larger than life, a gesture toward the thing that passes
almost unseen. A small wind
disturbing a bonfire, for example, which I found the other day by accident
on a museum wall. Almost nothing is there: a few wisps of white
thrown idly against the pure black background, no more than a small gesture trying to be nothing
more than itself. And yet it is not here and to my eyes will never become a question of trying to simplify
For this post, I took a selection of photos from my midwinter mums series and recreated them on black backgrounds. I had only intended to do a handful, but ended out with several handfuls instead — getting a bit carried away when I saw that these flowers looked especially good on black. There were some challenges here: where I left the delicate, parsley-like leaves in the photos, much detailed brushing was necessary in Lightroom to keep them intact. And because the leaves tend to be toward the back of the scene and less focused, I also darkened the color green so that out-of-focusness doesn’t distract from the rest of the image.
Why should this flower delay so long To show its tremulous plumes? Now is the time of plaintive robin-song, When flowers are in their tombs.
Through the slow summer, when the sun Called to each frond and whorl That all he could for flowers was being done, Why did it not uncurl?
It must have felt that fervid call Although it took no heed, Walking but now, when leaves like corpses fall, And saps all retrocede. Too late its beauty, lonely thing, The season’s shine is spent, Nothing remains for it but shivering In tempests turbulent.
Had it a reason for delay, Dreaming in witlessness That for a bloom so delicately gay Winter would stay its stress?
I talk as if the thing were born With sense to work its mind; Yet it is but one mask of many worn By the Great Face behind.
This is the last of the midwinter mum-posts!
Well, not quite… it’s been raining a lot (really a lot!) lately so I’ve been indoors poking at Lightroom and slinging some of the flowers onto black backgrounds, as one does sometimes. So this is the last of the original mum photos, with those blackground variations in post-processing and to be revealed shortly.
I am fifty years old. My nights grow longer when sleep is clear. The cricket that would sing over my pillow is gone, and the fourcorners of the room are still. On a night like this, life is full of holes like a porous turnip hollowed by winds, and my knees feel cold. At the age when one should know fate, there is a chrysanthemum in the garden, scenting the frost.
When preparing this post, I was happy to find both a haiku and another poem that mentioned white chrysanthemums specifically, so those two verses ended out up-top. How did I do that, you ask? Well, thanks very much for asking and here’s a short tutorial.
Up until a couple of years ago, I’d search for relevant phrases in my Kindle books, using the Kindle for Mac app. While that worked fine, it often got tedious — mostly because it’s not possible to search across books so I’d have to pick each book separately, search for the phrase, find nothing useful, then repeat until some book had something I wanted to use. And, of course, I had to actually own the books — so I’d often buy new ones (especially on subjects related to botany or botanical history) that I thought I might be able to use repeatedly as sources for my blog posts. I’ve accumulated some excellent books as a result — and sometimes I actually read them. I’ve also used Google Books fairly often — though that’s even more tedious since so many results are returned and sorting through them is often fruitless. I’ve even tried using one of the various AI chatbots to do something similar — but you may or may not be surprised to learn that the chatbots would often refer me to books or other sources that did not seem to exist.
So then I tried using the Internet Archive — which at first seemed like another source of too much information, until I realized I could limit my searches very specifically and narrow down the results. The Internet Archive contains a wide variety of media types — but their Texts to Borrow section limits searches to books and periodicals, including some that were originally published in previous centuries.
Here’s a screenshot of the search I used to find the two poems above:
By selecting “Search text contents” below the search, this request tells the Internet Archive to find the exact phrase “white chrysanthemum” in books whose title also contains the word “poems” — and returns 27 results along with snippets of the first result found in each book, like this:
Now I have a nice little batch of books to look through, and the site helpfully opens each book at the first result. This approach works well because books of poetry are typically entitled “Something-Something Poems” — but I’ll often try variations by substituting “poetry” as part of the title, or substitute phrases like “history of botany” or just “botany” or “gardening” if that’s the kind of book I want.
But of course there’s more to the story than that. Books on the Archive have been scanned then uploaded — which means each page is an image, not text. Luckily for me, the Mac operating system introduced the ability to extract text from images a few years ago, so I can take a screenshot of the page with a poem (or other text) I want, then select the words from the image and paste them elsewhere as text. There are occasionally formatting errors, but they’re rare and easily corrected: I typically just verify that the words are right, then add line breaks or leading spaces to match the original text once I’ve included it in my blog post. It’s almost like magic — and much easier than transcribing these quotations myself.
While this may all seem a little wonky or nerdy, I continue to add quotations like this to my blog posts because of its incidental benefit: I get exposed to different kinds of literature that I might not encounter otherwise. I’ve read more poetry in the past couple of years than in the previous hundred (haha!) — and this series of chrysanthemum posts introduced me to dozens of haiku poems simply because I read so many while looking for ones I might use. And it was amazing to discover how something so short — the haiku above has only seventeen syllables — not only evokes an instantaneous image but also implies an action (or story) at the same time. It’s like they’re just like photographs… but with words!
“The chrysanthemum has a mixed reputation. In a number of European countries — France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Croatia — it’s mostly for funerals. In England it’s ever-so-slightly absurd: altogether too florid a flower. In East Asia it’s a flower that strikes awe. All over the world it’s also a plant of power and significance. It is the source of potent insecticides, telling the story of rising populations over the past century and summing up one of the great dilemmas of the century to come….
“The chrysanthemum is native to East Asia, where it is held in higher regard… but now we come to one of those problems of names that please the precise minds of taxonomists while spreading confusion through the rest of us….
“The genus Chrysanthemum belongs to the family of daisies, or Asteraceae, which contains more than 1,500 genera. The florists’ chrysanthemum used to belong, rationally enough, to the genus Chrysanthemum, then it was kicked out, and assigned another genus. Then it was put back in again, at least by some, but classification is still a contentious issue, serious enough if you are interested in the way life operates. The genus Chrysanthemum includes, it’s usually agreed, species that not only have big showy flowers but also powerful insecticidal properties. This includes the species Chrysanthemum pyrethrum, which is referred to informally, along with related species with a similar property, as pyrethrum. If you’ve ever been in a room with a burning mosquito coil you have felt the benefit of pyrethrum.”
The chill of dawn grows on the tips of yellow chrysanthemum twigs. In this life, don’t let the winecups be dry! Before the wind, play the flute aslant in the rain; When drunk, pin flowers on the hat and wear it upside down!
While my health remains, Let me eat well, And enjoy dancing skirts and singing castanets to the full! Let the yellow flowers and my white hair entangle each other To make a spectacle for the scornful eyes of my fellow men!
I’ve split a batch of thirty-three yellow mum photos between this post and the next one, since they were taken in two different locations with very different lighting conditions. These sixteen were from a spread spilling over an ancient Victorian stone wall — possibly made of stone donated to the city by Queen Victoria (in my imagination) — and were brightly backlit with splashes of sunlight filtering through nearby trees. With the sun in my eyes and the shadow/sun contrasts, I may have missed precise focus on a few of these. If they appear that way to you too then let’s just say it was intentional and the correct way to see them is not that they’re blurry, but that their glowing softly — which is a much more artistic(-sounding) choice, yes?
If you’re interested in learning about a problem I found with galleries on some of my blog posts and a solution, read on. Otherwise, skip down and enjoy the photos!
When working on my most recent Christmas project, I happened to take a look at some Christmas posts from previous years, and discovered that the galleries weren’t working correctly. When I clicked the first image in a gallery, WordPress didn’t show the carousel with the option to move forward to the next image in the gallery — but instead displayed only a single image. To see what I mean, go to Eight Days to Christmas: Red and Green from 2021, select the first image in the first gallery — and notice that you can’t page to the next image in the gallery (and you’ll have to use the browser’s back button to return). I randomly checked a few other older posts and found that they had the same problem: the carousel wasn’t working correctly on many of them. Because I was in the middle of the current Christmas project, I didn’t try to determine what was going wrong — until yesterday when I spent a couple of hours sorting it out.
Once upon a time, the code behind a WordPress site was a lot simpler; and with a smattering of HTML knowledge (which is all I have), I could often figure out why some problem was occurring. As WordPress continued to grow up and especially with the introduction of the Gutenberg or Block Editor, the underlying code got a lot more complicated, with much more scripting and CSS used to format and present a site. All that code is mostly unreadable to me… and yet I try not to be intimidated by tech-stuff I don’t understand, so…
I picked one of the offending posts and brought it up in the Post Editor to see if I could identify what was wrong, previewed it and noticed that the problem had corrected itself. This would seem like a good thing, you might think — but it didn’t help me understand what was wrong, nor how many posts might be affected. So my next step was to compare the code between a newer post that was working correctly and an older one that wasn’t (by using the View Source or Show Page Source function of a browser). Here, for example, is a snippet of code that displays a single image from a gallery:
Nobody knows what this code does (haha!) — and I certainly can’t explain it, but I did recognize that it was part of the gallery/carousel functionality on my site. Vaguely speaking, WordPress generates code like this for each image in a gallery so that you can do things like change the size, background colors, borders, or captions for individual images separately even when they’re part of the same gallery.
In this screenshot I highlighted a bit of code on the third line — < ul class=”blocks-gallery-grid” > — because I noticed that if I looked at the code for a carousel that was working correctly, this bit did not appear. So whatever it did or was originally designed to do, it had apparently been deprecated — and would get removed from a post when I updated it in the WordPress editor, after which the carousel would work as it was supposed to.
It can be difficult to sort out problems with images and galleries on WordPress, mainly (in my opinion) because people use words like gallery, slideshow, and carousel interchangeably and imprecisely, so searching for solutions just sends you down endless rabbit holes. But now armed with something I could work with that I knew was part of the problem — the code < ul class=”blocks-gallery-grid” > — I found this article that describes how WordPress 5.9 introduced a new structure for galleries, and that existing galleries would only be migrated to the new structure when a post was updated with the editor.
I also gathered from this article (much of which made little sense to me) that theme designers could have mitigated the problem for earlier galleries (see the “Backwards Compatibility Considerations” section) — which means you may not have the same dysfunction with these galleries on your site, if the theme developer updated your theme to account for the change. Mine didn’t, and apparently others didn’t either: I picked a few themes at random from the WordPress theme directory, and they all failed to display the older galleries correctly, in some cases not even responding when I clicked on a gallery image.
All this explains why galleries on my older posts don’t work right but new ones are fine — but I don’t know how any non-technical WordPress blogger would have known about this when the change was made and that they might need to do something because of it. Does anyone go back and check older posts when WordPress updates come out? I know I don’t — though I may from now on — and it was two years before I stumbled on the problem on my own site.
Ah, well, “to fix or not to fix” is now the question. If I go to “All Posts” on my WordPress dashboard and search for “blocks-gallery-grid” (include the quotations marks, if you try this on your own site), I learn that there are 101 posts from 2022 and earlier that will all fail to display the galleries correctly. That’s a lot! And each one will need to be opened in the post editor, re-published, then checked to make sure nothing else went wonky. So on the one hand, the broken galleries will nag me and haunt my dreams until I do something about them; on the other hand: waaaaahh! I don’t want to!
But I probably will fix them… maybe I can teach The Dog to do it… wish me luck!