of the Earth’s atmosphere to the Moon.  And still, this is all my home, too.  The Universe is where I live.   Home is near as well as far.  And why should I not feel safety and belonging in all of the world’s manifestations?  Cold and death and distance and infinity do not annihilate me, nor do they exalt me.  They are familiar and comforting, too.  I do not control my home as I do not control the weather…I live in it.  And life is bigger than most of us imagine.  

For another picture of home, mundane and temporal but nevertheless real and interesting, my last post was about our home business, Scholar and Poet Books.   Please click here and take a look!

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination

“Lights are functional — everyday objects in our rooms and on our streets. Yet lights can be powerful symbols: signs of life, curiosity, and discovery. ”  So goes the challenge description for this week.  My first instinct was to think of the photos I took New Year’s Eve of candlelight at the table.  I’ve been experimenting with low key lighting and how to bump my camera settings to accommodate that.  But I’ve already posted some of those.  My next thought was to post one I took yesterday, and I think it’ll be my choice.  True to my own natural preference, the light I’ve chosen is the very essence and source of life, curiosity, and discovery – the Sun.  At this time of year, we drift farther away from our sustaining Star.  A gauzy shroud interferes.  We are in a state of indirect, ethereal contact.  Our longing is enhanced and unsatisfied.  We pause to ponder the diminishment.  Physically, we may suffer on a cellular level. Emotionally, we may avoid or embrace this spiritual journey into greater darkness. 

I was walking through the Arboretum at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  I came to the crest of a hill from the north and descended towards the Visitor Center when I saw this tree lit from the south by the winter sun.  I hope you like this interpretation of Illumination:

Winter illumination

Winter illumination