Category Archives: North Carolina

Mystery is Spoiled by a Word

 

On this last day of 2015 I am reflecting on the images created since I began this blog. I’m filled with gratitude for the majesty of God I’ve been blessed to experience, and for the photographic work that resulted.

I leave you now with a gallery of my favorites from the first 18 months of blogging, trusting that the pictures will speak for themselves and reveal the fingerprint of the Divine…

 

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“Mystery is spoiled by a word.”

– Brennan Manning
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[PLEASE CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO BRING UP CAROUSEL VIEW]

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Thirty Years, and Counting

 

There are few people on this planet I’d want to travel with for eights weeks holed up in a 7 x 10-foot camper.

Ok. There is no one I’d choose to do that with. I don’t think I’d be sane for more than a week in such conditions 🙂

With the exception of one person: my high school sweetheart and bride of 30 years, Wendy. That one fact speaks volumes about our compatibility, and how we have survived and thrived in thirty years of life stuff together.

In 2008 we took a 2-month sabbatical and hit the road in our Toyota Tundra outfitted with a tiny Four Wheel Pop-up Truck Camper, making a loop around America starting from our home near Seattle, WA.

 

Camping in our pop-up truck camper overlooking the Upper Mississippi Valley

Camping in our pop-up truck camper overlooking the Upper Mississippi Valley

 

We headed south through Yosemite, desert poppy blooms, the Grand Canyon, and the tasty red & green chile dishes of New Mexico. We made our way east through sublime Texas hill country, lush green Arkansas hills, and legendary Great Smoky Mountain National Park (accompanied by piles of mouth-watering barbecue along the route).

 

The waterfalls of Yosemite National Park were our first scenic stop

The waterfalls of Yosemite National Park were our first scenic stop

 

Wildflowers in the Texas hill country were a colorful highlight of our road trip

Wildflowers in the Texas hill country were a colorful highlight of our road trip

 

Turning north we discovered the intimate and peaceful splendor of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the colonial history scattered all over Virginia and magically preserved Williamsburg, and the varied wildlife and Atlantic beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore.

 

The old Methodist church in idyllic Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

The old Methodist church in idyllic Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountain N.P.

 

Dogwood and fresh spring greens decorate a foggy forest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Dogwood and fresh spring greens decorate a foggy forest on the Blue Ridge Parkway

 

Westward we drove, seemingly back in time through Pennsylvania Amish country, to the shores of Lake Superior, up the Mississippi River Valley in Iowa and Wisconsin, through picturesque Minnesota forests and other-wordly Dakota badlands, and finally to the glory of Yellowstone.

 

As we gawked at the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Amish sheep gawked at us.

As we gawked at the Amish in Pennsylvania, the Amish sheep gawked at us

 

The 1891 Dubuque, Iowa courthouse is a historical gem

The 1891 Dubuque, Iowa courthouse is a historical gem

 

The memories from this adventure are among the very best of my life so far. The photographs from that trip I share today are a tribute to that fantastic time, to the extravagant beauty that is our America.

But more importantly, these memories and images are a tribute to our 30th wedding anniversary that we celebrate this weekend. They are a tribute to my life partner, Wendy. Her grace, her wisdom, her steadfastness. Her beauty that begins outwardly and then keeps on going deep into her spirit. When folks wonder how we made it to thirty years of marriage and counting, I just point to her!

Most days I thank God for the small blessings I get to enjoy, whether it’s the taste explosion of morning bacon, an afternoon bike ride amid lush Florida beauty, or settling in with a fine adult beverage in the evening. But when I thank the Creator for this amazing woman my wife is, I’m talking about a blessing that far eclipses all other things. Wendy is THE blessing for me in this life. All else pales next to knowing her, loving her, sharing this joy-pain-laughter life adventure with her.

She is my great love.

As we celebrate our three decades of marriage this weekend, I’ll be dreaming of the next opportunity to hole up in a tiny camper again (ok, perhaps a more spacious trailer this time) with my very best friend and lover and continue our explorations of America together…

 

Seemingly endless ridges are layered at sunset at Grand Canyon National Park

Seemingly endless ridges are layered at sunset at Grand Canyon National Park

 


The Granting of Vision in the Blue Ridge Mountains

 

In my previous post I described the inner conflict that clouded my mind on the first day of a photographic trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and how God graciously manifested his glory through that. On the second day in the Blue Ridge, there was to be no conflict at all.

I began day two still basking in the warmth of the grace shown the day before, once again reviewing the previous evening’s images on the camera LCD screen and feeling humbled by and thankful for God’s provision, both spiritual and photographic.

Incidentally, a leisurely start to this day meant breakfast turned into an early lunch at a spectacular barbecue joint in Asheville, North Carolina, called 12 Bones. If you get to Asheville you will want to make time for a stop here 🙂

Fortified by the hearty meal I drove back up the winding scenic Parkway into the lush spring hills. My mind rode a steady wave of peace, freshly aware of how our Heavenly Father cares for us through every detail of each day. Coming around a bend to a pullout I was struck by a sublime view of impossibly green layers of lovely hills. Being well past morning the light was not as soft as I prefer but I decided to stop and attempt a composition. As I was setting up the tripod I drank in the intoxicating aromas of spring blossoms and delighted to the sound of birds singing throughout the forest. Then one of my favorite mid-day conditions occurred when puffy clouds floating high over the landscape cast appealing shadows across parts of the hills, and now suddenly the light was aesthetically pleasing. I was able to expose a few images before the clouds moved on.

 

Layers of lush green Blue Ridge hills in springtime near Asheville, North Carolina

Layers of lush green Blue Ridge hills in springtime near Asheville, North Carolina

 

After making this satisfying composition and returning to the drive up the Parkway, my heart filled with God’s majesty pouring forth from this place, the Lord confirmed deep down in my inner man that he has called me to be a photographic artist for his glory, to worship in this work, and then share his greatness as Creator with others through a blog. And in that moment the Spirit was very specific, impressing powerfully on the deepest place in my mind, ‘do not delay any further in engaging this work I have allotted to you.’ I have sensed God’s prompting to pursue this work may times in past years, but somehow I understood this was different, it was a point of release and confirmation. All I could do was respond with awe and trembling and many joyful tears, and then shouts of praise to our God as I drove along. I knew clearly from this point on there would be no more procrastination, that it was time to leave behind the fears and excuses and dive fully into living a life of proclaiming the glory of our great God in the way he designed me to do it.

The remainder of the day was peaceful image-making under the providential hand of my Heavenly Father, with the discovery of a group of trees filled with character in their curving branches, next to a superb waterfall cascading across golden colored rock that provided a couple hours of joyful photographic work in total solitude.

 

Trees full of character grace the landscape along the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Trees full of character grace the landscape along the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway

 

The abundance of creation glory singing loudly on this day had me meditating on what happens to my spirit when I am out in God’s world engaging with his beauty. I realized that when I put myself in the path of his excellence in this world he crafted, two main things start happening: first, I am reminded who God is. And second, I am reminded who I am.

More specifically, out in creation I am reminded in a palpable experiential way with all my senses that it is God who made everything, that it is he who commands and sustains the universe every moment, that his divine power and beauty and creativity have no equal. I am in awe as I perceive the reality that he truly is CREATOR and deserving of all worship.

And then I perceive in a fresh light the fact that I am but a mere creature.  I am not God! (though I try hard to be many times). I am not the one with power. I am finite. Broken. Most definitely not holy.

I am humbled before an awesome God.

My thoughts then turn to the desperate need for someone to stand in for me as a mediator before this almighty perfect eternal holy God, someone who can forgive my sin and make me right with the Creator who has every right to destroy me because I fall so short of his glory in my wilfully rebellious state. And in this pondering my heart is turned once more to this very one revealed in the Bible who has indeed already stood up for me and for all who will believe, who has paid the ultimate price for all that is ugly within me as he was tortured and strung up on a cross, whose perfect life is now credited to me by his grace through the gift of faith so that I am shockingly declared ‘not guilty!’, and who now sits at the right hand of his Father ruling as King over all creation: the perfect God-man Jesus Christ.

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” (Ephesians 1:6-7, New Living Translation)

 

Second Falls on the Yellowstone Prong flow gracefully over golden rock in a mile-high valley

Second Falls on the Yellowstone Prong flows gracefully over golden rock in a mile-high valley

 

How about you dear reader – how does creation speak to you? What messages do you hear when you see God’s glory pouring forth in the everyday beauty of our world? I invite you to share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments.


The Granting of Grace in the Blue Ridge Mountains

 

Blue Ridge Mountains dappled in evening light in springtime

Blue Ridge Mountains dappled in evening light in springtime

 

I felt like an alien.

It made no rational sense. I certainly bore the same essential form as the rest of the human beings I saw. I still lived in the good ol’ USA, not on another planet nor in some foreign country with its multitude of language and cultural barriers. But I could not fully shake this sense of alienation, after moving to Florida a year ago from the Northwest where I was born and spent all 47 years of life up to that point.

And so it was with this deep unsettledness weighing me down that I drove north from Tampa, FL in May and approached the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, seeking to test a new medium format digital camera system I had just switched to and hoping to reinvigorate my landscape photography. But with my mind and emotions consumed by this strange feeling of isolation I was not in a good place and I knew this threatened any possibility for a successful shoot.

As I entered the Smoky Mountains it seemed my photographic vision was dead. I was scraping up whatever inspiration may be left at the bottom of the barrel but found precious little. Intellectually I knew I was in an amazing place that should be full of God’s glory, but I was numb to it. The ongoing anxieties from having uprooted and moved cross-country were talking loudly and drowning out the whispers of truth that I needed to listen to. And then another fear joined the party, an old acquaintance who always mocks like a broken record with the same tired lines – ‘you’ve lost your ability to see and create, you’re finished as a photographic artist.’

About this time I began to realize just how utterly dependent I was on the pure grace of God every single day for life, for breath, for the ability to think clearly and truthfully, for any possibility of having eyes to see my Creator’s majesty and a heart of thankfulness, for the ability to respond to his glory with worshipful and joyful work. So with a freshened sense of my own frailty and brokenness I poured out my prayers to the Father. I pleaded for mercy. I asked for his grace to combat the weightiness of fear, to lift my head above my inward self-gaze, to be reminded of the greatness of God and his sovereign love and care for me.

My heart continued opening to the Lord in childlike dependance as I drove out of Smoky Mountain N.P. photographically empty-handed and began the drive at the southernmost end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Then it happened. Slowly at first, but with gathering speed:  the landscape of fresh spring hardwood forests, rolling hills, and softening late afternoon light began speaking to my heart. Soon I had the big Pentax 40-megapixel camera out on the tripod making the first composition of the trip, as sunlight painted highlights across the top of ridges. Back in the truck I rounded another corner and was stopped in my tracks by the delicacy of a lone blossoming tree in the midst of an old graying forest.

 

Blue Ridge Spring Forest

 

Finally, as evening settled over this part of North Carolina, I ended up at the highest point of the Parkway, an overlook at 6,053 feet. As the sun began to dip behind the hazy blue mountains I used a telephoto lens to zero in on the stacked layers of peaks with big ball of sun, and exposed several frames.  Reviewing the image just captured, my heart glowed as warmly as the camera’s LCD screen and I basked in the bountiful grace God had once again poured out on this broken undeserving man. The Creator had opened my eyes and heart to the glory of his handiwork in this region. But his glory shone even brighter in the way he broke through my clouded mind with his powerful love, his spirit bringing comfort in my alienated state. He has reminded me today as I write:  “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV).

 

Blue Ridge Sunset


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