Monday, February 28, 2011

Waiting for the Essence

It starts just after dawn.  There is the usual cast of characters: an old pickup truck, a well-worn backpack, camera, tripod, walking stick, and Carl.  And the route is long-memorized: east on Hwy 16 past Crosses, Combs, Patrick, Delaney, St. Paul, Pettigrew, Boston, Red Star, to Fallsville, where the truck noses into the small parking lot at the junction of Highways 16 and 21.

Breakfast on days like this is taken at one of three places – Hoosh’s in Crosses, Wanda’s in Combs, or as today, Craig and Sky’s Fallsville One Stop. Craig is on duty, and he pours me a cup of strong organic coffee, opens the fridge and stares for a moment, washes his hands, and then prepares what he calls sunshine surprise – broiled eggs, onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato and secret home-made dressing wrapped in a spinach tortilla.

Two men are already sitting at the small table. They are both working on laptops. An artist, and a web designer, they scooch over so can I join them, and are kind enough to tolerate the odors and noises of my eating. Conversation is warm and interesting, cards are exchanged, stories told, and then Carl and I continue east to Edward’s Junction, turning north toward Boxley Valley and the Upper Buffalo National River Wilderness Area.

There is much to love about every inch of the 150 miles from source to mouth of this national jewel that happens to begin and end in Arkansas, but I find myself drawn, over and over, to the upper reaches, and to one spot in particular, where stone and moving water, old homesteads and beeches, seem to distill the essence of the thing, and the essence, is, of course, what I seek.

The hike is long and steep. I de-boot and wade through numbing snow-melt water, perch tripod and camera on a narrow rock island, and then wait. And wait. The light changes by the second as cloud cover opens and closes, thins and thickens. I watch for patterns, try to predict, envision the effect, then when it seems just right, press the shutter - a slight vibration of camera and tripod - and it’s done.

Sometimes, something happens in that 1/4th of a second that the shutter is open. Whatever it is, it is faster than the human eye can follow. I consider it magic, or perhaps generosity, as if the sandstone, lichen, moss, witchhazel, leaves, and water all agree to show their inner selves, laughing at their joke, knowing it will be days before I realize what they’ve done.

                                                                                         11x16 pigment print  $125
                                                                                                                4x6    pigment print $25
                                                                                                                color or monochrome available
                                                                                                                To order or discuss, click here

A note about the photographs:  The images in this series of journal entries are part of a collection that will be on display during the month of April, 2011, at the Fayetteville Underground Vault gallery. I offer them for sale to my blog followers, and also a special version – a smaller 4x6 photograph  that will only be available for a short time after each entry.