Sunday, January 31, 2010


How Ice Becomes Me

And so I listen to the song of the flowing river and
Witness the ageless alchemy of freezing and thawing,
The tug of the moon,
Caress of the sun,
and the cosmic architecture of ice?

In witless, unhurried waves
Glacial domes chew continents,
What we call culture,
An outpost in an interstadial valley.

Ice slows pulse,
Numbs nerves,
Sends respite,

The clench and release of
Crystal jaws
Crush fall flotsam,
In a rigor of electrons.

And the river sings more loudly.
Is this midwinter thaw but one of its ploys,
Release the wounded prey to gain a better grip?
Or is it of the flow that pulses in my veins,
And sanguine prelude of a season to renew?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Ice Sorcery

Of the simple wonders, ice ranks high.
I go to the river to learn its magic.
it's crystal scaffolding builds
a dome in air, its hallowed geometries stop
the river's flow.

Last week the hard freeze broke,
the ice ran free,
ten thousand silver lizards
scampered for the rocks, no sooner free than scurrying for their lives,
glistening in the sun
above the undertow and
huddling nightly
beneath the moon's

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

River Song

One could almost believe
it is a live intelligence,
the ice,
so many strategies it finds
for climbing the river's rocky edge,

far more nimble
than I
and my tripod,
trying to get aimed,
and focused and set and....

First rule of winter:
Beware of thin ice
and carry an extra pair of socks.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Petrified Presto


into the eye
of a snow storm
and it becomes a field of daisies flying wildly,
crystallizing into flowers as they blow,
and deeper yet,
a frothing sea
of galaxies strewn across the heavens
where stars
lie like salt crystals.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Etude in Sharp Staccato

What are the lessons of winter as I walk along the river path?
Sleigh bell winter,
sub zero and transfixed;
even suspended the raccoon's nightly sortie on the barncat's bowl
and broke autumn's ceded husks, cracked its brittle leaves.

Feet get heavy and fingers grow numb trying to catch magic.
Space constricts.
I stand beside the car,
fingers too stiff to open the clasp on my backpack
and unable to escape inside the car with the backpack locked to my

If the essence of photography involves stopping the world,
what does one photograph when the world stops?
Or has it merely stood still a moment to pose?

Friday, January 22, 2010


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Where are you? A few weeks back I wondered about the process by which a place becomes just space. Now I have some other thoughts and questions.

1. Is space always defined by measurements and coordinates? Is place always defined in spite of measurements and coordinates?

2. I know the hilltop birch in this picture and how the field falls to the farm on that shoulder of land before it tumbles over into the next valley and how the water that flows there finds Bee Brook before reaching the Shepaug River, and I know the hidden hill behind this one as well and how on the hill beyond that there's an old farm that looks back at us. I know that from the top of the hill behind me I can see all the way to Mt. Tom and where my house is and town and the valley where the state road runs. Does the motorist know place in the same way the hiker does? or the pilot? or the astronaut? When they gather together around a table for dinner, are they all in different places?

3. And those people who always turn the wrong way when they come out of the elevator even though they've done it dozens of times.... Is their difficulty spatial? or platial?

4. Sometimes the world is flat. How come? Growing up on Manhattan Island, I knew the hills. I've walked the city since I was 8 and I've climbed Lenox Hill (Though I never knew Robert Lenox ran a tenant farm there), and I've climbed Murray Hill (Though I never knew there was once a fancy estate with stony soil masquerading as a farm there), and I've enjoyed the view from Morningside Heights and walked in the streets below (Was there really once an insane asylum where Columbia now stands?) and I know how the subway rattles overhead where Broadway takes a dip too deep for the IRT to stay under, and I've even been told that the word, "Manhattan," means "Island of Many Hills." However, words can lie; there's no hill at Curry Hill. My preferred means of travel in NYC has always been walking; I know the hills in my muscles, but no matter how I may be puffing on my way up to see Tulip Trees in bloom in Inwood, no matter how often they may tell me the Bronx is up and the Battery's down, I still know the Island of Manhattan is utterly and totally flat. How did that happen?

5. And when you wake in the middle of the night, and you don't know where you are, where are you?

6. Are you sure you're awake?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sleigh Bell Harmonies

GUEST JOURNAL by Jane Roth: When I look at snow covered, 19th century homes and barns, I am reminded of Paul Gage (1850 - 1934) who was a successful harness maker in Washington Depot, CT. Along with designing and making straps and fittings for draft and pleasure animals, he also produced bells for winter sleighs. People knew which neighbor was arriving by the harmonic tones Mr. Gage designed. Join me in imagining Mr. Gage's symphonies.

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I took this photo last winter in the early morning of March 9th. When Jane saw it she wrote the journal entry above. Unfortunately, nobody else we knew was enjoying winter on March 9th, and it seemed downright unfriendly to post this then.

We've just come through a week of bitterly cold, windy dry air and a three day, above-freezing reprieve. As good as it felt to stand and photograph with the sun on my back, the same sun melted the wind-blown snow into a scrappy, gray mess. As I write I hear the chatter of white crystals blowing agains the windows. There's a nor'easter due, and I'm hoping that tomorrow morning I will be standing in a field somewhere enjoying sleigh bell weather again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Along the AT, No. 6

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: In the last of the River Walk fields the AT passes a lone, ghostly silo. Stone blocks the size of a large buffalo or pachyderm suggest the outline of a retaining wall or foundation. What was the scale of the operation that justified cutting and moving these hefty stones? How many oxen did it require? Where are the people who can recall this place?

But there's always a hill beyond the hill along the AT. Ahead is Silver Hill with an elevation of 1,266 feet. It's a short but steep and rocky climb to the top where there's a good view facing west. Then its down Silver Hill and up Bread Loaf Mountain, and Pine Knob and on to the Taconic Range and the Berkshires and eventually even into Canada.

Before the top of Silver Hill is a shelter with a rocky overlook facing east where someone has built a swing out over the Housatonic River Valley. From it one can sing and swing and watch the sun rise as the bird's feed in the valley below.

NOTE: All of the AT images in this series were shot in March of 2006.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Along the AT, No. 5

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: When you are most alone on the AT, you are still joined to other wanderers in a continental continuity that spans the nation's eastern cheek from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. There's always someone just out of site along the AT.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Along the AT, No. 4

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The AT is a path across both space and spirit, a line of wilderness along which we track ourselves.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Along the AT, No.3


Many find this section of the AT monotonous.
Progress is measured by how many fields have been crossed.
The boundaries are centuries old.
Rock walls hauled from the black earth transfix the acres.
Ancient trees seize the margins and lift a lattice of Gothic tracery.
Beyond there are always more hills.
Many find this section of the AT monotonous.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Along the AT, No.2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The stroll along the AT continues. Between Kent and Cornwall it follows the corridor of the Housatonic River. As it nears Cornwall Bridge it crosses some fields that are mowed for hay. In March the ground is still cold, but the damp air is beginning its work.

In photographing the landscape, fog is the great simplifier if only one can get the crop right. I experimented with cropping tight to the cluster of tall trees on the left, but the image seemed static, too neatly balanced left and right, closed in. The framed mountain is only half of what is important here. We are moving along the AT, but we look sideways, perpendicularly to our direction of movement. The dissonance provided by the "bleeding" chunk of tree, left, and the hint of a second hill is a reminder that lateral movement across the picture is a second axis.

Sadly, the image suffers from a technical flaw and probably will never be printed, but this compositional pointer seems important to remember. Will it still be so when I am back on the AT with a changed atmosphere, different eyes and, hopefully, a steadier hand? Will anyone else think it matters? Does the effect even work as intended, or are the cues too subtle? How does one find the balance point where both the axis of the trail and the axis "out the window of the train as we pass" have equal pull?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Along the AT

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: My photographs are the record of my wanderings. They follow a regimen: wander, shoot, review, realize & publish to my blog. I try to wander every day and all the rest follow. In the past I've compared photography to fishing. If there's any sense to my analogy, then my blog is dinner, but I'm really more like a dog in the field following myriad scents, and no matter how I try to stick to the regimen, some scents are lost.

While re-cataloging my photos this week I came on the record of this forgotten journey along the AT. I recall walking this way and stopping here back in March of 2006. If correct, the photograph tells me it was 8 in the morning. Exhibiting at Macricostas was still a year away. I remember making decisions about where to stand and how to frame the trees and vines and choosing to do it just this way. At the time the whole shoot seemed very promising.

I've forgotten how it got forgotten, why I followed different scents. Perhaps I rushed to review the shots too quickly. Often, time is needed between shooting and reviewing. I've decided several images I made on this shoot were worth my attention, and the discovery of the photos is likely to send me this way again some morning. A wanderer can always thread his way back to the place, though the experience, if useful, will be entirely different.

Once upon a time I passed by here too quickly. Be sure to let your eyes get accustomed to the fog.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Skarf Mountain Whirled

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: With the snows of Sunday's photograph barely done whirling, this image looks back a half year to the same barns last May. Some might take pleasure in knowing that there's less time to the return of this world than backward to it. I say, why rush? I want to taste each season as it comes, and I haven't yet had my fill of winter's delights.

This was the shot I was looking to imitate when I headed into the blizzard. Of course when I got there I realized that changing conditions called for something quite different. The odd surprise was that, without the clouds to point the way, I couldn't even find the spot from which my wide lens had set this tree in motion.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Whiteout Over Skarf Mountain

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What is it about the solitude of a raging blizzard like this that I find so serene? I shot this yesterday at Skarf Mountain. The blacksmith's shop is the back, red building almost at the center of the picture.

The trip had been dicey. Instead of taking 20 minutes it took closer to an hour. When I reached the farm the thermometer in my dash board, which had read a reassuring 9 degrees F. on the way over, had dropped to 7. When I opened the car door, wind and sparkling snow blew in and reminded me to put up my hood. This was fine, crystal snow that didn't stick or compact into balls. It just blew around. It was especially deep in the hollow of the farm road, and it was cool falling in around my ankles.

Because I didn't know how much cold I could take, I moved quickly. I sought a specific spot and composition, and when I couldn't find it I might have panicked, but decided immediately to drop my plan and fall back on things I knew. A broad, rocky, swamp of a brook divides the west field from the east field. If I could cross into the east field I knew the angles would work, but the whirling drifts of snow made the brook hard to see. Wandering into it would be an ankle buster at least. The bridge was near the back end of the field. My spot with good angles was just on the other side.

And so it was that when I set my tripod here, just east of the brook, the moment fell into place. It was as if a switch had been turned, and inside the whirl of wind, urgency and drifting snow was a kernel of downy stillness in which to stand, a place where the hollow, old barns might remember sheltering the herd through other storms and other times, a place where the forge might remember fire, a serene place to watch the magnificent expanse of wind and white drifting in front of me.

On the other hand, maybe it was just the quiet from turning down my hearing aides so they wouldn't whistle with feedback under my hood.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Blacksmith in Technicolor

ISAIAH, chapter 54, verse 16: "Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work;"

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: This marks the start of the fourth year of TODAY'S. The first photograph published to TODAY'S was a monochrome image of a farm in Cornwall. There have been relatively few monochromes since. I decided to publish this image Wednesday (way back in 2009) in monochrome to add a patina of age. Is that a cheap way of populating the image with ghostly presences? I immediately missed the rich colors of brick, wood, and rust. On the other hand, it simplifies the composition and, perhaps, encourages the viewer to zoom in and wander around the shop. Until one makes that journey, the color image seems to me to be too now - more about the current state of things than spirits still playing at the benches?

I also wondered, might this shop be better explored on video? Is still photography better suited to composing a single farrier's presence than leaving the viewer to wander and search among the general, smithy mayhem? I'm interested in what viewers think.

In the meantime, zoom in and explore the benches. To help you on your tour, here's a link to an early, illustrated textbook on farm blacksmithing that will tell you what some of the tools here were used for. How many can you locate? Can you spot the unfinished wagon wheel the smithy might have been working on when he stopped for dinner?