Sunday, September 30, 2007

the life cycle of a leaf

Have you ever wondered about the life cycle of a leaf? It begins in the cold damp of the spring as a tight bud on a tree, close knit, trying to keep warm as it shivers on the branch. Then as the sun begins to thaw the earth and life bursts forth from the barren and cold overwintered ground, the leaf too breaks forth from its cocoon and spreads its points to the sky. There it basks in the glow of the season, soaking up sunshine and rain for life, its only purpose to provide shelter from the storm and shade from the heat of the day. Too soon the air takes on a chill, the dew begins to lay cool and slick on the grass and the sun no longer beams as brightly. The leaf prepares to let go of its lifeline, to break free from the bonds that held it high in the sky. In so doing, in a last vivid attempt to be something amazing, it sheds its summer green for a stunning shade of copper, gold, ochre, red. And after this feat of strength, after all this energy expended, it is finally loosed from its earthly grip by a passing wind and floats gently, softly to the ground. If its lucky, it will catch the eye of some passerby who may pick it up and preserve it as a memory. More likely it will just become one of many littering the ground, providing a satisfactory crunch underfoot when people walk by and, in the end, will be absorbed into the earth to help propagate the cycle of life when winter melts again into spring.

The color in the mountains has not yet begun to really shine through, but a morning at the lake proves that even a little color can be just enough for show.

serenity interrupted

There's nothing more energizing than a clear fall day in the glens of the highlands and the anticipation of a hike in the woods. At trail top the crisp scent of leaves and cool tang of forest permeate my senses. As I begin, the purposeful crunch of acorn mast and fallen leaves underfoot, the occasional chirp of birds in the trees and the gentle rush of the creek flowing towards its final destination at trails' end all set the scene.

And suddenly the serenity of the journey is interrupted by the scream of heavy machinery and the sound of a jackhammer. Down the path I come across the source of the noise in the form of a four story glass windowed house-in-progress overlooking and intruding upon my idyllic moment. Rewind to three days ago when I was driving along a scenic byway towards a distant town and got held up for twenty minutes in stop-and-go traffic as I wove through once beautiful mountainsides now being decimated and flattened by tractors making way for another gated community with bizillion dollar rooms with a view.

But what about my view?

I come to the edge of the mountain looking for a place to pull off to capture the memory and I'm blocked at every turn by homes with private property signs and no room for me and large electrical wires stretching from left to right breaking the continuity of the landscape. And just two days ago I was high atop Grandfather Mountain, the highest elevation on the blue ridge, and as I take my breath, allowing the panorama to take my breath away, what do I lay eyes on but a twelve story blazing white hotel cut into the side of the mountain glaring back at me.

And so I ask this question: what will become of these trails, these natural wonders, these unspoiled magical places for all to enjoy if we keep knocking down, flattening out and building high?

The path to Glen Burney falls was downhill all the way. But in order to get back where I'd started I had to make the return journey all uphill. It was rougher than the descent, especially with twenty pounds of camera equipment slung across my back. But I had to complete the journey in order to reach the top and be able to start over again. Perhaps there is a more profound lesson to be learned in that simple thing, a lesson that must be learned before it's too late.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

through the mist and into the morning

Have you ever been inside a cloud? It’s like being surrounded by something you can see but cannot touch, hanging heavy and light all at once. To walk through the mist of the mountains in these early fall mornings is the same. The fingers of damp wrap pleasantly around you, like being nestled inside a blanket, and add an ethereal quality to everything – softening edges, smoothing jagged lines and creating the aura of being blissfully separated from the world because you can only see two feet in any direction. Wouldn’t it be lovely to go through life, some days, snugly wrapped in the solitude of the clouds, only having to deal with what’s right in front of you instead of having to worry about all the things you cannot see? That’s part of what I love about the mountain mornings. I can disconnect from all that troubles me and instead focus on only those things that immediately require decisions – left on the path or right? Up the mountain or through it? Do I want to bring trail mix or almonds in my backpack? But then the mist clears and the sun breaks through, shining bright and true. And I am reminded why clear days, days when I can see in front of me for miles, are more important than the shelter of the mist.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

mountain girl

I used to be a beach girl. The smell of the salt in the air, the call of the gulls, the seductive and repetitive beating of the surf against the sand, the warm sun on my face – all these things brought me a peace that was difficult to find elsewhere. I grew up going to the beach every year for summer vacation and then, when we first moved to South Carolina, we spent a great deal of time in Charleston and along the coast and I affirmed to anyone who would listen that the only place I could really slow down and do nothing was at the beach.

And then I discovered the mountains.

I grew up in the shadow of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania but never really took much notice other than skiing in the winter. The very first time I drove west to the NC mountains, I noticed. Never had I been so awestruck by nature. Here were winding byways cut through endless towering mountains that blocked the sun, here were deep forest trails following babbling brooks and ending in roaring waterfalls, here was a different kind of quiet in the constant chatter of wildlife in the trees, and here was a new seduction of the senses in the smell of sweet grass, warmed by the sun, the hum of insects alive in the woods, and the cool bite in the air that you only taste in the shade of a thousand trees so tall they must have been there since time began.

There is an ancient undercurrent here that draws me back, makes me remember that I am much smaller than I would like to think and that I have much to learn. The love affair began that first time I encountered the splendor of western NC and since then I’ve been continuing on a journey of a thousand moments, some that I’ll share with you in the next two weeks as I discover over and over the majesty of the mountains.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

a last look

In my early grade school years I attended a small private school called Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, PA. Bethlehem was initially a Moravian settlement and going to school in the heart of the city introduced to the Moravian traditions and church that helped form the area. I learned to love the old world feel of downtown (so much so that I eventually got married there). I was transported back in time by a city boasting cobblestone streets, brick buildings and the scent of beeswax candles. I learned about the world as it once was as re-enactors, committed to bringing education to the young, walked around in the plain dress of the Moravians and taught us about their way of life. I attended the simple workship services (so different from the Byzantine Catholic upbringing I had received thus far), participated in the love feasts (looking forward with childish delight to the cookies and cider and the lighting of candles) and every Christmas I eagerly anticipated the glowing "Moravian Star" - the Star of David - that would appear in every window, hang from every Christmas tree branch, and glow brightly as the star over Bethlehem once did.
The first time I wandered into Old Salem my childhood, this childhood, came flooding back to me. I had wandered into another Moravian settlement, so reminiscent of home at a time when I longed to be there, and it almost moved me to tears. I was utterly surprised that here was a replica of my childhood home, so similar and yet in a state so far from the one where I'd been raised. Here again were the familiar Moravian stars, the beeswax candles wrapped in red, the ginger cookies and apple cider, the cobblestone streets and plain dress. In Winston Salem I felt entirely at home at a time when I needed it desperately. And for that reason I come back every year, walk the streets and am reminded of the places I'd left behind.
I spent a lot of time trying to capture the old Salem and the new Salem in these photos. There are a lot of them, but I hope you enjoy them!

Wake Forest University
Wait Chapel

God's Acres in Old Salem

Old Salem at Sunrise

the day begins early for the people of Old Salem

New Salem