My America sees my brother and my sister as the promise of what our nation can and must become — a place of extraordinary success that transcends barriers and a place of redemption that defies the cynicism of our politics. This is a vision that only comes into being when everyone has a true voice in our futures. America, for all its faults, has always been a place of promise and renewal, of mistakes made and the constant pursuit of atonement. This is a new manifesto for our progressive future, one emboldened by understanding that our time of waiting is over. The fight for our future has already begun.
Renew thyself completely each day; do it again, and again, and forever again.
On a chilly and cloudy morning this week, I went hunting for a bit of midwinter color. The landscape seemed bleak following a stretch of below-freezing weather we recently endured … but then I stumbled across this audacious daffodil, the first one I’ve seen … starting to bloom in a splash of sunlight as if spring was already here. It appeared as an appropriate metaphor for this day, when our new President and Vice President will assume office, and two new Senators from Georgia (yay!) will be sworn in. After a challenging couple of weeks that marked the beginning of our new year, this tiny flower shifted my mood entirely — and in a few days I’ll post some more photos of a surprising gallery of color I found after it inspired me to take a calmer look at the world around me.
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.
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.
“The more one can disengage from one’s own self-centered myopia, the more the world, in all its glory, rushes in to fill the gap. Gratitude creates a space in which nothing is not welcome: the fog, the hummingbirds, the blue sea and the sails….
“In the I Ching, when a line of the oracle reaches its most extreme, expansive state, it swings back, like a pendulum, into its own opposite…. It seems possible to me that our culture of speed and confusion, busyness and overwhelm, has reached just such a state, and that the time has come for the quick double-flip of transformation, from greed to gratitude, from isolation and depression to community and calm.“
“We are grateful for the frontline workers who have never stopped showing up over these long and confusing months, making sure our food is harvested and shipped, keeping our grocery stores stocked, picking up our trash, and keeping our cities and towns safe.
“We are grateful for the health care workers who put in long shifts and isolate themselves from their loved ones, the nurses who comfort and help people say one last goodbye, and the doctors who fight for every breath.
“We are grateful for the educators who learned to teach in virtual classrooms almost overnight, who did extra work to reach families without technology, or who took late-night phone calls from parents on the verge of tears.
“We are grateful for the parents who have carried their families through the chaos, working or searching for a job, navigating childcare and remote learning.
“We are grateful for the researchers and scientists who have spent this year learning everything they can to understand how to fight this pandemic and working tirelessly to find a vaccine and therapeutics.
“We are grateful for the American spirit that does not cower in the face of crisis and hardships but instead comes together to lift up one another. All those who lost jobs but not heart, who donated to food banks or asked their neighbors, What can I do? How can I help?
“We’re grateful for everyone who reminded us that we are bigger than the challenges we face.“
“I put the camera away. I needed to rein in my thoughts before I could hope to accomplish anything. I sat in the shade of an old pinyon pine and closed my eyes and breathed in the sweetness of its sap. I waited a few moments until the calmness of the place, soft and persistent, began to circulate within me…. Words and ideas appeared in my mind and I wrote them down, starting with this: ‘Preoccupation is the enemy of inspiration.'”
“For a long time I attributed such healing powers to writing but did not quite experience them in photography. This changed … when I began to practice photography as a contemplative pursuit, by which I mean that I began to place the creative process — the thinking and doing — above what anecdotal images, good or bad, may result. I take my time; I consider; I imagine; I operate my tools without the use of automated shortcuts; I appreciate the tactile feel of the controls, the way the image in my viewfinder morphs in subtle increments as I make small adjustments to settings and composition; I stop to savor the sensations of chill or warmth on my skin and the scents and sounds of my surroundings; I identify birds and flowers and butterflies and rocks around me, and make mental notes to look up unfamiliar ones. It takes time and attention, not only toward making an image but also away from other, lesser things. I realized that the solace I always found in writing was not about writing, but about the writing process, which by its nature imposes such contemplation. And, once realized, I learned that solace could also be found in other things, if practiced with the same mindset.”
Most Americans, I believe, have typically experienced the lame duck period between presidential administrations as something relatively benign — a transition of about two months where handoffs occur between the outgoing and incoming teams, largely unnoticed as we move deeper into fall and winter around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. But 2020 insists on ramming home the message that nothing is normal anymore. We get to witness the tragicomedy of a presidential campaign that won’t let go while the administration seems to have gone on break, only to spend its time in courtrooms where most of its cases fail and giving press conferences where “elite lawyers” drip with conspiracy theories, and, apparently, spray-on hair that can’t handle camera lights. Ah, well, such are the raspy, waning days of the Trump presidential family — not deserving that much of my attention since they will, without a doubt, be evicted in January 2021 — with their stunts becoming fodder for historians, sociologists, and psychologists of the future. Buh-bye!
If you would like to look forward instead of back, you can learn more about how President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris, and their teams are preparing to assume office in January, on their dedicated web site at Biden-Harris Transition, where the news page is frequently updated.
I told a friend of mine a few weeks before the election — as it looked more and more like Georgia would support the Biden-Harris ticket — that if that happened, I was going to deck my house out in blue lights for the Christmas holiday, as a way of personally recognizing the flip and win. Well, here they are — 2,500 wee blue lights — ready and patiently waiting to be unboxed, stretched out, and festooned (!!) among the tree branches, along the windows, and atop various pieces of living room and dining room furniture.
Christmas decorating turns into quite a project (I usually do a little project plan (not really! (ok, really!!))) that commences around Thanksgiving and never quite finishes completely; and I’m considering leaving the bluely-decorated tree standing until the presidential inauguration. We’ll see about that part; while the lifelike tree in all its actual lifelessness can certainly stay up that long, I may get a little weary of it blotting out my living room window by the first of January or so.
I went hunting for some fall scenes to photograph early last week … but weirdly, there still wasn’t that much color to see. It’s so different from last year, when the whole city just glowed yellow, red, and orange even before Halloween; yet with nighttime/daytime temperatures in the 50- to 80-degree range, leaves are just falling without changing color. Last year’s color extravaganza — created by a couple of deep-freeze days in early October — seems like it’s not going to be repeated this year, but I’ll keep trying. 🙂
Below, finally, are the last few galleries of the summer lily series of photos — the first of which is a before and after version of one of the images. Thanks for taking a look!
“To know what has come before is to be armed against despair. If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer, stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step toward that most enchanting and elusive of destinations: a more perfect Union.
“To do so requires innumerable acts of citizenship and of private grace. It will require, as it has in the past, the witness and the bravery of reformers who hold no office and who have no traditional power but who yearn for a better, fairer way of life. And it will also require, I believe, a president of the United States with a temperamental disposition to speak to the country’s hopes rather than to its fears.”
We’re almost to the end of the summery lily photos, at which point I’ll finally concede that summer is over and start my autumn color hunt — especially since the calendar is telling me it’s November 11 and that’s a pretty accurate sign of fall. See: conceding is easy; you just gotta respect the facts!
If you’ve ever wondered why the season between summer and winter has two names, here’s a fun article that explains how that came about. The word “fall” — as it turns out — actually has something to do with what leaves do this time of year. Who knew?
Below are a some deep red lilies from my Oakland Cemetery photoshoots; they are, I think, tiger lily variants. The first gallery is a before-and-after image of one of the photos, stylized as I described previously (see Summer 2020: Lily Variations (7 of 10)) — but in this case I left a bit of extra green left intact in the background. Select either image to view them in a slideshow if you would like to see larger versions to compare.