#1052. Photographic Covid Ramblings, part 1

By Lad Sessions | Art & Creativity

Oct 24

What have you done during this interminable pandemic? Most of us had a list, or at least dreams, of accomplishing something significant with so much time on our hands. We were going to read countless books and articles, clean and organize our house top to bottom, watch endless educational videos and classic films, take extra-long walks, catch up with all our friends online, arrange and digitize all our old photos, and so on.

But if you’re like me, you haven’t made much headway on this list; it was truly day-dreaming. While confined, our sins of omission have greatly outnumbered those of commission; the opportunity costs are astronomical. The seemingly endless parade of shuttered days gave us more time to do what we had long wanted to do, but they also drained our desire to do them. Each day blurred into another similar day, as routines were disrupted and activities trimmed or eliminated (to say nothing of relationships). Coping with Covid-19 hasn’t been easy.

Vicki and I have been living since October 2019 at Kendal, a continuing care retirement community on the outskirts of Lexington, Virginia. It’s a delightful pastoral setting, with a small college town on one side and bucolic pasture on another, and relatively insulated from the pandemic, though covid cases have risen since the college students returned this fall. But even a safe haven can feel claustrophobic after a while, and all of us have felt the urge to get out of our quarters—safely, with masks and proper distancing, of course, but OUT! We lose connection in our monotonous isolation. Getting out affords a welcome kind of further disconnection—temporary escape from the great crises gripping our nation and world this year, a confluence of catastrophes ill-timed and mismanaged that have compounded the anxiety we all feel in these viral times. We need two kinds of freedom: freedom from oppressive conditions and freedom for community. We found a measure of both kinds—rambling in nature.

Fortunately for us, Lexington is nestled in the scenic great Valley of Virginia, with the Blue Ridge to the East and the Allegheny highlands to the West, with one of the most diverse temperate forest in the world, I’m told. It beckons us to venture out and explore—and so we have done, not systematically but rambling here or there, at least once a week since the pandemic shut things down in March, 2020.

On our very first ramble, March 15, we came upon the Dancing Creek overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway along Otter Creek, which became one of our favorite places over the next few months. There is a picnic table nearby, and with traffic on the Parkway very minimal, a quiet retreat. The cool and misty morning was perfect for ground shots, as the cloud cover essentially acted as a giant diffuser. This rotted and life-infested tree stump struck me as rather like a late-season Christmas wreath.

March 22, another cloudy but enchanted morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway, this time at the Otter Creek Flats overlook. At this time of year, trees have barely thought about leafing out at this elevation, but I found the bare limbs and roots compelling.

Rambling in nature has been nothing short of soul-soothing. It has released us from confinement and enabled a bit of local travel. It has given us unexpected glimpses of the countryside around us. But it has also reinforced our sense of connection to our natural environment, that wider community of life compounded of countless organisms in intricate webs of interdependencies. And this connection not only widens our horizons, it refreshes our lives with meaning, a renewed sense of our place on earth. This wider community doesn’t displace human community, it only enriches it, I think. Travel, connection, meaning—it not only “takes a village,” it takes a planet to sustain meaningful human life. Our access to nature, to the great communion of life on this amazing planet, is relatively easy in the Valley of Virginia, for which I am endlessly grateful.

Some early trees were budding out on April 12, on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Peaks of Otter. Robert Frost held that “nature’s first green is gold,” but I reckon it can also be orange and red.

Just off the Indian Rocks overlook on the Parkway April 19, a favorite for our children when they were young (the clambering opportunities are endless), these boulders almost have the heft of Stonehenge, which the backlighting emphasizes (I almost said “highlights”).

This is archetypical Appalachian Spring on the Blue Ridge Parkway, April 19. The trees flaunt endless shades of green, while dogwoods lend white accents. The sky helps.

Another glimpse of spring on the Parkway on this magic day, April 19, with a flame azalea, a species of rhododendron, blazing in full glory.

We tried to visit as many and as varied sites as we could reach within a two-hour driving radius, usually a half-day trip though occasionally longer. Most of these places we had visited at one time or another earlier during our 49 years in the area, but a few were new to us and suggested by friends or guidebooks; all were as fresh as the Garden of Eden. I took photos of what lay to hand, without any sense that this would grow into an intentional pandemic project, only that I enjoyed taking pictures of beautiful things. I was limited especially early on by my nagging Achilles tendonitis that prevented the longer and rockier walks I would have preferred. Essentially I was tethered to our car. But what there was to see even on such a short leash!

A lovely day (cloudy, but photogenic) at Lake Robertson, April 26; this image is looking across the lake, with very nice reflections. Physical reflections are conducive to mental ones, and I try to take a moment in the midst of committing photography to do just that.

After a while I began sharing my photos with friends and relatives so they could enjoy second-hand what I’ve been seeing in person, even if they couldn’t get out to these places themselves. Finally, in early August, 2020, our daughter Laura popped the obvious question: Why not “publish a beautiful book of covid ramblings when this is all over”? She’s very persuasive. I even like her title! So I began a project that will run a full year, trying to capture a few of our experiences, chronicling our travels, and displaying the cycle of seasons in this part of earth—from expectant late winter, through vibrant spring, lush summer, colorful fall, austere winter and back to March again. Each season has its delights, as I hope you will agree. I also hope these images intimate something of the beauty I found. Nature is intricately interesting on so many levels, but I think it is just plain beautiful in every view. I suppose I should add experiencing beauty to the soul-soothing we experienced. Beauty speaks to soul and soul responds with delight. I guess I should stop preaching (to what I hope is the choir) and simply confess my state of mind. This project made me happier than I otherwise would have been, mired in monotony. I am rarely so happy as when prowling the woods with camera in hand.

On April 30 I went by myself to nearby Brushy Hills, a city-owned watershed of 560 acres. This acreage used to be the city’s water supply, but the spring has insufficient and unreliable volume today, so the city now has a reservoir further to the west. The forest was logged perhaps 70 years ago but has regenerated well. There are some 14 miles of trails, and even though I couldn’t walk far, it was far enough to glimpse this inviting path uphill.

The camera always in hand these days is my trusty Sony RX10, a point-and-shoot. Every camera is a compromise, and this one trades a small 1” sensor for a very portable and versatile tool—besides, it’s one I could afford. Its best feature is a fine Zeiss f/2.8 lens that zooms from 8.8 mm to 73.3 mm (24-200 mm full-frame equivalent), very convenient for my purposes far and near. It also has a pop-up flash, not terribly powerful but useful for fill-in flash on occasion, especially in daylight with harsh shadows, and I also use a circular polarizing filter. To travel light, I eschew a tripod (another compromise). For post-processing, I use ON1, which I find convenient, intuitive and helpful, especially because I shoot in RAW; besides, it indulges my penchant for vividness.

This blue-tailed skink was sporting on a bridge over the creek at Roaring Run, May 24, and was kind enough to pause and pose in a graceful swirl. Look at those beautiful toes!

We stopped for a snack June 2 at an overlook on the Parkway; nearby was a sawn stump being explored by this beetle. I just liked the composition, and enjoyed the bug’s perambulations for a while.

This post is the first of two selections from a work in progress (at least I hope it’s progress!) that is at best half-way complete. I have selected these photos to show the range of our ramblings, with captions that describe the setting and my reactions. I have taken the liberty of being unabashedly anthropomorphic and expressive in characterizing fauna, flora and fungi (though, just to be clear, it’s not intended literally!); I hope there is no umbrage. The arrangement is chronological, so that we can re-live our experiences in temporal order and you can see the orderly progression of nature. Nature rambles as well as we.

On June 9, I drove up to the Parkway overlooking Buena Vista in the evening to see if I could find a sunset. The sun barely peeked out, for rain was coming, but the mist and shadows were impressive.

On July 25 we drove out to Lake Robertson again, and there was this mystical view—quite literally, mist-ical—of the dock seemingly suspended in space. Without the trees on the right, could you locate the horizon? Would you want to?

Vicki and I went to the woods to break out of pandemic isolation and to connect with the complex and interrelated organic world that environs, sustains and supports us all. We sought to gain the solace, sustenance and solidarity—the connected freedom of a wider community of life—that a caged creature desperately seeks. These photographs are a record of our ventures, a way of recollecting our quest for natural community beyond confinement and also for the goal of creating a community of experiences with others. And besides, undertaking this project of recollection gave me a project to pursue—a measure of meaning during a monotonous time.

On August 9, we drove up to the Parkway yet again, a day after rains. There was a large puddle in the parking lot of an overlook, and it looked like a large eye surveying the misty scene in the valley below.

At Otter Lake further down the Parkway, the lovely patterns of Duckweed are enhanced by a dragonfly. Can you imagine being light enough to land on a Duckweed?

So there are multiple meaning to the title of “covid ramblings” fortuitously suggested by Laura: our actual ramblings about nature’s nearby garden during the pandemic (where we wandered), the unplanned serendipitous experiences we had (what we saw), and the rambling project of recollection (what we remember) and communication (what we tell). All have enriched my days of seemingly endless confinement. Of course there’s also another meaning of “rambling” which these paragraphs have illustrated but for which I beg your indulgence: my prose.

Click here for Part 2.

 

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  • Robert says:

    What a wonderful project, Lad. I’m especially privileged to see photos from your weekly ramblings and, perhaps, to help select your best through my comments. I, too, have found time in nature to be healing and comforting, and also as a place to deepen my spiritual life. Through photography. I’m delighted to see that you’re sharing my pleasures.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Ah, Virginia! One of my ancestors died there in 1641. To the best of my knowledge, none of us has ever ventured back there since. Not that that’s a reflection on Virginia. I know almost nothing about the place, except for the fact that it’s way too close to where Tramp hangs out.

    COVID? – don’t worry about it – it’s just a hoax – a scare campaign, dreamed up by the Dems to startle voters and make them think that perhaps America hasn’t gotten all that great again, under Dear Leader!

    Actually I was looking at the figures today. They’re horrifying. The hellhound Cerberus (AKA COVID) has slipped his chain, and the infection figures have started a near vertical climb. The daily almost rate doubled over the 2 months between early August and this month – but since the beginning of this month, it has suddenly shot up to around 90,000 new cases a day. The rubbish about “establishing herd immunity” has been debunked, because it doesn’t kick in till roughly 200 million Americans have been infected, and only a raving lunatic could consider that was a good strategy for dealing with the pandemic.

    So – unless you can run faster than those little bugs, indoors is the best place on Earth! Stay there!

    The best way to clean everything up is to incite Vicki to pressure you into doing it. My wife’s been trying to do it to me for years – I haven’t worn her down yet, but I’m still trying. Most males just give up and give in, so it should work.

    My wife loved the shot of the flame azaleas – I love the one of the skink, we have them here too, shy little creatures, all over my garden. Occasionally manage to capture a decent shot of them – have yet to get one to pause and smile for the camera, but there’s always hope, always another tomorrow.

    The Lake Robertson shot defies the rules – every which way, it’s symmetrical, and the rule book says avoid symmetry. That’s for complete amateurs, as are all the so-called “rules” of composition. By defying the rules, and doing it brilliantly & unashamedly like this, you’ve created a masterpiece!

    Buena Vista is stunning – thanks for sharing it –

    Your shot of Lake Robertson reveals a flaw in some post processing software. If you go back to your original image, I can practically guarantee (sight unseen) that it won’t have that banding effect. I’ve encountered it on a couple of different programs, and in quite different functions on those programs. I’ve just installed DxO PhotoLab 4, they claim they’ve come up with something sensational, it’ll be interesting to see if it helps in situations like this. BTW, the reason I realised it was that I was staring at the photo because I love the image so much. Probably others won’t notice.

    I also love the Parkway photo, but you distracted me – I spotted the dragonfly and went into raptures – j’adore les libellules – I adore dragonflies! Occasionally they drift through my small courtyard garden here – I’ve no idea why – I believe they are one of only about two species of bird or insect that can actually fly backwards! My ambition is to capture one with a macro lens, but alas, I haven’t been able to, so far. Instead, I just have to be jealous of your success. (I did go back to “Parkway” after a while – it’s lovely too – LOL)

    All in all, I think you’ve done a wonderful job during lockdown. You must let us all know how you managed to foil the authorities – how you got the ankle bracelet off & left it at home, to deceive them into thinking you were not out on the prowl, taking photos.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      OMG – dunno what happened before, but reopened the page to see other people’s comments, and found an extra photo – a tree stump with a “ladybird” (AKA “ladybug” – Coccinellidae) on it!

      I adore ladybirds! Went to pull up a weed a couple of days ago, and couldn’t – because there was a ladybird sunning itself on one leaf. Sigh! Had to wait, and come back later for the weed, when she’d finished and moved on.

    • Lad says:

      Thanks, Pete; I appreciate all your interest–and your wife’s! Let me respond to some of your points:

      “Lockdown” can mean solitary confinement, but we have had looser rules in this retirement community (though stricter than “outside”). It’s alright here to go out into a safe place, which the outdoors certainly is–and I think safer than indoors with its recirculating air. We just can’t bring guests into our cottage (though recently we’ve been allowed them on our porch), or indeed into any interior common space, and visitors to our campus have to be screened at entry; likewise restaurants, etc. are dicey; and we have to quarantine if we venture afield into a hot spot–certainly out of state. So rambling in nature is permitted and, I think, encouraged, as it mitigates pandemic “cabin fever.”

      There are two Lake Robertson images, and I’m not sure which one has a banding effect on your screen. What you are seeing may be due to my inexpertise in exporting files to Pascal–I had to send very small jpgs that don’t carry even all the jpg information, much less my original RAW. Still, I’m not seeing banding in my views.

      I too are fascinated by dragonflies; I have trouble distinguishing them from damselflies, except at rest. As to backward flying, I guess hummingbirds are the only bird species I know, but I think lots of flying insects can manage this feat–bees, e.g., maneuvering around flowers.

      The ladybug/bird photo inadvertently got omitted in the original post but quickly inserted by Pascal when I pointed this out–as you can see, I originally numbered the photos to guide Pascal’s insertion of them into the text, and one survived as a numerical artifact. (Thanks to Pascal for all the help he’s given!)

      Politics: Perhaps the less said the better about American politics these days; I think a significant portion of the body politic is certifiably crazy; arguably it has to do with white fright at the looming demographics whereby they become a minority. But there are blue (Democratic) as well as red (Republican) areas: Virginia has moved from solidly red a decade ago to purple then to fairly reliable blue, although the area we live in is deeply red (I almost said red-neck). Covid mismanagement has resulted in staggering numbers of cases and deaths–something above 80,000 new cases reported yesterday, a record. Leadership has been absent or useless–or harmful. ‘Nuff said.

      But this area is beautiful, and serenely indifferent to politics, so it is a wonderful way to distance oneself from the human turmoil.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Lovely post, Lad. Like you, I’ve been desperate at times to escape, to get OUT!, as you put it. Thankfully, I’ve managed to make a few photographic forays into the world outside my home territory. These trips give me hope that I can still be creative, something that seems to leave me when I get gloomy & dark. You’ve obviously been very successful in finding compelling subjects on your short trips – I’m looking forward to Part 2!
    Re: your tendonitis issue – I’ve had great success with deep tissue massage treatments done at Airrosti centers. There’s one near you in Charlottesville and several in the Richmond area. They can get rid of tendonitis in 3 appointments! It’s painful, but worth it. They totally got rid of the tendonitis in my knee which had been causing me misery for months. I highly recommend them.
    Airrosti.com

    • Lad says:

      Thanks, Nancee, for your appreciation. I hope I have inspired others to attempt similar projects venturing out into nature during the pandemic, instead of confining themselves to quarters. Nature will indeed inspire creativity, and I hope it does in your case, but it can also awaken receptivity to our world–our beautiful world, as I will insist. Hope you enjoy Part 2 whenever Pascal posts it; I was able only to include about 1/10th of the photos in both posts combined that I’ve accumulated in my project this far, and one of my biggest tasks in trying to round up everything into a photobook at the end of a year (more or less) will be culling the herd.

      Thanks also for the tendonitis advice. I will investigate Airrosti further, after consultation with my PCP–but for my lower back, not my Achilles tendon, which is recuperating well at this point (I guess about 90% recovery), eight months into the injury; I had a good physical therapist. I don’t know whether Airrosti can do anything about chronic back pain, as opposed to an injury, but I’ll find out.

  • Sean says:

    Hi Lad,
    Your images suggest to me that due to you being ‘locked-in’ and then ‘let-out’ your sense of visual discrimination, capacities to ‘see’, as opposed to simply ‘look’ has been ‘reset’. I say this because I had the opportunity sense this resetting in myself, just a couple of days ago. So, by extension, I come to see in here, in regards to you, too. This ability has now been elevated to another level of acuteness – in a quality sense; it is revealed only when you get new found opportunities to ‘get-out’ and ‘roam’ in possession of your reset sense of ‘seeing’. A quality and informative article, and likewise, images.

    • Lad says:

      Sean,

      Thanks for this comment, with which I resonate. My second piece will elaborate a bit on this. I think there is a virtuous circle of seeing and photographing; they stimulate and sharpen each other; the influence is not just one-way. I spent my 40-year career teaching philosophy, roaming the realm of conception, abstraction and inference; but after retirement in 2011 I began pursuing photography more intensely, though gropingly, which opened up the different realm of image and perception (though I confess my previous training leads me to spend time also speculating about the relations of these two realms). You are absolutely right about the opportunity that “roaming” (or “rambling”!) affords to enlarge our perception as well as our photography.

  • Jean-Claude Louis says:

    Thank you for this post, Lad. It was very touching to read about your wanderings during these bizarre and challenging times.
    Beauty is our essence; it shepherds us tenderly through our soul’s journey – a sanctuary. Your wonderfully simple images of your surrounding nature are a balm to the heart. May the generative power of such beauty inspire us to shape a more hopeful future.
    I wish you and your family well.

    • Lad says:

      Jean-Claude,

      Thank you for this appreciation. What a lovely sentence: “Beauty is our essence; it shepherds us tenderly through our soul’s journey—a sanctuary.” Worth framing. Have you ever read Whitehead? He is in agreement, though he doesn’t write as well as you. For him the pull or “lure” of possibility and values—ultimately beauty—is as potent as the push of causality.

      All the best to you and yours; may you remain safe.

  • Frank Field says:

    Lad – Wonderful inspiration for us all in these days of the pandemic. The photographs are engaging and the story of what one can create within a relatively short distance of home encouraging. Stay healthy! Frank

    • Lad says:

      Thanks Frank, both for the appreciation and for the encouragement. I intend to continue continuing, masked when I must, massless when I can (outdoors!). Lad

  • Claude Hurlbert says:

    Lad, Thank you so much for this post. I, too, like all or most of us, have to fight the languid, gray routines of days during this pandemic. Giving in only drags one’s spirit to a similar level. Your photos in this post are beautiful. You have an eye for creating peace and appreciation for the world with your images. I admire that so much. And as a last note. After seeing your post yesterday, I felt inspired to get up, grab an old Minolta film body (SRT-101), a couple of Rokkor lenses, load up some film, and walk around some back streets of my city and slowly take pictures of whatever my eye found even vaguely interesting (even if it probably wasn’t). It didn’t matter–it was a lovely morning. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Claude

    • Lad says:

      Claude, You have made the perfect response to my post: you got OUT and rambled! I’m glad you enjoyed your rambling, and I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by the images when developed. Anyway, just the activity of looking and taking photos surely was worthwhile. May you continue! Lad

  • philberphoto says:

    What an(other) inspiring post, Lad! At the time of writing France has once more been thrown into full lockdown, thus my neighborhood and I will have a lot of time together, so thanks for that baedeker of a post. I loved your images, with 4 standing out AFAIAC: the flame azalea and the one below it, the sunset and the one below it. Congrats and kudos!

    • Lad says:

      (I’m sorry I don’t know a proper form of address!). Thank you for the affirmation. I hope my images are not only consolation but also inspiration to make some images of your own. My condolences to you and yours during (another) lockdown; may you remain safe and well.

      BTW, my wife informs me that the azalea is not a flame azalea, which is orange, but another native species. I wish I knew more about what I photograph, but am (slowly) learning! (Which is something else we can all do with our time.)

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