I have an enduring love of these ancient mountains – the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia. Especially on a morning like this. I sit very still, curled up and warmly comfortable, reading and listening to the low growl of thunder and patter of a soft cool mountain rain that is predicted to last most of today. Having so recently explored the nearby mountain woods of Lumpkin County, Georgia, I can visualize this same summer rain as it is happening there, indiscriminately soaking the tall oaks and poplars, rhododendron and ferns, and the rich red soil, while streams slowly swell and spill their way forward, out of these old hills toward the sea.
It was close to 10 am and I was desperately looking to extend my morning here in the wooded mountains of Appalachia. But I knew that the sun was close to breaking through the soft mist left by a soaking overnight rain. Tripod and attached camera slung over my shoulder, with the camera strap looped over my head just in case the camera came loose (it’s happened before), I headed downhill on the dirt road following Dick’s Creek toward its next waterfall.
Minutes later, a man trudged up the hill towards me from around the next bend. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he was middle-aged with a round stubbled face; he had a fishing vest pulled tight over his belly and a rod over his own shoulder. I kept walking but avoided eye contact until the last minute, as is my admittedly ungracious habit. I was prepared to give him nothing more than a courteous nod, mostly because the other locals with whom I had been sharing the creek bed all morning had seemed oblivious to me and my camera. It was like we were in parallel universes and invisible to each other, these locals intent upon catching fish and me impatiently waiting for them to move out of my picture. My only thought regarding the whole fishing thing was that I didn’t see the point. After scrambling around the banks of this shallow creek for a couple of hours I had yet to observe a fish of any sort or size.
As he drew close, and I prepared to acknowledge him, he came to a complete stop facing me. Caught off-guard, I gave him my full attention.
“Gettin’ any good pitchers?”
“Oh yes, earlier. But now the light’s getting too bright.”
“What d’ya mean? Wouldn’t some sunlight be good?”
I regrouped and briefly explained to him how soft light reduces harsh shadows and brings out color.
“You musta gone to school to learn that, huh?” He was impressed; I found that funny.
“No school. Just lots of practice.” Brief silence. He made no move to resume his climb up the hill, so I made an effort. “What are you fishing for?”
I responded, idiotically, “I don’t see any trout in this creek.”
He grinned broadly at me and patiently explained the behaviors of trout. That they are there in that creek, all right, but that they hide in the shadows where you can’t see them. That the young are impetuous and will dart out to grab whatever scraps you throw them, but the big ones are harder to fool. He held up two stubby fingers to show me how big these trout get and told me how the creek was stocked just yesterday and how he was already a little late to take advantage.
I hesitated, but couldn’t help myself. “So…did you go to school to learn that?”
We both chuckled, nodded and continued on our separate ways…both enlightened by the encounter.
Ferns have always been among my most beloved woodland finds. They’re so elegantly organized, each frond curving politely out of the way of the one below. In drifts, they can transform a dark wood into a golden parlor, sunbeams bouncing off that emerald carpet, softer than shag, and back up into the canopy above.
A few years ago, I happened upon an exhibition print of “Ferns, Mount Rainier National Park” by Ansel Adams. I knew then that I had to make my own fern image, one that does it justice. I’m getting there.
By singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer
Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,
Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.
As for this photograph, another personal gratitude would have to be Gibb’s Gardens, a local venue that opened just a few years ago. This long-time dream of its owner welcomes visitors daily, and on a few Saturday evenings in summer, when it hosts “Twilight in the Gardens”. His dream is our great fortune.
I started a journal a couple years ago, mostly to knock the rust off my writing. In flipping through past entries, I noticed one topic that cycles disturbingly through this self-indulgent tome. That topic is Balance – or more precisely, my despair over its absence in my life. It seems that I too often find myself doing one thing while wishing I could be doing something else. So I capture that angst in my journal, toss it into a bucket called “My Lack of Balance” and then set about thinking analytically, yet again, about how to fix this recurring problem. Unfortunately for me, the fix is almost always to work faster or more efficiently or to try to make my day longer by sleeping less. Anyway, I’m finally starting to see Balance as just an illusion, like this photo of a Chihuly glass work, which appears to be many balls balanced skillfully on one glass ball, but is instead just a small crop of a large row boat filled with those very glass balls. Here’s what I mean about Balance being an illusion. If you work 50 or 60 hours a week, perhaps more, and that makes you happy, and if you can live with everything else being a lower priority, then that is Balance for you. If that does not make you happy, and if you cannot continue to live with everything else getting the short shrift, and if you’ve been unsuccessfully wrestling with this for years, then what we have here is some sort of delayed gratification on steroids. Time to call it what it really is. Delayed gratification is one of those concepts you dutifully teach your kids, even though you personally loathe it, deep down inside. It is in that rucksack you have carried around since childhood, along with eating everything on your plate and arranging your life to please others. It is one of those ideas that works in small doses but may not be advisable as the general rule. It has, apparently, taken me six decades to begin to sort this out, and by “sorting out”, I only mean seeing it for what it really is. A choice. My choice. Note: The Float Boat is part of the Chihuly Collection, permanently housed in St. Petersburg, Florida. This collection is amazing in so many ways, but for me the best part is that the museum allows visitors to photograph, at will, anything in the museum. How forward-thinking of them. This abstract photo was taken without flash and processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Sometimes it’s amazing what you see when you simply look up. Swaying high above me, the heads of these palms were transformed by the late afternoon light. I think it was the yellow-glow of the flower stalks against the deep blue sky that drew my attention. The palms were the subject; the moon just sort of got in the way.
Clyde Butcher first visited Florida several decades ago. Enchanted by its singular beauty, he stayed and began taking pictures, offering them for sale on the Florida art show circuit. His reputation grew quickly. Butcher is known mostly for his large black and white images of the Everglades, where he made his home for many years and where he still has a gallery. But his portfolio includes unique and stunning images made in many other areas of the state and across the US.
This week I reacquainted myself with Butcher’s work and found myself inspired – inspired to make more black and white images, inspired to plan a week exploring the Everglades, and inspired to drive out to the end of our own Ozello Road, where the Gulf of Mexico meets salt marsh, in search of iconic summer cloud formations.
I do subscribe to the idea that part of one’s purpose in life is to inspire others. But it is just so much fun to be inspired. It is truly one of life’s guilty pleasures. Thank you, Mr. Butcher (www.clydebutcher.com).