when you clean out your studio
and come upon a project that is more than 30 years old?
There are black and
white prints in carefully labeled files,
two scrapbooks with detailed annotations,
and two binders full of color slides.
what happens when that project
contains raw material that relates directly to one
of the hottest topics in Washington DC?
No, I'm not talking
about the impact or reality of an aging
population or racism
in our country.
I'm talking about
The Green New Deal and
all the controversy it is inspiring.
It turns out,
that in 1987, at the age of 21,
I traveled around the United States
on Amtrak, stayed with alumni from my college in twelve
different cities, and researched murals painted
during the Great Depression in Post
Offices and other public
The highlight was
visiting the small town of Farmersville, Texas,
photographing the mural in the post office and then, a few days
later, meeting the artist, Jerry Bywaters,
who created that work.
The New Deal
is about as good as it gets
when it comes to the convergence of
creativity and climate
were comprehensive, universal
and profoundly innovative. They impacted every
aspect of our country's infrastructure and re-inspired hope
for millions in the dream that once was
getting out of the
world I knew, was I able to see the
great promise of FDR's vision. At the same time,
I witnessed the reality that fifty years
later, that promise remained
elusive for many,
So here I am.
It's 8:30 on a Saturday night.
Calvin, the dog, is asleep at my feet and I am in
heaven, remembering a very long
Saturday night in the
I was changing
trains in Kansas City. The
Southwest Chief was six hours late.
There were no cell phones or laptop computers,
so we got to know each other in that pre-digital waiting-room
kind of way. We were more concerned for the
well-being of those involved in the
accident on the track, than
we were with being
provided hats for the kids. I got
out my camera and made friends. These places,
people and works of public art I was so
inspired by thirty-two years ago
are why I care so
When I say
that compost is like America,
I mean it. We are nothing without our diversity,
perseverance, and patience. We are also nothing without our audacity.
What the hell? Why not give it a try?
A Green New Deal might
be just be what
when I discover a project from
decades ago and my husband is out of town
and I'm feeling reflective?
A lot, I guess.
I love climbing tree limbs and ladders.
I love curves, lines and textures.
There is something reassuring about light on metal...
and the reality that even with three inches of insulation, some heat gets lost.
It's hard to believe
that there are imperfections
with these perfect symmetries and designs.
But there are. Energy can not be created nor destroyed,
but it can be transferred between objects,
along the way.
just the reality of
how things work and why, even
with a relatively upgraded heating system, this vent
on the north side of our living room
doesn't provide much
Isn't it beautiful
to see the unseen, to honor
what is functional and elegant? That's
what climate action at home
is all about for me.
Last week I saw
"Ansel Adams in Our Time,"
an exhibit at The Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
It was totally cool.
It is clear
that Adams witnessed
and understood a whole lot more
about the human condition than his reverent
landscapes had ever revealed to
me on their own.
this intimate portrait
of a Mexican boy, this stunning
close-up of a fern, and this panoramic
view of human development.
It gave me
the chills. Adams
understood our reciprocal
relationship with the natural world and
the fragility of our co-
There I was,
reflected in the glass,
paying attention to these imaginative
re-imagings of Ansel Adams's world. In Abelardo
Morell's exploration of the microcosmos and the macrocosmos
I saw the tenuous balance between individual
rights and collective responsibility
necessary in any
And I laughed
when I saw myself in Mitch
Epstein's "Altamont Pass Wind Farm."
So funny how we play games with
each other, with nature and
I loved Luis
Faglio's reflection about beach
restoration, how it celebrates the "hope
and the irony that we are able
to move sand."
to feel at home
in a large, meandering
exhibit in an even larger museum,
but the message of these works was close
to home. Yes, we can move sand. Yes,
lupine does grow after a fire.Yes,
we have the power to renew
not just ourselves, but the
planet as well.
How did I get here?
Why does it matter?
If you read my
post, "Why By Degrees"
you have some idea. But what's the
real story behind this blog and this site?
If you've known me for any length
of time, you've witnessed
A blog called
It sounded exotic. Ataraxy stands
for "serene calmness." I needed that. For
a bunch of ancient Greeks, Ataraxia was a lucid
state of robust equanimity. Heaven.
That's me. In the garden.
I wanted to share.
Then I found
Rufus and George.
Why not let them speak for me?
Our global problems are all about consumption
and our need for objects of all kinds. What insights could
a ruffled 50-year-old Steif Chimpanzee and a broken
china pug share about our relationship to all
our belongings, big and small?
So I briefly had a blog
called "Rufus &
a problem, though.
I had more to say than Rufus &
George understood, about how stuck we seemed,
caught between 20th century expectations and 21st century
realities. It hit me when I forgot to pull up instead of push down when
I peed. It's so confusing, changing a habit I'd had my entire life.
Flush the toilet. Push down. Until now, when everything
was a hybrid. So I created a blog, a business,
and a book, all called "Our
But I was stuck.
Why would anyone care?
Who was I behind the blog, book
and business? What was I trying to prove, and to
whom? So I got help. When my new business coach asked
me those same questions, I knew, in my heart, that I
was a photographer. When she asked me what I
loved, I knew -- compost and being outside
and noticing light and texture and
beauty. So I ignored all I had
been doing, got my
I kept exploring,
while taking small steps
forward. A web site. A business card.
A trip to New York City to photograph compost
& a few months later, have a 'pop-up' show where
I stood by my work and told people I was a
photographer and that I was into
compost, which kept inviting
me to go deeper, beyond
the soil, and into
I kept diving.
Saboteurs yacked on
my shoulder, but I kept going.
A visit to my sister in Idaho gave me time
to process. Compost, it seems, has the answers for me.
Pay attention. Be patient. Honor micro- dramas.
Allow for the mess and complexity
contained in any story, even
my own. Change "by
My work inspires joy and
new ways of being by celebrating this
magical convergence of creativity and climate action
that I experience every day. Who knew?
Welcome. This is going to be fun.
Maybe we'll meet in person
some day and you can
share your story
So that's how I got here.
It matters because you matter and your
story matters. Even if, like mine, your journey includes
false starts and stops and takes you this way
and that, it's relevant and of value.
Because, in a democracy,
we all matter.
Lyn Swett Miller
reframing the narrative, one day, one image at a time
Let's ReFrame: By Degrees
A place where photographer Lyn Swett Miller considers wonder, joy and transformation in a complex world.