Stopping by woods

…on snowy morning.

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First Snow

Sleepless. I worked last night, and should be exhausted. What woke me up? I look outside. Snow blankets the world. There is a dull hush over everything.

A quick check of the laptop shows it’s 5:30, still a half hour before dawn. Pulling on sneakers, sweaters, and a down jacket, I slip down to the the lake. The snow is damp, it squeaks under my feet. At the industrial corridor, the high voltage wires sizzle with the damp. Snow continues to fall.

This isn’t just snow, though, it’s a milestone, a change in the season. Snow signals Christmas, and all the other festivals of light.

It was like this when I was getting ready to leave Jordan. For two months I was in despair, not wanting to leave. Then came Ramadan, the street vendors frying qadieff in the alleyways, a shift in the seasons. Suddenly it was all right, I could leave.

And so to work.

Some photography links

Photography masterclasses from BBC.

How to take macro pictures and other stuff from National Geographic.
(I can no longer find the haunting photos of the women of Afghanistan taken by a medical team; here are some Saudi women.) [UPDATE: the Afghan women are here: “Veiled Rebellion”.]

An exhibition of photographs by John White (I wrote about John White here “Three F-words… “)  is at the historic First United Methodist Church at 77 W. Washington in downtown Chicago until Feb 28.

Faith.  What is central and right for your life.
Focus.  What will still be important a hundred years from now.
Flight.  The movement of the moment.

Time magazine has a group of newly discovered photos from the late Jacques Lowe who was in JFK’s inner circle–he’s the same one who took the iconic photo of LBJ taking the oath of office after the assassination.

At his death, Lowe had plans for a complete Kennedy record. But five months after he died, all his Kennedy negatives stored in a vault at 5 World Trade Center were baked to dust by the fires of 9/11. Friends, former colleagues, his children and publishers saw the possibility of a new book in the surviving prints and contact sheets that had remained in his loft.

Finally, here is a list of photographers from somewhere on the web:
Cindy Sherman, Laurie Simmons, John Coplans, Martin Parr, William Wegman, Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hockney, Moholy-Nagy, Andy Warhol, Rodchenko, Richard Prince, Nan Goldin, Alfred Stieglitz, El Lissitzky, Edgar Degas, Sophie Calle, Robert Irwin, Gordon Matta-Clark, Edward Steichen, Charles Sheeler, John Heartfield, Sylvia Plachy, Muybridge, Paul Strand, Henri_Cartier-Bresson, Andy Goldsworthy, Sally Mann, Sherrie Levine, Christopher Williams, Andres Serrano, Leni Riefenstahl

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Spring iris

The chill of autumn
Foreshadows winter days of
Remembering spring’s bloom.

Taken May 31, 2010:

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Lorca by moonlight

Does Federico Lorca’s gypsy poem La Casada Infiel (which I ran through Google Translate here) take place in the moonlight or in the dark? And can you see colors in the moonlight?

To answer these and other nycthémèrish questions, I set out a few hours after the start of the full moon Friday night to take some pictures, and ended up at the confluence of, er, Wolf Lake and Indian Creek.  Yeah, Chicago has some real world-class rivers and lakes, and undoubtedly more prestigious confluences, and maybe some day I’ll take the trouble to conduct experiments on those too, but this one is within walking distance.  I have also seen a wolf here with my own eyes, so quite possibly this is a lycanthropic stream, although I’m not sure of the effects of last century’s reversal of the stream to flow into the Calumet River on any of its magical properties.  Probably the same as before.

I used a hundred-dollar camera (Cannon Powershot 560), timed exposures, and no tripod. The photos are more, or maybe less, associated with a line or phrase in the poem.  More details after the photos.


yo me la llevé al río
[I took her to the river]

Se apagaron los faroles y se encendieron los grillos.

[The lanterns were extinguished. The crickets were kindled.]

como ramos de jacintos

[like hyacinth buds]

me sonaba en el oído

[they sounded in my ear]

como una pieza de seda

[like a piece of silk]

Sin luz de plata en sus copas

los árboles han crecido

[without the silver light in their crowns, the trees have elongated]

y un horizonte de perros

ladra muy lejos del río.

[a horizon of dogs barks far in the distance]

bajo su mata de pelo

hice un hoyo sobre el limo

[under its mat of hair I made a hole over the inundated terrain]

Ni nardos ni caracolas

tienen el cutis tan fino

[neither petals nor shells have skin so delicate]

ni los cristales…

[not crystals…]

…..con luna

[…in the moonlight]

relumbran …


… con ese brillo

[…with such shining]

como peces sorprendidos

[like surprised fish]

montado en potra de nácar

[mounted on a mother-of-pearl steed]

sin bridas y sin estribos

[without bridles or stirrups]

La luz del entendimiento

[the light of understanding]


And here is a gratuitous photo of the full moon at the end.

The objects brought to the lake were materials from this and other Lorca poems:

  • silk–one a light blue-green, and the other with a black and white pattern
  • crystals–manufactured crystal globes, a natural crystal polished in the shape of an egg (a crystal will reverse print), and a natural white pointed crystal with facets
  • silver colored hand of Fatima and blue protective eye with beads
  • a dark purple crystal from Mount Sinai, a metal key chain with a picture of the pope on it blessed by the pope, a cross of Ethiopian silver, red and yellow Palestinian-style cross stitch, and a paper straw sewing basket with a blue satin lining, none of which photographed successfully in the moonlight.

Yes, I could see color; I was wearing blue jeans and green sneakers, and could determine the colors of both in the moonlight.

The shell was a conch (in the Carribean pronounced conk) from the thrift store–they were popular tourist items in the last century and are now scarce. The flower was a moonflower from the back fence.  I photographed some of my irises but they didn’t really turn out or look very scary.

I started out by walking around Wolf Lake by way of the alleys on the south end, but there was a lot of ambient light, nothing good to rest the camera on for timed exposures, and not very good access to the lake, not to mention no river as in the poem. So once again I ended up sneaking into the park after hours.  After taking pictures for some time, I suddenly became aware that it was late, and I was alone in the middle of deserted park in a dangerous city. As if to underscore the need for alarm, I saw a movement close to me.  Not Lorca’s barking dogs or the intruders they were presumably barking at, but a raccoon lumbering under the foot bridge.  Then came a huge splash on the other side of the creek.  Turtle?  At night? Or a surprised fish?  At any rate, the vegetation suddenly seemed unfriendly and it seemed wise to leave the park as quickly as possible and move towards the road where there was still some occasional traffic.  As I left the park area, a stranger in a silver sports car stopped and offered me a ride. I declined with a wave of the camera and he quickly drove off.

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These bloom at night, presumably to attract night-flying insects for pollination. The sun is barely below the horizon and they have already unfurled themselves.

Hibiscus and hyacinth

Locally this is called Rose of Sharon; the Latin name is hibiscus syriacus. In the language of flowers, hibiscus means “delicate beauty”.

And by moonlight? Maybe…

This is a hyacinth, but not the usual garden variety, like the grape hyacinth that blooms in the spring. By googling the beautiful and unusual black and white seeds, I have tracked it down as hyacinth bean vine, dolichos lablab or now lablab purpureus, also called Indian Bean and Egyptian Bean. It is grown in the tropics, especially Africa, for food. Are these the ramos de jacintos from Lorca’s La Casada Infiel?

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Nine flowers and two rather photogenic bees

Where the bee sucks

William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly.
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily, shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough

The bees are back.   These photos were taken early in June. The bee on the dandelion is actually two bees–I didn’t notice until I had the images in the computer and was playing with the zoom.  (Photos are clickable.)

To go with the photos, here is a honey poem from Federico Garcia Lorca:

La miel es la palabra de Cristo,
el oro derretido de su amor.
El más allá del néctar,
la momia de la luz del paraíso.

La colmena es una estrella casta,
pozo de ámbar que alimenta el ritmo
de las abejas. Seno de los campos
tembloroso de aromas y zumbidos.

La miel es la epopeya del amor,
la materialidad de lo infinito.
Alma y sangre doliente de las flores
condensada a través de otro espíritu.

(Así la miel del hombre es la poesía
que mana de su pecho dolorido,
de un panal con la cera del recuerdo
formado por la abeja de lo íntimo)

La miel es la bucólica lejana
del pastor, la dulzaina y el olivo,
hermana de la leche y las bellotas,
reinas supremas del dorado siglo.

La miel es como el sol de la mañana,
tiene toda la gracia del estío
y la frescura vieja del otoño.
Es la hoja marchita y es el trigo.

¡Oh divino licor de la humildad,
sereno como un verso primitivo!
La armonía hecha carne tú eres,
el resumen genial de lo lírico.

En ti duerme la melancolía,
el secreto del beso y del grito.
Dulcísima. Dulce. Este es tu adjetivo.
Dulce como los vientres de las hembras.
Dulce como los ojos de los niños.
Dulce como las sombras de la noche.
Dulce como una voz. O como un lirio.

Para el que lleva la pena y la lira,
eres sol que ilumina el camino.
Equivales a todas las bellezas,
al color, a la luz, a los sonidos.

¡Oh! Divino licor de la esperanza,
donde a la perfección del equilibrio
llegan alma y materia en unidad
como en la hostia cuerpo y luz de Cristo.

Y el alma superior es de las flores,
¡Oh licor que esas almas has unido!
El que te gusta no sabe que traga
un resumen dorado del lirismo.

Two beekeepers have done an English translation of the above Lorca poem, also they have a list of bee poetry, from Neruda to Homer to Shakespeare.

But see if you really need any more bee poetry after absorbing this haiku from Matsuo Basho:

The Bee

How reluctantly
the bee emerges from the deep
within the peony

Decay or endurance?

There is one house on my street that looks haunted, like the Addams Family could live there. Huge Victorian building, no lawn, peeling paint, cracked stained glass window at the top. But in spite of years of neglect, it is still easily the most impressive building on the block. Last week I met the owner and was invited inside to see his books.  Same inside. The ravages of the years had not been able to subdue the sense of solidity and sacred space created by the filtered daylight, massive walnut furniture, oriental rugs, and Victorian architectural details.

The same sort of impressiveness comes through in the photography of Chicago artist Eric Holubow. The owner of the Victorian house and I were both drawn to his booth at the Hyde Park art fair later that day and spent several minutes looking at the photographs. His website uses the language of  decay and disintegration to describe his vision, but being young he has missed the aspect of sacred space. In the most interesting of his photographs, once the building has been stripped of its cultural context, it still encloses, or maybe defines, or even creates a space that evokes…something. Something that defies time and transcends it.

He has also photographed a Gary, Indiana screw and bolt factory (see “Shirt Farm”) that was the scene of a scam involving a south side Chicago church that collected clothing to send to Africa. Instead, the clothing sits rotting in this abandoned factory.  More images of the factory on this YouTube video.