Summer 2020: Lily Variations (2 of 10)

From John Muir Ultimate Collection: Travel Memoirs, Wilderness Essays, Environmental Studies and Letters by John Muir:

“It was as if nature had fingered every leaf and petal that very day, readjusting every curving line and touching the colors of every corolla; and so, she had for not a leaf was misbent, and every plant was so placed with reference to every other, that the whole garden had seemingly been arranged like one tasteful bouquet. Here we lived a fine, unmeasured hour, considering the lilies, every individual flower radiating beauty as real and appreciable as sunbeams.

From “The Ecology of Perception: An Interview with David Abram” in Emergence Magazine:

“[Ordinary] human experience of the world is a sense not just that everything is alive, but that everything speaks, that all things have their expressive potency, although most things don’t speak in words. Everything is expressive. The colors shimmering from a blossom speak to me. They affect my mood. Of course, birdsong is a kind of speech, cricket rhythms, but even the splashing speech of waves on the rocks or the wind in the willows itself is a kind of voice that rushes and hushes through the chattering leaves.


It’s August!

If you’ve ever spent time in any southeastern U.S. state during mid- to late-summer, you know that heat, sunglass-requiring sun, and intense humidity punctuate most days — and on those days most outdoor activity takes place in the morning then starts to subside as the air heats up and thickens with moisture. During that same time, if you take a close look, you’ll already see tiny signs of autumn blending into the landscape, in the tendency of some plants and vines — in my garden, hydrangeas and grapevines — to shed their dried blooms or drop a few early leaves in response to days shortening ever so slightly. My Concord grapevine’s leaves are as reliable as calendars: their early yellowing and leaf-dropping starts right on time during the first week of every August, and I already know that within a few days, I’ll start cutting them back and twisting some of the branches to prep the vine for winter and for next spring. And one of my three Japanese maples produces spinner-like seedlings at this time of year, long before the leaves begin to change color and to the delight of squirrels that hang upside down in the tree like daytime vampire bats, filling their faces with seeds and discarding sliced-off bits of branches all over the courtyard for The Photographer to sweep up.

For whatever reason, my own Baja daylilies didn’t bloom this year, and with the shutdowns in the spring, I didn’t replace or repot them even when I realized they weren’t going to bloom. Gardens can be mysterious like that: sometimes they throw out a behavior change that leaves you wondering why a plant that flowered regularly for half a decade suddenly decided to do something different. Hopefully, next spring will see us all in better shape than we were this last spring, and some of the things I had to neglect will get the renewed attention they deserve. All the more reason, for now, to savor the large collections of lilies I found at Oakland Cemetery.

Here are three more galleries from my lily series — the previous post is Summer 2020: Lily Variations (1 of 10) — with the last gallery showing versions of those in the first two with the backgrounds removed. Select any image if you would like to see larger images in a slideshow.

Thanks for taking a look!





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Summer 2020: Lily Variations (1 of 10)

From John Muir Ultimate Collection: Travel Memoirs, Wilderness Essays, Environmental Studies and Letters by John Muir:

“So extravagant is Nature with her choicest treasures, spending plant beauty as she spends sunshine, pouring it forth into land and sea, garden and desert. And so the beauty of lilies falls on angels and men, bears and squirrels, wolves and sheep, birds and bees….

From Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, quoting Walter Benjamin:

“[To] lose oneself in a city — as one loses oneself in a forest — that calls for quite a different schooling. Then signboards and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a crackling twig under his feet, like the startling call of a bittern in the distance, like the sudden stillness of a clearing with a lily standing erect at its center.

From Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau:

“I have passed down the river before sunrise on a summer morning between fields of lilies still shut in sleep; and when at length the flakes of sunlight from over the bank fell on the surface of the water, whole fields of white blossoms seemed to flash open before me, as I floated along, like the unfolding of a banner, so sensible is this flower to the influence of the sun’s rays.


It was a big surprise to me a few weeks ago to come across at least a dozen different varieties of lilies growing on the cemetery plots, among the gravestones and mausoleums, and planted in memorial gardens at Oakland Cemetery. Actually, the whole experience of taking photographs of plants and flowers at the cemetery has been surprising: the variety of native plants throughout the property rivals sections of Atlanta Botanical Garden — which is now social-distantly opened again, but not yet deemed sufficiently safe by The Photographer. Although, to be fair — and despite the feisty, national-newsmaking conflict between Atlanta’s mayor and Georgia’s governor over mask mandates — the botanical garden and other public adventures have established their own masking requirements, so maybe in August or September when the temperatures drop a bit will see me returning there with my camera.

Irregardlessly (haha! that’s not a word!), I’ve enjoyed the cemetery differently during these two 2020 seasons, probably because it had been a few years since I’d spent a lot of time there — and during that time, the caretakers seems to have added a lot more flowering plants, bushes, and shrubs than I remembered. Hunting down and photographing the lilies was fun, partly because many of the plots were constructed three or four feet above the paths and roadways (you can see examples in the second gallery here) — to make it easier for nineteenth century women in their full bustles and petticoats to step from a horse or carriage onto the grasses and gardens — which gave me the chance to snapshot large drooping lily flowers from unusual angles. The last three images below demonstrate what I mean: I would have had to crawl on the ground (where the dirt lives!) to get to that vantage point but for the raised plots.

Select any image if you would like to see larger versions in a slideshow. Thanks for 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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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…. 🙂


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!






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