Friday, July 23, 2010

HIddenhurst Triumphant

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: What was that Wallace Stevens said about the jar in Tennessee? North of Millerton there is the Nameless Valley, the subject of my most recent explorations; south of Millerton there is Hiddenhurst. I've been photographing and exploring the area for several years, and since I pass it on my way to the Nameless Valley, if my efforts are out of sync with the weather I can sometimes be distracted here. I stopped to photograph a storm and stayed for these trailing remains.

North of Millerton, no matter where I stand, it is the walls east and west that delineate space, a north-south corridor. Exploring south of Millerton the space ripples, forms plateaus, many with hilltop farms, but, like Stevens' jar, the space is organized by Hiddenhurst on a central hilltop. It's unavoidable. How many pictures I've taken here include Hiddenhurst in the background, a cameo role!

In the vicinity of Hiddenhurst the same Hudson Hills block the way west, and the decayed remains of the Taconic chain are perforated but still significant in the east. In one spot the power company's skeletal giants march across dangling high voltage cables on their fingertips. Webatuck Spring sneaks through almost invisible in a narrow canyon, hidden from the roads. Its cool, rushing waters are the source of amazing fog events many mornings. There's much to photograph here, farms dot the hillsides but all pay respects to this silent farm, source of stories and rumors, on the top of the hill, trailing cornrows on all sides.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

First Blush

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Another time, early this spring; another valley, on a hill overlooking Stillwater, New Jersey. It was my last day in Peters Valley. I had been exploring and photographing old farmsteads the whole weekend, and a dead-end road provocatively named, "Skyline Drive," suggested an adventure in a different direction. After winding and climbing for awhile the road straightened out and followed what seemed to be a ridge behind a curtain of forest. When I saw a place to stop and a possible trail into the forest, I took it. A short distance in, my trail crossed the AT which, I discovered, follows the ridge parallel to Skyline Drive. A short distance further I stood at the edge of a steep bluff 500 feet above the floor of a vast valley. Spring has rarely looked so fresh, and I imagined riding the wooded canopy the way a surfer rides ocean waves. This is the moment in spring photographers wait for, and my wandering had brought me to a spot where I could feel the wave of new foliage cloak the hills.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

After the Storm

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The Nameless Valley is a long, rolling, roomy corridor bounded on the east by the ridge of Taconic peaks, an unbroken obstacle that no roads cross and on the west by a parallel wall that reaches north from WInchell Mountain and ends where the valley narrows to a pass. Though lower by 400 feet than the Taconic Ridge, crossing this western barrier requires winding over dirt roads and the world farther west is a labyrinth of hills and valleys until one reaches the Hudson River.

I like the sense of isolation I find in the Nameless Valley. It is a corridor through haphazard hills. Whether one drives the roads or walks cross-country through the fields and pastures one feels its linear nature between the two mountain walls. Most people pass through the corridor along route 22 without even knowing they've been some place. Most of the time I can't see the beginning or the end, nor has my roaming yet shown me where they are, but I feel the unity of the Nameless Valley, and that the corridor has both a beginning and an end. I like that too as I come to know its contours.

Between these walls lie rolling pastures and cornfields and a meager digestive system beginning at Webatuck Spring and broadening occasionally into swampy bottom until it disappears into other valleys, other spaces farther south. Eventually the Webatuck flow gathers force as Ten Mile River, slips through a narrow valley near Dogtail Corners to join the Housatonic River and flows south through a series of power generating projects into Long Island Sound near Sikorsky headquarters in Stratford, CT, many worlds away.

An artist who lives south of Boston Corner showed me where Webatick spring tumbles out of the Taconic mountains beside his home. He told me that north of his property the valley tips the other way. Water flows north and leaves the valley through the narrow pass at that end. From there it flows west between the low hills to eventually join with the mighty Hudson in order to flow south to spill into New York Harbor. Passing clouds drop their rain as they pass, and it is a matter of chance how each rain drop reaches the sea.

However, it's not this unlikely divide that impresses me so much as my sense of the unity and expansiveness of the space that is isolated here. A row of three farms that lie along the western edge of the valley help me give definition to the expanse. One can just see a bit of the third farm here.

I've been scouting angles for some time, but the task of portraying this space seems to lie beyond the power of photography. Although I feel the unity of the valley, capturing it in an image may be impossible.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rolling No. 3

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: It is probably the largest physical space I've tried to photograph, at least on land. I believe it is a single physical space, a valley with clearly defined walls to the east and west, though its northern and southern boundaries remain vague to me. To the best of my knowledge, it has no special name by which it is known. It is part of a territory that was long disputed by Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. As a photographer I also note, it contains no single dominant subject, save itself. The act of trying to shoot it has both enlarged and narrowed my concept of what it means to me to be a landscape photographer, photographing land and space.

The question of labels is a nuisance and needlessly confining. There are many ways to be a photographer, but at times I'm in need of one to address people's assumptions; I don't do weddings. However, I do enjoy walking the hills. Until this month I would have described all that I photograph there as landscape, save an occasional floral or insect macro or a bird shot, so landscape photographer is a useful label among many, though I now put as much emphasis on the "scape." Taking my wanderings to this nameless valley has, for better or worse, reminded me that my muse is guided not only by interest in the old buildings and their histories but by a desire to know the land, to experience it as spaces, and draw on that for images.

Exploration here feels a bit different than at other sites I've shot.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


HOWARD RUSSELL, The Long Deep Furrow: "How readily the apple took to its new environment is revealed by an observation from the Berkshire Hills just before the Revolution. By 1770 the whole length of the Indian path between the settlement of the Stockbridge tribe in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and the Scaticoke village at Kent, Connecticut, nearly 40 miles along the Housatonic, was said to be lined with apple trees. They stood at irregular intervals, sprung from apple cores thrown away by traveling natives who had promptly learned to enjoy the Englishman's fruit."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Hardy colonial farmers came to New England and traded European apples for the native's gift of maize, but what they wanted after work was beer. The soil of New England preferred apples to English grains, and eventually hard cider became the alcoholic beverage of choice and Johnny Appleseed, a legend in his own time and a Swedenborgian, spread the news.

I've been to some hard cider "taste-offs." They tend to be partisan affairs and there can be much heady arguing over the right mix of apple varieties, the effects of weather, harvest time and, of course, the esotericisms of brewing all fueled by freely-flowing research. Perhaps there are similar discussions on the brewing of corn whiskey or Kentucky bourbon, but my hunch is they all pale beside the abstruse distinctions regarding shades of flavor, high notes and low notes and the micro-tuning of soil and sun and water and pruning and staking required to produce the perfect grape.

Such has been the evolution of the American taste bud. New Englanders still love local fruit. It's as Amercan as apple pie, but farmers are selling out to viticulturalists and the libation of choice today is cradled in stemware and served in red, white, or rosé. Where (oh, where) are our national taste buds leading our national character?

Monday, July 12, 2010


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The stony earth and hilly terrain of New England have never been ideal for farming, and for a long time New England farmers have adapted to meet specialized markets in order to survive.

This vineyard has already been the subject of a TODAY'S entry but from a very different angle and under very different conditions: "White Silence"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rolling No. 2

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Haying is underway, and I'm following the clouds. Where I wander I see hillsides dotted with shining hay bales or lined with furrows that catch shadows when the sun is low. I used to think it was a simple thing, haying. Most farmers where I live get two hayings a season and watch the weather closely when cutting time arrives. The hay must be baled dry. If it rains after cutting the hay can be ruined. I watch and try to move with their rhythm.

My efforts are crossed by new routines. Farmers making silage to feed their livestock can get three or four hayings because they cut it wet. Farmers who cut late ask me to sample and compare the lightness and softness of their hay, and I will never settle for coarse hay again. I've heard the arguments for square bales vs. round bales and for kinds of wrappers or none at all, and I remain decidedly unconvinced. I heard of a man who, "in pure kindness to his horse, buttered his hay." (see footnote 12 in the appendix)

Painted skies like this are rare. The clouds say come follow us to the hay bales that can only sit and watch and season in the field as the farmer bids.

Friday, July 9, 2010


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: I've spent much of this spring wandering in a valley north of Millerton. I'm not sure what it is I'm looking for. Between the wall of Taconic Mountains on the east and the wall of Hudson HIlls on the west lie rolling farmland, pasture and bottomland swamp. Last season this field was planted with soy.

When I took this shot two-and-a-half weeks ago, I could still walk between the corn rows. Soon I won't be able to see over them. Rolling farmland is an abstraction until one walks between the corn rows. Photography is a way of exploring.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Stranded among Purlins

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Two sleighs were uncovered when this old, barn complex was undergoing repair. It was cleared for inspection and remediation, and light reflects from the barnyard and opens a space where clutter had previously made photography impossible. For the first time I can see the delicate construction. The hewn timbers and careful mortising seem too fragile to survive but have endured seasons of neglect. Was the roofing also efficient and light? Getting it all up there seems trickier than standing up a city of cards.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sleigh Forgotten

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: We sometimes imagine sleigh bells, but few of us have heard the sleigh jingling past; fewer still have been pulled along the ice track behind a Cleveland Bay or a Morgan horse in jingling bells. Like the song of the organ grinder and the whoop of the steam locamotive we seem to remember that sound as if we had actually heard it, while we assemble its memory as if in dream.

Once, long ago I thought I heard a real sleigh with bells. I was walking through the narrow streets of Greenwich Village in Manhattan, flakes dropping slowly through the windless heart of a severe winter storm. The city felt unusually quiet and personal, streets hushed in white; the sleigh bells approaching were clean and friendly, and it didn't matter that when I turned to look it was the tire chains on the city bus trundling by with a few accountants and city desk editors who had worked too late.

Two winters ago I took a photograph in the field outside this hay barn that led Jane into a reverie about Paul Gage the harness maker and the way he made sleigh bells. It was included in an earlier TODAY'S. When I took that photograph I had no idea the sleigh from Jane's dream was fifty feet away in the hayloft of Misty Morning Farm.