A Sense of Place

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It started in April, a new class with Kim Manley Ort, a photographer and writer I have followed for several years. She practices contemplative photography, which is a whole ‘nother post altogether! This class focuses on the places we live, starting with the geographic/geologic history and moving into other history. In May, the focus is on the history of the indigenous people, the “homegrown” people and ways, if you will.

I am catching up, if I ever really started. It’s so hard to work in these things I want to do when I am teaching, and the last month of school seems to be the busiest. Yet, I find myself reading each week’s lessons from Kim, and at least thinking about the inspiration she provides. Perhaps, as the summer approaches, I’ll get into the deeper research of the class. As I was reading the last post from April, I was inspired to write this rather long email to Kim. I’ll post it here in its entirety. Maybe these prompts from her will inspire me to get back into writing as well as into photography.

It’s a quiet Saturday at home.  I am sitting beside two loads of laundry waiting to be folded and put away (there are at least three more loads in the bathroom to be sorted and washed before the weekend is over).  I have fifteen days left in this school year to concentrate on world, American, and British literature.  (only about 10 days left with my unruly seventh graders–well, maybe not unruly, but rambunctious, loud, and sometimes obnoxious–but they are twelve years old!  The majority of the class is boys–and having raised two boys to manhood, by the grace of God alone!–I can expect rambunctious, loud, active, and obnoxious all at the same time).

I guess you can see I haven’t had much time for deep digging or personal photography. Yet, I have been constantly thinking about the landscape and the place I call home.  The area between the Congaree and Saluda Rivers is known as the Dutch Fork.  It was given to German Lutherans in the 1700s by way of a landgrant from George III of England, and there are beaucoups of Lutheran churches in the area.  I am descended from those German Lutherans, as well as a branch of Austrian Lutherans, called the Salzburgers (from Austria), who settled on the Savannah River in Georgia. I grew up in Richland County.  You know, I haven’t learned whether the county is called Richland because of the rich earth (rich land), or whether is named after some aristocrat from England (like Lexington County).. Hmmm, more research.

Even if the land is fertile, there is so much red clay in our area, especially on the hill where I grew up.  And quartz and some mica, and the ocassional feldspar/fool’s gold.  Imagine my disappointment when I was a little girl taking my “gold” to show my mother, and she informed me that it was only fool’s gold, and not the real thing.  Seriously, I thought I was rich! But oh, how I loved finding beautiful quartz crystals in the native rocks.  I did not enjoy hauling buckets full of those rocks out of the vegetable garden, though.  That was punishments, even if I hadn’t done anything to deserve that chore!

My father had an “eagle’s eye” for finding interesting things after plowing up the fields to plant grains or the garden for vegetables.  He could spot an arrowhead with accuracy that amazed me.  I’d pick up a milky white stone that LOOKED like the arrowheads he’d find, only to discover I had picked up a rock.  I never could “get it right” (but once!).  He had a collection of these artifacts that he would let us children (my brother and sister and I) look through and hold in our hands to feel the sharp edges.  There was one, though, he had that did not look like anything else.  Gosh, I don’t know if I can describe it:  one side was black, not shiny, but kind of dull, muted; the other was brown, almost as if it had been covered with something, or painted.  Daddy said that a friend of his who was a self-styled expert on Indian artifacts told him that this particular arrowhead was not native to Richland County or to South Carolina, and speculated that it might have been traded or brought back by a warrior who had been wounded with it. (And there is some research to be done!)  My mother made a shadow box and mounted several of the arrowheads from Daddy’s collection.

In the 1920-30’s, Lake Murray was created by damming the Saluda River.   A whole lot of land in Newberry, Saluda, Richland, and Lexington Counties has been covered with water to form the lake. It bogles my imagination to think of the artifacts that have been covered by the lake: cemeteries that were not moved; buildings’ foundations; and who knows what else. I wish sometimes that I could dive those places to see those relics of the past.

I am looking forward to the research on the indigenous history of Newberry and Richland Counties.  What I’ve learned so far is that a number of native peoples who inhabited South Carolina are now extinct, either because they are not organized or recognized as tribes, or because there are no longer descendents of those tribes.  It gave me moment of sadness to think that these people have been lost to history, either because they died of disease and epidemics brought by the settlers from Europe or were killed in skirmishes and battles among themselves or the settlers. So much to think about!

I’m sorry this email is so long!  Once I start writing sometimes, the words just don’t stop! Even though I’m not necessarily doing the photography part, this class is giving me the freedom to explore and think, and to write!

A Year, Really?

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I opened WordPress this afternoon to discover that I have not written or published anything since sometime in 2018.

What happened?

I suppose it’s just life. . . . The busy-ness of school from August to May, I suppose it could be pursuit of other interests, even. It may even be a loss of interesting in keeping a blog.

Yet, as a teacher of writing and composition, I know I need to write, and I need to write often. So today–on the 7th of April, I shall begin again–writing, photographing, and, most of all, finding the time to do this thing called blogging.

I am taking a course with Kim Manley Ort–six weeks in length–called “Place”. It’s all about developing a deeper sense of the place(s) we live. We began this week with a deep dive into geologic history. I have not yet taken out my camera to get a picture of the geologic sense of place. I should do that very soon! I am, perhaps, waiting until spring break in a week.

Here’s what I have learned, and what I already knew. I live in the Midlands of South Carolina, between the Low Country and the Piedmont/Foothills. It’s relatively hilly, unlike the Sandhills to the east, but not as hilly as the Upstate! The primary rock formations consist of quarts and mica, and a few other minerals, and I think there are even some gemstones around. At one time, there was a diamond mine over around Blythewood. I live near a small town (as in one “main” street, Highway 76) called Little Mountain. It is so named because it was founded at the base of a monadnock named Little Mountain. This area is also part of the Carolina shale belt. Millenia of erosion have taken down everything else but this rise, which geologists say is “highly mineralized” with the aforementioned quartz and other mineral rocks. Little Mountain is the highest elevation between the Coast and the Foothills. At one time it was probably a bustling train stop, but no more. The train tracks are still there, and the train does go through Little Mountain at least once a day, but there is no longer a depot, though the buildings remain, and the train no longer makes regular stops for pick-ups and deliveries.

At one time, the ocean did reach the Midlands. The Sandhills to the east are the vestiges of that prehistoric ocean front. I am afraid I wouldn’t know a fossil from a rock, though, so I’ve never gone fossil hunting in this area. Perhaps, if I could find someone who would help me, I wouldn’t mind looking for fossils in the rocks of the area. It could be an interesting pursuit.

There are no pictures today, but they are coming soon.

Back to School

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It is that time. . . .  Back to school for teachers and for students. Officially, I start Monday. Unofficially, I’ve been working on school stuff all summer long. I’ve spent a few days working with my yearbook staff making plans for this year’s book. I’ve been reading, and reading, and reading, and researching. Now, I have to put it all together. I have immersed myself in teaching literature, not reading, not literacy, but LITERATURE. I completed the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Institute this summer.

I’m not ready.

I’m getting the butterflies in the stomach.

I’m asking myself, “What the heck do you think you’re doing going back to secondary education at your age? You should be retiring!”

Well, the answer to the question is that I really, really enjoy my job. I love the little school where I teach. I am comfortable there even though I get nervous at the beginning of the school year. It’s the introvert in me. But come August 15, the first day with students, I will be ready, and I will put on my “learned extrovert” shirt, and get out there and put myself out there.

So, what did I read this summer? Well there was the required summer reading:

Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones, the story of twins Chaim and Gittle who try to escape a ghetto in Poland with the Polish resistance but end up captured. They attract the attention of one of Mengele’s doctors when Gittle contracts typhoid

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, the story of a little girl who is placed in foster care and who steals books as seen through the eyes of Death.

Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, the story of her family’s participation in the resistance movement to save Jewish lives and her imprisonment in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

There is a theme there, can’t you tell? The upper school is going to Washington in September, and one of the places they will tour is the Holocaust Museum. I want my students to be fully away of what they will experience when they enter that place. I know, there are other places of equal importance throughout that city, but for me, this place is especially hallowed ground.

I’ve also re-read Wuthering Heights and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I had forgotten how creepy Dorian Gray could be! I had also forgotten about some of the darker themes in that book.

And I’ve done a ton of professional reading, 180 Days, A Novel Approach, Whole Novels for the Whole Class, Write Beside Them, among others.

For fun, I’ve read several Regency romances—formula stories, really, but light, easy to read and finish in a day or two. I’ve also been reading Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series. Kate is the Chief of Police in Painter’s Mill, Ohio, which has a fairly large Amish population. It’s one thing to be the first female Chief of Police in this small rural town, but she is formerly Amish herself. It is her knowledge of the Amish ways that helps her solve the crimes that come her way. These books are seriously researched. They will keep you turning the page until the very end.

Tomorrow afternoon, I meet students and some parents to give out textbooks. School is starting.

What Happened to My Plans?

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When I started the summer back on May 26, I made plans. I had BIG plans.

1. I was going to do Ali Edwards’s project “ A Week in the Life.”

2. I was going to approximate the Story in Sixes project from Lensworks magazine to see if I could tell a story in six photographs.

3. I was going to catch up on Kim Manley Ort’s “Impermanence” class.

4. I was going to catch up on Laura Valenti’s “The Art of Wellbeing” class.

It’s June 28. I’ve been out of school for a month. I haven’t done those four things. What have I done?

I’ve read two BIG books, The Book Thief and Mapping the Bones. I’m about a third of the way through The Hiding Place. I’m reading and studying with an online group a professional text, A Novel Approach, to discover other ways of approaching whole class novels. I’m reading 180 Days to learn more about structuring a year’s curriculum.

I started writing, but I haven’t gotten too far.

I’m trying to work on Jamie’s Summer Yearbook “project” so that I pay more attention to my creativity.

I’ve been running back and forth to the Academy to finish organizing my room for the summer and to work with the yearbook staff to get started planning for “next year.”

I signed up to meet with a personal trainer one day a week at the gym in Newberry. I tried to do the Couch25K (C25K) plan, but it is way too hot to run outside, and treadmills scare me.

I haven’t followed any of my plans. Sometimes, I have to let go of those plans and just let nature take its course. That’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to follow the rhythms of my heart and mind to do what feels right for me at this time. The reading, the notetaking, the learning—these are the things I feel I need right now. Returning to full-time secondary education has been a challenge, but a welcome challenge. I have thoroughly enjoyed the teaching and the students! I feel at “home” in the classroom again. While I may not always agree with the very conservative headmaster (he’s a classicist when it comes to literature, and I do like to include more modern literature and YA literature), he respects my judgments as a professional. I know my students and I can determine what they need from me as their teacher.

So, with the AP Literature and Composition Institute coming up in July and inservice programs on Google Classroom on August 1, I don’t have much time to work on those “BIG” plans for creative production. Perhaps now is not the time to pursue them. Perhaps by reading good books and studying other professionals, I am feeding my creative side and the photography just needs to sit for a while.

Robert Burns wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often [go] astray.” My plans certainly went astray, but that’s okay. I’m still productive.

There’s a First Time for Everything

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On Monday, my mother called me to ask if I wanted to ride down to Bennett’s Point with her. She wanted to check on the place down there and cut the grass. She hadn’t been in a month or so and wasn’t sure my brother had been recently. After I rearranged some plans for Wednesday, I told her I’d go. As usual, I packed the necessities, including my camera gear. My gear IS a necessity!

We arrived at our destination only to discover that water was standing in the front yard and the back  yard. There would be no grass-cutting Tuesday afternoon!

We did go “sightseeing” Wednesday afternoon. We took Highway 17 toward Beaufort, drove through town on Carteret Street, crossed the drawbridge to Lady Island, circled around through Port Royal and headed back toward “home.” The camera was in the back seat the whole time.

This may be the first time I made the trip to Bennett’s Point without taking the camera out of the bag. There are NO pictures of the trip.

There are memories.

My mother is 83 years old. She is still in excellent health. SHE did the driving!

We talked. We remembered Daddy, who passed away three years ago this coming August.

We “solved” the problems of the world.

These latter things are not unusual. Because we lived way out in the sticks, I did not have a clutch of friends my age to hang out with. It was just me, my sister (who is eleven months my junior), and my brother (five years younger), and my parents and my granddaddy on my father’s side. Daddy worked out of town on construction sites for the M. B. Kahn construction company out of Columbia, so we spent our time with him on Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays were “farm” days—working with him in the garden or the hay field. Gosh, I’ve hauled enough square hay bales to fill several barns! On Sunday, after church, we played, usually riding the horses all over Richland and Newberry Counties where Daddy owned land. Those rides often took us past the Counts place, and we would have to stop and visit with Mr. Pid, Ernest, and Willie Counts. Mr. Pid was elderly, and it delighted him for Floyd and his young’uns to ride up to see him. But Mama was more than a parent; she was also our friend and our confidante.  I never understood those girls I met in college who proclaimed loudly (usually after long, heated phone calls on the pay phone in the dorm hallway) that they hated their mother. Seriously?

Mama is still my friend and my confidante. She is my rock.

So, even though I did not get any pictures of this trip, no physical record of the road trip, I have the memories. Perhaps we’ll get another chance to go back together, just the two of us, and do more sightseeing and rambling to see what this glorious state of South Carolina is all about. And maybe there will be a second trip with no photographs. That’s okay. There are memories. There are precious times.

There will be no regrets.

Summer Vacation 2018

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It has been a while since I had a teacher’s version of “summer vacation,” that extended period between June and August when I am not in school. For the previous five years, I taught at Remington College in Columbia. We worked in four-week modules, and since I was part time, I worked a mod and then had the next mod off. Now that I am working full-time in secondary education again at Newberry Academy, I now teach for thirty-six weeks and now I’m off for about 10—all of June and July and two weeks in August. Oh, perhaps I should say I also have most of this last week of May off as well, even though I’m going back to school tomorrow for a yearbook mini-camp.

So, how will I spend my summer?

First, I’m going to catch up on my fun reading! I don’t have a reading list yet per se, but I have several books on my Kindle that I want to read.

Second, I’m going to work on my photography. I have subscribed off and on to Lenswork Magazine, a print and online magazine that focuses on the photograph itself, not the gear or even the techniques. For the last couple of years, the publishers have had a juried “contest” in which photographers submit a story in six photographs. I don’t think I can enter that contest this year, but I think it might give me a focus for my summer work. Can I make images that capture the story in six images in such a way that each image can also stand alone and tell that story? In preparation, I’m charging up the batteries now, and soon I’ll clear the memory card!

I’m also planning to work on editing techniques. I joined the Shift Art website (pricey!), but I think it will be worth it. There are tutorials and articles and other goodies to inspire me.

This morning, I worked on learning some editing techniques using Auto Tone and Auto Color in Photoshop. I used an image I took a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know the name of this flower, but it’s pretty, and it’s interesting. I wanted to make sure the flower was dominant, so I practiced, and edited, and started over. This is the image I came up with. I used Auto Tone and Auto Color. Then I applied two layers of patterns and textures. Finally, I added a light vignette. I’ll put the original and edited image side by side to show the two versions.

 

The first image is the original, unedited image. It’s too dark. My edit, the second one, lightens the image and brings out the flower. I like the kind of hazy background, which is further emphasized a bit by the pattern and the texture. At the end of the process, I added a vignette using a curves adjustment layer, dragging the curve down toward the bottom right corner, and then using a black brush to uncover the portions of the image I wanted to reveal. I lowered the opacity of this vignette layer as well because I did not want it too dark on the edges. I still wanted the brightness and haziness of the background to come through.

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(I think I may have desaturated the background slightly as well so that the color of the flower can stand out.)

I enjoy floral photography, and I enjoy applying textures. I want to stretch myself as a photographic artist.

When “Something” Is Missing

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I’m sure you know the feeling.  Something is missing, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. Life is busy—job, family, chores, errands. . . . The list is endless. But still, “something” is missing.

For me, it’s been creating things. Oh sure, I’m creating lesson plans and activities for my classes all day long, but that’s for other people, and not for me. I come home in the evening, and I do knit or crochet while I’m supposedly watching TV. That is creating something. I’m working on the last square of the blanket I’m knitting (I miscounted—made only nineteen when I needed twenty!).  I’ll start putting the border rows around the last four squares and joining them to finish the blanket. So far, it looks like it’s going to be HUGE! But even though, the knitting has been relaxing, it didn’t fulfill the thing that’s empty.

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This week at the Academy, we started the two week “mini-mester” during the electives period (third period, from 10:00 to 10:48 a.m.). I offered to teach a photography class. I’m not sure how much photography students are learning, but we are doing some shooting. I take my “big girl camera” out with me; the students are using their phones. I send them out with a very loosely structured assignment—find a unique way to photograph things; look for lines and shapes; photograph color. . . . Nothing too technical, but something fun. Monday was a washout—it rained all day (hard, heavy rains!). Wednesday was beautiful! We went to the Tent market near the school. Oh, the color and textures! And the hibiscus! Or should it be hibisci? The employees had just watered the flowers and plants, and there were water droplets everywhere. The cantaloupe presented its roadmap to me, and the tomatoes were beautifully red. On Friday, we walked the Main Street area. I set myself the task of focusing on lines and repetition. I forced myself to look. One of the students said that it was hard for her to be inspired by “assignments,” that she needed to go out and be “inspired.” She reminded me of Christine Valters Paintner’s ideas from Eyes of the Heart, to be ready to receive images while walking with the camera.

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I think I know what has been missing: my camera and using my photographic eye. I have not been looking at the world, or as Paintner says, gazing at the world with soft eyes. I have not been allowing myself to receive images.

This year has been a “first year teacher” experience for me—returning to a secondary classroom full time in a new school after six years away. I have been in a state of overwhelm. The result has been that I have made time for receiving images with the camera, for taking the time to play with them in Photoshop to (try to) create art. I know that this has to become a priority in the future. This week has allowed me to get behind the camera and be an artist again. I don’t feel quite so “empty” this morning.

Now, I need to work on finding time to write regularly!