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.

Dusk on the Davidson

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This photograph was taken just before the golden hour in the Pisgah National Forest in Brevard, North Carolina.  A combination of heavy snows just weeks before, warm weather thereafter, and torrential rains contributed to an incredible amount of flooding, especially along major tributaries like the Davidson River, which is pictured here.

As we hiked along the banks of the Davidson, I was shocked to see a water line about a foot and half up on the trunks of the trees, even a hundred yards from the river.  Limbs and leaves and detritus were scattered along the muddy paths, and Kemper found great pleasure in stomping in the mud and his wellingtons.  In fact, the mud puddles seem to be the only redeeming factor in many of our walks which he begrudgingly accompanied us on.

The snowfall, the likes of which had not been seen in decades, knocked many large trees down, as evidenced by the fresh sawdust on the trails where the park rangers had come through earlier that week with chainsaws.  It is humbling to think, despite the power that we wield, the sheer power of nature is unparalleled.  Having grown up in Florida, I am accustomed to this come July through September when hurricane season is in full effect.  I am sure the next time we go up, new growth will have taken the place of the grand old black pines, whose time it was to cede to a younger generation of saplings.

Beneath the Rhododendrons

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The great rhododendrons (Rhododendron Maximum) are thick throughout western North Carolina, no less so in Panthertown Valley.  We hiked through the valley, and though the leaves had fallen from all but the paper birches, even the huge snowstorm the weeks before had not tempered the deep, rich green of the underbrush.

I don’t particularly care for the bare bushes, though in the summer when they are flowering, they can be quite lovely.  To me, they are glorified giant azaleas, which again, are beautiful only when they are in bloom.  Nevertheless, I respect them.  They are a native species, and they have retained their ground (with great aplomb) even where invasive species would have otherwise taken over.  Even the leaves of the rhododendron are persistent, lasting up to eight years on the plant itself, and then they are incredibly slow to decompose.  There is even some believe that the rhododendron is allelopathic (a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces chemicals that inhibit the growth or germination of other plants), which means it quite literally fights for its place in the forests through biochemical warfare.

There is, I admit, something to be admired about the lowly “great rhododendron” and the wide swath it has cut through Appalachia.  I count myself among a group of survivors, whose roots were set down deep by my parents, else I would have washed away long ago.  I feel a sort of kindred with them, and perhaps I did not care for them in the past because I saw a bit too much of myself in 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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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.

Click here for a larger version, and see the rest of my Alaska portfolio here.

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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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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Daylight on the Davidson

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“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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River of Ice

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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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