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.

IMG_3007

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.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/photography-101-natural-world/

Advertisements

Solitude: “I went to the woods . . .”

IMG_2964 crop 2

“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.

DSCN0628 crop

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?

DSCN0631

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.

Coolpix L320

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?

Coolpix L320

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

DSCN0656 crop

Coolpix L320

IMG_2966 crop

iPhone 5s

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.

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.

IMG_2766

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/101-post-formats/

Return to Connemara

Smooth as silent glass

Water bends beneath webbed feet

Darkness rims the day


IMG_2734Weekly photo challenge: Refraction

Haiku and photos by Sandi Fleming, October 2014

All photos were taken with an iPhone 5. “Return to Connemara” copyrighted  ©2014 by Sandra Fleming.


IMG_2712For Irish readers, Connemara is the name of Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina. An American poet and writer, Sandburg won the Pulitzer Prize three times. Today, his house is a National Historic Site, which I wrote about in a September post. On Sunday afternoon, my husband, son, and I went to Connemara for a short hike–short, because it was after 5:00 by the time we arrived and beginning to grow dark. As the light faded, so did my hopes of fall color photos. Even so, I could see why Sandburg found this peaceful setting conducive to his writing.

IMG_2713 IMG_2719 IMG_2717 cropIMG_2721IMG_2731

IMG_2732

From Theme to Shining Theme

IMG_0408

This LEGO sculpture was part of a Sean Kenney exhibit at the Arboretum last November. All other pictures were taken October 2, 2014. Kenney takes LEGO creativity to a new level.

As any child who has ever built a LEGO set under my roof knows, I have compulsive tendencies. Woe to the child who skips a step in building his X-Wing fighter or–unthinkable–attempts to make his own design without first assembling the figure as laid out in the instruction booklet. I have even gone so far as to order missing pieces from the LEGO company. Once the prepackaged creation–an oxymoron, I admit–has been assembled, I accept that I must allow the toy to function as a toy. On principle, though, I prefer to follow steps in the correct order (a preference that has resulted in conflict with my husband, who turns to the directions when all else fails).

DSCN0436

Quilt garden at the Arboretum

And so, in my dilatory but determined progress through Blogging 101, I came to Assignment 5 and felt compelled to complete this exercise if for no other reason than that it was the next step in the plan. I felt unenthusiastic because this assignment involved change: experimenting with three different “themes.” For the non-blogging reader, a blogger chooses the header, page layout, menus, and so on when she sets up the blog. There are over 290 themes here at WordPress. Not all themes are free, and, given that I was unsure how long I’d stick with this gig, “free” was my prime consideration when I became a blogger.DSCN0464

Anxious to get my blog set up, I had settled quickly on Twenty Ten, which allowed me to upload a header image; the title’s white default font, however, did not show up well over the photo, making my quotation hard to read. I had headed back to the theme showcase and chosen the first theme I found that would give me both a custom header and a visible title. Big Brother did the job, although the title font seemed a bit utilitarian.  After a week or so, I was used to it, but I had been bothered by my inability to use a featured image. Still, playing with different themes takes time. Was tweaking something that wasn’t broken worth the effort? On the Commons, I had read about bloggers trying to go back to their original themes and having to start from scratch. This worried me.

DSCN0453But the theme assignment was before me, with no way around it: I had to go through it. I was emboldened because of another blogger’s explanation of how to restore a theme. Counting Big Brother as my first experiment, I had to try only two more. So–deep breath–I set off to find a theme. By filtering the themes according to features that I wanted, I narrowed down the field to 78. I still had some browsing to do. Finally, I got out a notebook, archaic though it felt, and wrote down a few themes to try. It did take time, and I had to backtrack from activation more than once. After Twenty Twelve, Simplicity, and Widely all let me down, I was on the verge of restoring Big Brother, when I spied Able. I liked the preview well enough to activate it and have decided to keep it.

DSCN0442DSCN0437Once again, it seems that the folks writing the Blogging 101 assignments know what they are doing. Able is working far better for me than Big Brother did. I like the way my title looks. I can customize my header and my font color. I can feature an image when I publish my posts. While noticeable to me, the changes probably seem insignificant to others, but maybe that is the easiest way to approach change: one step at a time–one shade darker here, one shade lighter there.

DSCN0469With the assignment done, I felt so light-hearted that I proposed a walk at the Arboretum to my husband and son. There, the gradual move into autumn is changing the look of things.  The color changes are subtle in the woods, but, slowly, the greens are giving way to reds, oranges, and yellows.  Since it was late on a week day, we had the place almost to ourselves and could enjoy a quiet walk, drenched in the afternoon sunlight.

One incidental felicity of our visit to the Arboretum was an indoor exhibit on deep-sea exploration that my fourth grader found fascinating. He and his father had fun trying to piDSCN0444ck up a sponge with a robotic arm like the one recently attached to Alvin, a submersible that helped to photograph the Titanic. Science lesson for the day? Check!

DSCN0459

Although the Arboretum grounds are open until 7, the exhibits close at 5, so I had time for only one bonsai photo.

Although David would have happily remained at the Extreme Deep exhibit for another hour, I welcomed the time when the curator ushered us out of the building and back into the sunshine. My husband and I are going to enjoy our year’s membership at the Arboretum, an anniversary gift from our children. Nothing clears away the cobwebs like a walk in the woods.

One challenge down–for the moment, at any rate. In the wonderful world of WordPress, nothing is set in stone. Who can say that I won’t find a theme that I like better next month? For now, I can stroll past the reddening leaves of the dogwood and take cheer from the yellow daisies, knowing that today’s decision is behind me.


Note to the Reader: as of late October 2014, Able no longer appears to support a Featured Image.

DSCN0435DSCN0460DSCN0433

Shrouded in Fog: September Days and Blogging 101

Taken at Graveyard Fields last September, this picture reflects my current feelings about Blogging 101.

Taken at Graveyard Fields last September, this picture reflects my current feelings about Blogging 101.

After a day spent tweaking my blog’s title, theme, and previous posts, I am beginning to think that perhaps I ought not to have taken up the gauntlet.  (Don’t ask how well I supervised my fourth grader’s schoolwork today.) Glancing at the posts in the Blogging 101 Commons, I would guess that the theme troubles are just beginning: as soon as one area is improved, another goes downhill. In my case, I am not enamored of “Big Brother”‘s font, but my title is showing up better.

Even Blogging 101’s third assignment–saying “Hi” to other bloggers–wasn’t easy for this introvert. NONE of my Facebook friends are blogging on wordpress.com, or else they avoided connecting their Facebook accounts. Now I can’t find a way to disconnect my Facebook account from wordpress.com: I avoid giving access to my Facebook profile and list of friends, but, in my quest for like-minded bloggers, I agreed to the connection–from which no divorce now seems possible. Making new connections is the obvious solution, but that means stepping out into uncharted territory: “Beyond here, there be dragons.”

Ah, well, this photograph from last September reminds me that beauty may be hiding beneath the fog, just out of sight. As so often happens when we set out on a family hike–the “we” is reduced these days, down from seven to three or four–the weather was not ideal on that September afternoon.  It didn’t rain, but Graveyard Fields, a flat mountain valley in the Pisgah National Forest, was shrouded in fog. Hiking in fog is a surreal experience: you are surrounded by trees, shrubs, and mountains, yet you can see only a few feet ahead. Even on a sunny day, it is easy to get lost at Graveyard Fields, which has several trails that intersect with back-country camping sites; on a foggy day, I would not recommend going it alone.

On the other hand, there is a forced solitude, a necessary quiet, that descends with the fog. Cloudy weather typically reduces the number of hikers, which is a welcome change at a spot as busy as Graveyard Fields. On this particular day, taking the trail off to the left, we hiked quietly and carefully over the muddy ground and then on to the Upper Falls, which you can just glimpse in the top photograph.

P1050168 P1050169

P1050163As you can see, the clinging mists subdued even my spirited son. But I don’t regret our hike that day, even if we did walk more slowly and uncertainly because it was difficult to see where we were going.  There were glimpses of light through the trees, hints of vistas beneath the layer of fog. As the day wore on, the mists dissipated, and we could see the solid forms of rock and stream. In the same way, moments of understanding will surely come as I become more familiar with the technical terms of blogging. These difficult days of blogging confusion–these, too, shall pass.

That September day, the beginnings of fall were evident in the changing color of the leaves, in the crisp coolness of the air. I, too, am experiencing a season of change in my life, as yet another son has left for college this fall. There is beauty in this new season of life as well–more time for some things, even as the time for other things slips away.

Giants of the Appalachians

Given this blog’s homage to Joyce Kilmer, how could I not devote a post to the mighty trees of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest?  Born in New Jersey, Kilmer had no connection with North Carolina, but the 3,800-acre forest within the Nantahala National Forest was dedicated to him in 1936, as a memorial both to his poetry and to his service in World War I, where Kilmer paid the ultimate price for his patriotism.

P1020711

My oldest son and youngest son, ready for adventure!

In the summer of 2012, accompanied by my husband and two of my sons, I made the two-hour drive from my house to visit those Appalachian giants.  Alas, the June day was unseasonably warm, so the first part of our two-mile hike through the forest was less pleasant than anticipated–particularly after my oldest son was attacked by a stinging insect shortly after we started the figure-eight trail. (The cheerful photograph on the right was taken at the trailhead.)

Not only were the humidity and bugs an issue, but, on the lower portion of the loop, there was less shade than I would have expected in a famous forest. Later, I learned that in 2010 the United States Forest Service used dynamite to remove many dead hemlocks that had fallen victim to the invasive woolly adelgid and posed a safety hazard to visitors.

Eventually, we made our way through the blasted remnants of the dead hemlocks to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Plaque, which was a good place to take a short break from hiking. P1020716 P1020717

Now that we had entered the Poplar Cove section, I began to understand why this old-growth forest was worth a two-hour drive. While California’s coastal redwoods may be older–and the cool climate more pleasant to the perspiring hiker–nothing makes you realize your insignificance like standing next to a tree that is 20 feet around and 100 feet tall. How long had these trees been here? How many silent-footed inhabitants had they witnessed, before the settlers came?P1020721

P1020722P1020725P1020720

As we worked our way along the loop to the trailhead, something happened that accelerated the last portion of our hike: quite unexpectedly, my husband’s cell phone rang, followed by a call on my cell phone. Since we were out of the service P1020718area, the calls were lost almost immediately, but the number was not a familiar one. At the time, our three middle children were on an inner-city missions trip in another state. Little wonder that we both thought the worst and increased our pace for the last leg of the hike. While I retain a few memories of the enormous trees, of the amazing straightness of the tulip poplar trunks, of the leafy greenness of the woodland, what I mostly remember is intense anxiety as we rushed through the forest that we had invested so much time in coming to see. I did take a few photos of the memorial plaque as we passed it on the return trip; there were also two trees whose curiously intertwined roots had taken David’s fancy, so I spared a few seconds to photograph them.P1020726P1020729

But our enjoyment of the outing had ended with the ill-timed phone calls and their reminder that life was relentlessly being lived outside the boundaries of the forest. As it turned out, neither my husband nor I had cell service until we had driven well out of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, my husband pointing out the road signs in both Cherokee and English as we drove. Eventually, we were able to listen to our voicemails. Predictably, the calls had nothing to do with our children. I still am not sure whether or not we should have had our phones on silent: what if there had been an emergency? Yet our hike was–if not ruined, at least made hostage to the pressingcares of this world.

One day, I hope to return to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest–without a cell phone, with a water bottle, and with enough time to stop and go rafting in the cool, wild waters of the Nantahala River on the way home.
P1020730