#ThursdayTreeLove | A Trip to Tuscany

I missed #ThursdayTreeLove last week. :-/ Thankfully, December gave us five Thursdays this year, because I could not miss celebrating Parul Thakur’s 100th #ThursdayTreeLove post! I started participating with #TTL 45–2.5 years and approximately 55 #ThursdayTreeLoves ago–but Parul’s been rocking tree love consistently for four years!

Number 100 deserves something special, so I am taking you on a brief trip to Tuscany with photographs by Steven Rothfeld from a 2007 engagement calendar, Under the Tuscan Sun.

While attempting a major declutter of my home office, I ran across the calendar, which features excerpts and recipes from Frances Mayes’s booksUnder the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, In Tuscany, and Bringing Tuscany Home. Instead of tossing it as I probably should have, I decided to use some of the images in journals and letters. All of the images are beautiful, but I was really mesmerized by photos that included the Mediterranean Cypress.

Please enjoy a bit of eye-candy from Tuscany with Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Keeping Quiet.” The poem has nothing to do with trees or Tuscany, but it does offer a bit contemplation for entering the new year.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

I was torn between this poem and another by Neruda, so I’ll share the other poem tomorrow. Until then, though the blast of fireworks and the countdown to midnight vie for your attention, be sure to tune inward and take a moment for quiet reflection.


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 | Lit

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the [wo]man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. As a [wo]man is, so [s]he sees.  –William Blake, “Letter to John Trusler,” 1799.

I’m having a hard time focusing on my tasks today, so I’m taking a short break to share a bit of tree love.

One late October evening just before leaving work, I looked out the window and whoa!  I was stunned speechless by these trees lit by the setting sun. I was mesmerized, actually.

The photos do little justice to the scene, but I hope they offer just a glimpse of the unearthly beauty that nearly moved me to tears.


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.

Coping with the Madness of 2020: List It

I woke up this morning with thoughts of an eight-year-old boy, the nephew of one of my kindest friends. He woke up this morning for the first time without his mother’s embrace. She passed yesterday after a very lengthy battle with cancer. Though I didn’t know her or her little boy, I felt myself spiraling for my friend, for her family, and especially for the little one.

As if the out-of-the-ordinary madness of 2020 isn’t enough, unfortunately we also have to deal with dreaded realities like illness and death. The everyday concerns and these hardships  combined with the abnormalities of this year can create a perfect stew of unmanageable anxiety and grief.

So how do I cope when life feels impossible and the emotions are too big to manage?  In addition to prayer (which we’ll save for another day), I make lists.

Lists, you ask? Not a typical task list but a lists of things I can’t control alongside a list of things I can control.

I can’t bring back the little boy’s mom. I can’t stop the hurt or grief, but I can pray and offer support.

I can’t singlehandedly eradicate the coronavirus, but I can do my part to stop the spread and protect my family and myself by wearing masks and avoiding situations in which social distancing is challenged.

I can’t control how the vote goes tomorrow, but I can control how I participate in the democratic process by exercising my hard-won right and responsibility to vote.

I can’t take away the abuse a friend suffered as a child that continues to hurt and traumatize so many decades later, but I can listen, affirm, pray, and hug.

I can’t make people not be racist, but I can educate and choose to operate from a place of love regardless.

When I was a teen, I encountered the “Serenity Prayer” on the front of a church bulletin, and the first part has been a mantra ever since:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. –Reinhold Niebuhr

The lists help me confront the big scary things in black and white, and then, determine my response to them. More often than not, serenity is the welcomed outcome.


About the Images: The images in this post are the full color versions of the grainy black and white photos in the previous post. I’d mentioned in my latest #treelove post that for Creative Auto shots the camera shoots an original color photo AND processes the “creative photo” at the same time. I don’t like these as much, but this is what happens when I don’t remember where I put the images I’d planned for today’s post. :-/

Coping with the Madness of 2020: Shut It Down!

Grainy Black and White: Fallen Magnolia Leaves

Plans for my “Coping with 2020” series were slightly derailed because, as one of my former students put it, this week was “ugly.” There’s no other way to put it. I worked 14-19 hour days almost every day this week. COVID-19 numbers rose daily. Zeta knocked down trees and power in NOLA and other places. And it seemed the whole world expressed anxiety about what we might wake up to November 4. By Thursday, I was livid because there was no relief from the noise.

One part of 2020’s madness for me is too much doing, too much noise all the time. Everywhere we turn. Noise. Someone or something telling us what to do, how to do it, how to think. Noise. Piling up our plates. Vying for control of our time and energy. Noise. Noise we seemingly can’t escape because doom and Zoom are everywhere.

Grainy Black and White: Impatiens

So how do I cope? I shut it down. Everything. Computers. Phone. All of it. And I sit, drive, or walk in total silence.

I’ve always loved the early morning and late night quiet and the rare but not impossible moment of respite from the daily noise in the middle of the day. But silence is different. We can always find quiet. Silence, ever-present and always within reach, seeks us, but we have to be intentional about being found.

Silence. When there are too many words and too much doing. Silence. When it’s easy to grab the phone and chat away whatever spare moments we can find. Silence. When we can put in our earbuds and tune out the world through music and podcasts. Silence. When the world is loud and boisterous and simply too much.

Grainy Black and White: Begonias

So this week—in the middle of the umpteenth multitasking Zoom meeting, just after the department’s student assistant knocked with one more issue she couldn’t address—I hit mute, closed my eyes and sat in silence.

I’m sure I was on the brink of screaming, “uncle!” That moment in the midst of the chaos saved my sanity.

When the world feels like too much—get off social media, turn off the tv, turn off all screens, ignore the phone and all the doing, and hit mute.

There is freedom and calm right in the middle of the silence.

Grainy Black and White: Magnolia Pods

#ThursdayTreeLove | When Tree Love Meets Creative Auto

For the last few weeks my campus walks have been taking me in directions I don’t normally take, and I have thoroughly enjoyed other sights and sounds of campus. As always, there’s no shortage of trees to love.

A couple of weeks ago, my walk started with the tree below:

I pass this tree twice a day–on my way to and from the office. In fact, it’s had a moment on the blog before. But as I was on my way to a different tree, this lone tree and its shadow caught my eye. The photo is a bit boring because I was really photographing the shadow.

Then…just yesterday, my camera wanted to play and found the tree again!

Again, I was drawn to the tree’s shadow. 😉

I’ve had a DSLR with a Creative Auto (CA) setting for at least a decade, but until a few days ago, I had not even attempted to play around with CA. Gasp! Don’t judge me too harshly.

There are various fun settings–toy camera, vivid, monochrome [of course], fisheye, soft focus, miniature, ambient, and more–but the grainy black and white stole my heart. I don’t know what it is about this setting that’s made me go ga-ga! The images are nostalgic and dramatic and artsy and moody all at once.

The really cool thing about the CA setting is that it captures a normal [color] version of the image as well as the “creative” image, so there are no regrets about missing the opportunity to shoot a particular object in color.

Thus, we have my two favorite photos from today’s escape-the-screen photo walk:

Yes. I walked to the willows today.

Be sure to take some time away from the screens and have a weekend filled with joy and creativity!


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 | “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