Atop the Moors

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Another selection from my “Paths” portfolio, this photograph of a rocky road was taken on the the moors just outside of Haworth, England.  Almost indiscernible at the end of the road, towards the horizon, are the minuscule figures of my mother-in-law, Vivien, and her brother, Robin, who both grew up wandering the moors like the Brontës, who lived in a parsonage in Haworth, adjacent to the church where their father Branwell preached.  The moors are the inspiration of many of the gothic scenes in their novels, in particular Emily’s Wuthering Heights.  Wuthering is a Yorkshire word meaning blustery and turbulent, and often describes the fierce, noisy winds that blow across the moors.  The winds were calm this day, but only the day before, they were truly wuthering, rattling the shutters and whipping horizontal rain against the panes of crown glass in the home that Anna’s grandfather built, stone by stone, from the ruins of an ostler barn, where the horses were housed during the construction of the Worth Valley railway.  

Whether to give Anna and I our own space on the hike up and down the steep moors, or because we could not keep up, Vivien and Robin always appeared as part of the horizon, which in this photograph looks south towards Ostlerhouse.  As the sun set on us, the sky became iridescent, the faintest inchoate hint of which can be seen in this photograph.  Having finally caught my breath from the harrowing ascents and descents, through many of which I cursed my mother-in-law for promising a nice calm amble through the heather, I could at last appreciate the beauty that would have only come from striding atop the moors.  I have captured, between heavy, heaving chestfuls of fresh Yorkshire air, these breathtaking (pun intended) views of the moors in my portfolio, aptly titled, albeit simply, “The Moors.” 

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Worth

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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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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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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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Tempest

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“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
-Shakespeare, The Tempest
This photograph was taken on the moors outside of Haworth, England earlier this year.  It was cloudless until dusk, when shadows crept over the heather, and tempestuous clouds filled the sky.  The rock in the foreground is a landmark that can be seen for miles, and indeed it can be seen from the house which Anna’s grandfather built stone by stone from an old ostler house.  It is but a pinpoint on the horizon from the house, and we trekked miles up and down (and up again) through the heather and sheep until we reached it.  The views, as can be seen here, and in the gallery “The Moors” were breathtaking, and though I cursed Anna’s mother and uncle for taking us on such a hard-fought scramble up the moors, it was indeed worth it in the end.  And in the end, as the Bard said, “what’s past is prologue.”
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Remnant

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I studied art history in high school and college, learning from incredible teachers and professors.  I went to museums and saw visiting collections, but I never stood in the middle of St. Peter’s square or under the arches of a gothic cathedral until 2006 when I stood in La Seu, visited Pompeii, and walked into the middle of the Piazza San Pietro, marveling at the history that surrounded me.  Yet something about Bolton Abbey, the skeleton of which I captured in this photograph, struck me more than even walking through the ancient streets of Pompeii.  Perhaps because I was older, I had a new appreciation for the feats of architecture.  Perhaps, too, it was because I was alone with my camera and my thoughts, not being bustled about by tour guides or other eager tourists.  Whatever the difference, Bolton Abbey was more majestic to me than even St. Peter’s.  It is a memory, a remnant of time gone by, of the monarchy, of the Reformation, and of the shifting sands of faith.  While other abbeys were deconstructed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and all that remains of them is rubble, Bolton Abbey remains – like a fossil, its bones bared and resolute.  When I stood in the nave, I placed my hand on a monolithic column, lingering for a moment and hoping to physically connect to the priory.  With the weathered stone pressed against my hand, I wondered how many generations had set their hands upon the stonework, and at that moment I felt truly connected to a continuum of time – those who had come before and those who would come after to admire the remnant as I had.

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