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

Making Good the Resolution

Yesterday’s post was about the weekly photo challenge prompt: Resolved.  I stated that land use research and getting outside were goals for this year.  Yesterday afternoon, we ventured into moraine country and found a preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy.  I’m excited about this discovery as a place to revisit in the different seasons and a starting point for understanding what preservation, restoration, and conservation mean to a particular area.  Here are some photographs, then, of the Lulu Lake preserve outside of East Troy, Wisconsin:

They might be giants

They might be giants

Steve pointed out this small formation for me to photograph

Steve pointed out this small formation for me to photograph

Invitation to walk on water

Invitation to walk on water



Winter Holy Days

The world did not end yesterday. We are in a new cycle, heading closer to the Sun once more.

In years past, I would have spent this day at an Episcopal church, practicing with the choir, ushering my children through the Christmas pageant, greeting friends, and sneaking private moments in the candlelit darkness whispering devotions to Jesus and His Father. I would have sent more than a hundred letters through the mail to people far and wide with Scriptural messages and personal anecdotes illustrating the great salvific actions of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the world. I would have asked for and promised prayers for numerous specific ailments and misfortunes. I would have spoken and written my heartfelt greetings using words like “blessings”, “gifts”, “faith”, “Emmanuel” and “Savior”.

 This year is different.

 I have no tree; I have no gifts wrapped and waiting; I have not sung a hymn or carol; I have no creche with empty manger awaiting the figure of a baby. I am the same person, though, with the same heart and breath and life blood. I use a different language now to try to express my deepest hope for peace and love to rule my life and the lives of those with whom I share this planet. I no longer profess to know a single Truth; I no longer presume to belong to a select portion of humanity; I no longer pretend that the concepts in my brain adequately reflect very much at all of reality.

 The posture I hope to adopt is openness. To face the world, the people in it, the marvel of change and mystery beyond my control, without hiding behind a mask or label or system, is a severe challenge. Had I not already buried a husband, fledged a flock of four, sold a home I had for 20 years, and left employment, I might not believe that I could live without clinging to conventional structure. I test my ability to be flexible, graceful, alive and aware every day. I hope to learn. I hope to grow. I hope to love the world (and myself) more genuinely as I do. This is my holy quest, and every day is a holiday. I celebrate the mingling of material and spirit, the incarnation of life in the substances of Earth. I will eat and drink and hug the bodies of people I love with festive joy as before – but differently.

 I include the entire Universe in this celebration. Yes, this means you! Peace to you all. Love, joy, humility and grace be with us all together….scillagrace.

front porch view

Four Years Ago Today

I’m feeling rather gray and gloomy today, like the motionless monochrome sky.  I went out with wet hair, first to breakfast with Steve’s mom, then to do laundry at the laundromat, then to the grocery store.  I feel thoroughly chilled.  I think my hair is still wet.  Yet, there’s no snow on the ground, so I can’t really blame the weather.  It’s still far from wintry…not like it was, say, four years ago…

Four years ago, there was a snow storm.  Four years ago, the Super Bowl was on.  Four years ago, my husband was in the hospital.

I could give you the whole background history on his medical odyssey, but it would come out dry and clinical.  What I’m feeling now is more surreal.  Let’s just say that he was in the cardiac wing, waiting to be stabilized enough for surgery.  Waiting.  Like waiting for Godot.   There was no sense of time after a few days.  Doctors would come and go and offer conjectures and imagine scenarios.  I got the feeling that I should simply camp out with him and see what happened.  So I did.

My husband was a sports fan, and the Super Bowl game was a big party occasion on our calendar most years.   During the regular football season, we’d watch games together on Sunday afternoons and nap through a good chunk of them.  I can enjoy the game and root for the underdog or a sentimental favorite, and usually Jim would fill me in on some of the finer points of strategy or history.   I guess you could say we were companionable about it.  Jim watched a lot of TV in his later years, and in the hospital, there’s not much else to do.  “Camped out in the cardiac wing” meant that during visiting hours, you could find me squeezed in next to him on the bed, cranked up in sitting position, watching whatever was on the box suspended from the ceiling.   But I thought the Big Game should be more festive.  So I asked the nurses if we could watch it from the visitor’s lounge on the floor, on the big screen, and invite a friend or two.  They gave their permission.

It wasn’t a party.  It was just me, Jim and one of our church friends who stopped by for a while.  I brought a couple of coolers with snacks and drinks.  I got in trouble for bringing beer.  Not that Jim was drinking it, but I guess it was against some rule, because a nurse came by and told me I couldn’t have it there.  Jim was comfortably situated in one of the lounge chairs with his IV pole and beepy-thing beside him.  We were in clear view of the nurses’ station the whole time.  A few other hospital visitors peeked in periodically, but mostly, we were alone.  Our friend Dave told us that there was a huge snowstorm outside.  Toward the end of the game, we actually lost power for a while.  When it was over, it was past visiting hours, and I was concerned about digging my car out of the parking lot and driving home, so I packed up my coolers and kissed Jim good-bye pretty quickly.   Three days later, he had his surgery.  Ten days after that, he was dead.

I found out today that the two teams that are in the Super Bowl this year are the same two teams that played four years ago today.  They will play on Sunday.  And I won’t be watching.  I haven’t watched a football game in a long time.  We don’t even have a TV.

Life changes.  Waiting only lasts a while.  Those days, suspended in gray like a snowflake, drift down slowly, but eventually, they evaporate, and something else takes their place.

I’m okay with that…I think…  Yeah.  I’m okay.

Unbelievable, Unseasonal

So, here it is, the last day of January in Wisconsin, and the temperature is….53 degrees Fahrenheit?!

Global warming is no hoax.

One of my Nature in the Parks programs for tomorrow was postponed because parents felt that the first of February would be too cold to send their darling children outside for a field trip.  They re-scheduled for the 29th of February.  What do you want to bet that tomorrow will be about 20 degrees warmer than the temperature by the end of the month?  Of course, you never know.  But don’t you think kids are resilient enough to be allowed to go outside every day of the year?  They pull on their snow pants, and they’re as protected as if they were wearing bubble wrap!  And they love it!  They dive headlong into any accumulated snow just so that they can bounce back!

Today’s group at the Wehr Nature Center didn’t go outside because they were doing the Skylab unit under the big inflated planetarium dome.  But I went out on the trails.  Here are some shots:

Mirror, mirror, on the lake


Sky Jellies


Grandmother Willow


Snow Boardwalk

I’ve been on the phone and on the computer for about three hours now, doing some “business”.  It’s time to go back outside, before the sun sets!



Let’s Make Tracks!

It was tracking day at the Wehr Nature Center for a group of 24 third graders.  They made plaster molds of animal tracks and then went outside in the bright sunshine to find some animal evidence.  Those hearty species who stick out the Wisconsin winter without migrating or hibernating include squirrels, weasels & mink, deer, raccoon, opossum, fox, skunk, cottontail rabbit, pheasant, and a bunch of birds (cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, doves, nuthatches).  Of course, we didn’t see all these, but we did find clues: tracks, scat, and browse marks where they’d eaten branches and bark.

This is how we draw the kids' attention to a find

Whose little hands have been here?

And then, the sunshine creates lines and angles everywhere.

And the water that isn’t frozen ripples and sparkles, creating more textures of light and shadow.

I’m liking the black and white idea today.  Steve & I are planning to see “The Artist” this afternoon, a new silent film in black & white.  Sometimes, the world seems just too much to comprehend, so we break it down into stylized bits and patterns so that we can wrap our feeble brains around some part of it.   What would it be like to walk around open to everything at once, without compartmentalizing or simplifying?  Would we explode?

Winter Photos

So, here’s a pictorial view of my week.

I made almond cookies for Chinese New Year.  Extremely tasty with Amaretto and orange slices.

Honorable Almond Cookie

I supervised a bunch of 4 year-olds (68 of them, actually!) as they played in the Wehr Nature Center’s play space with spray bottles of diluted liquid watercolors.

Like a giant sno cone

I watched the sun setting in the west from my second story bedroom window.

"World turning on the burning sun...." (James Taylor)

And I felt the frost fly up on feathered wings into the morning light…and into my bones.

This morning, I took a group of Kindergarteners out on a nature hike.  One little boy walked beside me, counting excitedly.  “I found a hundred things!” he shouted.  Oh, there so many more than that, I thought.

Say it, no ideas but in things—
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident—
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
secret—into the body of the light!

-William Carlos Williams (from “Paterson – Book One”)
Things…winter things…frosty filigreed, foggy white, cold-packed and angular,  distant and spare.

Ideas…winter ideas…hard and dense, insular, desperate, furtive.

Winter Warmth

A group of 68 pre-schoolers visited the Wehr Nature Center today.  I volunteered to supervise their play time outside.  Six groups rotated through my station, staying 15 minutes.  I spent an hour and a half standing in the snow, watching them spray diluted liquid watercolors onto that white, frozen canvas.  It ended up looking like a flavored snow cone playground.  I didn’t think to get a picture of it at the end, though, because all that was on my mind was getting feeling back into my toes.  Brrr….

The sky is gray, the bare branches are gray, the ground is gray, my gray matter is gray.   Suddenly, a flash of red whips over the roof and settles at the bird feeder.  A cardinal!  Oh, happy wings of fire!

We were hiking the Ice Age Trail, through a dark pine forest by the Oconomowoc River.  Through the trees, I saw a red barn with it’s face shining in the late afternoon sun.  It burned like a beckoning hearth.

I’m wearing a red sweatshirt, half wishing it would burst into flames and warm me up.  What I really wish….is that I had a fireplace.  I love building fires.  I love the smell of a fire.  I love watching the flames in their colorful dance.  I love the warmth.  When I was a child, I would pester my father to start a fire in the fireplace.  It made an otherwise ordinary evening feel like a holiday.

Alas, I have no fireplace, so I am going to attempt a simulation.  Mesquite incense sticks, flannel pajama pants, and several layers of blankets.  Maybe I’ll warm up enough to fall asleep for a little while.  For all you warm-blooded, hibernating, furry creatures out there, stay snug.  It ain’t over yet.

Squirrely Post

I have a rather social weekend lined up.  Tonight is our Chinese New Year celebration with Steve’s sister.  Tomorrow is the Lyric Opera (Die Zauberflote) with my youngest.  So, here’s a quick share…photos I took this morning as I watched my squirrel friend digging around in the fresh powder for the leftover popcorn I put out on his chair.

Sorry for the poor quality…the windows in the living room are pretty dirty!

More anon, good friends…..Happy Chinese New Year!

Winter in the Neighborhood

“Now is the winter of our discontent/ made glorious summer by this sun of York…”   – first line of Shakespeare’s play Richard III

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

Why is winter associated with Macchiavellian plots?  (I have no answer.)

What do you call an icicle with two prongs?  A bicicle.

What do you get when you photograph a bicicle from inside a screened window?

Can you tell my mind is unfocused today?  Wander with me, if you like…

I’m not the type to rush outdoors and start shoveling in a snowfall.  I stay inside until it stops, and then I wait to see how much will melt off the driveway and sidewalks all by itself.  Often, someone else has already shoveled by the time I get out.  Not very Macchiavellian of me at all.

Squirrel tracks on the garage roof

Stone-faced, pondering, feeling the weight drip slowly down the back of my neck, one cold drop at a time. I’m moody today.