March – Every spring is a miracle around and within us!

While growing up in Schenectady, New York, I experienced dramatic changes as the seasons moved from winter to spring. Winter was a time when the landscape was blanketed in white frigid snow leaving dormant almost everything underneath. Every year the snow would melt and give way to budding trees, and the crocuses would break through the still-frozen ground like Lazarus leaping from the tomb.  Yet, as a child, I remember believing every spring was a miracle.

The first color that broke the winter cycle was yellow. Before there was even a hint of leaves on what looked like dead branches in our back yard, the forsythia began blossoming.  That memory still moves me to seek out the first hints of local spring yellows.  I have found it in the oxalis, mustard, scotch broom and wildflowers, including my favorite version of the wild poppy, the Coastal Poppy, whose petals are both orange and yellow.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, the move from winter to spring is a little more subtle. Especially if our winter rains, like this year, are quite plentiful, the hills rendered brown by the summer begin to amass greens and yellows already in January.  In our area, a California poppy or two can be found throughout the year, but, when spring comes, the colorful signs of rebirth and regeneration are explosive.

The California Poppy, of course, is the floral symbol of our state, and it even has its own song.  Written by Curtis Clark and Bob Fox circa 1940, it goes like this:  “Poppies, Golden Poppies, gleaming in the sun, closing up at evening when the day is done.  Pride of California,  flower of our state.  Growing from the mountains to the Golden Gate.”

Every day, as the media reports on the leadership style and choices of our president, we are reminded that we are in a time of regression and movement away from caring economics, environmentally friendly policies, and partnership paradigms. Yet spring keeps erupting with promises of beauty and life, almost insisting that we take occasional mini-retreats from our acts of resistance to get out into the natural world to replenish and renew our soul, heart and focus.

As I look for fresh angles from which to capture the beauty and essence of the poppy, I am inspired to search for new tools for making the personal shift from domination to partnership and its implications for the greater society and the common good.  One tool that blessed me this year was the online course I took from Riane Eisler and the Center for Partnership Studies.  The course helped me reconnect with the truth that all life is best lived when we express love, compassion, and understanding through everything we do.  When we live out that truth, every spring is a miracle – in the world of nature and in our own inner being.!

If you are not familiar with the Center for Partnership Studies I suggest you look at its website:  http://centerforpartnership.org/

You can view additional Poppy images in my Poppy Portfolio

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March week 1 – migrations of all types are being thwarted.

“Migration” is a concept that has been popping up in my thoughts, dreams and camera lenses this past week.  For the many species of birds that use the Pacific Flyby, it is reported that the routes north are beginning to fill.  But, for some reason, the local wetlands, ponds and seashore strips where I have usually seen large numbers of migrating feathered friends have been very sparsely populated this year.

Marbled Godwit – mud on beak.

I am not sure why that is so.  Climate change?  The increase of urbanization in once wild areas?  Decreasing food sources? More rain than drought? Or perhaps I just forgot where to look.  I am concerned for the birds because I know that at least some of these theories are true.  What will become of these wonderful creatures as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its research, protections and regulations are greatly de-funded and dismantled?

 

A 23-page directive to the EPA from Trump’s administration proposes changes and financial cuts to the EPA’s budget of $8.2 billion.  The cut of $2 billion will surely cripple the work of this already understaffed but vital department.  Trump proposed that the cuts from the EPA and other domestic agencies are needed to add $54 billion to the already huge $598.5 billion Defense/military budget.  We need to be deeply concerned about the birds, their world, and one another as well.

Migration has always been a part of our global seasons and systems – the movement of birds, butterflies and animals for breading grounds, filarial worms migrating within the human body, the nomadic tribes following water sources for their cattle and goats, refugees moving from death zones to safety, and migrant workers following the farmers’ harvests.  By executive order and proposed federal policy changes, migrations of all types are being thwarted.

In the avian world, for example, American Avocets are suffering because of the loss of wetland habitat, especially ephemeral wetlands, and, of course, an increase in contamination. Here in the arid west, wetlands compete with urban and agricultural areas for limited supplies of fresh water. Many wetlands that were once important Avocet breeding areas have declined in size by as much as 90%. Selenium and methylmercury contamination of wetland breeding areas by industrial farms is an important conservation issue.

In the San Francisco Arboretum I noticed for the first time signs of a very different kind of migration. The weathered stones in the limestone wall that frames the garden outside the botanical library were once part of the Cistercian Monastery in Santa Maria de Ovila in Spain.   The monastery, 90 miles north of Madrid, was founded in 1188 and thrived for over six centuries.  But, in 1835, over 900 monasteries were closed by the Spanish government, and, thereafter privately owned, Santa Maria de Ovila Monastery fell into disarray.

In 1930 with the approval of the Spanish National Art Commission this monastery was sold to William Randolph Hearst to be reassembled as a retreat center in Shasta County.  It was a dream that was never fulfilled.  During the depression Hearst experienced financial setbacks, and so the stones remained in a San Francisco warehouse. In 1941 the stones were purchased by the City of San Francisco to be incorporated into the deYoung Museum.  Fire and weather had erased much of the precious markings on the stones, and lack of funding prohibited their restoration.

In 2000 several of the stones were used to construct the Botanical Garden’s Library Terrace and were arranged in a way that would showcase their original medieval masonry. The salvaged stones remind us of a nearly lost fragment of history.  Maybe we can see all other “migrations” as sacred and precious, a step on the road toward the reconstruction of a global monastery – a safe and hallowed place where those who embody the holy other gather!

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February week 3 – explosive new shapes and possibilities.

Conservatory of Flowers detail reflected in pool.

In 1958, just a few years after graduating from Princeton, Frank Stella began his groundbreaking “black paintings.” These austere works were composed of parallel stripes determined by the proportions of the canvas and the width of the paintbrush. They had no meaning beyond their physical form; as Stella famously put it, “What you see is what you see.”

The Frank Stella Exhibit at the De Young, with colorful geometric shapes half a block long and twisted sculptures that jump off the wall, will close in a few days.  It is well worth seeing even if his art doesn’t float your boat!  One of the most highly regarded post-war American painters still working today, Stella employs a style that is constantly evolving. I just had to see and experience it since he is consider a grand rule-breaker.

Stella’s works are often called “pinstripe paintings,” but the implied regularity is inaccurate. When working, the artist doesn’t measure out lines, as many critics have presumed, but works freehand — faintly deviating from perfect straight lines. His use of materials is just as revolutionary; in his work, he uses house and car paint, cast aluminum, fiberglass, and the latest 3D-printing techniques.

Stella focuses on the basic elements of an artwork – color, shape, and composition. I like to think that some of my own “abstract” images employ similar creative patterns that begin with modest materials such as rusting hinges, peeling paint and ripples distorting reflected lines. I hope that these kind of photographic images cause a person to wonder if “what you see is NOT what you see.”

Sometimes we really do need to frolic among the lines and curves around us and explore and manipulate their unfolding possibilities.  In doing so we might be able to revision that which is before us into creative imagery with explosive new shapes and possibilities.

Same image as above with different angle and more water movement.

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Touching the soul of the earth with Hildegard von Bingen

These days we need to strengthen our spirituality so we can be the “change-makers” necessary for the well-being of this world and its people.  For me, spirituality is a life-path filled with practices that build up, enhance and release our innate human capacities for love and beauty, peace and harmony, justice and joy, awe and mystery.  In this way we are connected to the great “sacred spirit” of the universes.

Even though there has been regression in our national leadership, our lives can be filled with hope through spiritual experiences.  We find this in the breath of the seasons of the earth.  Locally she has been drenched by the rains, prodding nature to blossom, green and grow. It is as if every page of Gaia’s coloring book is being filled in and coming alive. This is the greening power that Hildegard von Bingen often wrote and sang about.

The Soul is Breath

   by Hildegard von Bingen

The soul is the breath of the living spirit

that with excellent sensitivity,

permeates the entire body to give it life.

Just so,

the breath of air makes the earth fruitful,

Thus the air is the soul of the earth,

moistening it,

greening it.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a remarkable woman, a “first” in many fields. At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard, known as “Sybil of the Rhine”, produced major works of theology, visionary writings as well as medical and science texts. When few women were given respect, she was consulted by bishops, popes, and kings.

Hildegard used the curative powers of natural things for healing and wrote treatises about natural history and the medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees and stones. She is the first composer whose biography is known, and she founded a vibrant convent where her musical plays were performed.

Revival of interest in this extraordinary woman of the Middle Ages was initiated by musicologists and historians of science and religion.

Hildegard’s visions and her music continue to be performed and reinterpreted in many new artistic venues. Her story is one of a resilient spirit and vivacious intellect overcoming social, cultural, and gender barriers to achieve timeless transcendence.  May these images invite you to the greening of a creation/cosmic spirituality we so desperately need.

Feb. week 2 images: Magnolia Bud, Leaf detail, Hairstreak Butterfly, Buckeye Buds.

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February week 1 – mid-tone chants and high pitched yipping

Low guttural sounds, mid-tone chants and high pitched yipping greeted my ears, and there were roaring sounds in the background.  No, I was not at the Super Bowl.  Nor was I re-living my experience at the Women’s March in SF last month at which similar sounds raised heartfelt laments and pleas to the cosmos resulting from actions of our new national leadership.  These particular cries were offered by the annual gathering of hundreds of elephant seals.

The males that are still on the beaches produce deep sounds as they raise their heads before moving toward an approaching male or chasing a female in the hope of mating with her (even if she has just birthed a pup).  From mid-December to mid-February hundreds of elephant seal pups are born on this beach.  After a birth the mother imprints her mid-toned chanting voice on the newborn so it may find her among the hundreds of other mothers and pups around them.  The little snail-shaped furry pup immediately begins yipping back.

The Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery spreads over 6 miles of beach on the central coast of California. The viewing areas are located 90 miles south of Monterey, 5 miles north of Hearst Castle State Historical Monument in San Simeon. Because the long narrow beaches are separated from highway 1 by sharp-rock inclines neither the seals nor the humans cross into each other’s territories.   The viewing areas are open every day of the year, are wheelchair accessible, free of charge, and get you close to these magnificent creatures. No reservations are required, and there are docents every day of the year.

Our lives are intertwined with every aspect of the earth; and our human species is dependent on the life-supporting gifts of the natural world.  I believe that sometimes we forget that all human beings are still the same species, even though we can be very different in our approach to policy making, nation building and attitudes about human rights.  Unfortunately we are the only species that all too often violently turns on each other in great numbers and builds walls of metal and ideals to separate us rather than gather us into nurturing communities.

We live in a time of great abundance, but, since the earth is so vast, we can be lulled into thinking there will always be more – more fossil fuels, more water, more forests, more polar bears and ivory tusks.  Yet every act we humans take, no matter how seemingly small, has consequences that reverberate and stress the resiliency of the things we depend upon for our survival: enough clean air, enough clean water, enough healthy soils and forests that provide food and shelter.  We depend upon a moderate and predictable climate.

We are connected to every part of the planet.  Although on that Piedras Blancas beach a few of the elephant seals charged one another and trampled over another’s pup, for the most part they honor and depend on each other and the ocean and the air and the rest of the web-of-life.  Too often we humans see others in our own species as enemies, dangerous, unwelcome, scapegoats, and evil rather than as partners.  Most of our systems are products of practices and policies of power over, control and domination enforced by the use of violence, rape, and abuse.

Waxy Caps – Witch’s Hat

We need to raise our own guttural sounds, mid-tone chants and high pitched yipping as we call one another to return to our sense of connection to one another and the earth, our mother. Our lives are indeed intertwined with the earth and one another.

A Native American chant summons us to our responsibilities:  The Earth is our Mother; we must take care of her…  Her Sacred Ground we walk upon with every step we take…  The Sky is our Father; we will take care of him… The Sea is our Sister; we will take care of her…

How we take care of the earth is exactly how we take care of one another!

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January week 1 – Arise, shine; your light has come!

jan-1-stary-night-webOn Sunday Meryl Streep received her 30th Globe nomination and was presented the Cecil B DeMille Life Time Achievement Award.  In her acceptance speech, the three time Oscar and eight time Golden Globe winner commented, “This instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life. Because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.”

Afterwards in three consecutive tweets Trump commented “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a.. Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him “groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!”

jan-1-quanyin-star-webLike millions of people I find Hilary Clinton and Meryl Streep to be among the brightest lights of hope for creating an equitable world, honoring and empowering woman, and working for human dignity by creating possibilities and policy filled with compassion and justice.  To honor these two women and women everywhere I am sharing with you my first images of light in the New Year and my revisioned account of Isaiah 42 (Sunday’s assigned Old Testament reading).

Arise, shine; your light has come!

Sophia proclaims:  “Live in my light, O peoples of my cosmos.  In so doing you embody me.  In you my soul delights and my wisdom will shine.  In you I shall put my spirit to bring justice to all corners of the earth.

jan-1-rainbow-webMy lovers will act with compassion toward those who are hurting and those who are vulnerable. They will not be deterred from the goal of bringing forth healing for the web-of-life and all beings, nor from bringing forth justice to recreate and mend relationships that empower and lift up my wisdom.”

I am your God/dess, your Light, 

    and I have called you

    I have taken you by the hand and kept you,

    I have ignited you to be Light to the world,

          to open the eyes that are blind,

          to bring out the prisoners from the dungeons

          to practice the healing arts for all, without exception

          to provide for the physical needs of every person,  from food to housing

          to offer light to those who have been overcome by devastating gloom or evil

I am God/dess, your beloved, the one of thousands of names

     my glory, my light, I freely give  … arise, shine!”

PS – my final images of 2016 have no commentary but can be viewed here

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2017 Visual Meditations with New Weekly Images

I have portfolios at  AWEgallery.com called weekly 2.  In this blog I offer you two/three new images each week with a little commentary from my soul and techniques used to create them. I consider my images  “visual meditations.”  ENJOY/share – and blessings for your journey.  SCROLL DOWN for older posts (including 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016).

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Dec. Week 2 – mushrooms can be a sacred symbol for us!

Russula - a Mycorrhizal

Russula – a Mycorrhizal

Winter in Northern California means rain, and recently the winter skies have been releasing buckets of it.  On a single day 6 inches had fallen in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and several creeks in the North Bay surpassed their flood levels spilling onto surrounding streets. With our rains come the greening of the hills, the forests floors and the slopes that face the coast. All this tells us that the recycling of life is under way.

Jelly-Drops - A decomposer

Jelly-Drops – A decomposer

During these wintry days I love to photograph what becomes prolific during and after the rain,  especially beneath the oak, pine and redwood trees – the fruit bodies of the fungi world, wild mushrooms.  Currently there are over 10,000 known types of mushrooms. That may seem like a large number, but mycologists suspect that this is only a fraction of what’s out there! Each mushroom falls into one of four categories: mycorrhizal, saprotrophic, parasitic, and endophytic.

Mycorrhizal mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with trees and other plants. Their underground “fiber-optic-like” network of mycelia enters into a beneficial union with the roots of plants and trees, bringing additional moisture, phosphorous, and other nutrients to their hosts. In return they gain access to sugars produced by the hosts.

Mycorrhizal mushrooms help plants to grow bigger, faster, and stronger, and so it’s no wonder that an estimated 95% of plants form partnerships with this type of fungi. Because they are difficult to cultivate, these mushrooms are found almost exclusively in nature.

Mycena - Decomposing a fallen tree limb

Mycena – Decomposing a fallen tree limb

Saprotrophic mushrooms are decomposers.  They release acids and enzymes that break down the dead tissue around them, turning it into compost and rich soil.

Parasitic mushrooms also take plant hosts, although in this case the relationship is one-sided. These fungi will infect the host and eventually kill it. Most parasitic fungi do not produce mushrooms and are too small to be noticed on a tree until it’s too late.

Endophytic fungi partner with plants by invading the host tissue. However, unlike parasitic fungi, the host remains healthy and seems to benefit by increased nutrient absorption.

Greening Coral Fungi

Greening Coral Fungi

Obviously, some of these mushrooms offer relationship models that could help us humans get along with nature, raising awareness of our need to create policies and practices that will keep our world sustainable.

Recently I woke up in the middle of the night.  Unable to fall back asleep, I turned on the TV, and Channel 9.3 was showing the documentary, “Green Burial,” produced by Denise Schreiner.  It is the story of psychiatrist Clark Wang who, like most of us, didn’t think much about death.  When he did, he wanted to be buried next to his mother in Michigan, but, he thought, that would be at a time far in the future. Then he found out he had an inoperable fast-growing cancerous tumor.

Blood Red Russulas grow under Pine Trees

Blood Red Russulas grow under Pine Trees

Wanting his death to have as much meaning as his life, Wang became an advocate for the growing movement in the United States called green or natural burial. Instead of burial in an expensive space-consuming metal casket sealed in a vault – or cremation which spews contaminated dust residue into the air, Clark opted for a biodegradable coffin made from salvaged wood. He was buried in a forested area newly set aside as a memorial garden, and, as planned, his decomposing and un-embalmed body would, in a short amount of time, be adding nutrients to the roses above him and the trees around him.  Wang created a wonderful symbiotic relationship that will help weave a healthy web of life.

dec-2-death-caps-web

Don’t eat me — I am a “Death Cap”

In some cultures, mushrooms are seen as reminders that there is growth during the dark times in our lives – out of darkness comes life.  In other cultures, it is considered to be a symbol of immortality and eccentricity. In China, the mushroom symbolizes long life, happiness and rebirth. Some African and Siberian tribes regard mushrooms as symbolic of the human soul. In Mexico, the sacred mushroom signifies knowledge and enlightenment.

Is it possible that the mushroom can be a sacred symbol for you? As for me, I like to get on the ground and touch and smell and photograph the mushroom as art and as a partner in the greening of the earth.  It feels symbiotic.

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Dec. week 1 – malleable and beautiful – that’s my line today!

For me, this week’s visual-spiritual subjects were all about lines. What is a line? Geometrically, a line connects two points, or, from another perspective, it is a path traced by a moving point, i.e. a pencil point or a paintbrush. Lines are all around us, vital elements in every work of art, way of seeing, and moving into the “new.”

dec-1-vinestree-webWhile snowfall pummels the Midwest and other areas of the country are experiencing frigid temperatures, our winter rains are beginning to green our hills and fields.  The grapes in the vineyards of the Sonoma and Napa valleys were harvested in the months of August through October, but now, well after the harvesting, the grape leaves change to vibrant fall colors.  These colors, with our first “winter rains,” are producing carpets of green under the lines of vines.

Occasionally I choose an area to photograph without any preconceived notion of what images I will be coming home with, and this week I did that.  Although I had been to the location before, this time my mindset was different.  Park the car, look around, and don’t drive off until I have two or three printable/blog-able images. I decided to look for every kind of line I could find in the landscapes around me.

dec-1-wire-webWhat is a line? Often we limit the definition of lines to Geometric lines which are mathematically determined; they have regularity and hard or sharp edges. True geometric lines are rarely found in nature, but often found in things we humans have constructed. These lines convey a sense of order, conformity, and reliability.  They can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal.  But lines are also curved, jagged, implied, irregular, and even fluid.

The curve of a line can convey energy. Soft, shallow curves recall the curves of the human body and often have a pleasing, sensual quality and a softening effect on the composition. My image of the row of vines on a gentle slope creates a curve that leads us into the distance and to the grand oak tree someone planted many years ago.

What is a line? A line is an identifiable path. It is one-dimensional and can vary in width, direction, and length. Lines often define the edges of a form. Lines can be short, long, thick, thin, smooth, textured, broken, flowing, erratic, dark, light, heavy, soft, hard, playful, ordered, even, variable, calligraphic, authoritative, tentative, irregular, smudged, uneven, straight, crooked, choppy, ghostly, and graceful — the variety is endless.

dec-1-pipes-webUsing shallow depth-of-field I captured a small segment of a jumbled and discarded wire fence (pictured above). The sharp lines of the foreground wires are contrasted with the feel of the unfocused soft lines in the background.  Originally the wires were joined together to create an impenetrable fence.  But, by photographically reducing the fencing to lines, the fence is transformed into something malleable and beautiful.

dec-1-grapesleaf-webI hope, in the new year, we use all these formats of “lines” to point us to new paths that will connect us to each other, to hope and peace, to justice and the honoring of all peoples, and to the earth’s creatures with which we share this sacred planetary space. That’s my line today – malleable and beautiful.

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Thanksgiving 2016 – adding orange and black to the trees.

nov-4-tbay-crircle-webThe Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in 2007: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea level.”  As I wander along our central California coast I wonder and worry about the future of the flora and fauna that so enthralls me personally and photographically.

What will become of the harbor seals, marshlands, pelicans and butterflies – just to mention a few of the splendid sights captured by my camera lens this past week?

nov-4-harbor-seal-webOn a typical day, pacific harbor seals spend about half their time on the sand and half in the water. They tend to forage at night, and play and sleep during the day – as on the spit at the mouth of the Russian River. With the changing of the ocean temperatures, the food sources for these adorable creatures may quickly disappear, and, with the food sources, the seals themselves.

Autumn in Santa Cruz means pumpkins, great waves for surfing and spiced lattés. But the fall tradition that tops them all is the one that goes back well before the advent of sweet flavored drinks: It’s the return of the monarch butterflies from their summer home in the Rocky Mountains. The monarchs’ 1,500-mile journey ends at the West Coast, and Santa Cruz is lucky to have a comfy grove of eucalyptus and cypress trees at Natural Bridges State Beach and another near the lighthouse, both perfect roosts for the monarchs.  It is amazing how each new generation is able to make a leg of the migratory route never having lived at the beginning or end of the journey!

nov-4-monarchs-webDuring Thanksgiving Week the monarch butterflies in the Santa Cruz area are counted.  The population of monarchs overwintering in Santa Cruz was estimated at 120,000 in 1997 and has been declining steadily, bottoming out in the dismal 2012 season with only 500-2000 butterflies. Thankfully, there is hope for some recovery this year.  For me, as for many others, it is a euphoric experience to watch them fluttering among the eucalyptus and cypress trees, adding orange and black color to the tree canopies.

When naming my reasons for being thankful this season, I am beginning with the harbor seals, the marshlands, the pelicans, the butterflies, and you, my readers/friends.

nov-4-tbay-creek-web

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