This Place, and Seeing Something New

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This morning, I took a chance.  It’s overcast, a nearly 50% chance of storms, possibly with severe winds, thunder, lightning, and all that can accompany a summer storm (or two). It’s humid, the kind that feels like one is wearing the air.  But I took a chance and walked around the ponds with the camera.  I “fixed” the problem of the distortions when I downloaded them with the card reader.  The problem wasn’t the camera, but the reader itself.  So, I bought a new one, and that made a difference.  Of course, that means I won’t be buying a new camera anytime soon!

I’m also reacquainting myself with my gear.  Today, I used my 50mm f/1.8 prime.  And I opened the aperture all the way!  I love the blurry backgrounds with the 50/1.8. I also reacquainted myself with the idea of contemplative photography.  Oh, I know, we use the verb contemplate to mean to think deeply about something, but to practice contemplatively photography, I went out with as open a mind as I could—considering that I needed to avoid two things:  snakes and fire ants.  I’m still feeling the effects of the fire ant attack from Tuesday’s walk at the lake! I wanted to see this place where I live.

I don’t know how many times I have walked around the ponds in the last thirty-five years. The paths are familiar.  I know where the oak branches grow out over the big pond, where the mimosa blooms beside Gramps’s, where the Leons (Junior and Senior) plant wheat or corn, where the blackberries are growing and ripening (even though I think the deer have already devoured the ripe ones).  I know that there will be dandelions blooming along the dam of the ponds, too.  And yet, there are surprises.  I suppose I did know that when mimosa blooms, the blooms turn in to pod.  I should have known that acorns to do not appear full blown as nuts with caps.  Yet, these were some surprises this morning.

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There is color throughout my yard.  The orange daylilies are in bloom.  And just now, the crepe myrtle buds are beginning to pop open.

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It’s amazing out those petals fit into those small buds.

There are textures to notice as well.  There are seven ponds clustered together, all built by my husband’s grandfather to “grow” minnows to sell to the fishermen on their way to Lake Murray. Now, the ponds are stocked with fish—catfish, bass, bream, and family and friends come to fish for recreation and relaxation. There are still some remnants of Grandpa’s business scattered over them, the frames and piers where he would dip out the minnows before taking them into his bait shop.

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And I found treasures—four feathers.  I imagine they are probably goose feathers and maybe some small heron feathers.  As I walked between Gramps’s ponds and Pat’s ponds, I made a “rare” egret sighting.  It made me wish I brought my longer zoom lenses with me (but as I said, I wanted to reacquaint myself with my gear).

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You’ll have to forgive the focus.  I was carrying those feathers!  I had to do some major cropping, too, so that one can see the egret.  I love that graceful S-curve of this beautiful bird.  I also saw the heron, but it was too quick for me!  It flew to the tree tops before I could take aim!

Contemplative photography is a practice.  It requires the photographer to go out with an open mind, to be willing to see things that may be as familiar as the back of one’s hand in new ways.

Today Was Supposed to Be the Day

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Today was supposed to be the day that I would go for a photo walk.  That was the plan when I woke up.  I dressed appropriately, put on my tennis shoes (Southern for sneakers), gathered all my camera gear this time, and headed for the lake.  The swamp roses, wild hibiscus, are blooming on the lakeshore—beautiful white and pink blossoms, some as big as my hand. 

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I was also testing out my camera and camera card.  I’m having some problems with the images.  It may be that my camera is just OLD.  The sensor may not be working properly, or something.  Anyway, things are not going well at all, and I’m not happy.

This morning things seemed to be going well.  I was able to get some nice closeups with my Lensbaby Sweet 35 optic with Composer Pro (yeah, it’s as old as the camera, I think). The lakeshore was not crowded.  There was a couple fishing near the edge of the church’s property, but I was going the other way anyway.  No problems with anyone being disturbed or interrupted or bothered.  It was getting hot, though, and it was only 9:30 a.m.! I walked down to the cross on the point, noticing that someone had left a very wilted wreath on the cross.  I’m afraid I’m not tall enough to take it down. Then, I headed toward another little neck of land to get some pictures of the yellow flowers.

That’s when my plans blew up in my face.  I stepped on a fire ant mound hidden in the grass at the edge of the path.  Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been stung by fire ants, but their name in appropriate.  I must have had thirty or more of those little bugs crawling over my right ankle, and each one of them was biting me.  They were in my shoes, around the top of my sock, and heading for my knees!  I wiped, and I brushed, and I stomped.  Then I headed for home to get the Benadryl gel on those bites.  So, here I set hours later, my ankle a bit red and swollen.  For now, the pain is not bad, and the welts are not itching—yet. I hope I got the gel on in time.

And the result of my photo walk.  I had to discard about half of my pictures.  Some were just badly exposed because I have forgotten how to use my Lensbaby.  Others had that weird coloration, like this one I took earlier in the week:

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See that pink corner?  Yeah, that’s what’s happening with my camera.

But I think I did get some pretty pictures of the hibiscus known as the swamp rose.

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The Struggle Is Real. . . .

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I want to be a writer–a real writer. I wanted to write when I was in high school. I wrote a few short stories, and my English teacher then said they were “good.” I had no more feedback than that. I went to college, majored in music and in English, but ended up with a bachelor’s in English only. (Long story, and perhaps another entry.) But all my writing was academic writing, and my professor said, “You write–and think–well.” No more feedback than that. So, I can write.

Then how come it’s so danged hard to put words on paper, or the computer screen, as it were? I am a book junkie, and I can binge on Regency/historical romances for days at a time (yes, I eventually reach saturation and move on to something else, but still, I will read those “formula” books as if they were masterpieces. Some of them are quite good, though.). And when I finish them, I tell myself, “I can do that well!” And then I try, and I struggle.

Lately, I’ve read the published Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and she is a wonderful writer, so much craft in her writing. And then, there’s Sara Donati’s Wilderness series–another beautifully written book. Yesterday, I started reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Where have these books been all my life?

So, what have I learned about writing from these writers (and from the formula romance writers)? First, the best of the books are believable–believable characters, believable plots (even though Gabaldon does ask us to put aside our “disbelief” while reading about time-travel). Second, the writers know their stuff–the settings, the history, the character of the times. Gosh, the history that Gabaldon and Donati and Kearsley include in their books makes my head spin! But then I think of history as a story whose plot unfolds through the actions and words of the characters/personages. Moreover, history is not just the famous people, but the ordinary human beings whose lives are lived moment by moment and affected by the “big” stuff and the small stuff that makes up history. History is not just a series of facts to memorized.

I have been fascinated by the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of Britain. The writers–Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, Shelley, the Brontes (especially Emily and Wuthering Heights), the Pre-Raphaelites (Christina’s “Goblin Market,” Dante’s paintings, the various renditions of Ophelia and the Lady of Shalott), even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Stoker’s Dracula–these are the things that capture my imagination.

Other twentiethy century writers who capture my imagination: Daphne Du Maurier, Victoria Holt–Gothic writers who can spin a good tale and draw one into the story world.

But it’s hard to be that kind of writer. The craft of writing is difficult. But it’s part of the story-telling that I want to do. (It’s not all photography for me!) I’m working on the craft, studying the writers, figuring out what works for me. Now, all I have to do find the words.

Telling Stories, Part II

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Last night, we have a summer storm—wind, heavy rain, sharp lightning, thunder that rumbled for minutes. And it lasted for nearly two hours. I confess, I am not one who particularly enjoys storms, meteorological or otherwise.  And last night, I stayed awake throughout the whole storm from 2:45 a.m. until nearly 6:00 a.m.  I roamed the house from window to window to see if I could see what the wind was doing to the trees that surrounded the house; I even turned on a local TV station to see if the weather crew were covering the storm.  I will probably be doing something similar this afternoon, if the forecasters are correct in predicting another band of severe storm coming our way.

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And yet. . .

This morning, there is sunshine.  There is a freshness to the air that will be gone in the summer heat and humidity.  We will be grateful for the air conditioning, and some of us will be wondering how we did without it when we were children.  Though I grew up in a modern home with the conveniences of dishwasher, in-house washer and (gasp) dryer, baseboard heating, we did not have central air conditioning.  Only when my grandfather moved in with us did we have get any kind of AC—and that was a window unit to put in his bedroom.  It wasn’t too much longer when Mama and Daddy bought one for the family room.  I was married when they finally put in central heating and air.  To write this makes my childhood seem almost primitive, but then I didn’t think so. 

This morning, there is sunshine.  My husband is out cutting the grass around the house and probably later around the ponds as the weather permits.  I took out the camera to see this freshly washed world.

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Honeysuckle, blackberries beginning to ripen, daylilies, vinca, daisies, Rose of Sharon—in bloom, leftover drops of rain in the petals.  Leaves torn from the trees scattered over the front yard. . . .

Remnants of the storm and the beauty that remains afterward.

Had I walked longer and farther around the pond, I would certainly have found more beauty, but for the moment, this was enough—enough to remind me of other stories: sipping the nectar from honeysuckle blossoms with my brother, sister, and cousins at Grandma Wessinger’s house during that week we spent with her and picking blackberries in the pasture behind the house and the blackberry pies that Mama would bake (with the gritty seeds of those wild berries). The rose of Sharon tree with its scars on the trunk from the fire eight years ago, still blooming, still standing, though transplanted, resilient and strong. Daylilies from Aunt Miriam, Granny.

These all have stories.

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Picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes, for me the picture gives me the thousand words to tell the story.

Telling Stories. . . .

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When I began blogging, oh, I don’t know how many years ago, I did so because I thought I “HAD” to in order to promote myself as a photographer. I thought I would go pro, as it were.

That didn’t happen. But I kept blogging, off and on, nothing regular, and maybe that’s part of the problem. I didn’t, and still don’t, know the rights and wrongs and the shoulds and shouldn’ts of blogging as promotion.

But some things are still clear to me about photography and stories and the ways we tell stories. Right now, I’m in a photography slump. The camera is actually sitting here on the couch beside me, and I haven’t picked it up in a week. Last weekend, I took pictures at a reunion of Newberry College band people, and some of my stories tell a story–the story of Bill Long, conductor of the Newberry College Marching Band and Big Jazz Band conducting and the impact he had on his students; the joy of my son playing jazz that he loves (he played the saxophone solo in “Baker Street,” which has to be one of the best riffs ever!); the admiration we have for both Janet and Bill Long, and their relationship as teachers and mentors and guides. But that is their story; it’s not mine.

I’ve been reading–A LOT! I’ve finished the published books in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and I know why readers are so fond of these books! They are timeless, and I don’t mean to pun on the time-travel theme, either! Seriously, the themes and stories told in these books–fear, love, family, loyalties–they are there! And yes, I’ve started watching the STARZ TV series, but, while I enjoy them, they are not as addictive as the books were. I’m impatient to read the next book in the series. I want to shout loudly enough, “IT’S 2019! WHERE IS THE NINTH BOOK?”

And I’m on book 5 in Sara Donati’s Wilderness series. Again, like Gabaldon, Donati follows a family through several generations. Like Gabaldon, she deals with universal themes, such as fear, love, family, loyalties, with some added notions of patriotism. Her novels are set after the Revolutionary War through the War of 1812. She throws in a few other themes, such as spirituality; her characters are Native American, European, and second/third generation Americans, and Africans. Some of those Africans are slaves, and some are free; some are runaways. She challenges readers to think about race and gender and prejudice as she weaves the stories of the citizens of Paradise, New York. The themes of sexism and gender and race are especially strong in the story of Hannah Bonner, half Native American, half white, as she tries to find her place in these two different worlds and as she tries to establish herself as a doctor in a world where women are expected to stay home and be wives and mothers. There is a sixth book in the series, which my public library does not have available in ebook form yet. It better come soon! Seriously. I have to know how these various stories end.

And what has this to do with my original reasons for blogging? Well, I’m not sure, except that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we need stories in our lives, whether those stories are told by others in fictional form or through photographs or television series, movies, or any other way. I guess in a way video games are themselves a form of story telling as well, depending on the game.

And for now, I think I will keep telling my stories one way or another, whether it’s through my photographs or these random postings. I think, one day, it will be the stories that begin to unite us once again and teach us that no matter who or what we are, we are all one in the human race.

Currently, in June. . . .

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Currently” meme. Something to think about for the month of June:

CURRENTLY. . . .

Reading: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness series, and Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series

Planning: for retirement; a summer-long photography project, and a pizza date with a dear friend

Watching: Outlander season 1; Knightfall season 2, and Braves baseball

Cooking: as little as possible

Eating: more fruits and vegetables

Drinking: San Pelegrino flavored sparkling water

Crafting: cards, knitting an afghan

Going: to Scrap Camp in September

Loving: not having to answer to the alarm clock!

Feeling: excited about a new chapter in my life

Listening: to the Outlander soundtrack, classical music, classic rock

Celebrating: 35 years of marriage and 30 years of mother- and fatherhood with my husband and two sons.

I’ve been using my Chromebook more and more for simple computer tasks–reading emails, checking in with Facebook, surfing the Internet, and the like. My one complaint is that I do not want to use it for photos. I might run out of space! I still have my big laptop for that–along with the Adobe Creative Cloud applications for photo editing and organizing. Hopefully, in the next few days, I’ll have some photos to share as I get started with my next project. I have a couple of ideas: Sarah Huizenga posted on her blog about the summer scavenger hunt she’s doing–28 photos of things where she lives between June 2 and September 2. I think I can do that! I want to do a project about old houses–those grand old Southern “dames,” so many of whom are falling into disrepair. I’ve passed one every day on the way to work. It’s for sale (the second realtor is working on it how), and it’s in need of restoration. If only I had a million dollars to spend on it. Prosperity could use a good bed-and-breakfast! (By the way, I have NO business sense whatsoever!) And there is Kim Manley Ort’s class, Place. These three ideas should keep me busy and inspired. (If only the heat would break. nearly 100 degrees at the end of May, early June? This is August weather, not May weather!)

So, these are the things that I’m currently thinking about and planning for the month of June. What about you? What are your current occupations and thoughts and plans?

Place: the indigenous story

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The school year has ended. Whew! And a new chapter begins, however temporary. It’s time to pull out the camera and the notebooks and dust off the blog. It’s time to work on this blog space and get back into the habit of regular creativity.

In Kim Manley Ort’s class, Place, the focus for May is on the indigenous story. I began researching the Native Peoples of South Carolina, and what I’m learning makes me sad. There were at least twenty-nine tribes in South Carolina at one time, but many of those tribes are now extinct, meaning that there are no known descendents living. The only nationally recognized tribe in South Carolina is the Catawba nation, which has a reservation near Rock Hill, SC. Interestingly, it did not receive national recognition as a tribe until the 1990s. There are two or three other tribes currently seeking national recognition. There are quite a few state-recognized tribes, though, but none have reservations.

The Native American presence is South Carolina is mainly in some place nations–towns, rivers, bays/sounds. In Newberry County, the Enoree River is one such example. The word “enoree” means “river of muscadines” for the abundant growth of muscadine (wild grapes) along its banks. it is, therefore, entirely appropriate that the only vineyard and winery in Newberry County is the Enoree River Vineyard!

The closest indigenous tribe I could find for my neck of the woods is the Congaree tribe. These people lived along the Congaree River in Richland and Lexington Counties. They gave the name to the river and to the Congaree National National Park. There was a village across the river from Columbia, the state capital, at one time.

It is sad, in a way, that so much of the history of the Native peoples has been los over the years, and there is no way to recover it (without perhaps digging up the entire state!) What I do know, is that there is still so much to learn.