Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 44) – Primordial Soup II

16 September 2019


Primordial Soup (Second Try) Photomontage; All Rights Reserved 2019 Sally W. Donatello

Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this image. Prints are available upon request. 


The cacophony of sound ended the still of the night, awakening me after a few hours sleep.  As the rhythm of the brief shower washed over my thoughts, I had hoped for a soaking rain. It’s been almost two months since we had showers or summer thunderstorms, I mean rain that truly nourishes and nurtures the earth and all its plantings.

Still in the morning the evidence of the night’s surprise shower filled my gardens. It’s as though I had spent time at a spa where mind and body had luxurious attention paid to them. Suddenly the notion of the crumbling world order and my sense of living in a parallel universe disappeared, being replaced by bliss. Even imagining the primordial soup (and what it has become) coerced me to think about a “second chance” mixture.

The Lens section holds my photomontage that represents how I envision the next primordial soup, another opportunity for the planet to learn from this present “iffy” experiment. Because while the current trajectory of humanity and the planet are, in my opinion, not on a viable (Unless dystopia is your hope.) path, I have to ask: Would another experiment do the planet justice?

Still, it is a philosophical conundrum to try and surmise just how we came to be the kind of animal that we are. Sure, science explains the biology, but how do we explain the full spectrum of our behavior?  How do we explain the human animal’s actions and the consequences that are real as much of my country’s current administration ignores the terrifying forecast? How much longer can my country sustain its land mass as the current administration seeks to plunder our lands, water and air?

And so I fill my bird feeders, plant native plantings, watch the birds and animals drink from my pond, and nourish the wildlife right in the middle of my small Mid-Atlantic town, where the wilds things roam. And as I drink my morning tea I salute the red-tailed hawk as it sits upon the lower roof of my home, watching for its next meal.


For those of you that are concerned about monarchs and other pollinators, here is a terrific article (hot off the press) about Tennessee’s successful roadside meadow plantings program. Margaret Renkl, who is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, wrote in today’s issue, “Tennessee Makes Way for the Monarchs.” Here is a quote:

“Wildflowers once grew in profusion on roadsides everywhere. The shoulder of a highway, from blacktop to tree line, is the perfect setting for flowers that require full sun; it’s a ribbon of meadow that unfolds before the eye for as long as the road goes on. During my childhood in Alabama, every highway and back road was alight with butterfly weed, which belongs to the family of milkweeds. In summer it formed a bright corridor of orange flowers so covered with orange monarch butterflies that from a distance it looked as though the flowers themselves were taking flight and floating on the breeze … Coming home from Alabama this month, I stopped at the Tennessee welcome center in Ardmore, stepped out of my car, and was astonished to discover a newly planted pollinator meadow just down the hill from the welcome center. Up close, the acre-size plot was blooming with asters and liatris and ironweed and two different kinds of goldenrod. The plot was so loud with insects that the roar of highway traffic, only yards away up the little hill, was faint by comparison. While I stood there, dumbfounded, a monarch butterfly floated past. I was too stunned to take its picture.”



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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 43) – Wildflower Meadow in Summer’s Shadows

09 September 2019


Wildflowers at Summer’s Finale; All Rights Reserved 2019 Sally W. Donatello

Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this image. Prints are available upon request. 


We live in time, through time, trying to grab it or even ignore it. We can pretend, but it’s one of life’s fluidities that cannot be fully understood, manipulated or stopped. It is an ever-flowing continuum of living progress. It plays and taunts our reasoning. And Einstein’s ability to comprehend its physical qualities and workings are beyond my mind’s skills. Still, as summer begins its finale, time passes through me in visual dynamics. I almost, almost feel its cadence.

Every day a few more leaves scatter across the landscape to become blankets and compost for wintering gardens. Every day a few more annuals and perennials bare the unmistakable signature of spent flowers. As the warmth and markings of summer begin to recede, most living things embrace and prepare for the glorious days ahead as autumn approaches.

These changes begin to forecast inevitable moods of the winter season, moods that shift our perspective and inner emotions. That’s exactly why I strive to honor each stage on the seasonal continuum, seeing more clearly the majesty of every form of nature’s bountiful expression of life. To witness her ability through redefinition, dormancy and renewal is to be held captive to WHAT NATURE REPRESENTS.

At twilight this week the wildflower meadow in my upper garden was ablaze in small flashes of colors. They called for me to linger and enjoy how the light played with each annual and perennial. This dreamy eye catcher is an addition this year, and it has been a source of quiet calm and tranquility. It pulls me into its ability to produce continual splendor, even as rain has avoided our region for the last few weeks. I do not water this garden, leaving it to Mother Nature to tend to it needs. It has not been deterred.

As the sun sets in summer’s shadows, the flowers are given a reprieve from the day’s heat. And that allows them to bounce back if necessary. Still, the masses of seeds (about 5,000 and germination rate was high) that I scattered seem to be in the right location to live out their longevity and bring me dazzling moments of serenity during autumn and next spring.


I am awaiting this month’s publication of Isabella Tree’s Wilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm (2019). Here’s a description from Amazon that gives you enough spice to understand my enthusiasm.

“An inspiring story about what happens when 3,500 acres of land, farmed for centuries, is left to return to the wild, and about the wilder, richer future a natural landscape can bring.
For years Charlie Burrell and his wife, Isabella Tree, farmed Knepp Castle Estate and struggled to turn a profit. By 2000, with the farm facing bankruptcy, they decided to try something radical. They would restore Knepp’s 3,500 acres to the wild. Using herds of free-roaming animals to mimic the actions of the megafauna of the past, they hoped to bring nature back to their depleted land. But what would the neighbors say, in the manicured countryside of modern England where a blade of grass out of place is considered an affront? In the face of considerable opposition the couple persisted with their experiment and soon witnessed an extraordinary change. New life flooded into Knepp, now a breeding hotspot for rare and threatened species like turtle doves, peregrine falcons, and purple emperor butterflies.”

Those who follow this blog you know that this story of nature’s reclamation is an example of what gives me a sense of optimism in the face of climate change: Each of us doing whatever moves us to live a sustainable life, one that takes little from the planet and gives back in order to restore its health and well being. And the story of Knepp fills me to the brim.

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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 42): Dried Hydrangea Photomontage

26 August 2019


Dried Hydrangea Photomontage, Autumn 2017, All Rights Reserved 2019 Sally W. Donatello

Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this image. Prints are available upon request. 


There is something inherently captivating about a plant that can change year-by-year its blossoms’ colors by its response to the soil’s acidity and alkalinity. The range of hues from pinks to purples from greens to blues is sensational in their fresh and dry state. Hydrangeas are one of Mother nature’s most fascinating and intriguing flowering plants.

This singular species dazzles me and brings me to a serene place—a place influenced by the delicacies and intricacies of the flowerheads and their ability to still a moment for amusement and contemplation. Each of us has experiences where some form of nature tranquilizes and incites. While provoking emotions, the very sighting of summer and autumn hydrangeas moves the energy level back and forth from low (quiet) to high (enthusiasm).

To see a hydrangea bursting with boughs is to inhale summer’s bounty. And then exhale how life touches the senses and infuses them with memories. I’m pulled as though a magnet has encircled and possesses me, making sure that I breathe in the glory of the plant’s magic.

Years ago a friend gave me a black-stemmed hydrangea, and it always produces surprises: one year greener than green blossoms, another pink ones, than another purple. Each year seems to outdo the previous. This season the blooms are spritely almost neon green, but they probably will become more subdued as they dry.

My excitement continues to increase as the weeks bring more intense colors, and I cannot help but gather them for display and drying. The dried flower is as unique as the fresh.

And so each hydrangea bloom suspends time, giving me space to feel the moment and just be with its charm. Nature provides and I am captive to her omnificence.

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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 41): Morning Light and a Single Seedhead, Longwood Gardens

19 August 2019


Morning Light and a Single Seedhead,  Longwood Gardens; All Rights Reserved 2019 Sally W. Donatello

Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this image. Prints are available upon request. 


The luminous gifts of nature often are unexpected. Spring and summer bring an abundance of jewels as animals awaken and the landscape rejuvenates. Here and there are bursts of what those seasons offer. Regardless of the usual glistening fare, there are always surprises that stagger senses and sensibilities.

And so a luminary can appear without anticipation. And results remain sealed in the mind for days, months even years. Because memory will hold tight to the moment of discovery.

On a trip to Longwood Gardens this month, the staff had incorporated a new design in the annual summer gardens. Interspersed within the rows of changing colors were seasonal grasses. Those additions gave the blend of the usual a fresh approach: leaf blades tall and wispy, leaf blades simmering in the glow of sunbeams. Seedheads caught the morning light and became points of intense interest, entertaining in various stages of unfurling.

Those native and non-native grasses are graceful and eye-catching, but they also serve as nesting and roosting places for bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinators. Much is to be provided to the natural world in this one species; it’s ability to give lush presence and to give wildlife multiple advantages is at its height at the end of summer and through autumn and winter.

In one example the morning light illuminated the startling beauty of a single seedhead. I was dazzled and remain in that state of awe. That’s how nature can enliven an inhale and exhale; it can make all the difference in one’s state of mind as the world seems to be spinning out of control.



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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 40): Black Thai Banana Leaves Collage

12 August 2019


Black Thai Banana Leaves Collage; All Rights Reserved 2019 Sally W. Donatello

Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this collage. Prints are available upon request. 


At the end of last week the humidity and temps descended, prompting me to visit Longwood Gardens and its cultivated summery gardens. The lush growth was ready for all spectators and we were entranced.

Waves of grasses interspersed with annuals that displayed visual enticements. The barely-felt wind gave rows and rows–each with a new color–of this year’s plantings a gentle sway. It was inspirational and spiritually uplifting, a rainbow of nature’s bounty.

The morning light cast shadows on the giant leaves of Black Thai Banana trees, which were planted along a lengthy walkway. Each side was blessed by the way the sun’s rays lit the underside of each leaf, producing abstract shapes. I was captivated by the voice of each image; the effects mesmerized.

For me it was another experience that proclaims how light becomes the perfect element and foil for photographic image making. Without it: nothing. With it: everything.


“Everything is made of light.” ~~ Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

“Everything we see is light.” ~~ Paul Cézanne, French artist

“I make spaces that apprehend light for our perception, and in some ways gather it, or seem to hold it…my work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing.”. ~~ James Turrell, American artist



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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 39): Gardening And Tai Chi

29 July 2019


Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this image. Prints are available upon request. 


As a seasoned gardener I recently realized that my relationship with nature is much like the rhythm of the martial art, Tai Chi: slow and graceful with the ability to give and receive, a sort of interactive balancing act.

In martial arts there are specific movements that are repeated and repeated, because mastery is continuous, evergreen and just seemingly out of grasp. Individuals practice for years, and it always seems new and rejuvenating.

Gardening also is an act of repetition that always feels fresh and revitalizing, because it keeps the mind in the present and living in the moment. Attention is placed in the act itself: caring, cultivating, designing, re-imaging and maintaining. It’s an ongoing flow of emotions through renewal as the work is repeated. The physical movements help to nourish the body and soul, and yet give spiritual contentment.

This exchange between the doing and the receiving in a safe sanctuary is a fundamental tenet of each–tai chi and gardening–give rise to the notion of peace and tranquility in the mist of life’s challenges. Each move in a martial is a dance of physical prowess, a way to slow down and honor time and myself. Gardening does the same: equally nourishing and taking me to a quiet, serene place, away from the traumas of the outer world. Providing me inner strength to be still as I am moving.


In the Lens section is a new addition to my gardens: crimson clover. It partners with my new wildflower garden and their symbiosis is visibly stunning. This particular clover is cultivated for its overall effects of deep reds and greens, and as important its ability to add nitrogen to the soil. As a cover crop it can be grown any time of year, but it’s meant to wintered over. I plan to plant more in a few weeks. This singular example of this eloquent and simple flowering beauty is a surprising discovery of the 2019 gardening season.



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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 38) – Butterflies and the Monarch

22 July 2019


Monarch Collage, Sally W. Donatello 2019 All Rights Reserved

Click onto image to enlarge. Let me know your response to this collage. Prints are available upon request. 


Butterflies are silent sorcerers; incredibly visible and invisible. Their presence singles healthy and vibrant landscapes where they feed and pollinate, pollinate and feed. Some are endangered and others near that threshold. Over the last decade I‘ve noticed a decline in the general butterfly population as well as the ever-popular monarch, a singular species that represents the demise of nature’s abundance.

While monarchs and many other species are in crisis, the disruption in their populations has been widely publicized. Campaigns to revive their numbers are working. And subsequently the monarch has become a symbol of climate change, deforestation, human intervention and extinction.

Each butterfly has a design signature that appeals to the human eye, but more importantly the loss of their presence in the natural world (our world) amplifies the future of the planet’s survival as we know it. As the bee and other species strive to survive, the forecast is clear: humanity will be in deep, deep, deep trouble without these creatures. Think food chain. Think agriculture.

Inner sparks fly through my mind as I relive moments of ecstasy as a butterfly settles with grace upon a swamp milkweed or eloquent native hibiscus. A blank page can easily be a canvas for images and words to describe the inner glow achieved as I spy on these tiny reflectors of light. While their future is unknown, history, science and data become predictors.

I cannot perceive of a world without the acrobatics of the butterfly, the whimsy of its flight, the patterns of its wings, the palette of its coloration, the sheer grace as it becomes airborne. To trace my own sightings of these magical ethereal creatures is to count the years that I have been an advocate for the wild and wildlife.

Emotions are heightened and arrested as I contemplate Mother Nature’s fate—a fate inextricably tied to ours. And a tiny epiphany came this week as I witnessed numerous butterflies that I have not observed for years. I’ve witnessed more monarchs this season than in the previous decade. Maybe, just maybe, small acts by you and me can make a difference, at least locally.

Part of my narrative is archived and dated by sightings of those that flit around my gardens, over forty years of care, cultivation and maintenance of the land have brought aviators that call my small corner of the universe theirs. Still, changes are real and significant. I cannot control the greater assault on nature. But I continue to work incredibly hard to provide them what they need to survive. And to encourage others to do the same.

Time will keep its cadence, but the complete return of near-extinct species is questionable. Time is not on their side.

The monarch’s story seems to be a bridge from the lush of the past to the ever-growing “dystopia” of today and what is yet to be: a transformation that marks the greed, selfishness and even desperation by the powers that control policy. Their ignorance is staggering.

I search and search to cradle meaning in these dark, dark times, And it’s emotionally-wrenching to try and separate the assault on human rights from the assault on the natural world. These blend together for me, knowing that one is affecting the other.

This very human story has been waging since the dawn of interaction between Homo sapiens and nature. We certainly lost our way along our journey.

It’s time to make our world whole and illuminate the path toward the greater good. And instill optimism against the odds that we can and will restore balance on this spinning planet that is our home, refuge and sanctuary: a sanctuary for each human animal and every other creature.


In the Lens section is a collage that represents two versions of a scene with a monarch. The conversion to black-and-white was done with the intention to create an atmosphere that focuses on their plight. The images are two versions of the monarch’s possible outcome from the precipice of its loss and continual threat from the human animal. The first image shows clouds of uncertainty; the second image is moving into the light once more as a result of the campaign to revive this critical symbol of Mother Nature and our relationship to her.


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