Category Archives: decay and compost

Looking Back… and Forward


This is the time of year I should be embarrassed about the condition of my garden. The photo above illustrates a very small slice of my garden’s decline. Old, saggy, spotted and rotting tomatoes don’t have the happy face these Cherry Romas had a month ago when I was gathering them by the bucket full for hopeful friends. Except for a few ripe tomatoes, those that remain are either slime or green.

Despite the bleak look, there are still some positive things about my garden right now. My Kentucky Wonder pole beans are right where I want them. Most of the pods are dry – just right for picking for this winter’s baked beans and for seeding next year’s garden. My Sweet Dumpling winter squash are ready to harvest. I pick a few ripe cherry tomatoes and eat them where I stand then pull the plant out for burning. Broccoli is thriving in the much cooler weather. Peppers red & green slowly ripen. My marigolds planted to discourage mosquitoes and attract lady bugs stand proudly and full of blossoms.

As I transition this blog back to a more photo-centric season, please know that I continue to plan for next year’s garden. Do come back now and again.

fallen tomatoes gathered today

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The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

-Emily Dickinson


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Seeds of Hope

The snow has pretty much worn out its welcome as far as I am concerned but I came upon something interesting today. In the photo below you can see a milkweed seed covered in snow. As cold & snowy as it is, this is a wonderful reminder that there will be small flocks of Monarch butterflies coming this summer. Sometimes hope comes in small, hidden packages.


milkweed seed

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A Nearer Landscape #8

Many evergreens like this arbor vitae lose their “leaves” too.


arbor vitae

arbor vitae

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A Nearer Landscape #5

Our old amputated apple tree still gives a few apples for the squirrels each year. There is not much left of it but I like the way it shines on a wet day.


old apple tree

old apple tree

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A Nearer Landscape #2

I’m glad that there is some redeeming value in our dying pear tree. Our nearly-dead tree continues to produce pears that are shared by mostly ants and bees. I enjoy a few myself but the ants are regulars.


pear #1

pear #1

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A Nearer Landscape #1

Early in my career I thought about all the wonderful photos I could take if only I could travel to exotic locations. As one who always wanted to see what was around the next bend, I felt that my photos would greatly improve by going to where National Geographic photographers and writers went.

Then one of my photographer friends burned out rather quickly working for the Magazine I loved. I still anxiously read the articles and look with wonder at the terrific photographs in National Geographic Magazine but I now have a better understanding of the process than I did years ago.

This past Friday was a very rainy, fall day in the Chicago area. I used this as an opportunity to take some photos. I’ve always enjoyed shooting in the rain because a coating of water saturates the colors. The neutral color of a rainy sky adds a purity to the colors.

My goal was to shoot for no more than an hour, venture no farther than my yard and to come up with 10 photos that showed me something new.

Photography is much more about seeing than it is about taking photos. Familiar subjects seen in a new light become a different – even exotic world. (An hour in the rain could be miserable if this were not true.) Most of the hour was spent seeing; very little was spent shooting.

The images in this series are very straightforward in both composition and treatment. I opted to not use unusual angles or anything other than a “here it is” approach to shooting. I also used no Photoshop filters or any post-production tools other than an occasional use of curves to put the contrast back into sync with my eye.

I didn’t travel to faraway lands shooting these but I looked at each subject as if it were seen for the very first time. And I had a blast.


This is a horse chestnut tree leaf from my neighbor’s tree. I always have thought of these fallen leaves as a dirty brown color. This one was a beautiful surprise.

horse chestnut tree leaf

horse chestnut tree leaf

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Decay… Again

broccoli leaf

broccoli leaf


Once again I am struck by the aesthetic side of decomposition. This time I took the broccoli leaf into the studio to photograph it. It was a little late in the evening and pretty dark for photography outside.

This is the same type of leaf that in June I was so taken by its waterproof quality. It now looks very different. No longer waterproof, it has taken a distinctly autumn-ish color. It looks worn and ragged.

As my garden ages it changes in so many ways. Leaves like this broccoli leaf become battle scarred. Tomato plants wither from the inside as they seem to yield their energy to the fruits as they ripen. The same fate falls to Noah’s pumpkin plants. They look horrible – just dying – again, in sacrifice to the beautiful pumpkins they produce.

Only the pepper plants continue to look as virile as their fruits.

This is the period of the greatest harvest. It comes at a price the plant itself pays. We enjoy the harvest but I also watch as the plants begin to succumb to their efforts.

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No Progress on the Greenhouse

Clematis on greenhouse

Clematis on greenhouse

So far our plans to turn the greenhouse into something other than an overgrown home for wild animals and rusty tools have been put on hold.

Instead, I have taken the easy way out and continue to do with it what I can. I photograph it.

I enjoy photographing the building season to season and year after year. Because we have lived with it for so long there is a Dorian Gray-quality to the experience. (Of course it is the greenhouse that ages and not us.)

As its architectural elements continue to fade away, the focal point each summer has become the clematis we planted against the south side when we moved here. A climbing rose planted years ago also helps to soften the deterioration.

If the flowers give the greenhouse meaning that may be enough for me to keep it the way it is for another year.

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Poetry of Decay


A couple of times each week I carry my coffee can full of coffee grounds, egg shells and banana peels to the compost pile. That, combined with grass clippings and autumn’s leaves create quite a pile.

But once decomposition begins, the pile shrinks and becomes the dark brownish- black compost that the garden seems to love.

Aside from this wonderful function, I have found a poetic side of decay that is truly beautiful. Our old greenhouse is a monument to oxidation. Rust’s rich color combined with the familiar shape of the tools they once were create odd sculptures.dsc_2344

My neighbor’s rhubarb turns a beautiful color and shape after a series of autumn freezes.dsc_3586

And last year I found a squirrel’s nearly complete skeleton in a corner of the compost pile. Even it’s tiny molars can be seen in the photo below. _wkp0768 dsc_2377

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