What a Beautiful World This Is

A Beautiful World

 

I’ve been swamped in pessimism lately; pessimism that threatens to become cynicism.  The problem is that I don’t want to be either a pessimist or a cynic, but I thought that all the evidence I was seeing or hearing about the world today suggested that pessimism was justified.  Is it?  Even if it is justified, would it be possible to somehow escape the clutches of pessimism?

I talked to my good friend Nick, the potter and bartender.  He wisely pointed out that pessimism leads nowhere and produces nothing except despair.  He helped me realize that even though intellectually I was wallowing in pessimism, I’m living as if I were an optimist – doing new things, seeking new challenges, always trying to develop my skills and educate myself.

Then, I stumbled across three things this morning.

First was Andrew Sullivan’s weekly long read in the New York magazine, “Trump’s First Year Has Been a Disaster. Here’s Why I Have Hope.”  Sullivan points out that “so many . . . indicators in the world are remarkably good right now.”

In a similar vein, Kevin Drum, who blogs for Mother Jones, posted this morning:  “I’m Just a Big Ol’ Optimist About the Future of America Under Donald Trump.”  Kevin starts

I’ve been meaning to weigh in on the latest raft of pieces about the decline of American democracy, the decline of Western liberalism, the decline of globalism, and the decline of everything else in the era of Trump. In a nutshell, I’m far more optimistic than most of the people writing about this. Unfortunately, I haven’t really thought the whole thing through rigorously enough to make a little essay out of it.

Actually, you might consider that good news. However, I do want to lay down a few markers. Here they are:

Read both these articles for welcome counterbalance to the doom and gloom in much of today’s news.  (Note that neither article is by a Trump or Republican loyalist.)

My other stumble this morning was on YouTube where I stumbled on The Artist Series, videos produced by The Art of Photography.  They are each about fifteen minutes long and are interviews with outstanding photographers.  I watched the one with Keith Carter.  Carter talks about the death of his wife at the end of an illness.  Her last words after looking out the window of their home from her death-bed were “What a Beautiful World This Is.”

After watching that video, how can one possibly remain a pessimist, much less a cynic?

 

2018: Waiting For a Change

Happy New Year 2018

First, check out these songs:

A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

Waiting On the World To Change – John Mayer

People Get Ready – The Impressions

The Times They Are a Changin’ – a Dylan song beautifully sung by Tracy Chapman

then consider:

Care more for what you do than what you have

Love not hate

Respect all other human beings, no qualifications

Nurture our planet, its air, water, soil, plants, and all its inhabitants

Observe the Golden Rule; it works

Change is gonna come from each one of us.  As Red Green would say, “We’re all in this together.”  Stay positive and keep the faith.

Happy New Year and best wishes to all during 2018.

Left Hand Turns

A few years ago I took a photo of two, left-hand-turn signs in a field of fresh snow against a cloudless blue sky.  It’s one of my favorite photos.  In the intervening years, left-hand-turn signs have continued to grab my attention until now I have a small gallery of such photos.

No Left Turn

 

 

A Dark Wood

The day before yesterday I finished “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the scary thriller by Ruth Ware*.  Yesterday I unexpectedly found myself in a dark wood.

My hike took longer than expected, and I forgot that daylight savings time ended recently.  It gets dark very early these days.

So I’m trudging through a dark wood.  There is absolutely no wind, and no creatures are stirring, not even a mouse.  They have all gone south or into hibernation for the winter or have bedded down for the evening.  I can hear a jet far up in the sky but nothing else.  It’s actually a beautiful evening.  More than once I stop to enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the color left behind by the setting sun, color that shows brightly in the crisp, clear evening air.

I was in the Dunnville Bottoms in the floodplain of the Chippewa River in Western Wisconsin.  Here are some scenes from the dark, dark woods in the bottoms, mostly oak forests with many old, gnarly, spooky oaks.

 

 


I thought the book was neither scary nor thrilling, just an average, somewhat entertaining who-done-it.

 

 

Gloomy Weather

A paraphrase:

There´s no sun up in the sky
Gloomy weather
Since my gal and I ain´t together
Keeps raining all of the time
Oh, yeah
Gloom and misery everywhere
Gloomy weather, gloomy weather*
Expert photographers advise when the weather is gloomy, make gloomy photographs.  Here are some from the last few days.  (PS., it’s finally sunny today, cold but sunny.  There are high thin clouds so the sun is not strong, but a weak sun is better than no sun at all.)

 

* Lyrics from Stormy Weather written in 1933 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler and since covered many, many times.

It’s Not Supposed to Snow!

It was only October 27th, just a few weeks after the fall equinox, but it started snowing as I sat at my kitchen table eating breakfast.  I’m usually in a torpor at that time of the morning, but when, after a half hour, the scene outside my windows looked like the scene in the photo below, I decided I had to get out with my camera.  The results are farther down.  I only got slightly soaked.  It was heavy, wet snow, windy and cold, but I had fun which was my objective.

Outside My Window

 

Aging Disgracefully

St. Croix Islands Wildlife Preserve

Who wants to age gracefully?  Not me.  Old folks just wanna’ have fun.

I sure do, but my doctor suggests that I have morning depression.*  That means I feel wretched in the morning, but if I’m lucky I’ll perk up later in the day.  By the time bedtime rolls around, just like a toddler I don’t want to go to bed; I want to stay up late.

When I woke up this morning, I “was stiff and sore and grumpy.  It felt as though rigor mortis was getting an early start on me.  Sleeping for eight hours is enough to make anything go numb.  Anything that still had feeling to begin with.  Worse yet, there was not a drop of Diet Coke to be found anywhere.  I needed to pee again.   I’m old and have a bladder the size of a lima bean.  Don’t get old.  If Peter Pan shows up, just go.”**

So what do I do in the morning?  I’m not sure I remember.  I know I eat breakfast and check the latest news on the internet.  (Tip for morning depressives:  Never read the latest news in the morning.  You will end up with absolutely no hope.  I of course always read the news in the morning.)

My doctor prescribed light therapy.  I got a light box a few days ago, but it still sits unopened in the box it came in.  I’m too depressed in the morning to open the box much less set up the light.  I’ll do it some night when I am more energetic and haven’t drunk too much beer.

I’ll finish this wretched post by quoting two of my heroes who I’ve quoted before and will likely quote again.

What?  Me worry.    – Alfred E. Newman

Keep on truckin’        – R. Crumb


* In case you were wondering, morning depression (not to be confused with morning sickness or associated with pregnancy, something I’m not likely to experience, being sixty-nine years old and the wrong gender ) is also known as diurnal depression, diurnal variation of depressive symptoms or diurnal mood variation.  I’ll stick with morning depression.

** All quotes are by Sheldon Horowitz, the eighty-two year old protagonist of the novel Norwegian By Night.  I’ve slightly altered the quote to be in first-person and the appropriate tense.

 

 

Advice In Unexpected Places

Thank You For Being Late

Thomas Friedman’s recent book, Thank You For Being Late, is in the Globalization/Political Economy genre according the the ISBN code sticker on the back of the book.  One usually doesn’t look in such books for suggestions about creativity, but that is what I found in the first chapter, also titled Thank You For Being Late.

Creativity involves having ideas and then doing something with them whether you turn those ideas into – in Friedman’s case, a column in the New York Times,  or in my case a photograph.  Friedman says

. . . a column idea [or an idea for a photograph] can spring from anywhere:  a newspaper headline that strikes you as odd, a simple gesture by a stranger, the moving speech of a leader, the naive question of a child, the cruelty of a school shooter, the wrenching tale of a refugee.  Everything and anything is raw fodder for creating heat or light.

How can one nurture the ability to recognize ideas when they appear?

. . . you have to be constantly reporting and learning – more so today that ever.  Anyone who falls back on tried-and-true formulae or dogmatisms in a world changing this fast is asking for trouble.  Indeed, as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and to synthesize more perspectives.

Friedman paraphrases and then quotes Lin Wells of the National Defense University.

. . . it is fanciful to suppose that you can opine about or explain this world by clinging to the inside or outside of any one rigid explanatory box or any single disciplinary silo.  Wells describes three ways of thinking about a problem:  “inside the box”, “outside the box,”, and “where there is no box.”  The only sustainable approach to thinking today about problems, he argues, “is thinking without a box”.

Friedman continues:

. . . it means having no limits on your curiosity or the different disciplines you might draw on to appreciate how [the world] works.  [A person needs to be] radically inclusive.

As a photographer, thinking without a box means not being constrained by accepted norms of beauty or of what makes a compelling photograph.  It means not being constrained by the rules that are trotted out by the experts who then tell us to freely ignore them.  It means not being overly influenced by the latest hot stuff on Instagram or what is winning contests on ViewBug.  It means shooting from the heart.  As Friedman says, “What doesn’t come from the heart will never enter someone  else’s heart.

For me it means walking down an alley behind the stores that present their trendy, polished facades to the main street.  In the alley is where you find the unexpected and serendipitous examples of unexpected beauty.  Below are recent examples of beauty I found in alleys.

Side View Of Galloway Grill
Galloway Grill – Side View

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sundown On the Chippewa

Yesterday around sunset I was at what I consider the most beautiful vantage point on the Chippewa River, or at least it was last night.

Panorama From the North Bank Facing South

I was also on the exposed bedrock along the river near Jim Falls, Wisconsin.  The river has carved out numerous potholes.  I went there yesterday to photograph the potholes.

 

 

 

 

 

Cow In the River

There's a cow in the river.
Having a drink I suppose.
It would be pleasant,
standing in the river and having a drink,
instead of being on this old, rusty bridge.

The river is actually Verdigre Creek just before it flows into the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska.  The bridge is the 885 Road bridge.

 

 

 

Old Omaha

I spent the afternoon wandering around The Old Market in Omaha, Nebraska, camera in hand.  I ended up the day with some sunset photos on the railroad tracks in Columbus, Nebraska.  Here are the best shots of the day.

In Omaha

In Columbus

Sunset Over the Railroad Tracks
Clouds Above the Elevator

 

Experimenting With Flowers

Yellow and Blue

I’ve been experimenting with new things to do with photos of flowers.  Here are some of the results of my experiments.

 

 

Stumbling Through the Corn

I went out yesterday to photograph the Chippewa River in Wisconsin.  I was distracted by the corn fields growing in the bottomlands of the river.  Here are some corn field photos, taken either in the field or on the edge of the field.

 

A Week’s Worth

I made two day trips this week, one to explore the East Fork Of the Chippewa River in Wisconsin, the other a drive through the rolling hills southeast of Independence in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin.

Trempealeau County

East Fork Of the Chippewa River and Things Found Along the Way

One Shot From a Stillwater Parking Lot

Transmission Towers

All Creatures Small and Smaller

Yesterday I was looking for wildflowers.  There were none to be found.  I guess it’s still too early even though the last few weeks have been warm.  The only things I could find that had new growth were big (red maples or willows) or very small.  The small things were mosses and lichens which I find very hard to identify.  I’m satisfied if I can correctly state that something is, in fact, a moss.  The mosses are sending out what I think are called sporophytes.  It had snowed the night before, so much of the foliage – dead or alive – was covered in tiny droplets of melt water.  One had to get down on one’s knees or belly in order to examine or photograph such tiny things.  I was wet by the time I finished.  Luckily, the sun came out later in the day, it warmed up, and I escaped death by hypothermia.

sporophytes and Drops Of Snow Melt

I think this may be a small puffball that survived the winter relatively intact although it looks like it “puffed.”  It was in pure sand.  There were more puffballs in the sand.  They grew only as individuals plants spaced a yard or so away from their neighbors.  All dead of course.

Exploded Puffball

 

More stuff found within an inch or two from the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

Something Odd In the Forest

What Is This?

I spent the afternoon at the Fish Lake State Wildlife Area, a typical afternoon on the trails and in the woods except for the odd object I discovered on the forest floor, no more than a few inches high but looking very malevolent.

 

Bottoms and Barrens

On the Old Railroad (now bike) bridge over the Chippewa River

I’ve been exploring the Chippewa River this spring and late winter in the stretch of river between Eau Claire and the Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin.  Much of the terrain along this part of the river is barrens such as the Dunnville Barrens and bottoms such as the Dunnville Bottoms.  And yes, a bottoms can be a barrens.

Bottoms, as in bottomlands, are “low-lying land along a watercourse”  [Merriam-Webster.com].  Barrens are “level or slightly rolling land, usually with a sandy soil and few trees, and relatively infertile.”  [dictionary.com.]  So bottomland can be barren but not necessarily, and barrens can be on bottomland, but not necessarily.

This is part of the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area within the Dunnville Bottoms.

This is a fun area to explore.  It encompasses the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area, Dunnville Bottoms, the Dunnville State Wildlife Area, and the Dunnville State Rec Area and Sandbar (great for swimming).  The Red Cedar State Trail runs along its southern edge, crosses the river on an old railroad bridge, and ends at its intersection with the Chippewa River State Trail.  The Chippewa River State Trail runs along the river between Eau Claire and Durand.

 

 

Universal Law Of Geography

Sundown On the River Bottoms (1)

I mapped my hike before setting out today.  According to Google Maps, it would be 2000 feet from the parking lot to the river, 2000 back.  However, the universal law of geography kicked in not long after I started the hike.  I learned this rule in college on the first day of Geography 101.  The rule is that in nature, the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line.  There are always intervening ravines, impenetrable thickets, fierce and angry thorns, deep woods, wet ground, mean bulls (happened to me once, I swear).  Columbus ran into a continent.  Don’t forget the next-ridge corollary to the universal law.  When you finally reach the ridge you’ve been straining for, there is always one more ridge to go.

The universal law kicked in today.  I knew  I would be hiking over level ground and open fields with a band of trees along the river.  Should have been easy, even for me in my febrile old age.

Later:  I am now seated at the bar of a Mexican restaurant, an oasis for an exhausted, muscle-sore hiker trying to recover from what ended up a challenge.  Even so, I’m glad I went and finished the hike.  I captured some decent photos for my project on the Chippewa River.  Here is another universal law I learned in college but not in the classroom:  a cold beer (in this case Dos Equis Lager) never tastes so good as when one is tired and dry.  It tastes great and you can tell yourself that you’ve earned your beer, and the next one, and . . .

Here are some other photos from the hike in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area southwest of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

 

Don’t Lose That Idea

Brain Pickings

I copied the following from Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s fine website:

The current of the river of life moves us. Awareness of life, beauty and happiness is the current of the river.

Agnes Martin in Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances as quoted by Maria Popova in the Brain Pickings weekly newsletter, 03/26/17

I had been fiddling with the idea of putting together a talk on creativity.  My thoughts weren’t very serious, more like daydreaming or fantasizing – who would want to listen to me talk about creativity?.  I’ve been thinking differently since reading the above.  I am 68, soon to be 69, years old.  I have a lot of experience in and knowledge about creativity that I am beginning to realize might be more than for most people.  I’ve studied creativity and am deeply engaged in creative activities.  Why not try to share?  I and I suspect a lot of others, tend to denigrate my own skills and creativity.  I have no credentials in photography other than a ribbon or two from one year at the county fair.  No art or photography degrees, no professional experience, no fame, fortune or celebrity.  I also come from Scandinavian stock and a Lake Wobegon upbringing, so I’m supposed to practice modesty and be self-effacing.

Enough of that!  I think a key to creativity is being able to recognize, accept, and do something with one’s ideas.  Don’t forget them or neglect them.  Some will be not worth pursuing, but some will be and may turn into something wonderful.  Carry a notebook or use a note-taking app on your smart phone.  I use a Samsung Galaxy Note that is great for note taking.

Consider a voice recorder.  Last week while in the midst of a two-hour drive, I was awash in ideas for blog posts.  Perhaps some were good ideas.  I had a blog post mapped out in my head, a post that would have had a lot of personal meaning for me.  The heart of the post was to have been a song lyric.  By the time I got home, I only vaguely remembered the lyrics.  I think the song was by Emmylou Harris.  I read the lyrics of dozens of her songs and could not find what I remember.  I eventually drafted the blog post, but it remains unposted because I CANT FIND THE SONG.  Drat!  If I had had a voice recorder I could have recorded the relevant information in 30 seconds.  I could have pulled over to the side of the road, but I was tired after a long day and didn’t.

Don’t lose Your Idea. It May Be a Good One.

The moral of this short story?  I lost an idea that could have been polished into something good because I did not record the idea.

Parnell Prairie Preserve

I went out in my car around 4:00 PM.  I wanted to try to walk to the Arcola Railroad bridge from the Wisconsin side to photograph it.  No luck; there were no-parking signs along the road and the railroad right-of-way was posted with no-trespassing signs.  I could see the bridge through the bare trees.  It looked very high and impressive.  The branches were too thick for photography so I never got a photo of the bridge.

Parnell Prairie Preserve

I turned to Plan B.  I didn’t actually have a Plan B, so I extemporized.  The Parnell Prairie Preserve is just a few miles from where I was.  I’ve driven past the preserve many times and drove into the parking lot once but never stopped.  It didn’t look very impressive from the road.  So I went to the Preserve and discovered a sweet spot.  Nice trails.  Very pleasant.

There was an old, decaying very large tree trunk sawed into pieces near the road.  It looked like it had been there, decaying and moldering into the earth, for a long time.  All the things that grow on or around a decomposing tree stump provide lots of subjects for photography:  vines, lichen, moss, fungi, leaves, stems, thorns.  Much texture and color.  The color isn’t as showy as in wildflower season but it’s there if you look closely.  Tiny, bright red things on stalks held over green moss.  I don’t know what they were, but the red objects shone out in spite of their tininess.  Purple and red vines.  Old, decaying wood of a deep orange.

Most of the preserve is a rolling meadow.  Last year’s meadow grasses are still standing and are a fine golden, yellow-orange color.

The red stems of sumac with buds just waiting for some sun and warm weather.  A cluster of berries ranging in color from bright red to golden brown.  The silhouettes of bare trees and pine trees on a hilltop.

 

 

Wrinkles, Discolorations, Blemishes

I enjoy photographing botanical subjects that are past their prime.  Flowers, leaves, other things that are starting to show their age; wrinkles, discolorations, blemishes; such things can add character to beauty.  Perhaps I have this penchant because I am (this is hard to admit) beyond my prime and have wrinkles and age spots aplenty.  At this time of the year in my neck of the woods, everything outside is past its prime. Everything is dead.*   This morning I bought primroses at the grocery store.  Some of the flowers are starting to wilt.  I thought the wilt spots add interesting new color and texture to the already beautiful flowers.

Wilting Primrose
Wilting Primrose

* A paraphrase of Charles Dickens from David Copperfield:

I looked at her earnestly.

‘When you came away from home at the end of the vacation,’ said Mrs. Creakle, after a pause, ‘were they all well?’ After another pause, ‘Was your mama well?’

I trembled without distinctly knowing why, and still looked at her earnestly, making no attempt to answer.

‘Because,’ said she, ‘I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning your mama is very ill.’

A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down my face, and it was steady again.

‘She is very dangerously ill,’ she added.

I knew all now.

‘She is dead.’

 

Stumbling Around In the Woods

Trail On the Ridge
Trail On the Ridge

I wrote this post a year ago, March 21, 2016.  For some reason, I forgot to publish it.  Better late than never.

I went to the Wind In the Pines Nature Park yesterday.  As has happened before in the park, I was unable to follow the trails.  The trail map in the parking lot showed that to follow the route I chose, I should go left at the first fork and left again at the next T-intersection.  I didn’t find either of those things before coming to the end of the trail.  I tried to follow what seemed an obvious alternative.  The alternative was a very faint trail, but judging by the terrain I thought I was at least in the right area.  The trail faded in and out but I was always able to find some sort of trail, sometimes very faint.  I eventually came to an easy-to-follow trail marked by stone cairns.

Lo and behold, I came out in a different parking lot in a different natural and scientific area that I never knew existed.  That explains why so many signs I saw were facing the wrong direction.  The area I stumbled upon is the Falls Creek State Natural Area managed by the Minnesota DNR.  By the end of my hike, I hadn’t taken very many steps, but I ended the days with around 40 floors of vertical movement according to my Fitbit, most of it in crossing and re-crossing what I think was the same gulch in the forest, one that carried a very nice, small stream.

Most of the better photos I took were of small things.  I was often on my hands and knees or sitting to get close to the subject.