Paths

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The depth of Robert Frost’s most famous poem, The Road not Taken, is often overlooked.  The poem is remembered by the lines “two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by.”  The poem, though, is tinged with regret (“And sorry I could not travel both”), and it reflects the difficult choices life presents us when we come to a metaphorical fork in the road.  (Yogi Berra’s sage advice to “take it,” notwithstanding.)

Even when I had lost the lion’s share of my faith, I still believed that everything happened for a reason.  Having since regained the better part and more, I hold firm to the belief that the paths I have taken were not trodden in vain.  They have made me who I am today.

Last August, Anna, the kids and I took a trip to England with her parents.  I wanted to take photographs of the moors, and so I agreed to an evening walk with her mother and uncle, both of whom it turns out are rotten liars and sadists.  I love my mother-in-law beyond measure, but I learned a valuable lesson that evening: never trust an Englishman (or woman), who tells you that a walk is “quite pleasant” or “easy.”  This is the same woman, who once told Anna’s sister that the cure for disliking walking was more walking, which probably should’ve been my first clue.

The Brits have a word for what we did up and down the moors.  They called the steep climbs and rapid descents “scrambling.”  I call it attempted murder.  My heart has never beat as hard, nor have my legs ever felt as weak.  Yet the photographs that I was able to take, once we reached the top, were spectacular.  The irony of all ironies was that at the pinnacle of our “scramble,” there were no paths, only heather and ferns and potential.  The photograph below was taken on that hike.

Frost may have taken the road less traveled by, but we forged our own.  I reflected on the symbolism of this hike only afterwards when we were safely on the journey home.  I didn’t have the capacity (mental or lung) to contemplate it in the moment.

The above photograph was taken in Alaska, on a much more “pleasant” hike.  We were younger then, without kids, and without the concomitant cares.  I don’t know what I would’ve done differently had I known what lay ahead.  I don’t regret the paths that I’ve taken, because I am grateful and content where they have led me.  But I took the less traveled path, and that has made all the difference.

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Alaskan Rainforest

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Few places in America have resonated with me as much as Alaska.

To me it is otherworldly, which is, perhaps, because I was born and raised in the flat scrub-filled swamps of northern Florida.  Still, the glaciers and fjords seemed so foreign to me when I first saw them.  This photograph was taken in Glacier Bay National Park, along the inside passage of Alaska.  Amongst the ice features that dominate the state, there is a temperate rainforest (as opposed to the tropical ones we are wont to think of).

The paths that cut through the forest were each uniquely beautiful, and I wish that I had truly hit my photographic stride when I was there.  Unfortunately, I have been there just once, and it was my inspiration to become a better photographer, rather than coming out party as a well-meaning, somewhat skilled amateur photographer, whose eye for photographs is punctuated by luck and somewhat more advanced post-processing skills.

Someday we will return, and I will be prepared.  I will bring my arsenal of lenses, but I hope that I give enough time to simply taking in the majesty of my surroundings.  It is easy for me to slink behind the lens and capture the beauty of nature without being engaged with it until days or weeks later when I can appreciate it through the photographs.  Still, they are a memento of the voyage to a place so unlike my home, and I treasure them.

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Glacier Bay

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This photograph was taken in Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska, just west of Juneau.  President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the area around Glacier Bay a national monument under the Antiquities Act on February 25, 1925. Subsequent to an expansion of the monument by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act enlarged the national monument by 817.2 square miles on December 2, 1980, and created Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

This is the Johns Hopkins Glacier, named in 1893 by H.F. Reid after the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which sponsored an expedition to this glacier.  It is the only advancing tidewater glacier now (its advance started in 1924 when Grand Pacific Glacier started receding towards Tarr Inlet) and is combined with Gilman Glacier (first got attached to Hopkins in the 1990s, broke off and rejoined several times and once again it appears joined since 2000); both are advancing as one single ice block, and at the waterfront, has a width of 1 mile with a depth of 250 feet, rises to a height of 250 feet and stretches to about 12 miles  upstream.

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Fjords

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This photograph was taken on the journey to Skagway, Alaska up the Inner Passage from Juneau.  I must admit that I was unaware that there were fjords in Alaska, as in Norway and Iceland.  A fjord is simply a long waterway cut by glaciers into the bedrock.  The stone walls of the fjords were incredible, as were the markings on them.  You can see in this photograph the dark tide lines on the stones which lead into a deep chasm in the rock.  Alaska was mysterious to me.  It was true wilderness, which fascinates me.  Even in the wilds of North Carolina, I am still mindful that I was not the first person to trod upon the dirt.  There is a distinct possibility that if you stray to far afield of the paths in Alaska, you may be the first human to do so.  I long to go back to Alaska.

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Cumulus Trails

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The beautiful irony of this photograph is that I have little memory of where it was taken in Alaska.  The tall mountain, offset by thirds from the center, may or may not have a name, and then, it may only be known to the natives.  It is tall enough to be the highest peak in a number of the contiguous states, tall enough to catch the cumulus clouds that passed by, hooking them on its summit, and tall enough that it should be memorable–but that is the awful truth of Alaska’s wilderness, the majesty is overwhelming.  For nature lovers like I am, it was a total sensory overload.  I snapped thousands of pictures, not photographs, but pictures to simply document what I could not trust my visual cortex to process.  That I managed to take this photograph and others as beautiful was simple dumb luck.  Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while.

I long to go back to Alaska with better gear and a better understanding of what to expect.  Using kit lenses on my Nikon D40 in automatic mode was like cutting one’s first filet mignon with a teaspoon, ultimately effective, but crude and personally unsatisfying in hindsight.  Still, I cannot regret the photographic experience totally.  I stumbled on some amazing photographs through the law of averages.  When your subject is so magnificent, it is hard not to capture some inkling of the awe, as here with this unnamed mountain, likely passed by in a matter of minutes during our cruise up the inside passage as the clouds passed with equal celerity over the peak, trailing it like a wispy pennant casually waving in the boreal air.

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Path Less Travelled

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
-Robert Frost
These opening lines from Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” are familiar to most, as are the last two (I took the one less traveled by /and that has made all the difference), but the melancholy of the poem is seldom analyzed.  Frost wished that he could travel both paths at the same time, to be “one traveler” on both.  Frost’s poem is so relatable, both because of its simplicity and rhythmic overtones, and because we have all faced a fork in the road between one path and another.  Like Frost, we have had to make the difficult decision to trod down one path to the exclusion of the other, and like Frost, we wonder where our lives would have taken us had we ventured down the other path.
This photograph was taken in the forest surrounding Glacier Bay National Park in the southeast portion of the Inside Passage in Alaska.  I took it before I discovered my love for photography in earnest, but it has remained one of my favorite photographs.  As I have shared before, photographs of paths are a common and beloved subject of mine.  Like Frost, I am fascinated by those who have come before me–those who have “trodden the leaves black,” if you will.  I am likewise curious who will come after me, and whether they will see what I saw in the continuum of the path–its past, my present, and its future.  Perhaps this one will wash away, and a new one will be cut through the undergrowth in its place.  Perhaps it will fall out of favor, in lieu of a straighter, more direct path.  Perhaps someday a young poet will be faced with the choice between the two, and he will think of Frost like I did those years ago.

Perspective

Perspective

This photograph was taken in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.  Of all the waterfalls we saw, this was perhaps the most impressive.  Without the two people standing at its base, this would have been a great picture – a study in contrasts; but the two individuals lend such perspective to the grand scale of the waterfall that I could not, in good conscience, leave them out.  Perspective is a term that covers all manner of sins, from the linear perspective of Da Vinci, to the perspective one gains from a tragedy, to even the perspective that you grasp from the sheer insignificance of two humans set against the backdrop of indefatigable nature.

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