Light and Shadow

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These photographs were taken in Wawona, just inside the south entrance to Yosemite National Park.

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April is warm this year.  Mornings in the 30’s, daytime temperatures sometimes reaching the 70’s.  A few days ago it snowed, though all traces are gone.

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I think of the Summer King and the Winter King in Celtic folklore.  Their battle for ascendency never ends.  The King of Summer is winning now, but they’ll meet again in autumn.

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The sun is so bright and the shadows so deep they stop you.  Their interweaving patterns, stirring in the breeze, shift from moment to moment.

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The world changes before our eyes. Always the same and never the same.

The Walk to Paradise Garden

Recent events brought to mind a photograph by W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978), one of the greatest photojournalists of all time.  Forgetful of personal risk, Smith wedded “news” photographs to a powerful aesthetic sensibility, creating a body of unforgettable work.

Smith was an idealist.  During WWII, he aimed for nothing less than showing the horrors of war so vividly that people would recoil from the prospect in the future.  As a Life Magazine photographer, he landed with marines during 13 Pacific island invasions, including the battles of Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

His almost legendary luck deserted him on Okinawa, when he was hit in the face and hand by mortar fragments.  “I forgot to duck but I got a wonderful shot of those who did,” he said.  “My policy of standing up when the others are down finally caught up with me.”  

Two years and 30 operations later he was still not sure he’d be able to use a camera again.  “The day I again tried for the first time to make a photograph I could barely load the roll of film into the camera. Yet I was determined that the first photograph would be a contrast to the war photographs and that it would speak an affirmation of life.”  

He followed his children as they went for a walk.  Fighting pain in his spine and hand, he took a single picture he called, “The Walk to Paradise Garden.”

The Walk to Paradise Garden by W. Eugene Smith

“The Walk to Paradise Garden” by W. Eugene Smith

The photo achieved world-wide fame when Edward Steichen chose it as the final image in his “Family of Man” exhibit in 1955.  Smith later wrote, “While I followed my children into the undergrowth and the group of taller trees…I suddenly realized that at this moment, in spite of everything, in spite of all the wars and all I had gone through…I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it.”

I think as 2012 draws to a close, we all are in need of “sonnets to life and to the courage to go on living it.”  Smith’s photograph is the one that I am thinking of at this time.

Yosemite in autumn

My family first came to Yosemite when I was a kid, and I’ve returned most years since then.  Mary and I started traveling to the park soon after we met and were able to get up here again this week.  Of all the seasons, late fall is my favorite.  Here are some photographs taken in Yosemite in autumn over the last half-dozen years.

Merced River, south fork, Nov. 2009

Yosemite Valley, Nov. 2012. Photo by Mary.

Wawona. Nov, 2012.

Above Merced River, Nov, 2012.

Pool by Merced River, Nov. 2012

Yosemite is full of dramatic features and vistas, many made world famous by Ansel Adams, but often the feel of being in these mountains is best conveyed by what is right at hand or at one’s feet.

Wawona woods, Nov. 2012

There aren’t enough different types of trees to rival New England fall colors, but I still never tire of those afternoons when the autumn light turns the oak leaves to gold.

Dry riverbed, Oct. 2010

Wawona woods, Nov. 2012

South Fork, Merced River, Oct. 2010

Half Dome from Sentinel Dome, Oct. 2010

Yosemite Valley, Nov, 2006

Afternoon sky, Wawona, Nov, 2012. Photo by Mary

Photographing, 2012. Photo by Mary

Wawona woods, 2012

Wawona, near the south entrance of the park, is one of the best kept Yosemite secrets. Hiking, swimming, camping, lodging, markets, a restaurant, and access to skiing in winter are all at hand, minus the crowds of the valley. Don’t tell anyone…

Wawona woods, Nov, 2012

More photographs from Iceland

Here are a few more photographs from the week we spent in Iceland. In a few days I’ll write about our discussions of Icelandic sagas in general, and Njal’s Saga in particular, which framed and guided our travels through the countryside.


Farmhouse, Hlidarendi

Kerio, a collapsed volcanic crater

Volcanos Eyjafjallajökull (right) and Katla (left). Mary’s photo.

Bridge to nowhere, Skalholt

Guesthouse, Skalholt

Shore of Lake Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland

Another bridge to nowhere – the metaphorical possibilities are endless.

Skalholt Cathedral from the river path

Churchyard at Oddi


Yours truly by the statue of Saemundur the Learned.

Next: The sagas

Photographs from Iceland

We are back from a week in southern Iceland, which we spent studying one of the great sagas with a small group of storytellers.  We also visited places where this thousand year old drama unfolded. I’ll speak of Njal’s Saga in future posts, but here are a few pictures of the striking Icelandic autumn.

Pool at Thingvellir

A thousand years of volcanic eruption and cutting trees for heat stripped most of the native birch and willow forests.  A joke we heard several times is, “If you get lost in a forest in Iceland, stand up.”  Reforestation efforts are underway, but meanwhile shrubs and even some of the lichen that covers the boulders provide dramatic fall colors.

Thingvellir Park. Photo by Mary

Pines are not native to Iceland, but this stand, planted by the government at Thingvellir Park, made a welcome spot for a picnic.

Thingvellir from the cliffs above.

The Law Circle, where the National Assembly met every summer, stands behind the church (a later addition).  Beginning in 930, the Icelanders’ efforts to govern by rule of law was key to the life of the nation and to Njal’s Saga as well.

Njal’s Saga, like The Illiad, is based on historical incidents and people.  This historical marker, along the Ranga River, marks the spot where a key character, the consummate warrior hero, Gunnar Hamundarson, was attacked by 30 men while riding home with his two brothers. The Hamundarson’s killed 14 attackers, but Gunnar’s youngest brother, Hjort died in the battle. In a nearby burial mound, archeologists found a ring engraved with a stag; the name Hjort means “stag.”

Hlidarendi with Eyjafjallajökull in the background

Gunnar lived and died at a farmstead in Hlidarendi, a name that means “Hill’s end.” This is where the highlands slope down to the coastal plain. The green area with a pine border in the middle ground is Nina’s Grove, a park and sculpture garden in honor of Nina Saemundsson (1892-1965), a world-renowned Icelandic sculptor who was born in Hlidrendi, but also spent 30 years in the US. Her statue, The Spirit of Achievement was placed over the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

In the distance is Eyjafjallajökull (Icelandic for “Island, mountain, glacier), which erupted in 2010. An explosion of lava blasting through a 700 meter thick glacier created tons of ash that blew toward the continent and stopped European air travel.

View from Nina’s grove over the coastal plains, to islands (on the right horizon) in the Atlantic

This view over the coastal plains shows a view of Nina Saemundsson’s sculpture of a mother holding two children.

The church at Hlidarendi and a view of the little green van we toured in. Much of the information here came from our driver, who spoke excellent English. He tried to teach us how to pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull,” with little success.

To be continued.

Quite a few writers I know follow Kristen Lamb’s blog. She writes extensively about blogging, publishing, and the nuts and bolts of being an indie author.

Now, in response to the copyright lawsuit filed against Roni Loren (, Kristen is using her organization, WANA (We are not alone) to create another source of copyright free images – the WANA Commons. Best of all, everyone is invited to contribute. Here’s a chance to give back to the blogging community, upload your own visual art to an appreciative audience, and strike (as the Jefferson Starship put it a long time ago) blows against the empire! Please check out Kristen’s post – to me, this is a very exciting project! – Morgan

Kristen Lamb's Blog

First of all, I want you guys to know that I MISSED YOU! July was a whirlwind month for sure and reminded me of the days when I used to be on the road for sales. Wandering out of bed in the night to go to the bathroom, yet suddenly realizing you’re in a coat closet. Fun stuff!

We will talk about LA another day, because I have a GIFT for you guys. I KNOW! Another one? Hey, y’all are like my kids, and I’m a terrible mother because I dig spoiling every last one of you. Here, have some cake.

Most of you guys know I am all about writers blogging. Blogging plays to our strengths. Blogs are far less volatile than other types of social media. Twitter might be gone in a couple years, and Facebook could implode, but blogs will likely remain. This makes them one of…

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A warning about copyrights

Yesterday, friend and author, Amy Rogers, sent me a link to a recent account by a blogger who was sued after posting a copyrighted photograph.  In this case, attribution and a willingness to take down the image were not enough.  The photographer demanded compensation – “a significant chunk of money” – for the use of the photo over several week’s time.

Anyone who grabs or has grabbed pictures from Google images or related sources should read blogger, Roni Loren’s story.

As I first read through the post, my thought was, “that’s nasty,” with a head shake for the litigious society we live in.  Then, as I scrolled through the comments, I saw several photographers say they were sick of seeing their images used without permission.  Regardless of anyone’s opinion, this is how it is.

Fortunately, Roni Loren provides some good info and links on finding millions of pictures that are okay to use.  Two sites in particular are Wikipedia Commons and Creative Commons.  Here is an exceptional article by Megan Ward on finding photos on Creative Commons and what the various usage codes mean.

I used Ward’s guidelines to search for replacements for several landscape photos in an earlier post, and found 60 nice ones to choose from, licensed by the artists to Creative Commons, with simple conditions like attribution and links to a website.

The first link given above, to Roni Loren’s article, references  a Wikipedia article on public domain, with websites for literally millions of images bloggers are free to use, arranged in dozens of categories.  I clicked on one link of public domain photos from WWI, and was pleased to recognize the site I had used for an earlier post on the Christmas Truce.  In general, copyrights are time limited, but research is necessary.

I had already learned to read the fine print in books I set out to review.  Some allow you to quote small sections for review purposes and some do not.  This is a similar exercise and one that is clearly just as important.

Many thanks to Amy for bringing this to my attention, and to Roni Loren for sharing her painful experience.  She urged other bloggers to pass it on, so consider doing so.