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The World Blanketed in White–Photographic Meditations and a Poem Inspired by A walk After a Winter Storm

 Footsteps Imprinted in the Fresh Snow

Footsteps Imprinted in the Fresh Snow

I was not the first to walk the ridge after the storm, but the third and it was very moving to come across traces of those who had traveled the road before me. When I saw this pair of footsteps, a deep calm came over me and I began a moving meditation that continued all day and ended with this poem.

Footsteps

Two pairs of footsteps imprinted in the fresh snow on a ridge-top road  

flanked by bare trees and rhododendrons, branches and leaves blanketed in white.  

Exhausted by the storm, the wind must have decided to hold its breath,

leaving behind a sheltered, sugar plum fairyland, the perfect stage 

for long silenced dreams to take a leap of faith and become real.

 

What lies around the next bend is out of sight, yet the footsteps are even.

Their pattern conveys no apprehensiveness; they are regular but not forced.

Sometimes they step wide, perhaps to express their singularity. 

Never do they stop short. The arc of their trajectory is graceful.

The pattern narrows near the bend, evoking a single point focus.

 

Logic says this convergence is an illusion, but what does logic know?

When I squint, the footsteps resemble a zipper, with two rows of teeth 

conjoined at a point just beyond what is visible in the moment.

My heart tells me oneness is not a mirage but a deeper reality–

a goal to strive for while staying true to our unique footprints.

 Sun Breaking Through After the Storm

Sun Breaking Through After the Storm

I’d begun my walk that morning when the sky was still dreary and dark. After I reached the top of the first hill, the sun broke through. The snow particles were still in the air causing the sun to reflect and make a mirror image of itself. Aware of the dangers of sun glare, I put the camera on Live View and got a general impression of how I wanted to compose the photo so I wouldn’t have to look through the viewfinder and damage my eyes. In order to capture the reflection and the sun, I had to underexpose my image which had the effect of making it look like a moonscape. Though we think of photography as capturing reality, often it is smoke and mirrors. And the light in snowscapes plays tricks on us in the first place. It made me wonder what was real, and in the end I decided it was my feelings about being there, the calmness I felt and the wonder.

 Snow over the Valley

Snow over the Valley

When I looked back from where I’d traveled, as I always do to ground myself in my surroundings, I noticed snow was still falling in the across the valley. It was so interesting to see the way some whites seemed brighter, like the snow on the branches on the ridge line or the sky behind the snow-filled cloud in the distance, and how the falling snow itself looked grayer. If I were standing closer to where the snow was falling would it appear a different shade. So much depends on where we are situated, the source of light, reflective surfaces, etc. Many times the magic of what we see is just an illusion created by light, but if the scene calls to us to notice it doesn’t that make it more real because in a philosophical sense the tree has fallen and we’ve registered it. And if the “false” way things appear due to the trickery of light engages our emotions and causes us in turn to accentuate what we see and magnify contrasts is this artistic license justified because a fully lived life that has engaged all our senses is more real than some objective (divorced from our perceptions) reality. I walked on in silence, seeking more questions before I could even arrive at answers.


 Snow Clinging to a Single Tree

Snow Clinging to a Single Tree

I looked down from the ridge and amid the lightly dusted branches and twigs, one tree stood out that was thickly coated in snow. How had the snow managed to cling so tightly to this one tree? Was it protected by the one next to it? Had it some how been sheltered by all the vegetation around it, or was its bark of a different density and texture that made it more able to receive the crystals and hold them in place? I could reach no definitive answers, as the terrain was too precipitous and unsafe to traverse. In the end, I had to be satisfied by marveling that this had happened and delight in its uniqueness.

 Snow-Covered Rhododendrons

Snow-Covered Rhododendrons

The rhododendrons were beautiful in a traditional sense and I stopped to appreciate them. I have to remind myself that there is nothing wrong with appreciating beauty when I see it, though much of art and criticism has reduced the “beautiful” to ordinary perhaps because it is surmised that anyone can notice beauty and it doesn’t show the genius or transformational abilities of the artist. I am incapable of perceiving anything as ordinary and it saddens me that so many take beauty for granted that they miss noticing it at all. Awakening an appreciation for beauty might even help us change our behavior and motivate us to protect natural areas, though the issues extend way beyond conservation now. As many environmentalists have noted, the issues things have become so serious that something has to change or we will destroy ourselves as well as plant and animal life. Before I moved on, I offered gratitude.

 Falling Trees, From the Beauty of Dying Things

Falling Trees, From the Beauty of Dying Things

The falling and broken trees along the hillside, some caused by this storm and others still lingering from storms past, are precariously balanced for now until some new weather event dislodges them from their geometrical balancing act. I am struck by the apparent tension of movement and stasis, any motion an illusion created by the angles of the trees and my knowledge of their impermanence in this formation. I am reminded that how I interpret this scene is colored by my knowledge of past falling trees and my expectations of what might happen to these trees in the future. About to chastise myself for not remaining in the moment, I switch gears and decide to accept and celebrate my perceptions about this landscape. Everything I see on this earth is part of the metaphorical river Heraclitus spoke of that contains the past and future. Though what I have learned in the past is still with me, it is the present me that understands and appreciates its significance.

 Two Intertwined Bent Trees Forming a Heart

Two Intertwined Bent Trees Forming a Heart

As I continue to walk, I am suddenly stopped by this scene of two trees bending towards each other, their terminal branches intertwined and making the shape of a heart. I know many people that look for hearts in nature, as some kind of evidence of a benevolent life force energy or God. I would much rather believe that love has power over hate and that this is the natural way of the universe. Rather than judge people I prefer to empathize with how easy it is to become clouded with malas that darken our outlooks. But even if I hold back from becoming too New Age, because I am a firm believer in science too, this scene showed me how intertwined the forest is and it reminded me that nothing exists alone. The interstices on every branch and twig, every clump of snow, every leaf still hanging on through winter, each is energetically connected with its surroundings and a jewel in the web of life.

 Everything is Entangled

Everything is Entangled

And then I saw this clump of trees and vines. The scene was united through the arc of the branches, a circular sweep that encompassed every singular tree that reached for the sky. The tension of the one in the many and the many in the one was palpable because it was so clearly visible. To see everything dusted with snow and ice, shimmering and frozen in a moment of completeness made me inhale so deeply that the air filled my belly and chest completely. If the ice melted would these branches separate? This unity seemed so fragile but at the same time so deeply entangled that achieving complete separation seemed neither possible nor desirable. I was almost afraid to exhale, in case the scene broke into fragments before my eyes.

 All Knotted Up

All Knotted Up

I remember first learning about Indra’s jeweled net at an International Women’s Writer’s Group session. This metaphor is attributed to Tu-Shun (557-640 BC), an ancient Buddhist who envisioned a net in which a jewel is located at each juncture. The following properties were attributed to this net,

  • each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix.

  • Every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness.

  • Each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;

  • thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.

    (http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com/2009/04/net-of-indra.html)

When I close my eyes, it is not hard to envision what Tu-Shun described, but the only examples I have empirically seen with my naked eye are hurricane balls made of twigs and organic material along the Gulf Coast and these layers of knotted up vines and vegetation I see on my morning walks. They are not ideal in a classical sense. In fact, they are rather a mess. They lack Greek proportions and elegance, but they seem somehow more real. It is also easy to see how when one tree falls in the forest, it pulls on the whole fabric and other plants move and even parts of the the ridge collapse or shift. I used to be tempted to clean up nature, but now I see that messiness arises from interdependence and that we are creatures embedded in our ecosystems, a lesson many seem to have forgotten and with dangerous consequences.

 Fallen and Intertwined, Going Down Together

Fallen and Intertwined, Going Down Together

The laws of Indra’s Net say if we do good deeds and care for one part of the net, other parts will benefit. In this way, the healing of the planet might come about, even if this sixth extinction cannot be entirely reversed. When we cause harm by polluting our waterways and by not being concerned about climate change, it will effect every part of the earth. When we fall, we are going down together. The rich or one party will not be exempt. Perhaps they will be able to mitigate their own suffering for a time by having the resources to buy land with glaciers for fresh water or by being able to afford technologies that clean the resources they consume, but suffer all of us will. Though every tree has not fallen in this image, their time will come if we continue to burn coal and pollute our atmosphere and water in other ways. If acid rain reverts to or even exceeds previous levels all life forms will suffer, even in the Blue Ridge where some of the highest concentrations of biodiversity remain.

 Looking Up through the Trees After the Storm

Looking Up through the Trees After the Storm

Sometimes when I start thinking of all the harm that is being perpetrated in our environment, I become very sad and I look to the heavens, not to some God that will save us because I truly believe what happens to the earth is our responsibility now and not His, whether you believe in God or you don’t. I look up for inspiration because a lot of people are exhibiting dense and destructive energy at this time in human history and I long for a lightness of being that existed before the maelstrom we have created. I remember laying under the tree in my backyard as a child and peeking up through the branches and leaves and how dizzy I’d get trying to follow all the patterns simultaneously. I’d imagine myself scampering along the branches looking down at my body. It was my first experience with infinity and interconnectedness and it has always made me feel hopeful, because I understood intuitively that another perspective and change were possible. Perhaps I knew even then that trees are bridges to other dimensions of reality or at least of experience.

 A Secret Path

A Secret Path

Near the end of the road there is a path that descends the mountain that hardly anyone uses. I don’t know where it goes and I’ve never been tempted to follow it before. Being on the top of the ridge, I couldn’t see the attraction of descending through the thicket and getting mired in confusion. Yet the snow had a way of making everything look magical and if it hadn’t been on private land I might have been tempted to follow it then, though I suspected I might easily lose sight of the trail due to the snow cover. I reminded myself of the importance of reconnecting with nature even where it appears most impenetrable. Each sapling bending under the weight of the snow had a lesson to teach about courage and not giving up. And just because nature appears messy sometimes doesn’t mean it should be manicured. More thank likely, I just have not evolved enough to understand how it functions. Walk slowly look closely, that was the theme of the first photographic competition I ever entered and its guided me ever since.

 Sheltered

Sheltered


Before I left I paused before a sheltered clump of trees. The pale blue snow reflected the sunlit sky that filtered through the atoms of our atmosphere, uniting earth and air in a peaceful tableaux featuring trees not men. I gave thanks for the air I breathe, still relatively clean for now, and the cycles of snow and rain that provide water for all life forms, and the strength of these mountains where I make my home. Though my life will be but a brief spark compared with the eons they have endured, I possess the faculties to comprehend and appreciate what has come before me and the foresight to see how my actions can help or hinder life for future generations. I hope I can do some small part in preserving this planet, because I know it is too precious and too beautiful for it to exist for me and my generation alone.

Sea Ice in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica

 Cosmic Sea Ice in Antartica

Cosmic Sea Ice in Antartica

Recently I came back from a trip to Antarctica to see the emperor penguins before they too become threatened by climate change and melting sea ice. Though the penguins were of course incredible, and their population on the island is stable, I was completely transfixed by the ice–especially when it go down to -20C and it started doing all kinds of unusual things. Each section was like an incredible abstract painting, with frost flowers that looked like stars and swirls that reminded me of the Milky Way. The ice spoke to my soul too. There were layers and rifts and cracks and uninterrupted blank white spaces. I couldn’t help but think of my own psyche while looking out over the landscape. I’d come to bury old stories here, at the frozen end of the earth, but being in the presence of this constantly changing ices-scape, Ifelt my heart thawing and life flowing through me again. There were colors too. Secret hidden colors under the sea ice that were revealed when ice chunks were upturned, and magical hues on the surface when the light refracted in a certain way under specific atmospheric conditions. The Weddell Sea and Snow Hill Island were unlike anywhere I have ever been before. It was another universe.

Below are some more images of this amazing environment, and I will post more in a gallery I’ll be uploading soon on this website. Before I discuss how the Antarctic ice is at risk and what this means for our planet, I’d first like to give you the opportunity to see just how beautiful sea ice is because it is disappearing faster here now and at an alarming rate in the Arctic.

 A Wave from the Icebreaker Freezing Over the Sea Ice

A Wave from the Icebreaker Freezing Over the Sea Ice

Though the icebreaker of course cracks the ice to get through, there are also many cracks that are naturally occurring, caused by ocean currents or the wind. When large areas of ice collide, it can cause rifts within the ice sheets. Watching this landscape was like watching geological process that usually take eons to occur right before my eyes.

 Fractured Sea Ice with Rift Lines, Weddell Sea

Fractured Sea Ice with Rift Lines, Weddell Sea

 Antarctic Sea Ice Landscape with Fractures and Icebergs on the Horizon

Antarctic Sea Ice Landscape with Fractures and Icebergs on the Horizon

The image above shows a combination of many types of ice and icebergs, while the image below is a close up of thinning seasonal sea ice. Though the patterns are extraordinary, the diminishing ice is of grave concern and indicates warming from below.

 Antarctic Sea Ice Abstraction, Thinning Seasonal Ice

Antarctic Sea Ice Abstraction, Thinning Seasonal Ice

The images below show a fascinating phenomena referred to as ice fingers. Thin layers of ice are blown and pushed over each other and resemble fingers.

 Ice Fingers in the Weddell Sea

Ice Fingers in the Weddell Sea

 Antarctic Icescape

Antarctic Icescape

The geologist on board said that they extreme cold we experienced when we were there (-20C) contributed to some unusual effects that he had never witnessed before. I could have spent the rest of my life looking at sea ice. I really did not want to leave the Antarctic and before I went, I never would have thought I wanted to go there. It was the complete antithesis of the barren wilderness I expected. Yet, everything was so subtle too. When I returned and had to pass through airports in South America, I immediately suffered from profound culture shock from the cacophony of artificial lights, colors, and sounds.

 Antarctic Sea Ice Flowers and Overlapping Layers

Antarctic Sea Ice Flowers and Overlapping Layers

 Antarctic Ice Patterns with Zebra Lines

Antarctic Ice Patterns with Zebra Lines

 Sculptural Sea Ice Patterns

Sculptural Sea Ice Patterns

On Snow Hills Island, the ice resembled patterns in the sand of a desert or even the landscape of another planet like the Moon or Mars. It is so cold that it is in actuality a desert, with no water vapor entering the atmosphere and so the ice can become thin and blow like sand.

 Antarctic Desert, the Uppermost Layer of Snow Hill Island

Antarctic Desert, the Uppermost Layer of Snow Hill Island

 Antarctic Desert Moonscape, Snow Hill Island

Antarctic Desert Moonscape, Snow Hill Island

There were many icebergs in the Weddell Sea as well, as the following images show. Sometimes the icebergs get attached to pack ice and freeze together and other times they float in the ocean currents, gradually melting from the warming ocean water. Sometimes, paradoxically, they melt so much they make the water and temperature a bit cooler and the sea ice grows, but then it melts from below as well.

 Tabular Iceberg in the Sea Ice, Weddell Sea

Tabular Iceberg in the Sea Ice, Weddell Sea

 Henry Moore-Shaped Iceberg, Weddell Sea

Henry Moore-Shaped Iceberg, Weddell Sea

The wedge iceberg above had many rounded planes that appeared quite organic and like a Henry Moore Sculpture. It too was within the sea ice. As these freshwater icebergs melt, they alter the chemistry of the ocean by changing the saltwater/freshwater mix, which has far-reaching ramifications on ecosystems and whether or not species will become extinct.

 Tabular Icebergs and Melting Sea Ice

Tabular Icebergs and Melting Sea Ice

What will become of the Antarctic is still unknown. If we keep pouring carbon and methane gases into the atmosphere, glaciers, the ice shelf and sea ice will likely melt at an accelerated rate. The Weddell Sea, because of ocean currents and where it is geographically located gets the most ice, but other areas in the Antarctic are experiencing ice melt at a more rapid pace. This year a study by 84 scientists from 44 international organizations indicated the ice is melting faster than ever  and at the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) highest projection. Since 1992, Antartica has lost nearly 3 trillion tons of ice. Forty percent of that loss was between 2012 and 2017, when ice loss went from 76 billion tons a year to 219 billion tons annually. This rings alarm bells for me. The Antarctic with ice is an important carbon and heat sink for the planet. If it looses even a substantial portion of its sea ice (which is enough to fill Denmark) sea level rise will be catastrophic. The more sea ice that disappears, the warmer the oceans of the world will become, since the ice won’t be there to block the suns rays. We are already experiencing increasingly severe storms. What happens to the Antarctic does not just affect coastal cities, though admittedly they will be harmed the most, it will affect the entire planet. The disappearance of Antarctic (and of course Arctic) sea ice is a global problem and not just because species such as emperor penguins, polar bears, and walruses will be threatened. It will impact all life.

Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve

 Golden Prairie Grass, Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve

Golden Prairie Grass, Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve

The last day of the Prairie Festival I decided to play hooky and find out why the Land Institute and all its followers were so influenced by the Prairie in their work. Of course one short hike would never reveal all the Prairie’s secrets, once I got there it was not hard to see why everyone loved this place so much. There were sounds of birds and crickets and a multitude of other creatures and it was so peaceful. Life was going about the business of life not in a grand scale, but in an everyday, renewable way that was somehow peaceful. When the sun broke out and lit up these grasses, they looked like gold. It made be feel in my soul once again that no living things are ordinary or should be taken for granted.

 White Sage and Silphium

White Sage and Silphium

There are so many small scenes within the Prairie where flowers and grasses come together to create beautiful tableaus. Silphium is also one of the flowers that the Land Institute is growing for a sustainable crop However, on their land the Silphium was beset by insects and disease while here it was thriving. Why this happened, they are still investigating and they are also looking for non-harmful ways to keep the plants healthy.

Silphium in Full Health
 Tall Grass Prairie with Blue Sage

Tall Grass Prairie with Blue Sage

There are so many different wildflowers that bloom in the prairie. I was there at the end of summer, so I am sure in other months it is even more ablaze, but what I saw was still beautiful and special reminding me to always look closer.


 Blue Sage and Grasses

Blue Sage and Grasses

 Tall Grass National Preserve Grasses and Vista

Tall Grass National Preserve Grasses and Vista

 Old Phillips 66 Gas Pump in the National Preserve

Old Phillips 66 Gas Pump in the National Preserve

 Tall Grasses at an overlook on the way back to Witchita

Tall Grasses at an overlook on the way back to Witchita

I never visited Kansas before and wasn’t sure what was there, but it turns out that it is an epicenter for natural earth and prairie systems and the only place left where you can see this. The prairie once extended from the Gulf to Canada through the middle of the country. This is all that is left and one of the best places to study how nature sustains itself in growing wild crops, some of which may be able to be domesticated to help our own farming techniques become more sustainable and to preserve our valuable soil and improve its health, while keeping silt and fertilizers and the like out of our waterways.

My First Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Salina, KS

 Wes Jackson, Co-Founder of the Land Institute Delivering His Talk

Wes Jackson, Co-Founder of the Land Institute Delivering His Talk

I just returned from my first visit to the Prairie Festival late last night. A big thank you to John Buchanan for sending me to learn what these folks are all about, especially since it renewed a sense of hope in me that had been ebbing from what I have learned doing environmental work.

This is the mission statement for the Land Institute:

When people, land, and community are as one, all three members prosper; when they relate not as members but as competing interests, all three are exploited. By consulting Nature as the source and measure of that membership, The Land Institute seeks to develop an agriculture that will save soil from being lost or poisoned, while promoting a community life at once prosperous and enduring.

Wes Jackson, a co-founder of the institute, speaks for the soil and believes that we should look to natural ecosystems “as the measure against which we judge all of our agricultural practices.” I can’t wait to read his book Consulting the Genius of the Place, which I picked up at the festival. I know from working on water in Florida that more often than not, when we decide we are going to control and dominate nature to exploit her resources for our own ends things usually go awry.

The talk he gave was entitled, “Are We the Ones We Have Been Waiting For?” I sure hope so, and he is definitely someone I would trust to spearhead a movement to find a new paradigm. He believes that we need and are in the process of evolving a new cosmology, which given the state of the planet right now many of us would agree with pretty quickly. The old framework is no longer working. In accorder to accomplish this, Wes said that we need new stories and a fresh intellectual framework. Our art and symbols have not had time to catch up with the shifts in our world view that are already happening. He doesn’t believe that we need to jettison all the old stories, but that we have to reinterpret them with mature minds. The Garden of Eden, he says was a fault line. He believes the Fall came with agriculture, so we need to come up with sweeping changes in how we obtain food and the Land Institute is already working on this in ways I will discuss later.

I would argue and I suspect Wes would agree that our mature minds should capable of understanding that we need to work with each other and nature in order to live more sustainably for as long as possible. Though many have said we are on the verge of a sixth extinction and that overpopulation is going to wipe us out, that does not mean we should burn all the coal we can as fast as possible to hasten our demise and the demise of many creatures and ecosystems that are being wiped out by climate change. We have to shift from a competitive model to a model based on “relationality”. As I heard Wes talk and David Bollier speak about the Power of the Commons, I couldn’t help but think of the great German mystic, Hildegard von Bingen, who has influenced me for the past decade. She viewed all of life as being horizontally interconnected in a web of life. The divine for her, existed in life, which no matter what your belief system is something that makes sense. Nature is God’s creation, and if you don’t believe in God, then nature is pretty miraculous and we see that in her ecosystems and their intelligent design. There is a value in nature that exceeds the worth of her resources alone, and when we upset the balance nature has worked out for itself, the damage we do to the earth from exploiting one resource reverberates throughout the ecosphere.

But I diverge, back to Wes. He then talked about the Manhattan Project and how that arose in the threat to the atomic bomb and as a way to shorten the war. Today we are under a similar dire threat related to using up our diminishing resources and we need to find a way to marshall them responsibly. Wes asked us to consider how many possibilities a 500,000 person think tank working on a cap on carbon and a rationing project could come up with. His vision is for the Land Institute to become that kind of think tank and to attract all kinds of people to contribute with different backgrounds. There are the scientists of course, but input from economists, artists, writers, philosophers and a multitude of other disciplines is also needed to solve the monumental problems we face today and to shift how we related to the earth.

His talk made me hopeful that there were people that are already moving in this direction and that more positive outcomes are on the horizon. (He referenced the evolutionary cosmology work of Brian Swimme, who I have also been influenced by and respect.) It also made me feel a lot better as an artist struggling to express my response to being alive at this time in human history. I have long felt I was failing in my work. I have taken photos to express the beauty of natural ecosystems that are currently imperiled, as well as the devastation we are perpetuating. All of my photographs are made from a place of being truly immersed in nature and my hope has been that this sense will be imparted to the viewers and inspire them to form their own connections with nature. Like Wes, I feel the crisis of postmodern or whatever era we are in now (perhaps we are already moving beyond postmodernism) is that we have become sorely disconnected. So I have been struggling to find a way to express the important emotions and responses I experience as I do everything in my power to reconnect, yet I feel that I am always falling short. In the spring, I will be taking a two month course in alternative processes. I have taken up painting and gone back to writing but feel the urge to go beyond discursive writing such as this and enter the realm of poetry, and yet doing all this alone feels hollow. I have so far, unsuccessfully, been searching for scientists to connect with and thinkers of all levels. As science comes under increasing attack, I feel the urge to hear what the scientists have to say and learn from them, because maybe they are under attack for helping to bring down the status quo so we can move into new territory.

Now I see that I am involved in creative expression at a time when we are forming new symbols and that is why I am having so much trouble. I share this because many of you may be facing the same struggles I have been engaged in. The symbols don’t yet exist. Instead of feeling hopeless, as I have been feeling for some time, listening to Wes made me excited because forming new symbols sounds like a great and worthwhile challenge, and it is something that each and everyone of us can participate in. This is what is needed to start a revolution in thinking. It is not an ivory tower endeavor. Yes intellectuals are essential, but they are only one segment of the population. And many of us left school long ago, in my case after multiple degrees that still left me wondering what the answers are, but opted to continue learning from nature or in other ways. We need everyone to bring their unique experiences to bear on the challenging situation we find ourselves in. Synergistic thinking stands a far greater chance of making leaps and also of changing the framework we orient from. We don’t have to be frozen in outmoded ways of thought that are no longer serving us, personally or as a culture.

At the Prairie Festival, I met artists, writers, scientists, interns, academicians, small farmers, ranchers, and even someone from Big Ag. Meeting this last person made me incredibly hopeful. We all have to eat and our population is growing, so we need to find new ways to obtain our food and it won’t really solve the problems of the world if they are only implemented here and there on a small scale. The rest of the world will still be pouring tons of nitrates and phosphates into our water supply and things will continue to deteriorate in terms of soil erosion and water quality (the latter being what drew me to farming initially, but soil quality and mycorrhizae hooked me the moment I started learning about all of the land and its relationship to water).

 Field of Kernza being grown to find optimal plants to breed

Field of Kernza being grown to find optimal plants to breed

Kernza is a fantastic crop that the Land Institute is working on. Here’s a link to more information on this more sustainable crop: https://landinstitute.org/our-work/perennial-crops/kernza/. Kernza is a wild perennial grain that they are domesticating as a crop. Perennial crops are more sustainable because they protect against soil erosion, conserve water and nutrients, and store more carbon below ground. Kernza’s roots are twice as deep as those of regular wheat, thereby preventing more soil erosion and making the plants more drought resistant since they can reach deeper into the soil for moisture and nutrients. In one plot, they planted alfalfa plants between the rows of Kernza. The were not ditches for runoff, as alfalfa’s roots are even deeper and can tap water below clay levels. When plants are healthier, they are more disease resistant too, requiring less fertilization and irrigation. After working on Florida’s water issue for the past six years, I know how important using fewer fertilizers and less water is for water quality and the health of riparian ecosystems and estuaries. It really was exciting to see what they are working on, though they will need to move towards some greater economies of scale if it is to become a worldwide solution as it is still quite costly to produce now. I do believe small local, organic, free range farms provide healthier food and I like to know exactly where my food is coming from, but I understand that eating this way is a luxury that is afforded to those with enough income to buy this more expensive food or the means to by the land and grow the food themselves. To work towards solving the food problem small local farms will most likely need to be supplemented by crops that can be grown in greater volume under sustainable farming practices. But this is all way out of my league to truly understand. I am just glad there are ethical people engaged in finding solutions to our food crisis and I am happy to support them in any way I can.

Other speakers I was fortunate to hear included David Bollier, as I previously mentioned, and Loka Ashwood. Economics has to be considered when any environmental decisions are being made. As I realized long ago, if you can’t explain things in terms of costs it is hard to convince people to go along with your vision to preserve the planet. Sadly, our current economic models need to be modified to include costs as well as benefits that were not previously recognized. For example, in Florida, when the air becomes unbreathable and the water is toxic, tourists stay away and livelihoods as well as creatures and ecosystems are destroyed. It goes beyond even this though. Bollier said we need new ways of thinking that are relational and not transactional. Bollier’s vision is of a bottom up instead of top down system with shared infrastructures, seed banks and the like. Top down clearly isn’t working, but for me I tend to think more horizontally like the rhizomes that exist within our soils and reach out to even different species of trees and plants to share information and to help sick individuals. Still I suppose the bottom up metaphor works for me as it does start from the earth. It can no longer be about exploiting our resources as quickly as possible to make the most money for the few in power. That is not sustainable and is frankly unethical in my opinion. David’s book Free, Fair and Alive will be coming out next year. And he has many other publications out already. Please read them. Economics was not my best subject in school, though I did finally begin to understand some of it after I started working in corporate banking years ago, though the errors for the premises current models are founded upon also became evident and I left that career to become an artist.

Loka Ashwood spoke about the issue of eminent domain, which is something that I became painfully aware of while working on the Sabal Trail Pipeline in Florida and of course when I visited Standing Rock. It brought back tragic memories of Robert Koons, a man of Native American heritage who had has land stolen from him and a pipeline laid feet from the graves of his ancestors, and that concession was only made after awareness of his plight was made to the broader public. Loka’s talk was entitled “Land Rights, and Justice: Why the Government is Losing the Trust of Rural America.” She visited rural areas where people had their land taken from them by Georgia Power and collected their stories and asked them who they thought was responsible and how they felt. More often than not they attributed responsibility to the government and not the actual entities that were robbing them of their land. Her work is groundbreaking in that by reaching out to these people and really learning what they thought, it might now be possible to reframe the discussion so that people will better understand how their rights are being abused and by whom. The role of corporations and government in the abuse of eminent domain is an issue we should all be concerned about. Though it often starts in rural areas where people don’t have the resources to fight back, it is a slippery slope and everyone’s land and rights are potentially at risk. Looking forward to reading her book For Profit Democracy: Why the Government is Losing the Trust of Rural America.

I regret to say I played hooky on the last day, as I wanted to go commune with the Tall Grass Prairie and see what had inspired these folks so much. The last morning I missed had talks on Healing Mother Earth, Frog Pond Philosophy, and Economic Transformations for an Ecological Civilization. I wish I had been able to attend those talks too. If I go back next year, I will allow more time. Thank you to everyone at the Land Institute for doing this important work and to all the people who support them and journey to the institute for this annual gathering. You taught me so much and I hope to be able to find or establish such a community of concerned individuals closer to home. I’m very grateful for the AS IF Center for inviting me to do an art/science residency and I hope to have some deep discussions with the people there about symbols and how this transformation can be accomplished throughout the fabric of our society and across the globe. I think humanity is ready for a change. We certainly are in this country.

I’ll leave you with some images from Claire Pentecost, the Prairie Festival artist for this year and a teacher at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Her installation at the Land Institute had soils she collected all over the world displayed in apothecary bottles she has been collecting for years. The concept of the Earth as medicine for our bodies and souls is fantastic and one I have longed been attracted to through my Shamanic Work. I loved her soil chromographs at the Salina Art Center, which were each so unique, and I especially loved her drawing of a tree, mycorrhizae, and a heart. As a Naturalist working on my Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate, I became hooked on mycorrhizae and believe, as many German companies do, that they hold great potential for carbon sequestration and a better balance between soil and water. Many soil and irrigation companies in fact believe that mycorrhizae is the underground revolution that will help solve so many of the problems we face with soil nutrient issues, run off, and plants and trees being able to withstand some of the onslaughts of climate change. The symbol of mycorrhizae as being the heart of life definitely spoke to me on a very deep level.

The Philosopher's Loam
Soil Chromograph
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A Disclaimer: These are all iPhone photos, as I did not bring my DSLR and was there to listen and learn not to take photographs. I apologize for the rambling nature of this blog, but it does convey all the thoughts and impressions that were stirred inside me. I hope reading this inspires new ideas of your own and makes you appreciate the real gifts of collaboration and community.

St. Ives and Gurnard's Head

 Penzance from the Hill

Penzance from the Hill

When I arrived in St. Ives, I was taken aback by the traffic and congested streets. Somehow, I managed to find my way to a carpark at the top of a hill and get one of the last two parking spaces. The view from the ridge was quite exceptional with the windswept trees, especially as the sun lit up the town and the lighthouse in the distance, which is the one memorialized by Virginia Woolf in “To the Lighthouse.” According to legend, St. Ives was founde when St. La, the daughter of an Irish Noble, missed her boat and had to sail on a leaf. The town began as a fishing settlement and then port. It was chartered in the 13th century by King Edward I. In the 19th Century, fishing was still important and gradually it became a popular tourist destination and then a creative hub. It is still a very important tourism destination and very crowded in the summer.

 St. Ives Harbour Beach

St. Ives Harbour Beach

I have to admit I was a little overcome by all the people crammed into the streets, which you can see in the distance in the photo above. I almost turned around and headed back to the car, but the harbor drew me onward. It was low tide, so all the boats were sitting on the sand amidst the sunbathers and seagulls. It was definitely more peaceful looking back on the town from the sand. After walking around for a while, just to see what it was all about, I headed on to Gurnard’s Head, which is now in the property of the National Trust. This is looking towards the Head from the Southeast.

 Gurnard’s Head

Gurnard’s Head


Gurnard’s Head got its name from resembling the face of a Gurnard fish. Before I proceeded on the walk through the village down to this formation, I stop at the Gurnard’s Head Pub for a snack and a cider. There are so many wonderful walks in Cornwall through fields and over stiles. The wildflowers and turquoise waters made for wonderful colorful highlights. No wonder artists have always been drawn to this region.

 Wild Montbretia, Gurnard’s Head

Wild Montbretia, Gurnard’s Head

These wild Montbretia are actually non-native plants to the English Coast. It was formed in France from parents of African origin and introduced to England in the 1880s. Though it is non-native, it is still incredibly beautiful and lights up the coastline with it’s fire-like color.

 Treen Cove Near Gurnard’s Head

Treen Cove Near Gurnard’s Head

The beach in the image above was secluded and I only noticed one couple and a dog running. I wished I had known how to get down there, but I never saw any paths heading that way. Perhaps they came from one of the couple of houses I saw on the cliffs.

 View from Gurnard’s Head with Ruins and a House

View from Gurnard’s Head with Ruins and a House

The image above shows a greater expanse of the coastline, with both Treen Cove and the rockier Rose-an-Hale Cove, as well as ruins of Chapel Jane falling into the sea and a house in the distance.

 Engine House Remains at Gurnard's Head Mine with Wildflowers

Engine House Remains at Gurnard's Head Mine with Wildflowers

There are many ruins from the tin mines along the coast in Cornwall. The image above is of an engine house. They are often quite overgrown from vegetation and difficult to get to, but beautiful to see nonetheless.

Gurnard's Head with Lichen

The image above is of orange lichen covering the ruins on the summit of Gurnad’s Head. It was amazing to see how much life proliferated there in the strong winds. while I was photographing, a storm started to roll in and I had to keep one hand on my tripod at all times or it would have blown into the sea. Near the very edge, I had difficulty remaining upright myself. Gurnard’s Head is a top destination for Megaliths and Prehistory in the world.  

 Gurnard's Head Promontory

Gurnard's Head Promontory

I processed this image of the summit in black and white to emphasize the starkness of the landscape and the ominous weather. Where these ruins were located was the furthest you could walk out onto the Head and the highest elevation.

 Gurnard’s Head , the site of the Iron Age Promonotory Fort Known as Trereen Dinas

Gurnard’s Head , the site of the Iron Age Promonotory Fort Known as Trereen Dinas

Two stone ramparts exist here that measure 60 meters long. Remains of sixteen roundhouses have also been found. It is difficult to make out what all the remains are but evident that there are man-made ruins in the landscape.

 Gurnard’s Head Ruins

Gurnard’s Head Ruins

Now, with the passage of time and the elements, it is difficult to tell what are ruins and what are rocks, except where big slabs can be seen. Vegetation and lichen have taken hold of everything, man-made or natural, and life continues.

 Gurnard's Head Ruins and Coastline.jpg

Gurnard's Head Ruins and Coastline.jpg

One last view of this rugged coastline steeped in history. I could have spent months walking the Cornish coast and still not taken it all in.

Craggy Gardens Summit and Shope Creek

 Craggy Gardens, Gnarly Tree Reaching in All Directions

Craggy Gardens, Gnarly Tree Reaching in All Directions

After this relentless rain, I’m thinking of the trees I love to visit on the Blue Ridge, especially the gnarly old trees at the summit on Craggy Gardens. Following all the rain this year, the roots of many trees were exposed more than usual. Trees are so critical in holding the earth in place and in preventing land and rock slides. They are also so helpful in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. This tree seemed to reaching in all directions, uniting the elements and helping our earth so much.

 Tree Growing Horizontally from the Earth

Tree Growing Horizontally from the Earth

This tree must have toppled long ago. Now it seems to be growing horizontally, its roots connecting with the earth and arching up like elbows. At least it won’t have been affected by the storm, its orientation to the earth having already been altered.

 Shope Creek, Pisgah Forest

Shope Creek, Pisgah Forest

On the way home, I stopped in the Shope Creek Wilderness area and hiked to the creek. That day, it was running freely but within the bounds of its banks. Now it must be overflowing. It dawned on me today how one storm can transform the peaceful nature we know into a place fraught with danger. Water can be gentle, but it can also be a deceivingly powerful force that can sweep us away in seconds.

 Takoda Watching Shope Creek

Takoda Watching Shope Creek

Takoda was mesmerized by the running water. He enjoyed watching the creek as much as he did swimming in it.

 Cardinal Flower

Cardinal Flower

Just before we left Shope Creek, we saw this striking cardinal flower. I wonder how these delicate beauty fared with all the pouring rain and wind.

St Agnes Head, Cornwall, a Colorful Explosion of Gorse and Heather

 St Agnes Head, Looking out to Sea

St Agnes Head, Looking out to Sea

St. Agnes Head along the northern coast of Cornwall is spectacularly beautiful.  When I was there in mid August, it was covered with heather and gorse.  The image above is taken from behind the National Coastwatch Station in St. Agnes Head.  The National Coastwatch, an entirely volunary organization, was formed in 1994 to keep "a visual watch along UK shores. Each station assists in the protection and preservation of life at sea and around the UK coastline."  The watchmen were very friendly and invited me into the station to see how they do their job and their bird's eye vantage point of the coastline.  They then suggested I follow the lower coast path taking care not to fall off it, as it would be there job to search for me.

 St. Agnes Head Heather and Gorse Patterns

St. Agnes Head Heather and Gorse Patterns

I am not sure that I have ever seen so much heather and gorse.  If I have, it was as a child when I lived in England.  This was truly amazing.  Everywhere I looked, the ground was covered with it and each view was different.  Below are close ups as well as shots of the heather and gorse near the cliff sides.  I was remarkably fortunate with the light as well, with near perfect conditions.  I kept saying "thank you, thank you" to mother nature for showing me such beauty.  It was healing to the soul. Words really cannot do justice to what I saw, so I will sign off.  There are old quarries and tin mine shafts along the walk as well.

 Heather and Gorse Close Up

Heather and Gorse Close Up

 St Agnes Head Coastline

St Agnes Head Coastline

 St. Agnes Head Heath and Coast with Spotlights on the Sea

St. Agnes Head Heath and Coast with Spotlights on the Sea

 St Agnes Head Vertical Wall of Heather

St Agnes Head Vertical Wall of Heather

 St. Agnes Head Heather and Gorse and Small Sea Stacks

St. Agnes Head Heather and Gorse and Small Sea Stacks

 St. Agnes Head Coast Walk

St. Agnes Head Coast Walk

 St. Agnes Head Explosion of Heather and Gorse by the Sea with Cliffs in the Distance

St. Agnes Head Explosion of Heather and Gorse by the Sea with Cliffs in the Distance

 St. Agnes Head, View of the Cliffs from the Coast Walk

St. Agnes Head, View of the Cliffs from the Coast Walk

 St. Agnes Head Rocky Coastline Near a Quarry

St. Agnes Head Rocky Coastline Near a Quarry

 St. Agnes Head near the Quarry and Old Tin Mine Shaft

St. Agnes Head near the Quarry and Old Tin Mine Shaft

 St. Agnes Head Old Quarry

St. Agnes Head Old Quarry

 St. Anges Head Closed Up Tin Mine Shaft

St. Anges Head Closed Up Tin Mine Shaft

Port St. Isaac, Cornwall–Doc Marten Country and a Fishing Village Since the Fourteenth Century

 Port Isaac Rooftops from the hill

Port Isaac Rooftops from the hill

In August, I visited Port Isaac, which was a prosperous fishing village since the fourteenth century until recently.  Declining fish stocks and EU quotas  were sending the village into a decline until it became widely known through television and the popular Doc Marten series.  Before Doc Martin, it had also been featured in the 1970s series Poldark, and in the Comedy Saving Grace in 2000.  (https://www.escape.com.au/world/europe/telly-tourists-flock-to-port-isaac-the-cornwall-town-that-doubles-as-portwenn-in-tv-show-doc-martin/news-story/964703812d7607088ad044afb38c6051)

When I visited the streets were crowded with tourists beating the heat and searching out some of the most popular spots featured in Doc Martin, but I did manage to find some places to steal away for less populated views.  After walking through the village I climbed a narrow road on the opposite side from where I entered and got some great views of older stone buildings juxtaposed against white washed cottages.  This has to be one of the most picturesque villages in Cornwall.

 Port Isaac Nestled in the Trees

Port Isaac Nestled in the Trees

Since it is so hilly, the angle of view constantly changes and the compositions your eye detects differ a great deal.  There are also lots of trees and other vegetation mixed in, creating the sense that it cold have looked like this for generations.

 Port Isaac, a Patchwork of Old Building Materials

Port Isaac, a Patchwork of Old Building Materials

Coming back down the hill, I was struck by this unusual patchwork of building materials where two structures were joined together. The big black stones at the bottom almost reminded me of a Henry Moore scupture they were so organic.

 Port Isaac Phone Booth, Email, Text, Phone

Port Isaac Phone Booth, Email, Text, Phone

One thing I very much enjoyed about Cornwall was coming upon old phone booths that had been freshly painted and bore signs saying, "Email, Text, Phone," a real sign of the changing times in a village where the old buildings lived on.

 Port Isaac Street Corner, Contrasting Edges

Port Isaac Street Corner, Contrasting Edges

The street corner above fascinated me.  The building on the opposite corner had a sharp edge,  while the white-washed bricks of the building closest to me curved and undulated going from a flat plane to a curved line almost like a Mobius Loop.  The way the red brick of the fireplace changed dimensions and bulged out in the middle created an interesting dialog of shapes.

 Port Isaac, Old Shingles and Pipes and a Window with Orbs

Port Isaac, Old Shingles and Pipes and a Window with Orbs

Old shingle and pipes were visible everywhere, telling tales of being worn by the elements and also of being lovingly restored.  When I looked into the window above, a group of pronounced orbs caught my eyes.  It made me wonder who lived here.

 Inshallah, If God Will's It All Doors May Open

Inshallah, If God Will's It All Doors May Open

Over the blue doorway above there was a sign that read, "Inshallah," which means "If God wills it."  In this village perhaps east and west were coexisting well.  My dream is that Port Isaac and all villages and cities on this planet will evolve to become more tolerant and will recognize that diversity is what makes life more interesting and will also help us to solve the problems this planet faces.

 Port Isaac, Old School Hotel

Port Isaac, Old School Hotel

The image above and below is of an old school in Port Isaac that has been converted to a hotel.  I wish I knew what the metal X above the window was put there for.  If anyone reading this knows why, I would be very grateful if you shared your knowledge.

 Old School Hotel with an X

Old School Hotel with an X

 Port Isaac House with Tarpon Weathervane

Port Isaac House with Tarpon Weathervane

There were many small details associated with the sea, like the tarpon weathervane above or this one-eyed pirate who is missing his eye patch and festooned with lightbulbs.  He appears to be sporting some kind of insignia as well, although again I am not certain of the meaning.  It is said that pirates used a small passageway next to the Golden Lion in the village for smuggling.  

 Port Isaac Pirate with Light Bulbs

Port Isaac Pirate with Light Bulbs

When I walked down to the working harbor, I was able to stand on the beach and look up since the tide was out.  The sun hit the church and illuminated all the plants on the cliffside, making the ancient village sparkle.  There were so many interesting textures everywhere I lived.  I could see why this village was so beloved.

 Port Isaac Church on the Hill

Port Isaac Church on the Hill

The rugged coastline beyond the village is stunning in both directions, and is accessible via the Southwest Coast Path which connects Port Isaac with Tintagel and other areas all along the coast.

 Port Isaac Coastline

Port Isaac Coastline

The image below shows tourists taking a break while others stream through the streets amid fishing boats and an old giant anchor.  

 Port Isaac Harbor

Port Isaac Harbor

Below are several black and whites of fishing gear, an alley behind the restaurants, and a seagull perched on one of the old walls that exist  on paths along the steeper parts of the cliffs.  Visiting this area was one of the highlights of my trip despite the crowds and well worth the walk in from the parking area outside the village.  

 Port Isaac, Fishing Gear

Port Isaac, Fishing Gear

 Behind the Fish Restaurants, Port Isaac

Behind the Fish Restaurants, Port Isaac

 Sea Gull, Port Isaac

Sea Gull, Port Isaac

This Ain't No Ordinary World

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Electric Grass–the Physicists Were Right, Its all Interconnected

While running with Takoda this morning, I came across this patch of grass backlit by the light that was vibrating at an insanely high lightwave frequency that immediately took it out of the realm of the ordinary and stopped me in my tracks.  Thankfully, I had my iPhone with me.  I'm a photographer and I know all about backlight, but this grass seemed to be festooned with haloes with fuzzy edges that seemed positively electric.  The light it was refracting could not be contained.  Boundaries were blurred and instead of theoretically understanding the physics of interconnectedness, I saw it with my own eyes.  The thought crossed my mind that "this ain't no ordinary world." I was a former college writing instructor, so I had to wonder why I was thinking in double negatives.  Thankfully I was trained to teach after it was recognized that all voices should be respected and that people write more authentically when they do so using the grammar and phrasing they grew up with.  Native tongues should never be silenced, and in my experience diversity of expression adds to our understanding and appreciation of life.  But I also aim to speak authentically from my own experience and background and I was raised by an English mother.  I still can't pronounce words correctly, if you get my gist.  Try as hard as I might, every time I say "Dawn," the name of my mother's best friend from college, my mother corrects my pronunciation.  So I had to wonder, why did this thought come to me in a grammatical form I don't generally use?  I suspect it was because it was and wasn't ordinary. My subject was after all grass, and I have seen tons of grass being almost 60 years old, and even tons of backlit grass, but never backlight grass like this!  It was if an army of millipedes had suddenly come to life.  I'm glad it stopped me in my tracks (and so was Takoda because it was a pretty hot day–the kind that makes you feel all woozy and see double when you squint your eyes), because if I get to the point where I run past something like this and don't stop in amazement then frankly I don't deserve to take up space on this planet anymore.  

 Weeds are Beautiful Too

Weeds are Beautiful Too

We ran a mile and a half and then turned around to come back.  It was very hot and humid today, so Takoda wanted to walk in the shade for awhile, under some trees by the side of the road where many weeds were growing in a dense thicket.  I have not yet learned what this plant or weed is called, and I am actually not sure what category it belongs to, but it was pretty unusual.  It reminded me of a conservation I had with my lawn service guy recently.  When I asked him how he felt about weeding and what he'd take out, he said that weeds are any plants that someone doesn't want–it all depends on your perspective. What might be a nuisance to one might be something another would marvel at and want to cultivate.  It made me think that how we categorize wanted and unwanted lifeforms has to do with prejudice or preconceived notions.  If we turn off the judgmental centers of our brains, can we change our perceptions and learn to appreciate people that are different from us or lifeforms that we have been trained to think of as unwanted.  What if we just decided to look and marvel at everyone and everything and forget all the negativity and fear that has been drilled into us.  

 This Field Will Be a Memory Soon

This Field Will Be a Memory Soon

Just before we got to the car, Takoda wanted to stop running. He's a black dog and gets quite hot.  The day I decided I wanted a dog I was able to arrange to get him because he was black and not apricot colored and no one had wanted him.  To this day, I can't believe this was even a thing.  He is a gorgeous dog and has a beautiful personality. When the breeder told me he was available and why, I said, "I don't care what color he is.  Is he a good dog?  His temperament is what's important."  I lucked out.  He is in fact an angel.  All those people who turned him down because of his color lost out big time.  Takoda and I stood together looking at this field, both a little too hot and grateful for a moment of shade and a bit of breathing space.  Will this field still be here in a year or two, or will it have fallen prey to the demands of development in an area that is becoming increasingly popular? Will anyone decide to build a home and will this permeable fence become a wall or will they live according to the old maxim "love thy neighbor as thyself," which seems to be becoming as distant a memory as open fields, clean air and clean water.  We are all blessed that the earth lets us make her our home, and though I am a little suspect of the tendency to anthropomorphize, I am pretty sure mother nature thinks of us all as her children.

 Takoda

Takoda

Here's Takoda on a walk on in the mountains on a cooler day.  You can see just how lovable he is.  We all have this quality inside, each and every one of us, no matter what race or color.  Takoda means "Friend to All" in Sioux.  He lives up to his name and is my greatest teacher.

Tintagel Coastline and an Historicaly Important Castle in Cornwall

 The View from Tintagel Castle

The View from Tintagel Castle

I recently returned from a trip to England, where I was fortunate to be able to visit Cornwall.  When I arrived in Bath, everything was browned out and I barely recognized England. My mother is English and I have been there many times and this was the wrost I'd seen it.  Things were browned out in Cornwall too in some places, but not as badly as the moisture from the Ocean Breezes kept things more moist. Though plants and trees were suffering in other parts of the country, many English people were delighted to have such good beach weather in their own country though they all seemed to realize it was associated with climate change.

 Tintagel Medieval Castle Landing Gate

Tintagel Medieval Castle Landing Gate

I hiked down to the end on one side and cape across the old landing gate, which is where people first arrived in the castle.  Tintagel was the seat of Cornish Kings from the fifth to the seventh centuries and has been mentioned in conjunction with the legend of King Arthur and the love story of Tristan and Iseult.  Its rich history may be why Richard, Earl of Cornwall built this castle in the 1230's (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/history-and-legend/). 

 Cave Across from Tintagle Castle

Cave Across from Tintagle Castle

Merlin's Cave is under the castle, but it is only accessible during low tide.  At high tide, the caves all fill with water.

 Tintagel Castle Walls

Tintagel Castle Walls

The walls are of course in ruins now, but it is not hard to imagine how it dominated the dramatic coastline with its rocky outcroppings and crashing waves.

 View from the Castle Summit

View from the Castle Summit

One benefit of the exceptionally warm summer, at least here, was that it turned the water a beautiful turquoise green.  The hue is due to the slate and sand in the area's landforms, which also contains traces of copper.  When it is warm and the sun's rays reach the water, it accentuates the turquoise and also illuminates the deep blues in the distance that are a result of the water reflecting the sky.  Land, earth, and the heavens came together to create a magical tableau made richer by metaphorical fire associated with climate change and warmer temperatures.  Though I often like to say that climate change is bad, and I do believe it will cause a myriad of problems for our planet, occasionally it can lead to moments like this where the coast of England suddenly appears more like the Caribbean, at least as far as the water is concerned.  I suppose, aside from the loss of species and a proliferation of blue green algae, it will be interesting to see how particular places shift over time.  Will British people stop feeling the need to go to the Canary Islands or Florida or other places they frequent to enjoy coastal climates?

 Tintagel Castle Ruins on the Rock Jutting out into the Sea

Tintagel Castle Ruins on the Rock Jutting out into the Sea

This image was taken from a rock behind the Tintagel Parish Church.  I was particularly struck by the biodiversity of the plant life.

 Parish Church of St. Materiana, Tintagel

Parish Church of St. Materiana, Tintagel

This Norman Church was built between 1080 and 1200 on an earlier burial ground used by the castle's Dark Age occupants.  St. Materiana was the patroness of Tintagel and the Patron Saint of Minster.  The old lichen covered tombstones that were eroded by the salt air were no longer legible but bore the weight of history nevertheless. 

 Tintagel Coast Walk Stone Wall with Grasses

Tintagel Coast Walk Stone Wall with Grasses

From the Bed and Breakfast we stayed in to the Church and Castle there was a coast walk. Old stone walls separated the walk from the fields above and the rocks below.  These walls were anything but ordinary stacked in intricate patterns  that had a captivating rhythm. The style is actually referred to as the "herringbone pattern, also called ‘Jack and Jill’ or ‘Darby and Joan’" (https://www.conservationhandbooks.com/dry-stone-walling/walls-in-the-landscape/characteristic-regional-walls/).  The slate in this area is thinner and more splintery, so this pattery uses stones that otherwise would not be very useful in wall building and creates and stronger structure through the weave.

 Tintagel Wall

Tintagel Wall

This close up shows the pattern a little more clearly, and all the lichen growing on the stone.

 Tintagel Rocky Coastline with Sea Stack

Tintagel Rocky Coastline with Sea Stack

Sea stacks always fascinate me, the way the forces of water and air and geomorphology leave narrow towers standing that will eventually collapse and become stumps before being completely erased one day.  

 Tintagel Coast with Sea Stack

Tintagel Coast with Sea Stack

The seas were relatively calm on this particular afternoon, so its presence seemed even more unlikely.  In a way, it seemed to symbolize the fluke of my own existence, a momentary flash in geological history as I am so insignificant in the context of human history, no matter what good I attempt to do.  

 Tintagel Cliffs

Tintagel Cliffs

When you study the cliffs above, you see the layers of slate and understand why the walls demarcating fields were built in the herringbone pattern.  The coast path skirts the upper edge of these vertical cliff faces in arcs.  What was interesting was in darker crevices ferns and greener vegetation found a way to take purchase amid all the pebbles.  This area was known for its quarries.

 Wildflowers in Tintagel Hedgerows

Wildflowers in Tintagel Hedgerows

Another way of demarcating boundaries besides walls is hedgerows. This one was very striking, with its burst or red-orange flowers in an otherwise solid green expanse..

 Rocks Near the Port William Bathed in Evening Light with a Lone Seagull Flying.

Rocks Near the Port William Bathed in Evening Light with a Lone Seagull Flying.

For dinner, we went to the Port William Pub that has lovely sea views.  As the sun started to set, I had to leave my table indoors and go outside. The light struck the waves crashing the rocks, which were turned a reddish gold from all the reflections in the sky.  In the distance, I saw a small seagull flying, which suddenly seemed way more signifiant than it normally would appear because of its position and the light strip of background behind it.  That is the magic of life I suppose.  It all depends on contrast and positioning and of course light, which has this uncanny ability to both illuminate and elevate the ordinary into something most extraordinary.

 Sunset from the Port William Looking Out to Sea

Sunset from the Port William Looking Out to Sea

Watching the last rays of the sun depart and the heavens benefit as a result of light refraction and the positioning of our sun,I  appreciated how unique this sunset was compared with many I have seen.  What I love about these times of day, is that you never know what magic might be in store for you, what slivers of the sky will turn gold or which plants will suddenly seem more colorful than ever before.  The magical workings of the universe suddenly come alive. and I always experience a deep sense of gratitude. To become jaded to moments like this is a real tragedy.

The Magic of Little Switzerland and the Historic Orchard at Altapass

 Blue Ridge Mountains with Misty Skies from Wild Acres

Blue Ridge Mountains with Misty Skies from Wild Acres

Last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend a painting workshop at Wild Acres.  Of course I brought my camera along and stole away a few times to photograph.  This particular evening I watched the mist rise from the mountains and the clouds it was forming shape shift.  It really made me focus on the transience of our experience and how each moment is unique and not to be missed.

 Wild Acres Foggy Skies

Wild Acres Foggy Skies

The image above is in color from the same area in a slightly different direction.  There were too many clouds for a dramatic sunset, but there was a streak of pink across the sky.  How fortunate we were to spend time in this magical environment that was started by Thomas Dixon, the author of "The Clansman," which was made into the movie "The Birth of a Nation."  The proceeds from the movie were used to acquire this property, which Dixon hoped to turn into a cultural center until he lost everything including this land in the Great Depression.  I.D. Blumenthal ended up purchasing it at auction for a pittance and he and his brother restored the property, which was used by Ringling College of Art and Design for their summer residency program until 1946, when the Blumenthals began inviting series of groups. Here's a link to the colorful history of this amazing retreat center: http://www.wildacres.org/about/history.html

 Apple Orchard at Altapass at Dusk

Apple Orchard at Altapass at Dusk

One night I went to the Historic Apple Orchard at Altapass to see the old apple trees as the sun was setting.  It was a full moon a few days later, so that made it even more special.  In 2012, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, a matching grant from Progress Energy, and contributions in memory of Eric L. Gressel, a long-time Orchard volunteer to the Altapass Foundation provided for the construction of a series of trails through the orchard.  There is a Guided Nature Walk that visitors can take.  

 Apple Trees in the 100 Year Old Orchard at Altapass

Apple Trees in the 100 Year Old Orchard at Altapass

The Holston Land Company, an arm of the Clinchfield Railroad, established this orchard 100 years ago on the top of the Eastern Continental Divide. In the 1930s, the Blue Ridge Parkway purchased a narrow strip of land through here, and today the remaining 2,500 trees produce 7,000 bushels of apples a year.  The 280-acre orchard was purchased by Katherine Trubey in 1995, but eventually the land above the Parkway was sold to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation so it could be preserved in perpetuity. In addition to the orchard, there are wetlands and butterflies in this area.  Here's a link with information on the history of the orchard: https://www.altapassorchard.org/brochures/Trails_Brochure.pdf

 Dirt Road Through the Historic Orchard at Altapass

Dirt Road Through the Historic Orchard at Altapass

The sunset was magical to watch.  The clouds at one point resembled an animal jumping over the moon. 

 Clouds Over the Moon, the Orchard at Altapass

Clouds Over the Moon, the Orchard at Altapass

One of the last sights we saw was the moon framed by the tree branches.  I felt so grateful to be able to walk among these old trees that still bear fruit as nightfall descended.

 Full Moon through the Apple Tree Branches, the Historic Orchard at Altapass

Full Moon through the Apple Tree Branches, the Historic Orchard at Altapass

Eldorado Canyon Views of the Continental Divide, Goshawk Ridge Trail, and Wildflowers

 View of the Continental Divide from the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

View of the Continental Divide from the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

Last month I spent an incredible day in the Eldorado Canyon. I got there early in the morning and hiked up the Rattlesnake Gulch trail to the view of the Continental Divide First.  It  was spectacular and I sat there all by myself watching the clouds create different paintings across the sky.  The one below reminded me of Dali's mustache.

 Eldorado Canyon Continental Divide View with Cloudscape

Eldorado Canyon Continental Divide View with Cloudscape

Then I stood upon a bench under this pine bough to get another persepctive.  I loved the long needles and gnarly branches.

 Continental Divide View Under Pine Bough

Continental Divide View Under Pine Bough

The rock face of the canyon in some places is estimated to be more the 1.5 billion years old.  To see trees growing along the craggy summit and in nooks and crannies always makes me appreciate nature's life force and impetus to find ways to survive no matter what the conditions. 

 Eldorado Canyon Wall

Eldorado Canyon Wall

Along the trail, I photographed decaying dandelions, which seemed to evoke the transience of the season and life, next to century plants which seemed so much stronger and enduring, the stiff verticality contrasting with the more gossamer threads of the dandelions going to seed.

 Dandelion Decomposition wiht Red Tic

Dandelion Decomposition wiht Red Tic

 Eldorado Canyon Century Plant

Eldorado Canyon Century Plant

All along the canyon walls in the shaes, blue bells and other wildflowers grew in the nooks and crannies.  

 Eldorado Canyon Wall with Wildflowers

Eldorado Canyon Wall with Wildflowers

The thistle plants were exhibiting lots of pollen which attracted the bee below. The bee ingested so much pollen it fell to the ground a few moments later.

 Thistle, High Key

Thistle, High Key

 Bee Drunk on Thistle Pollen

Bee Drunk on Thistle Pollen

When I saw the scene below, I was pretty sure how Boulder got its name.  There were so many textures and sizes of rocks along the Fowler Trail, which I hiked next.  I was out in the canyon for 8 hours  and saw one spectacular scene after the next.  There were grand scenes, but the most intricate details were captivating as well as the macro of the rock below shows.  That was like a work of art there were so many vibrant colors and patterns.

 Boulders on the Fowler Trail, Eldorado Canyon

Boulders on the Fowler Trail, Eldorado Canyon

 Eldorado Canyon Macro of a Rock Face

Eldorado Canyon Macro of a Rock Face

I hiked the Fowler trail over to meet up with Goshawk Ridge trail and came upon this lovely view of the valley.  The clouds, the wildflowers and the light all came together to create simultaneously majestic and intricate compositions.  

 Eldorado Canyon View from the Fowler Trail

Eldorado Canyon View from the Fowler Trail

The wall below was fascinating, especially with the dead trees intermixed with the pines.  

 Eldorado Canyon Lower Peanuts Wall

Eldorado Canyon Lower Peanuts Wall

The Gowhawk Ridge Trail goes through a forest that has been left completely alone.  You are not allowed to walk off the trail at all and I never saw another person the whole time I was walking along it.  To be in such undisturbed woods quieted my soul.  This impossibly bent tree was an interesting anomaly that stood out among the other trees, and I realized that being unique is what makes life interesting. 

  Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Trail Crooked Tree

Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Trail Crooked Tree

Next I came to these ruins along a stiff incline where ancient people once inhabited this canyon.  Alone in this magical landscape, the past came more alive than the present.  

 Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Ridge Trail Ruins

Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Ridge Trail Ruins

The last part of my hike opened out onto an incredible field of wildflowers.  The last time I was in Colorado to photograph wildflowers with John Fielder, there was a severe drought and all I saw was fireweed.  Though there have been fires in southern Colorado, Boulder and the surrounding area had a lot of rain this year. In fact, some of the trails I'd wanted to hike near Nederland were flooded that week, which is how I'd ended up in Eldorado Canyon.  How fortuitous that turned out to be.  I spent an hour in this filed all alone, appreciating these incredible flowers and the surrounding scenery.  I lay down on boulders when I came across them, appreciated individual flowers, and noticed how they all magically fit in with the landscape.  Words cannot describe how it felt to be all alone in such a spectacular place with no sounds except the breeze blowing through the grasses, the birds calling, and insects buzzing as they fed upon nature's abundance.  If someone ever asks me to picture heaven, or come up with an image in my mind that brings me peace and joy, these scenes are certainly what will come to mind.  This planet we call home deserves protecting. To lose such brilliant biodiversity to fires and climate change will be tragic.  

 Eldorado Canyon Bluebells

Eldorado Canyon Bluebells

 Eldorado Canyon Field with Indian Paintbrush and Wildflowers

Eldorado Canyon Field with Indian Paintbrush and Wildflowers

 Bee Balm, Eldorado Canyon

Bee Balm, Eldorado Canyon

 Bee Balm Close Up

Bee Balm Close Up

 Eldorado Lupine

Eldorado Lupine

 Eldorado Field of Wildflowers, Detail

Eldorado Field of Wildflowers, Detail

 Bee Balm and Wildflowers, Field in Eldorado Canyon

Bee Balm and Wildflowers, Field in Eldorado Canyon

 Eldorado Canyon, Indian Paintbrush

Eldorado Canyon, Indian Paintbrush

Deep Creek, Seemingly Pristine Waters at Risk from Acid Rain and Climate Change

 Deep Creek, The Way Through

Deep Creek, The Way Through

I recently spent a couple of days in Deep Creek camping.  The water there was seemingly pristine and beautiful.  I knew, however, that it was already impaired from Acid Rain and at risk from climate change.  Since 1991, the streams in the Great Smoky Mountains have been monitored for water quality.  The acid rain created by coal burning plants deposits sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that is deposited in the streams and along the riparian banks through rain, snow, hail and even fog and dust.  The rain then leaches nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil, raising its PH and making it more acidic.  The air pollution responsible for the issues in the creeks in the Great Smoky Mountains was improving, but now with a renewed focus on coal they are at great risk.  In 2015, before the changes in policy, it was already estimated that 200 train cars of sulfuric acid fell over the park grounds each year.  (https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/water-quality.htm)

The velocity of the water can have both positive and and negative effects. Quickly flowing water can help flush waterways and prevent bacteria from growing as quickly, but it can also harm sensitive organisms that cling to rock faces.  Elevation can have both positive and negative effects as well.  Higher streams are cooler and this supports the populations of brook trout, but the trees and ecosystems located higher up are the first recipients of acid rain.

I made the image above one evening after climbing partway down a very steep bank.  The water was stunning as it found its path through the rocks.  But as I peeked through the branches to watch, I couldn't help fearing for the fragility of these ecosystems that have endured for hundreds of millions of years until we arrived and altered the balance from afar by burning fossil fuels.

 Deep Creek Swimming Hole

Deep Creek Swimming Hole

Most of the stream was quite shallow, but here, just beyond a bridge over the stream, the water was very deep and we were able to take a dip the next day.  The water was still frigid, which was a good thing for the fly fisherman that are drawn to this area and for the brook trout that live in this stream.  As temperatures increase from climate change, it will alter the levels of dissolved oxygen, which will damage the gills and reproduction systems of the trout.  

 Deep Creek Riparian Landscape

Deep Creek Riparian Landscape

For now the many visitors to Deep Creek can still enjoy this pristine stream and in the evening when everyone has gone home or back to their campsites, it is incredibly tranquil.  In fact, it was so peaceful it was hard to drag myself away and my friends were close to calling out a search party,  Below are some more images I made during this visit.  The mountain laurel was in full bloom, which was a treat to see.

 Deep Creek, Rocks and Riffles

Deep Creek, Rocks and Riffles

 Deep Creek Riffles

Deep Creek Riffles

 Deep Creek Flowing over Ledges

Deep Creek Flowing over Ledges

 Confluence of Indian Creek and Deep Creek

Confluence of Indian Creek and Deep Creek

 Tom's Falls on Deep Creek

Tom's Falls on Deep Creek

 Deep Creek Through the Foliage at Dusk

Deep Creek Through the Foliage at Dusk

 Deep Creek at the Golden Hour

Deep Creek at the Golden Hour

Below are two black and white images from my visit. The first is of ledges along Deep Creek midway down the stream and the second if of Indian Falls, a waterfall along Indian Creek just before it merges with Deep Creek.

 Deep Creek Ledges

Deep Creek Ledges

 Indian Falls

Indian Falls

I also hiked the trails through the woods along Indian Creek and back up through the hills until it rejoined the Deep Creek Trails.  I saw some interesting fungi along the way, and at the top of the ridge where two trails met,  I was met by a curious deer.  We sat and looked into each other's eyes for several moments.  I took one photo with the camera I had in hand, but then I put it down since I had this feeling that I wanted to connect with the deer instead of frighten it.  The deer then walked through the woods quite near me and appeared on the other trail, pausing again to look at me.  Slowly, I made a second image, though I felt weird pointing my camera at it when the deer was allowing itself to be vulnerable. I would clearly not make a good hunter. Even taking photographs felt intrusive, so I only made these two.  I used to live in Westchester, where deer almost seemed to outnumber people, and they were quite brazen and typically seemed unconcerned with people.  But I am used to wild deer running off, so this encounter felt special. 

 Flame Fungi

Flame Fungi

 Glowing Red Mushrooms Helping Roots in the Forest

Glowing Red Mushrooms Helping Roots in the Forest

 Deer in the Woods in the Smoky Mountains

Deer in the Woods in the Smoky Mountains

 Deep Creek Deer Encounter

Deep Creek Deer Encounter

Roan Mountain, Big Butt Trail, and Catawba Falls in Black and White

Roan Mountain Bent Tree in the Mist

Roan Mountain Bent Tree in the Mist

Lately, with the threats that constantly besiege our environment, I have been struck with the fragility of it all and a real sense of ominous foreboding.  Perhaps things will turn around, but for now trees are not just receiving water and carbon dioxide, they are also imbibing toxic chemicals from more coal plants and acid rain.  It has caused me to see the nature I love in such a different way and it is breaking my heart.  As a photographer and an artist, all I can do is express what I see with not just my eyes but through my intuition and soul. The image above was take on Roan Mountain on a foggy and cloudy day. The atmosphere was palpable and I suddenly felt how these trees have no escape routes.  Their leaves may adjust from season to season to taken in more Carbon Dioxide, but the rain and the wind still pelts down upon them. I processed this image to give it an antique feel, as if this mountainside exists in the past already.

 Lichen Man Dark

Lichen Man Dark

The photograph above was made on the Big Butt Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway near the summit of Little Butt.  When I saw this lichen, it looked like a man running.  All the other growth was interesting and very dense, but what really stood out for me was the central vegetation so I processed it to set that off.  I loved that it resembled a human form, as many scientists believe that lichen will be critical in helping us adapt to climate change through their innate ability to process carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants that find their way into our air.

 View from Little Butt, Dying Trees in the Blue Ridge

View from Little Butt, Dying Trees in the Blue Ridge

This image shows the affects of acid rain and why we need lichen and other trees so much.  The frightening thing is that this destruction exists in a pristine forest.  The harmful pollutants are being carried by air currents from the Ohio River Valley in the midwest.

 Erosion, Catawba Falls State Park

Erosion, Catawba Falls State Park

This year has seen very high levels of rainfall with associated flooding in the mountains of Western North Carolinna.  this image was taken on a day following one particular deluge.  When I stood on the edge of the bank, I was struck by how much land had been eroded and all the trees that had been sucked into the river.   Processing the image in black and white added to the ominous tone and also helped direct the viewer's focus onto the river.

 Water Eroding the Earth, Catawba River

Water Eroding the Earth, Catawba River

The image above was also taken on the Catawba River.  Seeing the water pour down with such force right next to the roots drove home how powerful waterways can be when they are at flood stage.  They are truly the shapers of the riparian landscape and forces to be reckoned with.

 Catawba Falls After the Rains

Catawba Falls After the Rains

Though several people have died at various waterfalls in North Carolina lately, from being swept off the top by strong currents, the water in all its force is beautiful to watch from below.  Its power and majesty are a testament to how man truly cannot control the forces of nature no matter how much hubris we exhibit in thinking we can.

 Lower Catawba Falls

Lower Catawba Falls

When I saw the Lower Catawba Falls in the dim light, the environment seemed almost ghostlike to me.  The water was of course more turbulent to the eye, but there was something about being in this dim forest with water racing through and erasing its features before my eyes that made me think of apparitions and so I slowed the exposure way down with a neutral density filter to convey the emotions I felt.

It has been a year since I moved to my new home and the Blue Ridge.  At first I celebrated all the biodiversity I was witnessing every day, and it is amazing.  The Blue Ridge and one location in China boast more biodiversity than any other temperate zone in the world, and this is indeed cause for celebration.  But as Scott Dean, my wonderful wildflower teacher at the North Carolina Arboretum said the other day, we may be the last generation to witness this proliferation of life.  No wonder I think of ghosts when diversity that has existed for millennia could suddenly be destroyed or greatly reduced in my lifetime.  I pray as a people we come to our senses and stop harming that which supports us and make the earth a viable home.

Eldorado Canyon and South Boulder Creek with Rushing Water

 The Big Bang of Water

The Big Bang of Water

Last week I had the good fortune to  study the rushing waters of South Boulder Creek in Eldorado Canyon after a few storms.  At first I was watching the dramatic parts of the scene where the stream cascaded through the canyon with the most velocity.  After awhile, I climbed on some rocks closer to the center of the stream. Again, I was drawn to the area where the most water was passing through, but suddenly I looked down below my feet and saw smaller rivulets of water leaping off the rock into the chaos below. The water seemed to move in slow motion compared with the rest of the stream. Suddenly it made me think of the big bang and it was as if the saying I have heard ever since Standing Rock about water being the source of life was being demonstrated before my eyes . When I processed the photo, in the center I noticed a pyramidal form that looked just like a gem.  We forget how precious water is to our survival.  Looking through my lens and on the computer afterwards, I was mesmerized by the magical powers of water I was able to witness that day.

 South Boulder Creek Slicing Through Eldorado Canyon

South Boulder Creek Slicing Through Eldorado Canyon

My first encounters with water were gentle and spiritual and taught me many lessons about going with the flow, avoiding snags and the like, but water is incredibly powerful too and carves through rock.  Often, I photograph water to capture a its grace and ephemeral spirit by using a filter to achieve long exposures that evoke gradual movement.  And indeed I made a few images like that this particular afternoon.  But when you hear the water pounding in your ears over and over again, the experience seems closer to reality when the image is made with a quick shutter speed to freeze the action. 

 The Power of Water, Eldorado Canon

The Power of Water, Eldorado Canon

Right at the heart of one particular section of the stream, water cascaded over and around big boulders in torrents. The rocks were covered with moss and the colors were spectacular.  The yellow-golds refracted in the water were spectacular and the water resembled a precious gem, a living, ever shifting amber-like tableau with droplets of life suspended in a briefly frozen moment.  The more we destroy our rivers and waterways, the more precious water becomes.  I want to capture it in all its majesty and remaining purity before it is turned to sludge.

 The Magical Waters of Eldorado Canyon

The Magical Waters of Eldorado Canyon

The dappled light and rich reds of the rocks made the riparian banks appear just as special.  I think I could have stayed there until dark watching and taking in all the myriad ways the stream flowed, its unique momentum and all the different ways it interacted with the boulders that once again contained it in the absence of floodwaters.

 Eldorado Canyon, South Boulder Creek

Eldorado Canyon, South Boulder Creek

A short way before this rocky area, the creek was more level and many fly fisherman were casting their lines  People were picnicking and some were even dangling their legs in the water.  Not here int this more rapid and turbulently flowing area, although this volume of water was probably nothing compared to 2013 when 500 residents were under evacuation orders.

 Boulder Creek Churning through Eldorado Canyon

Boulder Creek Churning through Eldorado Canyon

There was no way I was attempting a stream crossing here.  This image gives a clearer sense of exactly how turbulent the water was.

 Eldorado Canyon Boulder Creek's Mystical Waters in Dappled Light Multi Layer Processing

Eldorado Canyon Boulder Creek's Mystical Waters in Dappled Light Multi Layer Processing

South Boulder Creek starts in the Indian Peaks near Moffat and the source of its water is the melting snowpack. There is an ashram nearby as well as an artesian spring fed pool and walking around this area I got the sense that it was a spiritual place.  Of course for me the overused saying Nature is My Church is the truth.  I envisioned the scene in black and whtie to, in order to evoke a more timeless feel.  What a glorious place to witness the power of water.

Moody Forest–Color Images

Moody Forest Dancing New Maple Leaves2404.jpg

Moody Forest–New Maple Leaves Dancing in the Light

A month ago, I visited the Moody Forest–one of the only remaining old growth longleaf pine forests in the country.  The blog I wrote had black and white images of 200-300 year-old-pines and 600 year-old cypress and tupelo trees.  (http://www.lynnebuchanan.com/blog/2018/5/8/moody-forest-black-and-white-images-evoking-a-timeless-primeval-paradise)  But it was not just the dramatic ancient trees that caught my attention. This old growth forest is unusual in that the understory is still relatively open, which allows light to reach new growth. When I saw these fresh green maples leaves in the image above, they seemed to be dancing in the light and breeze.  As I sat on the ground and watched them, they seemed to radiate their inner essence and I was filled with a feeling of profound hope.  It is experiences like this, where I connect with nature in a direct that really teach me to live in the moment and appreciate just being, which is no trivial thing when done fully.

 Orange Milkwort

Orange Milkwort

The more open understory allows for the proliferation of wildflowers.  The orange milkwort was mesmerizing through my 200 macro lens with a Cannon 500 on top.  I could see all these teeny flowers blooming.  Early summer, when I was there, is the peak season for blooming but they can flower through to the fall.  These biennial plants are common in pine flatwoods, but they are anything but common to see.  When you look into the interior of the plants, where most of the blossoms are located, its like an invitation to a whole other universe.

 Indian Pink

Indian Pink

Indian Pink is an uncommon wildflower that grows in the southeast in rich moist woods.  I found most of these back at the edge of the bog where the cypress and tupelo trees were located.  The plants can reach 12-18 inches in hight.  Though it is called Indian Pink, the inflorescence is actually comprised of five-tipped brilliant red flowers with yellow interiors. I was so mesmerized by them that I got down on the ground at eye level.  The side view was most dramatic.

 Common Pea

Common Pea

There are also several kinds of pea plants.  Legumes are important in longleaf pine ecosystems, as they are a source of food for wildlife and also "fix" nitrogen. Their seeds are covered with a tough exterior, an intelligent adaptation that allows them to remain dormant until conditions are right for germination.  Once the plants begin growing, they convert atmospheric nitrogen by working with rhizobia, a bacteria in the soil that takes bacteria and feeds it to the legumes.  As in all fungal symbiotic relationships, the legumes then give carbohydrates back to the bacteria in exchange.  Legumes play a very important role because longleaf pine ecoystems are fire dependent for their survival.  Fires rob the soil of organic nitrogen that the legumes help reintroduce through their high nitrogen and protein content.  

 Pursh's Rattlebox

Pursh's Rattlebox

The image below shows the importance of fire in the Moody Forest Ecosystem.  Prescribed burns help wildlife and plants in the understory survive.  According to  Robert Abernethy, president of the Longleaf Alliance. “If you burn, you’ll have turkeys. If you don’t, you won’t.” The fires have to be well-managed so they don't let burning peat bog get out of control.  Forests like these suffer when there aren't enough fires.  The images below show how fire helps and is even oddly beautiful when it is controlled.  Indigenous people frequently made use of fire to  keep the soil healthy.(https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/northcarolina/north-carolina-role-of-fire-in-longleaf-pine-forests.xml)

 Moody Forest–A Fire Dependent Ecosystem

Moody Forest–A Fire Dependent Ecosystem

 Moody Forest-Burned Log Still Life

Moody Forest-Burned Log Still Life

 Moody Forest Regenerating After a Burn

Moody Forest Regenerating After a Burn

If you are in the area, visit this beautiful forest. It was such a transcendent experience walking through these woods alone, seeing nature grow back and thrive, and finding plants and new growth that was illuminated and almost pulsating in the light.  Connecting with the essential aliveness of the forest  reminded me to appreciate the privilege of being able to live on this magnificent earth, which we all too often take for granted.

Two New Black and White Images of Views from the Trail to Blackrock Near Sylva

 View from Blackrock

View from Blackrock

A couple of weeks ago I went on a Bio Blitz tothe  Blackrock area off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Sylva.  Right before a storm came, I took a chance and hiked quickly to the end of the trail to Blackrock, which opened out on this incredible vista and made this image.  The contrasts of light and dark and the looming glads made for a great deal of drama.  I couldn't stay long as thunder was rumbling.  

 Illuminated Dying Tree with a Storm Looming 

Illuminated Dying Tree with a Storm Looming 

Somehow I missed the storm, which did pour down on some members of our group that were ahead of me.  Suddenly the light came out again and lit up this tree, while the storm clouds that had caused the rain receded into the distance.  See the stark contrast of light against the darkness reminded me that there is always hope even in the midst of storms.  

The Incredible Biodiversity of a Vertical Bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway

 Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus

Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus

A couple of weeks ago I visited this amazing vertical bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway across from the Wolf Mountain Overlook.  May was the wettest month in recorded history in Asheville, so the bog was very moist and rife with life.  There are many rock faces along the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway and many have modest amounts of plants and mosses, while this one is chock full of plants, grasses, mosses, and even sundews.

 Water Droplets Clinging to Sundews

Water Droplets Clinging to Sundews

There were several areas in crevices with tiny sundews, which are tiny carnivorous plants.

 Bluets and Mosses on a Vertical Bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Bluets and Mosses on a Vertical Bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The wildflowers and mosses were abundant.  Why this bog has so many more types of plants and in such a higher density is a bit of a mystery. 

 Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus, Bluets and Moss

Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus, Bluets and Moss

The leaves on the far left are of the Grass of Parnassus, which doesn't bloom until later.  The leaves themselves are quite spectacular.

 Vertical Bog with Ferns and Grass of Parnassus

Vertical Bog with Ferns and Grass of Parnassus

Anywhere they can find to take purchase in the rocks, the ferns, grasses and wildflowers find a way o grow.

 Vertical Bog with Moss, Grasses, and Azaleas

Vertical Bog with Moss, Grasses, and Azaleas

Even large shrubs and trees find ways to grow on the rock, watered by rivulets that also carve the escarpments. 

 Vertical Bog with Plants and Intrusions

Vertical Bog with Plants and Intrusions

Though this bog is almost overwhelming in its beauty, sadly we may be one of the last generations to see it in all its diversity.  Native plants in the Blue Ridge are quite vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to reductions in snow melt and warmer temperatures, and acid rain poses a large threat as well.  

 Shell Pink Azaleas Adjacent to the Vertical Bog

Shell Pink Azaleas Adjacent to the Vertical Bog

The Blue Ridge and one area in China boasts the most biodiversity of all temperate zones.  The more I hike and visit different spots along the Blue Ridge, the more I appreciate all the abundant life forms that exist here.  Yet, I am also saddened to think that our lack of stewardship will cause this diversity to diminish.  Not only is it incredibly beautiful to witness, such diversity also keeps our planet healthier. 

 Vertical Bog from Ground Level Up

Vertical Bog from Ground Level Up

Pink Lady Slippers–Orchids that Don't Want to Be Tamed

 Pink Lady Slipper Orchids also Known as Moccasin Flowers

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids also Known as Moccasin Flowers

Pink Lady Slipper orchids are not only incredibly beautiful, they also teach us about the delicate balance that is required for survival.  They are also known as moccasin flowers and an old Ojibwe legend tells of the origin of this name.  There was a plague in the middle of the winter that killed many tribe members including the village healer.  A young girl was sent off to find medicine for the tribe and lost her shoes on the way.  She left a trail of bloody footprints in the snow and those footprints became moccasin flowers in the spring.  When I saw these two side by side, they really did resemble moccasins.

 Trio of Lady Slippers

Trio of Lady Slippers

When I saw this trio in the still brown woods in mid spring,  I was instantly riveted.  The dark prink and electric green leaves made the still dormant woods come alive.  Throeau experienced this same sense of awe when he came upon them in the wild.  He wrote: “Everywhere now in dry pitch pine woods stand the red lady’s slipper over the red pine leaves on the forest floor rejoicing in June.  Behold their rich striped red, their drooping sack.”

 Pink Lady Slipper Evoking Serenity

Pink Lady Slipper Evoking Serenity

In Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs, the authors write: “Lady’s slippers are among the most spectacular of wildflowers, almost shocking in their beauty.  All species of lady’s slippers, whether growing in bogs or woodlands, are quiet-loving plants that seek out homesites in undisturbed natural habitats.” I can relate, the older I become the more I gravitate to peaceful places and wild natural areas.  In my 20’s and 30’s, I lived in NYC and art and culture were my religion.  Today, nature is my church, and lady slippers are like stained glass windows that reflect light and shine their beauty for all to see.  I have to admit that another writer thought a lady slipper was the perfect candidate for a great Erotica poster.

 Pink Lady Slipper Flower

Pink Lady Slipper Flower

The bees are attracted to the bright pink flowers, which appear as if they contain lots of nectar but in fact contain none. They have been described as "a fun-house tunnel for bees, with a one-way entrance, a bright exit sign, and some sticky sweet hairs along the way."  The bees have to go in the slit, climb down to the bottom to search for the non-existent nectar before they climb back up and exit through one of two holes.  The image below shows the exit holes. 

 Lady Slipper Exit Holes

Lady Slipper Exit Holes

When the bees exit through the small holes, the pollen they picked up from the last flower is brushed off their backs and deposited and they pick up pollen from the flower they are exiting.  Bees are not unintelligent and they soon figure out its not worth the effort to enter these flowers.

 Pair of Lady Slippers Against a Stump

Pair of Lady Slippers Against a Stump

Since Lady Slippers don’t exert unnecessary effort producing food for bees to eat, many plants don’t get pollinated and only 10 percent in a season will produce fruit.  But when they do, lady slippers produce thousands of dust-like seeds. Lady slippers teach us why we shouldn’t take things for granted but they also show us why we shouldn’t give up and the importance of being ready when opportunity strikes. They have endurance too.  Despite being ephemerals, these plants can live for up to 100 years.  Part of their secret is that they don’t bloom every year, another example of conserving energy. Often described as elusive, they bloom a mere 10 to 20 times during their lifetimes and may only produce seeds four or five times.  If they have expended too much energy making seeds, or if it becomes too sunny or shady, they go underground and remain dormant until conditions are right.  What a gift it must be to know how to exert just the right amount of effort and no more.  

The other key ingredient for the survival of lady slippers, has to do with their symbiotic relationship with Mycorrhiza.  The fungus helps the pink lady slipper out by breaking open the plant’s seeds and attaching itself to them, its tendrils acting like straws and absorbing and passing along water and nutrients from the soil to the tiny seeds which are too small to include food reserves.  Mycorrhizae do this for the lady slippers until they are old enough to produce their own food.  Once a lady slipper is capable of photosynthesis, the Mycorrhiza is repaid when it takes excess carbon nutrients from the orchid to sustain its own growth.  Think about this for a second.  As humans we frequently fail to accept help from or offer assistance to others of our own species, especially if we feel they are at all different from us. Here we have a plant and a fungus working together in a delicate balance that allows them each to live and grow.  Not only that, the fungus does not require immediate payback and seems to get the concept of delayed gratification unlike many humans.  Could it be that karma applies to the natural world as well?  Do the Mycorrhizae know that they will be paid back for their helpfulness later? The relationship between the plants and fungi is not a brief fling either, over after each gets what they want. Without Mycorrhiza present in the soil, the lady slipper dies.  That is why transplanting wild orchids usually ends badly and is only recommending when habits are being destroyed. These orchids are meant to exist in the wild.

Elaine Goodale Eastman wrote this short poem about the moccasin flower and its untamed nature that I admire so much:

Yet shy and proud among the forest flowers,
In maiden solitude,
Is one whose charm is never wholly ours,
Nor yielded to our mood:
One true-born blossom, native to our skies,
We dare not claim as kin,
Nor frankly seek, for all that in it lies,
The Indian’s moccasin.

 

Moody Forest Black and White Images Evoking a Timeless Primeval Paradise

 Moody Forest Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

Moody Forest Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

On my way back from the Okefenokee Swamp and Cumberland Island, I decided to visit the Moody Forest near Baxley, Georgia at Peter Essick's suggestion.  I was so ecstatic that I did.  I only saw one person the whole time I was in the forest.  We met near the beginning of the trail.  He'd moved about an hour away for a job and frequently hiked in the forest. He said I was the only other person he'd ever seen on the trail. Being there was like being in some primeval paradise.  When I got into this one section with these towering virgin longleaf pines estimated to be 200-300 years old or more, I had to lie down on my back and look up in awe. While I was photographing the pines,  I was captivated by their tall trunks and sinuous branches and visualized them monochromatically.  Their elegance was magnificent.

 Moody Forest Vertical Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

Moody Forest Vertical Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

This is one of the last old growth virgin forests in the country.  Many forests in the south were comprised of these trees, but most have been logged.  In 2002, the Nature Conservancy of Georgia, the state Department of Natural Resources and others donors purchased the 4,500-acres that constitute this forest for $8.25 million, making it one of Georgia's most valued conservation feats. I still can't believe that I was able to spend four hours walking around there taking this all in.  

Sadly, today many of our National Parks, forests, and other natural sanctuaries are viewed as resources to mine, log, and otherwise make money from.  The problem is that a forest like this took hundreds of years to grow, and once destroyed the ecosystem will never be like this again.  It does something to a person to be alone in a pristine place like this too. It makes you realize your place as a mere point in Indra's net but also as a sentient being capable of appreciating such grandeur and cognizant of  the richness of life it provides habitat for.  Dare I say I see God in trees like this.

 Moody Forest Tupelo-Cypress Geometry

Moody Forest Tupelo-Cypress Geometry

The trees in the Tupelo and Cypress slough in the Moody Forest are estimated to be approximately 600 years old.  To me, these trees are the eastern version of the redwoods and giant sequoias.  They were here before the Pilgrims landed and white men began despoiling America's wilderness.  Standing among these trees,  I felt the longevity of natural cycles and a sense of permanence that is ever more elusive in modern times.

 Moody Forest Slough, Tupelo and Cypress Trees with Reflections

Moody Forest Slough, Tupelo and Cypress Trees with Reflections

Often this area is dry enough to walk around the hiker told me, but there had been some heavy rains the preceding week and a lot of water was still present to reflect the tree trunks and the shadows they cast.  It was like peering into a maze.

 Abandoned Cabin on the Moody Forest Property

Abandoned Cabin on the Moody Forest Property

The state of Georgia has been able to preserve this gem because three siblings inherited what locals referred to as the Moody Swamp from their uncle Jake Moody.  He left them this land with the stipulation that it not be logged or developed.  While the siblings were alive, they protected the land.  Two years after the last one died in 1999, the heirs old 3,500 acres to the Nature Conservancy.  An additional 1,000 were later protected as well. This is what I call a great legacy.