Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thought for the Day - A Frost Forest

What a wonder,
to awaken in the morning
and come to the kitchen to make the morning tea,
only to see this feathery, fractal forest
the frost has grown on the window overnight.
Look now;
when the sun brightens it will all melt away.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, January 30, 2009

Walking Along the Way

I've always been aware of myself as a "spiritual" creature, i.e. I have a belief in and an awareness of something greater than myself. I was raised in the Lutheran church and never had the usual adolescent rebellion against the world of religion. I liked going to catechism class, and my confirmation in the Lutheran church and my first communion was a proud accomplishment. I was never dissatisfied with my church and what it believed, and yet...

When I was a senior in high school I met some classmates who belonged to the Baha'i Faith, and this was something new and intriguing. It seemed to go the next step beyond where I was at the moment, so I followed. I spent the next 32 years reading and studying and praying and meditating. And what I discovered in all that delving into what the Baha'i Faith was is that, in the end, it isn't the next step forward; there really isn't much difference between Baha'i and Christianity, or Baha'i and Judaism, or Baha'i and Islam. It's another man-made attempt to approach the divine, and in that attempt it claims a revelation and it establishes rules to control the actions and thinking of its adherents. What I had discovered was that it was time for me to get out and move on.

In the course of my life I've been an avid student of the world's religions, faiths, myths, etc. My personal library has all sorts of religious scriptures and books about religion, and covers everything from Native American beliefs and practices to Walter R. Martin's Kingdom of the Cults. There's even more on the hard drive of this computer, everything from the Zoroastrian Avesta to Guru Nanak's writings. And of course I'm addicted the the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, and every time they update their DVD-ROM to include everything they've added to the website, I pony up. So I'm well-read in the texts of the world's spiritual beliefs.

When I first left the Baha'i Faith to strike out on my own, I mostly hung out with neo-Pagans because the idea that all creation, including ourselves, is sacred appeals to me. Even now I celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and especially love Samhain and Yule, the central celebrations of the Autumn/Winter half of the year. And I have my personal altar with candles and incense and the requisite representations of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. But on that altar I also have: a homemade Lakota-style prayer stick; a Tibetan singing bowl; a Laughing Buddha figurine; a Ganesha figurine; seashells of all kinds; a bouquet of different kinds of bird feathers; and other things of that nature. I cover some pretty diverse territory on my altar. Why? Because it all represents the sacredness of everything to me.

Part of what I discovered in my post-Baha'i studies was Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality, which, like my own and Pagan beliefs, centers on all creation being sacred. And one of the things Fox points out about the multitude and diversity of religious belief in this world is that we all try to define the divine by what we know, how we were brought up, where we live, etc. In his book One River, Many Wells he compared the world's religions to the five blind men of the Hindu story, who could only describe the elephant standing in front of them by the part that they had each grabbed: a leg, the trunk, the tail, an ear...

Now, I've always been a big fan of the Tao Te Ching, and one day while reading it, the first two verses all of a sudden said something to me:
The way that can be described is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.
There it is! If you put a label on something, if you try to name or define it, you take away its sacredness. Do you know how freeing that discovery is? The Bible, the Tao Te Ching, the Qur'an, Rumí's poetry, Matthew Fox's works, the lectures of Rinzai Gigeng, the Dhammapada, the Vedas, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan - it's all true, it's all part of the eternal jigsaw puzzle that is our understanding of the cosmos. But...

Nobody's standing over me claiming any of this as a definitive revelation. It doesn't try to enforce any rules or modes of thinking on me. I don’t join an organization to do it, and I don’t give it a name. I walk the Way without trying to describe it or name it. And in that I’m a free man, much more free than anybody sitting in a pew of a Sunday morning (while I’m out wandering in the woods and the salt marshes saying good morning to the birds).

And that freedom is such a divine gift!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Theme Thursday - Kitchen

After telling Kim that I couldn't post any pictures of my kitchen for this week's Theme Thursday, I realized I actually did have some shots that wouldn't bring the Board of Health down on me to declare my apartment a hazardous waste dump. So here they are.

My kitchen reflected in the microwave's window (note the portrait of the artist in the lower right):

The next shot is a moody available light shot (with some Photoshop™ tweaking to enhance the mood) of my kitchen window:

This final shot is from last Summer, an entry in a photography group challenge for July of '08 - still life in black and white. This shot won me first place in the challenge:

And there you have it, my kitchen Theme Thursday.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Big Picture

Kim the mouse from mouse medicine showed me how to make my photos fill more of the page, so if you look at some of my previous posts (like yesterday's) you'll see that previously small pictures are now a good deal larger. There are some other shots that I've posted as part of photo essays that I thought I'd showcase in their full glory as well. Heh, heh! Look out, I have a new toy to play with!

I'm particularly proud of this shot. This is a White-Throated Sparrow who was flitting all around me in Ballard Park. I kind of aimed the camera in the general direction and got some shots off. This one worked:

This one was part of a series of photos I took for a weekly theme "challenge" on a photography group on The theme was music, and this shot actually got first place. I like working in black & white. Most often I'll shoot a scene both in color and in b&w (ain't digital life grand, when you can shoot 'em like that in the same camera side by side?) and then "develop" the color shot as a b&w in Photoshop™. Nine times out of ten the "developed" shot works better than the one actually shot in b&w. And that takes us right back to the days of developing your own shots in your own darkroom, because the steps I follow to create a b&w shot in Photoshop™ are just the digital equivalents of the processes used to make b&w prints in the darkroom. As much as a lot of the old-fashioned "I only shoot on film" photographers complain about digital photography, it's really taking us back to the old days in the art, when each photographer had complete control over what got printed on that piece of paper. And here's a prime example:

And there you have it. You'll be seeing more of these full-size shots from now on; some things just need to be seen in all their glory!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Photo and Two Birthdays

I took a ramble down to Easton's Beach this afternoon at low tide. Since it's the new moon the tides are exceptionally high and low, and the beach seemed to go waaaaay out at low tide today!

Two birthdays today. The first is that of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll. I found this interesting version of his poem Jabberwocky on YouTube.

The other birthday is that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I put together this recording of his Ave verum corpus, with the photo of the headstone I found in the St. Mary's Cemetery, to wish him a happy 253rd!

© 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, January 26, 2009

Scenes from the Macro-World – Arachneae

Inspiration struck while reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

- Walt Whitman, "A Noiseless Patient Spider", Leaves of Grass, Book XXX

The gorgeous ladies pictured above are fine examples of Leucauge venusta, the Venusta Orchard Orbweaver spider, a tiny greenish dot to the naked eye, but under the macro lens she becomes a shimmering rainbow. These pictures were taken in 2006 and 2007 in Ballard Park, Newport, RI.

© 2006, 2007, & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, January 25, 2009


It started out as several small ice rivulets and an icicle or two where seeping groundwater, moving down the rock seeking a lower level, froze in the falling temperatures. Then it snowed, a heavy wet snow. And froze. And thawed, and froze, and thawed, and froze... Then it snowed again. And thawed, and froze, and... Then it rained for half a day, and then the temperatures dropped and it snowed half a foot more. And froze. And thawed. And froze again. And what was once just some ice on a rock face has become a cathedral wall of great depth and complexity.

First, the complete icefall:

The center core of icicles in the icefall:

Close in on a "smooth" section of ice:

And even closer in on that smooth section:

Ice upon ice upon ice creates some fantastic effects, doesn't it?

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sacred Nature

Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 29 (Mitchell translation)

© 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Nod to Andrew Wyeth

I took this shot of a fence along the trail in the Sachuest Point NWR because I liked the way the fence was leaning. It wasn't until I got home and opened this up in the computer that I saw how much like an Andrew Wyeth tempera painting this looked. This is practically untouched out of the camera; I just tweaked the sharpness and the saturation (to bring out the contrast between the yellow-brown of the grass and the red of the brambles) the tiniest bit.

Thank you, Andrew. Your work has informed mine in so many ways; this is just one more acknowledgement of my debt!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Constructions in Wood

I went out to the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge today because I'd never been out there with snow on the ground. Unfortunately the wildlife was not up to making an appearance. Lots of little birds who wouldn't sit still, and even more back in the brambles singing to me, but no real portrait sittings. So I concentrated on b&w shots of some of the things built of wood I came across on my hike.

A lifeguard chair in the snow on Atlantic Beach.

The central observation platform in the Sachuest Point NWR

A fence section along the trail in the Sachuest Point NWR

The north observation platform in the Sachuest Point NWR

The visitors center in the Sachuest Point NWR

A dune fence on Sachuest Beach

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Window

A window lets in light and provides a view of the world outside. But what does it say about me that, as I took this picture, I found what was inside the window more fascinating, more picturesque than the view outside?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

O! What a Day This Is!

This is a historic day. Barack Hussein Obama, the first African-American President of the United States of America, was sworn into office today. He has inspired the American people with his message of hope. He brings with him youthful energy and personal dignity, and also an administration of competent experts in their fields. He has vowed to return hope to the nation, and restore our international reputation, and bring America back to its rightful place as a member in good standing in the worldwide community of nations. He has challenged us to join with him in bringing the nation back to prosperity. This is a great day indeed!

There's much celebration going on in America on this day. The following are my contributions to the festivities.

Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man

Woodie Guthrie's This Land is Your Land

And of course, Beethoven's Ode to Joy

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fresh Snow

Fresh snow overnight - unexpected, not forecast - pulled me out the door and down the road this morning, camera in hand. I had no say in the matter, I merely lifted my feet and let the inevitable tide sweep me away. As the Borg say: "Resistance is futile."

Snowy woods in Ballard Park

A White-throated Sparrow in Ballard Park

Ice wall in Ballard Park

A snowy trail in Ballard Park

Mallards in the snow along Gooseneck Cove at Hazard Rd.

More Mallards in the snow along Gooseneck Cove at Hazard Rd.

Gooseneck Cove Reflections - looking north from the Green Bridge

A female Red-fronted Merganser on Gooseneck Cove

A fairytale scene on Gooseneck Cove

A Mute Swan on Gooseneck Cove

A scene on Beacon Hill Rd.

Floating ice in Newport Harbor

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A thought for the day - Experience

"When the ocean surges,
don't let me just hear it.
Let it splash inside my chest!"
~ Jalál'ud-Dín Rumí, 1207 - 1273 CE

Someday soon I'll have to post some of my "surfin' in Newport" photo essays from

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Art of Simplicity

I just learned of painter Andrew Wyeth's passing yesterday, January 16, at age 91. I've always admired Wyeth's work, and how he viewed his world and expressed it with paint very much influenced how I see my world in the viewfinder of my camera.

The center of Wyeth's style is simplicity. Both line and composition were pared down to the bare minimum. His tendency to actually remove things that were originally in his view is a byword in the art community; the actual view painted in his Christina's World had a tree and another outbuilding, both of which he left out of his finished painting to increase the purity of line.

While I don't actually remove things in the photos I take, I do frame my shots to create as simple a composition as possible, and do a lot of cropping in Photoshop to the same effect. I also take a lot of macro shots, getting as close to the subject as possible, eliminating or reducing the background and surroundings as much as possible and homing in on the essence of the shot. A Zen-like simplicity is almost always the goal when my eye hits the viewfinder, and I truly believe that same simplicity was Andrew Wyeth's goal as he sat at his easel.

Rather than publish a retrospective of Andrew Wyeth's life and work, I thought I'd present an hommage with two photographic slideshows which focus on simplicity. Both videos were previously published on

Simplicity is a compilation of my simplest shots, set to the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts performed by Yo You Ma (cello) and Alison Krauss (vocals).

Forest Floor is the result of a wander through Ballard Park in Newport, RI, with the camera set on macro. The music is "At First Sight" by Paul McCandless, from his 1992 CD Premonition.

Thank you, Andrew. You've left a legacy of inspiration that will be admired for all time.

© 2008, 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Friday, January 16, 2009

"...shall all your cares beguile..."

Photographs of musical instruments for a challenge on All instruments pictured are mine.

"Music for a while shall all your cares beguile, wond'ring how your pains were eas'd, and disdaining to be pleas'd..." -from "Oedipus" by John Dryden

Limber-limbed, lazy god, stretched on the rock,
Where is sweet Echo, and where is your flock?
What are you making here? "Listen," said Pan, --
"Out of a river-reed music for man!"

-Pan Learns Music by Henry Van Dyke

Hara Shiva shankara, she shankar she kara,
Hara bom, hara bom, bom bom bolo.
Bhava bhayankara, girija shankara,
Dimi dimi dimi, taka nan tana kaylo.

- Hymn to Shiva, who plays his two-headed drum (dimi dimi dimi taka nan tana kaylo) to destroy the cosmos and create a new one.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Old Stone Tower in Snow

The Old Stone Tower in Touro Park has become the unofficial symbol of Newport. Archaeological evidence backs up the accepted story that this structure was built in Colonial times, most likely by colonial governor Benedict Arnold (great-grandfather of the infamous Benedict), on whose land it stood, around 1660, supposedly as a mill.

But of course, old towers being the mysterious figures they are, there are many romantic tales about the tower's origins. The most popular theory is that it was built by Vikings from Vinland, but the Portuguese have also laid claim to it, and even the Irish claim it was a church built by St. Brendan during his voyage to the West to evangelize Tir Nan Og.

So there it stands, atop the highest hill above Newport Harbor, in a grassy park on Bellevue Avenue, surrounded by picnickers on Summer Sundays. But it's Winter now, and catching it standing there in the swirling snow this morning led to this.

The Old Stone Tower in Snow

Old stone tower atop the hill.
Mystery, enigma, it stands silent
and tells no tales of its past.
And now in Winter it stands
shrouded in a swirl of
wind-blown snow.

For more information on Newport's Old Stone Tower you can visit its Wikipedia entry.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Long Winter's Nap

Newport's ancient dead, scattered here and there throughout the town, Jew and gentile, Catholic and Protestant and Quaker, sleep the long sleep in hope of the resurrection. Today they snuggle deeper under a new-fallen blanket of snow and ice. It's a good day to be under the covers.

St. Mary's Cemetery

The Common Burying Ground

The Quaker Cemetery

The Clifton Burying Ground

Extra picture for the day:

Frozen Holly