Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Edge of Sunlight

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Wm. Shakespeare - Sonnet 65

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Skarf Mt. Blacksmith Shop

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: An old, dry husk, the blacksmith's shop is pealing apart. Gaps in the wall expose dusty benches and the forge. An account book lies open near a window that's lost its glass, and tools rest near unfinished work, as if the smith might appear at any moment from a long lunch and fire up the cold hearth.

Who was this smith? Was he a lone individual or was smithing a family trade passed through generation? Signs of his work are on most of the buildings of the farmstead in hooks and latches and handles. Few farms of this size would have such a shop. Did this forge serve all the farms of Skarf Mountain?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Autumn Barnyard, Skarf Mountain Farm

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I'd like to think the barns did it by themselves, perhaps one night when nobody was watching. The next morning it was there like Cinderella's coach, the great doors of the barn swung wide and the hay wagon loaded with crisp, square bales - as if the farm were running once again. Of course, I know it isn't so, but I do believe the barns are watching. taking it all in, even as the glass shatters and the wood grows brittle and frail.

The main barn, shown here, is really three barns, or rather two or three additions to what looks like it might initially have been a hay barn. The original barn is to the left, up and mostly out of the picture. The next section stops just past the right hand great door. You can see how the roof is worn differently at the seam. The section to the right of the great doors appears to have been a tobacco barn at one time; hinged slats open to ventilate the drying tobacco leaves that would have hung inside. This end section has a lower story with access from the end.

At some point the farmer seems to have switched to livestock farming and had to struggle a bit to make the barn fit the new usage. The area to the right of the great doors and on the level below were then fitted with neck stalls made of wood. This also would have prevented operation of the ventilators. It was probably later when the area with the row of windows was added along side of the two first sections of barn in order to make a space wide enough for more livestock. This time metal neck stalls were used. The stalls all seem very small to have housed cows. Whatever they were, there might have been as many as 40.

The farmstead had its own blacksmith shop. Close examination of the chain and ring on the post show it is hand forged.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Skarf Mountain Dairy Barn

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: They built the barns and farmed the land around the time of the Civil War. Their descendants live in shiny new houses on top of the hill. The cow stalls have been empty for half a century. The hay, most probably, will feed horses that are ridden where corn used to grow and cows grazed. Curious, how time rearranges things!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


HENRY DAVID THOREAU (writing of an autumn train ride): "As we were whirled along, I noticed the woodbine, its leaves now changed, for the most part on dead trees draping them like a red scarf. It was a little exciting, suggesting bloodshed or, at least, an epaulet or sash as if it were dyed with the blood of the tree whose wound it was inadequate to staunch. For now the bloody autumn was come and an Indian warfare was waged through the forest."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Red leaves are often a warning sign (e.g. poison ivy). When I pulled some of this virginia creeper from a tree thirty years ago I got what seemed like a poison ivy rash. Now I know why.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Skarf Mountain Farmstead 2008, #1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Lurid autumn swallows idle farmsteads. At Skarf Mountain Farm as at many others, the harvest commotion, the tramp of muddy hooves, the jangling of cattle stalls, wagons hauling hay, all ended years ago. The wheel ruts in the farmyard are long healed. The locus of commotion has shifted. Now, across every stone wall bittersweet lounges and ignites, sly tentacles of virginia creeper and poison ivy turn neon red, as maple trees flash in the sunlight proclaiming another advance on the old buildings.

I know they are modest structures, these old farmstead, but the building shapes and layouts, thoughtfully planned by generations of practical farmers, tell a story and delight the eye. Enclosed within the old farmyards one can feel the rhythm of their work. In this farmstead two buildings may be gone by spring.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Autumn Cow in Retrospect

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Fall is the time when the earth perspires and cows steam. I'm getting to know cows. While my chest cavity lacks the heft to speak the tongue, I listen as they talk. They warn of my passing, and when I walk between them, talk across the divide. They are inquisitive by nature, and it can be intimidating to have a herd of thirty or forty all watch as I pass. Sometimes I play with them. They will turn their heads sideways to follow me until they are eventually looking backward. Then I go slowly, drawing their heads further until they nuzzle their own flanks, to see if I can make them stumble unbalanced before they readjust their heft.

These are beef cows, steers and heifers. Across the stone fence the neighboring farm has dairy cows; they're used to being around people, and you can rub their foreheads. These can be skittish which is about how I feel as I walk among them. They're left pretty much alone to graze through connecting pastures, but I've learned that these at Four Maples Farm are so calm that sometimes when I pass they don't even stop eating or rise from their afternoon bask in the sun.

Across town at Twin Elm Farm the herd is more mischievous. The farmer wondered, had two of them not been castrated properly? And I wondered what it meant, "castrated improperly."

Sometimes at Twin Elm as I'm shooting they'll sneak up behind me, and when I turn they jump away. One morning I turned from shooting, and there they were, the whole herd looming out of a thick fog, watching me. Sometimes I've had a third of the herd follow behind me as I cross the pasture. When I stop and turn, they stop. When I turn back and walk, they walk.

Nor is it true that cows lack guile. The other day they had me surrounded (at a safe distance). I was shooting one who was well positioned with regard to the light. As I shot I became aware of the cows slowly converging. They thought I wouldn't notice them, slyly nibbling their way along the grass headlong toward me. Their heads were down but their eyes were up. Several times as I was shooting one, he would eat his way almost to the camera, and I'd have to stop, step forward, and shoo him back. They run away when I try to touch them. I ran away when two steers began locking horns in the background. I left quietly and in the other direction.

I ended the day in a muddy farmyard, eavesdropping on three genuine moo-cows with drooping utters that let me rub their foreheads.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Corn Harvesters near Hiddenhurst


Flying toward the equinox,
the mystical shifting of polarities
that generates autumn perspirations
and soon mute frost.

Momently poised on the hillside,
between orbs, sifting light,
as the field is rolled and stored;
saving up the summer to feed the winter.

All life suspended in the flux between poles,
teetering on time,
like this photo, stop action,
while wheeling engines spin soundlessly.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I visited on both Saturday and Sunday mornings as the radiant sun rising, blazed and dazzled across Hilltop Pond. I left reluctantly when winds came and chased the image off the pond.

Monday was entirely different. The lighting god, to whom all landscape photographers pay obeisance, had floated his great diffuser across sky, and autumn was bathed in soft, shadowless glow. When we passed at 2 PM, breezes still roiled the image, so we rode on to Twin Elms. When we returned at 4:30, the winds were just leaving, and melancholy stillness saturated the air, and I thought of Shakespeare's "Bare, ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang."

This was the first shot I took. I was immediately pulled to the hushed banks beneath the trees, a concealed area with electric vegetation, a place to safely take it all in, ...and to the sliver of sky reflecting in the water. The sliver was for me the key to the composition. The trick was to balance it properly with actual sky, while also positioning the tree trunks to lead the eye. Sometimes the gymnastics which guide a composition are immediately evident, not often. I made just two exposures, this, and one in which the reflected bit of sky began near the lower right corner. Now, if only I had a few turkeys strolling off in the background on the left.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pond Tiffany

ERNEST FENOLLOSA (c. 1890s): "The mere representation of an external fact, the mechanical copying of nature, has nothing whatever to do with art. This proposition is asserted by all Oriental critics and is fundamental canon with all Japanese painters....
   ...Lines and shades, and colors may have an harmonic charm of their own, a beauty and infinity of pure visual idea, as absolute as the sound idea in music. The artisitc element in form is ... the pure simple music of a form idea... the fact that such a line organism may represent natural fact does not interfere with its purely aesthetic relation as a line....  Now such line ideas, apart from what they represent, ... are exactly what the Japanese conceive to be the basis of all their art."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn Palette

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: To the painter, pigment; to the photographer, light.

Monday, October 13, 2008

TODAY'S PHOTO: Detonation, Autumn

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I interrupt this jaunt through Maine for autumn, drunk and wheeling with color. It seems every autumn is different. This one arrived early and colored up quickly. It reached its peak this weekend as dry clear weather passed through the Litchfield Hills, drawing me to shoot upward of 6 hours a day, and filling my bin with photos I'm eager to share. Much remains from my Maine adventures, and I will return to them during the drab months when I'm longing for color.

Hilltop Pond, 8 AM, Sunday! I'm the only one here. At my back, the sun has just come over the mountain like a still wind. How can such things pass without anyone noticing? I'm transfixed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Corea Harbor, Gull Watch

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The ravages of time are everywhere in these old Maine fishing villages. To those who know, the history of each lobstering family can be read in the lobster docks and shacks that line these fishing harbors. As soon as I saw it, I was drawn to the stranded shack in this photo. The dock is long since gone, a bit of the dock hangs onto the remains of the shack as if it were a front porch. A box of rocks seems about to tumble into the harbor. I don't know where the fishermen have gone, but a hole in the side reveals that the wood stove has been removed. My editorial review board urged me to post this photo rather than the previous one, but I took too much pleasure in the many details of the shack to leave that close-up unpublished, and I thought it better represented Corea's life on the edge. In contrast, this image is about safe harbor.

I arrived in Corea in the early afternoon, well ahead of the storm. What there is of the town sits at the back of a well-protected cove where lobster boats can weather the storm surge and winds. There is little left of Maine's fishing industry except for lobstering. The closing of the sardine canneries along the coast was a serious blow to the economy some years back. Even much of the bait for lobster traps is shipped up from Chesapeake Bay.

Each town has its own lobstering territory in which the color-coded buoys distinguish every lobsterman's pots. Everybody knows everybody else's colors, and woe to the lobsterman whose pots are placed in neighboring turf or to a newcomer who wants to add his colors to an established community of lobstermen. Becoming part of the lobstermen's society in any town is more difficult than joining an exclusive country club. The lobstermen generally start heading out to check traps just after sunrise. It's a social occasion where men and a few women share the days gossip. By 8 AM the boats will be out, and the retired lobstermen and those who are not heading out that day will slowly wander off, filled with the day's gossip.

The pots must be checked and emptied every few days. A good lobsterman also knows when and where to move his pots to maximize his catch through the season. Some lobstermen have their own docks and lobster shacks, but there is often a commercial pier where, starting around noon, lobster wholesalers can pull their trucks up to weigh and purchase the day's catch. In some of the most active fishing towns there are also permanent commercial wholesalers with their own piers, warehouses, and sometimes their own restaurants where lobsters can be purchased at near wholesale prices. Many lobstermen sell to them.

Arrive in a lobster town in June or early July and the docks are piled high with waiting pots. That's the beginning of the season for many of the lobstermen. By mid-July the docks will be nearly clear of pots. Then as September approaches, the pots begin coming in for winter maintenance and storage. That's when the most rugged of the lobstermen begin moving their pots further and further off shore. To continue through the winter they must travel further out to sea, through rougher waters, and in freezing cold - not a line of work for the timid. Most lobstermen close down for the winter.

Unlike previous trips to Maine, this time I wanted to catch something of the workings of the industry. Alas, when I arrived in Corea most of the boats were secured against the coming storm. After taking a room in a local B&B on the road into Corea, I explored the town. After dinner I went out to Schoodic Point where I expected the storm surge would make stunning breakers. The rains began sometime around midnight. My intent was to return to Corea and Schoodic Point the next morning before heading back to route 1 and down the coast to Southwest Harbor.

When I woke the next morning the rain was ending, but the driveway into my B&B was under two feet of water - no way to move a car in or out. Nothing for it but to enjoy the free breakfast and hope the water would recede. A maid at the B&B told a horror story of roads washed away and power lines down on her way to the inn that morning. Sometime during breakfast a culvert suddenly opened, and the water quickly drained from the driveway, but when I left the road into Corea was closed. I resigned myself to shooting breakers at Schoodic Point, but half way there a large section of road had washed away. Passage through was impossible. I drove 30 miles ast washouts and downed lines to get around that break, but arriving on the other side, the road to the point was still closed. Hanna had taken her toll. I gave up and hoped I would find open roads to get me to Southwest Harbor.

Lobster Shack, Corea

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: If there was a culmination to the Olson House workshop, it was a small gathering for farewells at Tillman Crane's house in Camden, Maine, on Friday evening. The house is also his gallery and studio/darkroom. We toured the darkroom and enjoyed the many beautiful original prints on display. Beautifully restored wood floors and trim complement Tillman's carefully printed, monochrome images. Seeing them so displayed was a privilege. The gathering was a warm harbor before heading off into the promised aftermath of Hurricane Hanna which was scheduled to roar up the Maine coast over the weekend. I was headed for Corea, farther north on the coast than I had ever been and out near Schoodic Point. There, the storm was bound to be a jolly mess.

In this, my fourth photo trip to Maine in three years, I'm just getting it. An article given me by a colleague at the workshop explained what I was beginning to understand. If you want to explore what's left of the fishing industry, the secret is visiting the points. It's not for the lighthouses that one seeks the points, though they can be a nice bonus, but because the fishing towns out at the ends of Maine's great mid-coast peninsulas were at the edge; the fishermen could get to the big catch quicker, especially in winter when the catch retreats to deeper waters.

Back inside the great bays, Penobscot, Blue Hill, Frenchman's, are well-sheltered cove towns that big tides never touch where boats can be put safely. There one mostly finds trophy yachts and sport, sailing vessels: cutters, and schooners, and sloops. Route 1 runs through or close to most of these towns; they are an easy reach for tourists, and any further south than Wiscasset commercialization and suburbanization for the tourists is rampant. Without a boat one has to drive far to get out on the edge.

At the end of the first great peninsula above Wiscasset is Port Clyde. I had made a return trip there two days earlier. One sees a good bit of nowhere to get to Port Clyde. I went there to catch sunrise light on the old lighthouse. Well, it mostly missed the lighthouse, and by the time I got into Port Clyde the lobstermen were gone for the day. When I finally wanted to get back to Olson House in Cushing, my GPS told me it was just 3.5 miles away. Wyeth lived in Port Clyde and traveled easily back and forth to Cushing. Unfortunately, by car it is 45 minutes away, put asunder by long, narrow Muscongus Bay.

And so, as I headed up the coast just ahead of Hanna, I was aware I was heading for one of the most remote and exposed spots on coastal Maine. At the end of the next peninsula, above Port Clyde is Stonington. I would get there on my way home a few days later. Next comes the twin headlands of Mt. Dessert Isle. I'd fully explored Bass Harber and Bernard, the point towns there. I would head back there on Monday for a few more days of shooting. Above Mt. Dessert Isle and Frenchman's Bay lies the Schoodic Peninsula, the tip, a severed part of Acadia National Park. Just slightly around the back from Schoodic Point, like a little toe, sits Corea, the end of a winding road, lobster piers clustered around a sheltered harbor out on the edge. It was the farthest off the coastal beaten track I'd been.