A Penny Saved…

…is a big disappointment.

I have been pleasantly distracted these past several days with the notion that it is time for me to upgrade my camera: FROM the current Nikon D70 since April 2004 TO the Nikon D200. And although I initially considered lesser lenses, I had at last resolved to spend extra for this lens:

Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX VR II

What a lens! What a combination! Do it!

But then, my camera-lust relented as my frugal nature regained control, and I arrived at a middle position: hold off on the camera body and stick with the D70 until the price drops some more on the D200. Just get the lens. You can sell your 18-80mm and your 80-200mm and recoup some of the high price for the 18-200 and carry just the single lens! Perfect compromise solution! Yes, I’ll do it. I’ll order the lens this morning.

No you won’t. They seem to be backordered (at acceptable prices) until the third quarter of 2007. Sigh.

NOW THIS! Since posting the above at 5:00 as a draft, I caved. The lens is available WITH the camera body. B&H has them in stock. I ordered the combo at 6 this morning. Oy. Now, I’ll be looking to sell some Nikon lenses and a D70 body. More about that soon enough. (Fred doing happy dance–quietly: wife still sleeping.)

Keeping Watch

image copyright Fred First
I was lost in thought, my hands occupied with gathering the wood I’d just cut for kindling at the top of the drive. The sun was warm, the earth smelled of spring on a January day, altogether a very peaceful and satisfying time on a country afternoon.

And I happened to glance down toward the pasture and found that the dog, too, was lost in revery, even as he surveyed the pasture along Nameless Creek for marauding ground hogs, squirrels or the odd mid-day deer.

I ran inside for the camera, and walked back out nonchalantly, knowing that if Tsuga had any idea he was my intended subject, he would immediately be at my feet, wagging his tail, thinking I wanted to be close. No, my lens focal length is not that short, fella. Go back and sit down facing south, and look casual.

I did have to reposition him (which amazingly he allowed) although I didn’t capture fully the wistfulness and tranquility I first saw, with him sitting there, on guard, in command, and fully at rest and lost in his puppy-thoughts.

Close to Home

image copyright Fred First

“There is nothing ordinary” I said in the author’s note to the book. And yet, I realize I’ve let our close-at-hand human habitat become just that: nothing but the background canvas on which the more immediate and seemingly-relevant events (most of them indoors and by way of a computer monitor) take place.

One of my New Year’s goals is to reverse this relative numbness and indifference to those fragments of ordinary life here that, four years ago, became new to me because they were new to you, the readers of this blog. Of course, that readership has been replaced by fresh batches of visitors several times over, and so I hope to recover a sense of newness in this new year, see the familiar through new eyes as if waking from a long sleep. And I’ll take the risk of showing or telling you something I’ve shown or told before.

Here’s an example: in all my archives of images, until yesterday, I had never taken one from just off the back porch facing the pasture, the barn and the valley of Nameless Creek. I guess I just thought since it was not ten feet from the house, it wasn’t image-worthy. It is the view we see when we put the dog’s bowl out on the back porch in the mornings.

And yet, it is the still-life tableau before us far more often than quick glimpses of the back reaches of the creek in the gorge at the far end of our property. This is a look out our window, so to speak–the beauty we can touch with our eyes. This is the light that comes to us in early January facing south as the sun rises over a frosty field while we are still in our slippers.

There is the barn–again, and I will stop apologizing for showing you yet another image of it. And the little bridge over the branch flows under the bridge, still babbling with the rains of New Year’s Day. You can see the mailbox–the one near the right margin of the cover of the book, and the maple tree, also on the book cover and seen again up closer, backlit on the blog a few days back. The road and creek pass just front and back of the tree.

And look: the tiny HeresHome sign that faces the road. I remember what a wonderful day it was in November, 1999, to plant that aluminum “flag” and claim this place for our family. And–I didn’t know it then–to share our ordinary with readers and viewers all over the world.

Of Mountains and Molehills

Just so those from *off won’t think life here is unrelentingly lovely, I felt compelled to show you the dark side of country life, with a snippet from a little essay under construction.

Image copyright Fred First Our dog, who scares away more potential animal observations than he produces, has a nose for small mammals, and brought us two mammal sightings this week. As far as his species memory and drive goes, insectivores (moles and shrews underground) and small rodents (voles and mice in above ground nests of pasture grass) are food morsels in a wrap of hair, little legged tortillas, and if not delicious, then at least no small excitement to catch and torment in cat-like fashion.

Yesterday, the dog veered abruptly from beside us as we walked across the pasture, ran thirty feet at right angles to our path, cocked his head raising one front paw to his chest, and pounced. His front feet churned the wet, sandy soil. (Did he smell this subterranean creature from that distance? Or hear it digging?) A half-dozen quick scratches later, a dark grey velour sausage of an animal lay at our feet, eyeless, earless, and covered in dog spit.

*Off: not from these here mountains, a term suggesting a general mistrust, a term that a local would use to distinguish the origins, for instance, of the do-gooders who came into the Appalachian backwaters in the late 1800s to gentrify the mountaineers. An outsider; a flat-lander.

Morning Comes to Nameless Creek

image copyright Fred First
Nameless Creek and the “New Road”–the old horse-traveled postal road–converge about a quarter mile south of the house. They travel side by side, the road often high above the little stream that plunges and riffles its music audibly below. In this image, the roadbed forms the boundary between light and shadow.

Here, the rocky fingers of old mountains form a ravine of rhododendron and jumbled boulders, a secluded and special place for us. This far corner of this piece of earth is what won my heart, back this time of year in 1999. Yes, I thought when we first found this “fortress of solitude”, this might be the place after all, it whispered to me. Someday, you will come here often in early mornings. Someday, you and Ann will spend an hour late in the evening just watching the day become night. Here, night is becoming day. Morning comes slowly to this deep cleft in the hills.

The pine tree beside the lawn chairs–that we could never bring ourselves to put back in the barn–was only head high when we saw it there on our first walk down this way. Things are different now. And things there are just the way they’ve been since the first settlers found this valley in the early 1800s. The seclusion and peace is unchanged since both Confederate and Union deserters took refuge in this wonderfully-forsaken place. It is the same as yesterday, even on days we don’t go there.

The Christmas ferns grow ever-green along the banks. The squirrels chatter from the tops of White Pines, shedding fragments of their morning meal like crumbs from the table. The creek sings whether we are there to listen or not.

And so this is more to me than just a picture of two chairs lost in the woods. These are my woods, and by the possessive I mean so much more than legal ownership. This place has been ours to become part of. It has grown into us. I feel it most here in this spot, a quarter mile from the house, and in the very heart of home.

January Maple

image copyright Fred First
Behind the storm, the sun broke out–a good omen, I thought, for New Years Day. I set out with the camera, and didn’t make it any farther than the end of the driveway when the lighting stopped me in my tracks. It is a scene I’ve seen so many times before, but it never fails to dazzle me. That is good–to not take for granted anything that ever has the power to create awe and joy.

Trite as it seems to say it, I hope to see this place again, for the first time, every day this year. Some of that will end up in pictures–very ordinary images of very ordinary places and scenes–sometimes with the words they evoke, sometimes alone. (Many, like this one, will go to a larger image if you click on it.)

First Day of School

image copyright Fred First

A very nice new year’s dinner, good friends, good music, an early evening. We had another event to attend, but drove in that direction after leaving Oddfellas in a driving rain, and decided we didn’t want to get soaked and muddy getting to our neighbor’s place, though it would have been nice to see folks we have missed over the holidays.

Thanks, Doug, for taking this picture of Ann and me last night, and I have uploaded it to FFF this morning just to add fodder to your contention that some blogs exist for some bloggers only to show their mugs to the world.

That said, I’ll refrain from showing the picture of Doug and lovely wife in which he seems to be saying “I’ll break your fingers if you take that picture.” I know he’d break ’em if I posted it.

So. The odometer has rolled over as we slept. And there is a first-day-of-school feel to the first day of a new year. I have my pencils sharpened. My notebooks are fresh and full of clean, white paper. I’ve labeled all my subject tabs, and have my schedule laid out.

Now, I need to get to my classes.

I. Field Notes from Nameless Creek: a nature journal complete with photographs, eventually a book

II. A book, also with full color images, about a locally prominent mountain (tentative)

III. Whatever becomes of Fragments from Floyd, TBA on a daily and ongoing basis

IV. Collaboration with another blogger in which he writes, I provide the images. Details to follow.

V. Continuing twice-monthly Floyd Press column

VI. Magazine article or two (under construction)

VII. Empty class periods are open, to be filled in as the opportunity arises

Oh yeah. I have my real job, too. And the wood to be cut for next year, the garden that will need vast retooling, planting and tending; and the usual assortment of home-moaner’s tasks that will arise from time to time.

So, life is full already, this early into 2007, and we are thankful for 2006, for friends, our health, our family, and a renewed sense of hope and purpose in the year to come. Hope your year is pleasantly challenging, then rewarding for those goods things that come from good work.