Black and White

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Black and White

There is a moment in winter photography when the world of color turns to black and white. Color is still there, but today it travels incognito, anonymous. The world is formed by shapes, trees draping their branches, snow weighing them down, dressing them in wedding gowns for their marriage with the new year spirits that haunt sunlit, moonlit snowbanks and dance across the snow. Even the clouds exist to give a soft, quiet dramatic touch to the winter beauty that visits the garden. And yes, it will always be there, even if we are not here to see it because it will carry on without us. As for us, we are secondary, mere witnesses to winter’s beauty and the nature that surrounds us.

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Amateur photographers can sometimes capture this effect in a moment of luck (or occasional inspiration). Great painters have always known this art of the minimal. El Greco drew light from darkness, his portraits often finding their own fire and lighting up from within.  Caravaggio, too, knew the values of chiaro-oscuro, light and dark, black and white. Velasquez was the master of the spotlight that highlighted the eggs frying in the pan, the hand of the water-carrier. Goya, in his etchings [The Disasters of War, The Caprichos] and dark paintings, drew mood and anguish from this contrast between light and dark, black and white.

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My friend Geoff Slater has caught such a moment in his sketches for Scarecrow. Above he catches the precise moment when the scarecrows, male and female, reach out to each other, and beneath a Van Gogh planetary sky, dare to dream of mobility and love. The dream world: so important to us all and especially to the creative artist who dwells in each of us. Deus est in nobis, the Latin poets used to say, it is god within us. The god of black and white who transforms the world into color and light.

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Black and white, light and dark, winter trees, Clare, two scarecrows, deer and crows: labors of love that reach out and catch us unawares, blowing our hearts wide open, letting in the sun and the wind and the ever present joy of seeing things, seizing them, sizing them up, in black and white.

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Deer Dance

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Deer Dance

They came with the snow, of course. Last year there were seven, this year six of them sniffed their cautious way, step by step, into the yard. I looked out of the bedroom at 3:00 am, and there they were, standing beneath the mountain ash and reaching up to the lower branches to snaffle the berries. They also dug into the snow and ate the fruit that had fallen beneath the tree. The night was cold and dark. I didn’t want to risk the camera and have the flash or the laser beam frighten them so I just stood and watched.

Next morning, I wondered if it had all been a dream. Then I saw the dance-steps in the snow. They have been back a couple of times now and this morning Clare spotted seven, in the early morning light, ghosting their almost perfect camouflage through the trees. So now we have a couple of questions: are there two groups this year, one of six and one of seven? Or had the seventh deer from last year rejoined the group?

We think the group of six has larger deer while the group of seven has two seemingly smaller ones. But this may be a trick of moon light and shifting moon shadows. Climate change: the local deer at sixes and sevens. What would Ocho Venado, the Oaxacan / Mixtec King known as Eight Deer, think of it? Ah, a conundrum indeed. And when and if I work out any answers, I will let you know.

Springle Dance

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Springle Dance

I guess the title comes from Tolkien where the Hobbits begin an energetic dance at Bilbo’s Party. Or something like that. Mine is a Fall Girl Dance. The hand on the right points to the poor misshapen heart as it moves between fall leaves and colorful dancing sprites and spirits that help it on its way. Where is it going? Who knows where the autumn leaves go once they leave the tree? The bodies fall to the ground, obviously. We rake them into dry, crisp piles and our children and grand-children dive into those leaf-piles, scattering them everywhere so we have to rake them up again. Think of them, the children, as forming leaf angels, a bit like snow angels, but, like the broken heart, a great deal more fragmented.

Try as I might with camera and photo shop, the colors are never quite what they were when I splashed them haphazardly, like September rain and wind-blown leaves, across the page. But life is like that: memories are discolored and distorted, old photos turn sepia, old folk turn white and grey and wrinkled and fragile, like withered leaves from the tree of life. And this is life, real life. We live it every day. Each dream, a flower, each moment a leaf, and every moment the only one we ever truly experience.

So savor those moments, both the good and the bad. They are yours and nobody else’s. Your like is what happens to you. Sometimes it is bitter with salt and vinegar and lemon juice. Sometimes it is toxic and poisonous. But it is yours. It is your chalice to drain as you stand in the garden, feeling betrayed. Like it or not, this is you. Then there are the dream moments: sugar and spice and everything nice. On those days, when the sun shines, it’s away with slugs and snails, and puppy-dog tails and hello hollow world, I see you for what you are and I welcome you for what you are. And yes, you can meet with triumph and disaster, and you can treat those two impostors just the same. You are more powerful than the forces around you. Centre yourself. Find yourself. Heal your broken heart as it wanders among the springle dancers sent to bring you peace and comfort.

Look for your self. Find your self. Be your self. You and your self are stronger than any woes that may beset you. Seek the light … and you will find it.

Angels

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Angels

So easy to believe in them when you see them dance, at midnight, when stars sparkle and the world seems dark. They light up everything you know, turn your world inside out, make you believe in things you never thought you would believe in.

So many people can no longer see them. For all too many, the angels have fled, have abandoned the world, leaving it in darkness. Where are they, where have they gone? They are still here, my friends, they are still with us. It’s a question of vision and belief, above all, belief.

So, what is holding you back? Why can’t you see them when they are there, before your eyes, dancing on moonbeams, sunbeams, fluttering before you, begging you to believe, to open your eyes, to seize them as they flit to and fro. Look at them, gathered on that pinhead, on the button of your blouse. They love you, they want you, they need you … and you need them, you know you do.

So hold out your hands, open your heart, let the sun shine in, let moonlight bless and caress you, and may all your dreams be filled, not with shadows, but with the bright light of angels.

 

 

Autumnal

 

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Autumnal

Skeletal rattle of autumn trees their crisp,
leaves fallen beneath barren branches.
Rat-a-tat rap of dead bone music dries out
flowers, shakes seed pods. Summer’s end
yammers its ruby-sweet, rose-tinted world
where petalled hope and October carnival,
with its ghoulish goulash, mish-mash mix
far-fetched mismatched face. Gruesome
uniforms, fairy-faced, gauze-winged, facile.

Cadaverous danse macabre of death mask
clowns posing distorted in a hall of mirrors
for selfies. The drowned moon needs a kiss
of life. Last night, she peeped through my
window and nuzzled me. This morning my
head is full of mystery, poetry, and dreams.
I analyse them. None of them make sense.

Shower (A Selfie)

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Shower
(A Selfie)

I smell. I whiff. I gloriously stink.
My arms, my feet, my crotch, reek with beauty.
This is me. I am still alive. I’m rank.
The time has come, the Walrus said, to take
a shower. I strip. I weigh. I obey.

Hot water streams. Bathroom steams up. I draw
faces on grey glass, smiling, glum. Soft soap
works its miracle turning Japanese
nylon into a rough body cloth that
rubs and cajoles all putrid dirt away.

Butterfly from its chrysalis, I step
from the shower, sniff with caution, and stench
no more. I am clean. I no longer pong.
My body has been taken over by
perfumes no longer mine. Who am I now?

I am no more myself. I am no more
my own gorgeous underarm muscular
ripeness. I have left my odor circling
in the soap suds and drifting down the drain.
What a pain. It will take me a week or
more to start smelling like myself again.

Comment: The cartoon is today’s effort. I looked out of the window and saw all the garden plants with ‘no particular place to go’ and that’s how it is sometimes, especially at this time of year, the summer behind, us fall present , and the winter ahead. We are left with the tiding up, the readying for next year, a sense of sorrow, and a feeling of hope that yes, the garden will return and yes, we will be here to witness it.

So, what are the figures in my cartoon saying to each other? Well, they have been reading the wise words of my olde friend, Oscar Wilde. “Be yourself,” he told them, ” everybody else is taken.” What are they you ask? They are themselves, as I am myself, and you are yourself, and yes, I am very happy to be who I am. And of course, everybody else is taken, so who and what is there left for us to be?