Moulin Rouge: My Bit of Autumn Heaven

The Moulin Rouge

I have always wondered if heaven captures a
time in our lives when we were the happiest
and most content. One that mirrored the
moment in time when [we] were in complete
and utter love and at peace. And I would
like to think that I would spend eternity
amid a late-October day with laughter
echoing across a long-awaited cool breeze.
Crisp ombré leaves will dance in
celebration as the rusty gates of my heart
open upon candy-corn kisses. 

–“Autumn Heaven” by Alfa Holden [alfa.poet]

Can we pause the madness of our coronavirus pandemic, pre-election existence to consider the understated beauty of late October?

I cannot get enough of the breezy-sunshine days. I’ve even begun taking walks during Zoom meetings that don’t require my explicit input.

This past weekend the weather was irresistibly perfect, so my guys and I went out to Scott’s Orchard’s to pick apples. When we arrived [mid-afternoon], the lines were long, and the trailer transporting people into the orchard was packed, with no social distancing measures in place. Everyone was masked, but we passed on the apple-picking and purchased some “already picked” and sinfully delicious apples.

So what did we do instead? We basked in the sunflowers!

A small sunflower field lining the entrance to the orchard beckoned and we heeded the call. There were many varieties of sunflowers, and the strong dose of sunflowers was so good for my soul.  I have many more sunflowers to share, but the bit of gorgeousness that leads this post left me speechless. I’ve seen the Moulin Rouge sunflower in photos, but to see it in person is another thing altogether.

Talk about a bit of autumn heaven!

If you love sunflowers half as much as I do, stay tuned. I have loads of sunflower love to share–the ones I shot a few days ago and the many, many, many I obsessively shot during the summer from the mini-field my guys planted outside my home office window. Who knows? Maybe, I’ll start 2021 with a month of sunflowers!

Until then, find a little heaven in this autumn beauty…

Guest Post | “Tightrope” by Elle Arra

Photo by Elle Arra

Today’s guest post for our series on living Black in the United States was written by my friend, Elle Arra. I met Elle Arra through her poetry blog here on WordPress. She is an amazing poet and visual artist, and I was delighted to learn she lives right here in Northern Alabama. In fact, we know many of the same people! We have made plans to get together for tea when meeting and greeting are safe again.

In this post, Elle Arra combines poetry, photos, and reportage to share her experience of participating in a protest over the Alabama District Attorney’s refusal to release officers’ body camera footage in the police shooting of Dana Sherrod Fletcher last November.


Suspended above the day’s mundanity and slog,
an ever-present tightrope
black bodies traverse in tandem.
It’s like navigating an ocean built
almost entirely of undertow
while maintaining stride and heft of dreams.

We are not permitted our hysteria
not without it being labeled non sequitur rage.

We walk this tightrope
lilting between full bloom
and languish,
walk with bullets in our backs,
twine around our necks,
asphalt under our skin,
knees on our windpipes,
tree branches in our hair,
blood like rubies cascading,
splayed bone like smooth porcelain,
black skin – ribbons and ribbons,
afro confetti––

Photo by Elle Arra

Sunday, August 16, 2020. I walked the four corners of US 72 and Wall Triana [in Madison County, Alabama] where giant signs were hoisted in peaceful protest of the shooting of Dana Fletcher 10 months earlier. I took photos and spoke with his wife and mother who have had to wedge their grief and mourning between breathing and fighting for justice. I cannot imagine having to take moments meant for private sorrows to fight publicly for transparency—the human and decent thing being denied them.

Photo by Elle Arra

I watched Dana’s now fatherless daughter playing in the grass while her mother, grandmother, and a sizable group gave everything they had to this effort. I took it all in–the focus on their faces, the bullhorn call and response, and the raised signs calling for justice.

Photo by Elle Arra

It was extremely hot and humid that late morning/early afternoon, but the dedicated group spent three hours occupying the four corners of the intersection adjacent to the lot where Dana was killed. People from all walks of life honked as they drove by and elevated their fists through car windows in solidarity. Several vehicles pulled up and gifted cold, refreshing, electrolyte drinks to the protestors. There was beauty in the coming together despite the bitter reasons for the gathering; there was beauty in the union of people of all colors and lifestyles for one common goal.

 

Photo by Elle Arra

On October 27, 2019 Dana Fletcher was fatally shot by a Madison police officer in front of his wife and daughter. Nearly a year later, there still has been no transparency in this matter. According to Alabama law, body camera footage is privileged information, so the District Attorney refuses to release the footage or the alleged 911 call that precipitated Fletcher’s death. Stills from the incident have been released, but these stills do not reveal the whole story.

You can help. Please go to change.org and sign the petition to enact the Dana Fletcher bill making bodycam footage public record.

Photo by Elle Arra

We walk that tightrope,
what a beautiful gait.

––even our dying is a glorious walk home.

To learn more about Elle Arra and her work, please follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Photo by Elle Arra

[All images in this post captured by Elle Arra with Fugifilm X-E1 f/1.0 1/4000 50.00mm ISO200].

#ThursdayTreeLove | TreeArt Part III: A Masterpiece

I’m back with my final TreeArt photo from a late May visit to Burritt on the Mountain.

A gorgeous tree stump arrested my attention just before we entered the “open-air museum,” as the park is described. It was behind a low fence near the entrance, so I walked around the fence to take a few shots. For my son, who is a stickler for rules, the fence meant “don’t go there.” so I had to be quick.

I was mesmerized by the patterns. It had recently rained, so the dampness gave the stump a smooth, polished texture. Isn’t it beautiful?

I’m convinced the “inside” of a tree is one of nature’s most magnificent masterpieces.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

#ThursdayTreeLove | TreeArt Part II: Shadow and Light

We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates…Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.  –Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, 1933

I don’t know about you, but I really need time to slow down a bit. How are we already at the end of June? I am trying to savor this summer, but it’s almost impossible since I really haven’t begun my summer break yet (meetings and tying up too many loose ends of a crazy COVID semester). I will have to work a lot of tree love into the remaining five weeks if I am to face a new academic year with at least a little sanity.

Anyway, I’m back, as promised, with the second installment of TreeArt. The photos aren’t spectacular, but I I was drawn to these particular shots because of the interplay of shadow and light.

I failed to mention in TreeArt Part I that the photos for this three-part series were shot at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville, Alabama.

If you want way more Burritt tree love [and autumn loveliness] you should check out my November 2016 post, Walk to the Cross.

Until next time…


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

“How to Live Your Poem”

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ve decided to share a beloved poem every day this month. The daily posting will add a bit of routine and balance in a moment when I feel a bit off center and out-of-sorts, and hopefully, my touching the works of other poets will also inspire me to get some of my own work out of folders and into the world.

Since April is also National Letter Writing Month, [starting tomorrow] I plan to share some of the snail mail I’ve received–recently and [maybe] not-so-recently.

Today’s offering is a piece created by Alabama author Irene Latham from the lines of other poems. Latham distributed the poem to readers and writers when she visited the University’s campus three (or so) years ago. I applaud the acumen and patience of individuals who do this kind of work–piecing together the beautiful words of others to create a new and still beautiful thing.

“How to Live Your Poem” by Irene Latham

Cultivate a secret life. Discover the fuel that feeds you. Eat peaches. Take the road not taken. Change your life. You do not have to be good. Go back. When the time comes to let it go, let it go. Reinvent. Identify what stays with you latest and deepest. Remember disobedience is the first right of being alive. Don’t think you’re better, stronger, or more important than you are. Pour yourself like a fountain. Come into the peace of wild things. Wait. Take the string you need. Forget-me-not. Believe morning is new sheet of paper. Don’t be polite. Go a-dabbling.  Let the rain kiss you. Allow yourself to be spelled differently. Feel the stars and sun and bells singing. Live with a full moon in each eye. Un-self yourself. Love still as once you loved, deeply and without patience. Know of nothing else. Know of nothing else but miracles.

The poem was created with lines from poems by Stephen Dunn, Naomi Shihab Nye, Li-Young Lee, Robert Frost, Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Walt Whitman, Paisley Rekdal, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Wendell Berry, Marilyn Singer, Lilian Moore, Ralph Fletcher, Eve Merriam, Kenneth Grahame, Langston Hughes, Emma Mellon, Gwendolyn Brooks, Hafiz, Christine Deluca.

We’re living in a surreal moment, but even with self-isolation and social distancing, we can choose to live out loud and live our poem.


About the image: The unrelated and not-so-great squirrel “portrait” is from another time, when I could happily take daily walks through campus observing spring’s awakening. The squirrels and I had become companions; we were a little wary of each other, but they often remained posed long enough for the click of the camera. This little guy was enjoying an afternoon snack and “living his poem.” He’s visiting for #WordlessWednesday. 🙂

#ThursdayTreeLove | Something Hopeful…

For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. –Job 14:7

Today was one of those days. I’d been staring at screens all day–reviewing essays, entering grade book items, meeting with students in the virtual classroom, and responding to emails. By 2:00 p.m., my brain screamed, “No more!”  The sun was shining and I was desperate to get outdoors, stretch my limbs, and finally soak in some Vitamin D.

The guys and I jumped in the car, took a short drive, and went for a very short walk at our favorite nature preserve–favorite because it’s the one closest to us; short because suddenly carloads of people and dogs showed up. [We are serious about the social distancing]

As I mentioned more than once, it rained pretty much all winter here in the Tennessee Valley, so in certain areas the preserve looked like a different place: Some of the trails [like the one above] have been taken over by water, and much of the brush has been beaten down by heavy rains.

Newly fallen, dead, and uprooted trees added character to the already beautiful landscape, offering promise of life and renewal.

I absorbed the scene as long as I could. There is something awe-inspiring, powerful, amazing, and hopeful about nature taking (back) its course.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. | Self-love and Soul Work

One of the most amazing experiences I had last year was traveling to Montgomery, Alabama [with a colleague and several Huntsville area K-12 teachers] and walking the path where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his activism. We often discuss King’s leading the fight for Civil Rights in this country with emphasis on his practice of non-violent/passive resistance. But, while he worked to build bridges between blacks and whites during one of the most turbulent eras of United States racial history, King also addressed the need for African Americans to resist the stigmatization of blackness. He urged us to love ourselves in spite of our country’s ingrained propensity to chip away at any inclination we possess toward authentic self-love and acceptance.

King would have been 90 today, and since his birthday falls during Pics and Posts’ “Self-love Week,” I am sharing an excerpt from a speech that encourages self-love.

I come here tonight to plead with you. Believe in yourself and believe that you are somebody. I said to a group last night: Nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. No Lincolnian emancipation proclamation can do this for us. No Johnsonian Civil Rights bill can do this for us.

If the Negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own emancipation proclamation.

Don’t let anybody take your manhood. Be proud of our heritage…we don’t have anything to be ashamed of.

Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything “black” ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word “white,” it’s always something pure, high and clean. Well, I want to get the language right tonight.

I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!”

And because MLK’s speeches are best experienced aurally:

King spoke specifically to African Americans in this speech, but there’s something in his speech for everyone. Dig deep and do the work. Love the skin you’re in. Find within you that which is good and strong and beautiful.

Perhaps, if everyone took the time to love themselves the world wouldn’t be such a mess! We wouldn’t have to feast on fear and hatred or make ourselves sick building superficial lives in search of acceptance by others.

People who love themselves love people. People who love themselves are beautiful. People who love themselves use their energy and resources to build up others, not tear down and destroy.

Self-love is work, but one of the best ways we express self-love is through the soul work of loving others.

 

#ThursdayTreeLove | Giving Thanks with Trees

I’m thanking you, GOD, from a full heart, I’m writing the book on your wonders. I’m whistling, laughing, and jumping for joy; I’m singing your song, High God.
Psalm‬ ‭9:1-2‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Trees are beautiful gifts from God, so it’s fitting that #ThursdayTreeLove falls on Thanksgiving. The Bible verses above perfectly speak my feelings when I’m in the presence of trees. They fill my heart, leaving me light and joyful, singing songs for the Most High.

For today’s tree love I’m sharing photos of the other campus tree I stalk during autumn. I captured these images on a rainy day two weeks ago and could hardly wait to share them. The tree gets much brighter than this, but unfortunately, the cold rainy days kept me away from shooting more. By now, I’m sure, the tree is bare–and that’s another kind of beauty I look forward to sharing.

Enjoy the few images below. [Click an image for a closer look]

 

Last Friday’s post, “Wait and Hope,” featured a preview of the tree. I learned from Sharon of Ink Flarewho commented about her love for gingko leaves, that this is a gingko tree. Thanks, Sharon!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Pardon the one-post interruption of “Sunflower Week,” but #ThursdayTreeLove comes only twice a month, and I cannot resist sharing the trees. No worries. I’ll be back with sunflowers tomorrow and the next day.

I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Also, linking up with Dawn of The Day After in the Festival of Leaves photo challenge.

#ThursdayTreeLove | “Yet the Winds Whispered Hope”

Today’s #ThursdayTreeLove post is dedicated to those who are nurturing a dream that seemingly never materializes.

Learn to plant a dream.
Learn to do the daily things that make it a reality.
Learn to ignore those who say it can’t happen.
Learn to push past your own fear and doubt and keep taking action.
Learn to have faith when there is no reason to have faith.  –from “The Chinese Bamboo Story”

Entrance to the “Bamboo Garden,” part of the Children’s Garden at the Huntsville Botanical Garden

The bamboo trees in this post are from the Huntsville Botanical Garden (HBG). My guys and I visited the Garden about a month ago, courtesy of the HBG–in honor of my son’s placing in Botany category at the Alabama State Science and Engineering Fair last spring [Go V!].

Bamboo in the Huntsville Botanical Garden

My son has been growing his own bamboo plant since second grade (Thanks, Mrs. Crarey!) and I’ve been noticing its strength, resistance, and resilience. I couldn’t help but seek the bamboo trees when we were in the Garden last month. I saw them there six years ago, shortly after we moved to the area. I was thoroughly impressed then.

My Little One in the Bamboo, Huntsville, Alabama, September 25, 2012. #throwback

I am no less impressed now.

We have much to learn from the long, strong, and flexible tree. I especially appreciate its lesson in patience, so instead of a pithy quote, I decided to share “The Chinese Bamboo Story.” May you be inspired to patiently work your dreams:


I am joining Parul Thakur every second and fourth Thursday for #ThursdayTreeLove. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

“Montgomery on My Mind”

People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in –Rosa Parks

My colleague, Dr. Ramona Hyman, always has “Montgomery” and its rich Civil Rights history “on [her] mind.” Thanks to her, I have Montgomery, Alabama on my mind too as I prepare to spend a couple of days there with her and several Huntsville educators “Revisiting the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” The educators are working on integrating this piece of history into their K-12 classes. I have a different research agenda–as I’m thinking through a project on women’s involvement in critical moments in history.

Today is a perfect time to share some of the Rosa Parks postcards in my collection. I’ve had them for quite some time, but now that I’m thinking about Montgomery, it’s an appropriate time to share.

Many people know about her contribution to American civil rights and history, but just in case you don’t know–Rosa Parks is considered the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” Her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama on December 1, 1955 “triggered a wave of protests that reverberated throughout the United States.” The boycott lasted for more than a year and ultimately catapulted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. into national prominence. The boycotts led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on city buses.

Here are three related postcards from my collection:

The “Rosa Parks Bus” at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan

From the postcard back:

Montgomery City Bus 2857. Originally built in 1948 in Pontiac, Michigan, Bus 2857 was operated by the Montgomery City Bus Lines in Montgomery, Alabama from 1954-1971. Rosa Parks was riding this bus on the evening of December 1, 1955 when she was arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man. This incident sparked subsequent civil rights protests, especially the boycott of Montgomery’s bus system. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the beginning of a revolutionary era of non-violent mass protests in support of civil rights in the United States. The yearlong boycott kept Montgomery’s [black population] off all buses until December 1956 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the segregation of public transportation was unconstitutional. Bus 2857 was retired and sold in 1971. After sitting for 30 years in a field, the bus was purchased by auction by The Henry Ford [Museum} and has been restored to appear as it did in 1955. The bus is now on display in the Henry Ford Museum.

You can find more details about the purchase and restoration of the bus here: Restoring the Rosa Parks Bus.

Rosa Parks arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white man.

The postcard, featuring the familiar image of Parks being fingerprinted, comes from the Women Who Dared collection sent to me during Women’s History Month several years ago. The sender added a Parks quote:

Each person must live life as a model for others. –Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks (1913-2005)

The art above is part of the “Celebrating Women” banners that were on display at The Lower Eastside Girls Club’s Celebrate Cafe in New York City when I visited several years ago (2010, maybe?). If I remember correctly, each banner was created by a young woman who was involved in the Club.

You can find out a lot more about Rosa Parks by reading her biography on the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute website. You’ll find that she was much more than the woman who refused to give up her seat.

“A Hymn for Montgomery 55” by Ramona Hyman
from her collection, In the Sanctuary of the South

Holy, holy, holy: a hymn of praise
For prophets framing freedom
In Montgomery 55: Strange fruits marching–some
Walking, some crawling–some…

Holy, holy, holy–a hymn of praise
Emptying itself
Americans: black and white; hand in hand
Saintly sighing a freedom song of praise

Holy, holy, holy–the march raises
Into victory: freedom swells, the flag: separate
And unequal shreds into the face of anxious
Soldiers–black and white jumping the broom
Into a new day–the Civil Rights Movement begins