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.

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 ūüôā
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

Attending Sunday School with Jimmy Carter

Over President’s Day weekend and on a trip to Florida Don and I stopped in Plains, Georgia, to attend Sunday School taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

Knowing to arrive early for the 10 a.m. class, we pulled into the Maranatha Baptist Church parking lot at 4:30 a.m. We were immediately greeted by John, a church member who chatted a bit about one of their former ministers from Nashville, and then advised us to limit what we brought into the church – like take only your car keys, a Bible if you brought one, and perhaps your phone. He then gave us a card with #60 on it and directed us to park.

We parked and slept in the car until about 7:15 when we noticed the Secret Service and its canine unit sniffing the cars. Soon Miss Jan, a retired school teacher aka “the Princess of Plains,” directed us from our cars to the front of the church.


Miss Jan poses for a quick picture after asking visitors to form a single file line by their arrival number

Miss Jan was very good at her job.

For the next several hours Miss Jan and Miss Jill (regretfully I have no photographs of Miss Jill) advised us and the other guests on what to expect and what was expected of us. They asked us not to clap or stand when the President enters, “after all, this is Sunday school” and “please don’t bring up current politics – we pray for the President at this church.”

Around 9 o’clock we learned that #60 would put us in the second row in the overflow room. The couple sitting next to us told us they had talked to cardholder #29 who had arrived at 2:50 that morning. Don responded that it would take George Washington to get him to church at 2:50 in the morning.

The overflow room turned out to be kind of nice and personal. Jimmy Carter walked in to visit us around 9:45 and began asking us where we lived or from where we had traveled. Often he would add a comment or two of his own based on where he’s lived or traveled. He was friendly, soft-deprecating and often humorous.

After asking questions of us, he asked if we had any questions for him. Several people raised their hands. One visitor asked what he had found most satisfying as President. He answered “working for peace” and then smiled and added “and retreats to Camp David.”

Jimmy Carter talking in the overflow room in his church
Jimmy Carter responding to visitor questions, Plains, GA

Carter then left to start the Sunday school lesson from the church sanctuary which we viewed from a screen above. The morning’s lesson was titled “You shall be holy” and was based on Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18. The study materials framed the central question as “What does it mean to be holy?”

Carter introduced the study by sharing something he had learned from Miss Julia Coleman, one of his high school teachers: “we must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.” It was something he had also included in his inaugural address.

He then turned to a discussion of the study materials which quoted Mother Teresa as saying, “Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things. It consists in accepting, with a smile, what Jesus sends us. It consists in following the will of God.”

The passage from Leviticus ends with “love they neighbor as thyself”and based on this verse, Carter challenged us to think of someone we know in need, perhaps an elderly person, perhaps someone else, and to spend the next week or so paying a little special attention to them. He said, “it can be as simple as baking a cake for them” and then he chuckled and added, “or maybe just sharing 1/2 of a cake you’ve baked with them.”

We stayed for the church service, a requirement for having your photograph taken with the Carters. The Church is currently without a pastor and so the Georgia Southwestern University Gospel Choir sang in lieu of a sermon. They were amazing.

Below are some other photographs from the morning:

Sanctuary, Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA


the ever present and watchful Secret Service
our picture with the Carters – photograph courtesy of Miss Jill

Don and I are grateful to have had the opportunity to join the Carters for Sunday school and church. Had we had more time, we would have accepted their invitation to join them for lunch just down the street at the Silo Restaurant and Bakery. Maybe we can work that in on another visit – that and the peanut butter ice cream …

Thanks for following my blog.

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.

cropped-logo_transparent_background-copy.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

in an Oregon state of mind

Don and I spent some time in Oregon in June.  Neither of us had been there before. Here are some quick take aways:

  1. it has an incredibly diverse landscape;
  2. it seems like everyone has a dog and takes the dog(s) with them everywhere they go; 
  3. Road¬†signs say “Speed 60” instead of “Speed Limit 60.” Why no limits in Oregon?
  4. They don’t let you pump your own gas and gas stations often close at dusk;
  5. Seafood, beer, wine, fish hatcheries, logging, and Les Schwab Tire Dealerships seem to dominate the landscape (btw Les Schwab did a great job patching two flat tires for us); 
  6. Oregon appeals to a lot of outdoor enthusiasts and photographers (ask Don about breakfast with the professional windsurfers sometime); and, be sure to remember this last one …
  7. the Oregonians we met and spent time with clearly love Oregon and appreciate what they’ve got.

So what photograph(s) do I share?

Well, at this point, only two. 

So because Oregon is such a dog loving state, we’ll start with “Fetch.”

yellow lab chasing ball in water in Joseph Oregon

“Fetch” was taken in Joseph, Oregon, in the heart of what is called Oregon’s “Little Switzerland.” The mountains in Joseph look a lot like the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. I was sitting on a boat dock when a woman nearby started throwing a ball in the lake for her yellow Lab to retrieve. I went over and started talking with her and then made friends with Kona. Good times.

This second image was taken on the Oregon coast, I think near Newport.

Oregon Coast

 

 

I like the whimsical nature of this image. Often I look up at the clouds and think about the shapes they make. The boulders in the background of this image also invite you to imagine. Is that a dragon back there? Or maybe a clone of the Loch Ness monster?

It’s never been a goal of mine to visit all 50 states but when I took a silly Facebook quiz many years ago I realized I had then been to 40+ states and so started considering it. ¬†This trip made Oregon my 48th state to visit. What’s left? North Dakota and Hawaii. Will I visit those states? I don’t know.

Sure, I like to travel, but in recent years I’ve come to realize that while it’s fun to visit new places, lasting contentment does not come from travel; it comes from appreciating wherever you presently are.

A couple nights after coming home from Oregon I did a photography session with newborn twins. As I looked around at the location the parents had chosen, it occurred to me, particularly in that golden hour of light, that the setting was as beautiful as any I had encountered in Oregon, and I was so lucky to be there, in that place, with that family, in that moment.

That state of contentment where you appreciate where you currently are – it’s the only state you really must visit.

Thanks for following my blog and joining me as I remember our time in Oregon and think like an Oregonian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Give them their meaning”

There is often a lot of fluff on Facebook but then there are times when you read a post with some depth. Often it’s the announcement of a birth or a death or some other significant event in a friend’s life or family.¬†

I came across one such post Saturday from a friend named Posie who posted this:

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses: 
who has not heard them?

They have a silence that speaks for them at night 
and when the clock counts.

They say: We were young. We have died. 
Remember us.

They say: We have done what we could 
but until it is finished it is not done.

They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished 
no one can know what our lives gave.

They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours, 
they will mean what you make them.

They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for 
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say, 
it is you who must say this.

We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning. 
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.

Archibald MacLeish

In researching this poem titled The Young Soldiers do not Speak, I found an interesting article on a speech Archibald MacLeish (a three time Pulitzer Prize winning author) gave when asked to address a group in 1966 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes. 

On the topic of what the Pulitzer Prize means to an author, he said, among other things:

What these awards have done for many of us in this indifferent world of ours – this particularly indifferent American world – is somehow to include them [poets]. ¬†We need, most of us, a sign of recognition, not recognition of our ultimate worth as poets ‚ÄĒ only poetry itself can give that ‚ÄĒ but recognition that we exist. That we are there. Among those who went before and those who will come after.

Hmnn … “recognition that we exist. That we are there.”¬†

For the past year, many of my camp friends and I have been reading daily Facebook posts from a camp friend with terminal cancer. After we knew her at camp she became a chef and she’s been generously sharing favorite recipes and cooking secrets with us over the past many months. She’s also shared stories from her life, lessons learned through the years, and an intimate glimpse of the special love she holds for her husband Neil. Her posts are honest, thought-provoking, and well-written.¬†

A few days ago in a post titled “Epitaph” she wrote:¬†“I have been blathering on here for a little over a year and I do want to record a few important things.” She then lists several things important to her and then gets to this:¬†“Someday, I hope in a distant future, one will be able to look back and say ‘She was here.'”

There it is – that quiet plea for us to recognize, to remember … and in this particular case, it came bundled with a treasured recipe for chess pie.

Over fifty years ago a celebrated poet referred to us as “indifferent” Americans. Amidst all of today’s Memorial Day trappings – the picnics, lake outings, and blockbuster Memorial Day sales, can we not stop and give meaning to the lives of the departed service men and women and be grateful? We can and we should and I trust we will.¬†

But, in doing so, are we the different amidst the indifferent? If so, can we be the difference that one day overcomes the indifference? I think so.

Happy Memorial Day.

 

Healing Field Flags of Remembrance
Memorial Day Flags of Remembrance in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

 

 

cropped-logo_transparent_background-copy.png

 

 

 

To Spring

Well despite the Nor’easter, today is the first day of spring! ¬†In Nashville, we had some snow on March 12th and snow is possible again tonight, but in the interim, we’ve had several nice days, enough to share some images of Nashville’s early spring blooms. Photos were taken at Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Gardens.

tulips and hyacinths
tulips and hyacinths

daffodilsw2
stand-outs from the crowd

the lone daffodil
the lone daffodil

ladybug
the climb of the ladybug

reflection
reflections of a dad taking his family’s photographs

We’re due spring showers for most of the next ten days, but after that? I think more spring flowers.

“We loiter in winter while it is already spring.” — Henry David Thoreau

Happy spring!

418998110_1a1c3a05-9b62-4475-8ca7-b56cabb6c64d copy

 

RIP 2017

We did something a little different this year for Christmas. ¬†We spent Christmas at Scott’s new home in Tampa and just had a blast. We all needed a little break and the warm weather was a welcome change.¬†

In looking through the images I took in Tampa, I think there’s enough in the group to pay homage to 2017.

So here we go using Florida’s Christmas photographs to tell the tale of 2017…

_23A4923
Busch Gardens Tampa roller coaster

I’m starting with the roller coaster photograph because that’s generally how I view 2017 – a wild ride. The year was filled with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, and some thrills. Enough said.

orangutan
orangutan at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

How do I feel about 2017? ¬†Well, despite all the blessings in my life for which I am grateful, when it comes to thinking about many of the major news events of 2017, the country’s current political schism, and all who have been affected by loss or hardship as a result of one of the many 2017 natural disasters or mass killings (and the list goes on), I think I am a kindred spirit with the orangutan pictured above.¬†

Certainly there were reasons to celebrate during 2017, like the Nashville Predators making it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the very cool total eclipse of the sun this summer. A special highlight for me was a photography trip to Italy.  You just cannot stand in the middle of Florence and not be inspired by Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo. 

So while in Tampa one afternoon during our Christmas break, I ventured to nearby St. Petersburg to tour the Salvador Dali Museum to view the work of another inspiring artist. Dali’s work is, well, surreal. The cool architecture of the building was just icing on the cake.¬†

_23A4598
spiral staircase in Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida

I suggest you visit the Dali Museum if ever in the Tampa/St. Pete area. It contains the largest collection of Dali’s work in the United States and is well worth the visit. ¬†

Before leaving the Museum I stopped in the gift store. Hiding in one of its corners was a colorful Christmas tree which looked a lot like a children’s art project. I picked up my camera and took this in-camera abstract. I’ve always liked abstract photography and experimented with it a lot of it in 2017.¬†

_23A4599

So what’s a fitting way to bid farewell to 2017? I think a quiet sunset photograph over the Gulf of Mexico, the same Gulf of Mexico that just a few months ago played host to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

 

sunsetgulf
sunset at Honeymoon Beach near Clearwater, Florida

Times do change and it’s time now to put 2017 to rest.¬†

I hope 2018 brings peace, goodwill, good times, and well-being to all.

Happy New Year!

It’s springerlie weather, Buddy!

IMG_2030.jpg

Alright, so the actual line in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” is “[I]t’s fruitcake weather, Buddy!” ¬†But … I’m not a fan of fruitcake and I love springerlies so I’ve made a little recipe substitution a la Truman Capote.

Springerlies are German Christmas cookies that are a Schneiter family tradition. My great-grandparents on my father’s side immigrated to America from Germany in the late 1800’s or maybe early 1900’s and died before I was born, but I do have faint childhood memories of PawPaw (my grandfather) making springerlies at his farm in Louisville, Kentucky, and very clear memories of my dad making springerlies every Christmas wherever we/he lived.

My sister and I now carry on the tradition and I learned yesterday from our cousin who has recently moved from Chicago to Tennessee, that she once bought springerlies from a bakery in Schaumberg, Illinois. Buy springerlies?? That was enough to cause me to do a Google search which led me to discover this Рhttp://www.springerliehouse.com.  Sweet!

So what are they? Well, they’re really just a mixture of flour, eggs, butter, sugar and anise seed or anise oil which lends the cookie a certain licorice flavor. The dough is rolled to about 1/4 inch thickness with a special wooden rolling pin (you can also use a mold). Once rolled, the cookies are cut and left in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours before baking. After about 10-12 minutes in a 350 degree oven, you’ve got yourself a pan of delightful little “picture cookies.”

There are several springerlie recipes readily available on the internet, but generally speaking, most springerlies are hard on the outside and have a little “springiness” on the inside. They partner well with a hot cup of coffee. You’ve heard of Dunkin’ Donuts? ¬†Springerlies are the ultimate Dunkin’ Cookies.¬†Oh, and some people paint them which can make them look a lot like Christmas tree ornaments, although we Schneiters always skipped the painting step and just got right to the eating.

Family holiday traditions such as this provide connection, links to your past, comfort, and a sense of belonging. Whatever your family roots or whatever you celebrate this holiday season, I hope you find something in your ancestry which makes you feel all warm and cozy inside.

Frohliche Weihnachten! ¬†Or, as the Brits on my mom’s side of the family would say, Merry or Happy Christmas!