"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
The Quinces of Oakland (1 of 3)

The Quinces of Oakland (1 of 3)

From “The Onset of Spring” by Elizabeth Lawrence in The Writer in the Garden, edited by Jane Garmey:

“In the South we go in quest of spring as soon as Christmas is past and the new year begins. The first days of January find us searching among the last fallen leaves for purple violets and white hyacinths and the yellow buds of winter aconite. And when we have found these frosty flowers close to the cold ground, we break off and carry into the house a few branches of Japanese quince with buds already swollen and ready to burst. By the time the quince buds have opened into flowers as pale as apple blossoms, their fellows in the garden may be in bloom too, if the days are warm.”

From More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal:

“I characterize my work as creative explicitly to suggest that it may deviate from ‘the way it really looked,’ because I want there to be a sharp and honest division between reality and artifice. I care very much about the reality of the things I photograph, and I believe that to conflate that reality with the limitations of what may be expressed in a photograph most often leads to the diminishing of the former rather than the elevation of the latter. This is because such conflation always requires a degree of misrepresentation. Rather than relying entirely on characteristics of the subject, creative art draws its power primarily from the imagination of an artist. It does not aim to become a substitute for the real experience, or even an approximation of all its dimensions, many of which may be subjective.

A creative image is not a record of a scene nor a substitute for a real experience. Rather, it is an experience in itself — an aesthetic experience — something new that the artist has given the world….

“The Quinces of Oakland” — haha! for some reason I think this is funny! Sounds like a family of Victorian aristocrats, doesn’t it?

I found the Elizabeth Lawrence quote a few weeks ago, and with her reference to Japanese quince in mind, I headed over to Oakland Cemetery (where I knew there were bunches of quinces) to see if it was true that they start blooming shortly after Christmas. I mean, she sort of promised, didn’t she? Turns out she was right; among the plants engaged in very early flowering, there were quite a few red and white quince blooms scattered around the gardens. This post features the red ones I found.

So we’re a year into The Apocalypse and I’ve made about 60 trips to Oakland, my safe space for taking pictures of plants and flowers. Spring, summer, autumn, and winter trips — about to circle ’round to spring again. Right now, I have just over 100 late winter/early spring photos I’m still working on, to wrap up over the next few weeks so that by the time April flowers start busting out, my photo backlog will be empty.

Returning to Oakland again and again, week after week, has seemed a little strange at times: everything is familiar, yet there are simultaneously endless variations. What sometimes feels like a dispiriting routine, as it turns out, is really just a state of mind and doesn’t reflect the space I immerse myself in. If the routine is limiting — which in some ways it is — then limitations must be powerful too because they just mean selectively including what will be seen and not seen, what will be shown and not shown, which stories will be presented and which ones will not. Our best public spaces have characteristics like this: they contain layers of meaning about nature, history, society and culture, cultural relationships, demographic distinctions, and even variations in color, shadow, and light that are there for the taking — the taking of pictures, that is.

I made up the idea of the Quince family, of course … or maybe I didn’t, since “Quince” (and a variation, “Quint”) is a surname and not just a plant name, and I now imagine their ghosts accompanying me on my photo-shoots. If I keep looking — don’t you think? — I may (or may not!) find a mausoleum or tombstone or other memorial with that name on it. Wouldn’t that be something?


  1. What a great break from non-retired maximization of absolute amazement at the ‘bless your heart’ souls I often interact with at work. I travel to your site not nearly often enough and this new year of new photos bring great hope. Quince … never knew of them, but I know now and agree they give me hope and a few steps closer to springtime. They remind me of beautiful people that are not compelled to voice every single opinion and thought and simply there hibernating inside for the past 4 years of tweeting. The buds are lovely, and popping out like sweet munchkin faces. I look forward to the other colors of spring forthcoming! Do you see what you’re missing in retirement (who is the fool? — LOL, I think I know!) THANK YOU, I look forward to #2 of this series, please pass a biscuit to your assistant!

    1. Dale

      Well …. Bless Your Heart!! And thanks for the comment!

      The second quinces post is now live.

      There is a “Subscribe by email” button at the right-top of my site. I took the liberty of signing you up so now you’ll get an email whenever I post something new. Perfect, no?

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