"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Vines on Black / Vines in Films

From We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson:

“One day a group came by bicycle; there were two women and a man, and two children. They parked their bicycles in our driveway and lay down on our front lawn, pulling at the grass and talking while they rested. The children ran up and down our driveway and over and around the trees and bushes. This was the day that we learned that the vines were growing over the burned roof of our house, because one of the women glanced sideways at the house and said that the vines almost hid the marks of burning….

“We learned, from listening, that all the strangers could see from outside, when they looked at all, was a great ruined structure overgrown with vines, barely recognizable as a house. It was the point halfway between the village and the highway, the middle spot on the path, and no one ever saw our eyes looking out through the vines.”

From “The Long Rain” in The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury:

“The storm above them flashed down another series of bolts and then moved on away. Once again there was only the rain, which rapidly cleared the air of the charred smell, and in a moment the three remaining men were sitting and waiting for the beat of their hearts to subside into quiet once more.

“They walked over to the body, thinking that perhaps they could still save the man’s life. They couldn’t believe that there wasn’t some way to help the man. It was the natural act of men who have not accepted death until they have touched it and turned it over and made plans to bury it or leave it there for the jungle to bury in an hour of quick growth….

“Even as they stood over the body it began to vanish, for the vegetation was edging in upon it, little vines and ivy and creepers, and even flowers for the dead.”

From MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood:

“Ahead of them is the roadway leading through the forest. Untrimmed branches reach into the corridor of light above it, opportunist weeds push into it from the margins, renegade vines overhang it. Out of the swelling foam of vegetation the curved dome rises like the white half-eye of a sedated patient. It must once have seemed so bright and shining, that dome; so much like a harvest moon, or like a hopeful sunrise, but without the burning rays. Now it looks barren. More than that, it looks like a trap: for who can tell what’s hidden in it, and what’s hiding?”

From The Passage by Justin Cronin:

“They emerged into the atrium, into sun so bright they blinked against it. The room was like a forest. Nearly every surface was choked with fat green vines; in the center a stand of palms reached toward the open ceiling. More vines dripped from the exposed struts of the ceiling, like coils of living rope….”

From Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer:

“The deserted village had so sunk into the natural landscape of the coast that I did not see it until I was upon it. The trail dipped into a depression of sorts, and there lay the village, fringed by more stunted trees. Only a few roofs remained on the twelve or thirteen houses, and the trail through had crumbled into porous rubble. Some outer walls still stood, dark rotting wood splotched with lichen, but for the most part these walls had fallen away and left me with a peculiar glimpse of the interiors: the remains of chairs and tables, a child’s toys, rotted clothing, ceiling beams brought to earth, covered in moss and vines.”


For this post, I took a few of the grapevine photos from the previous two posts (see Plant Entanglements (1 of 2) and Plant Entanglements (2 of 2) and reprocessed them on black backgrounds. Lightroom keeps making it easier to get good results with this technique, and yet there is still a bit of tedium associated with each one. As precise as Lightroom masking can be, I always end out cleaning up around the fine edges of each element of the photo, once I decide which parts to keep and which parts to smother in darkness. As with other repetitious tasks, the mind wanders while the brushes flow — and I started wondering about how often I’ve seen vines represented in apocalyptic scenes in books and movies, where they’ve taken over buildings and cities.

While I usually lead off each of my posts with quotes from poetry or nonfiction books about plants, nature, gardening, or photography, this time I went a-searching my collection of fiction books for references to vines. A lot of my fiction reading occurs in the dystopia, science fiction, or horror genres — this is probably because I first read Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was a baby — yet I was still surprised at how often nefarious vines appeared in these books. The five quotes above are just a small sample; scary vines, apparently, strike many writers as darkly metaphorical — and as especially potent symbols of nature reclaiming civilization.

Botanically, the appearance of vines swallowing a cityscape would indicate a fairly advanced stage of reforestation. Vines would certainly not appear at the outset; they would, instead, be preceded by a variety of plants generally known as rosettes — small plants with leaf structures at ground level — whose growth helps create conditions for later, larger plants to take hold in the soil. Vines would probably show up around the time that shrubs and the first shoots of future-trees appeared, but the vines would have the distinct evolutionary advantages of rapidly growing upward as they reached for the sun, attaching to and climbing any structure they encounter, and “outrunning” plant-eating animals. That they evolved to avoid herbivores is probably speculation; but, hey, why not, let’s give them their agency.

With a little bit of “googling” I was surprised to discover a robust body of research on plants and the arts. Try searching for phrases like “plants in movies” or “plants in literature” if you’d like to see what I mean. The last search led me to this article: Plants and Literature — a fine overview of the subject — which covers both historical references to plants in prose and poetry, and also connects to contemporary movies and books. Scott Smith’s novel The Ruins and the 2008 movie by the same name (where (spoiler alert!) the vines consume the humans) and Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Annihilation, also adapted into a movie (where humans get blended into plant-person hybrids, among other astonishing things) are both mentioned. Vines have at least co-starring roles in both books and both movies — but their visuality is more flagrant in the movies. A fun comparison could be made between those books and films, and that of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House — where there is only one incidental reference to a vine, yet the various movies based or loosely-based on her book typically feature threatening attack-vines twisting among the woodwork of the house and capable of doing-in the human interlopers.

What is it about vines that get so much literary attention? Vines, grapevines, and ivy are often potent religious symbols, and also frequently represented in cemetery garden designs and funerary art (see Stories in Stone by Douglas Keister) — so culturally, and across cultures, that gives them some special oomph. Many vines get designated as invasive species; yet those same vines can be purchased at garden stores in tiny pots and transplanted into our gardens. On one hand, we can’t control them; on the other hand, we think we can. My own property features about five different vine varieties that I subsequently learned are considered invasive in the southeast, including English ivy and wisteria — both of which I only find “personally invasive” (that’s not really a thing) when I get behind on my landscaping and they do what they naturally do: try to take over anything they can get their tendrils on.

Eighteen years ago — as a new homeowner and extra-amateur gardener — I thought the wisteria growing near one back corner of my house was just delightful, until I realized that in a few summer weeks it had grown up the side of the deck, along the back walls of the house, and into the attic through a roof vent. Me and the wisteria got in a fight after that: I pulled about fifty feet of vine from the attic and cut the rest back, then thought I might be better off to down it entirely… which I tried to do by sawing through the vine’s ten-inch-diameter base, and, failing to make much more than a dent, went to Home Depot and bought a trellis for it instead. For the vine, in other words, the battle was won.

Similarly, after a multi-year drought afflicted the southeast around 2008, a new vine appeared embedded within the English ivy in my front yard, a plant I’ve not been able to identify but is probably a creeper variation, based on its behavior and appearance. Its leaves are tiny — the largest ones only an inch or two wide — and it produces skinny, strong, and fast-growing stems that are both self-entangling into a pyramid shape and will wind themselves around individual English ivy leaves or any plant, tree, or shrub they encounter. While it dies off every winter (its only redeeming characteristic), it’s become one of my summer rituals to get rid of as much of it as I can, since it will choke off the ivy if I let it. To the English ivy then, this anonymous vine, I imagine, is an invasive species. To me too!

So I suppose some of our darker experience with vines — especially invasive or obnoxious ones — is about our uneasy relationship with nature: we want to tame what will not be tamed, but we keep trying anyway. Their silent violence and tenacious exuberance affords them a special place in literature and film, considerably more prominent than just setting the mood or establishing the scene. Given their unique abilities — especially that of rapid growth (that seems to happen as we watch); their ability to envelope large structures and landscapes (see, for example, kudzu smothering trees near Atlanta); and their tendency to be only temporarily manageable — they can be twisted into a powerful metaphorical choice for books and movies.

Maybe there should be a separate Oscar category for Best Vine in a Feature Film….

Wasn’t that fun? See what happens when my mind wanders!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Plant Entanglements (2 of 2)

From “The Garden” by Andrew Marvell in Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively:

What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness:
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.


This is the second of two posts with photos of grapevines from my garden, taken in April, 2022 and recently discovered entangled the backlog of my Lightroom library. The first post is Plant Entanglements (1 of 2). As with the previous post, the first batch of five photos shows the tendrils and leaves of a Concord grapevine; and the rest are from a Catawba grapevine.

Hmmm… I’m thinking I might sling a few of these grapevines onto black backgrounds just to see how they look; although — given the very tiny and fine details in some of the images — this may take some time….

Thanks for visiting!

Plant Entanglements (1 of 2)

From A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger:

“Left to their own devices, your plants’ vines will branch and rebranch and then rebranch some more, crisscrossing each other while growing several inches a day into a wrist-thick spaghetti of vinery. The plants will also want to develop lots of leaves, which are as big as serving platters and hover above the vines on two-foot-tall stems. Your vines will also want to produce many small (relatively speaking) fruits that can hide under those leaves…

“A rampant tangle of vines and leaves means some leaves will shade others, and shaded leaves are slacker leaves when it comes to the business of gathering sunlight. So it’s your job to go into the patch every day and prune, arrange, and stake, the rapidly growing vines so that they conform to your ideal….”

From “Blueflags” by William Carlos Williams in The RHS Book of Flower Poetry and Prose by the Royal Horticultural Society:

I stopped the car
to let the children down
where the streets end
in the sun
at the marsh edge
and the reeds begin
and there are small houses
facing the reeds
and the blue mist in the distance
with grapevine trellises
with grape clusters
small as strawberries
on the vines….


In a previous post (see Found Blooms! (1 of 2)), I mentioned that I had been tidying up my Lightroom library at year’s end, and found a couple of sets of photos of cherry blossoms from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens and some photos of grapevines from my back yard. The grapevines have appeared here before (click this link if you’d like to see all the versions), and that may be why I didn’t attend to them last spring — you know: so many plant photos, so little time! I took the photos in this post (and the next one) last April, and spent a bit of time last week polishing them up and trying to give their leaves and tentacles a bit of flair. I’ll likely take another set of similar photos in a couple of months… however….

The historic winter storm that created havoc throughout much of the U.S. in the days leading up to Christmas brought about four days of below freezing temperatures and below-zero windchills (brrrrrr!) to much of Georgia — something that hadn’t happened since the 1980s and therefore not since I’ve lived in my house. The extreme cold for that extended period severely damaged a lot of plants that normally continue to grow (though more slowly) over the winter. My front yard and about half of my back yard, for example, are covered in carefully-curated English ivy, and nearly all of its thousands of tiny green leaves have turned black and crumble in your fingers if you touch them. Many other “evergreen” plants have done the same; on my property alone, azaleas, boxwoods, autumn ferns, holly ferns, jasmine, and fringeflower bushes have all turned black. It’s all very strange and somewhat disconcerting, even moreso when I walk around the neighborhood and see that yard after yard has turned dark gray or black. These plants are all perennials, though, so I guess it will be interesting to see how well they regenerate — and to photograph new life when it pushes out the dark, dusty remains.

Since the grapevines take winter naps anyway — losing all their leaves and turning their vines to sticks in October or November — I won’t know until late March if they survived the storm. I’m hoping they did, of course, since I’ve had them for so long — and I’m guessing they will since the ground didn’t freeze. I could replace them, naturally, but there’s something delightfully nostalgic about having the same plants coming back every spring for so long — for over a decade, in the case of these grapevines. I’m sure I’ll be out there with the camera, should the first swatches of green appear in about eight weeks.

The first seven photos below are the tendrils and early leaves of a Concord grapevine; and the rest are the tendrils and leaves of a Catawba grapevine. With these photos, as I remember it, I tried to frame the subjects to create a little elegance and drama around them — to the extent that that’s possible with plant photographs — by making deliberate choices about framing the subjects.

The Concord displays more translucent colors than the Catawba, featuring mostly shades of yellow and green (with brief slashes of red) that glow in morning sunlight. The Catawba is less translucent and not as shiny, but all of its early growth shows many more colors. In the last couple of photos, for example, you can see yellow and green, as expected, but also streaks of red, orange, blue, and purple or magenta. The Catawba’s rainbow of colors — don’t you wonder why it evolved that way? — persist for about three weeks. As the plant matures, it gradually reverts mostly to yellows and greens, and even the tendrils — some of which will be a foot long — grow mostly in green by early May, though the backs of the individual leaves will still show silver or white for their entire growing season.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Tales of Two Grapevines (4 of 4)

From “The Appeal of Black & White” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“[Far] from a universal march towards more colourfulness, there is now a significant and growing reverse flow in photography, towards the new black and white. It’s new because it’s created from colour with processing software that makes the experience a delight, which means that you don’t even need to decide at the start that it’s a black-and-white image you’re after. You can even trawl your archives with a reconsiderate eye and look for images that might work more powerfully, or at least differently, in the single range called grayscale.

“So … what is this persistent appeal of black and white? There are some semi-practical answers, and a trawl of internet opinions throws up emphasis on form, shape, line and texture, as you might expect. Basically these all have the root argument that removing the distraction of colour allows you, actually compels you, to concentrate on other things. There is also the corrective argument — when the colour is somehow spoiling your idea for the shot, just switch. However, it seems to me that there must be deeper reasons, maybe not all of them easy to pin down. In fact, the underlying appeal of black and white ought to be difficult to describe, because surely any art form that has the potential to move people must have some enigma to it.”

From “Black & White Craftsmanship” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“One recognised darkroom master was Ansel Adams, and he also wrote extensively on the subject. His 1982 book The Print is not just a classic of photo instruction, but peculiarly relevant to contemporary black-and-white digital processing. Peculiar because it confines itself to the wet darkroom and shows none of the technology that we now all use. Relevant because it deals with the fundamentals of turning [an] already-taken shot into a final image….

“Adams was at pains to insist that this wasn’t all about technique by any means. There is, he wrote, ‘great latitude for creative variation and subjective control’, and the process involved ‘endless subtle variations which are yet all tied to the original concept’.

“The reason why Adams and other serious printers made plans — actual physical plans on paper or on a work print — was that the clock was running, literally, whilst the paper was on the easel under the enlarger. Any dodging and burning had to be done in a finite and short space of time. In his book … Adams details the printing of one of his best-known photographs, ‘Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park’, shot in 1944. The basic exposure was 10 seconds, during which time the dodging had to happen — holding back areas that needed less exposure to make them lighter. Burning was always easier — adding exposure to darken areas — although it meant taking care not to let light leak onto any other part of the image….

Burning was done in stages — a few seconds concentrating on one area, followed by another few seconds somewhere else, all of this typically done with a timer on the floor with a foot-operated pedal…. Dodging tools were typically metal circles, ovals, and oblongs at the end of thin rods, often painted red, to which colour the silver bromide paper was insensitive. Burning tools were most commonly your hands, cupped and shaped. Otherwise you cut holes in large sheets of black paper or card. Adams made a distinction between the umbra (shadow) and penumbra (the soft surround), as the latter helped smooth the transition during dodging or burning so that this manipulation would not be noticeable in the final print….

The modern digital equivalent is called feathering, as on a radial filter.”

This is the last of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For the second post, see Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4); and the third post is Tales of Two Grapevines (3 of 4).

For this post, I selected nine photos of each type of grapevine and converted them to black and white. I’ve done a little bit of black and white work before, but converting these grapevine photos seemed like a new experience nonetheless. Because green and yellow colors dominated both the foreground and background of these photos, there was little to differentiate the main subject from the background once the photos were changed to grayscale. So I used Lightroom’s radial filters to remove most of the background, allowing its feathering to leave mostly subtle hints of light around or behind the subject. In some cases, eliminating the background meant that the subject was quite small for the size of the image frame, so I cropped the images to enlarge the subject (though not enough to create excessive noise or loss of detail).

Once I was satisfied with the background appearance of each image, I used Lightroom’s brush tool to add highlights to the more prominent leaves, along with a bit of extra texture and sharpening to increase details. I don’t do that very often with color photos (I typically reject and delete photos that require sharpening to make them look like they’re in focus), but I’ve noticed that when working in black-and-white in Lightroom adding a bit of texture and sharpening has a neat side effect: it brightens the highlights further, creating tiny pixels of light without giving the subject an over-sharpened look. As a last step for each photo, I used Lightroom’s color grading tool to add a bit of silver tone (emulating the matte-finish side of a sheet of aluminum foil) — which is actually done by just slightly increasing the color blue in shadows, midtones, and highlights.

Here are the Catawba Grapevine images…

… and here are those of the Concord Grapevine.

Thanks for reading and taking a look! Next up: Irises!! 🙂

Tales of Two Grapevines (3 of 4)

From The American Gardener by William Cobbett:

“There are many different sorts of grapes, that grow in the woods, climb the trees, cover some of them over, and bear and ripen their fruit. How often do we meet with a vine, in the autumn, with Grapes, called chicken grapes, hanging on it from every bough of an oak or some other timber-tree! This grape resembles, as nearly as possible, what is, in England, called the Black cluster; and, unquestionably, only wants cultivation to give it as good a flavour.”

This is the third of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For the second post, see Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4).

I crammed a few extra photos into this post, having decided after playing around in Lightroom that some of these grapevine images look great in black and white, so I’m working on that for the final post in the series instead of splitting these color images between two posts.

On March 24 and April 21, I swooped into a nearby pharmacy and got my first and second Covid-19 vaccinations, so as of May 5 was considered “fully vaccinated” according to the CDC guidelines. While I’ve not attended any rock concerts or orgies (!!) yet, it’s been nice to get out a bit and not feel alarmed at the prospect of being in the vicinity of other human beings. Visiting a garden center seemed like going to an oasis at this point, and with another trip or two, I’ll have completed flowery acquisitions for the neglected garden I added nothing to when the pandemic first hit.

I managed to avoid going to any physical stores since February 2020, having decided early on I’d try not to be another disease vector and have everything delivered. And though I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by placing grocery store orders online and waiting for bags of food plop on my front porch, it was nevertheless a pleasant experience to do something as mundane as grocery shopping on a lovely spring day. I donned my trusty dinosaur mask …

… and headed off with a long list of whatnots to pick up. Entering the grocery store felt like a bit of sensory overload; for someone who studies colors and shapes and lines, there sure are a lot of them in your average market — and they’re especially intense when you haven’t seen them for over a year. Color, especially, kept distracting me; I briefly wished I had brought my camera with me, then I thought maybe posing the tomatoes for a photograph would be frowned upon.

Having become something of an online grocery shopping expert and critic, I have to point out that buying groceries online — while certainly convenient — is so linear and stale in its web design that it completely misses the boat on a key shopping experience: browsing! The tech guy in me has always imagined it could be a lot more captivating, like allowing you to zoom up and down the aisles of a virtual reality version and pick stuff off shelves with your VR fingers. Instead, all you get is lists and tiny pictures that vaguely resemble what you’re buying, and you miss out on the spontaneity of stumbling across something you didn’t know you wanted.

Such was my experience today in the frozen foods aisle. I was barreling toward frozen veggies and frozen pizzas, when the word “Tillamook” caught the corner of my eye. I had forgotten about Tillamook ice cream for over a year, and stopped my cart so hard its wheels actually squealed and I pulled a partial donut. Behind the glass door, I found glorious Waffle Cone Swirl, threaded throughout with caramel so fabulous it actually glows. The only reason I’m eating dinner tonight is to have a big blob of this ice cream for dessert. (Their cheeses are excellent also, especially when they’re on sale.) Am I a product photographer now? 🙂

I get ice cream, you get grapevines … sorry (not sorry). Here are the last of the Catawba Grapevine color photos; I’ll post the black-and-white versions in a few days.

Occasionally I like to take pictures of just the tendrils, for some reason. These are from the Concord Grapevine. As you may be able to tell from the photo, the hooks shown in the second image tried to snatch the camera from my hands, a fact which may or may not be true.

Here are the rest of the Catawbas.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!