A Time to Tug

Have you ever read The Invisible String? It’s a children’s book by Patrice Karst. The mother in the story tells her young twins who have woken up in a storm that they needn’t worry and can return to bed. She then describes the invisible string which connects them to her and all whom they love. They can tug on the string whenever they want and, because the string is made of love, it will tug back. Karst asks readers to imagine how far their strings may stretch. It ends by assuring “no one is ever alone.”

Would you agree there are millions of invisible strings stretching around the world right now? They’re connecting grandparents with grandchildren who are social distancing, families gathering on balconies in the evenings cheering in support of first responders and healthcare providers, farmers and grocery store workers with neighbors waiting patiently in crowded food lines.

I could fill this post with countless examples of invisible strings connecting humanity (a good thing for sure) but I’d like instead to invite you to consider another invisible string – the one connecting us to spring and to God.

A couple weeks ago when the news seemed particularly sobering, I felt a tug to go outside and photograph spring. Honestly, it didn’t feel quite right at the time. It wasn’t the eerie quiet in the neighborhood so much as a feeling of guilt in doing something enjoyable. But the tug won out and, as is often the case, the more I photographed, the better I felt. By the time I returned home, my sadness had turned to gratitude. I gave a little tug to my string.

Here are some of the images from that day and another that followed:

patch of paper whites in a neighbor’s yard

tulips under a neighborhood stop sign
bee sucking nectar from cherry tree blossoms in our front yard
peppermint twist
row of pink tulips singing Lean on Me
social distancing, forsythia style
large white pom poms on Chinese Snowball Viburnum

I hope you like these images from around my neighborhood. Granted, they are not as showy as something I may have shot in a botanical garden, but they’ve given me a nice lift. That’s partly because, as devastating as COVID-19 is, it’s helped me appreciate beauty in people, places, and things that, only a few months ago, I’m not sure I would have noticed. I’m thankful for that.

Spring is best known as the season of hope. We’re excited to see the first robin or daffodil because it suggests we’re turning the corner away from the cold, dark nights of winter. Each bud fosters anticipation of something more joyous to come. Yesterday I walked through our neighborhood and saw purple irises, pink azaleas, and Knock Out Roses. Yes, they’re all proclaiming hope, but also providing comfort and reassurance from a loving God who gently, sometimes boldly, tugs our invisible strings made of love. Each little miracle of spring is a reminder – “no one is ever alone.”

Thank you for following my blog. For a free screensaver of the featured image in this post, or for a vertical version from the same tulip patch, please visit http://www.maryricephoto.com/spring. Click Select Photos in the bar at the top right corner of your screen. After the screen refreshes, click download. Should “menu” appear over the top left corner of an image, click it and then download.

Feel free to share the images with others. It’s a good time to tug someone you love.

Take care.

Fall in the Rockies

A couple weekends ago my sister and I went to Estes Park, Colorado and the Rockies to catch up and enjoy some photography together. I had never ventured west of the Mississippi to photograph fall, but wanted to capture some of those beautiful Aspen I’d often seen in others’ images.

Here’s some of what we saw in Rocky Mountain National Park just a few days before its first snow.


Aside from the picture perfect scenery, the air was cool and crisp and sometimes cold and windy, especially on the Trail Ridge Road. I don’t have any images to show from up there because the 12,000 + foot altitude made that part of the trip brief. Down in the lower elevations we enjoyed seeing the very large racks on the bull elk, although Park Rangers were quick to caution there had been two attacks on tourists in recent weeks so we kept a respectable distance.

I nevertheless got a few pictures of elk. The two below were taken from our car window. These elk were just hanging out on our hotel’s lawn.

All in all it was a great trip – great to finally see fall Aspen trees through my own lens, great to see some of the treasured landscapes preserved by the National Park Service, and great to be connecting again with my sister and Mother Nature.

Thanks for following my blog. I hope you also find time to get out and enjoy this beautiful time of year.

Farm to Table and Beyond

Well, it’s July, it’s hot, and that means it’s time to jump in the pool briar patch. Say whaaaaat? Yes, it’s time to pick some blackberries!

Forget the swimsuit. It’s time to put on your tall leather boots, your best thorn resistant pants, a big brimmed hat, and a long sleeved shirt you don’t mind ripping to shreds or dowsing with your favorite garden variety (no pun intended) chigger repellant. Mix that repellant with a little hard-earned sweat and you’ll be a soggy mess before you know it. You’re in, right?

So Don, bro-in-law Charles and I went to the family farm Saturday to do us some berry picking. Here’s Charles reaching in to pick that one ripe berry.

What a classy style and fine technique. You see, Charles is actually a blackberry pickin’ master. His parents groomed him as a young child for this moment by taking him to the most challenging blackberry patches around. They were filled not only with berries and chiggers but wasps! Oh how he hated those wasps. So here he is in a wasp free zone pickin’ the low hanging fruit.

Well, hmmmm … what are we to do when the berries are plentiful and we come home with more than we thought we would? Give some to others? Check. Ask Don to make some of his could be award-winning blackberry cobbler? Check. Freeze some? Check. Learn how to make preserves and can some? Working on it.

So this morning I woke up in the mood for baking some homemade blackberry muffins and to document this unusual event I decided to also get out my camera. It seemed like a great time for stock photography because who doesn’t need a little yummy in the tummy AND a little extra income on the side?

So here’s stock photo #1. You’re supposed to forget any aforementioned suggestion of DEET and look at this mouth watering bowl of blackberries and think of such sale worthy keywords as “organic,” “healthy” and “antioxidants.”

healthy bowl of antioxidant packed organic blackberries – yum!

Stock photo #2 is in fact a Pinterest wannabe:

Fresh blackberry muffins as easy as 1, 2, 3

Stock photo #3 is pretty much the same scene but shot at a different angle.

Fresh blackberries to be folded into muffin batter

Stock photo #4 is the finished product – homemade muffins on a plate Scott made in kindergarten. Aw …

Blackberry muffins served on a handmade polka dot plate

So what are we baking up next? Well, I think perhaps in honor of that time honored British lawn tennis tourney known as Wimbledon, we’ll be serving up blackberry lemon scones at tea time. You may have to follow me on Instagram @maryricephoto to see if they really pan out.

Thanks for grinnin’ and pickin’ my blog. Happy summer ya’ll.

Go Find a Mockingbird

Would you recognize the sound of a mockingbird if you heard one? I’m not sure I would. It’s the state bird of Tennessee and Mississippi so I’ve seen and heard a lot of them, it’s just I’ve never paid them too much attention. Their gray feathers don’t call out to me the way the brightly colored feathers of a cardinal or blue jay do.

All that changed the other day when walking back to my car after a family photo shoot. When entering the parking lot, I noticed a young mockingbird standing intently on the roof of my car. With camera still in hand, I stopped to photograph it. I liked its soft fluffy feathers and reflection.

Well, soon its mom flew in bringing lunch.

It was fun seeing this play out in front of my camera except I sensed the little fluffy bird was still hungry.

The mom seemed to have gotten the hint and flew away. I then photographed the young bird waiting for its next incoming meal.

At one point it turned and gave me a concerned “Are You My Mother?” look …

Eventually the young bird also flew away and I got in my car and drove home. Today, when editing the family’s photos, I saw the mockingbird images and started thinking.

Initially I thought about To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s character Miss Maudie says this about the birds: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens. don’t nest in corncribs. They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Next I turned to Youtube to watch and hear some mockingbirds. I was soon reminded that mockingbirds actually sing with many voices because they can mimic or “mock” sounds they hear. I heard one mockingbird sound a lot like mourning doves, which was lovely, but that same mockingbird also sounded off like a car alarm, which was, for lack of a better word, alarming. Still, pretty cool.

Well, guess what? May is National Photography Month. To celebrate, I ask you to take some time in the coming weeks to find and photograph your own “mockingbird,” that is, a common subject you often encounter but fail to really notice. In doing so, I think you’ll find a beauty and wonder in your world which you never knew existed or appreciated. That beauty and wonder comes not only from your subject but from deep inside of you. I think, perhaps, it’s what many call the joy of photography.

Thanks for following my blog. Now go find a mockingbird, find lots of them, and celebrate photography this month!

Seduced

Officially I was in Charleston last month to attend a two day photography conference. Unofficially I was there because it makes a nice stop when driving between Tampa, FL & Greenville, SC – where our kids are – and because I’ve been wanting to photograph Charleston’s low country for some time.

First stop was Edisto Beach at sunset. Great afterglow.

Crazy but it was not the most beautiful scene of the day. As I was driving toward the beach during the golden hour, fog and light fell on the low country marshes in an indescribably beautiful way. There was no safe place to pull over to photograph, but the scene is one I’ll never forget.

The next morning I skipped the conference’s keynote address so I could photograph the Angel Tree. Whether 400-500 or 1500 years old (experts disagree), it’s unquestionably a very old and beautiful live oak on Johns Island, just outside of Charleston. Some say it’s the oldest living tree east of the Rockies.

Angel Tree, Johns Island, South Carolina

Its sprawling limbs and gnarly trunk resemble something a movie producer would create, but it comes with a caveat: it’s not photographer friendly. If you want a photograph similar to this, be prepared to spend time in Photoshop removing people and large white signs cautioning visitors not to climb on the tree or sit on its limbs. There are also tripod restrictions. But, despite these obstacles (and some might say protections), it’s still worth a visit. This live oak is Mother Nature at its finest.

Just down the road from the Angel Tree is an Anglican church and cemetery with beautiful camellias and Spanish moss.

Camilla in bloom
Spanish moss in the low country is like Mississippi’s Kudzu – it’s everywhere

When driving over the bridge back to the mainland, there’s a great view of the low country marshes, but again, no place to pull over and photograph. I turned around and found a road leading under the bridge to a boat ramp.

Here’s my first photograph of the marshes. I would like to be in that yellow kayak.

It was in this area that I spent the next half hour or so stalking a blue egret as it hunted its breakfast. Click the Download button below to watch a short animation of this.

I’ve included this image in case you didn’t click download 🙂
and breakfast

There is a unique charm to Charleston’s low country which I haven’t experienced elsewhere. Author Pat Conroy described it this way:

Charleston has a landscape that encourages intimacy and partisanship. I have heard it said that an inoculation to the sights and smells of the Carolina low country is an almost irreversible antidote to the charms of other landscapes, other alien geographies. You can be moved profoundly by other vistas, by other oceans, by soaring mountain ranges, but you can never be seduced. You can even forsake the lowcountry, renounce it for other climates, but you can never completely escape the sensuous, semitropical pull of Charleston and her marshes. – The Lords of Discipline

Seduced. I can’t think of a better word to describe it. I was seduced by the low country and as a consequence missed the morning session of my conference.

Seduction connotes something powerful and tantalizing, something that keeps pulling you back. Will I attend another conference? Probably. Will I make a greater effort to return and spend more time photographing Charleston’s low country? You bet.

What do you see when you look at the Angel Tree? Know what I see? I see those long outstretched arms motioning me to come back … Will you join me sometime?

Thanks for following my blog.

Instagram: @maryricephoto

Who spiked my punch?

It’s December 22nd, and I’m still buying and wrapping presents and trying to find the stockings to hang by the chimney with care.

I feel a little like this:

possibly the home of Clark Griswold’s other cousin?

There’s so much going on, just where do you focus?

And after periods of trying to whittle down my holiday to-do list, I … crash. Sort of like this:

Christmas afternoon 2009: Rex, at 14 weeks old, was a Christmas present

Only today it’s me instead of Betsy on the couch, and Rex now wears an ugly Christmas sweater. It’s the only thing he’ll wear. Ever.

When things get a little out of sorts for me, I often look to nature and/or photographs I took in New Mexico, particularly those showing the seasonal migration of sandhill cranes to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

In doing that this week, something occurred to me. I’ve never shown you images of these amazing birds in flight! And I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of them!

So here’s one of my favorite bird-in-flight images.

seasonal migration of Sandhill Cranes to New Mexico

Do you know what’s so great about this photograph? It’s that the birds separated out for me. That’s what you want when photographing flying birds. You don’t want them to overlap. Well, there’s that and a pleasing flight pattern. It really can be quite challenging …

Well, I really should get back to my to-do list. Thank you for following my blog.

Oh, and I almost forgot, from me and all those gentle giants out there in New Mexico, Season’s Greetings everyone!!!

Better than Fall Color?

Like a lot of folks and especially photographers, I spent much of the last four weeks chasing fall color. It started in mid-October when my sister and I took a weekend trip to Damascus, Virginia. Here’s what we found right across the state border in our home state of Tennessee:

fall scenic of stream at Backbone Rock State Recreation Area, Stream Valley, Tennessee

But guess what? Fall color wasn’t the highlight of the weekend. The highlights came the next day.

What can cause more excitement than fall color? Snow! Yes! Our Sunday morning adventure began with snow. Granted, we had to drive to the top of White Top Mountain (that’s really the name), but here’s some of what we saw:

Admittedly, not a blizzard, but for this Nashville girl escaping 80 degree temperatures, it was way cool (in fact, really cold). Certainly an exciting and invigorating way to start the day.

We next visited Grayson Highlands State Park and just a short hike down the Appalachian Trail we found THE highlight of the weekend – wild horses.   Needless to say, I love wild horses. They’re so beautiful and free. I think the last time I saw some was several years ago on a trip to Wyoming.

Okay, so these horses weren’t running wildly with wind blowing freely through their manes like you see in the movies, but …

here are a series of images, shown in chronological order, that are very tender and sweet. It started with this:

and then this happened: 

Dam and foal #2
Dam and foal #3
Dam and foal #4
Dam and foal #5
Dam and foal #6

Now how many weekends have you found beautiful fall color, been surprised by the first snow of the season, found wild horses on the Appalachian Trail, and a foal nursing from her mother? Whatever you may think of the images, it was all pretty awesome.

I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to spend this “fall color” weekend with my sister and to share it now with you. 

So here’s a thought – as we move from Thanksgiving to Black Friday and beyond, should you get a little overwhelmed by it all, you might think about these images. Why? Because they might help you keep things in perspective.

No matter the deal you may land on the internet, the best things in life are actually … free. Better yet: “the best things in life aren’t things.” – Nancy Whitfield

Thank you for following my blog.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Shalom

I didn’t start this blog to respond to societal ills, but I seem to have a hard time ignoring them. When I heard the news of the Las Vegas shooting, I quickly wrote a blog post on clouds. Following a series of natural disasters last fall, I blogged about the beauty of New Mexico. But the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh has taken me a bit longer.

In my quest to pen the right words, I came across a quote from Etty Hillesum which eloquently sums up my thoughts on what we can do to prevent future hate motivated killings.

Hillesum, all too familiar with anti-semitism herself being a Jewish author who lived in Nazi occupied Holland, wrote this: “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”

There it is.

Often in writing blog posts I am tempted also to quote Scripture. So far I have resisted that urge. But this time, in the aftermath of a senseless anti-Semitic mass shooting,  I think it’s appropriate to share this verse from the Old Testament: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

The image above is hopeful. The tree of life you see in the image is beautiful, created and strengthened by God, and surrounded by peace. The dawning of each new day brings new possibilities of peace.

Do you remember the song “Let there be peace on earth?” And the next line? “and let it begin with me?” Let’s sing that song, if not with our voices, with our hearts and actions.

Today.

Thanks for following my blog.  Shalom.

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Art and nature

It’s a theme that seemed to come up a lot when I was an English major in college.

I experienced some art and nature firsthand last Tuesday morning when doing some early morning photography in Nashville’s Edwin Warner Park.

The first two images below are abstracts made by intentional camera movement.

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Green

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Green and blue

They’re art. Or perhaps, nature in art?

The next two images are not abstractions, but pretty nature images.

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butterfly on red salvia

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one fine day

They’re nature. Or perhaps, art in nature?

Which images do you like better?

I like both and am reminded of the famous quote from John Muir: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

How true.

Thanks for following my blog. It’s a great month to be outdoors in nature.

 

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Zane at 8

Last weekend we were treated to a return visit from our niece Robyn, her husband Thad, & their sons Zane (8) and Sam (4). They previously had come in April to run the 1/2 marathon and during the race, Don had taken the boys fishing. Before this visit, Robyn had texted that Zane and Sam wanted to go fishing again with Uncle Don.

So on Saturday morning, when Robyn and Thad left for a few hours to attend a teacher’s conference, Don and I (and Betsy who was home from Florence-weary South Carolina), headed to our neighborhood lake with fishing poles, crickets, and a cooler.

Now for those of you who think summer ends when school starts, think again. Today is actually the last official day of summer, and rest assured, it was a very summery day last Saturday morning in Nashville. Think sunny, humid, and 90+ degrees.

Unfortunately, early attempts at finding a fishing spot in the shade where the fish were biting failed. Exit Betsy.

“The boys” and Don were on a serious mission though and kept trying.  Here you see them, a little fatigued but still determined, halfway around the lake.

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No luck.

So they had no choice but to try the dam, which as you might tell from the image below, was in full sun and blazing hot.

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You gotta love Uncle Don’s Huck Finn style hat and brim.

Wait, did I just say bream?

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I did! 

As soon as Zane could cast his line, he was reeling in the bream, one right after the other. He told us his goal was to catch eight. He didn’t say why but it was clear he wasn’t leaving, no matter what, until he had caught eight.

But wait. What about ‘lil bro Sam? Well, about the time we got to the hot dam (I’ve always wanted to use that term in the proper context) I sensed Sam had about had it, so we found a picnic table under some shade trees about 20 yards away for a different kind of fish experience.

Well, it seems Sam loves to snack (“graze”) and after two juice boxes, 1/2 bag of goldfish and a bottle of water, things were starting to look up. Sam, in fact, was smiling up at me from under the table. So I grabbed my camera but didn’t like shooting through the table so I asked him if he could come back up.  He then assumed this pose:

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Okay, I have to admit, I really love this photograph. 

Sam and I continued to talk. I asked,

“So what was the favorite thing you did this summer?”

He answered, “swimming.”

I asked, “Do you know how to swim yet?”

He answered, “no, but Zane is teaching me.”

I said, “That’s nice. Zane is a great big brother, isn’t he?”

Sam nodded enthusiastically in agreement.

We went on to talk about Pokemon, Daniel the Tiger, and Paw Patrol.

Soon we heard Zane yell excitedly “I did it! I did it! I caught eight fish!” Sam and I went over to congratulate him.

Okay! Mission accomplished. Time to head home.

As we were walking back home, Don said he started comparing the day’s fishing to the fishing in April. When home, Don whispered to me, “Last spring, Sam caught 7 and Zane 3.”

I smiled.

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Bragging rights: Zane & fish #8

That little smile? Priceless.

Thanks for following my blog and sharing in one of our sweet end of summer memories.

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