Noise & Silence

May 11, 2017

4:30 A.M. my phone's alarm rings.  I wake up, put on my work clothes.  The microwave beeps when my breakfast is warm.  A few minutes later I turn the ignition in my car and the old engine rumbles as with myself it wakes up.  By the time I get to work I hear the clock-in terminal beep as my ID is swiped letting me know I am on the clock.  From there I turn on all the lights and tvs where I am greeted with the latest political scandals from the previous day.  Sqwawk boxes. A few minutes later I check the news on my phone to cross reference the information on the televisions to see if what I have been told are the actual facts.  From the news, I am led into social media where I see endless noise of nothingness.  Red flag notifications inviting me to play games I don't care for, or event invitations which will not fit within my schedule.  I scroll down my feed and see some people happy, or at least pretending to be.  A few other posts I'll read as people complain and bicker about useless nonsense.  It's 5:20 in the morning and these people have already put a damper on my otherwise positive mood.

 

I knew soon I would need an opportunity to recharge my batteries.  It is not easy working dual jobs; personal trainer by day and photographer by night, let alone being out in public settings.  A few weeks ago I decided to cut back on all the draining noise and distraction by taking time off social media.  Though this did help rejuvenate my mental and physical focus, there was still something more that I needed.  I kept daydreaming back to when I was just out of college where all I had was a strong desire to travel and the only thing I used to take photos was my old iPhone 5s.  The time had come to get out of the city, hit the road, and rekindle my love of nature. 

 This was just what I had needed.  Over the past month I felt as if the city of Jackson drained all my creative energy.  My motivation for taking any photos or creating lightpaintings in town were all but gone, and this was not healthy for my artistic aspirations.  It was almost as if all the toxicity I had witnessed emerging within the community had come to a head and it was time for me to take time away from it all so I could return and tackle it head on.  To head it all off, everything I would read or listen to seemed to agree the world was devolving into uncontrolled chaos.  All these things were really beginning to wear on my enthusiasm for trying to accomplish anything to help add to our collective human culture.  Fortunately I knew just where I wanted to go.  It was time for a hike.

 

I ended up driving down the Natchez Trace Parkway to some of the most beautiful weather the state had experienced in months.  There was no rush at all to my journey and everything was to come in stride.  Even the "vacations" I had taken over the past few years involved a travel itinerary of sorts which would cause me to even still feel rushed.  There was to be none of that this weekend.  My time was to be entirely my own to do whatever I pleased.

 

About 1 P.M. I arrived at my destination: Rocky Springs.  The last time I had been hear was for a brief day visit two years ago where I came on a visit with my two dogs.  The location is an old abandoned settlement long since gone off the Old Natchez Trace, and the only structure still standing is a single church.  All the areas where the settlement once was has long since returned to the forest, and has been kept up as hiking trails for outdoor recreation.  The afternoon was packed with people at the campsite, but I luckily managed to grab the last available spot.  Once I had set up my brand new tent I determined it was time to get my legs moving and breathe some fresh air.  The trails were calling me.

 The first thing I noticed on my hike was how many birds were singing in the forest.  Though there were many people camping, I was one of the lone few not lounging near their tent or camper so I had the paths mostly to myself.  I took in my surroundings and listened carefully trying to distinguish how many different species of birds were up above me in the treetops.  Beams of light through the leaves occasionally pierced my gaze and illuminated little wonders beneath my feet.  I looked down to see sticks covered with lichen, mossy rocks, and fashionably arranged leaf patterns.  The woods were alive, and I began to feel the pressures of modern life and all the fast tracked deadlines becoming distant thoughts in the back of my mind.

 

After a couple miles into my walk I noticed several large trees felled across the path.  When I had been here before the walk had been clear of any debris, yet this was recent.  I came across a man walking toward me heading back to camp and we struck up a conversation about the trees.  He was a local who lived not far from Rocky Springs so he would often visit the areas on the weekends.  The man told me the fallen trees were caused by the terrible storms from the previous weekend.  "This happened between Saturday and Sunday of last weekend.  I've been coming out here for years and never seen anything this bad."  I remembered watching the storms on the radar and seeing how bad things were south from my home the week before yet I never thought to think of the damage it caused in those areas until I actually laid eyes on its destruction.  In total, I counted around ten freshly fallen trees along my hike.  Though saddened to see these giants felled, I had to remind myself this was the way of things.  Nature is always in flux, and this is something we as human beings should revere as we too are affected by its cycles.

 

Shortly thereafter I made it to the pinnacle destination on my hike, the lone Rocky Springs Methodist Church.  It was still early in the afternoon so there were plenty of people surrounding the building.  The church itself is one of the most popular photography attractions along the Natchez Trace Parkway, so I was not surprised in the least to find it surrounded by fellow campers.  They did not bother me at all though, I knew how to do photography surrounded by lots of people, but my primary goal after a few quick shots was to scout the area for later to practice the new time-lapse feature I downloaded onto my Sony A7rii.  I found a good spot in the nearby cemetery and deducted where I should positon my camera and tripod when I planned to come back later during sunset.

I took a different route back down to the campsite which was about a mile away from the church.  As I walked downhill, I looked at all the places where things once were on the settlement.  Old vaults, broken fence posts, and the occasional pavement marked the spots this town once had people going about their daily lives.  It made me wonder if all the places I experienced around me would become like Rocky Springs.  Would everything that I have known in my lifetime be deserted after I am gone?  Does any of my hard work truly stand the test of time?  As I reached the campgrounds I came across a beautifully colored spider spinning a fresh web.  Upon viewing the spider in its work and design I felt encouraged.  Even if the web of things I do in this time do not survive, somebody out there in today's world will surely understand the toils and effort I have put forth into my crafts.

 

The remainder of the afternoon was spent lounging around the tent.  I ate a couple of apples and some pistachios I brought along for food.  I had not planned on bringing much food because this trip wasn't about satisfying my appetite.  It was about clearing things out within myself.  One thing of value I did bring along was a book I had purchased recently by the famous writer and traveler John Muir titled Travels In Alaska.  The book was a series of personal memoirs written by Muir which covered his travels in these northern lands and the spectacular vistas and people he met throughout his journey.  One particular section he wrote stuck out to me, and seemed to speak to exactly what I was hoping to find on this trip.  "And here, too, one learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation..."

 

My thoughts dwelled long and hard on this quote.  According to Muir, though the world in which we live is solidly put together and finished with its initial stages of planetary formation, the Earth is still very much in flux and always changing.  This idea made me think back earlier to the fallen trees along the path; how that even though their lives had ended they would become the building blocks of whole new microcosms of life.  I began to remember how much I valued each individual day, that though a lot of my actions may be the same as days past each one is special and unique.  Each has its own series of challenges and small blessings should you choose to acknowledge both.  This line of thinking made me think even deeper into my photography and helped me appreciate the full scope of this art form. 

 

What saddens me most about being a photographer in this area is how little people truly seem to understand about the work put into taking good photographs.  Many a time I have had discussions with friends and colleagues who are quick to admit that it seems like very effortless work, though once a person begins to understand the intricacies of this medium do they truly realize how much complex thought is involved with this art. 

 

In order to be a good photographer one must understand the interconnectedness between their subject matter and surroundings.  Do you want to compare blades of grass to the mighty waterfall?  In this case you could set your camera down to a perspective with the grass in focused in front of the lens with the background consisting of the waterfall to show the significance of both the large and the small.  Do you understand your equipment?  What the light capabilities (apertures) of your lenses are?  Have you researched the technology involved with your camera equipment?  All of this can get highly technical in terms of understanding photography, and in many cases you would bore the listener to death.  The quote by Muir made me realize the true beauty of photography, in that though people could take pictures of the exact same subject, the pictures will always be different.  Perspectives will differ, as well as the light on the subject.  The light from moment to moment, even at similar times of day, is never the same.  This is the way of things still in the morning of creation.

 Later, after having finished reading John Muir I made my way back to the church to do my timelapses.  When I arrived I set my camera and tripod in a sunny spot in the cemetery in order to practice.  The sun had already gone down behind most of the trees, so this first attempt was merely for practice to test out the time-lapse function.  Once I felt satisfied with my shots,  I headed back down the hiking trail toward the Little Sandy Creek which cut through part of the woods.  At this area I found myself entirely alone.  There were no sounds signifying any other campers were closeby, and the air was remarkably quiet as the crossing from day to night had begun.  The only sound I could hear was the water splashing as my feet waded through the creek.

 

Shortly before dark, I found a spot where I know I could do some lightpaintings and for the first time in almost a month I felt my motivation return.  Before me was a series of concrete blocks protruding out of the water and the creek flowed right between them.  I reached down into my bag, and as darkness fell I ignited my fiber-optic lightwhip.  This would be an excellent location to mix light and water into a single image, and I cast the whip into the water in a manner very similar to fly fishing and as I remotely triggered the shutter with my smartphone I began to make light art as I heard bats chirping above me signifying the night had begun.

 Just as the almost full moon rose into the sky I had completed a lightpainting I which left me feeling satisfied.  I began to pack my equipment, and as I was doing so I had a quick streaking light flash in front of my flashlight.  I thought I had come into contact with aliens!  Momentarily I was startled until I waited a few more seconds and discovered the sources of this light.  Fireflies had woken up from their daily slumber and were filling the darkness with their illumination.  At once I realized I must have been surrounded by hundreds of these flies and that they must have been quite enamored with my lightpainting equipment. 

 

I decided to test a theory which had crossed my mind with my flashlight and began turning it off and on in succession to see what the fireflies would do.  To my surprise, they seemed to be coming closer to me, and in even greater numbers.  They were being drawn to my light, which I am sure to them most have appeared to be one giant firefly, and so I decided to test another experiment.  My flashlight is has the capability of firing beams of light in a strobe, and with a twist of the knob my torch flared of a few rounds of strobing light before I shut it off.  The fireflies were quiet for a few moments, but then something incredible happened.  The fireflies returned with their own magnificent volleys of light and I was able to witness them communicating directly with me.  Their bulbs flashed the exact same speed as the strobe on my flashlight!  When I came upon this realization I felt completely awed by the natural world.  Very few times before in my life had I felt so connected with my surroundings.

That night yielded some of the best sleep I had in years, and