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.

Living in the Age of COVID-19: 4/19/2020

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A Spring Evening View in Michigan

We have anguished over the decision of when would be the best time to travel from our winter home in southern Florida to our summer home in southern Michigan. After talking with a friend who drove from Florida to Michigan a week ago, we decided that we could do it safely and we are ready. I have begun the process of packing up half-finished quilt projects to finish up north, have put away my sewing machine, and am starting to sort through and organize the small piles of papers and books, some to leave here and some to take with us. I’ve even begun the difficult task of deciding what clothes to leave and which to take north. There is a sense of peace in making order and getting ready to leave in a week.

My life seems to be characterized by a huge and constant sense of disconnect. I watch the news on TV throughout the day and see how communities are being devastated by the virus and people are loosing loved ones. I see the suffering of health care workers who aren’t able to physically protect themselves because PPE is in such short supply while at the same time have to help people die who are separated from families. Health care workers trained to save lives have to live with the knowledge that refrigerated trailers are sitting outside holding the overflow bodies, the bodies of someone’s loved one that can’t be claimed.  I watch journalists trying to bring us facts of sickness and death in nursing homes around the country and wonder how they deal with the weeks of emotional battering they have endured from looking for and making sense of human suffering without having a melt-down on camera.

And I feel a disconnect as I live my life with just some frustrating inconveniences, that’s all, just some inconveniences like not being able to go to our favorite restaurants or getting together with friends to play cards and laugh and eat snacks. Inconveniences like not being able to get a hair cut, exercise at the gym, or go to my favorite fabric stores. I go outside and see blue skies, spend a little time in the pool talking with friends as I exercise at a safe distance from others, and no one I know is in immediate danger unless they choose to put themselves there. None of my inconveniences are life threatening, in fact they are only inconveniences to me because I want to do certain things – going without isn’t a matter of life and death. I think about how my life with all its inconveniences is a thousand time better than most of the world’s population on their best days. There is a disconnect, a lack of congruence, between my daily lived existence and the carnage that the COVID-19 virus is causing across our world. I sometimes feel like I can’t get my head around what is happening.

But I know that I am getting my head around it because I am in a constant state of fear, of fight or flight. I am so in tune to social distancing that watching commercials on TV causes anxiety because the people on the screen are way too close. I feel the dread of contagion, of death. This reaction makes me laugh, but I know my fear is no laughing matter. It is real and appropriate because I am old, my husband is old, and most of my friends are old, even our children are getting old. If we get sick there is a greater likelihood of dying than of recovering. Usually I don’t embrace fear because I make decision that keep me safe, but with this virus I am keeping my fear active because I need it to stay safe while a virus that isn’t understood or controlled is knocking at my door. I need to keep fear close and active so that I don’t do something stupid that will lead to panic. Only when our government produces more testing and tracking and isolating of those who are carriers will I start to let my fear relax.

In the mean time I am going to continue to socially isolate myself and take precautionary measures even if government officials decide to put the economy ahead of saving human lives. I have so much to say about this but most of it isn’t nice or appropriate to say out loud. So right now I will think about safely getting some necessary provisions and get out some of the quilt squares I have packed to take home. I want to cut them down an inch so that they are better proportioned for the wall hanging they are destined to become.

Please, please stay safe and put aside your own needs if getting those needs met endanger others. It won’t be forever and in the grand scheme of things even two years isn’t much over your whole lifetime. If I can live with inconveniences for a year or two at my age, so can you. And all of us, together, can become creative in helping those who have lost incomes make it through. Jim and I will be using our government check to support our local food bank. What can you do to help yourself and others? We can do this, together, but at a safe distance!

 

Very Cold & Snow

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I woke to bone-chilling cold and a bit of snow on the ground. The sun, before being seen, announced its presence by coloring wisps of pale pink clouds. As the sun continued to rise, the light-floating clouds lost their color against the thin blue of the winter cold sky. The clouds seemed anemic after shedding the weight of the snow they had been carrying.

I sat in my favorite reading chair in my small room listening to the silence. I am familiar with the silence of cold and snow, and this silent cold seeped through the windowpanes to my right, not respecting the boundary between outside and in. The silence of inside was punctuated by the clinks and clunks of the heat ducts as they rested between attempts to push back the cold. I know when it is more-than-cold outside because that cold has more power than any form of heat but the sun. And soon the cold joined forces with a wind that howled and growled around the corner of the house and onto the porch to overpower the promise of sun-warmth. Late morning we ventured out into the battle in an attempt to say we wouldn’t stop our life for nature’s display of brutal strength, but we were humbled.

In the dawning-day hours, though, I enjoyed the silence of the tempered cold as I sat in my chair by the east-facing window. I held my warm mug of chi tea between my hands and against my chest so the warmth seeped into my soul. As I sipped, letting the tingle of spices and softness of cream linger on my tongue, I watched the white light of morning sun, softened through slatted blinds, drift across purple wall and artwork, lamp and bookcase – illuminating memories of a life lived with joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, pain and pleasure, brokenness and redeeming love.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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I found this photo from a few years ago of a place we sometimes had breakfast on sunny Florida winter mornings. I am fighting the deep grey feeling that comes from our deep grey winter days now that we are in Michigan for the holidays. I’ve been working on culling out photos that aren’t interesting or there are multiples of due to downloading from storage when I bought a new laptop – or maybe I was inept at creating my filing system in Lightroom. I’ve been focusing on Florida photos, hoping the sunshine will brighten my spirits. They do, but not for long. During Michigan winter I have to fight the desire to hibernate.

We are working our way into our Michigan schedule of exercising at the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Once or twice a week we motivate ourselves by going out to our favorite place, The Wooden Spoon – or “The Spoon” for breakfast. On our drive there today Jim was saying how much easier it is to go exercise when we are in Florida. I knew what he meant but he continued – “you know, putting on a heavy winter coat over multiple layers and finding gloves and being stiff from the cold.”

We walked into “The Spoon” and our favorite table by the window and across from the kitchen was open. Before sitting down I walked to the next table where a regular group of family and friends sit every morning. We laughed about my jug of maple syrup that we take in for our pecan pancakes, we laughed about the map I drew on their table that extended off the right edge and up Don’s shirt, we laughed about all the layers I had on – until I said that I better sit down before I get myself in trouble. I guess the warmth and joy of relationship and conversation doesn’t care if the sky is grey outside. Maybe all the shared pieces of ourselves and our laughter brightened the room.

Jana and Theresa don’t ask if we want coffee, one of them just brings it when we sit down, pouring two mugs and sitting the carafe between us. They have learned what we like so they bring a bowl of just flavored creamers. Then we experience the pure joy of that first sip of coffee as we hold the warm mugs in our cold hands. We sit in silence as we sip and refill and sip, listening to snippets of conversation from the big round table next to ours. This is where the old guys come and go throughout the morning, greeting each other by name. “Sam got a new trailer…” “…kids coming?” “…left that damn think right next to…” “…look at the size of those horns…” Sometimes one of them will direct a question or comment to someone passing by, most of the time the conversation volleys within the invisible but permeable boundary that encircles them. Our usual order of two eggs over medium, whole wheat toast, and a short stack of pecan pancakes with no syrup comes and we split it up so each of us gets one of each. We talk about how it is the best breakfast we have ever had. Jim fills our cups again and we discuss the errands we need to run after we go to exercise. We fill up on the comfort and good will that is around us, in no hurry to leave. As I look out the window at the grey sky, I think “life is good.”

On the Cusp of the Canadian Rockies

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I went out before breakfast to record this moment in time – not very early but still it shows how important it is to me. After close to a week of looking at prairie land in North Dakota (US), Manitoba, and Saskatchewan we began to see some rolling farmland and even uncultivated land in Alberta. Once we we got through Edmonton the hills got steeper and longer and there were forests.

Now we are camping on the edge of Jasper National Park of the Canadian Rockies. The photo above is from our campground and we will be exploring this part of the Canadian Rockies for the next few days before we head south to other parts of the Rockies.

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Drives are long in the Canadian Rockies, probably because the mountains are BIG. We have been here before, about 16 years ago, about I don’t remember them like I am seeing them now. This may be because of my poor memory but it could also be because a whole lot of water has gone under my bridge in this time and I am a different person, seeing the world in a different way.

We drove the Yellowhead Highway between Hinton, where we were camping, and Jasper several time and each time the mountains looked different. On each drive we pulled over so I could take more photos of mountains and lakes.

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There are so many trails in the mountains, trails that enticed me, made me wish I was younger. My last long mountain hike was up Mt. Robson to a turquoise mountain lake for lunch on a picnic table – that was 16 years ago before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia that has sapped my energy and seems to weaken my muscles.

On this trip another trail pulled me in and that story is coming. Stay tuned.