Finding Words for Spring

Baker_Street_CD_CoverIn the 1970s, I had in my possession a Broadway cast album of the musical “Baker Street.” Yes, THAT Baker Street, and, yes, there was a musical about Sherlock Holmes, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia” and featuring a romance between Holmes and Irene Adler.

Why I owned this obscure LP is the real mystery. I did like reading mysteries, so maybe that’s why my mother — the greatest of all bargain hunters — bought the record for me or my older brother? My brother initiated me into the sleuthing world with the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown; eventually, I graduated to Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown, and the like. We found at least one use for “Baker Street”: an instrumental segment from “Finding Words for Spring” served as background music for our “radio” play, “Murder Man,” a long-term project. With our neighbors, my brother and I intermittently recorded the play on my parents’ tape recorder. (Before you get too impressed with our creativity, we borrowed the concept of the “Murder Man” play from an Encyclopedia Brown story.)

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We loved mysteries, and we loved musicals: how could the album be anything but a hit? Devotees of Sherlock though we were, the songs seemed more laughable than laudable.  Was it because we were kids? Maybe we were more discerning than I realized, if reviews of the album are to be believed. Did Broadway patrons agree with us? “Baker Street” hasn’t been revived yet, and, as far as I know, hasn’t been made into a film. The songs weren’t particularly catchy, and Inga Swenson’s rendition of “Finding Words for Spring” was the sort of soprano warbling that sent adolescents running in the opposite direction.

Even so, a fragment of this song floated into my thoughts as I admired the azaleas lining my driveway: “Finding words for spring / Is no easy thing.” Soon, I was flipping through my stash of LPs, but the album wasn’t there — which is just as well, since my turntable stopped working 10 years ago. Maybe my parents have the album? Thanks to YouTube, I was able to listen to “Finding Words for Spring,” as sung by Swenson, and a nostalgic rendering by songwriter Ray Jessel. Surprisingly, the song isn’t about spring or natural beauty; it’s about the difficulty of articulating romantic feelings:

P1080030 (800x600)Finding words for spring

Is no easy thing

Still, I’m sure I’d find a few.

What words could be right

To describe the night?

Somehow, I would find them, too.

P1080035 (800x600)How can one explain

Love’s sweet splendor?

The most tender words won’t do.

You must fall in love;

Then you’ll find that love

Will explain itself to you.

Should you want to praise

Lazy summer days,

I could find a phrase or two.

As for love, mere words —

P1080040 (800x600)Though they’re clever —

They’ll just never, never do.

You must fall in love;

Then you’ll find that love

Will explain itself to you.

Did I misremember the song? The title “Finding Words for Spring” seemed to promise a song about the inexpressible freshness of spring — not a love song. Honestly, it may be more difficult to describe a landscape than to describe one’s love.  At least you can use images from nature as symbols of love or of the loved one’s perfections. But how to depict with mere words the wonders of spring?

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It has been a glorious spring here in North Carolina. Dogwood blossoms have graced my backyard with a snowy whiteness; daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips have added brilliant colors — yellows, blues, oranges, lilacs, reds — to the greening grass. The azaleas have flamed crimson and scarlet and so many shades of pink against an even greener background. Even my teenage daughter has remarked on the abundance of chlorophyll. Now the rhododendrons are coming into their own, with purply-pinks against glossy, dark-green leaves. Soon it will be time for the roses to fulfill their promise.

Whenever I get a free moment, I find myself rushing off for another stroll at the Biltmore Estate. We treated ourselves to season passes this year, partly because of the “Dressing Downton” exhibit that runs through May. There have been afternoons of pure happiness, riding bikes alongside the river, or hiking up a gentle slope to the house, or slowly strolling through the Azalea Garden. Meanwhile, our passes to the North Carolina Arboretum are good through September, so we can enjoy the beauty of spring blooms there as well.

IMG_3971 (800x600)Why am I even sitting at my computer, when I could be outdoors? Spring in the southern United States is beyond beautiful, especially in the early evening, which seems to be the time of most of our Biltmore jaunts.

IMG_3898 (800x600)So, if anyone has wondered why I’m not writing much, I would say, “It’s springtime, silly!” Alas, I am not a gardener myself, but I can enjoy the fruits of other people’s labors at the Biltmore and the Arboretum. I’m thankful that the people who built our house planted so many azaleas, rhododendrons, and dogwoods. Benign neglect has been our policy so far, with remarkably few ill effects.

With the end of the school year upon me, I am unlikely to blog much in the next month. I’m a slow starter, but I like to finish strongly. This is one homeschooling mom who kicks into gear in the second semester, and especially in the final months. “What? We’re not going to get through the one-year American history curriculum? Says who?” Fortunately, my youngest son likes history.

Look for me when it starts to get hot again. My blogging anniversary is coming up in June: I cannot remain inactive until then. And I still have Doug’s challenge to fulfill: five stories about five photos in five days. Can it wait til spring is over?

For now, I’m off on a final April expedition. (Or not. Now it’s raining. The other side of spring.)

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.

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

Developing a Philosophy of Photography: Landmarks

Birds on a wire at the Basilica of St. Lawrence

As I work through Photography 101, I am starting to grasp something fundamental: what a photo says to the beholder may have little to do with the conditions under which the picture was taken. At the outset, I was puzzled when the example photo for the “Solitude” assignment showed a solitary woman walking through the Hagia Sophia. While the woman seemed to be alone in the photo, a photographer had obviously been present. If the woman was not alone, how could the picture represent “Solitude”?

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NC Arboretum (taken with iPhone 5s)

Taking an authentic approach, I decided to pursue the “Solitude” assignment by seeking solitude. To my surprise, when I reviewed my photos and compared them to the “Solitude” photos posted by other Photo 101 participants, my photos looked more like “Empty” than “Solitude.” Later, I noticed that a photo I had taken on a “Natural World” quest with my husband and son expressed the concept of “Solitude” better than all my pictures of empty paths, empty seats in an amphitheater, or landscapes devoid of people. This photo doesn’t show a person, but the one flaming branch in a mostly bare forest suggests separateness and isolation better than the photos I had taken while separate and isolated.

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Pack Square skyline: Vance Monument, County Courthouse, City Hall, and Jackson Building (taken with iPhone 5s)

I’m trying to learn that the image is the thing. What matters is not the emotion that I feel when I push a button on my camera but the emotion that the viewer feels upon seeing the picture. The picture might communicate an idea or mood that has nothing to do with the photographer’s mental makeup or agenda. There are times when the emotion that the photographer feels and the emotion that the photo conveys are the same: that seemed to be true of many “Bliss” pictures (although not necessarily mine). At other times, a photograph may be more illusion than reality. I am thinking of those false tuxedo shirts that seniors wear for graduation photos: it looks as if a young man is wearing a full suit of formal clothing when, in fact, he is wearing only a false front.

Monument honoring Zebulon B. Vance, a native son of Buncombe County who served as Governor and U.S. Senator

Monument honoring Zebulon B. Vance, a native son who served as Governor and U.S. Senator

It may take me a while to get my head around the disconnect between image and reality. Like most bloggers, I think of myself as someone who is honest with her readers. (I’m dodging the sticky truth that “honesty” in social media is inherently compromised, since I decide what parts of my life to share.) How honest are lovely images that were taken in a stressful moment?

Happily, a landmark is only a landmark, no matter what I’m feeling at the time that I photograph it. A landmark might be a natural wonder, as opposed to a man-made creation, but it carries less emotional baggage. Or does it? A landmark like the Lincoln Memorial may have strong historical connotations. In addition, the choice of perspective or background for the landmark may subtly influence the viewer. Ultimately, the photographer’s goal in taking the picture will determine whether she opts for straightforward documentation of a landmark’s features or decides to focus on a particular aspect of the landmark or setting. During my “Landmark” photo shoot, I learned this: whatever the photographer’s goal, telephone wires, street lamps, signs, traffic signals, cars, pedestrians, and trashcans will get in her way.

The iconic outline of City Hall, designed by Douglas Ellington, has been adopted by the City of Asheville in its official logo.

The Art Deco outline of City Hall, designed by Douglas Ellington, has been incorporated into the City of Asheville‘s official logo.

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Designed by Rafael Guastavino, the Basilica of St. Lawrence showcases what may be North America’s largest freestanding elliptical dome.


All photographs taken November 2014 by Sandra Fleming with Coolpix L320, unless otherwise specified in the caption. Text and photos are copyrighted by the author © 2014. Please do not use them without her permission.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/photography-101-landmark/

From Theme to Shining Theme

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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).

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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!

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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.

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