Worth

MoorWalk-8.jpg

How I arrived at the top of this particular moor, I don’t really care to recount.  It suffices to say, that in a land of paths cut by more intrepid travelers over the centuries, there were no paths at the top of this moor, as we were, apparently, four of the only masochists to decide that it was prudent to visit the rock in the left foreground of the photograph.  I would have grumbled the entire way, as I am wont to do, but I had no breath.  Thus, the grumbling was internal–albeit vociferous.  Nevertheless, when we reached the apex of this last moor (we had already traversed at least four), my grumbling ceased.  I even managed to catch my breath, and yet I did not utter a discouraging word.  How could I at such a magnificent sight.  The purple heather that I disregarded with certain animosity as I trapsed through it was gorgeous, and gave the moors on the horizon an almost surreal violet hue in patches.

Three miles or so down in the Worth Valley is where Anna’s grandfather build their house, stone by stone, from the ruins of an ostler barn.  It is where Anna’s mother grew up, and where I proposed to her in a field across the valley from the house–but in a line of sight from the kitchen window, so that we could always look over to the field when we were at the house.  Looking further into the horizon, you can make out a pinpoint landmark, which is the rock outcropping that we came to mount.  This is where the Brontë sisters wrote their novels, and in fact Top Withens, the inspiration for Heathcliff’s home in Wuthering Heights, sat only minutes away atop an adjacent moor.  A steam train runs through the middle of the valley, on which tracks Anna’s great-great-grandfather was an engineer.  The valley is of another time, and it affects me like no other place I have visited in the world.

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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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Setting above the Sycamores

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This was the last photograph I took on our trip to England in late August of this year.  I was tired, having climbed over moors, through the dales and back again at least four times over the course of the three hours or so.  The flatness of this picture belies the vertical bent of everything in England.  The sunset was magnificent because the clouds in the sky possessed such an impressionist character.  The patch of sycamores on the horizon grew closer and closer as we approached the setting sun, with Top Withens (the inspiration for Wuthering Heights) behind us.  There were no paths towards the top of the hike, which should have been an early harbinger of the difficulty of the climb.  For all I knew (and willingly shared with the rest of the hiking group), we were likely the only masochists to have made the hike for generations.  As we wended our way through the dense heather and tall wild grasses and bracken ferns, and I gasped for breath at manageable intervals, I thought back on that field twelve years prior where I proposed in a similar field across the valley from Anna’s grandparent’s house, amongst a small herd black and white Friesians.

The beauty of Yorkshire has ceased to surprise me.  By this, I do not mean that it has become any less wondrous or awe inspiring, only that I have come to expect to look out on a field and see the beauty that inspired the Brontës and Wordsworth and John Constable and all of the other artists that have spent their lives’ work attempting to capture the magnificence of this landscape.  Indeed, the sky was something out of Constable’s painting of Salisbury Cathedral (sans the rainbow).  The beauty is almost laughably ubiquitous.  I have been to England three times now, and each time I am left with the distinct sensation that I was born on the wrong continent.  My archaic turns of phrases, my passion for history and ancient things, all find root in the mother country.  Anna’s grandmother, a strong Yorkshire woman, who still travels the world at 94, has adopted me as her “cloth” grandson, an appellation that I take very seriously, and I have been warmly embraced by the network of aunties and cousins — just the toe-holds I needed to claim a bit of Yorkshire as my own.

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Among the Ferns

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These bracken ferns on the moors in Yorkshire are substantially shorter than those in the lake district; nevertheless, they nearly engulfed my wife, Anna, as she tried to follow the path cut between the fiddleheads that popped out from the skeletons of heather, long since overcome by the dark green ferns.  This photograph was taken at dusk outside of Haworth, England, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote.  Their stories were heavily   influenced by the moors and the hardy people who lived on them (especially Wuthering Heights).  Indeed, in this photograph, on the horizon to the left, there is a lone sycamore next to the barely perceptible ruins of a farmhouse (Top Withens), which is said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.  My mother-in-law grew up among the ferns on the moors, and she is closer to nature than anyone I have ever met.  Yorkshire does something indelible to a person.  The first time you walk over the top of a moor and look down into the Worth Valley at the train steaming along the tracks towards Leeds, you realize that you are in a living snapshot of a much simpler time.

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Chicken of the Woods

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I love to photograph unique mushrooms, like this Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus Sulphureus), which I came across in Panthertown Creek outside of Brevard, North Carolina.  Even though the mushroom is not only edible, but apparently delicious (tasting like chicken, hence the name), I was not confident enough in my identification at the time to harvest it and cook it that night.  After much research, there are very few mushrooms that look like this one, and those that do are generally edible as well.  Perhaps when we are back in North Carolina in the New Year, I may come across a shelf of these mushrooms…then we’ll see who’s chicken.

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Through the Briar Patch

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Nostalgia is a beautiful word.  It is a is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of the Homeric word νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.  Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.  For me, nothing evokes nostalgia like the mountains of North Carolina.  The earliest associations are of visiting the Smoky Mountains with my family when I was much younger, and later the mountains close to Winston-Salem, which were only a short drive away from Wake Forest.  For reasons I cannot explain, the feelings are strongest in the winter, when the wind has stripped away the leaves from the branches, and you can see through the skeletons of the trees through the valleys and to the peaks.  This photograph, taken outside of Brevard, North Carolina, evokes so many strong memories – all positive – which was not always the case in North Carolina.  Hindsight and nostalgia are curious like that, though.  No matter the number of disheartening days and nights, I still long to be back in the mountains.  We’re going up for a week after Christmas, and I know the feelings will rush back, satisfying the homesickness for a while.  Until then, in my mind, I’m going to Carolina…

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As They Saw It

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I have published many posts taken at Point Lobos, but none yet of the point itself.  Point Lobos is located a few miles south down the coast from Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and it is one of our favorite destinations when we visit Carmel.  When I took this picture, I wanted to capture the ruggedness of the point as well as the grove of Monterey Cypresses, which as I mentioned in a previous post, is one of two groves left in the world where the cypresses grow naturally.  When I went to “develop” or post-process the photograph, and I decided to go monochromatic, I was struck by the similarities to postcards I had seen in town from the 1930s and 1940s.  The coastline remained the same, albeit a bit more worn by the waves.  They cypresses were just as withered and topped by the constant winds.  The great Californian poet Robinson Jeffers wrote extensively about the coastline in his verses, and as I gazed at the photograph, I thought to myself, this is as he would have seen it – hence the genesis of the title of the post.

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Etched

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“Etch” comes to us from the German ätzen meaning “to eat” via the Dutch etsen.  Etching is the traditional process of using an acid to cut into the unprotected parts of a surface to create an intaglio (incised) design on the surface.  The word has been borrowed for human application, with it meaning something that is affixed permanently in one’s memory.  This photograph has elements of both meanings.  The breaks in the heather and scrub are beautiful, lasting reminders of what has come before.  The paths on the moors have been etched by the footfalls of generations of Yorkshiremen and, indeed, even us outsiders.  Likewise, the scenes captured along such paths, as if created by old masters, have been indelibly etched into my mind.

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Daylight on the Davidson

Version 2

“The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
checkering the eastern clouds with streaks of light…”
-Shakespeare
This photograph was taken at dawn in the Pisgah National Forest on the banks of the Davidson River.  The sun through the dappled leaves left streaks in the dewy air, which I attempted to capture in this photograph.  The shadow-play made the exposure a bit tricky, but overall I have always enjoyed this photograph and its even its color version.  We are venturing back to the Pisgah in December, and I look forward to capturing even more scenes of the rivers and falls once there.
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Bixby Canyon Bridge

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I descended a dusty gravel ridge
Beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge
Until I eventually arrived
At the place where your soul had died
Barefoot in the shallow creek,
I grabbed some stones from underneath
And waited for you to speak to me
And the silence; it became so very clear
That you had long ago disappeared
I cursed myself for being surprised
That this didn’t play like it did in my mind
-Death Cab for Cutie
This photograph of the Bixby Canyon Bridge in Big Sur, California, just after dawn shows the marine layer lifting from the bay, slowly creeping up the mountains, only to burn off completely by the early afternoon.  The bridge spanning Bixby Creek is one of many on Route 1 down the coast of California south of Carmel, but it is probably the most famous.  The bridge has a rich history, opening in 1932 to connect the residents of Big Sur with Carmel and San Francisco further to the north.  When it was built, it was the longest concrete arch span the west coast.  It remains one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world.  It is narrower (by eight feet) than the required width of modern bridges, but due to its historic relevance, expansion is unlikely.
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