Four Variations on a Sunset Tree

photos & text by douglas john imbrogno


‘SUNSET TREE: Variation One.’ | Cabell County, West Virginia | december2023 | photo

    After sunset the whole world is cool,
    And after a rain, mountains and rivers are clear.
    The prevailing wind comes from the west,
    The sounds of autumn are concealed
    In the sounds of grasses and trees.
    I feel the rapidity of passing years,
    And lament the fading away of material things.
    Who would feel distressed
    Seeing how the seasons affect people's emotions?
    Let me ask the philosopher of the Gateway
    To the Void.
    What method is there to practice,
    Which will cause me to abandon the
    Desires for gain and not cause
    Vexations to arise?

     ~ PO CHU-I (772-846) 

‘SUNSET TREE: Variation Two.’ | Cabell County, West Virginia | december2023 | photo

I have spent perhaps $10,000 or more on high-end cameras in my day. And never learned them and thus never used them. (I have one or two on a shelf beside me — make an offer.) I buy them with all good intent of learning f-stoppery and the deeps of depths of field and all of that other arcane, priestly pro-photographer and serious amateur parlance. Then, unboxing the thing and getting lost in layer upon layer of on-camera nested instructions, it feels like someone just plopped me in front of the Millennium Falcon’s dashboard and told me to pilot the thing to a rebel base on Centax-1 in the Corruscant System.

This isn’t going to work, guys.

So, the arrival and repeated re-iteration, the constant leaps of tech and ease-of-use of iPhonography cameras, has rocked my world. (If I may date myself as a growing-old fogey and use a phrase my lovely millennial daughter would likely gag upon.) I even have a standard for the pants I purchase, so I can more quickly click. They must come with a dedicated smart-phone pocket on one or the other leg. Preferably both! That is probably too much information. And if my daughter is reading this, she is likely rolling her eyes at me, by now. Which, in truth, she does several times a month, either in person or via text expressions of her dad-speration …

‘SUNSET TREE: Variation Three.’ | Cabell County, West Virginia | december2023 | photo

All that is to say, my wife and I had just returned home last night from the 31st yearly iteration — speaking of multiple iterations — of Bob Thompson’s annual ‘Joy to the World’ holiday jazz and blues concert in Charleston, W.Va. The show featured Maria Muldaur on vocals (yes, that Maria Muldaur), rocking lesser-known classic, hipster Christmas tunes from the American songbook. She can still sing up a storm, featured, as she was, with a band that is its own jazz-and-blues storm system.

Getting out of the car in our driveway after the show, the Sour Gum tree beside my house was on fire. The conflagration featured a fully involved sunset framing the tree. Hand, meet cellphone pocket in pants. Meet phone. Quick clicks followed. And so meet this iPhonographic series of ‘SUNSET TREE’ variations. I transformed a couple of them in my dear BeFunky photo-editing app.

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NOTE: if this small, but powerful photo and collage-crafting app is any indication, we are galloping hard into the sunrise of the AI age and maybe the onset of our future artificial intelligence overlords. BeFunky has begun to lean heavily into an AI-juiced future. Every month, it seems, the program rolls out a new AI-powered feature, such as ‘deblur,’ ‘background remover,’ ‘sky replacer,’ ‘old photo restorer,‘ and ‘upscale,’ among others. I find the tactical ones that help clean up a photo or help around the edges, such as the deblur and upscale functions, to be very useful in clarifying the original intent of my shot.

I should state for the record — not that anyone but my sweet, eye-rolling daughter and a few readers will pay heed to what I think about AI — but overly manipulating what is in and out of a photo snapped of supposed consensual reality using artificial intelligence is the very definition of a slippery slope. The artified photographs you see in this page are run through my program’s art filters. I view them as separate bits of folk artification of source photographs. Your mileage may vary. All this will be moot once we merge with the Borg and our machines tell us what to shoot and when to go to bed.

‘SUNSET TREE: Variation Four.’ | Cabell County, West Virginia | december2023 | photo



Here is one of the songs Maria Muldaur sang last night — below is a filmed version from a 2011 live performance of the tune, “Christmas Blues” by Sammy Cahn. (You can also hear it on Muldaur’s “Christmas at the Oasis” album). This song is for everyone for whom Christmas season is excruciating, even if Muldaur delivers it with vibe and verve.

SAMPLE LYRICS: The jingle bells are jingling / The streets are white with snow / The happy crowds are mingling / But there’s noone that I know / I’m sure that you’ll forgive me / If I don’t enthuse / I guess I’ve got the Christmas blues …


As a counter to this homage to Christmas depression, Muldaur also sang the rollicking Steve Allen tune “Cool Yule, heard at this link and below in a smooth, up-tempo snapfest featuring the glorious harmonies of The Andrew Sisters, along with the United States Air Force Airmen of Note in full-on, brassy glory.

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