100 Ambient Macrographs

I’ve decided to join Dorothee Lang in a social creativity project next month. I realize that it kicks off during National Poetry Month and I *should* be attempting a NaPoWriMo challenge, but I’m in the middle of an intense round of typesetting + book-launching : finishing Folded Word’s spring list. I just don’t have the head space for composing my own poems while working so intimately with other people’s collections.

camera mounted on super short tripod
The kit I’ll be mastering
So yes, I’ve chosen to focus on #The100DayProject instead. I’m calling my personal project #100AmbientMacrographs — “ambient” because I’ll only use available light, “macro” because I’ll be using a 55 mm macro lens, and “graph” because I’ll write one word in calligraphy to accompany the photo. At some point I might try to layer the word onto the photo to make some graphic art, but that will have to wait until the 100 days are over. Gotta keep it simple so I finish the challenge:-)

I’ve been fascinated with macro photography for years, but focusing and getting a tripod to work with my desired subjects never really came together for me. Now I have a Nikon DSLR that has a swivel screen, though, so I can see what I’m composing without looking through my bifocals through the viewfinder. That and my travel tripod that sits low on the ground have me armed and dangerous! I’ll start out at ISO 400 and f22 with stationary subjects, then see where the 100 days take me.

I’m really hoping this is as helpful as my self-portrait project back in 2012. If you want to join in, be sure to use #the100dayproject on Instagram. Pick something artistic you want to practice for 5 minutes a day every day and go for it!

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A Fire Not Quite Out

Last night I found out one of my childhood friends has no brain activity, but is still on life support. The news has left me distracted by the flames in our woodstove today: their gradual fade from tall yellow spires with blue arches to low orange bells, their surge back to yellow when my husband opens the damper, their decline into glowing coals once fuel is no longer added. As each log releases its energy to the fire, I wonder where the essence of Kim is — whether her soul is trapped on a hospital bed in Arkansas, or released to a cool Ozark breeze that will carry her home.

English doesn’t work for this. Its insistence on strict linear separation between past, present, and future makes it difficult to remember, let alone write about, someone caught between this world and the next. I’ve been fighting my internal dialog all day, forcing was into is the same way I did when my grandad’s dementia was at its peak. Verbs are loaded. The only safe Kim-words I can share right now are adjectives, nouns, and quotes — but only because I’ve stripped them of timeframe and explanation.

confidante
steady and gentle
“Why buy what you can make?”
church nursery
domestic artist
“That’s just not right.”
honor star
laughter

I’d like to tell you about the time she taught me how to make nuggets from whole chickens. Or the way she tolerated my teenage crush on her brother. But I’m afraid that too much past tense would slip out — the dangerous kind of past tense written with finality. A finality that’s too soon. A finality that isn’t right…won’t be right as long as Kim is.

lost HOME found

I was supposed to go to my 30 year high school reunion this summer. For a variety of reasons I chose instead to wait until November to quietly visit my high school best friend who still lives in town. I hadn’t been back in 10 years. My family moved around a lot (they even moved to Africa after I graduated), so I have to make an effort to visit Missouri…and most of the time I don’t really feel the need. But after an intense week of touring New England with my Water Ways co-author in October, I was glad for a chance to sneak away.

I knew from Facebook that my old high school had just been demolished. I also knew from my last visit that my old house had burned down. What I didn’t know was that my church had been torn down and a used car lot built on the site. Having connected so readily to my new landscape in New Hampshire yet never connecting to my 16-year landscape in California, I often think about the concept of home — how there are places we feel it and places we don’t and how it doesn’t seem to depend on time lived in a place. Missouri is one of those places where I failed to connect. Where I lived and was known, but never fit.

Where my school used to be

Looking back 30 years later, a lot of the failure to connect was on me. The transition from northern Illinois to southern Missouri was tricky. There were different accents to contend with and a living situation that was more institutional than domestic. But after this last trip I think I’ve discovered the core issue: alienation from landscape.

My family was never the outdoorsy type, but when we lived in rural Illinois I was allowed to roam free. I had a secret hiding place in the drainage ditch beneath a mulberry tree. I could ride my bike down gravel roads lined with soybean and corn fields, and even cross the tracks to my friend’s sheep farm. I climbed well-placed limbs on mature lawn trees and did cartwheels in the grass. My family may not have gone outside, but I did. Because I could.

But in Missouri the landscape was different. Hostile. There were chiggers and ticks. There were no lawn trees to climb, just acres of scrubby woods so thick I couldn’t make a path. What little lawn existed was too hilly for cartwheels, and the drainage ditches were too steep and muddy to get up and down. When my family finally moved into town, I could at least escape to the park if the Hubble Creek ford wasn’t flooded. But I’d spent four prior years trapped, and they’d left their mark.

Which is too bad, really. We only lived a few miles from the Mississippi River and Trail of Tears State Park. On this trip, my friend took me to the river walk in front of the flood wall in Cape Girardeau so I could photograph the power of the Mississippi’s flow.

Cape Girardeau flood wall

She also took me to a wilder section of Hubble Creek in Jackson, the same creek that ran behind the tennis courts where I spent countless hours hitting against the backboard. Surprisingly, the bed of Hubble Creek reminded me of the limestone pavements my husband and I recently walked in the Yorkshire Dales. The water was running, but calm enough to climb down the bank and photograph the texture of the water. I stepped across flat-topped rocks to reach the middle without getting wet. I noticed flow patterns and reflections and vegetation zones and flood markings.

I connected. Finally. And now I’m driven to return. Not just to continue investing in lifelong friendships, but to get reacquainted with the moods of Hubble Creek. To explore its swallowing of Goose Creek, Foster Creek, and Williams Creek. To watch it join the Castor River Diversion Channel. To then see those merged waters slide into the Mississippi River as it makes its way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

It had been there the whole time: Hubble Creek, my more-than-human connection point to a place I should have called home. It’s still there even though my house, my church, and my school are all gone. It will always be there, even if its course shifts or its inhabitants change. Because water always wins. Its power can be tempered or directed, but never tamed. And while I’m sad that it’s taken me this long to recognize the virtues of this humble creek running through a modest town, I’m relieved to have thought — for a moment — that it’s running through my town. My hometown.

My old band

Fluid Timetables

I am sitting on Amtrak 449 in the railyard just outside Toledo’s Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. We are:

  1. an hour behind schedule (even with the time change falling back overnight)
  2. being passed by countless Norfolk Southern freight cars on both sides
  3. still.

I know to expect this having taken the Lake Shore Limited before. This time I’m going with the flow. This time I have no kids with me and no connections to miss. I even snagged six hours of sleep. Sleep that was interrupted by the stops and starts of yeilding to freight trains. Interruptions that kept me from missing:

  • red crossing lights multiplied and smeared by rain on my window
  • navigation lights reflecting off an invisible black lake
  • a heron fishing in the Maumee River, just below the fog.

Maybe it is just this line, but I think there’s a tension between water and railroads. There’s so much water near these tracks and some of it is in full photogenic view. But much of it is obscured by defoliating trees or a moonless night or trestle beams…or a passing freight train. This is water that must be savored in the moment. It cannot be captured and made to fit in a frame – static perfection that can be counted on. Sometimes this water inundates these tracks : Sometimes these tracks impede this water. It’s a matter of perspective…

…just like Amtrak’s timetables. There may be an ideal hope printed on a brochure or posted on a website, but reality is never confined within those banks. Time on the rails spills out in uncharted directions, along tracks awash in relativity. This time I welcome it. I choose to enjoy the tea Rachel is serving. I watch for more hidden water. And I know that lunch in Chicago will be just as good as breakfast would have been.

    To see the moments I do manage to capture, visit my ILMO2017 album on Flickr or follow me on Twitter. This trip I’ve got a black & white series of phone pix going.

    Alliterative Mock-Quiche

    a mini version made in a springform pan
    a mini version made in a springform pan

    Add barley flakes to boiling broth and cover.
    Simmer — standing by to stir — for a quarter-hour.
    Prepare a pie plate with some oil
    then flatten the flakes to form a crust.
    Add cod and kale (cooked ahead)
    then whisk ricotta, water, and eggs.
    Season with salt and a smidge of pepper.
    Pour this potion atop the crust
    so it fills all fissures ‘mongst flake and leaf.
    Place the pie in a pre-heated oven:
    four-twenty-five for fifteen minutes
    three-fifty for a further hour.
    Let it alone to lose some heat
    then slide slices off spatula with a knife
    (’twill keep the cod from coming off the grain).
    Nutritious? Yes. Tasty? No.
    Truthfully told, it’s bland.
    But fair fare will suffice for now —
    with a chaser of chocolate cookie.

    BATTLE [BARDAGI]

    Just when I thought my current round of tremors was on the wane, this:

    image

    Anyone who works daily at not letting chronic illness rule their lives knows the bittersweet that is the loss of a teapot. Or a lunchdate. Or a [name of unexpected sacrifice here].

    RIP Brown Betty.  The pot I brew in may be different, but the ritual you taught me will never change.

    BLUE [BLÁR]

    after repeatedly listening to Njörður P. Njarðvík’s baksneidd-braghendas in Icelandic for 90 minutes

    Canada’s smoke
    has curled around
    the Cape and shifted

    out to sea—
    my spirit lifted

    with each breath
    the sky has gifted.

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Meredith, New Hampshire USA

    click to zoom in on Flickr
    click to zoom in on Flickr