Mist beyond the window screened shadows yet to come and I heard soft breathing of one love Air so cool so wet all very like touch of death A distant raven cried against the coming night and hushed the crickets chatter The wind was gone rain pooled in small but never bottom puddles The candle long since snuffed seemed to question, "Will Heaven be this still?" A thought whispered through my mind If only the world could keep this peace May 27, 1968 Dedicated to Mick Scarpelli aka Mick Scott (Herbert Francis Scarpelli) 8/19/1945 - 2/13/2017
The last three photos were taken at the headwaters of the White River, Wautoma Wetlands Park in Waushara County, Wisconsin. The second is Durward’s Glen, north of Baraboo, Wisconsin. The first is Fountain Lake, at John Muir Memorial Park between Montello and Portage, Wisconsin. Now named Ennis Lake, this was the boyhood home of the famed environmentalist.
Not much to say. I’ve been in a big funk lately. It’s been much too hot and humid to play nature photographer. Even cutting blooms and twigs and setting up still lifes, no interest. I really think the muses, Old Eph and Muriel, have left again. Probably down under, enjoying the winter.
I celebrated another birthday this past weekend. I’m always grateful to be topside. We drove to the Shakedown, a vintage car show at the EAA air museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. A lot of pretty old restored jalopies and rods to match my age group. The husband managed to recognize and name most of them. He still held fond memories of youthful escapades, and teen pranks of converting the trunk to a beer cooler.
We’d attended better car shows, so the fun actually started over at the hangers where some of the vintage airplane collection is stored. That was far more interesting. Now it was getting fun. I found a few photo ops I thought I’d play with using Photoshop plugins. I converted to black and white, retro, textures and even some grunge. I used DXO B & W for the airplane and statute, and the rest used combos from Topaz. I threw out constraints, should haves, and must dos. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did playing with them.
When we look up into the branches of the trees on property we see birds. They’re also on the ground, in the shrubs, sitting on the sturdy stems of prairie plants. We garden for birds, providing food, natural shelter, and running water. They come to us for meals, to train their fledglings, and to bathe. This time of year, even natural enemies set aside their differences. Our stream will have three or four bird species bathing together. In spring, they defend their territory, and only hang with their own kind. It’s like school kids, the 3rd graders don’t get to play with the middle schoolers. Now, the field is open to all.
When I was a child, full of exuberance and heady ideas and more than one shattered dream, my tiny Hungarian grandmother sat me on a painted kitchen chair and said in her heavily accented English, “When you’re feeling down, remember take time to look up, and when you’re feeling good, remember take time to look down”. Being born a city child, her words didn’t make much sense at the time. All I saw looking down were discarded cigarette butts, wads of chewing gum, and fly-blown doggie doo. The only thing I noticed when I looked up was my playmate’s mother framed in the second story window. Grandma was usually a wise woman, but in this looking request I really doubted her judgement.
It’s been over forty years since my grandmother passed away, and almost as long since I moved to rural Wisconsin. Back then, I didn’t know anything about country living, I just knew I couldn’t live another day in Chicago. There had to be a better way to live, but rural life often proved difficult. Low wages, few job choices, and frequent unemployment plagued me for several years. Being often unemployed left me a great deal of time to wander the woods beyond my tiny home, seeking solace in the quiet trees.
Depressed and frightened about my future, I listened to my grandmother’s voice as it echoed deep within my anxiety-ridden brain, “look up! ” Following its command, I saw two red- tailed hawks circling the air above me. I watched them glide along the thermals, spiraling ever smaller, finally becoming an infinitesimal speck gobbled by the greedy sunlight. My spirit soaring, I whispered to the sky my thanks to grandma.
I dallied away another day slowly driving along a narrow highway which cut through the swampy backwaters of Wisconsin’s cranberry bogs. As faster traffic whipped around me my little voice again whispered, “look!” In a long dead tree, like harbingers of better days, perched two magnificent bald eagles, sunlight shimmering on the ruffled feathers of their regal white crowns. I slowed my car, spellbound by their beauty, and I knew then that I would never again be alone, someone or something wonderful was always going to be with me.
Today,I knew what my grandmother had been asking of me. In good times or in bad, ahead of place and time, her wisdom was now appropriate in my life. With her unseen guidance I had discovered my first pale, blushing, wild rose hidden deep within spring’s new grass, within two inches of being crushed by my heavily booted foot. Later that morning, just beyond my own pointing nose, I watched a waif-like ruby-throated hummingbird flitting outside the kitchen window.
In August of my first year of discovery, perhaps drawn by the bright polish on my toenails, a monarch butterfly rested on my big toe for over an hour. Was I a rest stop on his long flight to Mexico, I wondered? By October, sitting lotus style in a late mown field, I had learned to hold my breath in gleeful anticipation of nature’s surprises. A chipmunk fearlessly scampered over and stood up to its full six-inch length. Was it issuing a challenge by coming so close, or was I in the path of his lair and he had simply not been paying attention to his surroundings. It didn’t matter, I was his audience, and he was my personal entertainment. If only I could only have read his mouse-like mind, this brave six inch black-nosed Schwarzenegger wanna-be.
One afternoon, a confused nuthatch flew down and actually perched for a brief moment on my shoulder, until my expelled breath blew him away. Several times, a field mouse has scampered across my living room rug and paused while I knelt to stroke its tiny back. It has happened so many times through the years and yet I still have no answer for it. They seem to be waiting patiently, pink nose scenting the air, while I slowly rise, grab a can, scoop them up and return them, unharmed to the yard. I like to think they know I’m here to help. I haven’t the heart to kill a mouse after stroking its back.
In November the Aurora Borealis finger-paints the midnight sky in sometimes soft, sometimes garish palettes, but they are no competition for the artistry of the dying storms of summer afternoons which dilute the colors of the setting sun into pale watercolor washes that eventually slide beneath the western horizon, pulling down a curtain of stars to twinkle till dawn.
Winter nature throws her heavy snows over the pine trees, draping laden boughs like melted candle-wax hardened over a raffia-wrapped Chianti bottle. With great snow-quilts she hushes the countryside for sleep. On rare December winter mornings following a foggy evening, I’ve found hoar-frost hugging bare twigs of willow and dead blades of goldenrod like silvered pipe-cleaners in the crisp bright air of mid-morning, stalagmite branches of tall trees held aloft like glistening fingers covered in diamond rings, teasing the value of the mere turquoise gem of the morning sky.
By choice, or by chance, country dwellers do have an advantage over city dwellers. When I take the time to look up and look down, there is usually something very beautiful awaiting my senses. Although grandmother is gone her wisdom and her priceless legacy lives on. She knew that the world was a sometimes difficult, but always beautiful place to be, if only we would all take a little extra time to look up and to look down.
Originally published in The Inditer.com c.1998. The Inditer was one of the first online ezines, long before blogs, newspapers, and what we now know as everyday life on the web. The entire collection of tne The Inditer is archived in the Library and Archives of Canada
We live adjacent to a shrub carr, a wetland edged by red-twig dogwood. Half our back yard is planted in mid-western prairie plants and grasses. Another portion is a rock garden and water feature for the birds to enjoy. The first happy signal everything is going to be okay, after a winter’s slumber underneath layers of oak leaves and pine needles, are the budding trees we planted. Apples we never manage, crab apples and cherries for the birds. Almost everything that grows here ends up in front of my cameras.
This time of year, my favorite toy is is my old Olympus E510. It has a lot of mileage on it. A couple of years ago, I started playing with old film lenses on my camera. I fell in love with the crazy blown out bokeh of a cheap vintage Russian Pentacon 100/2.8 that I always shoot wide open. I know there are others out there that make wonderful bubble effects, but they don’t fit my budget right now. One of these days, I’ll have to try this switched to the camera on B & W mode.
My past makes the challenges of daily life abstract. There is never clarity.