Purveyor of Beauty

img_8740As I circled beautiful little Lake Tomahawk for the third time (four times around is approximately 2 miles, I’ve learned), I paused yet again to snap a picture of the gorgeous red leaves against the blue sky.img_8743 Simg_8754ure, the picture-taking limited the effectiveness of the exercise, but who cares? Given the glory of the scene before me, how could I not take a picture? How could I not try to share the rich colors of the fall foliage, the smell of sun on pine straw, the glimmer of light on the water?

“Are you a camera person?” asked a friendly man who watched me interrupt my walk to clumsily frame a scene. I said yes, but, really, I’m not much of a photographer, and my iPhone 5s is showing its age. What I am, I decided, is a purveyor of beauty.

I liked the sound of that phrase–“purveyor of beauty” –but later, seated at the coffee shop with my café au lait (I liked the sound of that phrase, too), I looked up the meaning of “purveyor,” just to be on the safe side. What a blow: “purveyor” didn’t mean what I thought it did! I had confused “purveyor” with “surveyor”–someone who takes stock of the situation or assesses the value of something. “Purveyor” actually means someone who is endeavoring to sell or trade something: it can also mean someone who is trying to promote a view or idea. Reveling in my felix culpa, I realized that the real meaning of “purveyor” fit much better.

After all, if I wanted to soak up the beauty for myself, would there be a need for picture-taking? Maybe: I don’t trust mere memory to capture experiences. Memory is fickle and tricks me up with dates or blurs similar experiences. How many falls have I lived through now? How many achingly beautiful autumn scenes have I tried to pin down with camera, verse, prose?

So I suppose I am taking the pictures to remind myself of what a wonderful walk I had, smiling pleasantly at the other folks doggedly rounding the lake along with me, some with dogs in tow. But, even more, I want to share the beauty with you, dear reader–with you, who couldn’t be with me to watch the ducks dabbling in the water near the bridge; with you, who couldn’t count the peaks of the Seven Sisters off to the right.img_8744img_8751

Because beauty kept to myself feels like hiding a joyful secret from someone. Beauty shared is so much better, especially if the other person gets as excited about trees turning from pale-green to vivid yellow as I do. Strangely, though, I kind of like my morning walks alone (alone, with a dozen other people out for their morning constitutionals). If I’m walking with someone, I’m talking or listening. If I’m walking alone, I can let my thoughts float free. Or I can try to notice details that might escape me: the watercolor brush of colored leaves on the lake’s surface; the leaves slowly somersaulting to the ground, the little island with its air of sanctuary, the cross-section of shoe prints in the dirt trail, the half shorn tree hinting at the season’s progress.
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Enjoy the beauty of fall in Black Mountain–and purvey it along!

A Quest for Curves: The Natural World

I’ll say this for Photo 101: it’s causing me to look more closely at my surroundings. When “The Natural World” assignment popped up on my phone’s WordPress app, I was waiting to pick up my son. Dutifully, I began searching for “curves” in the natural world nearest me: a large, open field adjacent to the church parking lot. I took the photo below partly because of the lovely colors (no filter, folks!) but mainly because of an abundance of curves in the landscape — the rounded shapes of the trees, the distant hills, and the clouds — set off by the horizontal line of the green field and the vertical tree trunks. Not long afterwards, the daylight faded.

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If you’re participating in Photo 101, you might see the problem: when I read the “Natural World” assignment, I seized on a key phrase rather than the whole idea. That happens when I read on my phone: my grasp of the material is often incomplete. The words that jumped out at me were “lines” and, in particular, “curves.”  Here are the words in context (I added the italics):

Exploring the outdoors, with camera in hand, is an opportunity to look for natural lines that lead our eyes to different parts of a frame. Envision the bend of a stream, or the curve of a petal: how can you use these lines in your composition? If you see strong vertical, horizontal, or diagonal lines, can you play with the orientation to create a more dynamic composition? Can you apply — or break — the Rule of Thirds?

Unfortunately, I didn’t read the assignment thoroughly until days later, at which point I had taken more pictures of the natural world — looking for curves and lines but not in terms of how they related to framing the picture. Never having looked for curves and lines in nature before, I had fun with this assignment (or my primitive grasp of the assignment). On a hike at the Arboretum, I spotted curves everywhere. Lines ran parallel to the curves, and lines cut diagonally or vertically across the curves. Soon, my 10-year-old was enthusiastically looking for curves with me — in waxy green rhododendron leaves, in strangely arched tree trunks, in the rounded ends of white oak leaves, in acorns and pebbles.

On your next walk, I recommend this fun exercise: see how many curves you can find in the natural world. Then, look for straight lines in nature. In my part of the United States, the curves dominate. Even straight pine needles, when grouped together on a branch, make a soft circle of green. The next time I take pictures of the natural world, I’ll try to go one step farther and use those lines and curves to — what was that again? “Create a more dynamic composition”? For now, enjoy the curves.IMG_3053


All photographs taken in November 2014 by Sandra Fleming with her iPhone 5s and copyrighted  © 2014. Next time I go looking for curves, I should take my Lumix: the Lumix has a view mode that divides the screen into nine squares, so I could look for curves or lines AND try to apply the Rule of Thirds.

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Solitude: “I went to the woods . . .”

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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden (iPhone 5s)

“I’m doomed!” I thought as I saw the cars. Freed of responsibility for the afternoon, I had driven to Flat Rock in search of solitude.  I’d never seen more than half a dozen cars in the parking lot on previous visits to the Carl Sandburg Home. On this sunny Saturday, I barely found a spot in the Flat Rock Playhouse parking lot across the street.

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Coolpix L320

At least a dozen people passed me as I searched for a trail map at the building by the front lake. There were no maps. Carl Sandburg, the “Poet of the People,” would have rejoiced to see such a diverse crowd enjoying his peaceful retreat — old and young couples, college girls, families with small children, exercise enthusiasts, dogs and their owners. But how was I to take a photo representing solitude if I was surrounded by people on my hike up to Big Glassy Overlook?

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Coolpix L320

As it turned out, I needed other people to help me reach Big Glassy Overlook. I headed up the long driveway, past Sandburg’s house, and along the path that — I thought — led to the top of Glassy Mountain. With few signs and no blazes marking the trails, I became concerned that I was headed instead towards the circuitous Little Glassy Trail, which we had taken a couple of weeks ago.

Taken with CoolPix L320

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” ― Henry David Thoreau (Coolpix L320)

While I hesitated, a mother and two little girls came into view. The younger daughter seemed to find my request for help amusing. Was it because I, a grown-up, was lost? Although they were going to the goat barn, the mother knew how to reach Big Glassy from there, so I tagged along. The mother pointed out that my shoe was untied. I felt myself sinking even deeper in the young girl’s estimation.

As we walked towards the barn in awkward silence, another group approached from the opposite direction — grandparents and tweens. They were looking for Little Glassy Trail, but they had just come down from Big Glassy Overlook and assured me that I could get there on the path behind them. I thanked the mother and little girls and headed up the trail.

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Coolpix L320

A couple was ahead of me on the uphill path, so I slowed down, hoping to achieve “solitude.” I trudged up the hill, hearing the crunch of fallen leaves as I walked (my shoe was untied again). Soon the sound of voices died away, and I was by myself in the woods. In college, I often took long walks alone; maybe the close quarters of dorm life had something to do with my need for solitude then. But, in recent years, family hikes had become a social activity, a time for talking as much as getting exercise or trying out a new trail. How long had it been since I had gone on a hike by myself? Or listened to the crackle of dry leaves beneath my feet?

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Coolpix L320

One nice thing about being alone: I could take lots of pictures, although the memory card in my Lumix had rebelliously declared itself to be “Write-Protected.” Once its built-in memory filled, I was left to my iPhone 5s and Coolpix L320, neither of which offered an AF grid. So much for trying the Rule of Thirds. I had noticed large patches of granite more than once during the 1.5-mile hike to the top of Glassy Mountain. Now that I had finally reached the overlook, I walked carefully over the slippery outcropping to see the lovely view of the valley.

The couple who had been ahead of me on the trail was sitting on a bench when I arrived. They got up immediately, despite my urging, “Don’t let me drive you off!” Secretly, I was glad when they assured me they were leaving. I would have a few moments alone in this serene spot. Instead of taking pictures, I sat down on the granite summit, drank from my water bottle, and enjoyed the panorama.

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This was a mistake, because, seconds later, two more couples showed up. The older couple began posing for photographs in front of the view, while the young couple settled on the bench, seemingly determined to stay there until the rest of us left. I needed to go, anyway — I was supposed to take my daughter shopping. I retraced my steps on the descent, thankful that it was light enough for me to enjoy the fading fall colors. Amusingly, I encountered the mother and her two daughters on my way down the trail. They had visited the goats. “They were butting each other like crazy today,” the little girl told me, as if I were now a friend.

Although my walk to the overlook had been mostly solitary, now I encountered more people, alone or in pairs, hurrying down or heading up. To my surprise, I met some people I knew: the homeschooling mother and son who had introduced me to the Carl Sandburg Home on an August field trip! I was introduced to the father of the family, and we chatted briefly. The mother was pleased that I had returned to the Sandburg site so many times. I tried to explain about the “solitude” photo assignment, but their faces wore puzzled expressions as we parted ways.

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Coolpix L320

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By now, I was making plans with my husband on my phone. He updated me on our son’s chess tournament: his team had won second place! I got lost — again. Impatient to reach my car and immersed in the logistics of whether I could get downtown in time to pick up my daughter, I failed to notice where I was walking. Wondering if I had time to stop by the bakery and buy an almond croissant, I veered left onto a driveway. Suddenly, instead of the shimmering lake at the entrance, an unfriendly gate confronted me. “How did I miss the lake”? I thought in disgust. (I had planned to take more pictures.) Resignedly, I clambered over and walked along the road to the overflow lot — thankful that I would soon be rejoining my family, sad that my slow rate of travel had cost me the croissant.

Unlike Thoreau — who lived in the woods for two years, two months, and two days — I went to the woods to be alone for a few hours. What had this solitary experience taught me? Getting lost seemed to accompany solitude, if solitude meant being by myself in a public place. My self-consciousness had also increased on the hike: I was keenly aware that the people I met perceived me simply as a middle-aged woman, not as part of a family or a couple. When I had encountered people whom I knew, I felt compelled to justify my presence there without any family members. Why? Did that imply that I saw myself not as an individual but only in relation to other people? In addition to elevating my heart rate, the climb to Big Glassy Overlook had heightened my sensory perceptions — my awareness of sounds, in particular. Bird calls, rustling leaves, the occasional falling nut: would I have missed these, had I not been alone?


All photographs taken by Sandra Fleming. Text and photographs are copyrighted by Sandra Fleming © 2014. Please do not use or reproduce them without her permission.

Writer’s Quote Wednesday: Reflection

Andy Rooney 3One of my favorite things about blogging is that it is not school: I am free to write what I want, when I want, and how I want. Not only do I get to choose what to write about, but I can write in any genre that suits my whim. I can use photographs, with or without words. I can use words, with or without pictures. I decide how many words to write. Whether or not anyone reads my posts will probably be affected by these choices, but the decisions are mine to make.

Given how much I like the idea of being absolute monarch of my blogging realm, it strikes me as ironic that I keep signing up for blogging classes, thereby limiting my own authority. First, I took on Blogging 101, although it seems to have bested me, since I completed only half the assignments. I am writing this post for a Photography 101 assignment (Day 3: water). In fact, my last three posts have been on subjects not of my choosing: home, street, and now, water.

A vertical cropping of the same pond (I prefer the horizontal photo myself)

Here’s a vertical orientation, but I prefer the horizontal.  The reflective water mirrors the tree while creating the illusion of a tree. Writing also reflects life but can create a parallel world.  (Panasonic Lumix)

Choosing Andy Rooney‘s statement — “I don’t pick subjects as much as they pick me” — for Writer’s Quote Wednesday may seem odd, since I have written recently on subjects that someone else dictated. Home, street, and water did not “pick me,” I assure you. Because I am feeling little enthusiasm for photographing or writing about arbitrary topics, Mr. Rooney’s quote refreshed me like a cupful of cool water in an arid desert. When something cries out to be addressed, forces itself on my attention repeatedly, haunts me as I drive from place to place, then I sit down at the computer and become deaf to the people around me until I have poured out myself in words.

I had the experience of a subject picking me last Tuesday evening. My husband, daughter, and son had all left the house after dinner, and I was planning to use my time productively: sorting through catalogs, putting away laundry, or exercising.  As I brought dirty dishes into the kitchen, I passed my aging laptop. Suddenly, my fingers were at the keyboard, typing feverishly about an idea that had been forming for the past few days. I don’t know exactly what Andy Rooney meant by saying that subjects pick him, rather than the other way around, but I can guess. I feel his pain — or pleasure.

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Sides of a City: Street Shots

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All Souls Cathedral

Biltmore Village

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Haywood Street

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West Asheville Community Center

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Walking on the West Side


Going clockwise from the top left, photos 1, 2, and 3 were taken with an iPhone 5s, while photos 4 and 5 were taken with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20.

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A Mountain Greenery Home

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“In a mountain greenery, Where God paints the scenery . . .” — “Mountain Greenery” lyrics by Lorenz Hart (Photo: iPhone 5s)

Like many mothers of my generation, I spend hours of my life on the road: driving my children to soccer practice, music lessons, dance class, and homeschool tutorials. This photo of a highway that I travel every day represents my home in western North Carolina better than a photo of my house. The fact that I snapped this picture with my daughter’s iPhone 5s as my husband drove us to church Sunday morning suggests that I tend to run late — otherwise, I would have had my phone and its invaluable built-in camera with me. I respond to beautiful sights by photographing them, which is why I borrowed someone else’s phone to capture the unusual sight of fall foliage against snow-capped mountains.

What is also apparent to an experienced photographer is how little I know about cameras. I’ve had my iPhone for less than a year, and I am more accustomed to taking pictures with my point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix or the Nikon CoolPix L320 that I bought on Black Friday. In Photography 101, I hope to improve my skills, particularly my use of light and my understanding of composition. Maybe along the way I’ll learn what “aperture” and “ISO” mean?  For a tagline, I currently use the phrase “celebrating beauty in creation.” Better pictures of the beautiful places that I post about would help me show beauty to my readers.

Despite its imperfections, the highway photo hints at how lovely the Blue Ridge Mountains were this weekend, with the golds, oranges, reds, and greens of the trees frosted by an early touch of snow. Within a day, the snowman that my son and husband made had melted. Today, the trees look much as they did before the rare November snow, although more branches have shed their leaves. A long, cold winter is predicted for our area, but, for today, the road is clear, and the fading colors of autumn are still beautiful.

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My backyard after the snow (iPhone 5s)

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This is the first time I’ve seen snow on the leaves of a tulip poplar. (CoolPix L320)

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Drive like a Tourist

Drive like a Tourist

If you look closely, you can see that the speedometer reads 42 mph. (The speed limit on this part of the parkway is 45 mph.)

Ah, the power of words! Writing about fall photos inspired me to do something I have never done as an Asheville resident: search for fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The last line in A Tale of Two Photos got to me: “Now is the time to capture these golden days–whether with camera or words.” Even though my husband had a long to-do list for his day off, I persuaded him that we should hop in the car and go look for leaves. (He pointed out that there were plenty of leaves in our driveway, but he agreed.)

Instead of listening to his suggestion that we hike down in Brevard or up at Craggy Pinnacle, I insisted that we use the recommendations in the weekly Fall Color Report. At that point, the report was six days old, but surely those experts knew more about fall color than my nose-in-a-book husband. We had a limited amount of time, since I wanted to be back to cook dinner for my daughter, who had too much homework to accompany us. That ruled out the Cullasaja gorge, but we could still try for the Black Balsam area, past Mount Pisgah. We grabbed walking sticks, water bottles, cameras, and Bojangles chicken. Off we set!

Our destination was Black Balsam Knob (elevation: 6, 214 feet), which, according to the report, should offer brilliant colors. Since we were in tourist mode, we turned off at several overlooks as we drove west on the parkway: the Bad Fork Valley Overlook, the Pounding Mill Overlook, the Cherry Cove Overlook. My son got excited about the out-of-state license plates, especially when we saw the same cars at multiple overlooks. Having moved to this area when he was five, my husband found it painful to play the role of a tourist, but David soon was happily pointing out beautiful patches of red or yellow or orange leaves. (Despite the name of my site, I’m no tree expert, but we saw mostly white oaks, red oaks, and maples.)

After eating lunch at the Mount Pisgah picnic area, we drove on, stopping at more overlooks to photograph Looking Glass Rock. Not far past Mount Pisgah, however, we noticed that we were seeing more empty branches and fewer golden and orange leaves. My husband said thoughtfully, “You know, I’ve always heard that the 15th to the 20th is the best time for color.” Today was October 21st.

By the time we reached the Black Balsam area, I suspected that we had driven too far: at this elevation, the color had “peaked.” Nonetheless, we parked at the end of Black Balsam Road and started walking down Flat Laurel Creek Trail. Although we saw many red maple leaves on the ground, the limbs of the deciduous trees around us were bare. After hiking a short distance, I looked at my husband and pleaded, “We could hike this trail any time, but I was hoping for a fall-color hike today!”

By now, it was too late to take winding Highway 276 farther down into Pisgah National Forest, where we could have hiked at Pink Beds or Looking Glass Rock. Since we would drive past Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower on our way home, my husband suggested that we hike there. I prefer a path through the woods to an old service road, but the weather was so perfect that I couldn’t complain about the rocky, uneven trail.The last time we climbed this 70-foot tower, David had been too little to go up the steep metal stairs. He insisted that he didn’t want to climb the tower, but, by the time we got there, he had changed his mind. It was a windy day but beautifully clear, and we had amazing views at each stage of our climb up the old tower, built in 1941 and listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. If the photo seems a bit crooked, put it down to my shaking hands.

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View from the Fryingpan Mountain Lookout Tower (taken with my iPhone 5)

As we walked back to our van, a young couple passed us on their way to climb the tower. We warned them about the wind, and they just smiled. Headed east on the parkway, we stopped at an overlook or two for more photos. Suddenly, I realized that I had failed to get a picture of one of the many stone tunnels along this section of the parkway. My husband began to drive more slowly, looking for a place to pull off near a tunnel so that I could get out and take a picture. His hesitant driving irked the driver of the car behind us, who started following closely and even honking intermittently. As soon as we could, we pulled into a overlook and let him go around us. These locals are in such a hurry!

Enjoy the slideshow of photos, taken with my Nikon CoolPix L320. Believe it or not, I weeded out some pictures.

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