just this morning i posted on instagram a snarky complaint about how it’s time for winter to move along now. it’s been real. buh bye. and then this afternoon when i finally got out for a walk with the dog, this plant, which i believe is pagoda dogwood, was bursting its buds everywhere. either the universe responded to my griping, or i have insta-egg on my face.
unidentified bud that is always the first to bloom each march
saint paul, minnesota
i was cleaning up today, and came across these dried kermes oak leaves from southern france. i mention this not because finding oak leaves from southern france while you are sitting out the last snow fall of the winter in minneapolis isn’t interesting in and of itself, but because here i was once again tidying up. it will come as no surprise to any of you who have read this blog regularly or who follow me me on instagram, that i am a minimalist at heart. i need outer simplicity in order to feel inner calm. if i am faced with a big project, my first step is always to “clear the deck”. i clean the house, do the laundry, pay the bills, fill the fridge with several days of meals. i top off the gas tank and wash the car. sometimes, i’ll even make a run to goodwill or salvation army. then i start working, so i’m all ready now. there must be a project i’m preparing for. i just don’t know what it is yet.
dried kermes oak leaves
arriving at this simple picture of two mallard feathers required a bunch of judgment calls and some hard earned, if now familiar, scraps of knowledge. here’s what i thought about as i took the photo and then post-processed it. i think it’s a great example of how “simple” is often not simple at all. first, it has taken two years of daily STILL images to realize that feathers don’t want to be photographed in ultra high resolution. if the individual barbs are too clear and crisp, then the whole image is compromised by a distractingly moire optical effect. the answer? shallow depth of field, with focus on on the shaft, not the the barbs. secondly, those white tips are impossible to photograph on a white background. so, for the first time ever, i intentionally dirtied them up with a little ash so they wouldn’t get lost on the white background. i chose not to do that with the tips of the shafts, and now i am wondering if that was a mistake. thirdly, it took me at least a year of STILL to learn that a damaged feather is almost always more interesting than a perfect feather. this pairing, one perfect one imperfect, was very intentional. finally, that white background is a bear. it is the signature that holds the STILL blog collection together. but to get it, i often have to lighten/brighten an image so much that i lose the very details that caught my attention in the first place. after three years, i have no automatic tricks up my sleeve to solve this problem. every day is a new compromise. so there you have it: one “simple” picture of two mallard feathers.
vadnais lake, saint paul, minnesota
there’s something i find quirkily romantic about the two halves of this black locust seed pod. they are two things and one thing at the same time. each contains the seeds of what the other is missing. they have pointy heads. when they kiss, their bellies touch.
black locust seed pod in march
lake phalen, saint paul, minnesota
i shot several different angles of this bouquet of winter aster stems. but i responded to the selective focus of this one best. it reminds me of our life right now, spent focusing on what is necessary and in the foreground, and hoping the blurry background does not get lost entirely. college testing, steve’s writing awards, piano contest, a still blog image a day, and fitting in a walk are in the foreground right now. i just hope the mortgage, the mandatory soccer team meeting, and tomorrow night’s dinner don’t fade completely out of the frame.
end of winter stems of wild blue aster
vadnais lake, saint paul, minnesota
pollinators are popular. everyone is talking about them. everyone is rooting for them. well, at least those of us with a conscience are. these milkweed seeds were mailed to me by one of steve’s clients. she saw our beehives, and immediately recognized a kindred spirit. she hatches monarch butterflies every spring, and as a result has become a milkweed evangelist. a johnny appleseed of milkweed. as she left the house, she said “i am going to mail you some milkweed seeds.” and indeed two days later a hand stuffed package of seeds arrived. i dumped the seeds out onto my white tag board to photograph for STILL. the white silky floss normally attached to the seeds quickly took flight and eventually settled into every imaginable nook and corner of the house. but enough seeds stayed put to have their portrait taken. and i am glad they did, because who knew that milkweed seeds had so much texture and such delicious coffee colors? i will plant these in a sunny corner of my back yard, and then i will practice my polite listening nod for the inevitable time when my ever expansive husband starts talking to me about how we really should be hatching butterflies too. you know, for the pollinators.
one of the very first signs of spring in minnesota are the pussy willows. as a kid i used to see pussy willows every now and then, and i think i believed that there were some trees that always carried little pussy willow buds on them, and i just happened to see them only sporadically. but if, at any given time, i wanted to see pussy willows, all i needed to do was head out into pussy willow country, and i would be able to see, whether in march or july or september, little stands of pussy willow trees. i mean, there were strawberries in my lunch all year long. it just required my mom to pick out strawberries that week at the grocery store. everything was possible. i am both happy and sad to have come to the understanding that this year’s pussy willows, and this year’s strawberries, will be the only ones i will see until next year, when i will be one year older.
pussy willow (willow catkins)
vadnais lake, saint paul, minnesota
here’s a confession. i really don’t like dyeing easter eggs. i did it out of motherly duty for a few years, but the reality is that the kids think they want to dye easter eggs, but what they really want is for mom to do all the hard work of hard boiling and coloring the easter eggs, so that they can arrange them artfully in the easter egg baskets, which takes approximately .003% of the overall easter egg dyeing time expenditure. meanwhile, mother nature has been busy creating colors like the ones above, without dissolving any paas pastel tablets in lukewarm water. i can’t do any better than that, and no longer plan to try.
collection of found and gifted eggs:
goose, duck, pheasant, chicken, quail, partridge, blue bird, cardinal
steve and i talk often about retirement and how flawed the american model seems to us. work all those years. hang on until you max out the pension. then hang on until you max out your social security monthly benefits. then, when you are about 70 years old, with skin as leathery as this oak leaf, you head down to the house in tucson to play bad golf, in perfect financial security, for what remains of your life. much better to leap from the tree in full blazing color, and take what comes on the way down. we’re all headed that way anyway.
burr oak with winter leaf and oaks galls
grass lake, saint paul, minnesota