Geometry: A View From Above

(c) Jim Glennon, March 2010

My husband Jim, as I have noted, was a masterful photographer.  He had an eye for the moment, for capturing an ephemeral splash of color and light and movement and then letting it go.

Given that I have an entire blog category titled “Metaphorical Mathematics,” I hardly could let a Geometry challenge go by without weighing in.

I am by nature and nurture more of a Non-Euclidean when it comes to Geometry, and I knew instantly which two, among tens of thousands of Jim’s photographs, I needed to find.

I knew they were of the same subject, and I knew to the day when he had taken them.  I realized only after finding them that one–dominated by curving lines in the earthiest of brown, with a gradually disappearing rim of a line in Jim’s green circling towards Fibonacci’s infinity–was taken looking up, and the other, bathed in gold, was taken from high up and looking down.

These swirling fractals (more specifically, Fibonacci spirals) were among the last series of subjects my husband patiently captured with his beloved camera.  More specifically, they were among the last taken in The Before: before we knew his diagnosis; before we knew how short his time with us would be.

I know he was particularly proud of these non-Euclidean fractals because he chose to bring them to his office, where his use of artifacts was sparing.

Of course it was not simply the geometric beauty of these photographs which made them meaningful: Jim took them during his last great adventure of a trip with our daughters, when we all thought we had more, healthy such trips ahead of us.

The tumor neither of us truly knew of–except in the sense in which, as Andre Dubus has written, one may know before one knows–already clonally was expanding and winding itself around his portal vein.

So meticulously did Jim catalogue his digital images that I know exactly which shots he liked best: he even gave them ratings.  Unlike I (at least in The Before, before I learned from Jim to pare down to what remains important in so many ways), he even was able to discard hundreds of images as he organized his photographic archives.

Thus I know he was particularly proud of this photograph as well:

(c) Jim Glennon, March 2010

This view was looking up; the gold-hued one was taken from the top, stories up into the sky, looking down.

Before I went to Jim’s photographic archives, I had taken a quick look through my own.  After delivering a talk at Dana Farber’s Cancer Center in September, I had become a little bit lost on my way to an elevator and had wandered down a hallway.  I saw a three-dimensional work of art forged of clay, made by cancer-stricken children and their families and friends.

I found myself extracting the camera from my bag, breathing in and stepping back and snapping just two pictures of it.  It contains no top and no bottom, no up or down, just the charm of an infinite circle of love and hope:

Here Tonight

“Well you went left and I went right
As the moon hung proud and bright
You would have loved it here tonight”

These lines are from Mumford & Son’s “Home,” a song Jim did not hear from here.

The beagles were anxious to explore their new neighborhood today, and I was eager to take my new camera with us now that my daughter has explained to me how its contents magically can be downloaded.  (Evidently I dropped the old one on cement one time too many.  It has solidified in place, its lens half-open but unseeing and immovable, like Lot’s wife looking back towards Sodom.)

I got this small point-and-shoot camera just in time to capture some last photographs outside our old home along with first pictures from where we have relocated.  I realized only after my daughter explained the magical downloading process that all 366 of the photographs I have taken with the new camera are of the outdoors–as Jim’s almost invariably were.

The day I left our old home for good and did not look back, I had taken a final shot of that persistent lone heart-shaped hydrangea on a bush Jim had planted.  It blossomed first in cornflower blue, and I was certain it soon would be joined by abundant brethren.

But two more seasons passed, and that single heart remained alone among the green.  It recently turned a Victorian red-violet as it prepared to return to sepia.

On the tiny lawn outside our new home I have placed a heaping helping of the season’s political signs.

“Think you’ve got enough signs out there?” my daughter teased me, as Jim would have.

Continue reading “Here Tonight”

Floods of Light

I was able to capture some of the light, but neither the color nor the movement in this ephemeral vertical image–one that inescapably calls to my mind another vision of flora against water: a beach bouquet whose fleeting presence still soothes my heart.

In fact, the dancing ferns and layers of shimmering liquid, cast upon a wall the color of spun gold, did not exist (any more–and quite possibly less–than @InvisibleObama occupied that notorious chair).

The sun was just beginning to set.  It struck an old, uneven pane of glass in front of which  ferns swayed in a summer seacoast breeze.   And for moments I could see in front of me a shimmering work of art that was not there.

Continue reading “Floods of Light”


Phillips Church, Exeter, NH

My mother described this photograph, taken by a friend while I spoke at my husband’s memorial service, as resembling a “mini-Vermeer.”  The photograph is as I remember my surroundings from my perspective: only small crescents of light amid intricate dark wood panels and deep jewels of leaded glass.

And I remember blurred darkness as I spoke: the deep navy blue of my sleeve, the mahogany grain of the lectern against which my inadequate words swam in a shadow of black font on paper puckered and rippled from my fingers’ grip.

But I learned there was at least one entirely different perspective on what can be seen in the same photograph.

I wrote about light streaming through the University Chapel’s front glass windows, cued by the words “fill us with the light of day,” as Hymn to Joy was sung at a recent alumni memorial service.

One of my husband’s sisters responded that the story of the recent service reminded her “of the incredible sunlight coming in through the stained glass windows at Jim’s service in Exeter while you were talking about your life with him. It was simply stunning.”

I saw shadows; she saw the sunlight. Continue reading “Chiaroscuro”

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