Let’s Stay Home
Stories that bring still life photos to life.
At the start of our “stay at home” COVID-19 order in Arizona, I felt lost. Slowly, methodically, I started paying attention to my surroundings. This “Let’s Stay Home” gallery is the result of those weeks. Photography and writing brought me a sense of purpose and meaning.
Stay at Home Command
This image crept up on me. During the first days of lockdown during COVID-19, I watched the shadows on the bedroom wall move. This inspired me to get up and try to capture what I saw. For the entire story of how it unfolded, click here to read the blog post.
Symbolism is rich in this photo. The bars portray a prison cell. A leash keeps the shadow dog under control. A splash of color against the stark look of black and white represents the duality of emotions.
The dog sculpture is part of a La Catrina art piece on my dresser. La Catrina skeletons grace Dia de Los Muertos celebrations. The meaning behind the skeleton figures is that we all succumb to death no matter our place in life.
After I finished this image, I realized how symbolic it was, and it gave me chills.
My birthday occurred later in the “stay at home” order, and friends gave me a delicate orchid plant. The buds had opened, but this flower seemed to be a bit shy, using a couple of petals to hide its face.
People have called me shy quite often. When you understand my personality, you’d find that I am reticent, meaning I pause and evaluate a situation before I start commenting. I am an introvert, and we all have moments of restraint. Yet, the forced isolation pushed us towards becoming more withdrawn.
So being alone for me wasn’t a drastic change in my routine. But, as the days rolled by, I did notice that friends weren’t calling. At first, I felt slighted. With some introspection, I realized I wasn’t making the same effort at reaching out either. Could we all be shy about trying to process, let alone discuss, our new life of “being” instead of “doing?”
Taking the trash out, big event of the day. Kidding. But routines started becoming sacred. As I dragged the trash cans out to the curb, I noticed two leaves that had fallen on the driveway. The sprinklers dotted them with water.
Looking up towards the sun, I realized there was a small window of time before the glare would ruin the scene. I ran back inside, retrieved my camera and tripod, and proceeded to lay down in the driveway. Many neighbors were out for their morning walks, and I’m sure they wondered about my sanity. It’s interesting how often I’m in an odd position and yet passersby rarely ask me what I’m doing.
I worked a few different compositions, conscious of how fast the sun was rising. When I felt like I’d captured the leaves the best that I could, I took my camera and tripod back inside.
About a half-hour later, I came back out to bring the trash containers in once the garbage truck had left. The wind scattered the leaves and the water evaporated. The sun glared down. The scene changed so fast. Much like how fast my emotions could be up one minute, down another during COVID-19. Change was imminent, but embracing it instead of letting it drag me around relaxed and calmed my mind.
Returning from a long vacation is like having a hangover. You had a great time, but now you have to face the truth. There are mounds of clothes to unpack and launder. Stacks of mail wait for sorting and tossing. Grocery shopping and yard work await. As a consolation prize, though, my orchid plant finally sent up a stem with buds after waiting for over a year. How ironic that it decided to do so in my absence.
Looking at it, I felt pangs of guilt. On vacation in Costa Rica, I had seen so many orchids growing wild. I daydreamed about jumping back on a plane. I could repatriate this little grocery store orchid with her cloud forest relatives. But those daydreams shifted over to the shock. I still recall the question about whether we’d traveled to China in the last 14 days. We were apart from our newsfeeds for almost two weeks. The foreshadowing of a virus in China escalated beyond our imaginations.
When this orchid was in bloom the year before, I spent time photographing the flowers. This time, I decided to make a Zen-like abstract photo of the branches’ symmetry. The flower pods stretched out like a bonsai tree. I had the vision of what I wanted to create in my head for days. Yet I procrastinated about taking the shots. I tortured myself with thoughts that one of the flower pods would burst open due to my hesitation. I spent more time with a narrative of unhelpful self-talk than the time it took to set up and take the photos.
Finally, I got to it. I swaddled the pot in a towel to lean it into the position that would look best. I worked with my camera flash to define the pods. I made sure the background was spotless. I picked a time of day that had the best natural light. Once done and feeling like I’d dodged a deadline, I was ready for the flowers to burst open. But, the first flower did not open up for another month. Yes, I wasted a lot of energy on all my defeatist internal thoughts.
Emergence was the perfect title for so many reasons: the virus, the orchid branch of blossoms, coming back from vacation, and the toxic thoughts creeping into my mind. Yet, the lesson is that the orchid plant is one of the most resilient plants on earth and a perfect symbol to focus on.
As Easter approached, we debated whether we would make an extra trip to the grocery store. But it felt natural to want to have a ham, asparagus, and deviled eggs. Yet, our supply of antibacterial wipes was dwindling, and my fingers were splitting open from using hydrogen peroxide on everything when we returned from a shopping trip. Talking about having ham for the holiday was another opportunity to try to normalize this tumultuous time. We didn’t want to declare that the family get-together wasn’t happening until we were right up to the date. We hung on to hope that didn’t arrive. But, my boyfriend did surprise me with a flower arrangement that included a couple of Easter lilies.
The flower’s soft white innocence with stamens lifting up and out into different directions reminded me of the mystery of not knowing how the pandemic would play out.
With our activities limited, we took frequent walks. Living in Arizona, the early days of lockdown meant comfortable, moderate days perfect for spending time outside. On one of these outings, my eye caught a glimpse of shimmer reflecting the sunlight.
I knelt, and next to the sidewalk grew a clump of weeds. Not quite dandelions, but close. These looked sturdier and more resilient than dandelions since they were desert plants. Yet, knowing how dandelions scatter to a puff from pursed lips, I knew that carrying a few of these would be a challenge. Yet I lost only a few florets on one of the weed heads during a half-mile walk to get home.
Once home, I placed them into a flower vase at the kitchen sink. I’d work with one at a time, shooting all sorts of photos from many vantage points and experimenting. I’d rotate that weed back to the vase, and another weed would have its moment as a model. But they all stayed in that vase by the kitchen sink from March until June. They were a beautiful arrangement even though we call them weeds, and they didn’t fade for a long time. They were my poster children of hope.
While this shot focuses on one floret that appears like a star, your eye wanders, and the impact is that you see how the whole sphere includes many stars.
Alone, one of these florets is striking, but together, they appear powerful. There is a definite interconnectedness to the whole and the importance of working together. At times I felt alone, and at others, I realized that we were all in this together.
This close-up of another weed from my walk teaches about the balance between extremes. A few of the wispy stars fell off by the time I got it home.
Those missing seeds allowed me to see the arrangement of masculine, black seeds. On the outside of the sphere, feminine white florets provide a little star-shaped parachute to launch the seeds on the wind.
My emotions would vacillate like my energy during the stay at home order. There was a dualism, a dark and a light to my feelings. There were days of disorder and those of order. I would have both negative and positive thoughts within minutes of each other.
This seed head’s minimalism was symbolic of duality. Although simple, it holds the ancient and universal concept of the cycles of change. This picture reminds me that opposite forces are natural and complementary to each other. Our emotions are a continuum of energy back and forth.
In the dead of winter, this Christmas cactus bloomed. That is quite normal. I’ve counted on it blooming with this unusual coral color every holiday season. What isn’t normal, is blooming in March. Yet as we got further into 2020, the more we ditched normal from our vocabulary. I will confess to sprinkling some spent coffee grounds on the soil of my plants in February. And this plant liked the jolt of java. My morning cup also gives me that burst of youthful spirit, if only for a little while.
When we traveled to Costa Rica in February before the crisis broke out globally, I wanted to find a feather to photograph. I have a hall closet filled with potential photography subjects that come out on rainy days. Or hot days, which we have plenty of in Phoenix. I figured we should be able to find a beautiful feather with so many bright and exotic birds there like Toucans, Resplendent Quetzals, and Mot Mot’s. As a joke, a friend handed me a tiny fluffy feather no longer than the end of my pinky finger that he found on the ground. I tucked it into my cosmetic bag and brought it home.
I decided in March to look at it close-up. The little feather had more cowlicks than I did. I got a watercolor paintbrush out and tried to smooth them out with no success. I wet down the vane and tried smoothing it out, but again with no success. It insisted on being imperfect. I decided to try to photograph it anyway. This is a contour feather and streamlines the bird’s body for flight. I enjoyed seeing the detail on a feather that most people would never take the time to appreciate.
Many people believe finding a feather to be a spiritual message. Some believe that when you find a feather, the spirit world is looking out for you. Since this feather is grey, I looked up the color symbolism: a grey feather is a call to return to peace. Which is what I was searching for during this time of a constant flow of confusing information.
Pushing Past Limits
The lockdown meant more time around the house and yard. Without that time, I most likely would have missed spying this eggshell at the base of the tree in the backyard. I looked around and around, but could not see a nest in the tree, even with binoculars. What I learned is that birds are clever. Once the chicks hatch, they take the trash out, so to speak, and leave the shells at other trees. Never at their own tree. They avoid giving away their location to predators.
While I wondered about where the nest was, I placed the broken open shell on nesting material. As I rotated the shell to prepare for the photo, I noticed that it was not a predator breaking it open. The baby bird had pushed on its own to break out into the world. But where was this baby bird? And what type of bird lays blue eggs? I had a mystery on my hands.
In a game of hot and cold in the back yard, I heard some intermittent chirping. I followed the chirps, and I’d think I was closing in, but then the chirping would stop. After a lot of patience and observation, I finally saw an adult starling flying in and out of a palm tree. Way up high, there was a hole. A couple of little heads popped out as an adult starling bird brought back a worm.
From the little ones pushing at the confines of their shell to the adults flying all day long to feed their little brood, it was a good lesson on pushing past limits.