After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.
The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
You may have thought it would never end, but it did: 2020 is finally over, and a new year has begun. Happy New Year!
In a decade, or maybe in half a decade, we’ll already be looking back on 2020 as a transitional year — though I’d have to be Nostradamus to predict how we’ll characterize the transition. You’ve probably caught some of the 2020 recap stories that are popular at a year’s ending (many of which atypically included the words “Good Riddance”); one of the reasons 2020 seemed so long was that it was jam-packed with life-disrupting events, all accumulating to create not only anxieties but to make us reflective about aspects of society, culture, politics, and economics that seemed overlooked until recently. Paraphrasing the title of a short story by Joyce Carol Oates, “where have we been, where are we going?” is going to be an obsessive question for some years to come.
I wandered over to my favorite sanctuary earlier this week, in search of something that might capture a feeling about the ending of The Longest Year — but all I found was a half-dozen faded roses. We’d just had a couple of freezing days smack-dab in the middle of temperatures in the fifties and sixties, so hardy flowers that still manage to bloom in late fall and winter here had faded and shriveled in the cold. Still I got caught up a little in the appearance of these roses: even though they looked like they’d melted, a lot of their original color remained. So while they might not fit the traditional image of “beautiful” — their purple and magenta colors combined with the softened flower petals still struck me as not entirely unpleasant.
Flowers representing a new year vary by culture, but while searching for some ideas around that, I learned that Queen Anne’s Lace — in the language of flowers — is said to represent both sanctuary and safety, so seemed like good stand-ins for the beginning of a new year, as we (hopefully) move into a period of decreasing peril and increasing stability. I took these photos earlier in 2020, in June, and had some fun in Lightroom accentuating the minute flower detail, freshening up the lacy whites, and fading the backgrounds to give the flowers their deserved prominence.
Here are a few experiments, from the same trip to Oakland where I found the faded roses. The first two are of a fine piece of fuzz, originally against a mostly green background — which I converted to pale yellow then increased shadows and dark colors to highlight the fuzz. The first photo on the second row comes from an intentional overexposure, just aiming the camera at a this seed structure against the cloudy sky and using the last camera settings I had used to photograph the fuzz. I wanted to see what detail and color I would be able to recover from a monochrome, overexposed image.
For the last photo: I made fog!
If you’re interested in the “sausage factory” aspects of these experiments, here are the same four images in before-and-after pairs. My goal with the first two pairs was to render something that looked more like late fall or winter; to bring out seed detail against a winter-white sky on the third pair; and two transform the last pair into a different kind of photo emphasizing the cluster of seed stalks toward the right side amid dry grasses. Select any of the images to compare before and after versions in a slideshow.
Thanks for reading and taking a look!