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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Snowy Morning Take Two

February 4th, 2009

The forecast was for snow. When I woke up around 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, I peeked out the window to see a thin blanket of white. At the time, it was snowing lightly. What a change from just 24 hours ago when the temp was near 60 degrees. Call it winter in North Carolina.

Since the ground was still somewhat warm from the recent spring-like temps, I figured the snow accumulation would not be as high as the previous snow two weeks earlier. I patiently waited until the precipitation ended before venturing outdoors.

With my camera in hand, tripod, gloves, and a layer of warm clothes, my first subject was a birdhouse in the backyard. The Leyland cypress (Callitropsis ×leylandii) were covered with snow, and made a wonderful backdrop for my subject. At this point the snow was done, the gray, dreary clouds cleared thus giving way to bright sunshine and a blue sky.

Now the temperature was rising. I felt a need to hurry if I was to capture winter’s latest appearance. After shooting some of the cover covered tree branches in my yard, the next place to go was to the woods. I crossed the open rye field now covered in white, entered the woods via a deer path, and then stopped. Something about walking into a wood on a snowy day is magical. All I heard was the crunch of snow beneath my feet. No sound of birds, wind, traffic, nothing. A quiet peaceful solitude at this moment in time.

As much as I’m enjoying the relaxing feel of the woods, I must make quick of the opportunity. The wind was starting to pickup, which meant the snow-covered forest would be changing as the flakes fell to the ground. In certain situations it’s tricky, well actually down right difficult to capture with a camera what your eye sees. What appears to my eye as a beautiful tangle of snowy branches looks in a photo as a confusing subject devoid of any definition to the viewer. When you look at a photo and have to ask. "What am I lookin at?", then the purpose of the image is gone. So I sought out compositions of form and scale the view could easier ascertain.
It was a wonderful experience to walk through the woods in the snow. I was able to capture some vivid memories of the perhaps last snowfall of the season. They are rare in these parts.

By the time I reached the rye field on the way back home, the snow was vanishing….to return again another day as summer rains, and maybe, just maybe white flakes of crystalline water next winter.

Snowfall Photo Gallery


Monday, February 16, 2009

Green Swamp on Fire

A prescribed burn in a southeastern Carolina pine savanna.

When you see a fire or smoke your first thought most certainly would be to call the fire department! On the day of 2/01/09 the locals near the town of Supply, NC may have been inclined to do so. In this case, the fire department is doing the burning.

So what happen on the first Sunday of the month? The woods were on fire. Not by accident, but what is called a prescribed burn. The Nature Conservancy – owners of the Green Swamp Preserve – periodically burn parts of this vast region in order to save it. We don’t usually think of fire as saving anything yet it’s Nature’s way of preserving the richness of a vanishing ecosystem.

From the Nature Conservancy’s website:
"Many of the plants in the Green Swamp benefit from periodic burning; pond pine’s cones burst and release seeds after being exposed to very high temperatures and wiregrass flowers vigorously after a fire. Longleaf pine seeds need bare ground to germinate and plenty of sunlight to grow, typical traits of plants that evolved in a landscape with frequent fires."

Fellow CA member Skip Pudney got the chance to photograph a burn in action. A scheduled burn in the Green Swamp along Hwy 211 took place on February 1st. He was able to capture images showing the intensity of fire. Two days later while on a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC I stopped along Hwy 211 to shoot the afterburn.

The woods were blacken with charcoal, and appeared dead. I know as spring arrives in a few short weeks Nature will heal the charred landscape into a rich greenery of plants unique to the savanna. This year I will catalog the progress through the seasons of change in the Green Swamp Savanna…after the fire.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Ice, Fire, and Morning Snow

Trips to WV on Sunday Feb 1st-2nd, to Myrtle Beach, SC on Tuesday Feb. 3rd and the snowfall at home on Feb. 4th (1.5").

The first week of February 2009 was quite memorable. Early Sunday morning Dad and I headed to Clarksburg, WV on a business trip. It came short notice so no time to really plan any extra curricular activities. Since we were staying overnight, and would have some time on Sunday for a little exploration, I took my camera. This was my first visit to Virginia’s western brother. I don’t count the two other times I briefly passed through WV without stopping. With no real plans where to stop to look around, we decided if we saw a park or interesting place along the way, we’d check it out.

Leaving home we traveled I-40 W then connected to Hwy 52 N toward Mount Airy, NC. You can tell the topography of the land changes along this route. The one standout feature along Hwy 52 about 20 miles south of Mt. Airy is Pilot Mountain. Unless you are asleep, you cannot miss this famous North Carolina landmark.

Called Mt. Pilot in 1960’s TV series The Andy Griffith Show, "Pilot Mountain rises more than 1,400 feet above the rolling countryside of the upper Piedmont plateau. Dedicated as a National Natural Landmark in 1976, this solitary peak is the centerpiece of Pilot Mountain State Park."

I had only seen it one other time so I was not about to miss a photo op. Once we saw the mountain in the distance I told him(Dad was driving at the time) to stop at the next exit, which turned out to be #129. He turned left at the end of the exit ramp, drove over the bridge, and parked along the shoulder of the road. I got out to shoot a safe distance off the road. After taking about four or five quick snaps, I returned to the car, and we were on our way. Just as we were pulling back on the road, a NC highway patrol car drove slowly past us. No flashing blue lights so the coast was clear.

Once entering WV, we stopped at the welcome center near Princeton. This was not like the wc’s I have been to before. The architecture of the building reminded of the pyramids of Egypt (see photo below). The interior was open, airy somewhat of a conservatory feel with the glass ceiling. After about a 15-minute stop we’re back on the road.

Winter was still evident in WV. Thin blankets of snow covered the ground on the shady northfacing slopes. In fact there was quite a bit of icicles - more like small frozen waterfalls - along I-77, and then again on Hwy 19 north of Beckley. As we traveled north on Hwy 19, I saw a sign for New River Gorge. Ah, a must stop for sure.

For a sunny weekend afternoon, the parking lot was nearly empty. The sign near the entrance to the Canyon Rim Visitor Center showed a trail to an overlook. Here we go. The paved trail lead into the woods where it merged into a boardwalk with the first overlook. Here you can see a bit of the arch bridge, but not much else. I noticed the boardwalk continued down, down, down to another overlook.

About 170 steps later we arrived at a much better view of the New River Gorge below, and the high arch bridge to the right. It was sunny mid-afternoon. Can you say harsh lighting for photography? Still the view was spectacular. It was one of those times I wished I could have stay for hours to explore more of the area.
After absorbing the views we returned to the car, and continued on to our destination. Our only other photo stop was at a scenic overlook along Hwy 19. This time of year the landscape is brown and barren. What was missing? A blanket of snow sprinkled through the woods.

Clarksburg, WV is a small somewhat cluttered town. I saw remnants of old now close factories, dirty snow piled up along the roadsides, and narrow dented punctuated with cracks, potholes and broken curbsides. Bridgeport was a bit better although the downtown area had quite a few closed retail businesses. The natural scenery of WV is wonderful. The small towns not so much.

On Monday afternoon shorting after 2 p.m., we crossed the state line into NC. We stopped at the visitor center off I-77. This is one of the nicest vc’s I’ve stopped at. Outside the office is a large granite map of NC. Inside you will find books, brochures, maps, flyers, etc. from all across the state. What made this vc interesting to me was there were paints by Bob Timberlake on display as well as other items unique to NC. It’s like a mini museum. Most rest stops will have the maps, flyers, etc for travelers, but this one had some history on display too. So if your travel plans take you up I-77 near VA, stop by and have a look. You will be glad you did.
The rest of trip photos are here in my Pbase gallery: Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

For more information about New River Gorge check out these links:

Canyon Rim Visitor Center is located on U.S. Route 19, just north of Fayetteville, WV. U.S. Route 19 is easily reached from Interstates I-64 and I-79, as well as U.S. Route 60.
Hiking at New River Gorge.
New River Scenics photos of the New River Gorge and surrounding area

"The New River was designated an American Heritage River on July 30, 1998. There are currently fourteen American Heritage Rivers in the country." The river, too, has served as a migration route for plants and animals as well as people. Some of West Virginia's rarest plants are found in the area.
Next: Green Swamp on Fire.

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