Wednesday, January 23, 2008

out of hibernation

Even if the snow isn't falling outside, the temperature definitely is. And on long winter weekends, the tendency of most normal people is to dress in favorite pajamas, bury beneath warm layers of blankets, brew up some coffee and curl up with a good book or watch a favorite movie, all from the comfort of the couch in the confines of the heated home. I am so glad I am not normal.

What better way to spend a long, cold winter weekend than hiking through the mountains of Tennessee, says I? Are you crazy?, says Aaron. No indeed. I had been itching for an excuse to get out and try my new D300 and certainly I wasn't finding anything much other than fat squirrels who eat leftover pizza from the box (yes, really) to photograph in my Dayton backyard. And so, I decided a road trip was on the agenda.

I have been to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in TN in the spring and the fall, several times, on photography workshops -long days filled with sunrises and sunsets, wildlife and golden light. So I thought, why not try winter? The areas with which I am familiar are bound to be beautiful all year round, and at only 5 hours from home, you can't beat it! And so, this past weekend, Aaron and I headed to the GSMNP and Townsend, TN, the peaceful side of the Smokies. And while the area wasn't booming, there were certainly more people out and about than I would have suspected given the 11-22 degree daily temps. But being the devoted photographer that I am, I didn't let a little cold stop me. And Aaron, bless his heart, was right there with me.

These first few images are of water and waterfalls - we hiked Abram's Falls trail in Cades Cove and Spruce Flats Falls trail at Tremont. I also spent some time photographing the river and the ice along Tremont Road.

Of course I have hundreds more images to testify to the fact that barren can be beautiful, that winter is as magical as spring and fall, and that if I dress in layers and keep well covered (thank God I was a skier in high school and remembered what it was like to dress for winter exposure!), even 20 degree temperatures can't hold me back from journeying to, and connecting with, nature at its most stark and yet perhaps, in its most revealing, time of year.

Spruce Flats

River Along Tremont Road

Abram's Falls
Ice formations at the falls runoff

Sunrise on the River

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

always and ever upward

It's never shocking to those that know me when I tell them of my many misadventures in photography. One of the things I am not known for is situational awareness, and this goes double when I have a camera in my hand. When something catches my eye I am single minded in my focus to capture what I see. Case in point, this staircase, which I have titled "eye of the staircase" or, on occasion, "ascension" (I can't decide which I like better).

I took this picture when I was visiting my in-laws two summers ago while Aaron was deployed. My sister in law, mother in law and I went to a nearby Delaware historic home for the grand tour and, unlike most historic homes, I was allowed to bring my camera inside. Of course I also brought my tripod. So there we were, three women in a crowd, ambling from room to room with a tour guide in the lead, me trailing behind, toting camera bag, tripod and camera. We came to the central area where this staircase rose above us and, believe it or not, I didn't even notice. Nor did the tour guide point it out. It was my mother in law who, thankfully, exclaimed over it and what a cool picture it would make. As soon as I looked up, I was hooked. I would get this shot, come hell or high water. However, there were two things working against me. One - I was shooting with a film camera at the time - no instant feedback. Two - I was on a tour that was rapidly wrapping up in the room where the staircase was, so I had to hurry. Oh, and three, the place I needed to stand was inconveniently behind one of those red fuzzy people-keeper-outer barrier things on metal stands. But this did not deter me.

In my aforementioned, single minded focus, driven by the need to get the shot, I, and my cumbersome tripod, crawled around on the floor, narrowly missing knocking over the red fuzzy thing, sweating, shorts and tee shirt coming dangerously close to being unseemly in the company of strangers. Oh, and did I mention I was doing this all in front of the tour group and that the guide was standing right in front of where I was, facing the other direction? So while all the tour group looked on, pretending to listen, but really watching the nut case with the camera who was on her hands and knees on the floor, I attempted to find the best vantage spot and set up my 10 pound tripod without knocking anything over. Finally, I had it all ready to go. I took four shots, every one of them turned out amazing, despite using film!

So, what's the lesson in this story? That sometimes you have to embarrass yourself and the people you're with to get the shot, but the result may definitely be worth it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

the footprint you leave behind

Once upon a time, four hundred years ago, ferocious storms swept across the sea coast of North Carolina, leaving behind the wrecked ruins of Spanish fleets and the drowned remains of sailors headed for a new world. Included among the goods carried on these ships were small and beautiful horses, destined for a life among those brave and hearty enough to settle in the rugged wilderness of the Indies and what would one day be the Americas. Luckier than most men, legend has it the shipwrecked horses swam to safety on the sandy shoals of small barrier islands that guarded the mainland. These horses, survivors to the last, not only adapted to their surroundings, learning to drink and filter sea water on their isolated and deserted stretches of beach, but also to digest and glean nutrients from the tough grasses that grew in the sand.
To this day, along the Outer Banks and Crystal Coast of North Carolina there are wild horses that roam, reproduce, delight and live off the land. They are not cared for by humans and are not cured when sick. Human intervention only comes in the form of birth control administered to select females to prevent over-population. Four hundred years ago these horses, pampered and destined for greatness, instead were forced into survival of the fittest. What they have left behind is a lasting legacy that we can now enjoy and appreciate.
What is our connection to a place? How did we arrive where we are today? What did we bring with us from where we were before? What do we do when we are faced with the challenges of thriving in a place, armed only with what we carry within?

How do we react when an unexpected storm changes the course of our lives?

And, most importantly, what legacy - what footprint - do we leave behind us when we go?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

the difference a day can make

Journeys and Connections and the Lessons they Bring

One of the things I will continue to stress throughout this blog is that there are lessons in everything we do. And the more connected we are, the more faithful to the journey we are on, the more obvious the lessons will be. When we are connected the way we are supposed to be, then the lessons come, whether we want to heed them or not. And this first story is about being on a journey, seeking connection, and not getting it until I learned a little lesson in patience.

The images in the previous blog (and this one) were taken, as I said, during a vacation my husband and I went on in April several years back to the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Phoenix. We spent two warm days in Phoenix after we arrived and then set out in our rental car for the Grand Canyon.

After several hours on the road we both began to notice, but not with any real attention, that the skies were graying over. At one stop about an hour from the Canyon, I got out of the car to stretch and was shocked at the blast of icy cold air that hit me, even more brisk after the cozy cocoon of isolation in the car. After our stop we continued towards the Canyon and much to my surprise it began to snow and before I knew it we were creeping along thickly covered roads, laughing to see cactus plants buried deep in the snow as thickly falling flakes obscured visibility. Shaking our heads at our sheer ignorance in not bothering to check the weather before we left (who knew it would snow this heavily in April?) we barely managed to make it onto the park grounds where we were staying (at the Bright Angel Lodge directly on the edge of the South Rim) before the park itself was closed due to poor road conditions.

I was thrilled that we had made it and despite not having a stitch of warm clothing with me (other than flimsy gloves and windbreaker) I was anxious to take the camera outside to the edge of the Canyon and just breathe in the beauty (and snap a few photos) before it got completely dark. Intending to do just that, I walked to the primary overlook outside the lodge and was absolutely astonished to see....nothing. I could see nothing but fog and snow in front of me. And I was SO mad. Livid really. I was thinking furiously to myself that I did not travel 3000 miles to NOT be able to see the Grand Canyon! And who knew when this snow would let up?

Frustrated beyond words, as only a photographer who senses a missed opportunity can be, I consoled myself as best I could with Aaron's company in the lodge bar for a few hours. The live music, cozy atmosphere and mulled wine dulled the edge of my irritation. And later, returning to the cold bedroom with nothing but a windbreaker and thin gloves for warmth on the way, I was hoping this would not be the sum total of our time in the canyon!

Early the next morning we woke to the sound of birds twittering (they always twitter in the morning) and bright sunshine. I threw on my clothes, ran outside, and Voila! there before me lay the entire Canyon, clear as crystal and stretching forever, with this layer of white on everything. So for the next 8 hours I dragged Aaron along the entire South Rim on foot and took a million pictures, because I knew this was a chance that I would not likely ever have again. So that is the origin of the pictures - and the lesson - to be patient and be aware of the difference a day can make.