Saturday, April 2, 2011

Combat Dance

April 2, 2011

I suppose it’s clear by now that I use the word magical way too much when speaking of the Buffalo River Wilderness Area, but so be it. There is an energy about the place, and it speaks to whoever wants to listen. Sometimes I’ll be bushwhacking along a bench on the side of a mountain, or in the bottomlands along the river, when something changes, some disturbance in that energy field, perhaps.  I’ll stop in place and start looking around, and invariably there will be signs of human habitation – a rock wall, a cluster of cedars, an old foundation, rusted metal, a spray of jonquils.

Ask me when I’m in town, sipping coffee at Baba Boudan’s, trying to ignore the traffic on College avenue, and I can be intellectual about it. I am willing to suppose that my eyes and brain simply put the signs together and inform me to pay attention; there is no spiritual or supernatural aspect to it. But, ask me when I’m standing in the forest, looking at the opening to an ancient root cellar, and I will swear on a stack of bibles that it was the laughter of children, the movement of mules, an axe splitting wood, that stopped me in my tracks. So real, that I am confused by the absence of faces.

Sometimes, there is only a pond, or the dried up remnants of one.  A natural progression  takes place with abandoned ponds over time – they fill in with layers of leaves and mud, or dry up as trees nearby grow and siphon off the reservoir, so often all that remains is a small deep pool and a surrounding area of occasional flooding, or simply a depression in the forest floor that begs an explanation. Nearby trees usually tell the story – a copse of water-lovers out of place. At one of my favorites, on the upper stretches of the river, sweet gums grow in profusion, the soil is compacted in an odd way, and grasses, rare even a hundred yards distant, appear to have been planted by machinery.

Gums, Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area

11x16 inch pigment print    $125
*4x6 inch pigment print      $25

* available to followers of this blog

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Years ago, when I stumbled on this pond, I sat for a while listening for the voices as I tend to do, when movement nearby caught my attention. About three yards distant, two large copperheads were facing each other. As I watched, they reared up a foot or so into the air and glided forward, entwining their bodies in a vertical spiral. They would then slowly unwrap, pull back, then reengage. It lasted for an hour as I watched – the most graceful, gentle choreography imaginable. I could have reached for my camera, but didn’t, feeling too much like an intruder, and finally tiptoed away, not wanting to disturb what I assumed was a mating ritual. When I called a biologist at the University of Arkansas the next day, I was told to consider myself lucky indeed – I had witnessed what is known as a combat dance between two male snakes, vying for the female who was probably coiled on the other side of the log on which I sat.

Is it any wonder?

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. The exhibition, titled 30 Days In The Life, will include 17 photographs, all new work. I offer them for sale to my journal followers, and also a special version – a smaller 4x6 photograph  that will only be available for a short time after each entry.