Quarry

NCWinter2018-24

As I stared at the tall, sheer rock face of the long-abandoned quarry, in the middle of the Pisgah National Forest, my dad reminded me that one of my relatives had been a dynamite man for a quarry back in Maine many years ago.  Whether he was deaf from the work, or simply unsocial, my father never knew.  The long drills would bore vertically into the solid stone, and then he would carefully lower the dynamite into the channel to blast thousands of tons of rock and rubble from the mountainside.  Most of the bores in the Pisgah quarry were high on the stone face at least ten feet long, irregularly spaced, but distinctively smooth interstices in the jagged profile of the mountain.  The small paper birch trees were deceptively omnipresent in all of the photographs I attempted, and I was not satisfied with any of them–even as I took them.

As we began to walk on, however, I saw this remnant of a small bore, and I snapped a quick photograph of it, not thinking too much about it at the time.  This hole was unique from the others.  It was only a foot or so long, and its edges were not smooth like the channels higher up.  The crevasses and splintered stone that surrounds the bore suggests that it was an afterthought, and the jagged striations within the shallow channel evidence a blast that wrought the uniformity from it.

This photograph is a microcosm of the quarry, but far more representative than a wide-angle shot of the sheared-off face of the mountain with its uniform bores.  It is evocative and telling that the work was violent and loud and dangerous, but the quarry no doubt was necessary in supplying building materials for the early denizens of Brevard.  Though Robinson Jeffers noted, as I have quoted before, “Not everything beautiful is pleasant,” I have to believe that the opposite might be true.  The violence of a volcano or a blast-torn bore can be beautiful if the time is taken to appreciate it.

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Morning through the Maples

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Dawn is often a foggy affair in the mountains.  This photograph was taken off of the front porch of our cabin in Brevard, North Carolina.  We have come up for a week, and though we have been up for only two days, I am reinvigorated after a long year at work.  Foggy beginnings seem familiar and yet foreign.  Though I am nostalgic for many things, living in a metaphorical fog is not amongst them.  Waking up, walking outside with a hot cup of tea, and watching as the low clouds creep through the maples is something different entirely.  Being here with my family, who walked through the fog with me, and seeing my son slushing through the creeks on the property like I did when I was his age is inspiring.  Even though the dawn is foggy, the sunlight burns through in the end.

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Cumulus Trails

SSA Photography (30 of 400)

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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Triple Falls

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Like many of my photographs of waterfalls, this one was taken in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  Although I quickly shy away from the compliments and comparisons some have drawn between my black and white landscape shots and the photographs of the great Ansel Adams, this one does remind me of some of his shots of the falls in Yellowstone.  If I can be half of the photographer Adams was, I think that will be accomplishment enough.

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Through the Briar Patch

SSA Photography (115 of 400)

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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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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Bixby Canyon Bridge

SSA Photography (174 of 400)

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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River of Ice

SSA Photography (20 of 400)

On the list of the most beautiful natural places I have ever been, Alaska ranks at the very top.  This glacier may have had a name, but so many others did not.  There were simply too many of them.  Beauty was within reach at every point on this trip, whether it was seeing the salmon in the rivers towards the end of their annual run, coming upon a group of ten bald eagles on the bank of a fjord, or paddling next to a huge river of ice that creeps along ever so slowly, carving mountains in its wake.  The force and the majesty of the state was almost overwhelming at times.  I could not capture it all, but this photograph is a stunning reminder of my trip there.  I cannot wait to go back with a renewed focus (and a better camera) to document the awe inspiring beauty of untouched nature.

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Skagway Mist

SSA Photography (18 of 400)

This small panorama was taken from the bow of a ship in the Inside Passage in Alaska, near Skagway.  To call the nature in Alaska untamed would be an understatement.  The glaciers are so plentiful that some have no names, and the fjords stretch for days.  All of the stones have stories, variegated and striated like this one from eons of ebbing and flowing tides.  The morning mist was a beautiful phenomenon, which I attempted to capture in this photograph.  It blanketed everything in a soft, dense fog, which sometimes did not burn off until well into the afternoon, when the blue skies brought out the deep cerulean of the glaciers.  Although beautiful in full color, I felt that the black and white of this photograph worked ever so well with the natural contrasts of the subject.

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