Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Sense of Place

The scent of lilacs and the sight of thousands of buttercups sprinkled across a field are so deeply associated with childhood for me that I forget my grown-up self entirely when I encounter them.  Toss in a lily pond teeming with plump pollywogs, and I'm a goner.

Wild turkeys, on the other hand, are something I never saw as a child.  These days I see them quite often.  I suppose this has something to do with how much of their habitat humans have stolen with our never-ending sprawl of Tim Horton's and Targets.  Or maybe there are more of them now than there were 30 years ago.  That's a lovely thought.  Does anyone know if it's true?  

I am lucky.  I live in a port city that is small enough to feel neighborly, yet large enough to be cosmopolitan.  And best of all, it is sprinkled within and around its borders by fields, ponds, rivers, and  marshes.  I've shown you Gilsland Farm before, and here it is again in these photos.  The home of the Maine Audubon Society, this place is simply stunning.  If you visit Portland and love bird watching or just taking walks in a peaceful place, you can drive or bike two miles north of the city center, and suddenly you are in the middle of fields bordering an estuary and home to loads of wildlife, from turkeys to hawks to bullfrogs to osprey.  Oh, and don't forget the groundhogs!

In a few days I will have a treat to share when the hundreds and hundreds of peonies bloom at Gilsland.  For what's a blog in late spring without photos of peonies, right?  In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who wrote kind comments and emails in response to my last post.  I was feeling more than a little shaky.  You all are a boost to a girl's spirits.  Thank you for your generosity and friendship . . . and welcome to new readers and followers.  

Requisite springtime-blogging photos of peonies coming soon! 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Far Away

This post is a blend of explanation and apology for being so absent from blogging lately.  The sad truth is that it won't be very good at either explaining or apologizing, because I don't have much time this morning to write it.  While I've been feebly managing to cobble together a weekly post each for The Magpie's Fancy and The Magpie's Pen, I've barely been around to visit my favorite blogs in over a month.  Please believe me when I say I miss all your beauty and brilliance!  And please forgive me for missing your posts.  In addition to my regular freelance work, I'm in the middle of a rather all-consuming, collaborative writing project, and while it's wonderful, it leaves me little time or psychic energy for other writing or even for taking and processing photos.

The shot above is of a centerpiece at the wedding of two good friends of ours this past weekend.  The bride's parents are from India, and they had a traditional Hindu ceremony, which I loved, especially since the priest explained to us what was happening and why at each step.  And the attire!  So many beautiful saris in every glittering jewel color imaginable!  My friend's sari was ivory with deep red and gold accents.  She was stunning.  The day after the wedding we watched our youngest niece compete in her first triathlon.  She's eight, and it was a thrill to watch her finish the race, exhausted, but still smiling, just as she nearly always does.  What a weekend of milestones and celebrations. 

I'm anxious to catch up with all that has been going on in your life, too.  Please tell me that you have crazy times like this, too!  When things calm down I will drop by to visit you and marvel at your latest creative work.  

Before I sign off for today, I thought I'd share with you a poem.  I was asked to give a reading at the wedding reception, and I chose this one by Jeffrey McDaniel.  It is both funny and deeply moving, which make it a joy to read aloud--and it is, I think, a perfect wedding poem.

The Archipelago of Kisses

We live in a modern society. Husbands and wives don't
grow on trees, like in the old days. So where
does one find love? When you're sixteen it's easy,
like being unleashed with a credit card
in a department store of kisses. There's the first kiss.
The sloppy kiss. The peck.
The sympathy kiss. The backseat smooch. The we
shouldn't be doing this kiss. The but your lips
taste so good kiss. The bury me in an avalanche of tingles kiss.
The I wish you'd quit smoking kiss.
The I accept your apology, but you make me really mad
sometimes kiss. The I know
your tongue like the back of my hand kiss. As you get
older, kisses become scarce. You'll be driving
home and see a damaged kiss on the side of the road,
with its purple thumb out. If you
were younger, you'd pull over, slide open the mouth's
red door just to see how it fits. Oh where
does one find love? If you rub two glances, you get a smile.
Rub two smiles, you get a warm feeling.
Rub two warm feelings and presto-you have a kiss.
Now what? Don't invite the kiss over
and answer the door in your underwear. It'll get suspicious
and stare at your toes. Don't water the kiss with whiskey.
It'll turn bright pink and explode into a thousand luscious splinters,
but in the morning it'll be ashamed and sneak out of
your body without saying good-bye,
and you'll remember that kiss forever by all the little cuts it left
on the inside of your mouth. You must
nurture the kiss. Turn out the lights. Notice how it
illuminates the room. Hold it to your chest
and wonder if the sand inside hourglasses comes from a
special beach. Place it on the tongue's pillow,
then look up the first recorded kiss in an encyclopedia: beneath
a Babylonian olive tree in 1200 B.C.
But one kiss levitates above all the others. The
intersection of function and desire. The I do kiss.
The I'll love you through a brick wall kiss.
Even when I'm dead, I'll swim through the Earth,
like a mermaid of the soil, just to be next to your bones.

~Jeffrey McDaniel 

xo Gigi

Friday, May 20, 2011

On Memory, Mood, and Manipulation

Here in Coastal Maine, as anyone will tell you, we haven't really had a spring this year.  It has been cold. Period. We've had a few hours of glorious sunshine, but not the kind of slow, golden afternoons that warm your bones after a long winter.  And mostly we've had more than our fair share of rain, clouds, fog, drizzle, and mizzle.  I took these photos in Falmouth down at the town landing on a rare sunny afternoon, and then I processed them to look a little like 1970's postcards.  I always loved the overly saturated colors of postcards when I was a kid.  They were like real life, only in Technicolor.  

The sky on the day I took these wasn't actually very blue.  It was more the slightly bluish-white of bone china.  The shades of blue you see here I added, which made me feel deceitful, but also a little god-like.  There were people at the landing on that day: a mother playing with her young daughter, a woman beach combing, a fisherman in his boat, several men on a building site.  I avoided capturing any of them in these shots because I wanted the images to feel a bit lonely and moody.  

Photography, like writing, is a manipulative art form.  When I teach writing to students (which I do a lot of, if you are ever looking for a writing tutor or coach), I like to remind them that to write is to manipulate the perception of the reader.  Since you have total control over what to emphasize and what to downplay as well as what to reveal to and what to conceal from the reader, you should think of it very much like how a photographer thinks of framing and processing a photograph.  Everything--point of view, color, texture, mood, light, and so much more--is in your hands.  What a thrill . . . and a responsibility.

Because my whole life is wrapped up in writing--and has been for a very long time--I think about small details everywhere I go.  I look at the angle of a rooftop, consider the shape of puddle, and note the hemline of a woman's dress.  No, that is an understatement.  I obsess about these things.  And now that I am an enthusiastic amateur photographer (who is beginning to get a few paying gigs), I obsess about such details even more than before.  It's a lousy habit if one is to accomplish practical tasks, but it's a glorious habit if one is to craft anything of beauty or even interest.  Ah, and that's just it.  I didn't want to make these particular photographs beautiful exactly.  I wanted to make them capture a certain mood, a certain angle of light and memory from about 1975.  That memory isn't pretty or picturesque so much as it's intensely saturated, scrubbed with bright white sunlight, slightly blurred, and more than a little lonely.  But lonely in a way that I rather enjoyed that spring when I was eight years old--and still enjoy now all these decades later.

Friday, May 13, 2011


"Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back.  
Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can't build on it; 
it's only good for wallowing in."

~Katherine Mansfield

There are days when I obsess about the future, but if I'm to be honest, I would say that I tend to fret about the past even more.  A completely useless habit, this, and one that I find is best remedied by a long walk in the woods or by the water.  At Gilsland Farm there's both, so it's just about the perfect place to find yourself a little piece of now and simply inhabit it.

I hope that as the hours speed forward in their wild way this weekend, you find some now of your own to cherish.  

Thank you for another week of inspiration.  xoxo Gigi

Monday, May 9, 2011

Enchanted Weekend

In the week since my last post, spring has finally arrived in earnest.  There are certain days in May when I can't quite believe that the world can be so beautiful--when trees rain pink petals and the sun, like a  willful child, refuses to set until long past its bedtime.  This past weekend was filled with three such days in a row.

Friday nights are free nights at the Portland Museum of Art, and the first Friday of each month is also Art Walk night, when all the galleries in the Arts District stay open late and the streets fill with gallery-hoppers.  Those are Cheap Date nights for us.  They usually include a slice of pizza at our favorite joint or an ice cream cone (caramel and sea salt for me) at another favorite haunt.

And then there's the fun of the museum.  

I'm not sure which I love more: staring at the art or staring at the people as they stare at the art.  I love to see how a piece engages the viewer.  Certain pieces seem to invite touch or even play.  This is what always makes me a little crazy about museums.  I completely understand and respect all the rules, but I still long to touch!

Once back out on the street anything goes.  We can hula hoop until nightfall, if it ever comes.

Later in the weekend, Mr. Magpie and I celebrated Mother's Day with my mum at her house, which happens to be the house where I grew up.  We spent the day working in her garden and cooking together.  The forecast had called for rain, but we saw nothing but sunshine and blue skies full of impossibly puffy, white clouds the whole day long.  Lucky ducks.

Dinner was mostly grilled outside: shrimp marinated in lime, olive oil, garlic, jalapenos, scallions, and cilantro; new potatoes tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper; and portobello mushrooms marinated and stuffed.  The only things not grilled were the fiddleheads, which my mother steamed and tossed with butter, which is the simplest way to make them, and maybe the most delicious.    

Have you ever had fiddleheads?  Here in Maine they are a celebrated springtime treat.  They are simply fiddlehead (ostrich) ferns that have sprouted through the soil but have not yet unfurled.  Available for just a few weeks in the spring, they are a highly prized find at farmers' markets and local grocers.  You can't eat just any variety of fern, so don't run out and pick some for cooking.  Buy them from a reliable supplier.  Just as with mushrooms, there are certain locals who know where the fiddleheads grow, and they keep their harvesting spots a secret, making these magical greens all the more special to those of us who love their flavor.  To me, fiddleheads taste like spring and childhood, because my memere always cooked them in late April or early May.  She often cooked them with bacon and always tossed them with butter.  Some people serve them with vinegar on the side and others like them with hollandaise sauce, but I'll take them tossed in butter every time.

For dessert, I made a strawberry-almond meringue and sponge cake with cream.  
It sounds over the top, and it is, and we loved every bite of it!

Later in the evening, there was still plenty of sunlight left, and I couldn't resist capturing a few shots of the yard as the sun's rays slanted through the pale green of the trees' sprouting leaves.  

I hope your weekend was every bit as lovely, 
especially all you mothers and grandmothers out there in blogland.    

Monday, May 2, 2011

Simply Bloom

This spring, some of the first trees to blossom in my neighborhood grow just inside the gates of the old cemetery.  I took these shots a half hour before sunset.  What glorious light with which to work, what wonders to admire.    

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My City at Night in the Fog

I have been wanting to show you more of where I live . . .

. . . and then the fog rolled in the other night and I knew it was time. 

This place is always beautiful, but late on a foggy night 
something a little spooky, but also quite magical, occurs. 

One senses aspects of the city that are hidden by daylight,

overlooked by the casual eye.

The city's spires reach higher into the night sky

and the trees share some of their secrets.

All the usual haunts become the set of a film noir feature,

and every doorstep glows in the mist.

My city beckons long after the last shops close--

its flowers bloom beneath the streetlights,

and my favorite places 

wait quietly in the dark.

There is color, but it's muted,

and the fog blurs the line between the present and the past

until time ceases to exist
and there is only the cry of seagulls,
the scent of ocean mist, 
and the echo of footsteps down a cobblestone street.