Winter Shapes and Forms (1 of 3)

From Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit:

“We tend to consider the foundations of our culture to be natural, but every foundation had builders and an origin — which is to say that it was a creative construction, not a biological inevitability. Just as a twelfth-century cultural revolution ushered in romantic love as first a literary subject and then a way of experiencing the world, so the eighteenth century created a taste for nature without which William and Dorothy Wordsworth would not have chosen to walk long distances in midwinter and to detour from their already arduous course to admire waterfalls….

“This is not to say that no one felt a tender passion or admired a body of water before these successive revolutions; it is instead to say that a cultural framework arose that would inculcate such tendencies in the wider public, give them certain conventional avenues of expression, attribute to them certain redemptive values, and alter the surrounding world to enhance those tendencies….

It is impossible to overemphasize how profound is the effect of this revolution on the taste for nature and practice of walking. It reshaped both the intellectual world and the physical one, sending populations of travelers to hitherto obscure destinations, creating innumerable parks, preserves, trails, guides, clubs, and organizations and a vast body of art and literature with almost no precedent before the eighteenth century.”

From The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth:

“What a beautiful thing God has made winter to be by stripping the trees & letting us see their shapes & forms.”


This is the first post in a three-part series about … what Dorothy Wordsworth wrote above!

I was a little puzzled at first about the phrase “shapes and forms” since my dictionary and thesaurus seemed to treat the words interchangeably; but, guess what, shape is shape and form is form! See The Difference Between Shape and Form or Shape and form (visual arts) if you, too, would like to be unpuzzled about these words.

These desiccated hydrangeas (probable either oakleaf or bigleaf hydrangeas) seem to keep many of their spent petals for the entire winter season, at least here in the southeast. I took these photos in late February, after quite a few winter rain and windstorms, yet their dried blossoms are mostly intact. Hard to shake the feeling the one of more of these is a cluster of moths (or bees!); and I half expected them to flitter away before I finished taking the photos.


The five photos below show the remnants of bluebird and blue billows hydrangeas, plants with fragile flowers that barely make it through the dog-days of summer here yet keep a few bleached-white, slightly shiny petals hanging around through fall and winter. These are from my garden (which is why I know their names) and it was fun to position them suspended in my macro lens against the muted backgrounds.


I’ve not yet identified these tiny yellow flowers, one hanging near the tip of a branch … and one in a black hole!


Japanese Maple trees and shrubs produce the most delightfully shaped leaves throughout the year, even in winter when they keep their fall color for a couple of extra months, shrivel up a bit, yet are still fascinating enough to capture my camera’s attention. The third photo below shows where the first two closeups came from: the branches of one maple hanging over a thick batch of English Ivy, which covered the length and height of a long, four-foot high stone wall. English Ivy is everywhere in my neighborhood (and much of Georgia, including many homeowner’s yards (like mine)), and is often used in place of grass (especially on homes built in the early 1900s) as a hardy, low-maintenance alternative to grass. Many people say you can take some cuttings, throw them on the ground, and they’ll root and grow — though I did try that and it didn’t work.

The leaf color below may appear a bit unnatural, but it’s what English Ivy looks like here in the early morning, after a night with below freezing temperatures. It will stay that way for a few hours, unfazed by the cold except for the color change, until the sun warms it back to a brighter, greener-green.


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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“The Owl Has a Silent Wing”

From School of the Woods by William J. Long:

“It is more and more evident, I think, that Nature adapts her gifts, not simply to the necessities, but more largely to the desires, of her creatures. The force and influence of that intense desire — more intense because usually each animal has but one — we have not yet learned to measure…. The owl has a silent wing, not simply because he needs it — for his need is no greater than that of the hawk, who has no silent wing — but, more probably, because of his whole-hearted desire for silence as he glides through the silent twilight. And so with the panther’s foot; and so with the deer’s eye, and the wolf’s nose, whose one idea of bliss is a good smell; and so with every other strongly marked gift which the wild things have won from nature, chiefly by wanting it, in the long years of their development.”


Owls have been here before — and by “here” I mean both in my back yard and on this blog — see Owl on the Prowl, where I included three pictures of their first appearance as babes over a decade ago. They sometimes visit my garden as a pair — roosting among the branches of Japanese Cypress trees that tower over my pond — and after a while I was able to differentiate one from the other, partly by their appearance and partly by their behavior. One is slightly smaller and lighter in color than the other; and that smaller one is more reticent, likely to fly off to higher branches if I approach. In the earlier post, I showed the larger owl; the photos below are the smaller one — which often hides out of sight in the treetops.

I knew an owl was visiting even before laying eyes on it: the cacophony from smaller birds in the same trees takes on a distinct sound of little flyers warning other little flyers that there’s an extra-large, possibly dangerous threat in the area. If there are enough squirrels around at the owl’s arrival, they’ll join in too; it’s almost funny how you get to know wildlife in your yard so well that you can tell when they sound alarmed. Watching through the glass door leading to my back yard, I saw three squirrels hauling-ass in multiple directions, increasing their distance while keeping their balance as they raced to the ends of thin branches them jumped to an elm tree on the property next door.

Recognizing this as the more bashful of the two Barred Owls, I took most of these pictures through the back door, or from the steps leading to my courtyard. Owls don’t do that much when they’re roosting — except to turn their head and scope out potential snacks — so the photos are a bit repetitious, I suppose. But in the last two, notice the owl’s eyes: they’ve widened a bit because I moved in closer to try for better shots … but, as I expected, off it flew without making a sound.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!



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A Handful of Rhodendrons

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

“The earliest gardens in China are as old as the most ancient Egyptian gardens. The significance of flowers in Chinese culture is reflected in names from antiquity, such as hua, the word for flower. The ideal garden became a ‘timeless paradise’ as a retreat for scholars and hermits alike. Among the most cherished flowers grown in Chinese gardens since antiquity are chrysanthemums, gardenias, forsythias, magnolias, pinks, rhododendrons, roses, and wisterias….

“[Domesticated garden] blooms have a long association with Chinese culture, mirrored in its rich arts and literature traditions. China’s floriculture and agriculture contributed ginseng, the camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons, mulberries, the persimmon, rice, tea, and all the various kinds of Citrus fruits to the rest of the world….”

“[Azaleas and rhododendrons] … symbolize temperance, passion, and womanhood (in China), along with fragility and taking care of oneself.”


I have one small potted Boursault Rhododendron in my garden, and it produced a handful of blooms a couple weeks ago — just before two days of rain and wind tore up the flower petals. Like many azaleas (azaleas and rho’s are relatives), rhododendron flowers are fragile enough that two days of post-blooming rain and wind dissolved most of them. By the time it cleared up enough for The Photographer to take a few snaps, there wasn’t much left to photograph, so for these images I used a macro lens and zoomed into the center of each flower where they were still intact. This was an experiment, I guess, because after following my typical post-processing in Lightroom, I used several Nik Collection filters to blur almost everything except the center focal points. I usually aim to enhance sharpness and detail, not reduce it, so I had to put my thinking-backwards cap on. Those same filters gave the petals in the backgrounds a bit of bright glow also — which nicely resembles the luminosity the blooms revealed on a cloudy but bright morning.

Select any image if you would like to see larger versions in a slideshow. Thanks for taking a look!



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Fourth of July in America, 2020

From America at War with Itself by Henry A. Giroux:

“The rise of dystopian politics … must be exposed and challenged on the local, national, and global planes. What is crucial is that the mechanisms, discourses, policies, and ideologies that inform authoritarianism must become part of any analysis that is willing to challenge the anti-democratic forces metastasizing within the United States today….

“This means, in part, focusing on the ongoing repressive systems that have been developing in American society for the last forty years. It also means drawing connections between historical forms of racial, ethnic, and economic violence that have been waged against indigenous communities, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged…. 

“It means finding a common ground on which various elements of an ethical society can be mobilized under the banner of multicultural democracy in order to challenge the interconnected forms of oppression, incarceration, mass violence, exploitation, and exclusion that now define the militant self-interest of corporatized American politics. It means taking seriously the educational nature of politics and recognizing that public spheres must be advanced in order to educate citizens who are informed, socially responsible, and willing to fight collectively for a future in which democracy is sustainable at all levels. This suggests an anti-fascist struggle that is not simply about remaking economic structures but also about refashioning identities, values, and social relations as part of a democratic project that reconfigures what it means to desire a better and more democratic future….”


I don’t have any firecrackers or sparklers, because I know better; I’d probably burn down the house, or at least set a few pine trees ablaze. I do, however, have red, white, and blue hydrangeas! And if you blink your eyes fast enough, they look like fireworks… or not! 🙂

Happy Independence Day, America! Let’s get our act together, okay?





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Spring 2020: April Colors 7 (Clematis in Bloom, 3 of 3)

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

“Before recorded history, all cultures collected, used, and admired flowers not only for utilitarian purposes, but for their elusive fragrances and ephemeral forms that, ironically, symbolized recurring vigor and even immortality. They have enthralled and seduced us, exploiting entire civilizations to enhance their sex lives and spread their seeds. We give and receive flowers as tributes, and to commemorate life’s many triumphs and everyday events. Flowers accompany us from cradle to grave. As spices, they flavor our foods and beverages. We harvest their delicate scents, combining them into extravagantly expensive mixtures, for perfuming our bodies to evoke passion and intrigue….

“Flowers inspired the first artists, writers, photographers, and scientists, just as they do today on street corners, in florist shops and farmers’ markets, in books, paintings, sculptures, and commercial advertising. They moved online with ease.”

From Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Spring comes, the birds sing in the trees once again, leaves return to the trees which lost them, flowers bloom in the high meadows and on the slopes, streams overflow with waters of melting snow. Through it all, the mountain continues to sit, unmoved by the weather, by what happens on the surface, by the world of appearances…. As we sit holding this image in our mind, we can embody the same unwavering stillness and rootedness in the face of everything that changes in our own lives over seconds, hours, and years.

“May we continue to give ourselves over to what is deepest and best in ourselves, over and over and over again, encouraging those seeds of our truest nature to grow and flower and — for the sake of all beings near and far, known and unknown — nourish our lives and work and world from moment to moment, and from day to day.”

Here we are, on the last day of the month … we made it through April, mostly hunkered down but with occasional outdoor excursions, observing the birds that still sang, the trees that waved to life in their varied shades of green, and of course the plants and flowers that unrolled Spring 2020 like a blanket of color, texture, and shape. What will May bring? More uncertainty, more unknowns, probably more confusion … and, for me, new collections of irises, wisteria, and spiderwort — from photos I’ve taken over the past few weeks — along with more photos of any other flashes of color that catch my eye.

For this last clematis collection, I altered variations of images from the previous two posts to remove the background — something that creates nice contrast with the purple, violet, and magenta colors prominent in these blooms. For the first gallery, I used Lightroom brushes to patiently paint the backgrounds black, following (in slow motion!) the outer lines created by each petal. For the second and third galleries (showing a Bernadine Clematis), I used radial filters instead of brushes, to create the impression of light fading from the center of the bloom to each petal’s edge.

The previous posts in this series are:

Spring 2020: April Colors 6 (Clematis in Bloom, 2 of 3): and

Spring 2020: April Colors 5 (Clematis in Bloom, 1 of 3); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 4 (White, Orange, and Red-Red); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 3 (Purple and Yellow (and Yellow and Purple)); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 2 (Catawba Grapevine); and

Spring 2020: April Colors 1.

Thanks for reading and taking a look! See you in May!





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