Daniel Ridge Falls

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Waterfalls pepper the landscape of Western North Carolina.  This particular one comments Daniel Ridge Falls, can be found in the Pisgah National Forest, about thirty minutes outside of Asheville.  It was a hot, dry summer, but I am told that in the early spring when the showers are abundant in the snow is melting, the falls are spectacular.  Despite the dryness, everything was green and alive.

Kemper was much younger then, and he made the hike in a pack on Anna’s back.  He has seen this photograph of the falls, but I doubt that he remembers them personally.  I, too, have memories of places that I’ve been through pictures, such as climbing on the rocks in Bar Harbor, Maine.  My grandparents used to spend months of the summer in a rented house on the coast (Down East), and when we visited them, I was, apparently, enamored with the rocks.

I am not sure what memories Kemper will have of the places we have taken him as a child.  Nevertheless, I have recorded everything and every place that we have ever taken.  Thus, he may have memories of places through the photographs that he would never otherwise have.  He has seen England, California, Maine, and others; the photographs themselves are memories, but for a child they are sometimes all that exists to trigger the memory of the place.

I have vague memories of scooting down the hill in Bar Harbor, but because there are no photographs, the memory is just a blurry snapshot.  I do, however, remember vividly (whether by first-hand knowledge or more likely through the photographs) climbing on and through the rocks on the coast, the smell of the bay, and even the way the barnacles and seaweed felt under my young feet.

Dupont Falls

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This photograph of Dupont Falls in the Pisgah National Forest is but one of the waterfalls contained in my portfolio “Falls.”  The sheer scale of this one separates it from the others, however.  What I remember most about the hike up to the falls was the difficulty I had climbing the steep incline of the path.  I was near the heaviest weight that I’ve ever been, and I was incredibly out of shape.  Over 80 pounds lost, I look forward to the hikes in North Carolina, where I once feared and loathed them.

When I decided to have weight loss surgery (vertical sleeve gastrectomy), I worried about the stigma, specifically that people would think I was taking the easy way out.  I worried about not being able to enjoy food like I used to or lean upon it as an emotional crutch, which is precisely what got me in that predicament in the first place.  Nevertheless, I was tired of constantly watching the scale rise and being unable to do simple things like hike a short distance to take a picture of a waterfall without great difficulty.

Having the surgery was one of the most difficult decisions ever made.  Nevertheless, one year removed, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  That is not to say that the journey has not been difficult.  My stomach has still not fully regained its fortitude, and perhaps it never will.  However, watching the reactions of people who hadn’t seen me since before the surgery, and feeling younger, healthier, and more energetic than I had for years (longer than I can remember), makes it all worth it.

I am no longer ashamed that I sought out medical intervention to help with my weight loss journey.  As I was counseled in the beginning, the surgery is not a panacea, but is instead a tool.  It has been an incredibly useful tool, one which I utilize sometimes more appropriately sometimes less, but that I will always have at my disposal.  I still have a ways to go, but 80 pounds is a great start.  Perhaps next time we are up in North Carolina, I will turn even further up the path for another angle of what the falls have to offer.

Outcropping

SSA Photography (138 of 400) This photograph was taken a few summers ago in North Carolina.  The afternoon presented a small break in the rain that had been falling consistently for nearly a week, and so we put on our boots and braved the trails that were muddy in parts and wholly impassable in others.  The green of the forest was indescribable.  Everything glowed with a vibrant verdigris, especially the moss that grew on the rocks and the fallen trees.

This patch of moss was unique, insofar as it hung from the rocks instead of clinging to them.  Perhaps the moss just followed the water that always trickled down from the mountaintops during the summer rains.  Certainly the water had enough nutrients for any living thing to subsist.  The bright, almost neon, chartreuse was stunning.  When I got back to the cabin, the rain having begun to fall again, I was somewhat morose.  I am not sure if it was because our hike was cut short, or because I was stuck inside once again, when all I wanted to do was walk around with my camera and capture the beauty of Western North Carolina.

Whatever the reason, my displeasure at the situation made this photograph monochrome.  I am sure that I have the original on a hard drive somewhere, but I have come to know this photograph as black and white.  When it cycles through the slideshow in my office, it is monochrome, and it reminds me of my grumpiness that day.

Photographs are queer like that, I suppose.  They capture a moment, but the moment is so much greater than what actually registers on the sensor as a photograph.  For me, the act of taking a photograph is a holistic experience.  When I look at a shot I took, I remember where I was and how I felt about the shot when I took it and when I edited it.  Some memories have been lost along the way, but the important ones persist.  Even the thought of that rainy July day four years ago has stayed with me.  If I ever begin to lose my memory, my photography will become all that much more important.

My photography is a record of my journey through the last ten years of my life, a journey that was filled with tempest and the afterglow of a rainy afternoon, when everything appears that much more green after the rain has passed.

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Cored

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This old pignut hickory (Carya Glabra) has seen better seasons, but the beak of a red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides Borealis) has extensively excavated the trunk, reaching through the growth rings of those seasons for the tunneling larvae of hickory bark beetles (Scolytus Quadrispinosus).  Although I only captured two of the woodpecker’s cavities in this photograph, the length of the trunk of the dead pignut hickory was pocked with them on every side.  I had hoped to capture the guilty woodpeckers in flagrante delicto, but I was only able to capture the evidence of their tenacious, voracious nature.

The black and white captures the deep shadows of the holes, and gives the bark an almost tessellated appearance, which is true to form.  The gray lichen on the bark just to the right of the lower cavity is almost inconspicuous, but I would be remiss to not note the thin layer of crustose lichen, perhaps Pertusaria Epixantha, which gives a more complete vision of this small ecosystem with tree, and bird, and insect, and fungi within millimeters of each other–coexisting in harmony, even after the tree has lost its sap and vigor.  Nothing in the woods of North Carolina goes to waste.  Even the autumnal leaves that fall by the wayside eventually feed the very trees that shed them, not to mention the other fauna and flora that feast upon them.  Thus, even in the hollowed, cored trunk of this long dead tree, I saw embodied a brief arc of the circle of life.

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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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Wheat & Chaff

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This photograph of a seedhead of tall ryegrass was taken on a high in Panthertown Creek, outside of Cashiers, North Carolina.  It is a simple photograph, and one which I would normally have skipped right over when I was sifting through the hundreds I took that day.  Nevertheless, something caught my eye in the simple elegance of the seeds and the blur and bokeh of the background.  Although not actual wheat, this native grass reminded me of the old aphorism “to separate the wheat from the chaff,” which is exactly what I do when I cull through the photographs to find the “keepers.”  The irony is not lost on me that the “chaff” nearly included this photograph.

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