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Teaseled  clouds and trees

Tall Teasel dominates an abandoned farmstead at the top of Fennimore Hill.

I admired the architecture of these dried tall weeds and discovered their name & history later:

Historical: Common teasel is a native of Europe where it has historically had many uses. The heads of a cultivated variety of teasel are used for wool “fleecing”, or raising the nap on woolen cloth. (Grieve 1995). These heads are fixed on the rim of a wheel, or on a cylinder, which is made to revolve against the surface of the cloth (Grieve 1995). No machine has yet been invented which can compete with teasel in its combined rigidity and elasticity (Grieve 1995). The roots of common teasel are also reported to have various medicinal values ranging from a remedy for jaundice to a cleansing agent (Grieve 1995). http://www.cwma.org/Teasel.html

What struck me was the remark that “no machine has yet been invented which can compete with teasel”. A case of ‘first design, best design’.  The prickly cone shaped heads atop the tall stalks are amazingly tough and durable. More durable that the receding farmstead that the teasel, trees and other encroaching brush and weeds have overtaken. As natural forces will always overtake what people abandon.

Therein a reminder to stay humble. Our tenancy and current dominance over the landscapes of this earth is entirely fleeting.  Grasses, sky and trees around the house appear to have enjoyed a good bit of teaseling on this windy day.   CanonT2i DSLR, 18-135mm f5.6 @1/200, no post-editing except the c. notice.

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Caroline Street at Night, Key West FL 1989

Caroline Street at Night, Key West FL 1989

Back in the late 80’s after spending time in a graphic arts wet darkroom shooting artwork color separations for screenprinting, I became interested in black and white 35mm photography. A class with Lawson Little at Fla. Keys Community College and hundreds of shots later I had my own darkroom and binders full of negatives, contact prints and enlarged prints.

Green Parrot Bar

Green Parrot Bar in the old days, Corner Caroline and Whitehead Streets, Key West

Fast forward to the digital age, past Hurricane Wilma and Key West’s inundation that went little noticed in the wake of the more horrendous landfall Katrina made in New Orleans. I’d already left Cayo Hueso to make a landfall of my own in Chicago, but not my heavier possessions: record albums, books, notebooks and negatives.

 Fru Sale, Clermont, Florida

After a fire, the water tower, steps and a gourd vine’s all that’s left of this abandoned hilltop citrus emporium. And of course a realtor’s for sale sign.

Salt water does a lot of damage. But silver negatives in protective sleeves turn out to be much tougher than anyone who hasn’t salvaged them might guess. Wiped and dried out, the binders hibernated for years in my office while I considered what sense there might be in a digital age, to again invest in an redlight darkroom. Then at the local library where I work,  like being hit between the eyes by a fast flying Junebug, i realized the workhorse public scanner had a 35mm negative reader tucked into the lid. Presto Chango.

Can't Step Back Clermont Florida, 1989

Can’t Step Back Clermont Florida, 1989. From the 20s through the late 60s it was common to see hilltop, roadside citrus fruit stands dotting highways throughout Florida. Typically they were surrounded by acres of orange trees rolling toward the horizon. Fruit, cold drinks, maybe real estate or a viewing tower and a multitude of souvenir tchotkes greeting travelers who stopped. These steps are what’s left of an abandoned fruit depot that burned down; citrus cropping in Central Florida has all but ceased due to disease and unpredictable winter weather.

A bit of a learning curve ascent plus trial and error mostly overcame a long gone manual and for the first time in 25 years those old negative can step back into the light; of a different wavelength, but illumination nevertheless.  The differences between ink and silver stand out in the new prints, but mashing up the two mediums has released multitudes of opportunities. And a little dance of ecstasy.

Gourd Tower, Clermont Florida

Nature indifferently reclaims what human enterprise abandons. This fruitstand’s ashes and all the work and memories shared within its walls erased except as held within memory, words, images. The hills beyond are crowned with rolling rows of orange trees that, in years to come will be frozen out. And if the pattern running up and down Highway 27 in Central Florida has held true to the course it was following at the turn of the 21st century, these rolling croplands will be sold off to developers, scraped clean and covered by planned communities featuring chic construction themes like Southwestern Adobe complete with concrete cactuses. Artificial Paradise.

And what I remembered about taking these photos, especially the series taken upstate, in the Central and North Central Florida citrus belts, which had undergone vast change even then, is the sense of a requiem. The Old Florida shown in these photos was vanishing when they were taken. It’s slipped away now almost entirely.

Photography is a medium where everything shown is in the past tense, and so the yearning for places, people and for a “sense of place” long extinguished comes built-in. Sally Mann, Stephen Shore and Frank Gohlke, among others  have written about the inherent sense of loss, yearning or exclusion that comes with landscape photography; the places or homes we can never go back to, that resist our attempts to re/connect with their  history and meaning. With their witnesses.

Evinston Florida, Sunlight Styling Salon 1989

Evinston Florida, Sunlight Styling Salon 1989. Florida’s time warps are almost always unexpected and defy cultural expectations. many attempts have been made to sell the states enchantment and mystery, few ever succeed.

Time shifted contexts are by nature disconcerting: same physical location, but everything known about it and assumed to be permanent fractures and dislocates. Frequently deteriorates. Certainly becomes denaturalized. This is one of the first poignant  lessons of mature adulthood: change is the only constant.

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In reviewing my work  as I decide what to put on display next month, I’m a bit dumbfounded to encounter the common threads running through the photos, regardless of disparate locations, attitudes, equipment and intention at shooting time.  Here are few that I was considering today for “From Back East to Midwest” at Timberlane Coffee in April. If you’re in the vicinity of Boscobel, you’ll want to stop by and share a great cuppa joe  with the good people at Timberlane.

LincolnTunnel Helix, Elizabeth NJ

Lincoln Tunnel Helix, Elizabeth, NJ. “Now about 74 years old, the Lincoln Tunnel is one of the busiest crossings in the world, carrying over 40 million vehicles per year. In addition to passenger cars and trucks, each weekday morning, the busiest bus lane in the nation known as the Exclusive Bus Lane, or XBL, operates at the tunnel.”

SW Wisconsin spectators at  Spring Tractor Pull

Ain’t That America: Heartland Red & Green

Rush Hour, Ellenboro

Sunset Rush Hour, Ellenboro Wisconsin

Cove Beach

Cove Beach, from Cape May Point

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Two photographs I edited today: The first a freshwater lake at Belleplain State Forest in south Jersey, the second a dry wash canyon in northern New Mexico, an ancient seabed now a semi-arid desert. The contrast between these two images triggered my thinking about how a single natural  resource such as water determines us. The native peoples of the American Southwest have seen the rise and fall of entire cultures driven by aridity. Here are the photos, and something like a Chautauqua in their wake:

Northern New MexicoHow does water affect the places we choose to live and our sense of habitation within that place? So many popular communities around the country are at the water’s edge; the beauty of the sea, the vastness of the ocean compel our imaginations. Their abundance has fed our bodies for generations by supplying a clean and renewable food source. Now the twin macro-scale disasters of the BP Deepwater Horizon gulf oil rig blowout in 2010 and the radioactive seepage of Japan’s Fukishima nuclear plant, coupled with decades of other sustained non-point insults from human activities leaves us with a huge question mark as the ocean’s inhabitants  demonstrate the consequences by sickening, dying and disappearing. Each summer once crystalline waters curdle into a stinking soup in Florida Bay, smothering the coral reefs along the Keys beneath algal blooms the consistency of jello. My generation has born witness to  these radical changes in the order of magnitude by which human activities have overtaken nature.

The famous springs of central Florida that poured freshwater at rates measuring billions of gallons daily are predicted to run dry within the decade as development investors continue to sink wells to bottle water, water golf course and irrigate cattle pastures.  The Great Lakes, having sustained industrial insults for decades pre-EPA, recovered dramatically at the end of the 20th Century. They  now face renewed assault as energy and mining investors consider transporting heavy tar sands crude viaBelleplain State Forest, NJ lake freighters and opening the world’s largest open pit iron mine along the shores of Lake Superior. The Elk River drowned in chemicals last month in West Virginia, where mining now blows off mountaintops to extract coal from open pits. All across America hydraulic fracturing-fracking– cracks shale deep underground to release natural gas, threatening local water tables’ integrity while at the same time contaminating millions of gallons of fresh water with drilling chemicals  and then pumping the entire toxic mess that results back underground. That water is gone from the surface life cycle for good. And is replaced by…nothing. There is no alternative. On this planet or any other within reach.

It seems to me a kind of blind madness that globally mankind continues to assault the life-sustaining system of this one hospitable planet we can call home, without any viable means to restore them. We are bad at imagining scale and good at denial; pollution and degradation formerly were localized, contained, infrequent horrors, like Love Canal. The majority of the world’s wild open places were untainted sanctuaries, life preserving wells from which we could draw the future to repopulate damaged places. This is no longer the case. At every turn the natural world has  sustained and continues to aggregate collateral damage in the name of human infrastructure and profit, yet the value of those irreplaceable and finite  natural resources is nowhere figured into the economic equations of the profit machine.

Today in the headlines, California and the West’s cataclysmic drought, a “500” year event. Towns will be without water. For the first time, backup systems from surrounding communities fail to meet the need, so trucks must come from afar bearing potable water to sustain residents. Crops have gone unplanted, animals and lawns, a perished afterthought. Those people have been stopped in their tracks, their attentions now riveted on their dry cups. Were investors or industry or politicians to come and attempt to add a teaspoon of contaminants to any of those precious tankers of water, the people would seize and restrain and punish them. And so it should also happen at the macro scale. The margin for humanity’s errors isn’t nearly as large as we presume.

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image

Quicksnap with G4 phone during my evening walk yesterday when our air temperatures climbed briefly into the high 20s, before beginning their arctic descent.  -25 overnight with windchills to -50 through Tuesday. Upside is that the photogenic blanket of snow will be sustained and hoarfrost ice crystal formations are imminent, especially when fogs roll in as temperatures climb 40 degrees into mid 30s by this weekend. Patiently waiting & editing now while Mama Nature sets her stage

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With the weekend weather in our region expected drop the windchill close to -60, my thought have turned to sunshine and warmer places. Cape May county NJ last fall was beautiful every day, a paradise for being outdoors. Lots of ocean, beach and birds. This shot was taken along the Delaware Bay side of the peninsula, where quiet beaches and the cleaned up Delaware Bay make it a peaceful alternative to the busy Jersey Shore towns to the east.  This great white egret didn’t think much of us passing by his marsh however..:), even though we were picking up trash as we walked. Which I think is so necessary to do whenever you visit wild places. Even if its just one small bag you carry out, the difference is made for the critters that live there, and collectively, for the health and beauty of our one blue planet. If most people would do this consistently and work together,  we’d see results, don’t you think?

t Egret, Norbury's Landing

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2013-12-28_SaundersCreek_00

Early morning fogbound

Along Saunders Creek II

15 degrees on the thermometer out there, now that’ll get yr attention. Reminders of why it doesn’t matter. Mostly %D

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