Berries.

I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all of these things, I have found them reason enough and–I wish to live. –Lorraine Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

At the Right Time…

I recently received Morgan Harper Nichols’s beautiful book, All Along You Were Blooming, as a gift. This book is filled with such beautiful soul-filling poetry that I can’t simply pick it up, select a poem, and move on. I have to wait for a moment when I can savor her words and let them sink deep into and soak my soul from the bottom up (if souls have bottoms).

I read the poem that follows this afternoon, and it feels like it was written for me in this moment. I’ve been operating in a fog and from a place of brokenness for far too long. I felt myself beginning to fall beneath the weight of it all, the pandemic, and being in crisis mode all.the.time. A few days ago–Sunday–I simply asked God to help me release the weight. I asked for clarity and direction. I don’t normally put in major [for my job] work hours during the weekend, but Sunday I work-worked for hours nonstop. Something in me felt compelled to clear several things off that particular plate.

By the next morning, I realized that there was a major shift inside. The Divine One had taken the whole load and kept me too busy to fuss and fret. The challenges are still here–obviously–but the weight is not mine to bear. I found myself really breathing again for the first time in a long time.

At the right time,
every broken thing
will come together for good.
You are more than your
failures,
successes,
more than your fears.
And far beyond the surface
of your desires,
there is a truer season
why you are still here.
If you find yourself struggling
to see past your imperfections
because you cannot figure out how
what’s torn apart can come together,
may you know in your soul
that the answer is not found in thinking,
feeling,
doing,
but in trusting what is Greater than you.

–Morgan Nichols, All Along You Were Blooming


About the Images: When I received the butterfly postcard [second photo] from my Love Notes friend Christine B, I was über excited because I knew somewhere in my 2016 photo library there was a twin butterfly feasting on yellow flowers [top photo]. Ha! I was wrong. The butterflies, though slightly similar in underside color, are different. My photo features a common buckeye; Christine’s a Melissa Blue.  Maybe, they’re cousins. 😉

New Year: A Dialogue

“Cheers to the New Year.” Photo by Rebecca R.

Happy New Year, Friends!

Although I said I would, I changed my mind about sharing a Neruda poem this evening. Instead, I decided to drop in with a dialogue poem by late 19th/early 20th century poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. The dialogue speaks to this particular moment of transition. After the maddening year that’s just ended, some of us might be a little wary about our march into 2021. But the year awaits with all its gifts.

New Year: A Dialogue
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Mortal
“The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear;
Who is it knocking at my door?”

The New Year
“I am Good Cheer.”

Mortal
“Your voice is strange; I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”

The New Year
“Friend, let me in; my name is Hope.”

Mortal
“And mine is Failure; you but mock the life you seek to bless. Pass on.”

The New Year
“Nay, open wide the door; I am Success.”

Mortal
“But I am ill and spent with pain; too late has come your wealth. I cannot use it.”

The New Year
“Listen, friend; I am Good Health.”

Mortal
“Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”

The New Year
“But you must open, too, your heart, for I am Love.”

May you find in this year good cheer, hope, success, good health, and, of course, love.


About the image: The macro photo of a leaf with raindrops (or dew?) came from my friend, Rebecca R. She captured it during an autumn walk and sent it with best wishes for the new year.

#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 | 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.

Beauty and Purpose

Zinnias by Rift Vegan

Today,  I [re]opened a purple envelope filled with beautiful blooms photographed by Rift Vegan, one of my A Thousand Words pals on swap-bot. She sent the flowers a year ago for “Pink and Purple Awareness,” a swap organized to raise awareness and honor victims and survivors of breast cancer and domestic violence.

Here are her photos with her notes:

“Beauty Berry” by Rift Vegan

This lovely plant is actually native to your area, not mine! They plant all kinds of interesting things at the Rhododendron Garden at Hendricks Park–a favorite place to hike!

“Cosmos at the Community Garden” by Rift Vegan

“Rhododendron” by Rift Vegan

This photo was shot early October last year, so Rift wrote:

Prime time for the rhodys is April, but there are outliers that keep the garden in color all year round.

“Asters” by Rift Vegan

I love asters, but they tend to die when I plant them at my community garden plot. It’s been a few years though. It might be time to try again!

“Pretty” by Rift Vegan

I don’t know what this is, but it’s pretty!

As I read Rift’s notes and tidbits of information, I felt like I was taking a walk with her through the gardens. Along with the pictures, she enclosed a much longer note relating her “pink and purple” stories.

Having lost two sisters to breast cancer and a cousin and acquaintances to domestic violence, these issues are dear to my heart. Of course, the problems cannot be solved with flowers. The flowers are simply a beautiful way to honor their strength and remind us of hope.


Update: Thanks to Darren, the ArtyPlantman, I now know the “pretty” flower is called Osteospermum. Of course, the Arty Plantman would know! Thanks, Darren!

#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.

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.

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.

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].