The soft rain falls steadily from from the darkened sky. Late fall and early winter in the Appalachian Mountains of my West Virginia home is usually marked by gray skies. Most of fall leaves are now on the ground but a few cling to the branches above. As the world around me swims in cold mists of the season a single leaf drops from the ridge line above and comes to rest in a pool of water near my home. As it floats in the pool against the dark background the mists collect on it’s surface. The leaf is from a Yellow Poplar and so is the seed that floats on the right side of feature image. I was struck by simple beauty of the scene that God created before my very eyes and preserved it forever in my lens.
I have given tonight’s feature image the title “Panning For Appalachian Gold” not just because of the yellow color of the leaf but because of the economic importance of the lumber. Yellow Poplar is a fast growing tree and is used to make plywood for building materials. The logs are peeled in layers on a giant lathe and the resulting sheets are cut to standard sizes. Knots are cut out of sheets and plugs are planted firmly in their place by a hydraulic press. The sheet are then stacked so that the grain of the wood is transverse with the adjoining layer making it very strong. When people think of West Virginia they normally associate our state with the coal industry but the timber industry is also one of our biggest resources. It’s gold that actually grows out of the ground.
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The darkened sky hangs ominously overhead as a chilled wind races across the ridges. I can already smell the rain in the damp air. I quicken my pace as the first few drops begin to change the color of the pavement. The old gnarly sweet gum tree seems to reach out to offer shelter for those who pass by it’s grounds. It has stood here on this windy ridge for hundreds of years and witnessed the passing of many generations. There was a time when it was not so tall and strong. A time when the Shawnee hunting parties passed silently by in moccasins. Then came the lumberjacks with axes and saws. But the gum tree was too twisted and crooked for their needs. Then came the farmers whose cattle rested under its boughs. Finally, a workman came with transits and plumbs and cement. With the skills of an architect and the heart of a poet. He fell in love with the knots and twists in the wood. This ancient and weathered tree would be a centerpiece of his creation in the park. As the people came and admired the old tree it felt a new sense of purpose and loved them back. Today it stands on the rim of the New River Gorge and welcomes all who pass down the trail. Including a photographer who sheltered from the rain a few days ago and imagined it’s story. In your travels through the heart of West Virginia take a few minutes to view and enjoy the New River Gorge Bridge at the little park just outside of Fayetteville and stretch your legs under the friendly old sweet gum tree in the park.
Summersville Lake is unique in West Virginia in that we have the only lighthouse in the state. Standing on private land the lighthouse overlooks both the lake and the Route 19. The lighthouse is recent addition but when I was a kid there was a beacon light from the local airport. In stormy weather we would see the flash from the airport and think that there was a lighthouse that only lit up in storms. We couldn’t see the actual tower. Just the beam reflected off of the clouds into the window of our bedroom. It would light up the bedroom as we slept and we knew that somewhere out there it wasn’t so dark.
It’s good to have a guiding light when times are dark and dreary. We need a fixed point to center ourselves and a light to sweep away the darkness no matter if you’re on dark foggy water, traveling on a four lane highway or snuggled up under the covers on a stormy night.
Genesis 9:13 gives us a promise. The clouds will part and the sun will shine again. Things will be made right. It might take some time and there will be rebuilding process but recovery will happen.
In the spring of 2016 I thought that I would never see a flood on my mountain. Then one day the clouds gathered and dumped massive amounts of rain. The water ran off the hills and swept through my neighborhood. By the grace of God my property was relatively untouched. But just a little further downstream my neighbors were looking a disaster of epic proportions. I really expected to see the tiny community of Alta become a ghost town. There were piles of debris as tall as some of houses. But the people are strong and two years later there are only traces of the flood. The news called it a one thousand year event.
I’m telling you this story tonight because I have so many friends and family who are facing the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. I know that there will be heartbreak and dark days ahead. I know that the amount of effort to rebuild is daunting. But I believe in you and I believe in the promises of God. I hope that tonight’s feature image brings you hope and encouragement. I also have just learned about Typhoon Mangkhut which is twice the size of Florence and headed for the Philippines. I want to encourage you too! We’re praying for you as well.
I grew up watching old black and white reruns of the Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. A lot of the plot was always an analogy of the cold war but there was often the idea of an alternate reality. A world that almost identical to our own only with a few key differences. Tonight I’m wondering “what if I had chosen to do X instead of Y”? Our lives are a collection of the small choices that we make on a regular basis. So what if A gateway opened in front of you? On the other side of the reality you could see all the maybes that were the options that you didn’t choose. Would you step through? Would you really want to know what you missed? And what if by choosing to do things differently you changed the here and now? Would you have the life you really wanted? And what if I told you that every grain of sand that slips through the hour glass of our lives was it’s own little gateway to change? What if you discovered you didn’t have to change everything all at once in order to effect the outcome? What if by changing where and how the next grain of sand falls just a little we could effect the overall impact on our lives and that those changes compound into a big difference?
What does it take to make these changes? I guess it’s going to depend on what you want to change. For most of us the goal is to enhance the life we have instead of trying to replace it all together. We want to learn a new skill but don’t want to pay for a class until we see if we enjoy it. So the answer is look online and I’ll bet you can find someone on YouTube or other platforms teaching for free. If the goal is to get in shape or improve overall health the answer could be a pleasant stroll at some point in day. The hard one is a change in attitude. You have to consciously decide to alter your reactions over and over throughout the whole day. But eventually something happens and the change gets easier until you’re a new person.
We don’t need Rod Sterling to open up a magical vortex into the brave new world in order change our reality. All we need to take the opportunity as it arises and commit to the action.
It’s said that photographers work with two main elements. Light and Time. I suppose that’s why so many of my writings emphasizes the observation of time. Tonight I’m looking at another version of my favorite old barn and I began to think about how quickly all of our tomorrows become yesterdays. It seems that I was just blogging about how much I was looking forward to Springtime and this morning I saw the leaves falling on my lawn. When I was a kid summer seemed to last a lifetime and today I blink my eyes and it’s almost gone. Sure we’ve had some unseasonably warm weather but the light is fading fast. A few years ago I was in a gym and one of the other men in the locker room made the same observation about how fast the summer went by. His friend answered that when they were only six years old summer was 1/6 of their lives. Now they’re sixty years old and summer was only 1/60 of their lives. The passage of time was relative to the age of the observer.
We live in the moment but moments pass so quickly and we are left with a collection of yesterdays. We can plan what we want tomorrow to become but we only have now to bend time and forge the now into a yesterday worth collecting. Mistakes will be made. It’s inevitable. Many of us are trying so hard to go back and fix the errors that we are losing the now and the opportunity for a new and better yesterday. You see, the old cliche about building a better tomorrow is just that. A cliche. All we can really do is use our now in the best way possible and hope that when we are finished with it that it matures into a better yesterday. A yesterday that is captured by the lens of memory and added to a fine collection which can be shared with those we love.
Nobody is born being an expert. We might all have different aptitudes for various skills but it’s practice that makes perfect. Even if we achieve the skill level of “expert” that doesn’t mean that we are free from simple human error. Suddenly being faced with the undeniable truth that you’ve made a royal screwup is God’s way of keeping us humble. In other words, oopsies are the great leveling force of the universe. Remember, it was experts that built the Titanic and amateurs that built the Ark.
When I saw the collection of lost fishing tackle snagged in the overhead power lines my first thought was that someone’s kids had been on their first fishing trip. This inspired the meme below.
But after some thought I began to consider the phenomenon of “muscle memory”. If you are trained to cast a line with a high arc you might not think to adjust your cast while standing under the power lines. Your reflexes would kick in and your body would react out of pure instinct. You would do the right thing but at the wrong time. This kind of mistake happens to all of us and it happens more often than we care to admit. It also happens during the thought process and when reacting to something that someone else has said or done. I think that’s why it’s important to be quick to forgive. Jesus said to let he who is without sin cast the first stone. While there’s different interpretations of what was being implied in this statement I believe that at least in part Jesus was pointing out that errors in actions often include errors in judgment and nobody is immune from this. The experts in the law were reacting out of reflex without examining the circumstances. It’s the same kind of mistake we all make every day.