The Art of Mindful Seeing

This is a newspaper article to promote a photography workshop I’ll be giving on November 15, 2014.

The Art of Mindful Seeing
by Jennifer Schlick

IMG_2014 - Back Lighting, Backlit LeavesIt can take as long as twenty minutes to give myself full permission to forget the worries of the world and be mindful as I walk.  To be fully present to this moment.  To see truly what is in front of my eyes.  I may snap pictures before that state of mindfulness settles in, but I know, even as I snap, those pictures will fall victim to the delete key once I see them on the computer.  I take a deep breath and let go of worry and stress.  I invite my eyes, my mind, and my heart to align and be open to visual flashes of color, light, texture.

IMG_1955-2When something catches my eye and stops me in my tracks, I rest with that flash of perception in an inquisitive way, without judgment, without struggle.  I may walk around the object whose color or texture attracted my attention.  I may study the way the light is reflecting off of, or shining through, or just laying softly upon the object.

Eventually, I will raise my camera and attempt to capture an equivalent of the perception I just experienced – nothing more, nothing less.

IMG_1930This photographic practice, described in detail by Andy Karr and Michael Wood in their book The Practice of Contemplative Photography – Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes, will be the focus of a workshop offered at the Nature Center on Saturday, November 15, 2014, 1:00pm-3:00pm.  Think of it as a book report in the form of a workshop.

There are many reasons to make photographs and many approaches to the practice of making photographs.  This is only one.  For me, this approach has been akin to drawing in a sketchbook.  I am not trying to create great works of art, I am simply practicing the art of seeing, and of capturing in a real, uncontrived way exactly what I see.

IMG_1785The practice continues when I get the images home and onto my computer.  Cameras are computers that are programmed to make decisions on our behalf.  Sometimes those programmed decisions distort the image we perceived.  A few adjustments are often necessary to make the captured image match our original perception.

I have found that my practice images are often so beautiful I want to print them and hang them in my home or office.  I have also found that this practice continues to help me see in fresh ways, even when my purpose is conceptual or journalistic.  I find that instead of photographing what I think I ought to, I photograph what is really there.  The book, The Practice of Contemplative Photography, is sprinkled with quotes from great photographers.  Here’s one from Aaron Siskind that expresses what I’m getting at here:  “We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there.  As photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.”

Students should dress for the weather and bring their favorite cameras as we’ll be making photographs outside.  Any kind of camera will do.  This is not a class about how your camera works.  It is about an approach to using your camera that will improve your ability to see the world with fresh eyes.  We will review the concept of contemplative practice and try some of the exercises put forth in the book. Finally, a few tips for post processing will be offered to improve your captured images.

The deadline to register is Tuesday, November 11th.  The cost is $33 or $25 for Friends of the Nature Center members.  For more information, or to register, call (716) 569-2345 or visit http://jamestownaudubon.org.

The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania.

Jennifer Schlick is the nature center’s program director.   Photography has been her passion for many years and she began practicing photography seriously in 2006 when she purchased her first digital SLR camera.  Her work has been displayed locally in both group and solo shows.

Swamp Rose

At this time of year when the trees’ color is just a tiny bit past peak color, the edges of the ponds still hold some amazing color.

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Not being much of a summer fan, I seem to have no photos of the blossoms.

UPDATE:  After reading this, my friend Kathleen sent me this picture of hers of Swamp Roses in summer:


(Thank’s Kathleen!)

The fruit is bristly:

Swamp Rose Hips

Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris):

(Green) Stinkbug

Well, I wasn’t going for the bug.  I was going for the hips – the red fruit of the rose – in this case Multiflora Rose (Rosa Multiflora).

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As I shot through the tangle of branches attempting to capture “red” I noticed quite a few insects, including this one:

bug, true bug, nymph, insect, black with yellow and black stripes on abdomen

After a bit of searching, I decided this is a nymph phase of the Green Stinkbug (Acrosternum hilare). According to the entomology department at the University of Florida (which, by the way, lists the Latin name as Chinavia halaris (Say)), nymphs normally take about a month to grow into their adult form. From their pictures, I’d say this fellow is fifth instar, meaning it’s next molt will bring adult shape and colors. Given the cold temperatures, that may not happen until spring. Young stinkbugs at this time of year will find a place behind bark or under leaf litter to wait out the winter.

There are great pictures over at the University of Florida website of all phases of development, from egg right on through to adult. Check it out: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/bean/green_stink_bug.htm.

They also have this cool picture of peaches that show evidence of stinkbug feeding. I always wondered what caused those weird shapes!

Catfacing on peach caused from feeding by the green stink bug, Chinavia halaris (Say). Photograph by Russell F. Mizell, III, University of Florida. (Click photo to go to website from which this photo was borrowed.)

No surprise:  The Purdue website is more concerned about the damage this bug does to soybeans:  http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/fieldcropsipm/insects/greenstinkbug.php.

Winterberry Holly

What’s all that red out there?

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Winterberry Holly
Ilex verticillata

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And wow, are they loaded with fruit this year!

Poisonous to humans, they will provide food for birds and small mammals.  Like other hollies, this one native to North America is dioecious – there are male plants and female ones.  Unlike other hollies, this one is deciduous.  After the first frost, the leaves will turn dark and drop off.  But the berries will remain through the winter.

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More information:

Celebration!

Smaller Enchanter's Nightshade

Enchanter’s Nightshade

We’ve been trying to do it for years.  Something always distracts.  A different creek to explore.  Getting lost confused bewildered.  Starting too late to finish.  Too much snow.  My camera.

Today we finally accomplished our goal.  We were determined.  We set out early.  We refreshed our memory on how to REALLY use the compass and topographic map.  Not the pretend way:  “I think we’re right about here…  That’s cool.”  And most importantly, I left my camera at home!  (The pictures in this post were taken at other times.)

The thing is, the path we hiked used to be a road.  If you look it up on Google Maps, it will show as a road.  But I’m here to tell you:  It ain’t no road!  Not any more.  Some of the sluice pipes designed to divert water away from the road are still in place.  Others are tossed about, rusted, useless.  Some parts of the old road are clear, wide open, easy to walk.  Other parts are so densely covered you can barely fight your way through them.  Or they are completely impassible due to a beaver pond that must be circumnavigated.

100% DEET kept the bugs at bay.  A 12-inch sub and a tub full of watermelon and cantaloupe kept the hunger at bay.  And away we went paying attention to the wildflowers and the beauty and the signs of  wildlife along the way.  Lack of a camera, kept distraction at bay to a minimum.

Leaves from some of my favorite spring wildflowers remained – Foamflower, Trillium, Hepatica.  I even saw leaves of flowers I DIDN’T see blooming here before – Bloodroot – and made a mental note to come back next spring to watch for their blooms.  Midsummer flowers in the woods are not as plentiful, but you can find them if you pay attention.

Enchanter’s Nightshade takes advantage of tiny pockets of sunlight that filters down through the trees.  The tiny white flowers of this native plant have bits of pink if you take the time to look closely.

Enchanter's Nightshade

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website, the genus name, Circaea, comes from the Greek enchantress Circe who “possessed magical powers and a knowledge of poisonous herbs; she could turn men into swine.”  (Source: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CIAL) Whether this species is magical or poisonous, I could not say.

Shinleaf in the Grass

Shinleaf

Also plentiful on the forest floor were Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica or maybe it was P. americana… See: I should have brought my camera).  According to the Lady Bird Johnson website, “The Pyrolas yield a drug closely related to aspirin; the leaves have been used on bruises and wounds to reduce pain. Such a leaf plaster has been referred to as a shin plaster, which accounts for the common name of this plant.” (Source:  http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=PYEL)

Shinleaf Closeup

At the far end of the road, we emerged from the woods and in the open spot were all the sun-loving roadside flowers – Crown Vetch, Oxeye Daisy, Day Lilies and more.

Lolli scared up a turkey that turned to feign attack.  I wonder if she could be sitting a second clutch of eggs?  We were most impressed by signs of bear activity.  A large puddle in the middle of the road had recently been stirred up, the mud not yet settled.  The grass around the puddle was spattered with fresh mud from what must have been a delightful wallow!  There was a perfect bear track in the mud of the road, and the grasses and plants off the road were beaten down, showing the direction of the bear’s travel.  We couldn’t have missed him by more than an hour.  A few steps beyond the bathtub puddle was a patch of grass and plants that was completely beaten down.  We wondered if the bear had slept there, or even just rolled around.

It was a great day of hiking and exploring.  I want to go back and enter from the other end of the road – WITH my camera this time!

 

 

 

No, It’s Not

You’re driving along the road and marvel at the large patches of Queen Anne’s Lace.  Except… no.  It isn’t.

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It’s actually “Wild Chervil” (Anthriscus sylvestris). It’s also in the Parsley family, like Queen Anne’s Lace, but when you get up close, you can tell the difference! Read more about it by clicking here.

And then your head is turned by large patches of pale to deep fuscia pink and you are sure it is Wild Phlox. Except… no. It isn’t.

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It’s actually Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), a member of the mustard family. I munched on a flower yesterday and it wasn’t half bad! Read more about it by clicking here.