Way over in the western corner of Ashe County, State Road 88 hugs along the banks of the North Fork New River from it’s headwaters in Watauga County twenty jaw-dropping miles northeast thru Maxwell, Creston and Clifton to Warrensville and State Road 194, where I usually turn north to Lansing, or vice versa on the return. These are certifiable ‘3-check’ drives with spectacular goings-on in all directions. Every year, or two or three I take this same picture of Sutherland Church hoping to capture a moment of perfect light - light so sweet that an instant’s worth can make the whole day. Following this shot, I sheepishly switched on my always-off cell phone, just in case there’s a speed dial on its way here from NatGeo. Make a note of that.
Climbing due north from Canton, Haywood County Beaverdam Road becomes Buncombe County Willow Creek Road right here – at the high pass atop Newfound Mountain. Elevation unknown. (Didn’t bring the altimeter.)
Continuing north, this November landscape frames a dramatic steep decline along Willow Creek into Sandymush Valley for the next stop – Big Sandy Church. A remarkable place to pause and reflect. (Look here.)
Three hundred and fifty years ago French artist Claude Lorraine began to brush warmth and atmosphere into his many landscapes and became known a the Painter of Light. Artists before his time, and many since, considered the landscape to be merely a stage backdrop behind other dramatic activity. Never the raison d'être.
Did it ever occur to him, as he fulfilled his lucrative commissions, that a errant backroads photographer, three hundred and fifty years later, would believe for a fleeting instant that he was Claude’s second coming. The correct answer is, of course, no.
Many of his paintings made a permanent trip to the Hermitage courtesy of Catherine the Great . Check some here.
Once a year, sometimes twice, I return to John Furrow’s farm in Waiteville. Remembering we agreed, one past day, that I would return here for a spell to write my book. Photos. Impressions of rural backroads, steeped in sentiment, reveling in romanticism. Fantasies, you know, can be sustaining.
. It's about 10 spirit-lifting miles from Sugar Grove to Flat Ridge over the mountain between the Holston and New River Headwaters. Over the mountain between the Raccoon Branch and Jerry Creek headwaters to bring the scale down to truck level, to belly level stoked with pork tenderloin, scrambled eggs and Peggy's sweet honey. It's 10:30 am. A late start for me, but it's been raining for four days and all this morning. No need to chase morning light. No need to read maps, no need to look for stops and shots. I know them by heart. I've traveled this road many times over, a natural North-South track, quiet, local, forested with lots of old values. It's 10:45 am. The Old Pasture Gate. I've leaned on it and talked to it. I've marveled at it's endurance and the lovely fields beyond. With film and computer chip. Spring and Fall. Hot sun and, today, foggy rain. It's beyond me to explain my love for this old gate. But, no need.
. County Road 601 Grayson County, Virginia Wednesday 27 May 2009