Ann’s Falls in February

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First

Click image to enlarge

For those of you who have read Slow Road Home, this is Ann’s Falls spoken of in the book.

For those of you who haven’t read Slow Road Home, what are you waiting for!

SHE drug me up the hillside last week, insisting it would be worth my time. (But then, she’ll say anything to entice me out for a walk.) But she was right. I have some other pix of the ropes we’ve tied between trees on the way up that enable us to get to the falls–a handhold necessary even when there hasn’t been a winter storm and long, hard freeze.

It’s some rugged terrain, but once we get there, we’re always glad we made the effort.

Sadly, the falls are likely to become inaccessible one of these days. Several large (and of course, dead or dying) hemlocks at the rim of the falls will someday rot, and the tops, or the entire tree, will fall across the trail and the little trickle below. Then it will be decades before another photographer can get a clean view and appreciate the scene we were greeted with the other day.

Perhaps it’s worthy of note and relevant to this prediction that the sinuous tree trunk lying across the near foreground of this image is that of an American Chestnut, another species that belonged in the southern forest–once–but succumbed to a blight.

Warm Home in a Cold World

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains / by Fred First
My mother rubs my face in snows when I lament our winter woes.

“You should never have left Alabama” she scolds me, never having quite gotten over the fact that we were meant to live among mountains and not in the deep, sultry south.

But there was never any doubt about it. My first hint of my calling was at a wildflower event in the Great Smoky Mountains back in grad school at Auburn. There was something in the air–a pheromone of ancient granite, perhaps–that pulled us north.

And it is the Blue Ridge Mountains more than the Ridge and Valley (the setting of nearby Wytheville where we spent 12 years) that seems offer the strongest pull to home.

In winter, the weather is both hostile and beautiful. And we feel very much at home surrounded by it all.

(Do click on the image above for a larger look. Landscapes like this lose so much in a teeny view.)

Out of the Cold

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
Well, not quite. Ann left to spend yet another night at the workplace so she’d be sure and be able to open up the pharmacy at 6:00 this morning. We’ve had just enough accumulating snow showers and strong winds to make driving–especially in the dark–something to be avoided.

But this week’s weather promises the possibilities of a return, perhaps briefly, to some low 50’s temps, which will fell positively balmy.

And how happy I am that I took the time to stop for these frozen creek pictures, because the warm rain before the last ice storm sent muddy water onto the white surface of the creek, and its transient beauty was lost. Once again, as if I needed it, I’m reminded of how fleeting each moment’s light truly is. Note to self: be inclined to stop and smell the roses–or capture the moment to digital film; and indelible memory.

Study in Winter #1

Country Scenics from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
The way ice grows in Goose Creek fascinates me, and I’m sorry I haven’t chronicled the process over the past month. Still, where we live gets too much southern exposure. It isn’t nearly as good an ice garden as down the road a mile or so where the perpetual shade of the hills spawns crop after crop of ice every night.

And I’d have missed the opportunity to show you three shots from yesterday if I hadn’t agreed to carry one of Ann’s care packages to the kids over to the Check post office. I waited until there was at least a little light striking the valley flanks before leaving, and on the way home, risked limb and equipment and slid my boots down into the creek bed and onto the ice for views east and west along Goose Creek in its winter garb.

You can just see the road in the distance.

Meanwhile, today, an ice storm looms west just off the radar, just far enough away that I’m not going to know what to do about trying to get to the clinic this morning. Getting there, I can do. Getting home as conditions worsen over the day, not so sure. Gonna be one of those days.

Winter Lights

Landscapes from Floyd County, Southwest Virginia by Fred First
My hope was to get to the back of the valley (the “Nameless Creek Gorge” I call it) before the sun disappeared behind the steep west ridge. I didn’t make it in time.

By the time I reached my destination at 3:00, the lighting along the creek was already flat shadow. But walking back home–sad to have waited too long to get the shot I had in mind–I turned around and saw this dazzling last light behind me, a single shaft reaching the valley floor just seconds before the sun dropped away from our holler for another day.

This is another example of light looking for a subject to draw the eye. For me, the sparkle of the pines and the way the light of the snow draws the eye into the mysterious darkness is enough. The image embodies the feel of the moment, and such pictures are more for the photographer than for his audience.