the alarm rings at 5:20. i get up, dress, pack my camera in the car, and head out to pauma valley to meet rose at the coffee shop on the 76. we had agreed to meet at 6:15. we were anxious to arrive at peony heaven, on the 78 east of ramona, before the sun rose. we had been to the site four days earlier, but the winds were too strong to photograph, and the sun was already to high in the sky, washing out all the details we hoped to capture in this most elusive of blooms. the peony flower is small, secretive, nodding.

to photograph the flower, it’s necessary to get down on the ground, to prostrate yourself before it. The tripod has to be prostrate as well, with the center post removed and the tripod legs completely flattened. the area we call peony heaven burned in the witch fires in october, 2007. now the peonies are prolific, more so than i’ve ever seen before. in one area, the wild cucumber is climbing over the peonies, but for the most part, the plants are colonizing the area by themselves. rose and i brought towels to lay down upon, because the ground is full of ash. after awhile, i forget the towel, so i’m laying directly on the ashen soil. i tell rose later how much i enjoy this. i feel as if i’m 6 again, playing in the dirt.

the peony makes us work for the photos. this is no crayola orange poppy flaunting its saturated color, or parry’s phacelia blinding our eyes with its intensely deep blues. The wine colored petals of the peony curve inward, protecting and hiding the large pistels and stamens from the casual gaze of a biped. the lizard position is necessary . . .

Posted by deborah small

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