Lens-Artist Challenge # 125: Transitions

Japanese Maple leaf between Fall & Winter.

The challenge for this week’s Lens-Artists is really open, asking us to pick a subject to photograph and tell us what meaning it has for us. Tina chose photographs to illustrate her understanding of Wabi-Sabi, “a Japanese concept that recognizes beauty in the imperfections of life and the natural cycle of growth and decay.” Her photos are really beautiful and are an inspiration, but what really resonated with me is thinking about the natural cycle of growth and decay that can be so beautiful, and sometimes unsettling. Observing this cycle as seasons change frequently gets me thinking about how to capture the beauty in dying and death, in decay and decimation. Frequently my photography fails and my images are boring, but usually there are two or three within a file of 100 that excite me with the beauty of the old, of decay, of the degenerative process.

Decaying rhubarb leaves

I have lived my entire life in Michigan where I integrated the nuances of the changing seasons into my very being. When we live with the drastic distinctions of the visual of the dead of winter, birth in spring, lush growth in summer, and degeneration into death of fall, are we also able to recognize the more subtle transitions between early winter, dead of winter, late winter, early spring, late spring, early summer, dog-days of summer, late summer, etc.? Each has a distinctive temperature feel, scent, landscape, air movement and living activities. Sometimes I will state that something “feels like” a season different than the one we are in – but a know this experience is the exception to what is normal at this time of year. I have noticed that in recent years these “feels like” experiences are becoming more common as a result of global warming.

Azalea leaves of Fall, snow of Winter

I really enjoy the transitions of nature in a temperate climate, where our weather is influenced by both the tropics and the poles (North Pole in the case of Michigan in the northern United States.) The transitions of nature and of our human life give us an opportunity to reflect on what has been and look forward to what might be. Usually, for me, looking back involves memories of happy and sad, success and failure, gain and loss. I have found that I feel mentally healthier when I am able to recognize and embrace all that has been – to gently and humbly accept the painful and joyful as what had to be, given who I am, when and where I have been placed. It seems I need to recognize the impact of both my choices and fate over which I have no choice.

Tender new growth facing the freezing temperatures of Winter

Transitions also kindle the need to look forward – the dread of winter months to come or the anticipation of the flowers of summer to bloom. As I am aging I am learning that I need new skills to navigate this transition between my productive mid-life phase and ultimately my death. I have studied aging and death but was unprepared for how to look to a future that won’t be better, physically, than what is right now. How can I integrate into my self-image the fact that my future may not be something to look forward to. Maybe my remaining years are similar to facing the dead of winter. At this point I am cognizant of this reality but I don’t feel demoralized by it. I just know that I need to find a way to navigate this transition just as I have every other I have made. Stay tuned for the rest of the story as I blog my way through.

We Have Friends Coming for Dinner

There was a lot of activity at the bird feeders on Sunday, as the snow fell gently all day. It was a beautiful day and each of us spent some time at the dining room table watching our guests squabble, flutter, and sometimes partake of the seeds provided for them. It was a buffet with sunflower seeds, mixed bird seed, and suet cake available for their feasting delight. But still they squabbled and fluttered their wings to keep others at a distance. Normally we have guest who are better behaved when at the table.

Indoor dining at our home for this year’s U.S. Thanksgiving celebration will be much smaller and hopefully with less territorial fighting. I jest because I am confident we will find joy in being together around our table, the three of us – Jim, our daughter who is living with us during the pandemic, and me. The three of us agreed not to have guests this year as the virus cases and deaths are increasing rapidly across our country and here in Michigan. In our brains and guts we felt that even a small risk of having another safety-conscious couple for dinner was too big a risk. It seems we have opted for safety over the joy of sharing the indoor space of our home and table with people we love and care about. Everyone is making this risk/benefit analysis.

My quiet moments of contemplation recently have centered around the question of whether I am being too cautious, letting the experts on TV increase my fear to an unnecessary level. I have always been a big-picture thinker, able to take multiple viewpoints and analyze them down to the bottom-line truth (at least for me). This has been a hard topic for me because it pits taking care of our household members against hurting family and friends by refusing their invitations or our traditional gatherings. The end thought of my contemplations was that each one of the more than 12.5 million people in the U.S. that have been confirmed to have the virus plus the possible millions who developed symptoms without getting tested happened because of contact with another human being. That is how this virus spreads. The best way to avoid being a part of that statistic is to not have unnecessary contact with people.

We are all feeling the impact of this pandemic year (stacked on top of political, environmental, racial, and economic stresses) as we grapple with isolation fatigue. However, when we think of the totality of a lifetime, all the gatherings we have experienced in the past and all the gatherings we can look forward to in the future (if we keep ourselves safe and alive) I think we can find the strength and courage to do what we need to do for the next few months.

I find I am drawing my strength from remembering those times when we were missing family members because of travel or illness. It was sad but we made the best of it. I am drawing my courage from remembering those wonderful gatherings, big gatherings, where there was laughter and joy, children giggling and running around (and parents yelling “slow down”) and people speaking different languages. I can hear the echoes of those gatherings within my home as I prepare for our small gathering that will be full of joy and thankfulness that no one in our family has died from the virus. I will also be holding all of you who have lost a loved one in my heart, knowing that my heartbeat can carry comfort to others.

Now and Then

One month ago the tree in our side yard looked like this. A few leaves had fallen but there were still some leaves that were fading their green. This morning when I got up a little after 7:00 for our weekly run to the grocery I found…

And the tree in our side yard looks like this…

Between “then & now” seems like such a short time but so much has changed, at least outside of our home. Inside we continue to hunker down in place, not seeing other people and only going out for essential reasons.

I know I have the right to go out and do as I please – I have a right to be maskless, but I also know I can make choices. Because I have a choice I have control over so much more of what happens in my life than relying just on fate. Making choices involves thinking about the options, reading and listening to experts so I know what the potential consequences are of each option, and thinking about the consequences for the people I love most and for society at large. I also know that situations change and I can reconsider my choices as I receive new information.

I haven’t been listening to much of the political commentary on TV because of political and Covid fatigue but I did happen to click on Rachael Maddow the other night to hear this segment on Rachael’s lockdown because of coming in contact with someone who was positive and her experience of caring for her infected wife who she is living apart from because of their exposure; and her experience of their fear that Susan was going to die. I love Jim and my children more than I can communicate. Thank you, Rachael, for putting my choices in those terms. Please listen to her honest and difficult description of her life right now and her plea to all of us.

The Lens-Artist Challenge for this week is “Now and Then.” It inspired me to spend a few minutes outside taking some photographs this morning, but also has me thinking about how life has changed between then and now. It also gives me hope that now won’t be forever – now will move into something different. I no longer think about Mondays or Thursdays or Sundays. Most important, wedged between all the yesterdays and next-days, are my todays. Today I am going to live my life with contentment and satisfaction. I will focus on picking up my yesterday socks from my reading room floor, make the bed, have another cup of coffee and a small dish of apple crisp, dry the clothes in the washing machine, work on sewn Christmas presents for friends and family, and make some stir fry for supper.

How will you choose to spend your today?

In a Northern Neighborhood

At the end of October my neighborhood was ablaze with color. This isn’t unusual – what is unusual is that this year I was in Michigan to experience it for the first time… once again. For the past 11 years we have been in Florida from the middle of October to the middle of November. We leave our northern neighborhood just as a few branches of color are showing here and there. Every year I eagerly watch for these small patches of color just as in the spring I eagerly watch for the gentle green of new leaves. We return to Michigan about this time in November to bare trees and the only fallen leaves to be seen are on the floor of wooded areas and on the edges of country roads. We return to Michigan to see what I see outside my windows now as we move close to our Thanksgiving celebration. Skeleton trees bare of leaves.

But I am still thinking about the past three weeks and am so thankful for being able to experience them. We had a really warm early November so I spent a lot of time outdoors taking photos and raking (well, more time photographing than raking). I was seeing autumn in my neighborhood through the eyes of someone living in the southern United States. I was seeing autumn from a macro perspective because it felt so exotic.

I noticed how the tree full of golden orange leave (first photo) in our side yard had a few bare limbs, exposing seedpods that are hanging on long after thousands of them dropped in early summer. When I was a child we called them whirly-gigs and would toss them in the air to watch them twirl to the ground. One of the wonders of nature. Next spring I will be pulling up small maple tree seedlings from my garden beds.

It is so amazing how many leaves are on a full-grown tree. The tree can be covered with brilliant leaves and still, underneath the ground is covered.

We needed to rake these up because the grass had grown during the warm days and the man who mows our lawn was coming the next day. We also went for a walk and both Jim and I moved to the east side of the street so we could walk through the dry, fallen oak leaves blown there by the wind. Oak leaves are the most fun to walk through because they are big and make lots of crinkling sounds when we do that special kind of shuffle-walk that we learned as children walking to school.

In a few days the weather turned colder, more seasonal, and the wind blew hard. As I drove down the country road on my way to somewhere, the leaves were whirling in circles on the road and leaves were falling so heavily that it sometimes made me wonder if I would have to turn on the wipers to see. Then I laughed at myself. What joy.

And then they needed raking again.

My inspiration for writing about living in my northern neighborhood this autumn came from the Lens-Artists Challenge # 123: Found in the Neighborhood.

Love the Morning Light

The Lens-Artist Photo Challenge this past week has been focused on “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” from Anne. I’ve been slow to get my post together because of a busy week that include cataract surgery on my first eye. But I found time to go through my files for some of my favorite photos taken in the morning light while on photo shoots down dirt roads.

Some of my photos were taken in June – meaning that the time inprint on the photos of 5:45 am was accurate. The sun comes up early in Michigan at that time of year. The sun’s allure is pretty strong to get me up at 5:30 to catch those first rays of gold.

I had great fun watching some swans on a small inland lake doing their equivalent of our morning shower. Look for the feathers floating on the water as they preen.