Probing Beauty

– Posted in: Garden Musings, Garden Photography

Garden photographers look to capture beauty with a camera.  Poets use words.

Hazel White leads a poetry walk, Marin Headlands Center for the Arts

Hazel White leads a poetry walk, Marin Headlands Center for the Arts

My friend, the poet and occasional garden writer, Hazel White recently led a hike as part of her artist in residence program at the Headlands Center for the Arts where she seeks to “create a series of site-responsive sonnets, each of which is 14 forays, or lines, of thought on the liaisons between landscape and language”.

This is artists’ speak for probing beauty of place, which is what she asked us to consider as she led a hike into the marshes near the Center.  In consideration of beauty, do we find it ?, or does beauty find us ?  Hazel gave us each a simple four foot garden stake as a physical probe to extend our own physical space into nature around us, as we went exploring for beauty.  What would we find ?


She ran out of stakes for the group, so I picked up a stick for my probe, my liaison to the landscape.  The stick became a divining rod.  I was dowsing for beauty.  I probed the trail and marsh giddy, drunk with a new tool, waving it madly like a wizard expecting wonders from his wand.


Indeed it was magic.  My probe gave me an ethereal sense of the landscape as I reached into it.


I was quite actively engaged with my environment, seeing, sensing my own physical presence.  Probing beauty.  I loved being a partner in the creation of beauty, nature unobserved until my probe pointed to it.  Did the beauty find me ?  Did I find it ?  Nay, it was a collaborative process.


My camera, following my hand and probe, compounded the pleasure.  Not only did the stick give me the obvious compositional tool, it forces you, the viewer to see me as I probe.  The creative process revealed here is the act of looking itself, not the results of nature found. The person, the photographer is interacting with the landscape; you see it, the process.  It is raw and engaging even if the subject is “ordinary”.


You are invited to see what I see.  You are joining me as beauty is considered, we walk together, we delight in the magic that is nature.

The beauty now is newly defined by we.  The photos become linguistics, visual poetry asking you to think, to participate in this probing.


Thank you Hazel for this exercise, this epiphany, this way to extend my own physical engagement with nature, and open new doors of communication.

After the hike the participants were left to to discover on their own.  I went to the ocean with another friend, garden writer Evelyn Hadden who was visiting from Idaho while giving a presentation at the Less Lawn garden symposium.




It was a  cold and extraordinarily windy day at the beach.  Evelyn, a resident of Idaho, does not feel cold and probed the ocean barefoot .


I am so glad she was wearing red.


And glad too I was that I kept my probe


 Pointing back to the marsh and Headlands Center.  Beauty is found wherever you look.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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JudePM January 12, 2014, 12:12 am

Fabulous post as always. The probe helped you find the composition and we could share in the result. Especially love the last two photos.

Jean January 12, 2014, 12:29 am

This was fun. I like your use of your stick, wand, probe to inspire you to see the nature path you were on with fresh eyes. So funny how its all there for us to enjoy and how a new tool will let us see the world in different light. One small stick opened that path for you. Thanks for sharing it, I really liked your approach.

Debbiecz January 12, 2014, 7:18 am

Fun! I like your stick as it zig zags into the picture. Did you extend the stick first to a spot or did you view thru your lens and then extend the stick to a good spit. You seemed to find the perfect spot each time. This also reminds me of that You Tube video of the girl who reaches behind her to the camera, her arm & body acting as your stick.

Elizabeth January 12, 2014, 8:55 am

Thank you

Shenandoah Kepler January 12, 2014, 10:43 am

Thank you for the wonderful photographs using your dowsing rod. I would love to try it, but I have to use both hands to take a photograph and the dowsing rod would not allow that. Your photos are most revealing and suggestive — more 3 dimensional than I would have thought — very cool! Do you have any suggestions for a weaker photo phreak to try this out?

rosaria williams January 12, 2014, 11:13 am

What a revelation!

Grace W. January 12, 2014, 4:15 pm

Totally in agreement with the above comments. Lovely, beautiful, revealing, etc. Would be a great exercise to do with some Master Gardeners I know. Thank you.

Saxon Holt January 12, 2014, 4:31 pm

Thanks Jude – The probe’s purpose is really just to extend one’s awareness of being in the landscape. The compositions are purely my point and shoot camera and me trying to make that connection to share with those who could not be there.

Saxon Holt January 12, 2014, 4:32 pm

Thanks Jean – The genius of this was all the in Hazel, who allowed this to happen.

Saxon Holt January 12, 2014, 5:05 pm

Thanks – Elizabeth. I’m glad you could appreciate it.

Saxon Holt January 12, 2014, 5:10 pm

Great question Debbie – The exercise was about extending ourselves into the landscape and as a garden photographer I found myself using my eyes to see the plants. Once I went to the beach,still enthralled wit this new tool, I let IT tell ME what to notice. The stick all by itself “forced” me as a photographer to compose around those spots.

Saxon Holt January 12, 2014, 5:18 pm

Hi Shenandoah – It does turn out more 3 dimensional that I expected, but is exacty what I had hope for. It is absolutely what the exercise is all about – extend our own selves, in our own dimension, into the landscape. I used my point and shoot camera (Canon G11) which allows you to auto focus with one hand and then press the shutter once the composition comes into place.

Saxon Holt January 12, 2014, 5:19 pm

What fun is is to have these revelations. Thanks Rosaria

Saxon Holt January 12, 2014, 5:20 pm

Good idea Grace – I think it is an exercise I will pursue on my own too. The beginnings of a book ?

Donna January 12, 2014, 10:04 pm

It is a really interesting method and I bet a useful one in freeing up the mind to find new ways to see. It would be a good exercise for college kids.

ks January 12, 2014, 10:16 pm

What tripod ???

John Rusk January 12, 2014, 11:49 pm

I swear, You can take good photos within any set of restrictions.

Fran Sorin January 13, 2014, 8:34 am


What a gift your friend Hazel White has given all of us. I have never heard of this ‘creative awakening’ exercise. As you so beautifully wrote, it is ‘raw and engaging’….

I have no idea how you managed to photograph such achingly beautiful photos while you were holding the stick – but you did.

Thanks so much for sharing this jewel with us. What a beautiful way to ring in 2014. With gratitude- Fran

Saxon Holt January 13, 2014, 12:11 pm

Hi Donna – My own kids are no longer in college and the exercise was great for me. Perhaps it is us old folks who need these new ways to see 😉

Saxon Holt January 13, 2014, 12:11 pm

You caught me

Saxon Holt January 13, 2014, 12:15 pm

John – are you my biggest fan? Thanks; but really, in the case of this poetry walk, the restrictions were lifted. Even the tripod that Kathy (ks Comment) called me on was not necessary to seeing

Saxon Holt January 13, 2014, 12:23 pm

Thanks Fran. I think I stretched our gardening theme for GGW but it was such a wonderful experience. I am sure Hazel created this exercise herself, her mind works this way – she spends her days imagining how to engage with the landscape.
I did crop and manipulate the photos in post production to square them up and accent the ethereal feeling. Hand holding with one hand outstretched was a fun challenge.

John Rusk January 13, 2014, 5:48 pm

I may not be your biggest fan, but I am a big fan. Isn’t it a wonder when our minds become absorbed in the moment? The feeling is rare but the memory will be treasured.

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