Mrs. Swan is Mourning

A while back I announced the good news that Mr. Swan at Middleton Plantation in Charleston, SC received a new mate after his former companion was killed by an alligator. (

Today I have sad news to report: Mr. Swan passed away of old age and the new Mrs. Swan is in mourning. She looks quite lonesome in the large pond all by herself.


But rumors have it that a new (and hopefully younger) spouse will be arriving soon. There may be a happy ending after all.

Photographic Journal: Lonesome No More!

Lonely No More_1This post goes out to my friend, yizhivika in London. Happiness has returned to our beautiful, gentle-natured swan (in the photo on the right) at Middleton Place in Charleston.  He had lost his companion to an alligator.  This forced him to spend many days and nights on the lake in utter solitude.

We felt so sorry for him and visited him frequently. I mentioned him before in previous posts. ( But as it happens so often, this sad story has a happy ending. Recently, the people at Middleton Place surprised Mr. Swan with a new companion (in the picture on the left).

Tree Project: Late Fall Follow-Up

Sunday, December 2, 2012.  Afternoon.

Today, I found my Ginkgo tree virtually bare. Drayton & Middleton 136_2_1

Only a handful of leaves managed to hang on to its branches.  An ocean of withering, golden leaves blanketed the ground beneath.  Their time has come to disintegrate and be reabsorbed into the earth and to support new life.

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One unexpected peculiarity caught my attention:  The Ginkgo tree had something that looked like new leaf buds.  Winter is approaching, and it looks as if the tree is already preparing for new growth.  It will be exciting to see what happens next when I visit it again in a few weeks.

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I definitely expect new leaves to emerge from the Ginkgo in spring. Not one of these leaves will be identical to the old ones, but they’ll still be from the same tree.

There is something to be learned from this observation.  One day, the time will come when our bodies will disintegrate and be reabsorbed into the ground as well. Will we also reemerge in the material world like the new Ginkgo leaves, perhaps in a different form, but still from the same, original source?

The Ginkgo tree has a delicate, little vine with heart-shaped, deep green leaves climbing up its trunk.  So pretty!

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The other interesting thing I’d like to report is that, despite the recent rainfall, the long, white ‘mystery hair’ still hangs off the same Ginkgo branch.  Unfortunately, I have not found out yet who it might belong to.

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Could the hair be Jake’s?  Oh, I have yet to introduce Jake to you …

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His barn and pasture are to the right of my trees.  Today, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch Jake getting groomed.  He deserves every bit of love and attention.  You see, Jake used to be a work horse and had to pull horse carriages.  Now he is retired and can enjoy his days roaming around on the pasture.  The people at Middleton Plantation love and respect him very much and give him lots of TLC.

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Jake’s story reminds me of the elderly.  I wish all elderly would be able to enjoy the same kind of retirement Jake is having now.  They, too, worked as hard as work horses in their lives.  The truth is, however, that many people are impoverished, in lack of needed care and attention, unloved, and forgotten by society in their old age.  At least, this is true for Western culture.  Why does our society not love, respect, and care for our elderly the way we do for animals?  Definitely, something to ponder!

To my surprise, the Chinaberry tree still had all of its berries.

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This means the feast and intoxication of the birds has not taken place yet.  I don’t know why, but I am generally not fond of tree berries.  Maybe it has something to do with the warnings I received as a child that most tree berries are poisonous and I should keep away from them.  But I have to admit, a leafless Chinaberry tree with nothing but clusters of berries looks quite attractive, especially when the light conditions of its background are just right.

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It would have been an almost perfectly quiet afternoon at the stable yards if it had not been for the Guinea birds.

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Their calls can be quite loud and penetrating.  Guineas are also fast runners and, thus difficult to photograph.  I see them as a challenge to improve my motion photography skills. 🙂

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They seem to shed a lot of their feathers which then mix in on the ground with the fallen Ginkgo leaves and berries from the Chinaberry tree.

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Today, my trees had another visitor.  It was an injured goose.  One of the wings of this goose is permanently extending out to the side.  The goose cannot completely retract it and fold it in against its body anymore.

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The caretakers at Middleton Place assured me, though, that this injured goose it just as happy as the rest of the flock.  Is there yet another lesson to be learned here?  Accidents and misfortunes do happen in life.  Can we also uphold a happy disposition even if we are faced with short-term or lasting physical ailments or handicaps?

Tree Project: Ginkgo and Chinaberry

When I decided to start my tree project, I never envisioned how difficult it would be to find suitable trees. For the project to be successful, there are several things that must be taken into consideration. The trees need to be accessible. I need to be able to get close to them so that I can get a more intimate look at their details. To spark sufficient interest, the trees need to go through noticeable changes over the course of a year. For example, a deciduous tree will experience more changes than a coniferous one. The surroundings of the trees are also crucial. They should be attractive or at least neutral. The view should be unobstructed. I will need a nice spot in close proximity where I can sit down and set up for sketching.

After searching for several days, I finally came across a little ginkgo tree (ginkgo biloba) and a Chinaberry tree (melia azedarach) which happen to be side by side. Both trees are located inside the stable yards of Middleton Place, one of my favorite places. These trees don’t meet all of the requirements in that they are not completely unobstructed, but I chose them anyway.


The ginkgo tree is native to China. Its leaves are turning vibrantly golden this time of the year. I love their distinct shape and, for that reason, have used them in printmaking before. The ginkgo tree which I am now following is around 30 years old. Ginkgos are dioeciously, meaning there are male and female varieties. The tree I selected is male. Male trees will not get any blossoms. People who work in the Middleton Place stable yard are glad for it, because Ginkgo blossoms are rather odorous.Image

Up until now, I never heard of Chinaberry trees before. Though I walked by this tree many times in the past, it is interesting how it never caught my attention before. As added benefit, my tree project seems to teach me to become more mindful. I looked up ‘Chinaberry tree’ in Wikipedia and this is what is says about its origin: [The Chinaberry] is a species of deciduous tree in the mahogany family, meliaceae that is native to Pakistan, India, Indochina, Southeast Asia and Australia. Currently, the Chinaberry tree at Middleton Place is completely leafless. All it has is berries and galls.Image

As I was admiring the Chinaberry tree for the first time, I had the good fortune to run into Bob, a historian with an expanded knowledge of the area’s botany. Bob told me that at first the berries on the tree are hard, but the late fall weather conditions will soften them. As soon as the berries are soft enough, birds will swarm the tree for an intoxicating feast that will probably last no longer than two days. Then the tree will be completely stripped of all of its fruit. Only the galls will remain. A word of caution: The berries are only intoxicating to birds, but they are poisonous to humans. I don’t want to jump ahead in my project, but I think we can expect small, fragrant flowers on this tree in spring.Image

According to Wikipedia, galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues and can be caused by various parasites, from fungi and bacteria, to insects and mites.Image

One of the reasons why I chose the little ginkgo tree and Chinaberry tree is that they are sure to have plenty of visitors. There are ducks, geese, cats, horses, peacocks, Ginny birds and, occasionally, sheep around. Right opposite the trees is a potter’s shop with a bench in front of it.

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This hair, that I found hanging off the ginkgo tree at eye level, holds a mysterious story. Who may it belong to? Who visited this tree? Perhaps I will find the answer during the course of this year-long project.


Tree Project: Considerations in Selecting the Trees

The first task in my new tree project is finding the two trees that ‘speak’ to me. Then I want to unlock their mysteries. Why do they appeal to me more than the other trees? What are their specific qualities and stories? What does folklore or even medicine tell us about them?

My most favorite trees have always been the paper and Himalayan birch trees. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the name “birch” is derived from an old Germanic root, birka, with the Proto-Indo-European root *bherəg, “white, bright; to shine.” Perhaps birch trees remind me of my own roots. They certainly were part of my childhood’s landscape. To me, the bright white bark and ocean of golden leaves in fall of paper and Himalayan birch trees are symbolic for light. Always in search of the Light, I find myself easily attracted to their ‘light’.Image

Paper birch trees bring back memories of my father telling me about his time in Norway and Finland during WWII. Times were hard, food and supplies scarce. That included stationary. Difficult circumstances often produce brilliant ideas. My father and some of his friends harvested bark from the paper birch trees in the region, trimmed and flattened it, and converted it into post cards. Thus, the birch trees helped lessen the worries of the men’s families at home when they got news that they were alive and well.

My research on the Arbor Day Foundation website was somewhat disappointing, but not a surprise. Paper and Himalayan birch trees thrive only in zones 2 to 7, not zone 8 where I live. Therefore, I may set out to find a more heat resistant cousin of theirs, the river birch and, in addition, a live oak tree. But for now, I want to leave my options open.

Next week, I will meet with the horticulturist of breathtakingly beautiful Middleton Place Plantation and Gardens, one of my favorite hang-outs for photography.  I am hoping that he will be able to help me in my search for the right trees, and that he will become my ally for the next year.

Meanwhile, I’d like to share this little tree poem with you. It is funny how things work sometimes, but my tree research brought my attention back to an old and long-forgotten book of family poems on my bookshelf, The Book Of A Thousand Poems – A Family Treasure.


The Oak is called the King of Trees,
The Aspen quivers in the breeze,
The Poplar grows up straight and tall,
The Pear tree spreads along the walls,
The Sycamore gives pleasant shade,
The Willow droops in watery glade,
The Fir tree useful timber gives,
The Beech amid the forest lives.

By S. Coleridge


Tree Project

Today marks the beginning of a new year-long project.  For this, I will select one or two trees and follow them photographically, artistically, and poetically throughout one entire year.  I want to study what the tree looks like and experiences at different times of the day, during the cycle of the seasons, and during various weather conditions.  Who visits the tree?  To whom does it give shelter?  I plan on taking a closer look at its leaves and fruit, and perhaps other things that grown on it.

This project shall help me examine nature’s natural cycles.  It shall also provide a focal area for my development as a photographer, artist, and writer.   At the end of the project, I may prepare an exhibition of my work.

I will share the results of my study on this blog with you as they become available.  As always, your comments and feedback will be much appreciated.