It was one of the first warm days of a resurgent spring and I was exploring a rural Vermont roadless area in the foothills of Mount Hunger. My interest arose when I came across an old apple tree, wild and unkempt and seemingly lost; in the middle of “nowhere.” Such aged and neglected relics, noticeable from a distance with their showy white blossoms almost always signaled the presence of a farmhouse nearby. Moving closer, a mad growth of blackberry and sumac led me to the stone-lined foundation of a long-abandoned pioneer home in the midst of a young forest of maple and birch, reclaiming the hard-scrabble farmland of a lost generation.
Exploring the bramble-filled root cellar where once baskets of fall apples and newly-dug Green Mountain potatoes had once kept company with shelves of home-made jams and preserves, the fire-scarred evidence now mixed with the detritus of the collapsed floor above. A strange sadness filled my thoughts as I lay full length on the sun-warmed slates of the carefully-laid foundation wall. I may have slumbered, for I could swear I heard young voices raised in song with the strings of a poorly-tuned fiddle in the background, and I held in my mind a picture of a hopeful young family tied together by prayer and hope, perhaps – I thought – with wheat-colored hair and eyes of Scandinavian blue. And I dared to hope they had all escaped the fire which had robbed them of their dreams so long ago.
Another time I was wandering the approaches from the town of Henefer to the entrance to East Canyon – the route Brigham Young was following at the suggestion of mountain man Jim Bridger -- as he led the armies of immigrants which would follow into the Great Salt Lake Valley. I found what I had been looking for: the deep ruts left behind by the thousands of wagons and hand carts which had left their imprint in a narrow cleft they had been forced to traverse. In my effort to get closer to all the history sculpted into those weather-worn and time-hardened human “epitaphs,” I lay down full length in contact with them. I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to travel backward in time, considering the mixture of feelings those travelers must have experienced with one life left forever behind them and the great unknown which lay in the one still ahead. I could almost feel the earth shake with the vibration of a moving host, and hear the creaking of tired wagon beds and the shouts of the children walking behind and the drivers talking and shouting to animals by which so much had been given and upon which so much still rested. Their voices were neither still nor small.
Most years I have a particular focus as a subject for exploration and photography. Over many years it has been light houses, lobster boats, old barns, stone walls, maple sugaring, gardens and gardeners, covered bridges, cheese-making, etc., etc.. One year I devoted my photography to the architecture and beauty of old New England churches, working with a large-format camera which required careful timing and planning. One beautiful white, tall-steepled example in a picturesque Vermont town presented several challenges as I arrived after a long drive. To capture the best view and composition while minimizing the intrusion of overhead power lines, I would have to wait 2-3 hours for the sun angle to be favorable. Like so many such old communities a large green “common” occupied the town’s center, around which the church and elementary school buildings fit in perfectly with large two-storied white-painted century-old family residences. I pulled off and parked under the shade of old elm trees where my presence would be nearly invisible and certainly anonymous. As I sat there in the autumn quiet, my nap was interrupted by the voices of happy children. There, maybe fifty yards away a dozen young school children were jumping amid squeals of delight from the lower branches of a conveniently-placed maple tree into a huge pile of raked fall leaves. In the distance a school bell rang and in moments the town green was empty and quiet. Quiet that is but for a still small voice that spoke just to me. “Why not!” it asked.
For the next fifteen wonderful minutes I was a “school kid” once again, the big camera and all my cares forgotten and far away. “There, you see. Didn’t that feel good” the voice whispered. Or perhaps it was just the rustling of the maelstrom of leaves covering me.
“You have to be available to the invisible voices that are swirling around you.” George C. Wolfe