Secret Places, Country Lanes

Sky Puddles on a remote country lane on the north side of Mt. Pisgah where I had never gone before.

 

Sky Puddles: “What does it mean to photograph with passion?”

Once upon a May morning, I was photo walking along the Coast Fork of the Willamette where it flows around to create the boundary of Mt. Pisgah Arboretum here in Eugene, Oregon. I was surrounded by the lush fairyland of waist high blue larkspur and camas folded into the rich green grass starred with buttercups and wild Nootka roses.

Under the riparian trees of the Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, larkspur grows as high as your waist.
Under the riparian trees of the Mt. Pisgah Arboretum, larkspur grows as high as your waist.

I was clicking away taking standard shots I’d taken every spring for decades.

I felt a little depressed by what seemed to be impossible—to see all this with new eyes.

I sat down on a bench by the river and asked myself,

“What does it mean to photograph with passion?”

I didn’t exactly know the answer, but I let the question seep into me. Then I got up and started to really look through the viewfinder for something that satisfied some richness I’d been longing for.

I put my camera in the “pop art” setting that I’d heard others scorn. That bumped the colors of the flowers up into the stratosphere. Then I stopped down the exposure until backgrounds blurred to interlocked circles of green or blurred to paintbrush swatches of barn door red and sky blue.

A half blown Nootka Rose in an afternoon meadow by the river.
A half blown Nootka Rose in an afternoon meadow by the river.

When I could, I positioned flowers against dark shadows, so they would glow with jewel tone intensity on the velvety black backdrop.

Meadow Rue on the verge of opening to its first day in this new world.
Meadow Rue on the verge of opening to its first day in this new world.

At the pond, the lily flowers were radiant little suns about to open against maroon lily pads floating on dark water.

Lilies on the Water Meadow Pond
Lilies on the Water Meadow Pond
Orange lilies on maroon leaves floating over and sheltering a watery world below.
Orange lilies on maroon leaves floating over and sheltering a watery world below.

Suddenly, within an hour of asking the question, I had a method, an approach I could take to deepen my vision of a passionate world.

It was Laura Valenti, my photography instructor for “Light Atlas,” who told me, “Sandy, face it: at heart you’re a landscape photographer.”

So how to bring something new, that “what else” factor to the everyday landscapes of my little snow globe of a world?

I was out yesterday with that question, and as is my habit, I made a little nature video like a journal entry for the day—these grew out of the Gratitude Walks in another of Laura’s classes. This one is “Secret Places, Country Lanes.”

For today, I select this image as the one that seems most to suggest worlds within worlds.

Sky Puddles on a remote country lane on the north side of Mt. Pisgah where I had never gone before.
Sky Puddles on a remote country lane on the north side of Mt. Pisgah where I had never gone before.

Magical Seeing

Storm Cell

Magical Seeing

When I was a very young girl, I was immersed in a magical, light-drenched natural world. I lived by the wild and undammed Wenatchee River. The mountain range called The Enchantments floated above my childhood home like an Avalon in the sky, seeming to be untethered to my little earth. The snow-covered mountains soared high and free above me and my family, guardian of all I was, protector of all I would become.

The Enchantments and Colchuck Lake.
The Enchantments and Colchuck Lake. I’m not sure exactly who took this photograph–probably my dad, but maybe one of his friends or a member of his climbing club.

My dad photographed all this high country wilderness–macro, micro, telephoto and wide-angled lens and eyes.

My dad, Warren Brown, circa 194, with his Leica.
My dad, Warren Brown, circa 1974, with his Leica.

My sister became a watercolor painter of trees and skies with a fine brush for the details of the snowy owl, the raven, the vultures and the eagles.

My sister Cheryl Long, became a painter; this is her Snowy Owl.
My sister Cheryl R. Long, became a painter; this is her Snowy Owl.

We were a family caught up in a shimmering net of the beauty of place, and each in his or her own way struggled to live up to the emotional privilege of being somehow allowed to exist there for so many years in the wide arm of the river, under the great wing of The Enchantments.

We lived in a dreamlike world...Circa 1967. Left to right: my sister Cheryl, brother Lisle, me, our dad, Warren, sister Toren.
We lived in a dreamlike world…Circa 1967. Left to right: my sister Cheryl, brother Lisle, me, our dad, Warren, sister Toren.

I found my own way into the heart of this enchanted world through poetry and story and was lucky enough to stumble upon a career that sustained me in those passions. It was through poetry I first learned the power of what my photo teacher Laura Valenti calls, “Magical Seeing.”

Like poets, photographers immersed in exploration of soul must consider the contrasts between the elusive light and a rich and suggestive dark. In both word and image, poets and photographers like me struggle to capture the haunting, evocative mood, that sense of timelessness and nostalgia.

Memory, dream, reflections...
Memory, dream, reflections…

I like that these years I live in now are called my “golden years.” I can look back at that young girl and see that she spent her entire life in pursuit of this magical seeing. She understood with her heart what I can now not only feel but explain: that we live mythic lives thrumming with the vitality of light, and, as Valenti puts it, “Rich with meaning and mythology and magic.”

Valenti’s challenge to me is the one I have always put to myself, “What can I do to express ever more profoundly a magical way of seeing and being in my world?”

I still live in a natural world so explosive with beauty and detail that I could weep with despair over my inability to photograph it in a new and “more magical” way.

Cow Parsnip Diva
Every once in a while, numinous figures appear from the other side to guide me and reassure me I’m on the right track. In this moment, it was The Cow Parsnip Diva who brought the good news.

I read a book once on designing a Romantic garden. The primary tip my husband and I implemented in our garden is the concept of using arches to create receding vistas that open up to little rooms in the garden. Even a small lot like ours became extraordinary when we thought through adding these layers, these glimpsed views into other little secret gardens within the garden.

On an ordinary walk from my house, I can look through the surprising doorway into the deep reflective green of Delta Pond.
On an ordinary walk from my house, I can look through the surprising doorway into the deep reflective green of Delta Pond.

Earlier this week, I was out specifically shooting for “Secret Places,” and now I add this memory about building a garden to Valenti’s thoughts on seeing opportunities to photograph layers–through archways, under trees into remote and beckoning meadows, through the scrim of a rain cell moving fast across a sunlit valley.

From high up on the shoulder of Spencer Butte, I photographed this storm cell sweeping across the sunlit valley before. I used my iPhone 7+ for this shot.
From high up on the shoulder of Spencer Butte, I photographed this storm cell sweeping across the sunlit valley before. I used my iPhone 7+ for this shot.

“Tell me,” asks poet Mary Oliver, “what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I am trying to answer this question as best I can: I’m trying to give back the magic to the world it has given to me.

A Faraway Gaze

A Faraway Gaze

My friend Alan Levine who blogs with his dog out of Strawberry, Arizona, had a fun and interesting challenge up the other day. He and other blogger friends of mine are finding it fun to do a random blog post search of their sites, then interrogating that random post thusly:

  1. What, if anything, is still relevant?
  2. What has changed?
  3. Does this reveal anything more generally about my discipline?
  4. What is my personal reaction to it?

So let me digress briefly into the alien guts of the English/Writing teaching profession. During my quarter century flapping my clipped wings in that particular zoo, it was very popular to have students collect their writing in portfolios–nowadays, e-portfolios. The one thing all the free range chicken writing instructors seemed to agree on was the value of metacognitive writing, which you might call reflective writing, but no, we gotta call it metacog ‘r nuttin’.

The concept here was that it would be good for students if they reflected on why they made certain writerly choices in their portfolios and not others. This is supposed to push them to do synthesis, the highest order of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, and, in my observation, students hated it pretty much across the board. It was just another bloody hoop to jump through on the way to their dental hygiene or sustainable energy certification where most of them hoped to God they’d never have to either write or self–reflect on another essay in their lives.

And I don’t blame them. It never did much for me to read that pained and painful writing, and after a long, downward spiral of disillusion, I gave up on portfolios altogether. Now all I do in retirement is teach Technical Writing online. Students like it because to them it is more cut and dried, seemingly more objective than the navel gazing of the Frosh Comp writing sequence.

Okay, end of crawl through the murky craw of Alien.

Back to our regularly scheduled programing. I may have lost faith in the value of metacognition, uh, I mean navel-gazing, uh, I actually mean thoughtful self-reflection for students en masse, but personally, I find it interesting and useful.

That said, I spun the wheel of Mind on Fire. The arrow made distressed clicking sounds as it went back in time, but it finally hesitated and jolted to a stop, pointing firmly at Dec. 30, 2011, a blog post called “Boketto.” “Boketto” means “a faraway gaze.”

I chose the word “boketto” to go with my current mood this stormy day at the end of 2011. I had dreamed about searching for my grandmother in the river of my childhood, and she had appeared for the third time in a dream as a great fish. I have often seen my father (who passed long ago in 1979), with that boketto look on his face. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/
I chose the word “boketto” to go with my current mood this stormy day at the end of 2011. I had dreamed about searching for my grandmother in the river of my childhood, and she had appeared for the third time in a dream as a great fish. I have often seen my father (who passed long ago in 1979), with that boketto look on his face. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/

What were the chances?

Life likes to rhyme.

Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.  I am deep into archiving his legacy in a variety of forms–prints, books, and front and center is a new website Warren Brown Photography

Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.
Currently, my dining room table is covered with a light table and thousands of my father’s slides taken 1950s–1979.

This is a huge project I only dared begin after I retired. Although I have made stories about my dad before, this sorting of his slides takes me deep into my Myth of Psyche place where Psyche (who represents the soul–her animal aspect is a butterfly) is given the first of four tasks by Aphrodite to sort all the seeds in a pile of grain. The seeds represent all the possibilities that ever were for my dad and for me; they are all the emotions I have to sort through as I bring his legacy to order and to beauty.

Psyche’s first reaction is despair, and I get that. Image by Kevin J. Beltz. http://conveyorbeltz.wix.com/kevin-portfolio#!__psyche
Psyche’s first reaction is despair, and I get that. Image by Kevin J. Beltz. http://conveyorbeltz.wix.com/kevin-portfolio#!__psyche

Both the inner and outer challenges are overwhelming. I have to wrestle the great Bear of Guilt to the ground with every slide I throw into the “reject” pile.

But Psyche gets help from–of course!–the ants. Like the ants, I sort slides into piles called “Mountains,” and “Flowers,” and “Family,” and the heap of rejected slides grows like a giant ant hill in the center of the table.

So that’s where I am right at the moment I spin the blog random-o-matic meter and come up with a five year old blog post called “Boketto,” or “a faraway gaze.” The faraway gaze is in the photo of my father, and I write in the blog post about a dream I had that night about my father, who died of a brain tumor in 1979 at the age of 54.

When I woke up, I made a page in my art journal illustrating the dream, My dad is entering the Museum of Modern Art of MOMA, which is his soul mate connection to my MOM. (It was also five years ago that I began reviewing art on the radio for KLCC four months after this dream. So there’s that…)

I pulled the skein of my artwork and dreams together into this poem. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/
I pulled the skein of my artwork and dreams together into this poem. Source: http://mindonfire.us/2011/12/30/boketto-gazing-into-the-distance/

Life likes to rhyme.

Now to the metacognitive questions:

  1. What is still relevant? I am still haunted by my legacy responsibilities to my father. He is still in my dreams, and I am still doing dream art.
  2. What has changed? Five years ago, he was still far away and ill. In my dreams since then, he has come back to us but still thin and not vibrant. However, now he or his spirit or how I internalize his memory, is much more with me on a daily basis watching me shoot, giving me advice on composing shots, clearly an active parental muse.
  3. Does this reveal anything about my discipline? I have had a lifelong connection with my father and have never given up on trying to provide a legacy for him. Before blogging, I kept and continue to keep, handwritten journals, so my discipline extends back to April 1964 when I first got serious about blogging uh journaling at age 14.
  4. What is my personal reaction now to the Boketto blog post? I value this piece of art a lot because it expresses and recalls what has been going on at the level of dream. Part of my father’s legacy website will be my videos and art (and that of other family members, too) about him, and I would have forgotten this piece.

This is just another piece of evidence showing how valuable the Daily Create is, and how valuable it is to have creative friends like Alan Levine to spin off new posts, new lines of thinking, and, dare I say it? Self-reflection.

My dad’s gaze is no longer boketto or far away. It is focused and interested. He’s pretty excited about having his very own website!

This guy looks a lot like his four brothers, but you can tell its Warren by the camera.
This guy looks a lot like his four brothers, but you can tell its Warren by the camera.