Thursday, July 2, 2015

Doors of Reflection

Doors are welcoming, forbidding, challenging, simple,
and filled with potential.  Well, not the doors themselves.  It's what they lead to, or might lead to, or might not. And all those possibilities that lie on the other side of that door, all of them live in your head, occupying the same space at the same time (string theory, anyone?). Because you just don't know for sure.  Of course you could simply turn the handle and find out.  However, opening the door and stepping through stops that activity cold. You have your one and only answer.

Sometimes it's better to wait a few minutes, sit in imagination, and conjure up the rooms on the other side.  This lilac painted door below could open onto an elaborate garden shed filled with shelves of hand-painted pots and trays of herb seedlings, or it might reveal a converted barn, furnished tastefully (if austerely) in minimalist Tuscan. 


I wonder how dark this basement-level apartment to the right is.  All the light seems to be living outdoors with the plants, huddled against the walls of the subterranean courtyard.  I'd guess that the inhabitants might want to spend all their time outside, tending the flower pots, chatting with each other, but there aren't any chairs.

The climbing roses brighten and scent this entry, but the door looks like it would take not just a key but a pretty strong shove to open,  resisting all visitors (unless they came bearing cake).  And yet, the chair on the right might suggest that the owner likes spending time out front, welcoming company, but it could also say, "Wait here while I consider my options."

I've spent a lot of time behind closed doors in my life. I like my privacy. I like to feel quiet and safe.  I like wandering the halls of my mind, uninterrupted--unless someone is offering cake.

When you've spent years indoors, the out-of-doors can be a bit, well, unnerving because the outside, the stuff on the other-side of your side, is always changing. Indoors, unless someone likes redecorating, can stay exactly the same (except for the odd cake crumb). But outdoors changes with the season, time of day, and weather (a subset of the prior two). Open the door twice, three times, fifty times, and you'll always be surprised.
Then there are garden doors.
This wooden door on the right looks as strong and almost as forbidding as the one above.  Both have brick walls and plants softening the angles with their green curves.  But when one knows (or at least has a pretty good hunch) that this door opens onto more of the same, well then, the surprise is always a good one.  There might as well be no door at all, as with this archway below.  
Garden doors have this advantage; there is no inside and outside.  There is only this garden and that garden and the narrow space formed by the arch or doorway to huddle in when it rains.

But my favorite really is the heavy door that stands slightly ajar.  There is that moment of expectation experienced from that place of safety and imagination.  Possibilities exist, change, and grow, just a step or two away.

Okay.  Yes, I know this door is wide open, not "slightly ajar," but I like this photo, and you get the idea.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Benched: Rethinking Gardens, Photography, and Blogging

Bodnant Garden, North Wales

It's been nine months since my last blog post, and I confess (couldn't resist, sorry) that I didn't think I'd be coming back. But after reading some posts about the Toronto Garden Bloggers' Fling and especially about the talk Gayla Trail gave about resisting/rejecting the urge to make money and/or accrue followers, I felt the urge to rethink my approach. 

Garden Path at Snowshill Manor in The Cotswolds
Bodnant Garden
 Add to that the fact that I've been riding the photography roller-coaster known as microstock since January. This is the field where you get micro-pay for taking technically perfect (at the friggin' pixel level) photos of stuff other people might want to use to illustrate [fill in blank]. 

While I learned a lot and improved a lot, I found myself taking way too many shots of gravel, tree bark, doors, and hands planting flowers with lots of space to the left or right. I also spent too much time staring at noise, pixels, and things I had no names for and couldn't see at reasonable sizes.
Even my flower portraits were reduced to colored squares and fuzzy stuff. There were few real ideas and no love.  And I was rejecting shots that didn't fit the microstock commercial mold or meet the technical requirements.  But what about my requirements?  They receded--as did I--further and further into the background.

The Glades, Surrey, Canada
Maybe I'm approaching this all wrong. There are just too many people with too many cameras to "compete." Anyone can take a picture. Mine aren't the best or the worst, and the somewhere in between is too broad and varied a field to even begin discussing. But I still like to take pictures of things I like looking at.
I garden. Not well, not often enough for public display. But I like looking at plants and digging around in the dirt.  I enjoy growing things, and when I end up killing some of the things I tried to grow, I enjoy learning about why they died.
I can put words together better than some but not enough words or often enough.

So I have some skills, and I have some activities I sometimes let myself enjoy.  And I still have a blog--at least I still have the name and the space.

So I'm going to find a nice bench in a garden, sit awhile, and think my own thoughts.  And enjoy the view.

Hidcote Manor Garden, Gloucestershire

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cataract Surgery: It's REALLY BRIGHT out there!

I had no idea I had cataracts until about 2 years ago when my optometrist informed me that they were starting to show up. Since, for most people, cataracts grow slowly, he told me I'd have nothing to worry about for several years. However, I am not most people, and mine responded like Creeping Buttercup on MiracleGro. My surgeries were done in July.

Let me say again that I hadn't a clue that my eyesight was impaired more than needing distance glasses and reading glasses . . . and computer glasses (that also doubled as my "cooking glasses" for chopping and measuring, etc.). But after the first surgery (on the particularly bad left eye), trite or not, a whole new world opened up! My eyes became a kind of toy: I'd go around covering up one eye and then switching. The difference was stunning! My "new" left eye beheld a bright--almost too bright--world with whites whiter than I remembered. Colors popped, especially pinks, reds, and blues. When I changed and looked through my right eye alone it was as if a dull, brownish haze had settled over everything. I walked around shifting hands and eyes and laughing like some sort of demented eye-chart patient.

For this blog, I'd wanted to find images for before-and-after examples of my pre- and post-surgical light and color vision, but that wasn't really possible. Although I shoot a lot of my macro pictures in manual, I still rely on at least some exposure information from my camera. And later, when I did post-processing in Lightroom, the Histogram (a graph display of brightness levels) kept me from blowing out (over-exposing and washing out) the whites when I tried to increase the exposure of images that looked awfully dark to me. As for color, I guess I mostly just accepted what I saw.


What I've done here is use images I took between the two surgeries (yes, I had to go back and forth between my eyes) to attempt to give you an idea of the change. A little extreme, maybe, but not too terribly far off the mark.

As mentioned above, blues and reds, pinks and purples all popped. Greens didn't change that much. But everything was brighter, MUCH brighter.

While I am ecstatic about the almost psychedelic world I'm now seeing (I really do walk around saying "oh wow, like wow"), I'd opted for vision correction in addition to cataract removal. So one less pair of glasses is one or two more procedures away, and, right now, none of my glasses work. The world is bright, colorful, but not as clear as it will be.  
Something more to look forward to.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Winter Flowering: Pink Dawn Viburnum

My three Pink Dawn Viburnums (Viburnum x bodnantense 'Pink Dawn') started to bud on December 24, 2013, but didn't get around to letting a flower peak through until mid-February. 

I figured I'd write a blog about them as soon as I had a range of photos, but what to write? I researched (Googled and went through all my books) trying to find something odd or interesting or, at least, oddly interesting, but no luck. 

  Early to flower, light fragrance, zones 5-7, 8 or 9--depending on the source--nice fall color, cross between V. farreri and V. grandiflorum, etc. Fine, all fine, but why post photos and info when the info was everywhere? This isn't what I wanted my blog to be.

As I was doing the dishes today, I realized what I could say (this sort of thing always seems to happen when I'm washing the dishes or in the shower. Something about water? Difficulty in holding a pen and dousing a notepad suggests inspiration?) And what I could say is the following:

I love to walk into mature gardens filled with open flowers. All those shapes and all that color is just one enormous, loud "Hi there!" All those "faces" are like friends of-the-moment, made at an especially fun party. The kind of effortless, immediate camaraderie that feels like an unexpected gift.
Yeah.  Well.  I love those moments, I do.  But there's something in me--as mostly a Macro photographer--that needs to plan, work ( and suffer ) for longer, perhaps deeper relationships.  I like to take time, get as close as possible to individual plants, destroy my knees, and photograph that conversation.

 So these photos, taken from early bud to last sagging flowers, reflect my relationship with my Pink Dawns over these last few months. 

The buds, with all their fuzzy bits and pink bits and green bits, intrigued and excited me at first.  It was hard to tell what would unfold where.  But the weeks went on and on and my impatience and frustration grew.  Would they never open?  Would they just dry up and just fall off in the cold?

Then one morning in February when I walked out into the garden for a bud-check, the fuzzy bits had peeled back and the pink bits had pushed out and open.  Just a few, but enough to give me hope (and a few shots).

However, not longer after, we got slammed by 18 inches of snow (see my March 3rd post for what that looked like).  I couldn't even locate the plants much less the fragile blooms.

But when the snow finally melted and the sun came back, the flowers quickly multiplied, with the wind rarely letting them hold still long enough for decent shots! 


When the little trumpet blooms were so much paler than the buds it all seemed pointless, until they multiplied and scented the air (if you stuck your nose right into them--easy enough to do when you're on your knees, inches from them). And lastly--at this point--all the buds opened to a sigh and a sag. All that effort. Surely it was worth it.
But don't get me wrong. In the right mood, I can definitely enjoy a big, crazy party with lots of superficial relationships!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Snow Days

Eighteen inches.  It snowed eighteen inches in one day.  Now some of you are rolling your eyes and laughing at this.  Some of you see eighteen inches of snow in two hours.  Some of you only see snow when you watch the Winter Olympics (and why are YOU watching winter sports you’d never participate in since you are without anything deserving the name "winter"?  Yes, this former Californian has become a winter-snob).  However, SOME of us aren’t used to eighteen inches of snow in one day.

Nor are we accustomed to having the ground so saturated and the temperature so consistently below freezing that our gardens are hidden from view, and our snow-heavy trees are bent so far over they look ironically like arbors at Santa’s Village.

 I turn around just in time to see the Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars menace our house with their white bulk.  They fill the air with groans and sudden cracks as another limb breaks from the trunk and crashes to the ground.

But when it just barely started to warm up, when the sun burned through the iron-grey skies for just a few hours, something lovely happened.  First, a few large mounds of snow slid off a branch of one of our towering trees and crashed to the ground with sparks of snow-bits leaping into the air.  Then another.  And then another.  They had held on through the snow-weight and cold.  Now, the newly released branches sprang back up into place, animating the frozen forest. So magical.  Then so many that it seemed like arboreal slapstick.  Alas, no photos.  Too busy watching and laughing.

 Then the ice in the pond began to break up and recede, and a few ducks attempted a swim.  Soon, I think, it might be spring.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sheeple and Their People

"Sheeple" is how our good friends, Yvonne and Doug, refer to their resident flock. They have personalities, moods, rather expressive faces. And, when they vocalize, they are amazingly loud. Who knew? 
Not long after lambing, 2012

When I was a child, I'd dreamed of roaming green hillsides, frolicking with goats and lambs. But Los Angeles didn't offer any such landscape. It was the stuff of story-books.

So was winter. But here I am in my Muck Boots and thick jacket against the chill in the barn at their Spinners Eden Farm ( ), watching Doug shear some very pregnant ewes and Yvonne pick through the fleece. She's a spinner/weaver/knitter, and, at first, they'd planned to raise a "spinner's flock" with a few angora goats, alpacas, and sheep for Yvonne's own personal use.  She found that she especially loved spinning wool from CVM (California Variegated Mutant) /Romeldale sheep ( ), so that's the breed they raise.  

She writes, " Then friends started asking about buying fleece.  I didn't think I'd ever have that much.  We had our first lambs, Adonis, Bacchus, & Athena.  The next year, we cross bred the two rams with the ewes, bought two more champion blacks & a white at Black Sheep Gathering. . . so our flock grew from four sheep to seven, to ten, to . . . 38 right now."  

  The wool makes them look twice as big as they are, even the pregnant ones!


 Bliss, below, clearly would have preferred some other activity, but she remained pretty calm with the process.



To the left, poor Holly looks like she exploded!

Raising sheep was not their first profession.  I asked Doug, an Ob/Gyn, if he'd ever imagined himself doing this; he just laughed and shook his head, before answering "No." But he's as passionate about these lovely, funny creatures as he is about medicine.  Just ask him what he learns from living with them; but pull up a chair and plan to stay awhile.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lens Upgrade Hell

My walk-around lens (Canon EF-S 17-85mm) choked. On vacation, where it was the only lens I had with me (i.e. "walk-around") it was giving me error messages rather than showing me the image (that it sometimes took anyway) telling me that I needed to clean the contacts. I cleaned them and it continued to choke.

taken just outside of Kelowna, BC, in-between chokes
According to my new, internet lens-buddies, this was a not uncommon occurrence with this lens. And I had my choice of what to do about it: 1) I could send it to Canon, who would charge me more than the lens was worth to fix it; OR 2) I could buy what may-or-may-not be the device that needs fixing on e-bay, buy the tools required to swap out said device, watch videos that purport to demonstrate how to swap out said device that may-or-may-not be the culprit, and then attempt to fix it myself; OR 3) I could take this opportunity to sell the lens (the glass is perfect) and buy an upgrade.

Door number 3.

And thus I embarked on the search for what that upgrade may be. Anyone of you who has ever tried to find the perfect walk-around lens knows that I had just entered the deranged realm of the astigmatic brain and the pixilated gaze. FOR WEEKS!

It was so simple when I was about to purchase my first DSLR. Then it was just a matter of asking for advice on one photo forum and taking what seemed to be the most sensible suggestion. It was the right choice for six years.

Ah, but now that I know more (or just think I do) and am familiar with more sites that are supposed to help me make an informed decision, I spent weeks narrowing my choices down and then rented the two top contenders based on quality and my checkbook. And then went over the same ground that had led me to these two lenses again and again.

The sites that talk about and/or demonstrate lens image quality are wonderful tools and will drive you to drink (or to substantially increased drinking).

The Optometrist Approach: Which is better, number one or number two? The people who go to the enormous trouble of taking lenses through all of their settings with some sort of image quality chart (a popular one shown below as rendered by Stephen H. Westin here: are doing us all an enormous favor. 

 These tests do reveal a lot.  And, after overuse, can reveal one to be obsessive/compulsive and in need of glasses. AND, some of us then feel the need to reproduce (very badly) what these experts have already done. Over and over. And then one comes to the conclusion that nothing looks clear, just more or less clear. 

--Seriously though (for a minute), I really do recommend taking a look at this excellent site for one of the easiest to use tools where you can plug in two different lenses, match f/stops and cameras and compare the results. Just don't drive yourself nuts with it: 
Pause for my kind of clarity with my trusty macro lens.
Hamamelis × intermedia 'Jelena' blooming right now

Now if you want to take this sort of thing further--and who wouldn't?--there's a subset to the Optometrist approach some have called:

Pixel-Peeping. One wants a sharp lens. Yes one does. But it would seem that there's sharp and then there's SharpIf I'd wanted 
Sharp, I should have been willing to spend multiple-times more money on "L" glass--professional grade for full-frame Canon cameras. But mine is not full-frame, and I am far from professional. To peep at pixels then is to compare relative lack of perfections but not to achieve perfection. One throws images up on a computer screen, enlarges a portion of an image until all one sees are pixels or just short of that, and then gazes at relative soft edges.

However, is this how one actually looks at photographs? No. I know this. I don't even print my images, so they remain computer-screen sized which makes most decent shots look like they were chiseled by fairy hands. Ah but I know those pixels are there, lazily spilling out over their borders. It maddens me. And yet I have little choice. Better not to look. Though I do.  

And then when I have thoroughly driven myself and my spouse crazy, I turn to the only people left who can stand to work these questions even further into the ground:

Internet Forum Opinions or Seeking Swarm Intelligence: Oh god, this is the worst. Why would I seek the opinions of strangers? And why would their opinions matter unless they owned both lenses? And why would they own both lenses? 
Actually, what they hate helps more. Loving a lens just means you haven't found it to get in the way of your photograph. It hasn't frustrated you or ruined a shot for you. Looking at your photos tells me nothing other than your skills or lack thereof as a photographer. I don't really care. But if you tell me that you dislike the soft edges this lens always delivers or that you find the focus ring to be sticky, that tells me something useful.
And yet what I really want is for someone to tell me I'm making the right choice. sigh

I did make a choice and am satisfied with it. So now there's just the drumming of fingers until UPS arrives with my new lens. Just in time for several weeks of rain.

Another macro lens shot while I'm waiting.
Dwarf Maiden Grass
Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio'