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November 30, 2004

You Can Fly!

image copyright Fred First

Yet another view from the plane, leaving Boston. I'm using the large version as a desktop today. The larger image reminds me of a flying scene from Peter Pan--a movie I insisted on seeing several times as a five-year-old, largely because of this take-your-breath soaring above the clouds imagery.

Do you remember it? Peter, Wendy and the brothers were flying over a thick blanket of billowing clouds when suddenly, your stomach sinks and you see a tiny river and the suggestion of forests far below. These children were flying! The closest I had ever come to being airborne was falling out of my bed when the siderails were first removed. I dreamed of flying, there between the sheets and the floor. And yet, there I saw it before my believing eyes!

Think of the presents you've brought
Any merry little thought
Think of Christmas, think of snow
Think of sleigh bells Here we go!
Like a reindeer in the sky
You can fly! You can fly!
You can fly! You can fly!

Soon you'll zoom all around the room
All it takes is faith and trust
But the thing that's a positive must
Is a little bit of pixie dust
The dust is a positive must
You can fly! You can fly!
You can fly! You can fly!

When there's a smile in your heart
There's no better time to start
It's a very simple plan
You can do what the birdies can
At least it's worth a try
You can fly! You can fly!
You can fly! You can fly!

Small Souls

I should know better than to broach this huge subject in my limited blogging time this morning. But perhaps it will help me to decide how to bring this issue to some resolution before Friday's lecture.

We are coming to the end of our biology text. The next-to-last chapter is on Animal Behavior. Its authors have a point of view, but I want these students to consider other perspectives, especially when it comes to the issues of evolutionary psychology and genetic determinism to which the text gives considerable credence.

Reductionism--picking apart the whole into its component parts as a way of understanding--certainly has had its place in the successes of science. However, it has become a pervasive assumption in many scientific circles that organisms are nothing more than the sum of their parts, including man. Followed to the ultimate reduction, our behavior is nothing but an extrapolation of E O Wilson's ant colony. Followed, in my opinion, too far to molecular explanations, an organism--you, for instance--are only your genes' deliver package and a way for them to survive and propagate, as Richard Dawkins proselytizes. "A organism is nothing more than a gene's way of making more genes."

First, I do not believe we come closer to the truth by accepting this as the whole story of what life or man is "about." In our striving to free ourselves of ignorance and superstition, perhaps we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. And secondly, it seems to me that we suffer a national schizophrenia as a result of delusions that have fallen upon us in the past generation, in part because of these reductionistic "presuppositions" that are so pervasive that few notice or question them. On the one hand, we are guilty of unmitigated arrogance in our belief that we are owners of the planet, entitled to live lives of individual self-satisfaction and material power. We are like gods. But we simultaneously believe that we are genetic robots, the products of selfish genes in a world where purpose and meaning and higher truth are merely subjective creations, illusions we project in our ignorance. We are star stuff, perhaps, as Carl Sagan often said. But we are not nothing but star stuff. Our dust once had a large soul.

We conclude from reducing human existence to its ultimate chemistry and physics that we are here merely to survive and reproduce. Tacitly, we are living out these assumptions, and our souls have become small. And yet we have the potential for magnanimous souls--magnum animus--large souls. To find this balance between what we are and who we might be, science and religion must talk, and not always from the point of view that religion has something to learn from science. Knowledge sorely needs the benefit of wisdom.

In my browsing for material to illustrate sociobiology and the selfish gene philosophy, I have found some good resources on the dialogue between science and religion that I look forward to exploring. I haven't decided if in class this week I'll delve very far into the science or dogma of these explanations for human behavior. But the search has rekindled concerns and interests in an area where I was once far more current and conversant. Could be I may talk more about the science-faith dicussion in the future. Could be I'll have to start a separate blog apart from Fragments for such stuff, if I could find the time. If I could only get that Ronco Day Stretcher...

November 29, 2004

Plantimals

image copyright Fred First

I think this will be the last of the New England Aquarium pictures, but I did want to show you one last thing. The creature depicted here was one of the first things I saw in the "Amazing Jellies" display, and trust me: it was a tough act to follow.

First glance into the tank one sees an odd aggregation of pie-plate sized thick crust pizza looking things cheek to jowl on the sandy body of a simulated mangrove forest floor. From the upper crust, green leafy sprigs wave in the artificial tidal currents; and underneath them, the pizzas are pulsing.

This is a jelly "fish"-- a group that are called the cnidarians. The "Upsidedown Jelly" as this species is called (genus Cassiopea) has abandoned the usual sea-jelly floating way of life of constantly undulating its outer bell as if in slow-motion flight, with stinging tentacles--some over 20 feet long--trailing below, trawling for food.

This member of the phylum is sedentary--almost plantlike--even to the use of photosynthesis by which it obtains some of its food (provided by the mutualistic relationship with algae that conveniently invade the leafy bladders on its upper crust.) If you look closely, you can even see faux-sand grains--part of the jelly's disguise--that increases its camouflage against the sea floor.

The Upsidedown Jelly uses its bell to create suction that keeps it anchored to the sandy bottom as the tides come in and out, bringing its food to the door. Its pulses draw food particles to its short waiting tentacles that will pass it ultimately over one of its mouths. What an amazing creature.

And briefly while on the subject of jellies, I learned at the Aquarium that the jellies of many kinds have become highly invasive in some areas, and grow in gross overabundance--sort of the starling-kudzu of the marine world--in places (and there are way too many) where sea water is polluted. As their numbers increase (compounded by global warming), the number of fish eggs and larval creatures of all kinds become food to the millions of jellies. Watch the cost of seafood in coming years. This will be part of the explanation.

Our oceans are very unwell and I'm afraid we haven't the foresight and collective international good will to make them whole again. Our living systems are out of balance in proportion to the disharmonies between nations, the strife within them, and our individual alienation from an ordered cosmos for which we no longer hold any reverence or awe.

November 28, 2004

Moon Temple

image copyright Fred First

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them. -- Henry David Thoreau

It has been a beautiful pre-dawn, with the peek-a-boo moon alternately flooding the pasture and creeks with blue light, then muted by opalescent cloud, or hidden entirely in gray fog. Beautiful, but I feel no joy in it. Why this crepuscular sadness in the dense quiet of the morning?

I think, maybe it is because, even as I gather more and more materials about me and conjure a bridge or temple as if I had my life ahead of me, these hands know even a woodshed may soon exceed their grasp.

November 27, 2004

Field Trip

image copyright Fred First
I'm still revisiting my excursion through the New England Aquarium in Boston a few weeks back. It quite frankly blew my hat in the creek. I was not prepared to be so smitten.

Maybe it was because I had just been lecturing about the jellies and anemones, starfish and tunicates, and realized upon standing just inches from them alive that my knowledge of marine life was book learning only. I knew the facts but I did not know these creatures in the intimate way I knew-smelled-touched the wildflowers of our woods. I had no personal anecdotes to tell of this coral or that sea slug. I only knew them by their mugshots in books, by the mechanics of their roles in the real places where they lived that I had never--would never--see.

Maybe it was because, more than ever, I comprehended how close we are to losing--no, destroying--creatures like the ones I was seeing for the first time, just as we are losing coral reefs and estuaries to vast anoxic "dead zones" around the world. Even the tiny specks that float unnoticed--the essential plankton pastures of the water world--are in jeopardy. And so too, the krill and bait fish at the next level up the complex ocean food chains we so poorly understand.

But I pushed to the back of my mind any academic and economic and ethical concerns for the three hours of my field trip to this exotic world. It was not analysis I was there for, not an internal discourse, but only to stand that close to aliens. And I could not have been more amazed or awe-filled had I been walking the forest of a distant planet. The blur of motion, and lifestyles attached permanently to rocks or other strange creatures; the perfect patterns of form and function and color in a hundred different body plans; the sheer beauty of underwater life--was more in its effects like a sermon than a lecture. Amen.

November 26, 2004

Manual Transmission

We've only driven stick shift cars since we were married. We prefer them. There is a bond that grows between the driver, the road, and the machine. The road climbs, the engine pulls, the driver makes the necessary adjustments, finding the gear that suits conditions that change from moment to moment, mile to mile. And so it is with our lives here in the country. A time of changing gears has happened. We hear the changes, feel them in the engines of our lives, in the smells and winds and in the way the air feels around us.

Wardrobes shift as the season grinds into low gear. Now when we go out, it is not a spontaneous walk, come as you are, out the door in into the woods. Not only must we give care to make the transition from house garb to outdoor garb, but for almost every item, we'll don not one but two: two shirts, two pair of pants, and two pair of socks. We will make each outside excursion count now, will stay outside as long as we can, dream up things to do with our gloved hands before we have to come in and put the process in reverse.

The woodstove, starting today, will likely stay on round the clock, every day, until the January thaw. It is the home heating equivalent of chain smoking: one fire does not go out but helps light the next one and the next. The fire will burn constantly from the winter thaw until the first duplicitous freakish warm days of late March that we know are a cruel lie. The final fire of the heating year will die after the killing frost of May that we thought would not come, and so planted tomatoes the week before. It's all part of the rhythm--the manual transmission of life here--that has become, now in our fifth year, so familiar. We shift our seasonal gears, knowing that four-wheel-drive snow-covered roads lie ahead. We will not always face them happily, but we are ready.

This (reworked a bit, from Dec 2003) is not the piece I was looking for this morning as I put the first large "body wood" into the woodstove for our first all-day all-night fire. There is another, about the ritual of starting the fire--so much a part of our lives in winter--that came to mind this morning, that I want to revisit. I'll keep searching.

November 25, 2004

Carrion. Carry off

One of our deer hunters (the kind that asks permission) killed a doe on our land last week, not far from the house. He field-dressed it--we figured that he had done so--but hoped by some miracle the dog would not discover the pile of blood and guts. But Tsuga did, and ate the awful offal--several pounds of stomach, intestines, other giblets. They stayed ingested some few hours. We threw buckets of water onto the concrete slab of his pen to clean up the wretch-inducing mess his body wisely rejected. And at that point we established a policy that any future hunters given permission to hunt deer on our land will be prohibited from field dressing them here. The dog was listless for a day after his indiscretion, but recovered--this time.

Then came the Neanderthal shoot-from-the-truckers I ran off this morning. "Naw, we didn't hit nothing" turned out to be the untruth I suspected that it was. Why would the three of them have run off leaving the truck lights on unless they had been pursuing a wounded deer?

Towards dusk on this gray and increasingly dismal rainy day, Ann took the dog (on the leash) for a walk around the pasture. She let Tsuga loose when they crossed the creek, thinking he would make a bee-line for the house. Nope. He followed the scent, past the garden, then up the logging road where the trespassers had been walking when I first spotted them this morning. Had Tsuga not lead us to it, we would not have discovered it before the stench of dead flesh or the buzzards alerted us there was another dead deer on the steep hillside.

By the time Ann returned to the house with the very wet dog and this very uncheery news, it was almost dark. A hard rain was blowing sideways. And we had ourselves a dilemma.

What we could not do was leave the carcass to bloat and decompose a hundred yards from the house. What we could not do was dig a big enough hole to hide the corpse from scavengers--including Labrador retrievers. Also, I knew I could not hoist it into the truck for hauling off (where?) by myself. Now, my brother-in-law was around to help, but only this afternoon. He would be leaving for home early Thursday.

The deer was 30 feet up the very steep bank, frozen in death with its neck curved around one side of a pine, its large body on the other. I clambered up through the brambles, and was wet to the bone before I got to the beast. I did not relish the idea of dragging 120 pounds of dead weight down through the briar patch. Fortunately, rigor mortis worked to my advantage: flipped once, the gray, cold creature took a few more end-over-end spins down the hill, its rigid legs finally stopping its descent down the slope. Another nudge, and it slid the rest of the way down the squishy surface to the logging road. We drug it through the standing water along the grassy road where I'd backed the truck. My brother-in-law and I each took a front and back leg, and heave-hoed it onto the truck bed and slammed the tailgate shut.

Now what?

I can tell you I was not happy with what I did. But I still don't know what else I could have done.

With the windshield wipers going full tilt and the defrost attempting to blow away the fog that my exertion contributed to the humidity, in the last light of day, I drove up the narrow road into the mile of empty forest between our house and the next. I stopped mid-way, pulled the carcass off the tailgate and drug it a piece off the road. I left it there as a meal for the scavengers and the decomposers. But not for Tsuga.

What a mess. What an aggravation. What a dilemma. What a waste.

November 24, 2004

Killer Instincts

The dog, dead to the world on the rug by the back door, was suddenly on his feet at the porch window. Ann and I looked at each other as if one of us could explain the gunshot that made us jump up as quickly as the dog from the fog of our own morning tasks.

"That was close by" Ann said. "Did you tell the neighbor he could come hunt today?"

"Nope" I said curtly as I slipped into my rain parka, and over that, the orange vest that one of us wears every time we go out the door during deer season. Nobody had permission to hunt, and this shot either came from the road (which would have been illegal) or from our land (which would have been trespassing.) I was going to find the source of the gunshot and express my displeasure.

My adrenalin ramped up as I reached the road. By the time I was even with the barn, I could see headlights through the pines. It was raining hard, and I could already feel the cold rain that dripped off my parka soaking into my pantlegs.

The truck engine was shut off. But the hunter or hunters had left the vehicle so quickly to pursue their prey they'd left the lights on. Just then, I saw blaze orange moving through the pines. I hollered an agitated HEY! but the orange kept moving away from me, down the logging road beyond the pines. I followed through the brambles and tall grass, quickly becoming soaked to my socks.

Looking back through the spindly pine trees toward the road, the hunters--there were three of them, I could see now--were heading hurriedly back to their truck. But I was closer to it than they were and was standing in its headlights when they arrived, waiting and breathing heavily.

"Excuse me, did you just shoot a deer?" I demaned, obviously not a happy gentleman farmer.

"Naw, we didn't hit nothin'" said the youngest of the camoflauged hunters.

"But you fired a rifle not a hundred yards from a house full of people--my family--including children and dogs who were just as likely to have been outdoors in the path of that bullet. And you are parked on my property and have just illegally hunted and trespassed on it and I don't appreciate that one bit."

And at this point, standing in the rain with no other defense than the rightness of my cause, I had just confronted three men with high powered rifles. At this point, I realized that being right does not make one invincible. One can be both within their rights and dead on their own property.

But, though stupid and thoughtless, these fellows were at least readily convinced they had made a serious mistake. They apologized repeatedly, looking back over their shoulders as they hurried into the truck whose headlights reflected off the wet rhododendrons along the creek. "We won't let it happen again" they said, and they drove off.

But it will happen again. And I've had a thought: maybe in light of the recent Wisconsin hunting incident and this morning's encounter, perhaps I should get a kevlar vest before hunting season next year.

Yes, We have No...

Yielding to a conspiracy of circumstance this morning, it seems I am destined to blog bananas.

First, upon pouring my coffee, I roust a swarm of fruitflies from brown-spotted zipperfruits (ours, and the dozen our visitors brought across four states)-- a morning vision that conjured images ducks flushed from a morning marsh. Then, in browsing some overnight visitor sites, I come upon *BananaGuard over at The CatchAll Drawer. There seems no way to avoid reposting one my sillier fruity musings from a year ago, called Banana Republican:

"Bananas: the zippered fruit of winter. Abundant. Cheap. And for topping the morning cereal now there will be no competition from the disappeared berries of summer. You want fruit, you eat bananas, bucko. But alas, all is not well in cereal land. There ought to be a better way in this Goldilocks world where nobody is happy because bananas-- the lone breakfast fruit of months that have "R" in them-- are never 'just right' for somebody in the family. Fear not for I have had an epiphany." Read on, if you dare.

BananaGuard! Comes in NINE distinctive colors, including GLOW IN THE DARK!

Are you fed up with taking bananas to work or school only to find them bruised and squashed? Our unique, patented device allows for the safe transport and storage of individual bananas letting you enjoy perfect bananas anytime, anywhere.

The Banana Guard was specially designed to fit the vast majority of bananas. Its other features include multiple small perforations to facilitate ventilation thereby preventing premature ripening and a sturdy locking mechanism to keep the Banana Guard closed. The Banana Guard is of course dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

November 23, 2004

Fragments: The Movie

image copyright Fred First

I mentioned a while back that I was going to try to pull together images and words from the weblog and my writing and image archives and present this as a multimedia "photo-memoir of belonging in the Blue Ridge". Thot I'd give you a quick update, even though there is not a lot to tell yet with only the barest of outlines. But it's a start, and starting--overcoming the inertia of an object at rest--is often the hardest part.

At present, I'm using Powerpoint to organize the images into "themes." I'm thinking of using an image as slide background (vs a solid color or black). For the theme of "forest", for instance, I might start with this image. Then fade to a filtered full-screen version of the image (see above, in this case, "dry brushed" the background image in Photoshop) and project subsequent images against that subdued slide background. To transition to the next theme, I'll reverse the process and move into the next theme-appropriate background. Clear as mud?

Re trying to get sound into the ppt file: undecided. I still think there would be times that having some distant "Ken Burns" type music would enhance the emotional response to the images. Toward that end, to create sound clips (including loops of things like creek sounds, wind in the trees, cricets or barred owls) I am experimenting with two shareware programs. Audio Recorder that lets me capture sound clips off the net through my sound card; and Audio Editor Pro (not a bad program for $39, but the HELP info is pretty lame. Got any suggestions for a better sound editor?)

So, ever so slowly, the little Fragments vignette (only a 30 minute presentation) is coming together. I'll have a window after classes end and before Christmas family visits begin to get focused--or else. Soon thereafter the panic of another new course prep will once again hold hostage the poor, abused Muse. She gets no respect any more.

Predictable Preemption

This excerpt from Going Nuclear: The Coming Wars with Iran and North Korea

"Other possible scripts could be triggered by preemptive strikes, the preeminent tool of the Neocons, on either Iranian or North Korean nuclear facilities. The consequences of these strikes would likely lead to the use of battlefield nuclear weapons as well.

In any of the scenarios it is simply assumed that violence is the solution to any difficult problems the US encounters, yet there are simply not enough conventional forces or weapons to adequately wage war, if winning at all costs is the objective. This is despite the fact that Americans are spending $350-400 billion a year on the greatest array of military power the world has ever seen. These resources are being spread around the globe to more than 700 bases being maintained by the American military.

The figure for American defense spending is seven or eight times that of the next highest spenders, Russia and China, at $60 and $50 billion, respectively. The Axis of Evil comes in at less than a billion dollars total, but Americans are still scared. Perhaps what they should really be more scared of is the financial consequences.

The US debt will climb to $7 trillion a year in 2004, five times the entire debt of the third world. Other countries, notably Japan and China, hold one-third of that debt. This is at a time, we might note, that the Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs has proposed that the world's poverty could be eliminated with an investment of $150 billion."

November 22, 2004

Branches of Science

image copyright Fred First

This is the last "autumn foliage" image of the season, taken several weeks ago. The leaves are gone now. And I look out my window this morning and remember how, when I see the bare maple trunks, branches and twigs against the flat, gray-blue morning sky, I see an inverted respiratory system: tracheal trunk, bronchial branches, bronchiolar twigs, and missing alveolar leaves.

This is not a metaphor most folks would connect with. Comparing outdoor nature to internal anatomy may not go far with readers, but I warn you: there will likely be more of it in coming months. I begin teaching Anatomy and Physiology in January. I begin preparing for it now.

Who knows what turns my thoughts and words will take? Will thinking deeply about internal ecology make for new ways of seeing the world through the lens of my camera? Will the focus on human architecture and feedback loops and pathways of metabolism illuminate the present semester's focus on ecosystems, environmental health and extinction? Who can say.

There are webs of connection through all of biology. Cells, organs, organ systems, the Organism. Creatures, populations of creatures, communities of them, then ecosystems and the biosphere. It is impossible for me not to be amazed by it all. It will be a challenge to pass this amazement along to students in six weeks.

Leonids, Revisited

Our out-of-town company arrived late last night (hence, the late start this morning). Coming from Atlanta, one of the first things my sister-in-law said was that she was looking forward to our country darkness so maybe we could see the remnants of the Leonid meteor shower. I was crushed. Once again, I'd let the date get past me.

That makes two now that I have totally forgotten since this academic stint began in August--first, the Perseids, now the Leonids. What a terrible waste of open, dark sky to be sitting indoors in the glare of a computer monitor when the earth passes through a sizzling swarm of wandering stars! If there is anything that our pasture is "for" (other than taking spiderweb pictures) it is watching the night sky--and most especially, the special events of meteor showers.

Ah, well. These passages through swarms of glowing cosmic trash will not come to an end because I fail to participate. Maybe next year, I'll not have my face buried in a text book. And there are the night times past that left visible traces in memory:

...In 30 minutes, I may have seen 200 meteors. Most were zips at the edge of vision. Some were spectacular, lighting up the valley in less than a blink, like a photographic flash. A few left persistent trails across the sky in the way an artist would dash a perfectly straight line on black canvas with a luminscent pale blue, fine-tipped brush.

Give me a show, I seemed to demand, waiting. Dazzle me with special effects. Entertain me. Finally, the Leonid Meteor Storm did put on quite a show. But weeks before it began, and any clear winter night of the year, with only one silent spectator bundled against the cold of the dark side of the planet, there would have been moonlight and starlight. There would have been creek sounds and the stark silhouettes of limbs against heaven. Why don't I spend more time outdoors at night, I wonder?

Will I make a habit of bundling up each morning to stand silent under a quiet sky when stars are fixed in their places? Honestly, no. But this morning I have remembered once again what night is like, and cold, and that things move out there beyond our vision and understanding, whether we remember to look up or not.

November 21, 2004

World's Oldest Fred Dies

This man--almost 114 years old--was my present age when I was born. If I thought my life was only half over at 57, would I be delighted? Or terrified? How about you?

Fred Hale, one of two children, was born on a farm in New Sharon, Maine, on December 1, 1890, before cars and airplanes and in the same year Sioux Indians were massacred at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

"He was 17 or 18 before he saw his first car," his grandson told Reuters. His dad and him heard one was coming to town and went down by the fence and waited for the car to come by. He was basically too old to serve in World War One. He already had two kids by then."

Hale worked as a railroad postal carrier, retiring 51 years ago. After his wife, Flora, died in 1979, he continued to live independently in South Portland, Maine, until he was about 109, when he moved closer to his son Fred Hale Jr., now 82.

He was listed with Guinness as the world's oldest driver when he renewed his license at age 104. He gave up driving four years ago.

November 20, 2004

Oh Joy! Thanksgiving vacation!

Image copyright Fred First Laziness and lethargy loom ahead in a full week free of fifty-mile round trips to campus--nine days not requiring my presence in three labs and three lectures. Oh the luxury! I can hardly wait for the empty hours ahead when I will grade 40 research papers; read two chapters in text (Animal Behavior and Conservation Biology); create 6 hours of lecture for last two weeks of class; make out 80 question final exam from new material and first 3 tests; and grade 40 lab reports.

Then if I get that Ronco Day Stretcher I've asked for, I'll start previewing the Anatomy text and work on a syllabus for next term and see if I can make any headway on the App Studies Conference presentation coming up in March. And of course, we will have house guests for four days during the holidays, just to create the proper tension between responsibility and hospitality.

And so what am I doing so far with the very first day of my academic freedom? I get up on a Saturday at 430 and fritter away some little bit of time mewling about how busy I must be. Then I think I'll dawdle and browse through the image files to see if there's anything you haven't seen on Fragments. This of course will lead to a stream of consciousness googling session to research a word I want to use in description of said image or images. Which will lead to another blog post or posts, entirely.

Meanwhile, as the first one up (Ann worked until 11 last night) I have first crack at the coffee. So now I've had a chance to get all my nocturnal angst off my chest, I'm starting to remember the joys that can be realized by falling back on my strongest and most well-developed gifts: procrastination and denial. With these virtues to my credit, all work and no play is hardly the risk I make it out to be.

Besides, we already had plans for today that would make it impossible to keep my rostral portions constantly against the abrasive wheel. Late morning, we'll be heading to downtown Floyd to the Jacksonville Center to the silent auction for the Blue Mountain School. Buy something? Not likely. But all the AlterNatives will be there, and the Newly Retired. Plus, there will be a blues group playing and catering by Harvest Moon, the Winery and others.

While at the Jax, we'll stop by the studio and see the legendary (and possibly infectious) Doug Thompson--blogger many times over, new home owner and now permanent fixture in Floyd. (Get well soon.) Then to a friend's house for an apertif, and off to lunch at the winery with him and some of his medical friends we will meet for the first time. I'll take my camera along--just in case we should want to meander our way home along the Parkway. So there you've got one vacation day pretty well frittered away.

November 19, 2004

Secret Places

image copyright Fred First
A neighbor called. Said they wouldn't be burning wood any more, now that they had the heat pump and all. Why didn't I come pick up the wood that came down in that last hurricane. He had stacked it back up the holler.

And so I did, and while he was helping me load it, my benefactor mentioned that the old road there goes back up the valley to the waterfall.

"Oh, a waterfall?" I said as if I were surprised. But actually, I'd both seen it on the topo maps and been told by someone--probably our reclusive, eccentric, foot-traveling neighbor-lady--that they'd seen it once. Though I'd figure not many have.

I made no secret that I wanted to see it for myself. So when the fire wood was heaped up high in the back of the truck, he offered to walk with me up the old road to the falls. 'course, I could have found them by myself. But I think he was sort of proud for the company that day. He is a man of few words and I was pleased he wanted the companionship.

And so we set off up a good grade on what he said used to be a state road--with a route number and everything. We shuffled up the slope through a pavement of oak and maple leaves.

To tell you the truth, I was prepared to be unimpressed. Our valley becomes a ravine with its own stair-step waterfalls. Nameless Creek drops three or four feet suddenly about every hundred yards as the clear water tumbles down toward the edge of our pasture and the confluence with Goose Creek. I expected this valley and its little waterfalls would be pretty much the same. "This all looks mighty familiar" I said to my companion, but then the creek began to fall further below the trail.

Soon we left the old roadway to follow what appeared to be the remnants of a rock wall marking a side-spur. A faint path disappeared in a thick carpet of moss and fallen leaves, leading us down toward something that must have been worthy of its own trail long ago. We clung to saplings as the pitch increased until at last, we stood on a level stretch of creek between two sets of cascades. I was speechless.

I have walked several miles through the woods of the Blue Ridge to waterscapes no less spectacular than this. Those named falls had their own markers on the busy roads, their own packed parking lots; they were loved by crowds of visitors, they were adorned with litter and signage, peopled with irreverent voices and dogs on leashes. This remote and unearthly quiet place above and below me was a hidden shrine, the rose that blooms unseen--a neighborhood secret. And I felt blessed.

November 18, 2004

Acquaintances: Blogging Journal, Nov 18, 2004

Two and a half years it's been now since my first very hesitant public post in the first month of Fragments. The writing in those early days came largely from two sources: my uncertainty of who I was going to be, changing in unpredictable ways when I left physical therapy; and a discovery and celebration of where I lived.

Readers became my field trip participants. They were invited into our home. They saw the world, smelled it, heard it through my senses. One day soon after beginning the weblog, I was finally able to post one of my pictures. For the first time, people from around the world could literally share my vision, touch what I touched, and share what kinds of light touched me.

I've been giving all this a good bit of thought in the past weeks, having shared four meals with three bloggers in this time. I think there is a helpful connection in this: the sitting at table, the breaking of bread. Getting to know a web-writer through his or her weblog can be very much like sharing a meal. It seems very like visiting them in their homes.

Think about it. You have two kinds of acquaintances: those that you know, perhaps well, but have never been to their house; and those you know, and you have been to their home, perhaps to dinner, and they to yours. It is with this second group that you may feel most intimate.

in meeting with Lorianne and with Tim for the first time, the lack of introductory small talk was apparent. Such was unnecessary because we had already revealed who we were, where our center of importance was, in our writing. This kind of instant connection varies with the blogger--by how much or how little we know of them through their words; by which of their many authentic personas they present or hide in their writing. If they post their pictures and make no secret of the towns and surroundings where they live (as Lorianne certainly does), the bonding seems more immediate and perhaps deeper than for those who hold themselves at some anonymous distance from their readers.

I look back over the early months. It was so necessary for me to tell my stories--far more necessary for me to read them once told than for readers to know of them--as I began to "reinvent Fred." I gave much away, spoke in specifics of the small events of ordinary days. I often wrote deeply and with some little bit of premeditation, often thinking ahead a week or more about what I wanted to tell this new group of friends who were welcomed into my very thought world. I felt at times then that they carried away something for the trouble of their visit--some small shared thing that helped us know each other better.

Lately, since the teaching has taken so much of my energy and time, I have the sense that I am doing little more than scrawling hellos on scraps of paper left on their windshields or slipped under their doors in the dark.

Bluff

image copyright Fred First

Goose Creek, under the bluff, downstream from yesterday's vantage point where the two streams come together (in the very center of the image, barn roof again barely visible.)

This image was taken perhaps ten minutes later than the previous "Two Streams." Now, the hazy-bright sun floods the foggy valley and gives a brilliance to the water's surface that is missing from the dark, flat creek of the earlier picture. What a difference a few minutes can make!

November 17, 2004

Leader of the Pack

Hunting season. And a non-hunting dog. I dread the next few weeks til the deer slaughter is over for another year.

Tsuga has chased many a deer for a short dash, but never caught one. He's never tasted deer blood. But he sure can smell it. We've had two killed by hunters with permission on our place in the last week.

The first was shot by an 11 year old son hunting with his dad. They dropped it just before dark up in the powerline clearing high above the house. And every time the dog steps out on the porch now, his nose goes high, twitching with the thrill of the hunt, being one of the pack.

It must be an odd thing to have such a deeply rooted species memory compelling him to join the hunt, find the carcass, take his share.

Day before yesterday, while I worked on one of the woodpiles, the dog wandered in the thick brush below the powerline clearing. Looking up, I caught a glimpse of him just as he swallowed the last of a whitetail's nominate feature. It was apparently all of the kill Tsuga could find. Twern't much, but at least he was still a member of the imaginary pack he runs with. Looked like a dog eating a feather pillow. Looked ridiculous, but it made him proud.

Then yesterday, neither threat nor promise would bring him down from the smell of conquest. I had to literally climb up with the leash and alternately drag him and be pulled by him back down from the power line clearing through tough brambles and a wasteland of trimmed treetops on a 30 degree pitch. I fell more than a few times. I looked like I'd been in a cat fight. Today, I could have been in a train wreck. Everything I got is sore. The dog is puppy non grata.

However, he is fine, and today will likely revisit the place up on the hill where (in his canine imagination) he single-handedly killed a deer: White Fang--alone at the head of the pack.

Two Streams

image copyright Fred First
Did you know that there are only two natural lakes in all of Virginia? Back in Alabama where I grew up, every depression had the potential to fill with water and become a pond. Even the median strip on the interstates often became places where people illegally catch sunfish for dinner. Water was everywhere, tepid and tawny with the sediment picked up from red soils and clays.

Mountain water, spring fed, runs clear and cold. That we have ended up on a piece of earth with flowing water is a double blessing since I come from a childhood immersed in it. Most mornings, even before first light, I step out onto the front porch with a cup of coffee in my hand and listen to the comforting susurrations from our creeks. I remember a thousand tiny fish caught long ago, pantlegs rolled up wading in Alabama mud and rocks tossed sideways across a hundred puddles, ponds and southern lakes.

Goose Creek and Nameless Creek converge about one-and-a-half stones throw from where I sit. In the image, you can faintly see the red roof of the barn near the right margin. The streams are choked with russet oak leaves. A thin fog hangs in the valley just before the sun crests the east ridge. Am I the only one who hears laughter in water?

November 16, 2004

Water-Worlds

image copyright Fred First

This morning I revisited a piece I wrote two years ago. The memory of it bubbled to the surface as I looked long at this detail from this recent detail of the creek. And when I had finished revising the little reflection, I decided maybe with a bit of work, it might be suitable for another life elsewhere in print or voice. So for now, I'll excerpt it and hope the last three paragraphs will stand alone sufficiently to accompany this frog's-eye picture of the creek.


...There is a city of structure under my feet here in this very spot, many miles from any city. Carry Mr. Macaulay's lens down a thousand feet below our pasture and look up above at the banks of the headwaters of Goose Creek. Silent and massive over the impervious core of bedrock, a blanket of stone, porous and fractured, stores hurricane and summer storm. Creeks and rivers run there in the dark. Canyons, caves and lakes there are filled with ancient rain--the vast reservoir that bears most of the world's fresh water--the liquid underground water-world we never mind.

Upstream and all along its course, this water-rich rock reaches the surface where we live. The cold subterranean water comes into the light; it trickles and flows from clefts in the side of green hills. Finding each other in lower places, bound by gravity, ribbons of mountain spring water merge and flow together. They cut their way through the very rock from which they were born.

See: this revelation of water that is Goose Creek rushing by. Its vapors in time will rise from sea to cloud to move again over mountains. Rain of a thousand seasons will fill dark dripping vaults below our feet. Deep from these ridges liquid light and sound of creeks will flow, and other pedestrians will stand here unknowing, high above river worlds underground.

Skylines

Image copyright Fred First
Monday night a week ago, I grabbed this image from our hotel balcony just before we took a taxi to Harvard Square. There, we surged with the crowds as if we knew where we belonged. We walked with purpose as if we were certain where we were going. We ended up quite by chance in a basement restaurant peopled mostly by students and it was plain that we were outsiders.

Tonight--a week later--we helped a friend load into the trunk of his faded red sedan the deer he shot over in the pasture beside the barn. Then we came into the warm house and ate leftovers, watching the fire through the glass door of the woodstove. No one has driven past the house since the hunter left two hours ago.

Traveling away, especially to places so stimulating and alien to our chosen home, it takes me at least a week afterward to sort out exactly where we live, to rehearse again how and why we ended up just here, and to reestablish where we are going with these lives apart in the country. I think tonight, finally, I am able to feel the tempo of Goose Creek and Floyd again. I am reaccustomed to the beautiful dark, to the quiet, to slow living. Bare trees against an indigo sky full of stars is, after all, my favorite skyline.

November 15, 2004

Precocious Pupster

I tried to ignore him, and successfully tuned him out while I typed a couple of paragraphs. But the half-plaintive, have threatening whine-growl meant "you get yosef over here right NOW"! Tsuga stood perched at the precipice between obedience and defiance, almost but not quite into the forbidden room with carpet where he must never (well, hardly ever) go.

"What is your problem?" I asked. He'd been fed, had his second-course rawhide chew, been out for his nature calls, and back inside already. But he still was obviously missing something necessary and urgent, and I was the chosen minion to serve his needs.

It occurred to me that, even though it was only 6 in the morning, he wanted to play. His favorite toy (and also his security blanket equivalent) is the fifth in the line of soft toys forever referred to as his "tiger monkey", named from the first oddly colored chimera of a squeekytoy. I remembered that he had last offered it to me just before I dozed off last night, placing its moist form in my face. I had indignantly tossed it on the floor.

"Go get your tiger-monkey" I told him. He immediately looks me square in the eye, as if asking for more information. "It's in there by your puppy bed" I told him, knowing it wasn't exactly by his bed, but at the head of our bed on the floor.

He set off around the table, as if he didn't quite trust my memory. It wasn't under the table. He took the bathroom entry into our bedroom. You could hear his claws ticking on the wooden floor: first a dead end, then back around the bed at a slow pace; then the steps quickened, up the bathroom step and out into the front room where I sat waiting--tiger-monkey proudly in his mouth.

I don't think our children were that smart at 18 months.

Waiting at the Train Station...

image copyright Fred First
...when my ship came in. Somehow it came up in casual conversation with the Edward Jones office secretary that it was about time for them to start looking for a local image to use for their annual Christmas card. Well, I don't have to be walloped with a fence post to see an opportunity. And so I offered as how I might just have a few pictures in my gallery that they would be interested in. Sure, she said, and I left her the link to the web gallery. I called a couple of hours later to confirm they could access it. And no, EJones Inc wouldn't allow them access to this "unauthorized" non-business site. Fine, I'll be coming back to see the rep next week, I'll put the images on a disk. Which I did. And so Friday, I called after Mr. C. had the better part of a week to look at the images, five of them, all decked out in mock picture frames, just to enhance the image, make it look a bit more post-cardy. "Yes, he did take a look at them. He really liked Number 4" she said enthusiastically. The proverbial foot was in the door now! I had intentions now of encouraging Mr. C. to send the image on and suggest perhaps it should be purchased for all the rural EJones offices in Virginia, maybe in the southeast. I was already counting the camera lens money pouring in. "Yeah, he really was impressed. Problem is, the main office moved him to Florida. Yesterday was his last day here." Sick Transit Gloria Monday.

November 13, 2004

Entangled

image copyright Fred First

I will be a man of few words (yes, even me!) over the weekend. I have three hours of class coming up next week and am fresh out of lecture notes. So, at the 3 to 4 hours of prep for every hour in class, my time and energy twixt now and Monday morning will be spoken for.

Not to mention that I could cut and split firewood as long as there's daylight both days of the weekend (if my tendonitis or quirky back didn't object) and still not be ready for winter.

And there is that presentation in March I keep thinking about driving to and from the college, and when I get home and there never seems to be space between the shoulds and musts to flesh it out.

I think what I need is a Ronco Day-Stretcher. Anybody sees one of these for sale on the Home Shopping Network, send it my way. I'll gladly reimburse.

November 12, 2004

An Utter Calm

image copyright Fred First
This peaceful, serene jet-porthole image may serve as an antidote to the unsettled tone of the previous post. And also it will let you know that next week's theme will be water--particularly, the creeks beyond our mailbox.

We Hold These Things

image copyright Fred First

Sorting through the images waiting in the queue for their turn on the blog, this is the one that seems to best fit the mood of the moment. Where does this heaviness come from?

From the recent election, most certainly. It comes from being a stranger in my own country, from walking among strangers in an unfamiliar city, in an alien urban environment so different from Goose Creek. I was in Boston, November, five years ago; but an older man walked in the store windows beside me this trip. It comes from feeling small in the flood of events, in the rising tide of obligation, from living on the margins, marginalized and irrelevant. Overshadowed. Inconsequential and archaic.

But it was not these negatives that made me stop with my camera. It was the dignity, the persistence and permanence, the rootedness of this stately old brick building among the skyscrapers that struck me here. This 'high-rise' of its day once stood in the sun's full light, and since, has become overshadowed by the future. And yet it stands, cared for, prominent in the shadows, an anchor to the core of our history, both a comfort and reminder of how scattered and confused we've become.

November 11, 2004

Silver Threads

image copyright Fred First

They have them in the Florida clear-water springs: glass-bottom boats. Of course they do. It is under you where the mermaids swim and the bluesilver fish ripple and shimmer as they hold their place in the current of cold water from underground. You couldn't possibly take it all in peering over the edge of the boat or peeping through a tiny opening in the side.

And so I fantasized all the way from Roanoke to LaGuardia about riding in a glass-bottomed USAir jet. But of course, my dream unfulfilled, I was thankful that, by sheer good fortune, I was assigned a window seat and happy too for the clear air, finally, that had replaced summer's haze. At no more than fifteen thousand feet, the entire trip was a spectacle. My inner voice narrated the complete passage, punctuated with exclamations, question marks and ineffable sighs. I suffered terribly from the inverse form of rapture of the deep and wasn't sure if I'd read a single line in my magazine I held in my lap.

It was water magic that I will remember. My tiny porthole window faced directly into the sun, not very high in the sky at our midmorning departure. The varied terrain of man and nature's working below and just beyond was dark and somber in the autumn light. But our low flight path and the sun's glancing rays conspired to ignite all waters, tiny and large, globular and sinuous, as we raced past.

At that exact point in space and time where the plane's round window and my wide eyes intersected the reflected light from the water, it was as if each tiny creek and meandering stream suddenly became a lit fuse. Quicksilver liquid light coursed along each twist and turn, sometimes dozens of threads at once, at the very speed of our passage. Molten silver threads and sheets appeared out of the dark forests and mudflats that revealed themselves like pages of a continuous scroll, scene after scene of a magic world. And then as quickly behind us as we passed, the waters went dark again, and the magic ended.

But who could say what would happen next! I put away the magazine in my lap, did a few neck stretches, and resumed my post.

November 10, 2004

Comfortably Conflicted about Place

image copyright Fred First
I am basking in the warm memories of a full day "sauntering" about Massachusetts with my old friend, Lorianne, who I met in her three dimensional form for the first time on Sunday; and of a vastly overpriced breakfast excuse to have a deeply satisfying conversation with Tim on Monday. I'm feeling the comfortable, predictable blessings of being back in familiar places, the keyboard under my hands while the kettle hisses from the woodstove and Ann putters and mutters from the kitchen.

At the same time, from the other half of me, it seems lonely and empty here in this dark valley after our total immersion in the bright lights and bustle of one of the only big cities I'd ever consider visiting more than once. We have left behind much of those good things about aggregate humanity in our decision to come to Goose Creek to make our lives. At the same time, Bostonians are deprived of the ordinary beauties--utter silence save for the creek; a sky as dark as the deepest ocean populated by blinking bioluminescent stars--that we take for granted here.

Going is good. Coming home is good. Yes, Lorianne, I think we can love the one we're with in this sense. There is enough love and enough lovely in this world of places. Even so, Tim, I think at some point, we have to commit. And I am confident you and Lorianne will both know it when the time will surely come for both of you.

Thanks for sharing your time and some of the facets of your rich lives with me in Boston. I look forward to the day that you can some experience my small and quiet world. The breakfast here is actually quite reasonable, Tim. And Lorianne, I think I'll have a better grip on the plant ID's than I did on the Walden loop!

(Read Lorianne's and Tim's account of our "face-to-face". I'll hope to say more when I catch up this weekend. Especially interesting is Lorianne's discussion of the balance between trust and caution when meeting potential axe murderers. (I prefer the chain saw, and just couldn't quite slip that past airport security. Darn!)

November 9, 2004

Home Again Home Again

I'm sitting up with the woodstove, trying to get the temp in here up into the low sixties before we hit the sack--in our own bed after four nights away. We arrived home about nine, and I spent the last hour deleting messages from the answering machine (only a dozen) and blog comment spam: 697 of them. No lie.

We had a great trip and I have a dozen blog-posts running around in my head, not to mention the hundred images (on the Coolpix, not the D70, and most are not blog-worthy). But we have to leave the house at 7:00 in the morning to go fetch Tsuga from Puppy Camp before we rush off to work. So I might not have a chance to tell you about the trip until later. I should be back on schedule by Thursday morning.

Man. It's past our bedtime.

November 6, 2004

Ablaze

image copyright Fred First
Buffalo Mountain at Sunset. Floyd County, October 2004

Leavin' On a Jet Plane

Leavin' On a Jet Plane

And so we're off to Boston. And while Ann is packing in the latest in pharmacokinetics, I'll be traveling perhaps as far as Concord and Walden's Pond. What a wonderful thing this electronic neighborhood: Sunday, Lorianne will be touring me around the Massachusetts countryside; and Monday, I'll be having breakfast with Tim, who's already made a test run a week early! He'll be biking over to our hotel from the BC area. Altogether, I expect lots of interesting exchange and new ideas, and of course, a few blog posts for next week!

Meanwhile, I stitched together five images to make a pano of the Rocky Knob area where the tree pictures came from (the full image is HUGE; this is a weeny version.) This shot (hand held) was taken when I first arrived in the high meadow and the sun was still well above the horizon. Twenty minutes later, the shots of the trees were taken just ahead of the sun dropping behind the western ridge. If I can figure it out, I'm going to see if I can make MT post an image tomorrow while I'm gone. You'll see the view I had just before I finally drove off toward home.

Note: post-dating didn't delay posting. I am a knucklehead. So you've already seen tomorrow's intended image signifying a temporary and short sunset at Fragments til we come back from our brush with the Rest of the World. Ya'll be good.

November 5, 2004

Protozoan Pollution

image copyright Fred First
What would you have thought, looking down along the edge of the clear currents of Goose Creek to see THIS! In three places along a thirty foot run of creek I discovered the irridescent sheen and clabbered curd of an apparent toxic spill. Some of you will remember the event back last spring where a 55-gallon drum of waste oil was rolled off the bank into our stream.

Was this another attack by the dispicable pollution-goons? I certainly jumped to that conclusion and collected a sample (wearing rubber gloves) to take to school. My office mate is an environmental consultant and would give me an eyeball-assessment.

When he saw it, he smiled. "Got a lot of fallen leaves in your stream? This is surely organic, probably bacterial and fungal--the product of release of all those goodies in the leaves being consumed by the decomposers." It certainly smelled organic--like sardines or a neglected aquarium.

Under the scope, the apparent solids in the sample consisted of a loose mass of fungal hyphae. It was teaming with ciliated protozoa, a few amoeboids, a dozen kinds of diatoms, and several nematodes--a biology lab gold mine! I discovered this while my students were taking a lab quiz. Whe they finished the quiz, I told them this tale and offered the scope so they could stop for a look on our way to the computer lab. Two out of twenty bothered to stop. Today in lab, we'll take the time for each table to make a preparation, force them to look. But I cannot force them to care and I cannot force them to be amazed.

Tree in the Wind: #2

image copyright Fred First
I am pretty certain this is the same tree as Tree in the Wind #1. I had first thought this to be a different tree altogether since the overall shape seems so different. But you can see the same roots on the rock. And there is the lowermost branch in #1, coming back toward the viewer in #2. I do know that this is the perspective that grabbed my attention from the top of the ridge. This is the view that drew me down the hillside.

This same tree, growing in sheltered forest, would likely have been twice as tall. Pruned by the wind and dwarfed by the cold and exposure, this twenty-foot specimen may be over a hundred years old. Both its age and its vitality are fixed in windswept limbs, sculpted by stinging rime ice and drying gales from the west over a lifetime in this high place.

Trunk and limbs are molded by motion. Life in a moving world of wind is implied in its posture, even from a distance. And when I finally reached the tree, the sense of dance was amplified by the sound and flurry of every one of its crimson leaves, horizontal, flailing, holding on a while longer before a last, long flight, inevitably to the east.

November 4, 2004

Tree in the Wind: #1

image copyright Fred First
It was only moments before sunset. I moved quickly from shot to shot, fumbling frantically to position the tripod's gangly legs against the pocked and frost-heaved grassy pasture high above the parkway. Finally, I had taken my fill and was satisfied I'd captured the glory of the landscape both in memory and on film. This kind of photo-encounter is harder work than it might seem. I was exhausted and good-riddance-ready to get out of the wind just before darkness overtook me.

I packed up my gear, dreading the pull up the steep slope of the hill to the wooded path that would take me back to my truck. Then, as if something had called to me, I stopped and turned: it was the tree--its red leaves ablaze against the deepening blue of the sky. Its roots seemed to be growing out of solid rock--maybe for that very reason it had persisted here so long in this high exposed and wind-tattered meadow. How had I missed seeing it before from the crest?

It was well down the hill from where I was, but plainly a photogenic subject worth the walk back up a few extra hundred yards along the incline to the top. But at that urgent moment, a casual walk down to the tree would not do. There was not time for that.

I clutched my camera and tripod and began to sprint on wobbly legs, barely in control of my long strides, dodging the hidden rocks as best I could. The light was changing perceptibly with each heartbeat, weaker and weaker, from yellow to orange; soon it would pass from red slowly into gray and the stars would appear in the blue distance.

I'll post two shots of the windswept trees--one today, one tomorrow. I'd be interested to know which you like best, and why.

November 3, 2004

Belonging and Place

Image copyright Fred First
I'm beginning to think about the "photo-memoir" presentation for the Appalachian Studies Conference at Radford that is coming up in March. As much as possible I want to tailor the spoken word to center around the images. I'd like the undercurrent theme (perhaps) to be "finding the light"--in both the sense of capturing sunlight from all times of year, times of day, all its nuance of color and intensity; and finding the light of understanding about my place in all of this during this time that Fragments has been a vehicle for self-expression and exploration.

One thing I may want to consider is transitional images with quotes--visual bullets--that will keep the focus on belonging and sense of place even while I'm projecting images of the creek, autumn leaves, snow and ice, or nature.

Here's where you come in, Fragments friends. If you have a favorite poem, quotation or snippet from an essay, work of fiction or non-fiction or anything of the sort that you think is Fragments-compatible and might help me stitch the pieces of this visual narrative together, I'd be most appreciative if you'd send them my way.

Why not do this in the form of a comment, and if there end up being a goodly number of these bits, I can move them to the front page of Fragments as a post in a month or so for all to share and discuss.

Appalachian Autumn

image copyright Fred First
View north into Floyd County from Blue Ridge Parkway

November 2, 2004

Into the Forest

image copyright Fred First
Below it, to the south, the rolling hills of Virginia fade into the piedmont of Carolina. West from Rocky Knob from this particular overlook I visited on Sunday, the land rises and falls gently toward the sunset that silhouettes Buffalo Mountain's dark reposing form. North, the gentler descent follows the Parkway in the general direction of the center of Floyd County, exposing russet hillsides and green meadows to the far horizon.

By the time I reached the overlook parking lot off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the sun was only a single hand-breadth above the horizon, the light crisp, copper, glancing across ridge and forest in contrasting shades of rust and shadow. The north wind blew so hard it took me several attempts to open my truck doors against it, and my cap blew off and tumbled across the pavement before I finally gave up and stuffed it under my sweatshirt. Moments before in a less lofty and less exposed place, I'd been too warm in a tee shirt. But I was prepared for the wind and chill here, because I used to come to this high place often when I lived in Virginia alone that first year of our transition. Somehow, from this mountaintop, I could almost always regain my perspective, recenter, and find enough peace to go on into the next uncertain week.

But this was not a leisurely contemplative amble. Anyone watching my preparation for this brief and urgent photo-shoot would have thought there must be some kind of emergency what with the fumbling, the muttering, the frantic jog from the car to the edge of the forest. There, a rocky leaf-covered trail follows the ridge a few hundred yards before leading the hiker through a zigzag cattle gate at the edge of the clearing. That meadow was my reason for being here, and I was racing the sun to harvest as many shots as I could before the last light failed and the world faded to monochrome.

Maybe you don't think of photography as a hobby in whose practice the artist is at risk of harm from stress and exertion. Trust me: it is. By the time I made the edge of the woods, I was at full gallop, perspiring, heart racing, and my mind was already beyond the forest, staging the shots I'd grab just before the lights winked out.

But at the head of the path I was compelled to stop. There was not really a shot here, perhaps--nothing to really draw the eye; but the silver grasses that outlined the trail deserved to be noticed, and so I set up the tripod for a few quick shots, and hurried on.

During the week, I will have a short series of images from the twenty minutes that followed this one of the silver grasses where the trail begins.

November 1, 2004

Old Glory

image copyright Fred First
Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 160. October 31, 2004

Burning Bush

image copyright Fred First

"Oh, these vast, calm measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light every thing seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God." --John Muir

John Muir's nature-religious ecstacies are impossible for some to understand. And those of us who do are reluctant, perhaps, to confess it. But I have been to the mountaintop.

And from the mountain crest yesterday, came the strongest sense of metaphor--the copper sun as God's eye peering from behind me, over the edge of earth. He was watching. And I was known by the Light.

I will show you images this week of both the dawn and the dusk, from misty creek's edge to the rim of the Blue Ridge--from yesterday: a day of immersion in the Range of Light.

"These blessed mountains are so compactly filled with God's beauty, no petty personal hope or experience has room to be ... the whole body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through all one's flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic pleasure-glow not explainable. One's body then seems homogeneous throughout, sound as a crystal." --John Muir