A few posts back shows this same location, though shot into the brilliant light of the rising Sun. This is looking the other direction just before the Sun popped up on the horizon at my back. This is more of a 23rd Psalm image than those brilliant shots, pastoral and peaceful. The hike down from here at Hawksbill Mountain is always one of contemplation of the beauty of God’s creation… always worth the hike up!
The destination this weekend was to the crest of Hawksbill Mountain and the ephemerally beautiful Carolina rhododendron that adorns it. I started the trail up to the top around 4 AM and it was evident with my flashlight shining back at me that the mountain was wrapped in fog, or rather cloud, at this altitude. My thoughts were that I might get above it at the top, but no such luck. Energy from the rising sun burned it away, however, leaving fog in the low valleys and a dramatic sky overhead.
That morning progressed from gloom to what led to this image... a good impression of what rises above Linville Gorge, from Wiseman's View across the gorge on the right to Table Rock on the left. You can also see the Black Mountain Range obscured by cloud in the distance on the right, where Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi, lays along its spine.
This panorama consists of 6 vertical images stitched in CSS Photoshop Adobe Camera RAW, with a final output of 72"x24".
I had a couple of options on this particular morning… I chose a dark hike up Hawksbill Mountain. Stars were shining brightly throughout the sky on the walk up… no clouds evident to reflect the coming sun. That was somewhat of a disappointment, though there’s more than one way to shoot a sunrise.
As I neared the top, it became light enough to see the ocean of clouds lapping along the slopes… as the sun rose, they reflected the brilliant blue sky above. Here, they appear as much a billowing sea as they do clouds, and the mountains become an inland beach befitting North Carolina.
The bushes growing among the rocks are Carolina rhododendron. We haven't even approached winter yet, but that begs a return in May to find it in bloom. Who's with me?
My ramblings often send me along unhitherto beaten paths. “unhitherto”… spell check had a hissy fit with that. It can be difficult at times to wax eloquent… especially when I’m full of myself. Yes, this is yet one more shot, five, in fact, stitched vertically, from Hawksbill Mountain, though for me, this image was too good not to post. It gives evidence of the high rugged beauty that is Hawksbill, with these sheer rocks decorating themselves with Carolina rhododendron. “rugged beauty”… there’s an absurdity for you. If my wife asked me what stood out to me most about her, rugged beauty would not be the answer. If I had, an observer over the next few seconds might respond, “He fall down… go BOOM!”, although that would prove the “rugged” part, wouldn’t it? If any of you tell Joyce, I’ll deny it. I digress, but that reminds me of the issue at hand.
I nearly titled this image The Jagged Edge, but it’s so obvious, it borders on redundant and consequently is not very creative. “redundant”… I remember using that word in its greatest significance ever. I once made a card for my mom for Mother’s Day, using one of my images for the front of it. Inside, it stated “Every day should be Mother’s Day! Except for Labor Day, as that would be redundant.” She had to look up the meaning of the word. Then she laughed.
Some years back, my wife and I stopped at an outlet mall and went to The Sock Store. It was full of men’s, women’s, dress, casual, athletic, and hiking socks… bunches and bunches of socks. Just as we walked in, the woman managing the place asked if we had any questions. Big mistake! I said, “Yes! Why is the sky blue? If you hire two detectives to follow each other, what would happen? What happens to people born on February 29th… do they stay one-year-old until four years have passed (this is two questions in one… bonus!)? Why are the holes in cat’s fur always in the right place for their eyes? Can I buy seeds for seedless grapes somewhere here in the mall? If I shave my golden retriever to look like a lion, will the other dogs respect him more? Where do lost socks go?” She just blinked at me. Just as I figured, it was a rhetorical question. We were in a sock store, for crying out loud! How many questions can there be about socks? “I’m buying them for my one-legged friend… do you have a pair of only left socks?” Sadly, I may never get the answers to these questions, but I do have answers that may help you. I’m not one for tattoos, as I don’t have enough surface area to express who I truly am. Having said that, if I’m ever faced with dementia, I want my feet tattooed with TGIF so I can read it. That should help sock lady with yet another sock answer: Toes Go In First.
Much of my wife’s job as a nurse case manager revolves around questions. One of her questions is how does (the patient) best learn. There are a variety of answers to that question from which they may choose… hearing, reading, visuals, explanation, demonstration, or other. “Check all that apply.” My experience here at Hawksbill proves that one vital answer to that question is missing from her repertoire. I spent a morning of photography up here with another fella not too long ago. The peak of Hawksbill is covered with these flat rocks… and at the tippy-top, they’re all inclined at various angles and, even in the best of conditions, they are treacherous to tread on. I use my tripod there as a third leg to maintain my perpendicular aspect to the landscape… think about it. Having warned my fellow photographer most enthusiastically, alas, he did not heed. Instead, he went head-over-teakettle. You’d have thought he would have learned from one of the aforementioned methods above, as he fell not once, but three times… and hit hard, too. He was trying to show me his prowess at moving among the rocks, looking cooler than me, but gravity beat the stuffing out of him for it. His feet actually shot out over his head every time. He fall down… go BOOM! I felt sorry for him the first time, but it took all that I had to keep from laughing at incidents two and three after I found out he didn’t break anything but his pride. I didn’t laugh out of fear these rocks might come up and smack me, too, though I did have to force a grimace to stifle my grin! Try that… it’s not easy when you’re all LOL on the inside. Wise counsel seems to offend many folks nowadays… the hard stop after flailing with gravity still hurts, nevertheless. I’ve reached an age where my mind says, “Go for it!” My body, however, frequently protests with “You might want to think this through.” I believe that fella’s boo-boos reminded him of that with every step on the steep hike down. I have fallen once on a slippery rock on a steep trail, but never here at Hawksbill… and I jumped back up and kept moving. Having had a few visits with doctors so far this year, the receptionists at check-in go through their rote litany: “Have you fallen in the last 90 days?” Yeah, I’ve reached the age where that is an issue with a lot of folks. Just to start something, I proudly state, “No, I fell 91 days ago.” That genuinely confuses the issue… ha!
Now that I think about it, there are at least two more answers to Joyce’s question up there… the hard way and by proxy. In situations such as I witnessed with my ‘friend’, I much prefer the latter. Having said that, I do have experience with the hard way, too, but never of the southern redneck assortment. Do you know the last words of a redneck? “Hey, y’all… watch this!” Having said that, I realized that I have done things throughout my life that are haunting me with aches and pains at age 64… the ravages of a misspent youth, though, except for a few things like four bouts of a broken nose, I wouldn’t change much even if I was able. I’ve jumped out of perfectly good airplanes at altitude… I know now that takes a special kind of crazy, but I always had fun with it. To get this picture the way I wanted it, I’m standing on the edge of at least a 200-foot drop to show this “jagged edge” in all its glory… some things never change. Experience makes me somewhat fearless of heights, though I’m not careless about it. I’m grateful for that. Besides, it’s downright biblical: “The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills." - Habakkuk 3:19 (NKJV). Take that gravity! If you’ve gotten this far through the dialog, you might realize that my ramblings can lead to a beautiful place… and sometimes to total entanglement. Either way, it’s a lot of fun.
This was taken on the last day of two weeks in our mountains this fall… the clear blue day, of which there were plenty over that time, wasn’t favorable in the photography I had in mind for the region. Sunset, too, was unremarkable with no clouds to light up the sky… so much to be discouraged about. And yet, color here was brilliant from near the top of Hawksbill Mountain and sweeping down to the gorge, 1,400 feet below. By the time I made it back to the car, it had already gotten dark, and I had an over three hour drive back home to look forward to… I was thinking about all the shots I’d missed due to such conditions, but gems like this made me realize that for all I missed, I still had some very nice images to be thankful for… as well as being thankful that I didn't fall off being so near cliffside here!
It occurs to me that there are many in this world who don’t have an attitude of gratitude concerning much of anything, but I’m not so certain that’s because the world has changed so much over the past millennia. The Bible gives clues to that. As He passed through Galilee into Samaria, Jesus made His way toward Jerusalem and the Cross (Luke 17). Coming to a small village, He encountered a group of lepers, nine Jews and a Samaritan, keeping their distance as they called to Him. Their cry must have been pitiful, for leprosy also damages vocal chords, making clear speech impossible.
"Go, show yourselves to the priests," Jesus said. He didn't heal them at once… rather, He sent them to the priests in Jerusalem who were the only ones charged to pronounce them as cured. The ten started off by faith… and as they walked along, they noticed their diseased lesions were being healed. Can you imagine how they must have felt in that moment? The moment before, they weren’t just under the threat of a horrifying disease, they were all social scourges, but merely being in proximity of Jesus changed that in an instant. That's when the Samaritan stopped and said, "I'm going back to thank Him."
We don't know why this leper had a different attitude than the others, though he obviously recognized blessings as a gift from God. It's a life-attitude: "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1st Thessalonians 5:18). There were nine others who had been healed… and were likely ecstatic about it… yet they did not follow the Samaritan’s lead. Do you think perhaps it matters to God? Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Thankful people see blessings amidst burdens… even in the throes of the burdens this world hurls in our way, there’s still much to be thankful for. Let Thanksgiving Day just be a day of practice in that for all the other days in the year.
I hope your Thanksgiving Day was filled with as much laughter, love, and good food in the company of friends and family as mine was!
It’s quite cold here in North Carolina today, which makes it a good day to sort out some images from the past. I’m also having outpatient surgery next week, so I’m trying to not rock the boat until then if you know what I mean… I want to bounce back quickly as possible.
Has anyone ever asked you where your favorite place is? For me, that’s like asking what my favorite Bible verse is… it depends on the context. Spring is just barely making itself known in the Blue Ridge come May, yet I don’t believe you could find a more beautiful place at that time of year than right here on Hawksbill Mountain looking into Linville Gorge.
Cool misty spring mornings here provide for colorful pastel skies that compete with the true pink of the rare Carolina rhododendron that has quite the foothold on Hawksbill... it won't be as readily be found on higher peaks.
I couldn't have picked a better time for surgery... it's going to be pretty cold over the next few weeks. I likely won't be able to carry gear for at least 6-weeks, though my plan is not only to bounce back but also strengthen up for what this spring will bring. The hike up to this place isn't very long... it's pretty steep, however, seemingly more so with gear. That said, though, if anyone wishes to join me in a 0'dark-thirty hike back up here, give me shout. I've got 4 months to get this right... if you don't hear from me next May, send help!
I can’t begin to describe the effort I’ve put into gardens around here. We have a bit of woods around us with a floor of loam and clay underneath… it’s mostly pines out there, established to the point they suck all the water from everything else. I’ve cleared out shallow areas there, covered it with agricultural fabric to slow the flow of water into the ground, filled it with a soil mix specific to what I’m attempting to grow there, finally with success. The city put a culvert in our yard, creating essentially what could be termed as a funnel around it, and filling in the residual from that culvert to about 100 feet away to our neighbor’s property with nothing but clay, rocks, and little to no topsoil… weeds grow quite well there but little else. I’ve been working on raised rock gardens there, many of those rocks having been dug out from the garden I was creating. Some of those rocks weight upwards of 800 lbs. or more. I’ve used heavy-duty hand trucks and a heavy steel bar to snug them into place. Even the culvert has been sculpted into a garden of many levels and soon you won’t even be able to see the concrete in it, as it will look somewhat like a natural streambed. It is now known as the grotto. I’ll be killing of what bits of weeds remain there and hauling in what is known here as Chapel Hill gravel, a mixture of pea gravel and sand… that will give the rock gardens the appearance of being islands rising out from the gravel. Some plants that I’ve put throughout the gardens take years before they respond to my intent. I have some Baptisia that are flowering for the first time since I planted them… they take up to 3 years to sink a root deep enough to reach their potential, but when they do, they will be stunning in display. I’ve put a lot of thought into what goes where so that after one flower species blooms and either just fills out its foliage or goes dormant, another species is ready to show off. I have so many species here so that spring isn’t the only season to go boom. There are flowers and fragrance here from the end of winter until late autumn. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so satisfying to see what you’ve put your hand to flourish just as I had imagined it… then I haul my gear and my carcass up to places like this ultimate rock garden and my perspective is blown away.
You can see from the weathering here that this is metamorphosed volcanic rock. Its shape gives this mountain its name, Hawksbill. This is very near the tip end of the pinnacle. It’s all I can do to get my charges to make through the first year in the best soil conditions. They’re all perennials or hardy annuals that respond well to my agricultural area of Zone 7b, yet it still takes a lot of encouragement on my part. I’m unsure of the agricultural zone here at around 4,000 feet of elevation in the Blue Ridge, but it needed no human hand to be beautiful. It can get very cold in these mountains in the winter with lots of ice and snow. There wind and rain extremes occasionally up here… I’ve been there with an energetic thunderstorm parked overhead… it was exciting to say the least. Somehow, these rare Carolina rhododendrons found a foothold in this hard rock and obviously decided that being lovely in the toughest of conditions was the best option. When you think about it, there’s something to be said for that.
I might attempt to get back here in the next week or two. I had a procedure with my right foot last Thursday and I’m hoping the effects kick in soon so I can hike without pain… it’s a steep hike to this point. I love what’s going on with my gardens… I love pulling up a chair and just breathing it all in. God’s garden at the peak of Hawksbill affects me much the same way. When the light is right, my focus is on what beauty I can translate to the lens. Yet, there are times when I feel overcome by life’s extremes, lately by the death of a loved one… then I come to a place like this, and gradually, hope takes over. I can’t wait to just sit here and breath it all in.
I love days like this in the mountains. This spot is from the top of Hawksbill Mountain, mere feet from the rocky tip of the “bill”. Here, the sun pokes light through holes in low fast-moving clouds on a humid day projecting shafts that move over the landscape. Veils of sunlight like this shift angles and position as they race over the vastness of Linville Gorge, revealing the character of the gorge below. To photograph them, you must be in constant composition mode as the composition changes fast, but it’s so much fun when it all comes together. This is a compilation of three images stitched in Photoshop for a large, detailed final image.
These dazzling shafts of sunbeams extended to where I was standing, lighting up the rock ledge in contrast to the gorge dropping a quarter-mile just beyond the ledge… much of the gorge is overcast, but I’m walking in sunshine. Often, I’m on the trail up Hawksbill at 0’dark-thirty so I can observe sunrise from the top. This was different, however… I was seeing potential through trees along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I needed a high perch, and Hawksbill fit the bill, so to speak and days like this highlight the depth and distance of the vast gorge in beautiful ways. The trail to this point isn’t very long, only about a mile, but about halfway through, it gets so steep that many folks won’t try to attempt it. Nevertheless, it’s often a rough and rocky that leads you to a beautiful place… there’s a lesson for life if there ever was one. I’ve enjoyed reverie here many times by myself, yet amid such joy, I lament that others never get to see this. So, this is for you.
Go ahead, drive the nails in my hands Laugh at me where you stand Go ahead, and say it isn't me The day will come, when you will see!
'Cause I'll rise again Ain't no power on earth can tie me down Yes, I'll rise again Death can't keep me in the ground!
Go ahead, and mock my name My love for you is still the same Go ahead, and bury me But very soon I will be free!
'Cause I'll rise again Ain't no power on earth can tie me down Yes, I'll rise again Death can't keep me in the ground!
Go ahead, and say I'm dead and gone But you will see that you were wrong Go ahead, try to hide the Son But all will see that I'm the One!
'Cause I'll Come again Ain't no power on earth can keep me back Yes, I'll come again Come to take my people back.
Words and music by Dallas Holm, 1977
One of the sweetest people I've ever known, my Aunt Jeanette, pushed off and let go of the things of this earth early this morning. She was my second momma for as long as I can remember. Around this time last year, she rode with us to our family reunion in Vidalia, Georgia. Today, she's at the greatest family reunion ever with all those who had gone before her. So fitting that she passed on Good Friday... and she will no doubt savor celebrating this Easter with her Savior. Godspeed Jeanette... you are very much loved and will always be missed. The beauty of this sunrise on Hawksbill Mountain can't hold a candle to my memory of Aunt Jeanette.
This moment was one like many in my life behind the lens. I’m torn between camera settings, composition, and environmental factors… and just sitting there to try and breathe it all in. After a brief pause, I realize it’s just as well to get back to the business of translating this scene into an image… otherwise, I might try to comprehend such magnificence, and that would be no less than an exercise in futility. Besides, there are steep rocky cliffs here, so it’s best to keep your head out of the clouds. Even that may not be possible here, however.
Minutes before this scene opened to this glory, my head was in the clouds… literally! I arrived here late in the evening. I had attempted to get here much earlier but one thing or another kept me grounded in Durham. About the time I could square every hindrance away, Joyce was getting off work at the hospital… we decided to go for a quick dinner before I left, effectively assuring an even later start, though joyfully so with her. We ate at a place just off the interstate which gave me a quick launch toward the Blue Ridge Mountains after we parted. It was dark by this time, which gave me a good indicator what I was heading into… the unmistakable shape of a thunderhead was in my path. Rising high over the horizon, it was lit from within like a light bulb against the night sky by its furious energy.
Ten miles further west had me well into the throes of that storm. It was like driving in a flood, but I knew this road and I knew my car… it wouldn’t slow me down much! Or so I thought. Ten miles more up the road, the driver’s side windshield wiper decided to eject… for crying out loud! “What else can happen?” I regretted those words the instant I said them… the day had proven that anything else could happen. Fortunately, there was a 24-hour Walmart nearby that had the right blades. I changed them both, in the rain, and had no more incidents for the next three hours. I rolled into the parking area for Hawksbill Mountain in the Linville Gorge Wilderness past midnight… I set the seat back, snugged my jacket up, and snoozed for a few hours.
Waking at 4 AM was a bit disorienting… even in the darkest nights, I'm able to see something outside, but I couldn’t see anything out the windows! That’s because a cloud had parked itself right over Hawksbill. My friend, Paul McKenna, taught me a song many years ago when we were involved in camp ministry, that he had learned while a student at Virginia Tech… “We’re Here Because We’re Here”... That's the entire lyrics, sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne... give it a try and see if you can get it out of your head. That was my song on the somewhat discouraging dark and foggy hike up to the crest of Hawksbill... there are bears, bobcats and coyote up here, and I was alert for bumping into something that might try to eat me... no worries, though, as my singing likely kept them at bay. It was still socked in when I reached the top… as it began to lighten up with the coming morning, I investigated what compositions might work out best given the conditions. There are some of you who know that you just don’t flit around that location… Hawksbill is steep in many places at the top, and I’ve seen more than a few people ‘crash and burn’ up there on the slippery rocks… I’ve never laughed out loud at those antics, but I’ve wanted to because I had warned many of them about the conditions… “Told you so!”
I tend to my footing up there, especially because I’m carrying heavy gear… but on this day, as I moved from one side of the “bill” to the other, I slipped on the steep rock! Instead of falling, however, I quickly adjusted my balance, planted both feet, and only slid until I found grip again on the rocks… after all I’d been through the previous day, I was happy for an incident averted! As I made my way to the place in this image, wind from the warming morning pushed the cloud off the mountain… and in nearly the same moment, a veil opened to the east revealing a shimmering curtain of sunshine! I quickly set up the camera, set the ISO up a bit to account for the wind (the landscape photographer’s lament), and prayed for the wind to stop… and it did… so come on morning!
There’s a lesson here… no matter your situation, motivation isn’t what should drive you. “We’re Here Because We’re Here” is motivation enough to put one foot in front of the other, but it’s discipline that drives you to stay at it until you get what you’re after. It’s all about discipline… you keep going regardless of conditions. You push through even when it seems everything is against you. And it doesn’t always pay off… but when it does, it can be remarkable. Sometimes it’s a rough and rocky road that takes you to a beautiful place… “Come on morning” is my rallying cry to stay on point, even in the worst of moments.
This image is a progression of my recent posts of the rhododendron of the Blue Ridge. This is the Carolina rhododendron that, while rare in this world, is found in abundance here at Linville Gorge. It blooms earlier than the other rhododendron… and unlike the Catawba and rosebay rhododendron, it is a true pink, though even that may be a misnomer. Scientists seem to believe pink is not a true color… pink would be a combination of red light and violet light, tempered by white light. The problem is that red and violet are at opposite ends of the color spectrum (remember ROYGBIV) and do not converge in any way whatsoever! Well, that is unless you’ve seen rainbows bent like pretzels. Apparently, the light reflected off pink objects is somehow twisted in our minds to reveal pink. So, if you see pink here, then you and I are either delusional or we’re prone to wishful thinking… either way, we can still be just as happy. See? Two lessons in one post… you got your money’s worth!