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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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 37) – Wildflowers

15 July 2019


Wildflowers; Sally W. Donatello 2019 All Rights Reserved

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


Another wildflower meadow has been lingering in my mind for years. As a seasoned gardener, my cultivated spaces are a work in-progress. My current gardens are nearing the twenty-year mark. Still, each season is greeted with its own signature intentions.

This year a wildflower garden was created where a tree had been removed, opening a small area to be designed and re-imagined. It is an optimum location to fulfill dreams about wildness.

After preparation of the soil and freely broadcasting native annual and perennial seeds (to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds), bounty appeared. Delicate and seductive flowers now catch the sun and wind, creating portraits and even shadows of themselves.

Neighbors stop to gaze at the burst of pleasure that each flower spreads. It’s a plot of pure visual ecstasy, especially as each week brings new surprises.

The eye moves slowly across the expanse, bringing a quiet moment in a world speeding through time. One can leap from the outside turmoil to inner peace: flowers as small miracles of nature’s healing. 

In the Lens section is a taste of the glorious wild that brings continuous emotional uplift as the summer proceeds through its dance of heat, humidity and storms. This combination has given my gardens nature’s gentle and intense attention, providing for viewers to indulge in spiritual awakening that bears its own inner wildflower meadow.  

The power of one single flower can melt the heart and nourish mind, body and spirit. The power of a meadow dots not only the landscape, but also transports us to a sanctuary of peace and quietude.


National Geographic online Travel Photo Gallery has a slide show of “19 iconic trees [from] around the world.” Compiled and written by Kevin Johnson it has some awe-inspiring photographs. Here is short introduction:

“A visit to historic or meaningful trees provides a sense of connection to the wonder of the natural world. Vital parts of their ecosystems, trees also spark our imagination, inspire famous books, receive worship, and bear witness to history. Spending mindful, intentional time around trees—what the Japanese call shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing—can promote health and happiness.”





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Nature Photography: Coexistence (No. 36) – Mother Nature’s Golden Touch

08 July 2019


White Clay Creek and Nature’a Golden Touch; Sally W. Donatello 2015-2019 All Rights Reserved

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


When I lift a camera into position, I am transported into another realm. The eye reveals a place that removes me from reality, and yet I gaze into a slice of the outside world. The frame limits or increases my creative decision making. It also unleashes my intuition and a built-in freedom. How can a single mechanism be so freeing and inspirational? And simultaneously seem so limiting?

The ability to use any photographic device to detail aspects of one’s visual environment is to singularly possess a wand that taps the creative process. While some may use today’s technology to snap and share on social media, I am caught in the clutches of stilling a moment and allowing my inner voice to capture the image. For me it is not about sharing, it is the process of discovery and interpretation.

My image making is a personal mission and is not predicated on others to view it. But I have come to realize that as one builds an online community, a circle of similar-minded people are drawn to each other. This community has a mirroring effect to help me see how others see and in turn they do the same with my work. What has always astounded me is how we find each other within the vast realm of cyberspace.

To be inspired through the looking glass is to be uplifted to a space of pure meditation: a quiet and vigorous state of the new and the old in coexistence. The creative process is a nest of possibilities and no matter the camera, it is my own lens that carries me into the unknown and then the known: a soulful coexistence between my inner and outer worlds.

Note: My book group is reading Richard Preston’ s The Hot Zone (1994), which continues to be a well-received early account of Ebola’s leap into the United States. Recently, this nonfiction book was released as a film by the National Geographic channel.

The book is a hard read, terrifying and edifying all at once. But in the last few pages I learned humanity’s role in the release of dangerous and hostile viruses, one of which could easily be the pandemic that erases life as we know it. Here is that passage:

“In a sense, the earth is mounting an immune response against the human species. It’s beginning to react to the human parasite, the flooding infection of people, the death spots of concrete all over the planet, the cancerous rot-outs in Europe, Japan, and the United States, thick with replicating primates, the colonies enlarging and spreading and threatening to shock the biosphere with mass extinctions…Nature has interesting ways of balancing itself. The rain forest has its own defenses. The earth’s immune system, so to speak, recognized the presence of human species and is starting to kick in. The earth is attempting to rid itself of an infection by the human parasite.”

To ignore our role in the earth’s ills is to doom our species. The intersection and results of humanity’s need to conquer and control the planet and the health of the earth is escalating. After reading Preston’s book it is lear that our own evolution (consistently has played and) is continuing to play a major storyline in the earth’s forecast.

Most of my adult years I have believed that nature will bat last. And I continue to believe that Mother nature with her golden touch is the quintessential master of the universe, and will remain to reinvent how she will survive.



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