OUR FINAL CHANCE: TODAY IS EARTH DAY

After months in a cryo-tube, they finally woke me. What a headache! Sheesh. And holy moly, I really had to go to the bathroom, after which I needed not so much a shower as a sandblasting. That cryo gunk is sticky and it gets into places you just wouldn’t … well, maybe you would … believe.

Then there was food. Never in my entire life have I wanted to eat a starship, including the wings. Talk about an appetite. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone had just been wakened and I’m sure we all felt the same way: hollow.

A little piece of T.S. Eliot was spinning in my head:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
I vaguely remembered more of the poem.
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

I sure did hope that was not a prediction for our explorations to come. Because given what bad shape the earth was in, we needed more than a merely decent place. We needed a fertile planet on which crops could grow. Where the battered human race could remember itself, its better self. We hadn’t been better than cockroaches in a long, long time.

Finally after eating for what seemed an eternity, we donned our lime green suits — the lightweight ones for worlds that were not inherently hostile, merely unknown — and they opened the doors and we emerged. Into paradise.

It was breathtaking. The colors were a bit odd with that pink sky and pale blue clouds. And the plants were all kinds of colors, like a flower garden. Hell, the whole planet was a garden. So we named it “Eden” which I thought was a mistake. We got kicked out of Eden once already. But hey, what do I know? I don’t make the Big Decisions. Way above my pay grade. You might say I was just along for the ride.

Before we reboarded the ship, I had a little thought. I dawdled. Picked up the litter we’d left behind. I found a big piece of cardboard. Must have been a box of some sort, but it would make a pretty good sign. I found a piece of wood to attach it to. I had a nail gun in my tool kit as well as a big marking pen — fortunately it hadn’t dried out and worked in the lower gravity of this new planet. New to us, but home to so much life. As Earth had once been before we stripped her of everything but our trash.

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I planted my sign near where we’d landed. I was sure future expeditions would land in more or less the same spot. Then I wrote my message. In my best handwriting. Using huge letters so no one could miss it — or mistake its meaning.

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A SUMMER MORNING

Morning woods in summer

Morning. Although I want to sleep late, I almost never do. On summer mornings, I drink my coffee and watch the early sun filter through my woods. Each day, the world is made anew.

Morning sun in summer

Cat Stevens’ rendition of this traditional Christian hymn is beautiful, as is the presentation. I ask that you please leave your prejudices behind. It is a beautiful song of praise.

It’s the bonus you get if you arise early. Late sleepers, make an occasional exception and see the world in a different light.

Summer early morning woodland

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BLACKSTONE CANAL, SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON

A couple of hundred years of polluting the river nearly killed it. How fortunate for us that nature is resilient. Today, The Blackstone Canal is in recovery but it’s slow. The fish are back, though weather or not it’s safe to eat them is a matter of controversy.

Blackstone river and canal divide

This is the early autumn, mid-September. Barely a breeze. The canal is as smooth as glass and reflects like a mirror.

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LIGHT – Marilyn Armstrong

Why do you take pictures? What makes you pick up your camera? Is it just the beauty of the scene? Or the smile on someone’s face?

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I’m sure it is different for each of us, but this morning, I remembered what it is for me. Because even before I turned on the coffee machine, I grabbed my camera. The light was coming through the window and the Dutch door and I saw something. I remembered abruptly that this is what always grabs me. Of course I take pictures of my granddaughter, my dogs, friends and sometimes total strangers because they are important to me or just because, though I can’t always say what it is. Spectacular scenery is inevitable. Like any photographer, I’m going to try to capture it. I’m as much a sucker for a pretty picture as anyone.

But that’s not it. In the final analysis, for me it’s about light.

It has always been about light. My very first roll of film, in black and white, about half the pictures were of light coming through trees.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to show just how light filters through leaves or the way it shines through a window. Reflected light on water or wet sand. The sun as it rises or sets. I love the subtleties, the minute by minute changes of color of the sky.

Tide Sun and Sand

That’s why I almost never raise saturation in a photograph and probably why I don’t much like HDR photography. I’m looking for shadings and delicate colors. I don’t want everything more vivid … so when I post process, I am far more likely to turn the color and contrast down than  I am to push it up.

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The changing colors of the light through the seasons: golden in autumn, nearly white in winter and how these annual color shifts change the way the world looks … so ephemeral, so fleeting and delicate. I love shadow, the brother of light and how these change with the time of day and the seasons. I can watch for hours the changing colors of the sky while the sun moves across until it finally sinks below the horizon to full dark.

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Have you ever watched a sunset from late afternoon until full dark? Light lingers long,  even after the sun invisible. The further north latitude you are, the longer light remains. Everyone shoots brilliant sunsets or sunrises. I favor sunrises, but I realize that may have something to do with living on the east coast. Facing east makes sunrise more accessible.  A brilliant arrival or departure of Apollo’s Chariot is spectacular. Yet even the most ordinary dawn or dusk contains an equal amount of beauty. It’s harder to capture it. Brilliant color is easy compared to slight incremental pastels. You don’t get nearly as many “oohs” and “aahs” from a photo composed of soft pastel tones.

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I’m fascinated by the way shadows shift with time of day; the colors of the world as the sun sinks; the way various kinds of artificial light — street lamps, candles, neon signs — each have their own spectrum and effects.

For me, it’s all about light.

Dawn In Our Woods – Marilyn Armstrong

Rising sun.

Sometimes, Garry and I are guests on an overnight radio show. We used to do it every 5 or 6 weeks, but I was ill for a long time and I haven’t been able to do it for the past year. I loved doing the show and we always arrived home just as dawn broke. This was one of those post-radio show mornings.

This is mid March in New England. The sun in March is just starting its change from the white light of winter to the yellow sun of spring.

The sun is up.

Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Wall by the paddock

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors‘.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

A stone fence along a country road.

A stone fence along a country road.

Editor’s note: Above was originally posted by Marilyn Armstrong

Blackstone Valley Roads – Marilyn Armstrong

These are places I pass as I go to and from the various routine errands and activities of life.  They aren’t special places … or rather, they aren’t places that I have to seek out because they are along the roads I use every day.

Built in 1779, this originally housed a forge and was the shop of a blacksmith. In the 1800s, it became a shoemaker’s shop and now stands empty on the corner of Chestnut Street, a road that runs from North Street to Route 140 in Upton.

Door to the Forge House.

It’s easy to stop noticing what’s right in front of you. It’s always there, so you don’t realize that it’s special. Then, because I’ve taken my camera, my vision changes. I notice things that are more usually background to the world in which I live.

In front of the drive in restaurant where you can get the best clam puffs … if you don’t mind a bit of accompanying heartburn … they grow sunflowers. There were honeybees on the flowers, a good sign since honeybees have come a bit scarce.

They are called sunflowers and deservedly so. Like the sunshine itself, the shine brightly and turn to the sky.

And I realize that they are indeed special or would be to others and ought to be for me, too. That’s one of the greatest boons I get from photography, that it makes me notice the things around me that otherwise just pass by along the roads I travel.

Along the road, many bushes and flowers, wild and cultivated bloom.

The pods of some wildflower about to spread itself by the wind.

These are all local roads, on the way to the doctor, on the way to the grocery, coming back from the place I sometimes purchase a scratch ticket.

The general store is on Route 16 just after you leave Mendon and enter Uxbridge. They also make great sandwiches.

These old mill buildings now house business and condos. Despite efforts to preserve them, many have disappeared, mostly due to fires. The last mill that burned lasted a full three weeks … with every firefighter in the valley working to put it out. Most firefighters are volunteers since the towns in the valley can’t afford to maintain full crews. These people come when called, work for no pay and in fact, lose money while missing their normal employment. Without them, we’d be in serious trouble.

These are the ordinary roads of the Blackstone Valley in the summer.

Ogunquit, Maine: Sunrise, Sand, Rivers, Feathered and Other Friends – Marilyn Armstrong

Autumnal equinox in the northern latitudes. September. A week in Ogunquit, Maine. A tiny place but close to the beach and the river.

There are more people on the beach to see the dawn than I ever expected — there just for the peace and the beauty. Before the sun is up, the mist hangs on the sand.

Quiet this time of year. Most tourists are gone, now, so the streets aren’t crowded.

The moment there is a hint of sun, the mist disappears in a matter of seconds.

There is no more perfect time to be on the seashore of Maine than the very earliest part of Autumn.

Comes the sun …

If you are a photographer, you make take it as a sign that God loves you when having hauled your reluctant body out of bed while it’s still dark, then hike half a mile carrying all your gear to the beach while all the starving blood-sucking insects in the state gather to enjoy you as their breakfast buffet.

Suffer for your art? But you get a reward that is more than worth any and all of your efforts, because before you, as the mist burns away, a sunrise and a golden sun so breathtaking rises before you … and you are there and ready.

People of all ages walk along the water before dawn.

This is a day when your camera works perfectly, your batteries don’t run out, your lens is in perfect alignment, your eyes see and you capture exactly what you want to capture … and everything is in focus.

Then come the birds … terns, plovers, and gulls … Breakfast for the feathered residents.

Tiny plovers comfortably share the shore with one Great Black Backed Gull.

It doesn’t happen often. When it does, when it all comes together perfectly … then you must treasure it … savor it … and share it.

At times like these, it makes you remember why you started taking pictures in the first place.

The rising sun reflects on the sand as if it were polished glass.

That morning I discovered wet sand reflects light like a mirror. You can see the way the tide changes the shape of the sand along the shore.

The big seagull seems to be waiting for the sun to come up dissipating the last of the early mist.

The colors change from one second to the next.

Each moment is more beautiful than the one before it. Really, the entire time is probably no more than half an hour, but it’s a lifetime of beauty.

Then, final gold before full sunlight.

Later, I walked to the river and found this house. This is the Ogunquit River, just about a quarter of a mile before it joins the ocean. The house is virtually part of the river.

The only way I could find to get across the river to the house was by this “bridge,” really just a piece of wood across the rapids and falls. I declined to test it.

What happens in times of flood? Interesting place to build!

And finally, on my way back to our room, I found a hint of autumn near the beach in a small woodland area between the marsh and the shore.