A Profusion of Irises: June, an Ending

From The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim:

“[As] I sat there watching, and intensely happy as I imagined, suddenly the certainty of grief, and suffering, and death dropped like a black curtain between me and the beauty of the morning, and then that other thought, to face which needs all our courage — the realisation of the awful solitariness in which each of us lives and dies. Often I could cry for pity of our forlornness, and of the pathos of our endeavours to comfort ourselves. With what an agony of patience we build up the theories of consolation that are to protect, in times of trouble, our quivering and naked souls! And how fatally often the elaborate machinery refuses to work at the moment the blow is struck….

I got up and turned my face away from the unbearable, indifferent brightness. Myriads of small suns danced before my eyes as I went along the edge of the stream to the seat round the oak in my spring garden, where I sat a little, looking at the morning from there, drinking it in in long breaths, and determining to think of nothing but just be happy….


What a mass of glowing, yet delicate colour [there] is! How prettily, the moment you open the door, it seems to send its fragrance to meet you! And how you hang over it, and bury your face in it, and love it, and cannot get away from it. I really am sorry for all the people in the world who miss such keen pleasure. It is one that each person who opens his eyes and his heart may have; and indeed, most of the things that are really worth having are within everybody’s reach. Any one who chooses to take a country walk, or even the small amount of trouble necessary to get him on to his doorstep and make him open his eyes, may have them, and there are thousands of them thrust upon us by nature, who is for ever giving and blessing, at every turn as we walk…. 

“[It] is so perfect, because it is so divinely sweet, because of all the kisses in the world there is none other so exquisite — who that has felt the joy of these things would exchange them, even if in return he were to gain the whole world, with all its chimney-pots, and bricks, and dust, and dreariness? And we know that the gain of a world never yet made up for the loss of a soul.”

Since today is the last day of June, it seemed like a good day to wrap up the iris photos so I can move on to some new photo-subjects. Below are four galleries containing the last 32 images from my trips to Oakland Cemetery’s gardens earlier this year. Coming soon will be a variety of images from both Oakland and my own garden, featuring hydrangeas, rhododendrons, lots of lilies, spiderwort, wisteria, a few gardenias, and any other plant-delights that caught my eye. I’m in various stages of organizing and post-processing those (several hundred) images, while also trying some experiments with Lightroom’s brushes and graduated filters to see if I can come up with some new looks.

Somewhere along the line, I got in the habit of featuring quotations at the top of each new post, a habit that started with a few “Quotes from My Library” bits I had done shortly after re-launching this blog. You may (or may not) be interested in how that quotationing process works, so (or but) here it is.

While I have about 3,000 real-life books on six tall bookcases in my home office (plus a few other fine bookstands deco-strategically placed in my living room and bedroom), finding quotes I might want to use in physical books is quite a challenge, so I don’t do that. I also don’t usually search for quotations on the internet: they’re often inaccurate, without context, or misattributed; and the sheer volume of search results I get by some unknown googly algorithm never seems to meet my needs. I started buying e-books shortly after they became available — my first Kindle book purchase was in early 2009 — and the timing was good because my bookshelves were shelf-bendingly full. Over about a decade I’ve accumulated around 1,300 e-books, sometimes supplementing a physical book with the e-book version (especially if was cheap!), a tactic that served me well when I was taking classes and reading several books a week to keep up with my studies. I suppose that’s not unusual any more since e-books are more regularly used for academic studies now than they were ten years ago; but for me, taking classes when I did, it was great to transition from physical books to their electronic versions whenever possible — especially when using them as sources for research papers.

Kindle devices don’t really enable effective research, though; while technically you can search books on a Kindle, it’s a little awkward and slow to use, especially when popping in and out of different books. So instead I use the Kindle app on a computer, pick a few e-books that I think might have a relevant quote, find one I like, copy the quote to a text editor to clean it up, then copy it into my blog post. What’s most fun about that, though, is I often end out traveling down some unexpected and pleasant rabbit-hole where writing becomes something more than writing: it becomes research; and in becoming research, it becomes learning something new.

That’s what happened this morning. I went quote-hunting with a few topics in mind — “June,” “irises,” “summer,” and “solitude” specifically — and came across a quote in The Writer in the Garden (a book I’ve used here before) by Elizabeth von Arnim, from her book The Solitary Summer published in 1899. I didn’t know who Elizabeth von Arnim was, but was intrigued by a title that all by itself seemed like a metaphor for this season in the year 2020, so I did a little digging.

Von Arnim wrote The Solitary Summer to describe her thoughts, feelings, and experiences during her own summer of intentional self-isolation over 120 years ago, as a reflection on the nature’s soothing distinctions from her own social world. The two quotes above (one from her writings on the month of June and one from July) seemed to encompass this sensation I have frequently now that I think I can call “The Jolt” — a temporary sense of normalcy that comes when I get happily distracted by some activity like working in the garden or, especially, photography or writing … that then gets snatched away by some snippet of news, or an alert on my phone, or a flood of return-to-the-moment awareness that’s hard to push away. It’s followed by this rumbling, low level anxiety that feels like the sounds of static from a untuned radio — whose volume I can only turn down, but not turn off. I know I’m not the only one experiencing this; I can tell from social media and conversations with others that the pandemic has a psychological cost that we can’t resolve yet because we’re still in the middle of it, with as much as another year of this new abnormal facing us all. We get sort of used to it, I guess; but no, not really, we don’t.

Still … for the rest of the summer — as suggested by von Arnim’s experiences and the two quotes above — I think I’ll take a crack at creating more “carveouts” for myself by intentionally increasing the times when I submerge in new activities, or variations of things I do now, even if The Jolt will yank me back at the end. With my brief journey into von Arnim’s writings, today turned out to be a good start, a nice day of research and writing. We’ll have to see how it goes…. ๐Ÿ™‚


While researching Elizabeth von Arnim this morning, I found a site devoted to scholarship on her life and work: The Elizabeth von Arnim Society. Take a look if you’d like to learn more, and notice how — like me — the site’s authors see a relationship between von Arnim’s thoughts on nature and our pandemic moment, as they describe in these two great articles:

Escape to the Country: Elizabeth von Arnim in the time of Covid-19

Reading the Solitary Summer in times of COVID19


The previous posts in this series are:

A Profusion of Irises: Friday Fleur-de-lis

A Profusion of Irises: Lost Spring Edition

A Profusion of Irises: Backlit Blooms

A Profusion of Irises: Sun-Kissed Shades of Orange

A Profusion of Irises: White Blooms on Black Backgrounds

A Profusion of Irises: Black (Iris) Friday!

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Thanks for reading and taking a look!






4 Comments

A Profusion of Irises: Friday Fleur-de-lis

From The Reason For Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

Sovereign nations have often selected a particular flower to represent them based on a rich folklore or religious beliefs coupled with the heraldry of old ruling families. The national flower of Malaysia is the bunga raya, the Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), while the lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is the national flower of India, and the fleur-de-lis emblem, derived from the iris, represents France.”

I could have just called this post “Friday Flowers” but every now and then a guy just wants to say “Fleur-de-lis.”

There’s a lot of French or French-Canadian in the leaves of my family tree, so that’s maybe why I like French-sounding phrases. I used to speak the language fairly well — though was actually better at reading it than engaging in conversation — but most of that skill has dissipated from lack of use. I sometimes still try to watch a movie or TV show that’s in French without turning on the English subtitles; it doesn’t go that well yet you might be surprised at how much of the plot and character development you can catch on to even when you only get about a third of the words right.

Fleur-de-lis! Fleur-de-lis!

I would like to move on from iris photos but still have a few dozen left to post, so to make progress with that I picked out some that most closely resemble the classic fleur-de-lis shape for the three little galleries below.

The previous posts in this series are:

A Profusion of Irises: Lost Spring Edition

A Profusion of Irises: Backlit Blooms

A Profusion of Irises: Sun-Kissed Shades of Orange

A Profusion of Irises: White Blooms on Black Backgrounds

A Profusion of Irises: Black (Iris) Friday!

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Thanks for taking a look!





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A Profusion of Irises: Lost Spring Edition

From The Reason For Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

With their beauty, flowers comfort us; they make us smile and ease our grief. They help us to heal and recover from losses and emotional wounds. This has always been true.”

From Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas:

“Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view. It will once again be possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful.”

From The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam:

Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.”

Uh … hello … is anybody out there??? All of a sudden … it’s summer!

This morning I noticed that two wall calendars in my house — one above the phone in the kitchen and one next to a bookcase in my office — were still on pages for May … which might have something to do with my-self getting sucked into the TV and watching too much news since a few days after my last post. I finally hacked my way out from inside the flat-screen this past weekend, slightly disoriented but not really confused or surprised by all that has happened. I then started wondering if I would write something that, despite inadequacies, might reflect on the moment we’re in — and decided that I would and could, but not quite yet, I’ve got some work to do first. It’s a little bit funny at times — sort of like writer’s block, or maybe that restless feeling I get when I do the same kinds of updates to my photos over and over again — to have a blog that I’ve focused almost exclusively on photography for a nearly two years, but feeling the urge to split off in other directions. Meanwhile, spring has marched on, summer’s already here … and even with afternoon humidity approaching 150% (exaggeration alert!) last week, I’ve still been spending some cooler mornings hunting down more irises, hydrangeas, lilies, and other fresh flowers making their way into the southern sun.

My adopted state of Georgia made national news a couple of weeks ago, with images and stories of long lines and day-long waits at voting locations for the twice-delayed June primary election — followed by finger-pointing and blame-slinging from people in various leadership positions who seem hard-pressed to recognize that the roles they were elected to or appointed for are supposed to mean that they’re actually responsible for doing something, not just talking about someone else doing something. Whether these failures represent intentional voter suppression or incompetent voter suppression doesn’t matter that much: the effect is to discourage and ultimately reduce voter participation, a problem getting more serious national attention in many states because of the challenges of voting during a pandemic. The fact that we’ve been here before is one of the many loops United States politics is always getting stuck in — where the only consistency we see is the conviction that problems like this are too big to be solved.

I mention this along with a polite suggestion: if you live in a U.S. state that permits you to vote by absentee ballot, it’s not too early to make sure you know how that process will work for the general election in November. I voted absentee in the Georgia’s June primary on purpose this year, because I wanted to learn the steps required. For Georgia, that included verifying that I was registered (on the Georgia My Voter Page); getting an absentee ballot request form; filling it out and submitting it by email; tracking it on the My Voter Page so I knew when it was received and that the actual ballot was mailed to me; then tracking that my completed and mailed ballot was received and accepted. Though thousands of people in several Georgia counties reported not receiving their ballot despite requesting it (which in part accounted for the long lines at polling locations), I did get mine — but with only a few days to spare before I needed to complete and return it. Check with your county government or your Secretary of State’s web site, or start with the National Conference of State Legislatures summary of states with absentee voting options. You might also try the ACLU in your state, which typically has detailed information on how voting (including absentee voting) works, what to expect, and even how to properly fill out and submit your ballot request or ballot. Also, I’ve found that Balletopedia is an excellent starting point for learning more about candidates, as it’s frequently updated with backgrounders on local and national elections.

Finally: keep an eye out for changes to voting procedures between now and the general election: despite (or because of? cynical me!) the successful primary, for example, Georgia will not automatically mail out absentee ballot requests for the November election (like it did for the primary), so I’ll need to ask for one, most likely from the same web site I mentioned above. On a personally hopeful note: despite the chaos, voting in Georgia’s June primary exceeded all previous records, pointing to a stronger (though not guaranteed) possibility that the state will flip from Republican to Democratic for the first time in nearly two decades, for the presidential election and for at least one of the two U.S. Senate seats currently held by David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Fingers crossed … and if that happens it would be historically pretty amazing.


The three galleries below feature many of the blue and purple irises from my spring photo-shoots, and may possibly contain a subliminal message about who you might vote for later this year. ๐Ÿ™‚

The previous posts in this series are:

A Profusion of Irises: Backlit Blooms

A Profusion of Irises: Sun-Kissed Shades of Orange

A Profusion of Irises: White Blooms on Black Backgrounds

A Profusion of Irises: Black (Iris) Friday!

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Thanks for taking a look!





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A Profusion of Irises: Backlit Blooms

From Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds by Harold Davis:

“If you can see a flower, it is a source of light. With flowers, this visible light originates elsewhere — with the sun or an artificial light source — and is reflected by the flower…. [Many] flowers also emit electromagnetic waves on frequencies that humans cannot perceive as part of the flower’s strategy for attracting pollinators.

“When we look at a flower, the light sources that illuminate the flower and the interaction of the flower with this light visually sculpt the flower as well as establish the perceptual basis for the extraordinary range of colors in many flowers. As a photographer, light is the medium that I use for capturing flowers, so I like to categorize the issues surrounding light when I am pre-visualizing a flower photo. I think about light direction, intensity, warmth or coolness. The truth is that the quality of light and lighting involves many variables, and is always subjective and elusive. 

“Light direction means the primary direction of the light as it hits the flower. Photos that show flowers as they are ordinarily perceived such as in a plant catalog will likely use front lighting. Side lighting with flowers is a little less usual, and often works well if you are interested in shadows or strong contrasts between lights and darks. 

“I am a big fan of backlighting flowers, because it helps to emphasize transparency of the petals.”

I like backlighting too!

While it’s always interesting to see how cloudy days can soften shadows on outdoor photo subjects, it’s just as much fun to find strategies for getting good shots in full sun — like the backlit (or in a couple of cases, “sidelit”) irises below from one of my trips to Oakland Cemetery. There are some challenges to shooting backlit subjects, not the least of which is: the sun is in your eyes! And since I usually wear my summer disguise — ๐Ÿ˜Ž — on bright days, the world through the camera’s viewfinder can be apocalyptically dark. So I’ve learned to rely on the camera’s clues: the little green box that flashes to the tune of a tiny beep when focus is achieved, the camera’s interpretation of correct exposure, and the histogram … supplemented with a few mystical guesses at the right settings for decent depth-of-field. Using the camera’s burst mode helps also, to increase the chances of getting a fully focused shot if the flower starts bouncing around in a breeze just as I mash the shutter-button. Which is what the flower usually does.

Most of these photos looked pretty lousy when I first imported them into Lightroom — as even with the best camera settings I could come up with, there were still many areas rendered too brightly, or with the background and subject blurred together because of the amount of light on both. From the batch below, here’s one example: a before image showing that the exposure settings I needed to get good color and detail for the flower made the background so bright that it draws your eye right away from the purple bloom.

When I came upon this flower, I thought it had been planted among some spider lilies or yucca — plants that often have long, bi-color leaves — then realized these were leaves of this iris variety, one of the few kinds that doesn’t have single-colored green leaves (see Dalmation Iris). Quite striking, they were, especially in a large patch of the garden, so I wanted to keep the background in a couple of photos since this variety was so unusual.

My goal for this image, then, was to reverse the effect of the bright light by muting the background and lighting up the flower. Since there’s a ton of color and detail in a photo’s RAW file, I was able to use Lightroom’s graduated filters to reduce the background highlights multiple times, then brush some increased exposure, brightness, and lighter shadows on the flower’s petals. The result ended out a lot like it looked in real life: the reflected yellow light from the surrounding leaves gives the impression that the flower is lit from behind.

Select the first image below if you would like to see before and after versions.


Here are the rest. Select any image to see larger versions; then choose “View full size” for a closer look at the color and detail.





The previous posts in this series are:

A Profusion of Irises: Sun-Kissed Shades of Orange

A Profusion of Irises: White Blooms on Black Backgrounds

A Profusion of Irises: Black (Iris) Friday!

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Thanks for taking a look! ๐Ÿ™‚

2 Comments

A Profusion of Irises: Sun-Kissed Shades of Orange

From The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives by Stephen Buchmann:

Historically, flowers have been admired and used decoratively, adding their scents and beauty to our lives. But nineteenth-century women, especially those living in France and England, were caught up in a formalized culture of flowers, often painting elaborate floral scenes. Some claimed that the symbolic meanings given to flowers were an unstated universal language to be studied and used….

“Articles, pamphlets, and entire books on the symbolic language of flowers first appeared in Paris and other French cities around the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1803โ€“15)…. The most important event that codified the language of flowers was the publication of a Parisian book in 1819 by Madame Charlotte de Latour, a pseudonym. Most scholars agree that the authorโ€™s real name was Louise Cortambert (1775โ€“1853), the wife of geographer Eugรจne Cortambert. The Latour book, Le Langage des fleurs, listed flowers by their seasons, and meanings that single blooms or a mixed bouquet would convey between friends or lovers…. 

“Orange-colored flowers signified hope….

According to Wikipedia, there are over thirty shades of orange — and these iris blooms I found in some filtered sunlight at Oakland Cemetery seem to show off many of them. The first gallery positions the irises in their natural surroundings; for the second gallery, I removed all the backgrounds — which gives the swatches of sunlight on each bloom an extra little glow.

Select any image in either gallery to see embiggened versions. You can then choose “View full size” to get a closer look at the color and detail.




The previous posts in this series are:

A Profusion of Irises: White Blooms on Black Backgrounds

A Profusion of Irises: Black (Iris) Friday!

A Profusion of Irises: Iris No. 1

Thanks for taking a look! ๐Ÿ™‚

6 Comments