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.

#ThursdayTreeLove | TreeArt Part I: The Sculptor

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the [wo]man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.  William Blake, Letters from William Blake to Dr. John Trusler (1799)

The guys and I finally had an opportunity to get in a bit of tree therapy a couple of weeks ago. After finding absolutely no parking at one mountain trail, we drove to another and found the parking lot empty. We had the whole trail to ourselves! [We kept our masks on anyway–just in case].

For this outing, I was drawn to the remains of trees, which add a bit of drama and art to the trails.

I didn’t take many shots, but I have nine or ten photos to share. Instead of throwing all in one post, I’m spreading them out over three [consecutive?] #ThursdayTreeLove posts.

Today I’m sharing tree sculptures. Nature does an amazing job of sculpting trees–from the initial “cut” to the shaping.

The one below is freshly “cut.” I wonder what shape it will take.

Apparently it was struck by lightning. Here’s the top:

I’ll be watching for how these transform [even more] over time.

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.

“She Glories in Being Abandoned”

She says she glories in being abandoned.  –J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Earlier this week while out for a drive, I caught a glimpse of an abandoned building I’ve photographed many times over the last several years. I’m always intrigued by how much the building changes, but I was stunned by the beauty of its neighbor [photos #1, 2, 4, 5].

I was pleased to find nature doing what it does–reclaiming what the humans left behind.

I had a difficult time choosing which photos to share for [not-so] #Wordless Wednesday–the originals or the edits. My hubby remarked that color photos tell a story, and the black and white ones are more artsy. Since I can’t decide whether I want to share a story or art, I’m sharing both sets.

Did you ever wonder
Why abandoned houses looked so sad

Much like the people
Their exterior was only for the function

We would not feel so sad
If we recognized

That the spirit of the house
Had already moved on

The dream remained.

Maria Lehtman, The Dreaming Doors

[For earlier shots of the building in photos #3 and #6, check out a 2016 post.  You’ll be able to note some of the changes in the building’s condition].

#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.

#ThursdayTreeLove | Naked Tree and First Snow

Snow was falling,

so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more

than prettiness.  –Mary Oliver, from “Snowy Night,” What Do We Know

I’m taking a very short break from grading because it’s time for #ThursdayTreeLove, and I can’t resist sharing one of the snow pics I snapped with my iPhone earlier this week. It’s a simple snapshot, but it captures a naked tree and our first snow of the season.

Snow is rare in the Deep South, so many of us get excited whenever it comes our way. In this photo, the snow had just begun to fall and the temperature hadn’t [yet] dropped enough for the snow to stick.

I do not like being cold, so I stood just outside my office building and videotaped the snow for a few seconds. [Video below]. It was so relaxing to take a break and watch the snow fall.

Enjoy!


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 | The Dance of the Magnolia

There is something arresting and unearthly about a magnolia tree in flower. Something that dances between divinity and dementia.  —Pavithra K. Mehta, Magnolia Tree

Louisiana girl that I am, the Southern Magnolia is [naturally] one of my favorite trees. I’ve been trying to “perfectly” capture the magnolia blossom for years. I remember stopping to photograph the blossoms whenever I could before our move from New Orleans because I wanted the perfect magnolia from New Orleans to deck one of our walls.

I managed to capture a few satisfactory shots before we left. They’re far less than perfect, but the expertly composed shots of the flower by my brother [on display in my parents’ home]  and other photographers encourage me to keep working on it.

“Inside the Magnolia”

So, here are my meager magnolia offerings for #ThursdayTreeLove. I shot some on campus a week ago just after a rain shower and some at my cousin’s house a couple of weeks ago before my grand color exploration with the tiny one.

I felt the photos needed texture, so I added just a little [hopefully] without compromising the natural beauty of the flowers and tree.

The magnolia leaf, so elegantly formed, remains strong and glossy even after its fall.

Some of the blossoms deserved the stroke of Impressionism, so I “painted” some.  I’ve come a long way with my art skills since I made a mess last week–thanks to the Impresso app. 😉

These are in various stages of bloom. My photo of a tightly closed bloom is “meh” at best, so I’ll spare you that one.

“And the time came…”

The tricky thing about photographing magnolias is finding ways around the height of the tree. The campus trees are really tall, but I was able to get nice “beneath the blossoms” shots.

“Twinsies”

“The Underside of Perfection”

The gorgeous “end” of the flower.

“Bald and Beautiful”

And finally, here’s a quick video I made of one of the magnolias on campus enjoying the company of the other trees. Thanks to Amanda, one of my photographer friends, for the tip about Pixaloop, which gave me the moving clouds and birds.

I quote Pavithra M at the beginning of this post. Her short piece, “Magnolia Tree” powerfully communicates the essence of the magnolia and our attraction to it. Be sure to click over and give it a read. But should you neglect doing so, I leave you with her closing words:

I think about this outlandish tree that races back to Time’s cradle, and its flowers that open alarmingly wide as if to swallow the sun, the way it gives itself madly to the moment. With radical generosity and no reservation. And what would be possible–if we could learn to live like that.


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 | 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 | Notice, Pause, and Wonder.

In her October 11 #ThursdayTreeLove, Parul Thakur wrote about how people are oblivious to the trees they pass every day. She urged readers to “notice things around you and within you. Take nothing for granted. Nothing.”

My work environment is filled with gorgeous trees. I generally pass the same trees during my [almost] daily walk, but I “never, ever, ever” tire of them; there’s always something new or different to note. In fact, yesterday, as I was on my way to a warm spot to meditate and write, I was so distracted by the trees that my writing hour slipped away.

Unlike my tree venture two weeks ago, yesterday the trees provided the therapy I’d planned to find in writing.

Like Parul, when I’m enjoying the trees, I see others passing by with absolutely no awareness of them. Every now and then, they stop, wonder, and ask about what I’m observing or photographing. After a brief conversation, they pause and take note before walking away. I “cross my fingers” and hope they will no longer take the trees for granted.

If we’re not careful, trees will become part of the mundane, ordinary of our day to day, and they are much too beautiful, too knowing, too giving, too spectacular to be ordinary.


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.