Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Bonny Portmore”: a song about a tree and so much more

My previous post about a photographer who’s taking pictures of the same tree every day for a year got me to thinking about the song “Bonny Portmore,” a traditional Irish ballad (which some of you will remember from the Highlander movies). There are several modern recordings of the song. My favorite is by Loreena McKennitt, from her 1991 album, The Visit. It’s a haunting rendition, and she really captures the song’s emotion. Here’s a live version:

Different renditions of the song have slightly different lyrics. McKennitt sang these: Continue reading

That Tree

January 19, 2013. Day 302. Photo by Mark Hirsch.

January 19, 2013. Day 302. Photo by Mark Hirsch. See more photos (and larger versions) at Hirsch’s Facebook page:

How many different ways can you look at the same tree? Photographer Mark Hirsch decided to find out.

He told NBC News, “I drove by that tree for 19 years and never took a single frame of it.”

“That tree” is a massive bur oak — more than 150 years old — which stands in a Wisconsin cornfield. Hirsch has been taking daily photos of the tree since March 24, 2012, when he challenged himself to photograph the tree every day for a year.

In an earlier post I talked about the benefits of getting to know a particular piece of land over time, seeing it in all seasons. This project is a wonderful example of that, especially because photography prods you to look closely at your subject and see it in new ways. One small photo is probably all I can reasonably claim “fair use” for, but I encourage you to visit Hirsch’s Facebook page to see the tree in all its moods and colors in the changing seasons. Continue reading

Where Good Ideas Come From

Which is more important to the creative person, solitary contemplation or interaction with others? My previous post about introversion vs. extroversion kind of dealt with this, in that certain personality types tend to favor one or the other, and that both types are important to innovation. Continue reading

The Power of Quiet: Introverts and Extroverts

Does modern society overvalue extroversion? And how might this affect our ability to be creative when working with others?

Here’s a little three-minute, playfully-animated video from RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), in which Susan Cain discusses introverts and extroverts.

In a group, Cain says, “the opinions of the loudest person or most charismatic person or the most assertive person — those are the opinions that the group the group tends to follow.” And yet there’s “no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” Continue reading

Snowbound: an instant community of stranded travelers

“Is there any way open to Omaha?” I asked the fireman in the yellow coat.

“Nope,” he said for maybe the two hundredth time as he stood greeting motorists on the I-80 offramp at Avoca, Iowa. Somewhere up ahead in the howling blizzard lay a couple of jackknifed trucks blocking the Interstate. Maybe I could detour around it, I thought, and get as far as my in-laws’ place before the rest of the highways closed. Just forty more miles. That’s all I needed.

Instead, I wound up coaxing my little car up and down the hilly streets of Avoca, population 1,500, looking for the Lutheran Church, one of the places where travelers were sent after the motels filled up. Continue reading

Tallgrass: where we became ourselves

prairie at Oak Valley WMA, Nebraska

Tallgrass prairie at Oak Valley Wildlife Management Area, near Battle Creek, Nebraska.

In an earlier post I talked a little about the importance of getting to know the land where you live. Today I want to say just a bit about the region where I happen to live, the prairie states of the central US. Continue reading

Neil Gaiman reads “Instructions” for entering a fairy-tale world

In this illustrated video, Neil Gaiman reads Instructions, a remarkable little story that came out a few years ago (and which I recently discovered at Abrian C Illustration Blog.) It’s a children’s book told in the form of instructions for entering a fairy world. The story is implied by the instructions Gaiman delivers, and it’s full of allusions to various fairy tales. As Gaiman reads, Charles Vess’s evocative illustrations take shape from rough form to finished product.

By framing the story as a set of instructions, each line implies a larger narrative, as if other stories and entire worlds are waiting for you around each corner. Gaiman skilfully implies much of the story rather than telling it, and he uses our existing knowledge of fairy stories and motifs to flesh out his spare narrative. For example: Continue reading