Last Saturday, we hiked a trail in Indian Rocks Park, one of many trails in the protected Appalachian woods near our summer home in the mountains. We had not visited this particular park in well over two decades, and for good reason. It is here that we thought, for a couple of agonizing hours, that we had lost our children to the woods in the dusk of early November.
We had just purchased this property on Sanderlin Mountain, prior to the first real flush of development in what is now a thriving community. We were excited about fixing it up, driving up from Atlanta on Sunday afternoons to work on the house. Our two kids were just a little too young to leave by themselves for the afternoon and of an age that soon becomes bored when separated from toys, friends and television. The rest of the details are not important – why we encouraged them to go for a walk, why it took us so long to realize that they hadn’t returned, and why they ventured so far, all the way to Indian Rocks Park. Suddenly it was getting dark, and cold, and they weren’t back. We spent a frantic hour or two driving in several directions, as far as we thought they could have wandered. I think every parent has had at least one such torturous experience and, fortunately, most have also experienced the sweet flood of relief when the child finally turns up, safe and bewildered at all the attention.
When I was in high school, I liked two subjects more than any others – biology and art. It follows, then, that the educational highlight of those years for me would have been the exercises in drawing, in exact detail, classroom specimens from the animal kingdom, sometimes observed through a microscope. This is the way biology was taught to my generation, and to my mother’s as well. I’m sure it was painful for some students, but I relished it – colored pencils to differentiate organs, labels lined up perfectly down one side of the page. The names of animals, their classifications and their organs were ingrained into my memory through that enjoyed experience.
So, last Saturday, as I walked out of a dark corridor into the blue light of the jellyfish collection at the Tennessee Aquarium, the word “coelenterate” popped unsummoned into my brain, a solid relic of that long-ago educational experience. Later, I consulted Wikipedia to satisfy myself that I had it right and was dismayed to find that the term “coelenterate” is now considered obsolete, that biologists have re-ordered the names of animals formerly classified as such and now use (and teach) a different name for this group of elegant drifters.
It comforts me to think that jellyfish have been on the planet for over 500 million years, orders of magnitude longer than the humans who are so bent on naming them. They are truly timeless.
This photograph, made in Georgia in late June, has the distinct feel of autumn to me. It is an illusion, of course; the rich reds are attributable to a Japanese maple in summer garb. The early evening was hot and sticky, the air still.
But I find the effect comfortably deluding. For just a moment, I have the sense of a crisp fall chill and turning leaves.
Bumble bees remind me of the watermen that ply the river and Gulf of Mexico near my home in Florida. They are gatherers, not sowers. They both simply take what nature gives them – nectar on the one hand, shellfish on the other. The waterman doesn’t own that natural bounty; he doesn’t invest in seeding the river with crabs or the Gulf with shrimp, in fertilizing and otherwise maintaining that crop. He just collects it, like plucking wildflowers.
The difference between the bee and the waterman is that the bee is doing double-duty as a pollinator when she dines, ensuring her future and that of the daisy. That to me is the ultimate in sustainable practices.
As the summer rolls on and I struggle to find photographic subject matter here in southern Appalachia, awash in green leaves, hazy blue skies and endless sunshine, I’ve apparently evolved. I’m no longer trying to avoid the fishermen; in fact, I’m stalking them. I watch them launch in the cool morning dampness from my perch in the shadows along the lakeshore. I swat absently at the occasional gnat and consider that evolution.
I’m struck by the parallels between their sport and my photographic practice. Fishing, they say, is all about patience. But so is photography, I remind myself as I wait rather impatiently for the boat to move into that shaft of light and for the line to arc out over the water. Hook the big one? Well, how about producing your masterpiece? Revel in the silence? Check. Mixture of art and craft, of skill and luck, of frustration and bliss? Check. Obsession with gear? Check. Up before the sun? Double-check. Addictive? Most definitely.