Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Ephemeral Constancy of Is

A daily walk to a familiar place can be a sobering experience.

What was there once is likely not there next.

To wit: a pickerel frog yesterday, a spectacularly magenta plant today.

I had taken the frog for dead because I approached, slipped, stomped, sat, and leaned in. Close. Too close, I thought, for a living amphibian. But the frog never moved, the eye never blinked, no breath escaped. Today, I could find no evidence of frog -- no indentation in the mud or sign of struggle. No fleshy bit left behind after a scavenger's meal.

Today, I took the lake itself for unphotographable -- at least by me. Heavy mist became rain, then shifted into fog. Although I lay on wet grass and sand and aimed at tiny violet flowers sprouting up like a baby's giggles from no known source, I could not focus, or frame, or take a single snap worth saving. So I started back to the car, and that's when I saw the color, so brilliant as to be unbelieved. But magenta it was, and the photo is real.

Today, many of my friends and some of my family celebrated Easter, a time of new coming that returns every year, a reminder of the rising of a man into his godhood or of a god out of his manhood and of faith at the end of winter turning into spring.

Every day I walk into a new becoming, a reminder of risings and dyings, always turning from what was into what is, making what is what was in less time than I can type a single letter or think it.

Today, I celebrate the constancy of is.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bronzed Blister Beetle

According to, "Beetles are the dominant form of life on earth: one of every five living species is a beetle. Coleoptera is the largest order in the animal kingdom, containing a third of all insect species. There are about 300,000 known species worldwide, 30,000 of which live in North America."

The Bronzed Blister Beetle (Lytta aenea) is one of 7,500 species in the family Meloidae. Like others of his family, he produces a poisonous chemical that can blister the skin. I admit that I was sorely tempted to pluck him off the grass for closer inspection, but my precarious balance in the muck of water's edge prevented my reach.

Now I know: just like my mama told me, "You can look but don't touch." 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Don't be fooled

by what's on the outside.

It's what's on the inside that counts.

I sure hope those dragonfly and damselfly nymphs have moved to another part of the lake.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Another Kind of Blooming

Oh, what tangled webs algae weave,
binding me to one spot,
not once, but three times in one day,
holding me in thrall
like the tiny dark fish struggling its way
through bloom to bloom.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


of fertilized eggs loop round plants and other strings and wave in the water's flow where ten days ago toads sang and mated.

Soon this joint will be jumpin' with the flutter of tadpoles.

Come on, sun, and do your thing! It's supposed to be spring! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Where is spring?

Somewhere else.


I grow impatient.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Getting Ready for Trails and Trilliums

What I learned this week:

1.  Do not trust the art supply store salesperson who says, "We use artist's tape for hinging and affixing art to the backing board." Next time, buy two totally different products.

2. Learn how to set up a photograph in Photoshop so that there will be a wide margin of blank photo paper running around all four sides. This will ensure a more professional appearance.

3. Remember that reds and blues might blow out in printing.

4. Sign before matting.

5. Value the work more. Arrayed on my dining room table in their crisp mats, my photographs look pretty dadgum good.

for Trails and Trilliums

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Familiar Made Strange

"The notion of 'making the familiar strange, and the strange familiar' is now a recurrent feature of artistic and photographic manifestos and of creative 'brainstorming' sessions in many fields. The phrase itself has been attributed to the German poet Novalis (1772-1801, aka Friedrich von Hardenberg), who declared that the essence of romanticism was 'to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar'. The concept is found amongst other Romantic theorists such as Wordsworth and Coleridge." (Semiotics for Beginners)

Take the water, for example, pouring into under the little wooden footbridge at Lake Cheston's beach. Every day, I walk over this bridge. Every day, I see this water. Every day, I stop on the bridge to look more closely at that water. But today, I saw something strange: the water became marble and light reflected off its surface, and I saw the deep mottled marble and metallic glint of Bernini's Cornaro Chapel in Rome.

Here, let me show you what I saw with my eyes.

Here, let me show you what I saw with my mind's eye.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

To see spring

I push
my lens,
into daffodil
& hyacinth cups,
grains glistening
promised spring.
Their fire
must do
for now.
Oh how
I hate
must do.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Promise I'd Rather Not Keep

Two weeks ago, after our Friday-night movie, my friend said, "If Sister Baby dies before me, I want you to take her."


Then we both looked at the cat and each other and laughed. She corrected herself: "If I die before Sister Baby, I want you to take her."

"I will," I said, and I mean it.

Who wouldn't want Sister Baby? The foundling Burmese with sweet disposition, ever-darkening points, silky fur, strong purr.

But at what cost?

I look at Boo, who grows older by the day, and hope it's a promise I won't have to keep. Sister Baby was made for my crotchety friend with a soft spot for her feline.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Old Made New

Today, thanks to the Planck satellite, we learned that the Universe is 80 to 100 million years older than we thought. (Just consider that.) The relic radiation shimmers in blue and gold only 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

From out there, the great sun struck my bottle tree, turning snail, leaf, and dead stems into blue and gold light, the cool of shadow and heat of oven.

Big to small, it's all awe-some.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bluegill Rumination

A former student helped me identify this beautiful fish floating at the shoreline: bluegill sunfish. In the failing light of afternoon, this fellow held me in the brilliance of his shimmering skin for the better part of an hour.
When I first noticed it, a couple with their two dogs (Australian shepherds, one old and one young) passed me. Long before I had finished my long look, they had circled the lake, played fetch, and left.

Sitting in mud, bent over a stone to see the fish close up, I heard "What are you doing?" and looked up into the friendly face of a coed. 

"I'm photographing this dead fish," I said.

"Oh! I thought maybe you were fishing. I wouldn't want to eat anything out of this lake," she said, and laughed. "I'm Mary!"

We chatted about Birmingham, where we're both from, and she told me about living near Lakeshore Drive, a place I know too, and about going to Homewood High School and knowing my childhood house on my street in Crestline, and about choosing Sewanee as much on a whim as anything else, and about how much she loves it here.

I do too.

And I love the friendliness of the folks who walk and run the lake, sometimes stopping to chat with the woman striking awkward poses and taking the long looks.

The other day, an old friend commented on one of my Facebook posts (I had written that I had taken 300+ photos of dead bird in the lake) and said there was surely something better I could have done with my day. But there is no better way to spend part of my day than taking long looks, walks, greeting strangers and parting as aquaintances.

Today I met a bluegill sunfish and Mary from Homewood, and they both make their own light.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Day Before Spring Begins

Lake Cheston's red maples blossom,
Shakerag's wildflowers start unroll their carpet,
and Lake Ridyard sings.

What a good day, from beginning to end.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rainy Day

Rain today. All day. Drenching rain with thunder, giving the truth to a metaphor: sheets of rain.

A day inside. A camera cased, batteries charging and charged. Work and reading, the book disappointing like the rain, bleak and boring. The cat sleeping, still sleeping -- through the day, uncomplaining, unlike me. I'd rather be outside, but one brief errand showed me why I shouldn't be, couldn't be. So, I searched for something to relieve the rain and happily found this:

by Richard Kenney

Sky a shook poncho.
Roof   wrung. Mind a luna moth
Caught in a banjo.  

This weather’s witty
Peek-a-boo. A study in

Blues! Blooms! The yodel
Of   the chimney in night wind.
That flat daffodil.

With absurd hauteur
New tulips dab their shadows
In water-mutter.

Boys are such oxen.
Girls! — sepal-shudder, shadow-
Waver. Equinox.

Plums on the Quad did
Blossom all at once, taking
Down the power grid.

(Tomorrow: a prediction of sun and Tulip Magnolia blossoms.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Of Toads and Frogs and Throat Singing

Yesterday, at Lake Cheston, a hiker asked, "Are you Robley Mobley?" 

"Close," I answered. I recognized him. "You're the fellow I met last year who was wearing the Boy Scout shirt!"

"Still am," he said, and showed me the neckline under his jacket. "I haven't seen any dragonflies," he added, "but the toads are out!"

With that, he took off in one direction and I in another.

The male American Toads gather in the lake run-off at dam's end and sing out for females. Their warbling notes can be heard all the way around the lake, even at the beach, and up close, the sound can be pleasantly deafening. Just give them a listen.

Lighter in voice and much much smaller, Spring Peepers started earlier. Last night, when I pulled up at my friend Sue's house, I could hear their high-pitched song, even before getting out of the car. She told me that one year there were so many in the ephemeral pond across the street that they paraded across the road and up her sidewalk. Imagine! A little procession of singing frogs in your own yard!

Think of toads and peepers like the same but different tones heard in this Mongolian overtone singer's voice.

Amazing, yes?

The Odonates have not yet appeared, but I am heartened by the musical amphibians and the smiling gentleman in Boy Scout shirt. As he said, "Winter's blowing into spring right now!"

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Go. Stop. Go.

The water beetle looks senseless: it speeds, stops, rests, speeds, stops, rests. Like an armored vehicle ready to do damage or to survive attack, or a flak-jacketed warrior, or bullet fired without certain aim, the beetle escapes my understanding, like the fleeting moments on waking or falling asleep when I remember something I had forgotten, and then the next day have forgotten again. Go. Stop. Go. Beetle and racing mind.

Possibly a Whirligig Beetle

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chance Encounter

Racing past dafodills toward the car and home, I saw pink blossoms shimmer. I stopped, thought a moment about pressing time, walked down to the lowest part of the garden, and lay in the flower bed. 

Every year I shoot the same two plants and every year I can't get a single good shot. Today was no exception. 

But then this happened. 

From behind me, a voice called: "Robley, is that you?"

Without turning my head so I could get one last shot, I aswered: "Oops, yes, and I'm doing something I shouldn't!"

"And I haven't?" she asked. We both laughed.

A walking acquaintance of the best kind -- involving wolf spiders and American watersnakes and dragonflies -- Gayle lives now in West Virginia, where, she says, it's too cold and she can't just walk out into the woods or to a lake as we can here. Like me, she strolls with her camera (a DSLR slung around her neck) and doesn't mind breaking a few rules or getting dirty to shoot the beautiful things we both love.

I still didn't get the just-right shot this morning, but I came home, having enjoyed a far richer "snap."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Waiting for Spring

The view from "Robley's Spot" is beautiful: blue sky (the kind one dreams about and longs for), a child's cottony-perfect white clouds, Parrot's Feather greening at lake's edge.

But pictures don't tell the whole story. See that chop on the water? Strong wind, the kind that bites through a wool coat and makes the 40-degree temperature feel much lower.

Come on, spring! Do your thing! I'm getting tired of waiting!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Eight Reasons to Celebrate March 12

1. Sun. The kind of sun that means spring is really here. That fringes limb tips with red and green baby-hair-fuzz at the tips. That brings color back to earth and lens.

2. Friendship. Time spent with someone whose tastes and interests are similar to my own and with whom I travelled to Nashville and back.

3. Turkish lunch. Whatever else you eat at Anatolia, begin with Haydari -- thick yogurt with chopped walnuts, garlic, carrots, spices, lemon -- and slide your pita bread into it like a palette knife.

4. Nashville B-cycle. Cheerful rider-friendly red bikes with generous baskets available for members at locations all over town. Hip and environmentally friendly. 

5. The Frist Center. See a show as rewarding as "Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: Highlights from the Detroit Institute of Arts." Tantalizing skin tones, rich and varied fabrics, atmospheric landscapes, flower-mania still-lifes -- an escape into a world of business-made money made into fool-the-eye art.

6. Shop. Global Market is going out of business because a jerk sold the building without telling the market owner. He was angry, and I am sad. No more Indian box dishes, English tea and biscuits, Goya crackers, sharp candied ginger in tins, and lime pickle relish. But today I came home with English tea and ginger thins. And happiness that I went before it wasn't there any longer.

7. Lake Cheston. Two tiny spiders, about a quarter the size of my pinkie fingernail, flirted and sparked along a web-draped reed, absorbing and glowing with late light like little jellies or gummy arachnids.

8. Research. Looking for the flower still-life painting in the exhibition, I discovered Bas Meeus, a photographer who makes his own 17th-century Dutch still lifes and then photographs them.

So many good things in one day.

And with sun.

Did I mention the sun?

Monday, March 11, 2013

What's Wrong with This Picture?


Last year's weather and Odonates have yet to arrive.

A Year Ago Today

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Light as a Feather




such a beautiful thing.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Without Flight

The flightless bird
floats, wind-washed 
among leaves, catkins, 
a Copenhagen can.

I pull one from the lake
but leave the other,
nourishment, perhaps,
a small death feeding
life in a new season.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Surface Ice

6 AM: 28 degrees.
8:30 AM: Ice coats the lake's lip along the dam. 
I pop my walking stick 
on hexagonal plates like a bongo.
In a few places, air bubbles speak coming heat. 
2:11PM: 57 degrees, the air nearly balmy in full sun.

It's as if leaf and silt, 
fish and salamander, 
odonate larvae and grass 
rise with those oxygen bubbles, 
breaking thin winter into spring.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How must it be

by Bruce Guernsey

How must it be
to be moss,
that slipcover of rocks? --

greening in the dark,
longing for north,
the silence
of birds gone south.

How does moss do it,
all day
in a dank place
and never a cough? --

a wet dust
where light fails,
where the chisel
cut the name.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

What a Kid!

Kid President appeared on the CBS Evening News Monday, and I've been thinking of him ever since. If only we could all channel his infectious good humor and possitivity.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Own Private Bluebird Effect

Late last week, I finished reading Julie Zickefoose's The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds. A collection of essays that reads like a loosely constructed memoir, the book offers lots of detailed information about various birds, much of it entirely new to me. It also offers stimulating reflection and moving revelation of a person with a special gift, a calling, even, to understand and celebrate the birds she studies, ministers, and paints.

Today, while I worked online, a male bluebird kept thumping my kitchen door. Every time I tried to take his picture, he'd fly out of view, to a tree or the roof of the birdhouse where I think he and the female will raise a brood. When rain poured and wind howled and thunder clapped, I hoped they'd find a safe spot deep under a bush or the deck to ride it out. But as soon as the storm let up even a bit, he'd reappear and sing and tap heartily. And so, for more than six hours, he and I (and occasionally she and I) played peek-a-boo, a game they won, hands and wings down.

Having read Zickefoose's book and entering my third year with the tapper and his Mrs. (I hope they're the same pair), I can easily understand the call of birds. Certainly, there are many less happy ways to spend one's days.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Walking the Line

"You like that sort of thing," she said, meaning editing and linear thinking. First this, then that.

And it's true that I do. I think I always have. I made crayon marks on graph paper before I could write; tongue working lips, I tried again and again to stay in the lines the same way I did in my coloring books. Later, when I thought I wanted to become an architect, I lined out spaces where I or another might live, and still later I praticed perspectival and orthographic drawing in a scene design class, though my love of clean lines inhibited the spirit of design. There was no free invention.

Today, before that conversation, I walked the line of trail rimming Lake Cheston, in places straight, in others sinewy; in places packed hard despite snow, in others muddied and tracked by others -- human, canine, avian, corvine. And I saw lines everywhere: in bark and grasses at lake's edge, in sled marks on pine straw, in the thin thread of vapor trail spreading out like a fading memory.

All these lines and all signifiying . . . what? Someone always says to would-be artists, "There are no straight lines in nature." Yes, there are no straight lines in living -- even from birth to death, the lifeline on which we all hang; there's so much life in between and it takes many surprising turns, often changing direction from one line to another, disappearing over a yet undiscovered horizon.

In that same conversation, she said, "You've only lived here three years," but it's been ten and then some. Until I knew her, though, I didn't figure in her line of vision.

Until I started walking every day, many things didn't figure in my line of vision either, and no matter how many times, I follow the same general line, something new always crosses my path. 

It's those intersections that align my days.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Learning Not to Rely on Auto

Digital photography means adjustments with photography software. In my case that means a program so complex that I use only a few key commands. But . . . I do not use Auto Levels, Auto Contrast, or Auto Color. I used to, only because I didn't know how to do anything else. Then my friend Greg showed me a few things, and since then I have relied on my eyes and Shadow/Highlight, Brightness/Contrast, Exposure, Hue/Saturation, and Photo Filter. 

Take color. I went out today to shoot some pictures on an assignment. 

Here's the raw image right out of the camera:

It's a little light.

Here's the Auto Levels version:

It's too golden sunny.

Here's the Auto Contrast:

The sky is too turquoise.

Here's the Auto Color:

There's way too much sun.

Not one of these represents what I actually saw (or what I think I saw),
which was more like this:

I'm not sure any of this matters to a reader of this blog (if there are readers). What matters is that I am beginning to exercise more control over what I bring home, and that makes me almost as happy as this view from the old cloister.

Now I need to branch out.