Tag: Nature Photography

Through the Storm

Through the Storm

We might have made light of the small ‘bald’

We just finished lunch in Silers Bald, a bald on the Appalachian Trail so small two of us couldn’t sit there as we rested from our 5 ½ mile hike from Clingmans Dome parking area. We were donning our packs to head back and heard thunder rumbling in the distance. As we got to an opening in the trees, we could see the storm in all of its purple-black cloud intensity. Nothing to do but keeping walking back toward Clingmans and the vehicle.

There is a backstory to my respect of lightning. As a kid, I had a phobia of it and remember freaking out as a three or four year old because it was lightning. My dad told me I was safe because we were inside, but I reasoned there was a metal zipper on my pants and that made me a target. I was no dummy. Hello! Metal-Lightning! He talked me through it and helped me calm down. 

Later in life, I had several very unpleasant encounters with lightning. Once I ignored my grandfather’s advice to wait to launch the boat because of an approaching storm and got caught in a thunderstorm from hell with pink zig-zags popping everywhere and the shelter I had, when I pulled off the river and ran for shore, was as dangerous as the boat since the long leaf pine tree was towering high in the sky. I ended up running across a swampy area to a home under construction to shelter there. I tried to out-scream the storm. It didn’t work. My grandfather knew I’d stop at his sister’s locked-up cabin and came to rescue me.

I was driving to my grandparent’s home as a teenager and lightning hit a tree beside the road that exploded. I was angry that day, but cannot remember why. What teenager isn’t angry about something? That tree exploding helped calm my anger.

Once I was on a phone call (it was a land line) with a realtor at my grandparent’s home. I knew the home wasn’t for me but kept trying to push the deal through. Lightning hit and tingled my hand and knocked the receiver out of my hand. It melted my grandparent’s neighbor’s phone to her bedside table. 

There was the time on a dive boat when the captain decided to head to the dive site through a storm. Another pink lighting experience in an open air, pontoon boat this time. My two dive students were terrified. I looked back and told them, “If it hits us, we’ll never even know it.”  I was trying to be funny, to ease their tension. It didn’t comfort them. And it did clear up and we had an amazing dive.

So, lightning and I have a past. 

Whenever I’m caught in a storm, I reflect on my intense yet close relationship with lightning. I’m not overly fond of calling lightning a close friend, but it seems to want to be an ally. I’m a little stand-offish though.

Yesterday, as we were hiking back up the trail, the storm grew closer. You cannot hurry up a trail like this with an elevation gain of over 2000 feet, most of it on the way out. We were hiking up the ridge. As the storm intensified and rain began pouring, we came to several open areas where the highest objects were turk’s cap lilies and briars….and then us. Not ideal.

We reviewed safety protocol: if we started to feel the static or electric tingle, throw our hiking poles away and crouch into a ball; we spaced ourselves out while crossing the open areas to create smaller objects; and yes, I admit I crouched down, lowering myself below the overgrowth on the trail. What else can you do?

Heavy rain made small rivers of the trail

There was thunder directly overhead. Thunder means lightning…I get that. All too well. We’d stop under cover of forest which we figured was a bit safer than the open areas. Before we put on the rain gear, we were completely soaked…which cooled us down and kept us from overheating, but we were soggy with water filling our boots as it cascaded down our legs.

At one point, we were catching our breath on a steep slope. I stopped and turned to my friend and said, “Let me tell you my story related to lightning.” I shared my phobia of lightning as a child and said I wanted to honor my inner child’s strength for over-coming her fear and healing from it. It was a powerful moment to share my truth and have a friend witness it. And hear me. 

I was anxious hiking out in the storm, but I also felt a deep sense of calm. We had to work hard, slogging through rivers of water flowing down the trail. But both of us are deeply reverent of Nature and the power of it. We openly acknowledged our smallness as we hiked through the storm and the Oneness of all life. 

By the time we reached the summit of Clingmans, the storm had passed and masses of people were walking up the paved trail to the starship dome. They were dry and looked fresh while we were completely soaked, perhaps reflecting a bit of the journey we experienced through the storm.

Feeling It

Feeling It

I’m sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. Clouds hug the mountains. The air is still. Sweet bird song, along with the occasional caw caw caw from the crow friend, is the soundtrack to the early Smoky Mountain morning. (The photo is from yesterday’s Smoky Mountain adventure).

When I awoke, I looked at the time…I’d been on the trail 45 minutes yesterday the same time. Heading up to Mt LeConte in the muggy warmth, already having walked through the pre-dawn shadows of the night before and welcoming the light. 

Reflecting on the experience, rocking amid clouds, appreciating the extra sleep, I consider this well-loved trail. It’s a demanding trail due to elevation gain and technical challenges, but it’s a most beautiful trail with a clear mountain creek escorting hikers for the first mile or so before it enters a rock arch. It then begins to climb toward the beauty of Alum Cave, the destination of most hikers. After the ‘cave,’ the elevation gain begins to get serious, and it only stops just before arriving at LeConte Lodge…but begins again as the summit and Cliff Tops is visited. It’s a 12+ mile hike up and down Alum Cave trail if you visit the summit and Cliff Tops. And it is hard. 

So, I sit rocking, appreciating the singing birds and the clouds drifting through the trees. Reflecting. Remembering. Feeling it. Not in the physical body so much. Sure my feet are a little tired but they are after any longer hike. Not that kind of feeling it. But…feeling it.

I took my GoPro camera and videoed parts of the hike with the intention of putting a little video together for those curious about the trail or those who will never be able to hike it but want a glimpse of it. As I processed the video, I smiled as I heard myself, in the video, comment about the views or laugh at a steep drop-off beside the trail. I realized how open my heart was with the mountains, clouds, trees…the pack llamas, the deer mouse. My true self shines as I open to the beauty. Not just with this trail, but with Nature all the time. I just inadvertently documented it yesterday with the videos. 

For many, many years I’ve been hearing to deepen with Nature, and I’ve done that with diving, off-road cycling, fly fishing, hiking, photographing Nature…many outdoor experiences over several decades. The deepening continues as I recognize the opening of my heart to feel, to connect with a tiny deer mouse in the trail, or a pack llama, or a tree, a passing cloud, or my dogs as they push against me, the hound resting his big head on my keyboard and gazing into my eyes with longing, with love. 

When I spent a year documenting the BP Oil Spill, something closed within me. It was nearly unbearable to witness the carelessness of humans, disguised as crude oil, spread across beaches, floating in water, dispersed to hide it, which made it even more deadly…yes, my heart was challenged to feel much of anything then. Those scars are still there, but immersing myself in beauty creates openings that allow my heart to soar again, to embrace Nature with such deep love. 

I feel the Oneness with Nature. Always have. That’s why witnessing the darkness of human behaviors with the crude oil disaster was overwhelming and I had to shut down a bit to survive mentally, emotionally, spiritually. But now….14 years later…I understand more about what it means to connect deeply with Nature and because we are part of Nature, how we are harmed when Nature is harmed. When Nature flourishes, we flourish.

More crows call now. A hummingbird just flitted by. Clouds still tickle treetops. My thoughts briefly turn to breakfast…blueberries from my garden…as I sit in communion with the forest around me, grateful to be feeling it. 

Here’s the video:

In Clouds

In Clouds

High elevation hiking to beat the heat gave the perfect Smoky Mountain experience early this morning. Thick clouds blanketed the mountains. White mist blew across the road as I drove to the trailhead. 

It felt strange to start a hike going downhill, but to get to Andrews Bald, that’s how it goes. It stands at 5860 feet and the trail head is at 6350 feet.  The cloud base was far below that elevation. And it was magnificent.

Wet rocks, lush ferns, water hugging my face as the clouds blew across the trail…perfect. Bird song so sweet my smile never faded. The forest feels close, so close, at these higher altitudes. Trails are carved from rocks and meander between fraser fir and red spruce trees. The smell of the firs intoxicates me every time I’m with them. It’s as if that fragrance calms me, steadies me.

When the trail isn’t cluttered with hyper, human energy and chatter, I’m able to connect deeper with my friends–rocks, ferns, trees, birds, flowers–and hear their voice so much clearer. The same can be said when I am able to stop my internal chatter. 

Clouds act as my guide to inner stillness, inner quiet. They open me to experience the forest from their perspective: moist blankets that wrap everything in their beauty.

The flame azaleas were a sharp contrast to the grays and whites of the clouds.

After enjoying the colorful, fiery beauty of the azaleas, I hiked the Bypass Trail up to the top of Clingman’s Dome and enjoyed being above the forest in the clouds.

I feel at peace, joyful, and grateful to connect deeply with the spirits of the forest. Go outside…find your inner quiet and listen to the wonders of Nature.

The Elk

The Elk

The headlights illuminated a doe, heavy with her unborn baby; her white tail a flag as she bounded into the woods from the driveway. So alive, so vital.

At nearly that exact moment, ten miles away, the beautiful elk mother, heavy with her unborn baby, was struck by a car.

As I drove into the national park, the thick, red slick on the road lead to her crumpled body.

I stopped and rolled down the window to say words, to say thank you…for your beauty, your life.

White ribs stood out against the deep, red gash…that image is burned into my mind…and her head, looking back over her shoulder at an odd angle.

The bulge in her belly, now still as the mother–both traveling the spirit world. Free of pain and suffering, leaving us behind to mourn more loss of beauty, of wildness.

Our tears mix with her blood. Together they flow into the river.

Threshold of Something New

Threshold of Something New

I feel change coming. Big change. I feel the old ideas and ways fading, dissolving and something new coming; however, I don’t know what ideas will grow from seeds planted long ago.

Being in a the threshold of change is challenging. The threshold is a place of transition where we leave one place and enter a new one. It can be uncomfortable, scary even. Sometimes, it’s a quick occurrence; however, I tend to sense things coming long before they arrive, so the threshold can seem like a very long tunnel leading to some unknown place.

In the past, I’d expend a lot of energy trying to figure out what the ‘new’ was going to be. Often, when I sensed this kind of change, I’d rush ahead and try to begin building something new before the old had finished its death dirge. That only created more stress and rushed something that wasn’t ready to be birthed.

So lately, I am acknowledging the sensed changes and simply allowing them to have a full and complete, un-rushed passage of decrease, of release. I’m not trying to figure out the next step. I’m simply letting go and remaining open to the Path opening before me as I rededicate myself to serving Earth Mama. 

In this place of letting go….in the stillness, in the waiting…I feel total trust.

As I was uploading photographs and finishing this essay, I decided to pick up my book, Book of Nature, and ask for wisdom to be shared. I randomly opened to this page… “Release….Step from the perceived safety you know into the vast Unknown. Shed layers of fear and doubt. There is something beyond the physical existence of flesh and bone. You already know the Mystery; it is within you, encoded into every cell.” And this photograph was paired with those words….