By Theresa DiMenno
In early autumn, I returned to a field close to home that I’d stumbled upon in late March of 2020, during the early days of the pandemic. As wildflower season flourished, the virus followed suit and I remained in Austin instead of traversing Texas back roads in search of peak blooms. I photographed the field countless times through mid-June, observing the evolution of acres of bluebonnets replaced by firewheel, prairie coneflower and a variety of other native plants. Slowing down and documenting the changing season from flower to seed, was a deeply moving experience. Photographing the same location over many months gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the complexity and interconnectedness of all living things.
Triple digit heat and relentless sunny skies were enough encouragement to keep me inside during July and August, although I stopped by a couple times to check on potential new growth. As I skimmed the pasture’s midsummer surface, the faded hues of budding spring surrendered to a landscape parched and pale. September offered relief as temperatures eased and the sun drifted further south, ushering in the first fleeting nods toward autumn.
On a cool, crisp October afternoon, tall grasses brushed against my legs as I walked slowly, absorbing the autumnal transformation of the field. Mesmerized by the meadow’s rhythmic sway, I felt embraced in a gentle breeze as afternoon began its descent. From below, flickering gleams of light lured me in. I bent low to witness backlit damselflies fluttering stem to stem. Enchanted with their net-veined wings and graceful movements, I photographed the delicate insects until the sun dipped low.
In reality, the field is a re-irrigation zone for the neighboring subdivision. Rain water flows into a holding tank, is filtered, and then irrigated back into the field with the objective of making its way into the underground aquifer. After a steady rain, chirping toads occupy a small, adjacent field. The familiar bluet damselfly molts in freshwater habitats, the holding tank of the re-irrigation zone forming a perfect breeding ground. Although quite large, the field is hidden from the main thoroughfare by a forest of trees. A couple miles from my south Austin home, the field was left un-mowed all these months and has been a welcome change from the usual coiffed suburban landscape.
Decayed remnants of spring wildflowers were seen throughout the field. Prairie coneflower stems stood erect with sparse blooms scattered intermittently. Long after honeybees foraged the firewheel’s deep amber, buttery nectar, the seed head became a landing zone for the buckeye butterfly, its’ sensual curve of stem bending toward the earth. I felt energized and awakened as the season shifted ever so slightly here in central Texas. One brisk morning, I encountered five deer prancing through this urban pasture. Although light of step as I moved in closer, the herd quickly retreated under thick cover of shrubs and live oak upon my arrival. Texas isn’t recognized as a fall foliage destination except for a stand of maple trees in Lost Maples State Park, west of Austin in the Hill Country. Occasionally, we’ll have a generous showing in our inner-city and outlying areas. The colors this year have been softer and muted, likely due to lack of substantial precipitation this past spring.
October offered us two full moons, the second rising on Halloween. I planned to photograph the rising moon with the landscape bathed in sunset’s golden light. I calculated timing of the rise in relation to the setting sun, but by the time she rose, sunlight barely illuminated the trees. I’m pleased with the image I settled upon which reflects the tone and mood of the meadow. Sometimes the things we just can’t plan turn out better than we hoped for. I returned the following morning to photograph the moonset and was grateful for a sprinkling of sunrise color over the expansive field.
As the autumn season unfolded, I returned numerous times to photograph throughout the month of November. I enjoyed quiet clouded afternoons since, devoid of slender damselflies. A handful of foraging honeybees sipped nectar from scant verbena on a warm, sunny afternoon. Wispy gulf muhly and little bluestem grasses bent in unison as a cool, north wind passed through the meadow. A tiny butterfly, the cyna blue, tucked itself within a sweeping slope of the flaxen pasture. A lady bug latched onto an oscillating blade of grass and spiders wove tangled webs around fragments of a season past.
Autumn is the clear sky of blue, the crumbling rust of a withering leaf. Unrestrained revelry, and moments of quiet reflection. Autumn is courageous, bold, red and orange. Autumn retreats in subtle undertones.
Theresa DiMenno began her photographic career by documenting the Texas music scene of the eighties, shooting for various local artists, major dailies, record companies, SXSW, Texas Monthly and Rolling Stone. Her current passion spans a decades-long journey into nature photography. She has worked on the award-winning documentary, The Butterfly Trees, and her artwork hangs in numerous corporate spaces and in Houston’s Methodist Hospital. DiMenno has won numerous awards and works closely with Texas Highways Magazine, Texas Parks & Wildlife and the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin Texas. Theresa is a self-taught photographer and storyteller at heart, both in words and imagery. To see more of her work, visit http://www.theresadimenno.com and @tdimenno on Instagram.