Elizabeth Rylander

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Red Oak, 2019 Red Oak, 2019

IG: elizabeth_rylander
Arlington, VA
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Photography, for me, is all about observation and response. I like subjects that I don’t have to stage manage – what’s happening outdoors invariably interests me more than anything I could think up myself. So I tend to photograph instinctively, and look for the story later.

All but one of these photos were taken within a few miles of my home in Virginia. It didn’t snow this winter. It was a year for ice, and icicles. And to our astonishment, a male painted bunting – a Gulf Coast native, wildly out of range – wintered by the Potomac River, overlooking Great Falls. He was kind enough to forage right next to a trail, at predictable hours, indifferent to the awestruck spectators comparing photos of him on their phones.

You can’t make that stuff up. So it puzzles me that although it’s easy to appreciate the miracles around us – the ocean, a flock of geese, a good view of the stars – we tend to not quite realize that we are part of nature, too. Or how pervasive our influence is on the world around us.

When spring comes, we start to feel that nature looks sort of untidy and ragged, and that we can help it with a little management. So we rake, trim, bag, buy, and plant (even lay artificial turf). It seldom occurs to anyone that because nature doesn’t intend any of that, what we think is helpful is actually disruptive. And that disruption is so extensive that without my planning it, every photo I chose to show the coming of spring includes a species wildly out of range. All of the plants and flowers, and even the bee, are imported from other places. They are every bit as exotic as the painted bunting, but because we are used to them – even expect them – we don’t notice.

Happy Earth Day. Be thoughtful out there. 

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