Winter's Last Hurrah . . .
. . . I hope.
If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. ~Nadine Stair
We must have heaven, at least a little once in a while, in order to navigate earth.
My husband and I bought ourselves a fountain for our anniversary. I am creating a haven, and I thought it would add to the nirvana atmosphere. It certainly does. There are many other components of a haven, too, though; some can be real and some can be pretend. What you can't actually obtain can be summoned from memory or imagination or books once read long ago.
When I was a kid, my haven was my suburban back yard. It was a whole world to me, and the rabbits and the crows and the Queen Anne's Lace were my best friends.
Now I have a fountain and bird feeders and wind chimes and chickens. Yup, chickens. That part is hard to explain. You have to watch them poking around in their silly way to understand how they contribute to the bliss factor.
You have to create bliss in order to withstand the grieving, when it comes.
But bliss is it's own reward, too - worth doing just for the doing of it. Some say that paradise is a garden (the Koran) and some say it's a library (Jorge Luis Borges). What if it's a garden where you can read?
I like to say "create your bliss" rather than "follow your bliss", as Joseph Campbell did. To follow something means that it exists somewhere else, away from you. And you might never find it. If you create it, it's yours. Always. Now, and in memory forever.
Spring reminds us to remember to create our bliss. In fact, it forces itself upon us with a big sloppy kiss. The Greeks and Romans and Norse all held wild bacchanalian fertility festivals to honor the power of Spring. They understood that Spring, and the deities associated with the season, controlled mighty, far-reaching kingdoms. The ancients said that all the gods bow before Venus. That is how important love and flowers and sex and seeds are to life, and to living.
Many cultures continue to celebrate Spring fetes and fairs and holidays today. Even grim Soviet Russia celebrated May Day. I think these Spring happiness parties are so ubiquitous around the world because they are so necessary.
As a people, we have gotten away from this, to our detriment. We expect ourselves to just keep grinding away in our offices. I don't think it works. It just makes us crazy. Like if we just keep repeating these autonomic motions, somehow we'll forget how much we want to be outside.
The words "haven" and "heaven" must derive from similar roots. We can surely survive without an actual, present heaven - we're doing it every day we're alive. But can we survive without a haven? A port, a refuge, a slice of goodness pie? Why would we want to?
So many people forget to make themselves happy.
It is tempting to think you need lots of "stuff" to make a haven. After all, I bought a fountain. It isn't truly necessary, though. All it really requires is a state of mind. Even the concrete and asphalt can be beautiful in the spring.
You probably don't need an actual fountain to find your bliss. Maybe all you need is a fragment of lyric in your head:
On a mountain
The truth is, I don't know what it is that you need to create your bliss. Yours might be different than mine.
But I do know that you must create it.
Let the Gods of Spring roll over you and have their way with you. Celebrate your surrender to all that is bigger and more beautiful and stronger than your daily existence.
Then you'll recognize heaven, when you get there.
Love the One You're With
Sometimes the best camera for the job is the one you have with you. Here is a selection of photos I took with my cell phone camera. All of them except "Stream through the Woods" were taken using the Retrocamera+ app. I'm surprised I like them so much. I think of my cell phone camera as a utilitarian thing, useful mostly for recording things for which I need a visual record, not for True Art. Maybe you don't need a "real" camera to make "real" images; my snobbery has taken a hit. None of the pictures have been manipulated beyond adding the copyright notice. I want to look at them "naked" for awhile and see how I like them over time.
Frost Ferns, A Fairy Tale
Once there was a woman who married a man who had a young daughter. The woman and the man then had a daughter together. The first daughter was pretty and kind and soft-hearted. The second daughter was stupid, lazy, ugly, and mean, and her mother knew it. So the woman hated the older girl, for existing, and for making her own daughter look bad. The woman made the man’s daughter’s life a misery. She made her do chores and housework, and slapped the girl even though she did all the work requested, while the other girl lay around and complained and ate. Finally the woman said to the man, “Get her out of my sight.” She told him to take his daughter out to the wilderness and leave her there, as it was going to be a cold night. The man hitched up the sleigh and started to cover the girl with warm blankets, but the woman was watching and he was afraid of her. He drove the little girl out beyond the safe places, and left quickly so he would not have to watch her die. When the man returned home, his wife was making food for the wake in the warm kitchen.
The girl sat in the snow and watched the moon rise. From the woods to her left, she heard crackling sounds and saw the white woman of the wood emerge from the trees. The white woman of the wood snapped her fingers and ice crystals formed on the leaves and the grasses, and the frost ferns grew up the bark of the trees. The white lady saw the girl sitting in the snow, and crackled toward her, snapping her fingers so that frost jewels and ice diamonds scattered on the ground, glittering in the moonlight.
“I am Frau Holda, the Queen of the Forest, and I make the frost ferns
grow,” she said to the daughter. She leaned over the girl, who saw that the woman’s eyes were ice blue. “Are you quite warm, little girl?” she asked, looking into the girl’s eyes.
“Oh yes, I am quite warm, thank you” said the little girl, though her
voice shook and she was afraid.
The white woman of the wood snapped all her fingers and tree limbs
splintered and crashed from the cold.
“I am Frau Holda of the Forest and I make the frost ferns grow. Are you quite warm, little one?” she asked, looming over the child. Half of her face was alive and half was dead and blue.
“Oh yes, I am very warm, thank you,” said the little girl, though she was starting to shiver.
The white woman snapped her fingers and the water in the little river
that ran through the woods froze, cracking and crackling in the
“I am Frau Holda of the Forest and I make the frost ferns grow. Are you warm, sweet child?” said the white woman, and she reached her hands towards the girl’s face.
“Oh yes, I am, thank you, for it is so beautiful here in the snow under
the moonlight,” said the girl, though her teeth chattered so she could barely
speak, and if her blood had not been salty it would have already frozen like the river.
And the white woman of the wood smiled.
“Now it is morning, go and get your daughter’s body, so we can have the funeral,” the wife told her husband. So he hitched up the sleigh and drove to the spot where he had left her.
When he returned, the first thing that came through the door of the kitchen was a giant, heavy trunk, which the man could barely move. The trunk was full of gold and silver, jewelry, and fine, rare things. Then the lovely daughter walked in, wearing a cloak of white fur, embroidered with silver and encrusted with white diamonds and gems. With it she wore a fox fur hat, with the face of the winter fox at the top, pointing forward. The fox eyes glittered blue as though still alive and watchful. Under the cloak, she wore a warm dress made of the finest, softest white wool.
“What is this?” exclaimed the woman. Upon hearing what had happened, she immediately told her own daughter to bundle up, for it would be another cold night.
“Why do I have to go? We have enough riches now,” the girl
“Shut up and do what you are told, for two fortunes are better than one,
and after that we’ll get rid of her forever,” said the woman.
So the man took the second daughter to the same wild place, and left her there.
As the moon rose, the second daughter heard the white woman of the wood approach, working her magic on the landscape.
“I am Frau Holda, Queen of the Forest, and I make the frost ferns
grow. Are you warm, little girl?” asked the woman.
“Of course I’m not warm,” snapped the girl. “It’s freezing out here.
Now give me my fortune so I can go home.”
“I am Frau Holda, Queen of the Forest, and I make the frost ferns
grow. Are you warm, dear child?” asked the white woman of the wood.
“No I am not, damn it, and I want my money and my jewels so I can go
home,” said the girl.
“I am Frau Holda of the Forest and I make the frost ferns grow. Are you quite warm, dearest one?” asked the woman, and she touched the girl’s skin with her fingers and blew her cold breath across the girl’s face.
At home in the kitchen, the wife bustled about, waiting for her husband
to return with the laden sleigh and making plans for her new wealth. The little dog’s eyes sparkled blue as he barked, saying “Your daughter is dead, unwooed and unwed,” in a sing-song way. The wife slapped him, and told him to stop. “Your daughter is dead, unwooed and unwed,” sang the dog, and the wife kicked him, and screamed at him to stop. “Your daughter is dead, unwooed and unwed,” barked the dog, just as the man drove up in the sleigh.
The woman went out to bring in the loot. “Well, where is the treasure! What are you doing, you lazy brat?” she asked as she bent over the bundle on the sleigh. As she touched her daughter’s frozen face, her outsides became as cold as her insides and she fell like a hollow tree, shattering like ice on the cold hard ground.
This original story steals many nuggets of gold from German, Scandinavian, Japanese, and Russian folk tales and myths. In the old days, the long nights of winter were the traditional time for storytelling. Happy Solstice!
Copyright Amy Anna 2012
Light in my Eyes
I signed up for a workshop to photograph the Bruce Munro exhibit at Longwood Gardens. Bruce Munro is an installation artist who sculpts with light. The exhibit should not be described; it should be experienced, therefore all I will say about it is "go."
I shy away from photography workshops in general. I know for a fact from many past experiences that photography workshops, usually set up with the idea of giving photobugs an opportunity to shoot some interesting thing/place/situation/whatever, actually provide an opportunity to take lots of pictures of a whole row of photographers' butts as they jockey for the best spots right in front of the subject. All photographers' butts look exactly alike, regardless of age or gender. They take that Official Photographer Stance, bent over the tripod, and it's like a sea of endlessly repeating generic buttocks. Not being a big fan of repetitive patterns in my work, I usually skip the workshop scene.
This was different: it was after hours, it was at night, it was the Bruce Munro exhibit. Therefore, I thought I would be different, too. It would not be the usual Festival of Idiocy that is my life. I would take Great Pictures. It would be Swell.
The weather was beautiful, I was not late, I did not forget anything (like my camera), all seemed to be going great. Then I arrived, and that was when it all started to fall apart.
The idea of the workshop was that we would get to see and shoot the exhibit after dark, after all the people had gone home. And the people had all gone home. But it was not dark. It was not getting dark.
Last week was the Summer Solstice, a.k.a. the Longest Day of the Year. When it doesn't get dark until Really Really Late. So, we went to shoot the light exhibit, in the dark, on one of the seven lightest days of the year. Excellent planning on somebody's part.
Then, right at the beginning, horrors, my holga broke. It just stopped - taking - pictures. Since the Holga is a camera (well, allegedly), this presented a problem. But HA! I had brought two holgas! Because I couldn't remember what @##$@# kind of film I had loaded into either camera, so I brought them both. So for a moment it seemed that I was saved, God did not hate me, there was hope - and light- somewhere in my future! What a geek!
Allow me to explain. Bringing a Holga to a photography workshop is like showing up on the Autobahn riding a Big Wheel. And then making revving noises with your mouth. One of the four instructors for the workshop (they were all excellent, but shall remain unnamed so I hopefully don't piss them off) looked at Helga the Holga and said "what the hell is that?" Photography workshops are great places to stand around and compare equipment and talk about how long your lenses are. If you know what I mean.
In case I'm not being explicit enough, I'm saying photography workshops almost always devolve into big-penis contests.
Luckily, I have a Nikon for when I do Real Photography, so I was equipped with penis and could keep shooting. So I whipped out the penis and took some lovely photos of Longwood by daylight, since there were two hours of full light still to go for our night photography workshop. The wonderful people at Longwood thoughtfully provided a guide to help us navigate the exhibit sites we were to photograph. Our guide was very thorough. She was so thorough that I'm certain that she's in every single shot I took. I finally gave in and just started framing her up, since I figured she was going to be in every picture anyway.
Longwood is big. It allowed me to discover, as our intrepid group trouped about the grounds, that my tripod was really heavy. I looked around, as I was gasping for breath, and noticed that everybody else's tripod was about a third the diameter of mine. I decided I have the hurricane-strength tripod. Next storm we get, I'm going to put the tripod out and see which survives the hurricane better: the tripod or my house. Hey, I may carry a Holga in my holster, but my tripod is massive hardcore Triple X.
It got dark! Which was great! Woo-hoo! Except I couldn't see the controls on my cameras! Luckily, I brought a flashlight. The little flat kind, not too bright, perfect for not screwing up everybody else's night shots at a photography workshop. Like I said, I did not forget anything for this workshop! Not me!
There was no way to use it and work the camera settings at the same time. This is the kind of flashlight you have to press, on both sides, to make it light up. I could have put it in my mouth, leaving my hands free to work the camera. I could have. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I don't want to die. And I really don't want to end up on "1000 Ways to Die." I had visions of putting this thing in my mouth and going "ZZZZTTTTTTT" as I electrocuted myself with a tiny flashlight at the Longwood Gardens night photography workshop. Consider the earlier discussion about penis contests and let your mind wander. The irony is too ripe. I just don't want my obituary to read like that.
All told, I actually had a great time and got some really nice mediocre shots, which is what I went to do. They say you either have a good time or a good story, but I got lucky and had both.
There's another workshop in August, if you want to go. Don't forget your tripod!
Living under the Flyway
There are times when I suspect that I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. I have lived under one of the major appoach routes of a busy international airport for, oh, say, thirty years, give or take, and I only just noticed that the nightime flight lights make really cool patterns. Like for art and photographs and stuff. Duh!
When I have one of these Moron Moments (especially one that lasts uninterrupted for decades) I can't help but wonder what else I've been missing. What would my life be like if I could really turn on all the parts of my brain? Or even just a few more of the currently unused bits? Would I suddenly accelerate into something like the creature-planet embryo Kubrick was trying to show us at the end of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey? Or would I just be me, version 2.0? Does the moth look back on the larvae with shame, or with giggles?
Since it isn't likely to happen, I'm free to suppose that I would turn into something wonderful. Notice I have not mentioned the possiblilty that I would just become a slightly more effective sociopath. Or an even bigger pain in the ass. I could join the semi-pro ranks instead of languishing here, unappreciated, among the amateurs.
Maybe I would just take better pictures. Ah, the joys of daydreaming.
I have never been the kind of artist (or person, for that matter) who could see the beauty in the industrial, the wastelands, the dissipated, the forgotten, and the forlorn. My response over the years to the growing airport traffic above me has not been to appreciate the miracle of air travel; the ability of people to move all around the globe at will; the lights traveling across the sky like the chariots of minor gods. I have learned to block out the ever-increasing, overbearing noise. I thought it would save my sanity.
I have been listening to all the Spring birdsong, trying to recognize the different birds, and I have been having a lot of trouble maintaining my focus. I realized that I automatically shut down my listening apparatus when the planes go overhead. Which is often.
I have chosen a willful, selective deafness, and closed my brain to a piece of reality. At what cost?
What other beauties have I been missing?
The Pleasures of January
Winter skies and long January nights provide some of the best stargazing of the year. There is so much to see, with or without binoculars or telescope. Even in light-polluted areas, Orion alone provides plenty of bright stars – and a nebula - to appreciate.
One of the year’s best meteor showers just ended (alas, cloudy for me), Jupiter is sailing across the night sky, and there’s a nifty planetary line-up at the end of this month. Check out www.stardate.org or www.stargazing.net for help finding these and other celestial happenings. Or, if you prefer, just look up.
My nephew got a telescope for Christmas, and the adults have been having as much fun with it as he has. We went out recently and looked at Jupiter’s Galilean moons (Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa) circling the planet. Even with his beginner’s telescope, we thought we could detect faint impressions of stripes on Jupiter's surface.
It’s a cliché that looking up at the vastness of space makes you feel small. Actually, there’s a much more immediate lesson than that.
Imagine with me: you go out and set up the telescope. Any telescope. Even binoculars on a tripod. You pick something to look at: the moon, Jupiter, a bright star. You get it in focus. Oooh, aaaah. Get it in focus again. And again. And again.
No matter what you choose to look at, it just . . . keeps . . . moving . . . away.
It can be really disorienting to watch the moon dance away from your viewfinder and realize that you don’t feel a 17,000 mph headwind.
I cannot imagine growing up on a world that is flat, the single focus of a lone god, one solitary eye in the sky watching down on a lonely little planet. I grew up watching people walk on the moon, machines roll around on Mars, and the tally of other planets rapidly close on one thousand, including a small handful that might be just like ours. We have watched comets come and go and crash into Jupiter and survive circling the sun. We have witnessed a supernova. We can no longer afford the luxury of small vision.
Have you ever seen an orrery? An orrery is one of those charmingly steampunk models of the solar system, where all the planets rotate around a facsimile sun, using gears and wheels and bicycle chains. Yet I have never seen one so accurate that the orrery itself spins through the room, which is also spinning through space . . . .
You can catch a small piece of that motion. Set up your telescope on a spot, any spot, in the sky. Don’t move it. And watch the universe go screaming by. It’s the opposite of the normal way to sky watch. But illuminating. Like a window on space and time and speed.
One doesn’t need fancy equipment to read the spinning sky. The photographs accompanying this entry were taken with one of the world’s simplest cameras, the Holga. I just picked a spot, aimed, and took about a 40-minute exposure. Like magic, the path of the twirling stars appeared on film, like one of those diagrams for dancing that show where the feet go.
For all this whirring-turning-spinning through space, the perfect metaphor for change, the stars also teach of constancy. The ancients looked up at the same constellations we see every night. Most of the ones we are familiar with were named and mapped thousands of years ago. This is so even though the earth wobbles as it spins through space, so there is some variation in our view of space over time.
These recurring patterns in the sky must have been used as one of the first calendars. Everything repeats, but nothing is the same twice. Like a labyrinth of stars.
This week, two of Jupiter’s moons are going to transit, meaning they are going to fly across the front of the planet. Even without a telescope big enough to view that phenomenon, it will be wonderful to look at the photographs of other skywatchers. At the end of January, Venus, Mars and Jupiter will hang out together in the sky. And, in the winter, there’s always beautiful Orion. Orion and environs contain some of the brightest stars in the sky, including Sirius to Orion’s lower left. The three stars in a line, called Orion’s belt, are one of the easiest star patterns to find. Hanging below them are three more stars (the anatomical part they correspond to is perhaps euphemistically called the "sword"). One of them is not a star. Even with the naked eye, and definitely with binoculars, it looks fuzzier than a normal star. It’s the Orion Nebula. These are just a few of the eternal lights we can see: then, now, and forever.
We are stardust. We are golden.
I've been having the kind of headaches that make you think it might feel good to drive a screwdriver into your brain. I couldn't read without getting what felt like blisters inside my head, and watching TV was making me motion-sick. Since I have been undergoing visual therapy (see August 2011 under Archives), it seemed logical to ask my behavioral optometrist what's going on.
He tested me, and for the first time since I was nine years old, the vision in my left eye has improved.
As far as we can figure, the headaches are caused by the fact that my brain is adjusting to using two functional eyes, instead of just one. My optometrist took this in stride, but I think this is one of those low-flying miracles that comes in under the radar, and so goes almost undetected.
In order to explain how this qualifies for the Our Lady of Somewhat Unlikely Events chronicles, this might be a good time to reveal how I got legally blind in the left eye. If you have no taste for gore, skip the rest of this paragraph. When I was a kid, my older sister was a champion swimmer. I was not, but my parents thought I should suffer just the same, so off to practices I went. I hated it. I did not try. One night when I was coming in (slowly) from the end of a lap, the girl who was supposed to dive in after I hit the boards got a little excited, and dove in before I made it to the end of the pool. She dove right into me, hands outstretched. Her fingers and fingernails impaled my left eye. I remember the world went red, and I remember screaming.
Within weeks, my vision in the left eye showed a decline, which continued throughout my life. Until now.
While I was explaining my symptoms to the optometrist, I told him "Oh, I got a new camera, too, and it has this diopter adjustment thingy which allows me to walk around and take pictures without my glasses on. Which is great, because using a camera viewfinder while wearing glasses is a pain in the ass."
I am such a dumbass that for a few minutes after I told him this, I didn't realize the importance of what I had just said. Or of what I had been doing.
This is huge.
Until recently, I didn't walk around my house without my glasses on. It felt uncomfortable. I couldn't see the floor, and never felt confident about my footing (I have dogs. They have toys. The toys sound like tortured children when you step on them unexpectedly. And they make you trip). I certainly could not walk around The World without glasses, since even my house felt hazardous.
I went out and walked around with my new camera and took pictures, all without wearing glasses. Twice. And I didn't even realize I was doing something new. Before, I had enough trouble just identifying what was in front of me without squinting. Now I could not only walk around confidently, I could determine what was worth photographing, and actually frame a shot, with naked eyes.
We suspect that my newfound comfort with maneuvering around sans lenses comes from the fact that I now have at least partial 3-D vision. So I am walking in space, not looking at a flat screen with not much information on it.
Further, this shift occurred during dark, grim days with no sunlight. Previously, I always noticed a difference in my visual acuity - and fatigue - between bright and dim lighting.
In fact, I wear my glasses so infrequently indoors that I now spend 87.6% of my time looking for the bloody things, because I take them off and leave them and then do so many activities bare-eyed that I forget where I put them.
So, my optometrist advised me to keep on doing these things I didn't realize I was doing, to see what happens. The headaches will probably resolve when my brain catches up with what's going on in my eyes, since a lot of vision consists of the connection between the brain and the eyes, not just the eyeballs themselves.
I never thought paying for vision therapy would be like buying an upgraded pair of eyes.
Will it change my photography? Or will the new camera? So far, I haven't noticed any artistic changes to my picture-taking like I have seen with painting. However, my photos used to be often Holga-fied; I have always gravitated to the misty, moody, flawed, indistinct, obscure, and blurry, because that's what the world looked like to me. I had never visited that planet where people take those sharp, National Geographic-like photos. Maybe now I will. I have a new camera, and I have new eyes.
My Behavioral Optometrist is Steven J. Gallop, O.D. His phone number is 610 356 7425, and his office is at 7 Davis, Avenue, Broomall PA 19008. His website is GallopIntoVision.com.
Hi, I'm Amy Anna, and I'm an artist, photographer, and writer. I'm a Person of Unrelenting Curiosity, so come explore with me.