Tag Archives: Canon 30D

Life, tilted

Shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon puchellum)

There are moments that tilt life, even if we don’t know it at the time. Not the big moments, when our paths take sudden and dramatic turns, like locking eyes with the stranger who will become a great love, or taking your child in your arms for the first time. The quiet ones. Moments that say, from now on, your path will change. It may not be a dramatic shift, just a tilt, but it may make all the difference. The photos accompanying this post are from one such tilt.

Bruneau-mariposa lily (calochortus bruneaunis) Coeur d'Alene, ID by Betsey Crawford

Bruneau mariposa lily (Calochortus bruneaunis)

One tilt can lead to another, even eleven years later. When my dog, Splash, came into my life in 2001, she created a tilt, for the simple reason that she has never understood cars, and I couldn’t let her off leash anywhere a car was conceivable. I started taking her on trails, mostly through the woods of Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island, and so started an entirely unexpected chapter of my life. The most important aspect of that chapter, for this post, is that I began taking my camera with me everywhere we went.

I wasn’t new to photography, but up until then it had been about things — my son, trips taken, gardens I designed, flowers I wanted clients to see. In the woods it became aimless. As my eyes lit on something that touched me, I took a picture of it.

Chocolate lily (fritillaria affinis) Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Chocolate lily (Fritiallaria affinis)

This produced a bunch of very uninteresting photos. It took a while to convince me that the camera and I see the world differently. My eyes can pick out the truncated branches and twisting trunk of the dead tree that looks like a rough-hewn angel. The camera records every branch and trunk in the neighborhood, so the fascinating dead tree is barely evident. One spring I was convinced that I could convey the castle-like qualities of aging stumps, with their upper edges worn into crenellations and their ramparts of moss. The camera, lacking my imagination, recorded a bunch of old stumps.

I kept going. There were delicate wild azaleas and cascades of mountain laurel in the spring, sweet-scented clethra in early summer, gold grasses and red sumac in the fall, light glimmering on the water, tracery of branches in the winter. It was part of the meditation and the fun of being in the woods season after season. The camera and I began to come to grips with each other’s strengths and limitations.

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum)

Shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum)

When we left on our journey in 2011, I had been making mandalas for a few years, and was still working on them as we traveled. The easiest art to practice on the road, however, was photography, since it involved no supplies, no setting out or cleaning up. I could just grab my camera and go, and it went everywhere with me, recording our adventures.

Oceanspray-Holodiscus-discolor-Coeur-d'Alene-ID-by-Betsey-Crawford copy

Oceanspray buds (Holodiscus discolor)

That didn’t change dramatically in the month of May, 2012, but it tilted. I came to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a month off. George had had complicated surgery in February. In April we’d made a trip to the east coast to see friends and family, and to finalize the sale of his boat. He stayed in the east to do that, and I came to Coeur d’Alene. It wasn’t a happy time. We were both exhausted and out of kilter. My son, Luke, the main draw in this neighborhood, was going through his own challenges. I spent an unusual amount of time, for me, just sitting and watching the Spokane River go by.

But something wonderful was happening on Tubbs Hill, a promontory into Lake Couer d’Alene, a wild place, full of trails, right in the middle of town. It was a banner year for wildflowers. Everything was blooming in full force. Once I saw this, off I went, day after day, morning or evening, sometimes both, taking pictures of the whole show, starting with a patch of shooting stars, out on a small ledge over the lake, their vivid pink glowing in the late afternoon sunlight.

I left the trail and got down on the ground with them, taking picture after picture, day after day, as they bloomed, faded, and went to seed. Lying in the golden sunlight, in the cool May evenings, with Splash settled near my feet, was heaven, and as flower succeeded blooming flower, a heaven that lasted for two months.

Chocolate lily (fritillaria affinis) Coeur d'Alene, Idaho by Betsey Crawford

Chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis)

One day, a few weeks into the season, I was on the ground, taking pictures, just off a little used path. After a while I sat up, and looked up. I’d forgotten where I was, and everything rushed into my heart at once — the cool, dense earth I was sitting on, the trees soaring above me, the sun showering through the branches like ethereal gold coins, the lake glinting off to my right, the green breath of plants surrounding me, the delicate beauty of the wildflowers, my passion for them.

Let the heart love what it loves, says my favorite sutra. Life tilted, and the tilt has made all the difference.

Cactus lingerie

Staghorn-cholla-cylindropuntia-versicolor-Saguaro-National-Park-Arizona-by-Betsey-Crawford

Staghorn cholla (Cycylindropuntia versicolor) Saguaro National Park, Arizona

I had never been a fan of cactus. Prickly, tough-skinned, ungainly. Leaves so attenuated they’ve become sharp-tipped spines. Interesting shapes, perhaps. Fascinating as examples of environmental adaptation, but nothing to love.

Things have changed. I first came to the desert in 2012, and there, in the spare open spaces, living with sand, rock, spindly, dark-leaved, creosote, and spiny ocotillo, cacti began to make sense. The first to woo me was the teddy bear cholla, somewhat endearing despite it’s dangerous, bristling spines, the outermost ones virtually invisible. But those translucent outer spines, however treacherous to skin, catch the sun and make chollas a blaze of glory.

Ganders-cholla-cylindropuntia-ganderii-Anza-Borrego-Desert-California-by-Betsey-Crawford

Gander’s cholla (Cylindropuntia ganderii) Anza Borrego Desert, California

There were prickly pears, slightly less lethal, spine-wise. Their small ‘jumping’ spines are easier to see and harder to brush against, since their longer spines will discourage you. Set among the rocks, they began to seem interesting and handsome. Barrel cactus, too, it’s broad ribs creating a deeply pleated surface, with long, curving, colorful spines, fit well among the boulders and sand. The less obtrusive, even hard-to-find fish hook cactus were almost pretty, with a delicate network of curved spines.

 

Barrel-cactus-ferocactus-cylindraceus-Anza-Borrego-Desert-California-by-Betsey-Crawford

Barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) Anza Borrego Desert, California

But nothing reconciled me to cactus the way their flowers did, when they showed up on a longer visit in 2013. First come buds that look like they’re plated with armor. The bud then opens into a wrinkled mess that looks like the flower has already shriveled up. And, then, from this daunting start, a flower so lovely, so delicate, so translucent unfurls that you can hardly believe your eyes. It’s as if your tough-talking, cigarette-dragging, hard-as-nails but intriguing neighbor suddenly answered the door in the softest, silkiest lingerie, floating gorgeous colors.

prickly-pear-cactus-opuntia-engelmannii-Saguarro-National-Park-west-by-Betsey-Crawford

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii) Saguarro National Park West

Startled, you forget you came to borrow her chain saw, and you’re dying to ask whom she’s expecting. Cacti use those beautiful, filmy colors and textures for the same reason we do: allurement. They expect bees, mainly, though some expect bats and hummingbirds. They produce a profusion of pollen, and need their creatures to share it as widely as possible, since they aren’t self pollinating.

Prickly-pear-cactus-Opuntia-engelmanii-Saguaro-National-Park-Arizona-by-Betsey-Crawford copy

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmanii) Saguaro National Park Arizona

Just as you will never look at your neighbor in the same way, having seen that side of her, it became impossible for me to look at cactus and not know what they are capable of, come spring. So that went a long way toward learning to love them. But there’s something else that fostered the change. When you see them where they are supposed to be, where they have grown and adapted for millions of years, they fit into the landscape in a way they don’t anywhere else.

Barrel-cactus-ferocactus-cylindraceus-Anza-Borrego-Desert-California-by-Betsey-Crawford

Barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) n the Anza Borrego Desert, California

I love most flowers. I have a passion for them. But my greatest passion is for flowers in their native place, which is why I love wildflowers so much. There is a deep ecological and historical connection between a plant and the place it grows naturally. Cacti evolved to be tough and prickly so they can fend off predators and conserve water in an arid environment, where temperatures can be freezing at night and 115 degrees during the day. In wetter, cooler places they would have full-blown leaves, deep roots, more delicate skin. They wouldn’t need the waxiness that can give their skin a silver-blue hue, a desert color, or the spines that create an air buffer against the drying heat.

Fish-hook-cactus-mammillaria-dioica-Anza-Borrego-Desert-by-Betsey-Crawford

Fishhook cactus (Mammillaria dioica) Anza Borrego Desert, California

As a landscape designer, I planted wonderful plants that originated far from the northeast coast of the U.S. They were gorgeous and sturdy. But I loved most the native plants of Long Island, the ones I could find on long walks in the woods, or that showed up in summer meadows, or held the shifting sand dunes together. On my travels I don’t tend to go to botanical gardens, though I like them. I would rather climb the hills around town, finding the wild flowers.

There’s something different about their spirit, their connection to place, their adaptations of color, size, leaf shape. They have a sense of belonging to the landscape, the texture of the air, the life of that particular soil. It’s not just about the way they look, although I love that part, but about the way they feel, up there on their dry escarpments, or in the shade of tall trees, or flowing down a hillside toward the ocean, filling the air with their spicy scent. These are the plants most connected to the magic and mystery of the powers that created them. They are my direct connection to the soul of the earth.

strawberry-hedgehog-cactus-echinocereus-stramineus-Cross-Canyon-Colorado-by-Betsey-Crawford

Strawberry hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus stramineus) Cross Canyon, Colorado