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 Of course, that readership has been replaced by fresh batches of visitors several times over, and so I hope to recover a sense of newness in this new year, see the familiar through new eyes as if waking from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.

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.)

Buffalo in the Back Yard

image copyright Fred First

Another image picked up on the way home from the winery last weekend–and the first using the combination of (new) tripod, 80-200 telephoto lens (and new tripod mounting collar for same) and the 2x teleconverter.

The silhouetted shape behind the house takes the reposing form of a buffalo, hence its name, Buffalo Mountain.

Were there buffalo in these parts in the days before the western migration of the white man? Does anybody have any info or stories about that? I’d like to know.

Winter at Mabry Mill

image copyright Fred First

“Did you come east on the Parkway to get here?” asked a booktable visitor yesterday at the winery. “There’s ice on Mabry Mill pond” she said, herself a photographer, and, seeing my photo-notecards, she knew I’d want to know such a thing.

So, as smile-weary as I was after four long hours of the last of four such days, when four o’clock came, I cleared the table of my dog-and-pony-show paraphenalia in two trips out to the car, and headed west toward Meadows of Dan and Mabry Mill, a few parkway miles away.

The beauty of a visit to Maybury Mill in December is that there’s nobody there but me. And a few ducks. If you click on the image above it will take you to a larger image on Flickr; this is actually a (poorly done) merging of three different images: a normal exposure, 2 1/2 stops underexposed, and one that is 2 1/2 stops over exposed. This is a rudimentary first attempt at what is called HDR photography. High Dynamic Range is a technique available to digital photographers to take advantage of the computer’s ability to create an image where both the highlights and shadows are optimally exposed. The three images were slightly out of register, even though I used a tripod, so this image is a little blurry, and the difference between the shadows and highlights was probably not significant enough on this image to do justice to the technique. More not-quite examples sure to come on FFF in coming months!