Friday, 27 December 2019 07:53

O Yei, O Yei and Totem

The Gypsum Creek Watershed of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park carves its path among ancient dunes that rise up and away toward the south where they meet the lithic fastness of iconic rock: The Totem, standing tall and singular, and the Yei Bi Chei, the Holy People of Navajo cosmology. The northwesterly winds ripple the dunes into amazing shallow patterns that cast the rising sun into shadows in the narrow defiles between the tiny ridges. Enough moisture comes so that rabbitbrush and a host of sand-loving species can gain a foothold. Mule deer come and go leaving hoofprints as they pass. The Desert Southwest is beautifully spiritual and spiritual beauty, no matter how it is seen.

A focal length of 25mm, somewhere in mid-wideangleland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted from about 1' above the sand. An aperture of f/22 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/4th second in the motionless air at ISO 100 made for a medium exposure. To be in this location at this hour requires working with a Navajo guide who understands the gravity of being in the Park enough before sunrise to be at Gypsum Creek and the dunes at the first blush of dawn. This land is sacred and must be approached in such a way.

Monument Valley is a photographer's Eden. It is not a theme park. Approach it as if you are entering a holy shrine, and it will reveal itself slowly to your delight.

Saturday, 21 December 2019 00:16

Looking In, Looking Out

The original portion of the structure of the Henry Peek home in the Ebbs Chapel Township of Madison County, North Carolina was built sometime around the turn of the Twentieth Century up on the side of a hill across the then dirt road that traced the run of Big Laurel Creek on its way to becoming Laurel River. When the last of the Peek family who lived in the home moved out fifteen or twenty years ago, it is almost as if they walked out, leaving the old home just as it was when occupied, ceding structure and contents to the eventually encompassing arms of the natural world. Just below the house, along the edge of the now-paved road, the once-lovely old stock barn-converted-to- accommodate-Burley-tobacco anticipates a similar fate. The Henry Peek barn is the final barn we documented for our upcoming book on the Appalachian barn tradition of Madison County.

A focal length of 78mm, very short telephotoland, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted, which revealed the entire width of all of the panes of glass in the window, but cropped off the tops and bottoms of those same panes, thus showing most, but not all, of the window casing. An aperture of f/20 provided depth-of-field from the near window to the far window, and a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds at ISO 100 gave me a slightly darker-than-medium exposure. Rather than opting for full polarization to eliminate all glare from the near glass, I allowed for a very small amount of glare so that the texture of the old glass could be slightly seen. This was done to enhance the "old house" look.

When I am in the presence of these wonderful old structures, I hear the voices of ghosts who remind me of the lives lived in times beyond my reckoning and the obligations I owe them for the paths they revealed that I now walk.




Friday, 13 December 2019 18:29

Just Low to the Ground

On a northeastern edge of Hiawatha National Forest in the amazing Upper Peninsula of Michigan there is a small experimental forest which I have observed for many years as I have gone to and fro in my wanderings through The Hiawatha. The soils of this part of the peninsula are mostly the mixed sands of ancient dunes which have blended over the millenia with the organic leavings of the great forests. They grow conifer and maple forests very well, but they also support a variety of low-growing groundcovers, reindeer lichens (Cladonia) low-bush cranberries and blueberries (Vaccinia). By the 1930's essentially all of the great forests of the Upper Peninsula had been cut, and the succession that occured in the wake of this left open meadows that are studied today for their growth patterns.

A focal length of 35mm, the high end of wideangle-land, gave me the angle-of-view I wanted from about 12" above the ground. An aperture of f/18 provided depth-of-field and, combined with ISO 400, allowed me to achieve a shutter speed of 1/10th second: a slightly lighter-than-medium exposure and a way to stop the slow motion in the slender blades of grass from the wafting morning air.

Kitchi Gami is a land of beautiful places and The Hiawatha is a fertile ground from which this beauty springs. As long as we preserve the forest, the beauty remains ours.

Saturday, 07 December 2019 18:29

Eastward from Burr Trail

It must have been with no small satisfaction that John Burr could look back, having gained the top of the tortuous incline that he had created and which now bears his name, the Burr Trail (Road), and appreciate the distant Henry Mountains now behind him, the Waterpocket Fold below him, and the San Rafael Swell at his feet. Burr's cattle trail gave his family access for their herds between their summer grazing homestead in Burrville, 154 miles to the northwest, and the winter grazing grounds near the base of the Henrys. The route of Burr's trail remains today a visual delight, a geologic wonder of ancient rocks carved by water and wind; buttes and mesas that soar above deepening canyons; tilting strata of stone shaded in every warm tone of the eye's imagination.

A focal length of 180mm, moderate telephoto-land, gave me the narrow field-of-view I wanted with the many-folded side of Swap Mesa and the erosion-exposed, laccolith-spawned Henrys in the distance, with magnification and compression for emphasis. An aperture of f/18 provided depth-of-field, and a shutter speed of 1/15th second at ISO 100 gave me an overall slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure, which still served to darken the shaded foreground ridge that was somewhat backlit at the time.

Although this land is under the protection of the National Park Service, it sits next door to the troubled Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, equally beautiful and equally in need of our attention and effort to protect.

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