BC flowers reflected in McGuinn Hall window

Last week, I showed you a sequence of photos I shot from my parking spot at Framingham State over the past few months. At Boston College, I’ve been collecting a similar series of photos of a plot of flowers that spells the letters “BC” in maroon and gold, the college colors.

During the first week of September, these flowers welcomed new and returning students with bright blooms…

Even the landscaping has spirit

…but two weeks later, those flowers had been removed…

Between the acts

…to make way for green chrysanthemums…

New mums / not yet blooming

…that bloomed throughout October…

In bloom

…until they were cleared in November, leaving a clean slate that won’t be re-written until spring.

Bare ground

This is my Day 20 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

Maple blossoms

It’s easy to believe in resurrection on a warm and sunny day when even the trees are bursting into flower.

Magnolia

Saturday was gray and drizzly, with temperatures in the 40s; today was a mix of sun and clouds, with temperatures in the 70s. On a morning dog-walk and a lunchtime walk with J, I couldn’t stop snapping photo after photo of tree blossoms, unfolding leaves, swelling buds, and anything green or flowering. After a long and snowy winter, it’s a vegetative resurrection that’s long overdue.

Click here for a photo-set of Easter flowers, buds, and leaves. Enjoy!

Lily of the valley

This past week I haven’t felt like taking the time to blog; instead, I’ve been doing other things. But I’ve still carried my camera with me everywhere I’ve gone, snapping photos here and there as I feel like it. These aren’t photos I took with some specific bloggable purpose in mind; they are simply photos I snapped because at the time, I saw something that struck my fancy.

Lily of the valley

Many of the photos I’ve snapped over the past week have been images of flowers: shooting pretty pictures of flowers in May is like shooting fish in a barrel. It occurs to me that snapping pictures of flowers for no good reason is a bit like gathering spring bouquets: you don’t do it because handfuls of flowers are “useful,” but because handfuls of flowers are lovely. The purpose of your gathering, in other words, is purely aesthetic: you see something, you admire it, and you want to keep the memory of that lovely, admired thing.

I’ve been itching, as I always do at the end an academic year, to get back to blogging “for real”: part of why I’ve stayed away this week is my desire to start writing longer, more meaningful entries again rather than simply slapping up quick picture-posts as I do at the end of a long semester. And yet, I haven’t found (or, more accurately, made) the time for such posting. So in the meantime, while I settle into whatever kind of bloggish stride makes sense for the summer, here is a bouquet of lovelies to admire. Sometimes you don’t have a real reason for gathering flowers; you simply do it “just because.”

Bloodroot

Suburban Newton is the last place I’d expect to see bloodroot blooming, but here it is, sprouting from the crevice between a residential stone wall and the city sidewalk. Has bloodroot bloomed perennially from any available nook since this too was forest? If so, its blood-red sap pulses more powerfully–and with greater persistence–than I’d ever imagined.

Looks like a lampshade?

“What’s a flower like you doing in a place like this,” I’ve wondered these past few days on my morning dog-walks. And yet, suburbia turns out to be wilder than I’d thought, a world of surprise fringing every inch of sidewalk. What is this never-before-seen flower sprouting from a garden I pass every weekend? What crazed creator dreams up flowers that look like lampshades, their innermost parts visible only if you put your camera on the ground and shoot upwards, blindly. Even something as tame as a domesticated crabapple is wilder than I thought, sprouting buds that look more like voracious aliens than anything I’d gladly stick my nose into.

Crabapples, eventually

It’s a jungle out there, and in spring you never know what sorts of oddities will show up in place like this.

Click here for a photo-set of images from yesterday’s dog-walk. Enjoy…and if anyone knows what the lampshade-like flower is, please enlighten me.

Butterfly on sunflower

Lately I’ve been experimenting with what I call “zoom-macros”: up-close, macro-like shots taken from a distance with my point-and-shoot digicam’s zoom. The first time I took a zoom-macro, I was too lazy to crouch down and stick my camera right in the face of some short flower; another time, I zoomed to take up-close shots of the frost feathers in an overhead tree. When height, unstable terrain, or other challenges prevent you from sticking your camera right up close to what you’re shooting–or when crouching would insert your own shadow between the sun and the very flower you’re trying to photograph–standing back and relying upon your digicam’s zoom is a workable alternative.

Sunflowers

The most useful use of a zoom-macro, I’ve found, is in shooting insects, which tend to fly away (or, in the case of bees, sting you) if you stick a digicam in their face. When I bought my new Panasonic Lumix digicam last Christmas, one of the features I coveted was its 10x optical zoom, several steps up from the 6x optical zoom on my previous Lumix. Although I wanted a more powerful zoom primarily for shooting pictures at hockey and basketball games where J and I tend to have almost-nosebleed seats, I was intrigued to see my new camera’s manual recommend the zoom for the other sorts of shots I’d experimented with, advising that photographers employ what they called “tele-macro” for taking up-close shots of insects or wary animals. Here I thought I’d invented (and named) the technique simply because I’d never heard of anyone else doing it!

When it comes to photography, like anything, there’s nothing new under the sun: I’m sure folks have been using zoom lenses to take extreme closeups since those lenses were invented. Still, since I’m not one to actually read a camera manual, I’m still learning (through trial and error) how to use my “new” Lumix more than six months after I bought it. Now that I’ve almost perfected the art of the zoom-macro, I now have a bigger challenge. How do you get a pair of flower-distracted bumblebees to look at you so you can snap their taken-from-a-distance picture?

Bees on purple coneflower

Trashy

One of the things I sometimes say about a particularly gorgeous woman is “She’d look great wearing a trash bag.” The implication, of course, is that most of us would look, well, trashy wearing a trash bag, but a woman of style and beauty would be able to pull off any outfit. In high school, it bothered me to no end that I was tagged “odd” and “awkward” because I often wore my older sisters’ hand-me-downs…but if one of the popular girls wore second-hand clothing bought at a “retro” boutique, she was hailed for being “hip” and “stylish.” The stylishness of an outfit, in other words, had more to do with who was wearing it than with what the outfit itself actually looked like.

Perhaps this explains why I’ve never been a slave to fashion. Even in high school, I suspected that it didn’t matter what I wore: I’d never be as “hip” and “stylish” as the popular girls, so I might as well not even try. So while my slightly-more-trendy friends tried to keep up, sartorially, with the popular Joneses, I recognized a doomed endeavor when I saw one and wore whatever was available. Growing up in a frugal family with four daughters, “whatever was available” was usually whatever my sisters had outgrown, grown tired of, or otherwise castoff: in other words, not the most trendy or (currently) stylish stuff.

Through the cracks

Perhaps this also explains why Christ’s parable about the “lilies of the field” was always one of my favorite Bible stories (and perhaps the fact that I had a favorite Bible story helps explain why I wasn’t a popular teenager). Christ’s admonition to “consider the lilies of the field,” after all, is simultaneously an exhortation to avoid anxiety and a reassurance that some parts of creation look perfectly fine in their natural state. If wild daisies and sunflowers were better dressed than King Solomon in all his glory, why then did my high school peers spend so much time fixing, fussing, and fiddling over their hair, clothing, and makeup? If birds, flowers, and other natural beings looked just fine how they were born–and if, furthermore, guys looked perfectly fine in T-shirts, jeans, ball-caps, and no makeup–why did teenage girls have to pour so much time, money, and effort into dressing, coiffing, and painting themselves?

I still opt for a lazy-woman’s approach to personal grooming: I wear what’s comfortable, pull back my hair and shield my eyes with a baseball cap, don’t wear makeup, and don’t color my hair. I don’t have philosophical objections against women who choose to take the time to do these things; I just don’t see the point in my spending time that way. Perhaps if I were taller, thinner, blonder, or bustier–perhaps if I came closer, in other words, to what a well-dressed, properly made-up woman is “supposed to” look like, judging from fashion magazines and Barbie dolls–I’d see merit in the effort. But given the “lilies” that God granted me, I don’t see how its worth my worry trying to fix, fuss, or fiddle myself into something I’m not. Given that I don’t have a thing to wear that would morph me into one of the popular girls, I’ll content myself with being an odd, awkward, and ultimately natural wallflower.

The other side of the fence

Peony bud, with raindrops

This morning, after several gray, cool, drizzly days, summer arrived suddenly, bursting overnight into full-blown bloom.

Peony

Mountain laurel

In true New England fashion, when summer arrives, it does so with a vengeance: as I write this on Saturday afternoon, it’s 91 degrees outside. How strange, then, to see mountain laurel–a plant I associate with cooler climes–blooming in a shady spot where I hurried Reggie out of the sun on this morning’s walk. Apparently mountain laurel doesn’t read sweltering weather forecasts?

Flowering crabapples

One of several unanswered emails in my Inbox right now is from a friend asking if I’ve done something to celebrate the end of the semester at Keene State. The fact that said friend asked this on Tuesday, after I’d submitted grades right before their noon deadline, and I haven’t had a spare moment to answer her email tells you something about the past few days.

Dogwood

After submitting grades at Keene State, I had online discussion board posts to catch up with; after I caught up with discussion board posts, I had neglected errands to run. Today, I drove from Newton to Keene to attend a pair of faculty development meetings; tomorrow, I’ll be helping teach meditation to a gaggle of suburban high school seniors. I haven’t, in the meantime, had a chance to finish last week’s online grading, answer emails from friends, or otherwise celebrate the end of one set of classes while another set continues on. The downside of being a multi-tasking, moonlighting adjunct instructor is that there’s always something going on somewhere: the end of the semester for one school is Just Another Week at another.

Reflected maple flowers & leaves

The upside of being a multi-tasking, moonlighting adjunct instructor is the steady flow of paychecks a staggered academic schedule assures. As I chatted with various adjunct colleagues at Keene State, several of them mentioned in one way or another the financial pinch of the coming months: a summer without teaching is, for adjunct instructors, a summer without paychecks. By choosing an academic rather than a corporate career, I chose a employment path that allows me more free time in the summer to enjoy the flowering and leafy things that bring that season joy; by choosing to supplement my adjunct income at Keene State with what I can earn elsewhere, I chose a path that occasionally results in conflicting schedules.

Later this summer, I’ll have time to smell the flowers, catch up with email, and celebrate some downtime…eventually. In the meantime, an occasional glimpse of crab-apples, dogwoods, and flowering maples will have to do.

Spring!

Imagine the fragile predicament of spring flowers. In the spirit of the early bird catching the worm, April plants send up sprouts to soak in as much spring sun as they can before being shaded by early-leafing trees, spreading shrubs, and even their flowering fellows. But an early bird on New England turf can face a deadly surprise when April nights plunge below freezing or even bring sudden snow.

Flowering shrub in sunshine

This past week, the ex-girlfriend of one of J’s longtime friends passed away after a sudden illness, exacerbated by chronic medical problems, left her unconscious and brain-dead. I’d met D when J and I traveled to Atlanta last summer; she was J’s age, which is two years older than I am. Life is a fragile condition, and D had struggled with an ongoing array of medical problems: brain cancer, asthma, partial deafness. We’d known that D’s health was precarious, but when I met her, she seemed healthy enough: she didn’t look like the kind of person-turned-patient who could, in the span of a week, suffer respiratory failure, several heart attacks, and death. Intellectually, I know that life is fragile and sickness and death can strike at any time: still, I’d never imagined last summer that an otherwise lively person my own age would be dead by springtime. Although death is the inevitable and thus entirely “natural” result of any given life, human nature tends toward procrastination and denial. Yes, death happens eventually…but not now, not soon, and not to people like me.

First forsythia

Last week, before we’d heard about D’s decline and ultimate death, J remarked in passing that in ten years, all the pets we presently own will be dead. What he didn’t need to say, of course, was that in the course of ten years, either or both of us will probably experience other losses: relatives, friends, acquaintances. J and I have already attended our first wedding together, but we’ve yet to go together to our first shared funeral…but this too shall come to pass. In response to my recent post about Reggie and the not-quite Rainbow Bridge, a friend remarked that I’m “awfully young to be so mortality-aware.” In a world of cause and effect, isn’t it strange that an awareness of mortality should come as a surprise at any age? Given the natural and inevitable way of all flesh, shouldn’t it be more surprising that we insist on ignoring crystal-clear reminders that impermanence rules?

Flowering shrub

D suffered from asthma, as I do, and although I manage mine through medication, I know any disease affecting the lungs has the potential to be deadly. Having had one attack years ago, before I’d been officially diagnosed, when I nearly gave up the ghost out of sheer exhaustion, I know how easy it is to die. And yet, when you’ve contemplated your own mortality in an actual rather than an abstract sense, your remaining days have a certain gift-like quality. Having almost died once, you realize any extra hours you can squeeze from Time are an undeserved bonus, each day being a precious thing you’d previously taken for granted. Life is a fragile condition, and each day we spend above-ground is as precious, tenuous, and beautiful as an April flower.

Sunny crocus

This is my belated contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Fragile. This is actually the second time I’ve titled a blog-post “Fragile”; the first considers flood damage to an old stone bridge that has since been repaired.

Snowdrops

Here’s a telling gauge of how Massachusetts compares to New Hampshire in terms of seasonal progress. Whereas I traditionally see the first snowdrops in Keene in late March, I spotted Newton’s first snowdrops on March 3rd this year, about three weeks before they’ll bloom in New Hampshire. While Newton and other Boston suburbs have already changed their clocks to Spring Standard Time, Keene and the rest of southwest New Hampshire are still on Snowfall Saving Time.

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