HINGE TIME

1.

I’ve noticed more darkness in my photographs lately. It’s not just an absence of light, it’s light and dark in contrast, pushing up against each other. A chiaroscuro quality is turning up. I had two thoughts about what might be behind this. One is that there’s more darkness in the photos simply because at this time of year, there is less light. Obvious. The other thought is that the mood of the world is darker these days. And people talk about the need for something positive, for a beam of light to alleviate what seems like endless bad news.

There’s an old Celtic/Gaelic celebration held around the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, called Samhain. In the northern hemisphere the harvest is ending, animals are brought in from the pasture, the days are growing shorter. This is a turning point toward the dark time of year, a hinge period, a time when the door between light and dark swings freely. A time when we sense that the dark is pregnant with possibilities.

2.

In an older era Samhain was the time to honor the dead with offerings of food and drink and to hold on to the light with ritual bonfires. The solstices and equinoxes (called cross days) divide the year into four periods and the midpoints between them are cross-quarter days. In Celtic life these in-between days tended to be more important than the solstices and equinoxes. Astronomically, November 6th would be the date to observe Samhain because it’s the midway point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. But over time, Samhain came to be celebrated around November 1st. Then the Catholic church made November 1st and 2nd important days in its calendar, merging church feast days with the pagan Samhain celebration. The threads are tangled now. We’re not sure exactly how Samhain was celebrated before Catholicism intervened, but remnants like bobbing for apples and offerings to spirits (or trick-or-treating) are still practiced. The seasonal foundation of the Samhain celebration hasn’t changed; there’s no question that in early November in the northern hemisphere, the chill is on the cheek and the nights are getting long. It makes sense that in times when people lived closer to the bone they were moved to mark this change from light to dark with ceremonies. Our Halloween is a distant cousin to those celebrations.

My photographs from the last few weeks picture dark water, intensely lit skies, long, deep shadows and spots of gold lighting up the gloom. There are dead plants seeding the ground for the future, too, paralleling an old Samhain/pagan custom of dousing the hearth fire and lighting it anew with a torch taken from from the communal bonfire.

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I grew up ignorant of other cultures and religions, with no exposure to systems of thought outside of the white Protestant culture in which I was embedded. At school one day when I was about nine, the word “pantheism” came up (with a negative connotation, naturally). I misconstrued it to be a faith based on nature; normally pantheism means finding divinity in everything. The idea of worshiping nature lit my mind on fire. There, I thought, that’s what I believe in! It made more sense to me than what I was being taught in Sunday school but I kept my thoughts to myself. It was enough just to know that somewhere out there, another Way might exist. And for me, it always has. Putting nature first, respecting it, and believing in it, are underlying principles in my life. One way I practice that is by paying close attention to nature, making the images I’m moved to make, and sharing them.

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*

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There’s your photographer again, finding herself in a window.

***

  1. A fallen Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) lies in a shallow lake on Fidalgo Island. The same tree can be seen here in a March gentle snowfall.
  2. The loop road through Washington Park, Fidalgo Island.
  3. End of day at Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo island. The disturbance in the water near the point of land is a group of eleven River otters (Lontra canadensis) swimming in to shore for a rest.
  4. A Pacific loon (Gavia pacifica) off March Point, Fidalgo Island. The loons are beginning to return to our waters for the winter.
  5. Four Hooded mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) ply the waters off March Point, Fidalgo Island.
  6. Fireweed seeds (Chamaenerion angustifolium) in a bouquet at home. (Taken with a macro lens at f2.8, spot metering).
  7. Two boulders and a Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii) at Washington Park.
  8. A Vine maple leaf (Acer circinatum) decomposing at Rockport State Park. Rockport, Washington.
  9. Tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) are winter residents in our area. This group of five showed up recently at Cranberry Lake in Deception Pass State Park, on Whidbey Island. They’ve just arrived from the Arctic. (Deception Pass SP spans Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands).
  10. I think this is a Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) flower head gone to seed. Deception Pass SP, Fidalgo Island.
  11. A strand of Old man’s beard lichen (Usnea longissima) weaves through a bed of Bigleaf maple leaves (Acer macrophyllum). Rockport State Park.
  12. Here’s the Usnea hanging from a Bigleaf maple with a few leaves still on the tree. A Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) makes a nice backdrop with its blue-green leaves.
  13. Strands of Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) washed up at high tide and caught on a log at Lottie Bay, Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island. This huge seaweed grows in dense underwater forests just offshore. Technically a complex algae, it’s found in the cool coastal waters of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.
  14. A drainage ditch helps regulate water flow between Similk Bay (behind me) and a golf course run by the Swinomish tribe. Fidalgo Island.
  15. The sun is going down, casting golden light on Burrows Channel, seen from Washington Park. The old Douglas fir has a shrubby Seaside juniper (Juniperus maritima) behind it. Lopez Island, one of the San Juan’s, is in the distance.
  16. Pale leaves of a Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) appear ghostly in the dim forest light. Whistle Lake, Fidalgo Island.
  17. Three Tundra swans fly over Cranberry Lake. Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island.


76 comments

  1. No sooner did I see your title than I thought of the Latin word for hinge, cardo, with stem cardin-, which has given us the adjective cardinal; the cardinal things (e.g. the cardinal virtues or the cardinal points of the compass or together the solstices and equinoxes) are the ones on which others metaphorically hinge. Your first picture is a cardinal example of chiaroscuro, quite different from your earlier and softer approach in a snowfall. And there’s a contrast between dark and light in #3. In #7, did you consider cropping off a strip to eliminate the sky and reserve whiteness primarily for the rocks?

    Good tree reflection in #14 and thee reflection in #18. And how ’bout that linear airborne threesome in #17? It’s different from the linear waterbound fivesome in #9. Good incipient takeoff in #4.You seem to be handing us a decorated Christmas tree in #12; and what’s not to like about the Usnea there and in #11?

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    • I never would have connected the word ‘hinge’ to ‘cardinal’ (but meaning-wise, the connection is clear) so thank you very much for enlightening me. πŸ™‚ In #7 I did not think of cropping that rather annoying white sky…good idea! The interesting thing about the swans in the water is that in this area, they spend most of their time in agricultural fields. I hardly ever see them in the water. That sighting was a real gift, and then they flew, which was beautiful. Their call is wonderful, too. I don’t think our loon was taking off – they tend to be reluctant about that – I think it was just stretching which I’ve got to do too, soon. I had the same thought as you about the tree in #12. I’m a huge fan of Usnea – did you know that it only grows where the air is clean? Thanks for your thoughts, Steve!

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  2. I really enjoy photos, paintings, plots and music with some darkness in them. #9 with the swans on that dark, still water has a nice feeling of any old painting. It’s interested me, that just as scents prompt the recall of memories, your photographs prompt little-used words to appear in my memory. #12 immediately suggested β€œfestoon,” a word which I don’t use a whole lot, boy, it sure suggests one of those oldtime Xmas trees covered with garlands, it’s just great. #2 is perfect for your theme, with its doorway of daylight, and deep shadows on the path toward it. And even if it’s a commonplace drainage ditch and golf course, the beautiful grasses and golden-colored tree in #14 really makes it special. Very glad you don’t keep your thoughts to yourself anymore, however pagan!

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    • It took me a while to embrace the dark in photography but I understand its usefulness and beauty better now. Oh, I love ‘festoon; for #12, wish I’d thought of that. Good one! Steve S. above also thought of Christmas, as did I. I admire that tree every time I go to that park (a few times a year) it’s a special one. I’m glad you appreciated the drainage ditch, too – with the golden grasses, it’s been looking good lately. There was a Great blue heron in it that day, just out of sight. Your last comment is really, good to see. One always wonders whether what one says or writes is worthwhile to others, on some level. Thank you.

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    • Alex, thank you so much! I had barely heard of Samhain until recently. It seemed to fit what was happening photographically so I did some research. Of course, those ideas are geared toward a particularly northern locale that’s different than where you live now, but I know you understand. It would be interesting to know if cultures in Asia or Africa recognize and celebrate the point between equinoxes and solstices. I’m basking in your virtual hugs, thanks! πŸ™‚

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  3. Your work is stunning. I love the connection you have with nature and the way in which you capture the beauty, color and shade. Samhain is the time when the veil between the spirit and us is at the thinnest, I can imagine the fae sitting on your shoulder as you raise the camera to you eyes. Our world needs that voice.

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    • Thank you so much. I appreciate your stopping by and spending time here. Your comment about the fae on my shoulder while I take a photograph is just wonderful. Many years ago I lived in New York City and worked at a high-powered, high fashion department store. The buyer who was my boss complained that I was too “fay.” In another world. πŸ˜‰ It’s taken a while to find a way to make that quality work for me instead of against me. πŸ˜‰ Thanks again, and have a good day!

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  4. A heartfelt thank you for making the images you make and for being moved to share them. I am frequently in awe of your photography, of the way you see nature right to it’s very bones. So many from this post nourish me with their beauty: 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 12, and 13. That’s quite a list isn’t it!
    I too am a nature worshiper. It’s the most truthful thing I know.
    Alison

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  5. I love the concept of hinge time. I feel that ever more personally as I adapt to adjusted main life here in the southern hemisphere. This is the first time in almost 40 years that I’ve not heard the call of a live loon, so your 4th is especially eloquent for me. My other special favorites are 8 and 11.

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    • Thank you, Gary. The loons will wait for your return and when you do hear one, it will go deep. They’re quiet here, I suppose because it’s winter. I rarely hear them but oh, if I do! The Vine maple leaf in #8 is from a tree whose closest relatives are Japanese and Korean maples, reminding us of the connection our flora has to eastern Asia. Cool, right? Have a good week…I hope you’ll get good news from your other country!

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  6. Lynn …. Lynn … come over to the Dark Side ….. >>>>>>>>> wonderful set of dark and often saturated images, and the birds too! 3 knocks me flat, simple as that! But also 1, 7, 9 and 14 >>> great stuff!!! πŸ™‚

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    • Yes, you know you’re a prime mover when it comes to encouraging me to the Dark Side. πŸ˜‰ I’m glad you mentioned #1. I’m glad you enjoyed the birds, even without a long lens, and I thought you might like those two big rocks. πŸ™‚ Thank you and don’t get too discouraged by the new restrictions. We’ll get through this, somehow.

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  7. Thanks for sharing about the celebration of Samhain, very interesting! I really enjoyed these photos, and the lovely details of the plants and their colours, especially 8, 10 and 12. It’s a great inspiration to also play around more with darkness and look for contrast ❀

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    • Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. If the leaf in #8 reminds you of Japanese maples that people plant, it’s because that tree’s closest relatives are Japanese (and Korean) maples. I think they all had the same ancestor back before the Pacific Ocean separated the continents. Interesting, right?

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  8. Whether due to the fact that the “world” is more obscure, due to the time of year or just because the soul on certain days feels like these tones, beauty exists and remains present in all the photos published on this blog. More or less luminous. But all with the perfect light.
    This is wonderful and translates well this view that nature is a teacher, divinity, goddess, etc., etc.
    I am totally a fan of this idea that true Wisdom is in nature. In full.
    So if it is so close to us and has so much to teach, give, share, etc., why look for something more transcendent?
    I also liked the descriptions associated with this time of year.
    Thanks for sharing!

    (I think photo #12 is nature’s real Christmas tree!)

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    • Yes, nature’s Christmas tree for sure. πŸ™‚ Your very practical observation that we might as well learn from nature, which is right here, rather than look for something beyond, is very well put. I like that reasoning. πŸ™‚ Have a lovely evening, Dulce, and thank you for being here.

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    • Karl, thank you so much. You made me smile when you said ‘lynnish’ – that’s what Joe calls me! I appreciate your point about the photos, especially that in your estimation, I succeeded in making a photo of swans swimming in a lake without it being kitschy. That’s great! Sorry to hear about the new restrictions…let’s hope we’re not sorry to hear the news from over here later…

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      • Hi Lynn, Joe knows you best πŸ˜‰ Regarding the elections in the USA, I hope the things are not turning out in new violence, no matter who the winner is. There is so much anger in politics. People are very mobilized by social media and stick often to some strange opinions. First thing they rely on is the ubiquitous me, myself and I. Identity first… Broadcasting news isn’t a pleasing but a challenging business these days. The restrictions and also the terror in France and Austria makes me wonder, what kind of ground shaking events we are facing next. – Well, this is nothing really photography related. Sorry.

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        • There’s no need to apologize. I agree that the increase in extreme intolerance is very unsettling, and no election outcome is likely to help that. It seems to be a worldwide trend that the planet is going through. The events in Austria & France are indeed troubling. It will get worse before it gets better, I’m afraid, but I hope that on the other end there will be more wisdom…at some point! I can imagine how challenging broadcasting is these days – that makes me think of medicine, another field that has gone through so many changes, at least it has here. Maybe it’s more important than ever that we can engage in creative work, independent of whatever is going on in the news of the day.

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  9. Every picture breathes your respect and love for nature and it is moving and touching me, as it moves you πŸ™‚ Your thoughts about the light (and Samhain) are interesting. I have to think about this sentence “there is no light, without darkness”. Only through the contrast we can enjoy the light side. I like the dark parts, they always fascinate me, maybe because they emphasize this feeling. Or because they lead into “Zwischenwelten” (kind of twilight zone / a world between light and darkness – , we talked about it before). It is funny how much we can interpret into these few literal words πŸ™‚ What I like most this time are #, 6, 8, 14!, but also #3, 1, 9-13. 12 reminds me of a kind of christmas tree πŸ˜‰ To hear the swans must have been wonderful. – I read about the ancient times and how people celebrated these feasts in the old days, before church captured most of them. Unfortunately my brain has many holes, so I forgot about it πŸ˜‰ But this is a good reminder. It is interesting for me, what still exists in our modern world. I like the idea that nature was more important and closer to the people and everything was animated / enlivened in those times (although there probably were a lot of dark customs we wouldn’t appreciate anymore πŸ˜‰

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    • I like the sound of Zwischenweltern, and the meaning. Of course, I’ve forgotten that we talked about it before. Holes in the brain. πŸ™‚ It’s important not to idealize those old times but there is something we can learn, or remember, from them. I think people have a deep longing for nature these days, for wildness and contact with elemental forms. I think society would be healthier if people had more opportunities to engage in ceremonies like Samhain, but without their phones, while being fully present and with an understanding of natural cycles. Oh, talk about idealism! Thank you, I’m happy that you enjoyed this…I hope when you wake up there will be good news….

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      • I hoped that too, but I am still waiting πŸ˜‰ You probably too πŸ™‚ – You are right, one shouldn’t idealize those times and that’s what I meant with one of my last sentences, but I like this connection so many people have lost today. Many are longing for it, but many still don’t care. I hope your wishes come true that there will be more sense for nature again. – I hope we will have good news tomorrow morning!

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  10. Exquisite images, Lynn. The quiet beauty of nature shines through. Your pops of light in the first three are very inviting as is the light on those gorgeous swans. I love your closeups as always, the mottled leaf is so beautiful, the seed pod with its creamy background and the kelp draped over the log, to name a few.
    Interesting about Samhain and I love the revelation you had as a youngster about nature, a seminal moment that led to many happy moments exploring the world outside your door. Thanks for a terrific post. Sending positive thoughts up the coast. πŸ˜‰

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    • Kelp does so many interesting things, doesn’t it? And the swans were awfully nice to visit that lake just when I was there – I’ve never seen them there before and always see them foraging in agricultural fields, a totally different look and far less poetic. πŸ˜‰ Your positive thoughts are working their way up here…thanks…I appreciate your careful reading and observations. Take care!

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  11. You’ve given us a lot to think about, Lynn. I’m always interested in how others view ‘darkness’, especially in photographs. I have also had long interest in the astronomical origin of the quarter and cross-quarter days and the associated Celtic holidays. I think someone else mentioned that the stones in image #7 had Celtic overtones, a connection I also made. #12 struck me immediately as a decorated Christmas tree, also celebrating a quarter day at the Winter Solstice. #16 has such a beautiful, subtle color…ghostly white floating in darkness. Best wishes for the rest of the weekend.

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    • It sounds like you’re much more familiar with that concept than I was, Mic. I like any custom that brings us closer to natural cycles. We’ve strayed so far from them. It’s nice that you mentioned the Red elderberry leaves in #16. Their pale color is so beautiful right now, even when they’re ragged and full of holes, and there are twigs in the way of the “perfect” composition. πŸ˜‰ That one is a Mic kind of image, I think. πŸ™‚

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      • Hmmm…my comment may have been misleading then. πŸ™‚ In so many things, I spend a few days skimming information, satisfy my curiosity, and move on but usually without long term retention.

        Yes I think #16 is a Mic kind of image; I like the idea of all those things in the way of a “perfect” composition, resulting instead in a “natural” composition. Take care, Lynn.

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        • Right, I may have assumed “longer study.” I too tend to skim, satisfy my curiosity, move on, and forget too much. Part due to personality and partly a sign of the times, maybe. Here’s too endless imperfection, Mic, and I wish you a very good week.

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  12. You likely know this as well, Lynn…we can sometimes restore ourselves when retreating into darkness…removing distractions and noise from our lives, from our minds, and then returning to the light to fight again, to live, strengthened, and able to go on again with our purpose resolved.

    You referenced the leaning tree in Cranberry Lake from that other snow touched morning…I believe it’s one of my favorite posts of yours to date, both the words (“…the poetry of the unexpected weather.”) and the images, especially the last one of the lone merganser on the water.

    Well done, Lynn…thank you.

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    • You’re right, and I appreciate your reminder about those very beneficial aspects of darkness. I remember sitting meditation in the half-light of dawn, years ago in a zendo in an old building set on a hill overlooking the Hudson River – so peaceful.
      Thank you for remembering that post. It was a truly magical day. Being outdoors in unexpected weather, with no one or few people around, just feeling the changes…it’s the best. Mergansers, too, such graceful creatures of the wild…thanks Scott, thanks a lot.

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  13. Wonderful dark and moody collection. I believe there is something to the time of year, leaving autumn behind for colder, darker days along with the woes of the world that are affecting us. I feel it too and feel it when I look at some of your images. Your first image and the image with swans are my top picks in this post!

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    • I’m glad the post resonated with you…the swans are usually seen here in agricultural fields, not in the water so that opportunity was a gift. I hope plenty of opportunities come your way, Denise. πŸ™‚

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  14. A hinge seems an apt analogy for the seasonal changes. I think we have a tendency, especially between autumn and winter, to see a fading of life outside ourselves which then colors our own light a bit. But the connotation that darkness is a negative thing has been driven back a bit by the beauty of your images. #8 I find quite appealing, especially with all that lit bokeh and the many similarly shaped decay spots. # 11 as well with the bit of sinuous Old Man’s Beard atop those fallen leaves.And #16 too with that nice silvery effect.
    Our society for all too long taught only the majority accepted reality and left out too much of the other cultures in our world. Even now when we are supposedly expanding our understanding of others there is resistance to change and many want to make our society “great again” by returning to the old ignorance that led to so many disappointing or tragic life experiences. Like you, I find “religion” in nature where we can see for ourselves where truth exists.

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  15. “turning point toward the dark time of year, a hinge period, a time when the door between light and dark swings freely. A time when we sense that the dark is pregnant with possibilities”, you write, and show many golden views in your marvellous images. Dear Lynn, you spread joy and confidence with your pictures, thank you.

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