Another Wild Hare

When we revisited the lovely Bellevue Botanical Gardens with Mom and Dad Sparks this summer, there were some excellent new elements to enjoy throughout the park. As always, the plantings were bursting with color and perfume and native beauty, but in addition there was a handsome new educational and administrative building complex in the entrance of the place, a splendid new suspension footbridge spanned the ravine in the most thoroughly naturalized section of the gardens, and the progress in that segment toward fuller removal of the invasive plants is more impressive than ever.

One new addition we enjoyed on this visit to the Botanical Gardens was not listed anywhere in the visitors’ pamphlets, as far as I could see, but no less delightful, welcome, natural and local: a pert little wild rabbit who sat nibbling the grass next to the biggest flowerbed in the middle of that pretty afternoon. Never let it be said that there’s nothing new under the sun.
Photo: Funny Bunny

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

photoThe answer, if you haven’t already guessed it, is Nothing at All.

Except, that is the problem.

I saw pictures in this week’s newspapers of international leaders meeting in the Tuileries to discuss whether it would be a good idea to attack Syria in response to the country’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens. The Tuileries, if you don’t already know it, are exquisite, bucolic, gorgeous, peaceful gardens in the City of Light, Paris. A park full of such prettiness and solace as you’d find in any fortunate, war-free spot in the privileged world. Where it wouldn’t seem out of place to have a gathering of polite, well dressed, well-fed people speaking in confident tones of insight and wisdom and deciding what would likely appear to be, if you were out of earshot, where to go for dinner and a nice glass of wine after the opera.photoExcept that this opera happens to be a particularly brutal one, from the chillingly despotic callousness of a leader and his henchmen willing to murder their own countrymen en masse to the remote offices, boardrooms, streets and parks where a multitude of other leaders and citizens of other countries debate whether to kill some more humans in order to redirect the battle. What’s wrong with this picture, from my view, is the frightening sense that unless all of those who think it their business to intervene in such a disastrous situation are willing and able to have these theoretical discussions in, say what was a pretty, bucolic park in Syria and now exists instead in the heart of its darkest hours and gravest danger, they will never likely have a realistic sense of the probable consequences, good or bad, of any choice for the people ‘on the ground’, their fellow humans, and of course, ultimately for themselves.

Until we Americans have something of this literal kind of skin in the game, as it were, I can’t imagine how we can expect to do any right thing in such a situation, and I sense that this same problem might well apply to many other relatively safe, privileged nations and their leaders and citizenry. I would hope that reason and logic and wisdom will prevail no matter what is decided, or how, or by whom. But more than that, I hope that the tide worldwide will turn toward resolutions of all troubles and trials through some more honest, unselfish, patient and wholesome means that leaves all parties with at least the possibility of sitting at peace in any quiet and lovely place, eventually.photo

Walking Just So

 

photoOn a cool dark Sunday at dusk, there is time to perambulate the park with a scarf pulled loosely up to cup her ears. The streetlights fizzing on with their dismal orange hum remind her of insects that’ve lived past the end of their season solely by having forgotten to die. The grass turns black as the light falls; its damp makes her stockings wet and makes her aware, as well, of the earthy smell of the grass, the leaves, the soil and even the smoke of someone’s fireplace quite nearby. The walk, though short and brisk and only comprising a modest loop around the park to curl back home, is best because it took her out, away and into something else, so that the return is all the sweeter, landing her at last on the entry rug of familiarity, spun in the soft cocoon of fumes that reach her from the soup kettle waiting, steaming on the stove across the hall.photo montage

Tough Neighborhood

Watch Out for those Kids

We were playing at boules and pétanque

In a park not so far from the Seine

But the children we played were so bloodthirsty there

That we vowed not to play them againdigital collage

In Dreamland

I live in my imagination. And I’m an artist. And further, I want to invite others into my imaginings, at least some of the time. I haven’t got endless resources when it comes to the skills and tools and knowledge it might require to make images that other people can indwell in the same way I experience them. When I ‘go to my happy place’, so to speak, I’d like to be able to take others along with me. It’s always so magical there that I want to share the delirious sweetness of the experience with anyone else who might like to try it.photoMuch to my surprise, I discovered recently that one of the characteristic things I do, and have done for as long as I can remember, is a technique that is now embodied in a photographic format so tremendously popular that it’s taken even to the point of software being developed to help accomplish the trick for you and dramatically called HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging.  I am less dramatic myself, apparently, as I’ve always simply thought of my little tweak as good old-fashioned exaggeration. What this discovery (at this late date) says the most is that I’m slow to catch a clue. But it’s also somewhat heartening to me to think that despite my lingering ignorance of HDR–among innumerable things of which I am miraculously ignorant–I have actually been practicing techniques aimed at accomplishing what is newly center stage again in the visual art world.  Who knew. Me, being fashion-forward. Ha.photoI’ve long since striven to bring out the contrast and depth and the separation between different components of my visual compositions by intensifying various parts of the art a bit beyond plain statement of fact. I suspect that most of us at least feel that we see (never mind experience) the things we see with greater intensity than we could hope to fully convey to those around us. A little push might be required to help others to enter into our worlds fully. More saturated color. Wider contrast between the lights and darks. Sharper definition of edges, even to the degree of incorporating bits of ‘outline’ to imitate the separation our eyes naturally make in transitions between unlike values and textures and colors in the real world. And, in photography, since I can manipulate my pictures readily now that I’m a digital shooter, exaggerating those qualities in various parts of the photos by changing the pixels.photoThe joke’s on me, of course, because lacking either a camera that has HDR bracketing and stitching capabilities or the know-how or software to use any sophisticated quick-click methods to accomplish this look, I still plod through it by selecting the tones and textures, the areas of emphasis and low-contrast, and saturating or desaturating different parts of my pictures all by laborious hand-tooled means. My true artistry may be my unique ability to be both forward-thinking and backward-doing at one and the same time. But I’m okay with that, if it makes it easier for other people to find their way into my images. You’re all welcome in here too, you know.

Hanging around in Trees

photoThere are numerous living things that spend time up in the trees besides the trees’ branches and leaves. All sorts of insects and animals, not least of all various nutty sorts of anthropoid mammals that might be not only cousins of ours but a little more similar to us in character than we generally wish to acknowledge. There are, of course, also those companion plants we know as parasites and, more mellifluously, their subtler siblings the epiphytes.

Kissing under the mistletoe is a pleasant enough excuse for familiarity with such entities, but mistletoe isn’t necessarily a specially handsome bit of greenery on its own, being a modest clump of small leaves with some inconspicuous pale berries clinging to them. Mistletoe, in fact, only really comes into its own in wintertime when the host oak trees shed their seasonal clothes and the puffs of the mistletoe’s tidy presence reveal themselves among the branches against the winter sky. This is not only reason enough for the plant to be a fitting representative for the winter holiday season but for us to appreciate it as a remarkable and pervasive and even likable presence in oak country, particularly since it does no notable harm to its host plant, unlike many parasites of all species.photoBut if we’re to talk about the kinds of plants that make their homes in the trees, I’m even more of a fan of the epiphytes, many of which were only vaguely familiar to me some years ago thanks to occasional visits to botanical gardens and conservatories and parks. I find their ability to live, virtually, on air astounding and, somehow, poignant. Oh, I knew lichens and mosses and algae pretty well, what with living in the moist and miraculous Pacific Northwest among the old-growth rainforests and craggy granite faces and the richly green shores of Puget Sound and the ocean. But I can tell you that, like most people who live in treasuries, I knew the sparkle of the jewels but nothing of their true nature.photo

When I had closer contact with those parasites and epiphytes at last, it made for a short descent to fall in love. My lifetime romance with moss and seaweed expanded to welcome bromeliads and all sorts of pretty flowering epiphytes. I found all of that mighty attractive when I would get drawn in by the strangler figs and pulled into the pretty gloaming of the tropical house at the conservatory, the steamy glass room of the jungle displays at the horticultural center. So, so lovely. Then there was the trip to Panama. Ahhh, Panama.

photo

The titular king of Finca Drácula is a dramatic orchid that can haunt your dreams . . .

Opportunity enough to see firsthand a whole lot of gorgeous bromeliads and previously unknown green joys in situ, to experience a whole new level of admiration for the variety and intricacy in the plant universe. Poinsettias, my natal flower as a December baby, meant little to a northern-born kid who’d only seen their showy bracts in hothouse display and known them merely as holiday decor: suddenly, on their own turf, I was able to learn that they can grow as tall as four meters and thrive like showy weeds in the sparest of small dirt patches. To see coffee growing in its accustomed shade on the slopes of a dormant volcano, overlooking rainbow-crowned valleys and orange plantations. And to look up into the cloud forest canopy and see tree trunks hugged all ’round by glorious orchids. Among the many wonders of the region, we stumbled into an orchid farm. Bliss!photoFor one who had been impressed by but hardly addicted to orchids, to arrive in the environs of a farm specializing in orchids to the tune of about 2400 varieties was a stunning and heady shock of new delight. Finca Drácula, named for its showpiece orchid variety,  was a superb baptism in the beauties of the breed. And yes, it did make me want to swing from the branches of the trees like my monkey cousins. What an irresistible lure is an orchid smiling down from the heights. Funny that the Christmas crop of mistletoe has led me the whole winding way to Panamanian orchid country. Then again, they could both inspire an urge to engage in frenzied kissing if one got caught up in their fantastic beauty.photo

A Park, a Pond, at Peace

photoNow that the temperatures are gradually sliding into what I consider survivable territory, it’s a lovely opportunity to go outdoors and simply take a leisurely stroll again. I was reminded of this on our little jaunt out to the west coast over Thanksgiving, when even though it was clammy and overcast and somewhat rainy it was a welcome thing to be able to step out the door and not be pushed back in by the blast furnace of the perpetual sun. I love sunshine, really I do, and I’m not sorry to live where I do just now, but it’s a delight to be able to get out and stretch my legs in the neighborhood without any necessity to dash for cover lest I turn instantly into cracklins.

This week, a walk through the surrounding neighborhood, exploring a few streets and walkways and pockets of this town that we’ve not seen before, was the perfect soother on a Saturday afternoon, and a rare treat at that. And it makes me plot further to spend some quality time over the brief winter cooling period just getting out to soak up the happy and calming atmosphere of our more tree-dense areas, our parks and lakes and ponds and the wonderful wild grasses and prairie native plants that make this such a good place to be. To simply step out on the patio from time to time and absorb the rustling leaf sounds of the backyard greenbelt and the obbligato of the birds whistling therein. To hike over to the university campus instead of having to take the shuttle just to survive the three and a half or so miles, and then once there not to need to tear indoors instantly.

I’m only too glad to have the opportunity to recall what is actually so great about the great outdoors and to relish the enchantments of a lightly ruffled pond or the distant competitive singing of a yard full of hounds or even, should I be outdoors and doing the right thing in the right spot at the perfectly right moment, to feel that exceedingly sharp joy found only when one is not enclosed by walls and roof. What a fine joy that can be indeed.photo