I have been most fortunate in my Life to be graced with strong, vibrant, challenging and caring Mothers.
I’ve lived in Madison County for forty-five years now and, being here, I’ve learned and done things I never would have imagined when I was a young man. It’s been a rich and extraordinary time. This past weekend allowed me to add to the ever-growing list of remarkable gifts this place has brought me.
Easter weekend began with our third major flood in the last twelve months, this one, perhaps, the worst yet. Collapsed roadways, mudslides and, covering every flooded pasture, yard, or parking area, a debris field of logs, refuse, small buildings, and trailers.
We had gotten a call a couple of days before from our neighbor and friend, McCray Roberts. Like us, McCray has a B&B he rents for short and medium length stays and he was calling to see if our place was available. Seems that McCray had had a young couple in his place for the last two weeks, where they were planning to birth their second child. Problem was, the baby was overdue and he had other renters coming the next day so the couple had to leave. “Can you all take them in?’
Now, given this was Easter weekend, and me being an ex-Catholic, the symbolism was running rampant in my mind. “Of course, they can come here.”
They were young, he was twenty-one and she seemed younger, already with an eighteen month old son. They loved our barn apartment, deep in the woods, quiet, sheep and goats, comfortable, just what they wanted for the birth. Despite our initial enthusiasm we also were skeptical. Leslie was a mother/baby nurse for thirty years and started worrying about all the things that can go wrong. We both were concerned about the midwife finding our place, given our sketchy relationship with GPS and the flooded and closed roads. The young couple were non-plussed, so we moved forward.
I walked up to my studio in the barn to check email and messages and found Heather sitting on the futon in my work space. The heat was turned up, the overhead fan going, and Heather was focussed. Contractions were five minutes apart, the baby was on its way. The midwives hadn’t arrived and Tyler hadn’t heard from them in some time. I drove to the bottom of our driveway and waited. And waited. Finally, 45 minutes later a solitary man arrived, a doctor. The midwife couldn’t come because her father had had a heart attack. I took him up to the barn and helped carry in supplies.
We had talked about pictures of the birth, but Heather decided against it, wanting it to just be her husband, son, and the doctor. I went down to the house.
The next morning, Easter Sunday, we received an early call. Baby Sophia had arrived the night before, “a magnificent birth,” Tyler said. Would I like to come up and meet the baby and make pictures? I did. By that afternoon they were packed up and heading down our driveway, heading home.
I love it when the dogwoods and the redbuds choose to play together in
Happy 39th Birthday to my wonderful son, Benjamin Robert, aka, the Reverend Banjo, although I will never get used to calling him that.
I went to visit Susie and Todd last weekend over in Laurel. The catalyst for the visit was small engine repair as Todd has a gift with saws, tillers, mowers, weedeaters and such.
But visits with Todd and Susie are always about much more than spark plugs and carburetors and this was no different. We talked at length about their recent trip to India and Europe, about Istanbul, and a drive through the French Alps for a short stay in Italy.
We talked a lot about Susie’s father, Bill Mosher, a long-time professor at Warren Wilson College, who was born in India to parents that were agricultural missionaries there. Bill took scores of students to India for cultural studies and continues to go back for extended stays every two years or so, even now at 81 years old. Susie, and often Todd, accompany him.
In my mind Bill should be a role model for all of us elders, everyone really. He’s open-minded, and adventuresome, fearless really, always ready to try new foods, meet new people, and absorb new places. He’s a wonderful photographer, also, and has an engaging manner with people that produces intimate portraits. Susie told me of a recent solo trip Bill made, where he drove around the south for a few weeks, sleeping in his car, often in Walmart parking lots, visiting small and large towns, going to art galleries, delighting in his near total anonymity, and not knowing where he would end up from one day to the next. He’s inspirational and it’s easy to understand why his students loved him.
I was thinking about Bill as I left Todd and Susie’s house for the winding ride home. Down the mountain and across the Dickie bridge and then up the hill to Peachtree where I turned onto Lonesome Mountain road. While visiting, we all noticed a change in the light and the air - softer with darkening skies and the air sweeter with the distinct smell of approaching rain.
Dellie would always refer to Lonesome Mountain as Ol’ Lonesome, granting it an ominous or haunting description that was close to the truth. Especially at night, the dark, narrow road with steep turns and switchbacks, with overhanging trees and few houses and could be scary, as it was on this evening.
The rain came in sheets as I approached the top, the sky black, gusts of wind strong enough to move my truck, the road slick, no guardrails, and steep dropoffs. Ol’ Lonesome at her finest. I slowed, not only for safety and better traction, but to make photographs through the windshield, trying to capture something of this storm’s fury.
At the bottom, where Lonesome Mountain meets Hwy. 25-70, the sky lightened and opened, the road widened, signaling an end to my passage over Ol’ Lonesome. As always, I stopped at the painted rock to read its current message.
This seems an appropriate thought in this day in time. Perhaps it could become the eleventh commandment, or better yet, the one and only.
In Janet’s Backyard, Dayton, Ohio 2019
Willie Nelson called Mona Lee Brock “the angel at the other end of the line.” She was one of the earliest farm advocates who worked with farmers across the country during and after the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. This true American Hero died last week at her home in Oklahoma. I had the distinct honor of photographing her during the making of the film, “Homeplace Under Fire,” with Charlie Thompson and Brooke Darrah, in 2015.
Please read her obituary in the Washington Post.
FOR LESLIE ON THE OCCASION OF HER 65TH BIRTHDAY.
I ran into my old friend Dee Dee at the Doctor’s office in Weaverville. We see each other pretty often, mostly at the grocery store so it was good visiting with her in an unexpected setting. But seeing her reminded me of a photograph I made of her when she was not yet a teenager and I was but a very young man. I had recently seen it on a contact sheet while looking through images for a next project.
As I age, as is the case with a lot of us seniors, my memory isn’t what it used to be. People’s names are especially difficult and I struggle to remember song and book titles, or when I did specific things.
My photographs have been my saving grace in that regard. I can go back through contact sheets and prints and remember where I was, what I was doing, who I was with, the time of year, the clothes people were wearing. Memory, of course, is one of photography’s great
gifts to us.
So, when I came across this photograph of Dee Dee, it took me right back to that summer of 1977 in Sodom when I moved in with Dellie Norton, Dee Dee’s great-grandmother. Dee Dee and I saw each other often then, most every day, and the portrait took me back to who we were 42 years ago, and who we’ve become since. Good memories, hard memories, memories that make us smile, others that
make us cry.
To quote Washington Irving in 1809 and Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1830, It was a dark and stormy night. To which I would add, “and it was a little bit foggy, too.”
I saw the two women from across the street from where I was standing. I wanted to make their picture. But how?
I was taking a beginning course in photography at the time and had already identified the type of photographs I wanted to make - pictures that might make a difference in the world, pictures that could be tools for social change. But I had no idea of how to make those kind of photographs.
I was a shy person and had no idea of how to approach people different from me, how to gain access to their lives. So I became adept at hiding in the bushes, stealing images with a tele-photo lens. My instructor, whose name I can’t remember, called me on it. “What are you afraid of?” He asked. “Why are you hiding?” “I don’t know,” I answered. “Perhaps myself.”
I walked across the street to the two women. I said hello and asked about them, where they lived, and who they were. They were old friends who hadn’t seen each other for awhile, They’d both lived in Tucson their entire lives and known each other for most of that time. “May I make a photograph of you?” “Of course,” they answered in unison, drawing close to each other in an expression of intimacy I couldn’t have directed, or stolen.