I spent a few days this past week in Vermont with my sister. The house is surrounded by trees near and far. I love that every window reveals a rich diversity of plant life. The view through the window screens still looks like spring even though summer arrives this week. New tender leaves contrast with older established foliage. Warblers, vireos, and thrushes sing from their territories, a hawk slips silently through the branches, and a distant loon ululates.
A little fun with the Leonardo app on my iPad.
May is, of course, the time for Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum). These odd-looking plants are spring ephemerals that grow under the woodland canopy. They emerge and flower when the trees do not yet have leaves, then set fruit and vanish by midsummer.
Mayapples form clonal colonies–all of the stems in a group are genetically identical. These photos are of a colony on the Lake Forest College campus, just opening their deeply dissected, umbrella-like leaves (one or two leaves per stem), some producing a single flower bud. Mayapples contain podophyllin, a cytotoxic substance used to cure warts.
The morning was foggy and the December landscape was monochrome. I had a recent realization that the trees I have been photographing are really the dominant presence in the landscape, but we don’t see them as such. So I thought I would see if I could make some images to show the trees as the main subjects, in their suburban setting.
Many of the trees in my neighborhood are large and old, some older than most of the houses. They were here first.
It is easy to overlook the beauty of a tree if you don’t look up, past the streets and houses.
The streetscape is defined by elms, ashes and oaks that were there from the beginning, not planted by human hand, but also by towering evergreens that were planted a few decades ago as small ornamentals.
This tree dwarfs the small house that was built next to it.
City planners created a tree-lined street with sidewalks and a greenway, but the sidewalks detour around a few trees that were there first.
Look up to appreciate the beauty of a tree.
This is the November period when the colorful fall leaves are mostly a memory (but keep looking–they are still hidden in a few pockets) and the promise of snow’s transformation is upon us. The world around is often dark and monochrome, yet there is still beauty to be seen in the forms of the denuded trees.
These images created using the Slow Shutter app for iPhone.
It is also the time of year to light up the darkness, as is the common custom of many. So I worked over a late green flower bud (now doomed to become frozen solid before opening, according to the weather forecast) using the algebra of Photoshop to transform it into an image of brightness.
If you want to see more of my Unfurling images, check out my Flickr album
A few days ago I walked into the bonsai courtyards at the Chicago Botanic Garden and decided to see what I could find there through my viewfinder. The whole idea of bonsai seems to me to be an abstraction of nature–creating a perfectly controlled, beautiful miniature plant. So just “taking” a picture of a bonsai seems to be not much more than recording the abstraction created by the gardener. But, I was drawn to the azalea bonsai, which was perfectly in bloom and beautiful beyond words.
The image is pleasing to me despite its imperfection (do you see what?). I had decided to extend my photographic thinking for this summer to include “flourishing” as a theme and this seems to fit. But flourishing can be much more, and I was thinking that images of flourishing might go beyond the very literal, using the expressionist approach of capturing images with a moving camera.
So, here it is, the Dancing Azalea.
At first I wanted to go back and try again, but I suspect it is already too late! And the idea of “dancing” did not come until the wee hours of this morning. As a sequence the images convey shaking and shimmying, each move with the gesture and personality of a dancer. I then thought of a sequence of photos taken by my sister of my Dad a few years ago, dancing and conducting to Mozart in his wood shop with the most delighted expressions on his face.
Back on May 15, I posted some images of red maple leaves in the throes of unfurling. They looked sad, frightened, and lacking in energy. You’ll be glad to know they are in a happier state now.
As spring has progressed, I have been noticing that the unfurling stage of different plants’ leaves and flowers is expressive, conveying an emotional sense of the transformations the plants’ cells and tissues are going through.
The unfurling stage of a Jack-in-the-Pulpit flower is awkward and almost comical compared to the final bloom.
Spring is such sweet sorrow. For years April and May have made me feel both joyous and melancholy. The long-awaited changes of this season of rebirth happen so quickly and then are finished, yielding to the warm, humid monotony of summer. Life seems to be moving too fast and is passing me by.
The jewelweed, the elm, and the Canada Warbler are precious beings that have dwelt deep inside of me since childhood, returning to befriend me now and again.
The springtime of their lives has passed so very quickly.
Fog is common in spring near the icy waters of Lake Michigan as summer’s humid warmth battles winter’s cold wind. On a foggy day last week I set out with an idea of exploring the silhouetted shapes of oak trees. When I got to the lake, I realized that the foggy landscape gave me a lot more to think about.
The woods viewed through fog become achromatic and mysterious, with promising hints of green barely visible.
Even though the visual hints of spring were limited, hidden birds performed as a magnificent orchestra.
The way ahead is uncertain; are there treasures and insights to be found in the mist, or merely the possibility of getting lost?
My Japanese maple tree leafed out last week. It was a cold damp day and its newly unfurled red leaves hung limply with raindrops clinging to their tips. The tree seemed sad and bedraggled but this was only a brief stage in its transformation from resting in winter dormancy to becoming a sun-fueled powerhouse of photosynthesis a few days later. On this day I searched through my camera’s viewfinder to capture this moment of languid but fearful expectancy.