Monday, December 31, 2012

On Reflection

Lancet Clubtail on Multiflora Rose (April 27, 2012, 9:32:59 AM)


A single photo stands for a year of learning to look, and on looking of photographing intentionally, and on downloading of refining, and on all of taking pleasure in a year walking Lake Cheston.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

What Lies Beneath

As though embossed, 
pond water wears 
the mark of early winter.
Beneath the sheath
odonate larvae molt,
feed, and wait
to emerge in spring.
I can almost see them
scuffle, shuffling 
backwards there, 
in the ochre silt
where life teems.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

First Snow

Snow
by Frederick Seidel

Snow is what it does.
It falls and it stays and it goes.
It melts and it is here somewhere.
We will all get there.

video

Friday, December 28, 2012

Of Books and Readers

For Christmas, I got what I asked for: a Kindle Paperwhite.  I hope it will help me read again.  Despite cataract surgery and prescription reading glasses, I am having trouble with printed text for long periods of time.  I can read on the computer, however, since I can adjust the text size and style.  Thus, the Kindle.

Some argue a Kindle book isn't a book.  Seems to me that's like arguing clay tablets or illuminated manuscripts aren't books.  A vehicle for text and/or image is a book -- at least so far as I am concerned.

Books take us places in our heads that sometimes our bodies cannot go.  I gave Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for Christmas to my 9-year-old great-niece.  I read aloud the first chapter Christmas night, complete with references to witches, wizards, He Who Cannot Be Named, and parseltongue. Both of us are enchanted by J. K. Rowling's world.


Books also offer us visual pleasures beyond mere words (though words are the vehicles and sometimes pictures are too).  A new picture book will be published in February with books within books as its means of narrative.  Open This Little Book, written by Jesse Klausmeier and illustrated by Suzy Lee, promises delights for adult as well as child readers.  I imagine I shall buy it as soon as it hits the bookstore.

Yes, my Kindle does not have the touch and smell and sound of paper and the press of ink in that paper, and yes my particular Kindle does not offer color, but while I love each of these alone and together, I do not think my head and heart will suffer as I read some literature on the latest version of "book" and other works in the now more traditional and tangible form.  

After all, I still write in longhand and on the computer.  I haven't noticed that one has killed the other yet.  In fact, one has enhanced the pleasures of the other and both have improved my writing.

So, as far as I'm concerned: here's to the Kindle and continued literary innovation!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gifts

The perfect gift wrapping,
with the perfect little blue bird,
containing a perfect set of much-needed tea towels, 
given by the perfect neighbor.


I am a lucky woman.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

December 24-26: A Few Impressions

Home for the holidays meant home with my nephew and his family, one of two places I can name (other than my own house) where I do feel "at home."

Christmas Eve
An easy drive despite rain followed by cookie-making with my mother's cutters, gingerbread baked to a fine crisp, and the making with The Birmingham Greats better than the eating; trampoline bouncing with a 9-year-old and 7-year-old, and then with only one while her sister rests with her stubborn stomach virus; dinner at the in-laws': Camellia red beans cooked to perfection with Conecuh sausage; home again and a few photographs of the angel on the ceiling before stockings and tucking (one wearing her Santa hat) and bed.

Christmas Day
The family exchange of gifts develops slowly -- one child loves her cheese mat, the other her sewing machine; both wear their almost-UGGs; my nephew's father-in-law carefully unboxes a mountain-bike-trail tool; pinch cake and coffee followed later by cheese, salami, garlic-stuffed olives, and black pepper crackers; tumbling and bouncing with one of the Greats while the other rests her virus; a reading with each of the Greats, separately, of the 2012 Christmas book (one said, "This is my favorite one yet, Aunt Robley"); a walk between spitting rains with my nephew and Betsy, the Golden Doodle, the very model of calm canine love; my niece-in-law's divine first turkey complemented by spinach, squash casserole (a Great's favorite), offal stuffing, and finished with a stuff apple pie.  To cap off the evening, the elder Great asks me to read her the first chapter of my gift -- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  She loved it and went happily to bed, as did I not much later.

On Leaving
Hugs all-round and thank-yous, and then a journey through sleet and light snow and rain and driving wind, toward my own home, where a cat waited and a dusting of snow covered the ground.

A Christmas to remember.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Day Inside

Too little sun, too many things undone, and many more to do: no snapping today.

But . . .

one photograph from yesterday and one video discovered today have brought the outside in and, with them, much joy.


Richard Feynman - Ode To A Flower from Fraser Davidson on Vimeo.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Solstice

The day passed, and a new one began.

No fiery balls pelted the earth.  The world did not end.

But night now descends early and quickly.  The sun does not so much set as slide, thickly, into equally thick darkness.

For a few magic minutes, though, before the end of day, the path where the raccoon's few bones still lie glows, elongating and thickening my shadow into winter.


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Osage Orange

Dear Jim,

Thanks for today's tip about the Osage Orange tree near Fulford Hall. After closing the shop, I drove over, parked, and walked into the construction zone area around the sidewalk, where I found dozens of fruits.

A squirrel was busy exploring one fruit, so I thought, Oh, it's edible! But no, he was scurrying to pull a nut out from underneath the fruit to carry it to his hidey-hole.



After looking at and photographing the fruits and tree, I came home and read a bit about the Osage-orange (or Osage Orange; I have discovered both spellings). Among the many interesting tidbits about the fruit is this passage from the Wikipedia article:

"The fruit was once used to repel spiders by placing one under the bed. Various studies have found elemol, an extract of Osage orange, to repel several species of mosquitos, cockroaches, crickets, and ticks. One study found elemol to be as effective a mosquito repellant as DEETA patent was awarded in 2012 for an insect repelling device using Osage orange."

Perhaps I should look for that "insect repelling device" next spring since I am so allergic to DEET.  

Meantime, please know that I appreciate your heads-up.

Sincerely,
Robley

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Contact Sport

Bookbinding is a contact sport.

Until it stalls.

Because soft, hand-torn paper won't feed in the printer,

and because there is no more paper,

and because the nearest art supply store is more than an hour away.

Then all contact stops, while the binder thinks and thinks and thinks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An Old Fashioned Shoe Store

After falling into the lake yesterday, I faced facts: I had to replace my smelly, ripped walking shoes.  I rose early and drove nearly an hour to the shoe store my doctor recommended.  He was not exaggerating when he said it's excellent.  It's also a throwback to something truly good about the
"good old days."

A family shoe store, Clayton's is now in the fifth-generation of shoe makers and sellers.  Above the rows of new shoes -- contemporary brands like Nunn Bush, Merrell, Drew, Dansko, New Balance -- the trappings of bygone days gather dust.  Photographs of the men who once ran the store look down on the woman who does today.

She listened carefully to the bad news about my feet and my habit of woods-walking, disappeared into the back for a bit while I admired my surroundings, and then returned with five boxes of very different shoes.  We tried them all and agreed on the pair with the best fit.  Even then, she wasn't finished: she gave me a free pair of athletic socks to try and Scotch Guarded the shoes.

We speak the same language -- the value of tradition in a family business with quality products and even better service.  Gone is the foot x-ray machine, but three Buster Brown showpieces remind me of my favorite red shoes of childhood.

 The drive was well worth it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holy Moly!

I almost didn't go to the lake today because I thought I would find nothing to photograph.  

Besides, I thought, I got my snap on the way to the Piggly Wiggly. In my head, I already written, "Dear Driver, I am sorry I pulled off so suddenly into the defunct gated community, but that big hawk made me do it."
But I went anyway, more out of a sense of duty than anticipation.

But then it happened: I spotted an Autumn Meadowhawk sunning herself on a rock below the dam, and beyond her a Familiar Bluet hung just inches above the water. 
 Holy moly! I screamed aloud, followed by Holy cow!

It's December 18, for crying out loud!  Last night, we experienced a fierce hailstorm that a scientist friend desrcibed like this: "The clouds cut loose and flailed at a thousand snare drums.  Ten minute hail storm.  Loudest weather I've ever heard.  The cats *freaked*"!  The temperature plummeted!

I did, too.  Down the hill and into the water, only barely managing to save the camera.

Once again, I am in awe.

Monday, December 17, 2012

And Then There Is This

A lump
of comfort
spread out
on a handmade
cat mat,
Lucy reminds
me what
sleep can be.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Looking Out

The doorway
frames mist
muffling sound.
Looking out
from within,
I hesitate
to leave
a house
that isn't
mine, stealing
one moment --
so quiet, 
so beautiful, 
amber lamplight 
and shadow.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bittersweet

Viewed straight on, bittersweet is spent, wrinkled with drying and age.

Viewed from underneath, it's still lively and colorful.

That's the kind of day it's been: high wind blowing in strong rain, oddly balmy temperatures, a nation wondering what has gone so wrong, and the discovery of a former student who struggled in school but has succeeded in life.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Some Things Never Change

and that can be comforting.

video

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What's Wrong with These Pictures?

Uh . . . forsythia?  In December?


Maybe not as dramatic as a glacier the size of Manhattan breaking apart, but enough to make me stop on Florida Avenue for the photographs.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Present Clock

After raising more than enough money on Kickstarter, m ss ng p eces now sells The Present Clock, a beautiful reminder of how we truly live in time, moving imperceptibly from moment to moment.


ThePresent from m ss ng p eces on Vimeo.

Without a watch, without a clock, with only a few appointments I must attend to at certain times, I have been living more and more this way over the last four years, and I am more and more happy as a result.  I work (mostly) when I want to, I eat when I want to, I bathe when I want to, I walk when I want to, . . . without feeling the pressure of obeying a cruel schedule set by someone else.

Imagine, then, my surprise when -- thinking about the beautiful metaphor of The Present Clock -- I saw this tree at the entrance to Abbo's Alley.


When did December 12 look like spring?  Has the present become the past?

I feel more out of time than ever!


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Pleasures of Paper

Three reasons to celebrate the season.

Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, which I checked out today.  Perhaps my new reading glasses will work.  I hope so.  I have missed good books.

A display of beautiful birds, hung along an inner wall facing offices.  I have seen these birds three times and read about them once.  I am not finished with them yet.
The librarians and students who have decorated with book and paper trees, garlands, and wreaths.
Season's greetings and thanks to those at the dupont Library who love paper as much as I.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Little Magic

The trick of fog.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Two-day Post

In just about 24 hours, including travel and sleep time and in no particular order, I

  • saw my nephew and two great-nieces dance in The Nutcracker
  • ate red beans and rice
  • drank two sips of a dreadful pumpkin ale
  • discussed the qualities of light with my niece (we agree that nothing substitutes for incandescent lighting)
  • explained why her mother and I were not being rude to a five-year-old great-niece when we commented on the owners' seeming lack of interest in the house where I grew up
  • ate Christmas cookies
  • delivered a birthday present and one Christmas present
  • took photos of the Alabama-North Carolina cousin set
  • saw a brother I had not seen in a couple of years
  • met a new member of my extended family
  • hugged little children till they couldn't be hugged any longer
  • walked along the shoreline of a bird sanctuary
  • filled up the car twice
  • drove 337 miles round-trip (in two different ways)
  • did no work
  • and accessed no computer.

I lived without distraction and with joy.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tree #2

The hackberry.

When the University Forester and Domain Manager came to my house a couple of weeks ago, they gave me permission to cut down the two dead tulip poplars that concerned me.  

Then they volunteered that I might remove one bush (which the birds love) and the hackberry tree with a limb that should definitely be lopped.  "Invasive species," they said.  They tied both with bright orange to signal their permission and left.

I thought about what they said, and I thought of the birds that pluck berries from the bush and the butterflies that flutter there.  I remembered the Hackberry Emperor butterfly I photographed on my deck rail in August. 


And then I walked out to the yard and cut off both plastic bands.


I now know two trees for sure: the sycamore with its buttonballs and the hackberry with its beautiful emperors.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Out with the Old

and in with the new.

I think.

What is it about shoes that makes choosing them so difficult?  I have yet to put one on that feels "comfortable" or "right."  Even as a child, I remember them flopping or pinching, sliding or slipping.

Take these two shoes: same manufacturer, same size, though two different styles.  A generic athletic shoe -- well worn and well worn through on the left, and on the right the new hiking shoe.

Dilemma: I can't decide if the new shoe fits.  

I have measured my largest foot (the left, hence the two left shoes in this photograph) and the chart says the size is right.  But either my eyes deceive me or the worn shoe has lifted its toe (as my shoes are wont to do), thus shortening it, or these shoes do not measure the same length despite their same size.

Resolution?

None, so far.  I shall have to wait for my feet to tell me what to do.

A bah humbug beginning to the season, indeed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Over My Shoulder

dun clouds
silver & scallop,
yellow-bellied
sapsuckers
work a tree,
a black dog
stands, frightened
of me.  But
none of this
worries water,
stirred & swirling
by things I
cannot see.

video

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Here Are Two Answers

Many people ask, "Why do you blog?"


Here is today's two-part answer.

First, writer and poet James Still said, "Discover something new every day."

Second, friend David Haskell spoke with Diane Rehm about his book The Forest Unseen.  Listen carefully to what he says about the apps built into each of us.

Consider this: I walk to wonder, I photograph to discover, and I write to uncover.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Waiting

Like Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett's play -- who wait, and wait, and wait for the mysterious Godot, a man they have never seen and probably will never see -- I too have been waiting, but for the Blue-faced Meadowhawks, whom I saw over a period of only three days last year (though when I saw the first one, I thought I was truly "seeing things").  

They have not arrived.  

That is, they have not arrived when I happened to be in the most likely spot -- the dam bridge and run-off channel, where I saw them previously.

But other wonders await every day, and in the same spot.  Luck today rewarded me when, turning onto the bridge, I spotted something B-I-G at the other end of the rail.  I crept closer and closer and closer, hoping I wouldn't spook it.  

I needn't have worried, for there a confident assassin -- a wheel bug -- stood sentinel, and then turned and menacingly paced toward me as I took its picture.  


I backed off, but not entirely away because I could not stop looking: the metallic blue beneath folded wings, bronze shimmer of teardrop-shaped sections of those wings, tiny porthole-like dots along the upper sides of the abdomen, dense hair, bright orange appendages (including the deadly beak), fantastic wheel and armor, balletic steps of its hunt -- all so endearingly engaged me.

For a moment, I forgot about the Meadowhawks.  Besides, there's always tomorrow: same place, same time.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On Writing and Wishing

Twenty-three days to go, and I am no nearer a Christmas book than I was when I felt the spark of an idea about two weeks ago.  The annual panic has set in, consuming me live like the no-see-ums dragonflies feed on so rapaciously.  

I am told that an insect doesn't suffer when dying: it shuts down, goes into a kind of physical stasis.

Not me.  

When the composition disease strikes, I become itchy-titchy and distracted, latching on to any impulse pulling me in any off-target direction.  It's not enough, for example, to walk the lake and take photographs (umpteen more of Autumn Meadowhawks as though the hundreds I have already shot aren't sufficient), but then I come home and play with them, using Photoshop as a delaying tactic without equal.

I have an image I like now.


But it's not enough to like this image.  I am not writing about dragonflies for Christmas (though I wish I had written this description published in this week's New Yorker: "Green Darners never attack people, but they have been seen bringing down hummingbirds.  They are the Bengal tigers of the microworld.").

Mine is another topic altogether, and words fail me.

Today, I am no Bengal tiger: I am a hummingbird, and the looming deadline, a Darner.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Fool for It



Always have been,
always will be
a sucker
for screen
making light
magic.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tree by Tree

Dear Jim,

As I confessed to you yesterday, I know almost nothing about what grows out of the ground.  With a wildflower book, I have developed some visual skills, but now I think it's time for trees.

For more than three years I have worked in the village, and all that time I have parked in the same area, taken the trash out to the same bin, entered and exited the shop through the same door, crossing into the shared space between shop and garage.  In all those years, I have seen big birds in three enormous trees on either side of the back apartment.  But only today -- because of the slant of sun and my renewed eyes and new glasses -- did I notice the plentiful fruit hanging from every branch and stem.


I asked Gay, "What are those trees?"

She said, "I don't know, but I know they're not mine."

I walked further back, toward the apartment, and started looking and stretching and snapping.  Then I heard them -- Harold and his brother and a customer -- chatting behind the car rack.  I asked them, and they knew: sycamore.

I came home, and now I have read about the tree.  I have seen that marbleized bark on walks at Lake Cheston!  I have seen those big hairy leaves!  I have even seen the fruit -- in Christmas arrangements!

I am writing to tell you that I shall try to learn one tree a week (or maybe a month).  Then we can compare notes.

Sincerely,
Robley

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Caravaggesque Water

A small patch of pond: water, leaves, algae, silt, bubbles, grass, sky reflection, something oily suspended and shining on the surface.


Seeing it, I could not look away, but sat in mud, transfixed, as I had once stood before Caravaggio's The Calling of St. Matthew one cold afternoon in Rome's Contarelli Chapel of the Church of San Luigi dei Francesci.  

The play of dark and light, the energy of light-colored strands like spider silk (but surely not, since submerged and weaving through the water; algae tendrils, perhaps?) reminding me of a painting's craquelure.

I love art, and I love museums, and I love the way the lake sometimes becomes both.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Holy Temple of Solitude

I learned today that a friend is going on retreat to her former Buddhist monastery (which she described as "that space of all quiet") and that a brother has just returned from an American Orthodox community where he enjoys retreat.

Today, thankfully, my walk at Lake Cheston provided true retreat and respite.  Unlike most days, no hikers or bike riders, no dog walkers or cell talkers, no echoing weed whackers, leaf blowers, or airplanes, no birds (even no birds) interrupted my spell of solitude in heavy fog.

Only on my way out did I spy other living creatures: three horses grazing in a friend's field.  None snorted or stamped, each content, too, -- or so it seemed -- to stand in a space of some quiet.


Monday, November 26, 2012

The Right Place at the Right Time

I was photographing this















when this happened.




I don't even know what to say, except this:

I sure am lucky.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Like a Dream

The water,
plants,
tiny spider,
reflections,
leaf litter:
a technicolor
composition
more fantastical
than a dream.
Sometimes 
what I see 
so surprises me
that I don't
even believe 
my own eyes.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

After the Table of Plenty

On my way to Bell Buckle Thanksgiving morning, Highway 82 was clear.  

On my way home, twenty-four hours later, I noticed the vultures -- a half dozen or so perched in a twisted tree.  On returning my gaze to the highway, I saw the rib cage lifted from the pavement like church vaulting, two vultures (vested priests?) still pulling at what flesh was left.  Deer, I knew, though there was little left that was recognizably "deer" other than size.

Today, on a brief walk along the Goat Track, I saw many skeletal Queen Anne's Lace heads and thought of the austere beauty of forms that lie beneath.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Let There Be Lights

My mother was a purist when it came to Christmas lights: only white, only small, only on the tree and a few on the bridge to light the way for Santa's visitors, and no movement or sound.

She pronounced colored lights and displays "tacky," although as a family we did drive down to the two circles with their C-7-bulbed trees and cutout nutcracker decorations.

I wonder what she would think of the Christmas decorating craze that has characterized American consumer and popular culture in the decades since her death.  What, for example, what she make of the woman who does this every year?


Would she still mutter "Tacky" under her breath?  Or would she have come to love the celebratory spirit of a person who celebrates a season and shares it with others.

Though I have no fondness for the plastic store-bought scenes, I have to admit that I have shed my puritanical bias against showy Christmas lights.  The more, the merrier for me.

I celebrate the celebrants!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

for good friends, Florence and Jere and their dog Prince, who opened their house and hearts to a family-less holiday friend and made her feel at home.


Master gardeners, they know how to make things and people grow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The View from Here

Giving thanks for sun, 
water, 
blue sky, 
and meadowhawks.