#ThursdayTreeLove | “When I Am Among the Trees”

As I’m nearing the end of this week of not feeling quite like myself, I am thankful for the time I spent with the trees–during one long walk on a path I hadn’t taken in years and in brief moments while running errands.

The photo above was from one of my shorter walks. As I walked, I looked up to behold the beautiful black walnut tree with its gorgeous branch extended over the path–an invitation to loveliness and light.

Being “among the trees” is therapy at its best. “They save me…daily.”

“When I Am Among the Trees”
Mary Oliver

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”


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.

Doodling Purple | “Sitting on a Bus with Strangers”

I was a bus rider for several years, but, with the exception of taking the streetcars in New Orleans for fun, it’s been a long, long time since I rode a city bus anywhere. 

I kind of miss the almost quiet commute. Traffic and road construction were someone else’s concern, so I took the time to grade papers, review lecture notes, daydream, or rest.

I especially enjoyed people-watching: mothers with babies struggling to load strollers onto the bus and the ever-present kind gentlemen who assisted them; school kids chatting about their day or “clowning” each other; men and women in business attire leaving their work behind and mentally planning dinner or a night out. The chance meet-up of neighbors and friends, excitedly greeting each other.

There were always crazy, interesting, and [sometimes] scary stories to report after a ride on the bus.

The latest postcard from Fran B, my Love Notes pal, reminded me of those bus rides and the many stories that were part of the experience. The postcard features the poem “Sitting on a Bus with Strangers” by Teresa Wyeth. The poem is part of Indiana’s Shared Spaces/Shared Voices public art project that infused Indianapolis’ public transportation system with literary art and spoken word performances written by Indiana writers. 

About the Image: The top image is one of the photo art pieces I crafted from the mums I shot at the end of September. You can see more mums art in last week’s [not-so] #WordlessWednesday post.

Mums the Word!

Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.

–Mary Oliver, “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” Blue Horses, 2014

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the autumn flower–mums!

When we celebrated my aunt’s birthday this past weekend–social distancing measures in place–I knew I had to capture the mums welcoming us to her home. I had plans to play around with them later.

I’d been adding “create something” to my daily to-do list for days, but had not managed to check off that “task,” so I sat down with my computer and iPad to “play” during last night’s non-presidential debate[?].  I was able to revisit the mums and transform them in more ways than I can share in one blog post.

Here are three of the 12 pieces I crafted. [I will share some of the others in separate posts].

Maybe, they’re beautiful. Maybe, they’re not. No matter. The pleasure was in the process of creating, not the outcome.

There Is Joy…

But
isn’t it funny?
[…]
all they are interested in is our pain,
as if the joy-parts were accidental.

I write love poems, too,
but
you only want to see my mouth torn open in protest,
as if my mouth were a wound
with pus and gangrene
for joy. –Koleka Putuma, “Black Joy,” Collective Amnesia

People misunderstand Blacks in America. When we rise up against police brutality and other racial and social injustices in this country, when we speak the truth of our pain, we are not saying our lives are utterly miserable. There is joy, and–at the risk of sounding essentialist–that is part of our beauty and strength as a people.

I’ve run across many people who are interested in our pain, as the poet Koleka Putuma notes, but few who are invested in our joy. This strips us of our humanness and reduces us to “objects.”

I assure you. There is joy.

In spite of the pain that often comes with living in this world with Black skin, in spite of the economic barriers, in spite of the educational and health disparities, in spite of systemic oppression, we are able to thrive and embrace joy. We are able to live and worship and laugh and love and support our communities. We are able to forgive, to comfort, to heal. In spite of the struggle, there is much that is joyful and beautiful in our lives.


About the image: The photo was shot at my Dad’s 80th birthday party five+ years ago. I was searching my Flickr album for a completely different photo, but there was so much joy in this photo that it oozed off the screen and into my spirit on this gloomy not-so-wordless Wednesday.

Fly High…

Fly high… where the only chill that cuts through you is the wind. Where your heart pounds from exhilaration not disappointment, and after ascending through cloudy wisps, brushing your wings, there is only the clear blue horizon beckoning you forth… –Virginia Alison

The Day the Music Stopped

“Hammond: B-3, 9th Ward, New Orleans.” Frank Stewart. 2006 [photo of a photo]

We will never forget. Hurricane Katrina. 08.29.05.


About the Image: I shot the photo of a photo nine years ago while in New York City. The Hammond B-3 organ was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago today [New Orleans, August 29, 2005]. The photograph is part of Traveling Full Circle: Frank Stewart’s Visual Music, which was exhibited at at the Lincoln Center in New York City in 2011.  You can learn more about Stewart, longtime Senior Staff Photographer for Jazz at the Lincoln Center, and his body of work by visiting his website: Frank Stewart.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Unbothered

“Oak Feet”

The campus trees and I have been reunited! I returned to work August 3 [technically], but it had been too hot to visit them. Yesterday was less oppressive, so I was happy to get outdoors when a colleague needed a favor.  While I was walking back to my office, I noticed how beautifully the oak near my building had spread.

“The Spreading Oak” [iPhone photo]

I had to get back to my office to complete a task before leaving for the day, so I quickly snapped the shot above with my phone and promised to return.

I made good on my promise today.

I worked diligently all morning. It was afternoon before I knew it, so I took a five-minute break to clear my head and energize before tackling another task on the ‘must do today” list. Of course, I headed to the trees.

“Intricate Pattern”

Oh, how I missed them the last five+ months! I didn’t have much time, so I walked the circle of trees nearest my building. I stood still for a moment to take in the scene–from the patterns in tree trunks (above) to the tiny magnolia [?] that took root in the foot of another tree (below).

“Magnolia Rooted”

Then, I turned my attention to the oak. I was simply mesmerized by its majesty and by how much it had thrived in the absence of an abundance of human activity. In fact, all the trees seemed unbothered by pandemics and human foibles.

“Hello, Beautiful”

I was reminded of a reading from Melodie Beattie’s Journey to the Heart. In the passage, she refers to the redwoods of California, but I will take the liberty and ascribe her words to “my” trees:

“A Fragment of the Majestic”

For hundreds of years they have been here, patiently seeing things through. Little ruffled them. They just kept on growing for all those years—steadily, patiently, peacefully, calmly. They have been through enough, seen enough, to know not to worry. Things work out. Change happens. Life continues to evolve.

I didn’t see one tree hurrying or worrying. They have been here long enough to learn life’s lessons well.  –Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul

“Strong Arms”

My first campus walk since March–a deep, cleansing breath.


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.

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].

Seven Days Ago…

Seven days ago
my oldest nephew was murdered…
while helping someone in need…
in a case of mistaken identity.

I have not
found the words to name this pain.
I do not have the capacity to hold it,
so I hold my breath
and scour his Facebook page
for pretty words
and praise for who he was

and think about small moments of joy
and celebration,

like the time I spent two weeks ago
with Colleen’s flowers.

Rest in Peace, Dear Byron.
Thank you for the gifts of your smile,
your open heart,
your joyful presence.

Until we meet again,
I will hold you in my heart.

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  (I Corinthians 15:51-54 KJV)