Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Have a wonderful Christmas season and a prosperous New Year!

To all the readers of Photography In Place, thanks for visiting this year, and a particular thanks to those who took the time to leave a comment.

This will be the last post of 2012. We will resume our regular posting schedule on January 2, 2013. Hope to see you here next year, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Simple Christmas

All Saints Episcopal Chapel - Albemarle County, Virginia

House Finch

George Gilbert pushed open the door of the old stable and stepped into the dark interior. The building sagged, the roof leaked and one corner had slipped off the stone foundation. For years his wife has been after him to tear the old stable down, and George had to admit that the building, no longer fit even for storage, was an eyesore.

George leaned against the rotting sill of the small window that looked out over the farm where he had lived all his life. The sun was down and it was nearly dark. Stars were just becoming visible in the clear sky and it was going to be a cold night. On the other side of a small field where his father had once tried to raise tobacco stood the old house, a dark shape against the trees. His father built that house and George was born there. Just a couple of hundred yards to the east, his father helped build the house where George brought his new wife to live over fifty years ago.

"Grandpaw? Are you in here?"

"Yes, come on in."

"Grandmaw says for you to come. She sent me to get you." George's grandson stopped just inside the door. A scraping, rustling noise came from the darkness behind the stalls. "Grandpaw?"

"It's all right, Paul. Just some birds roosting back there. I have been watching them come and go."

"What do you keep in here? It smells funny."

"Don't keep anything in here now. When I was a boy your age, my daddy kept his two mules in this stable. Their names were Pike and Amos. Pike was a lovely gray mule, and Amos was black. My mother called them Salt and Pepper, but their names were Pike and Amos."

"This is a stable?" Paul looked around in wonder. "They had the first Christmas in a stable. Mary went to it on a donkey. Did you like our Christmas play at church? We didn't have a real stable."

"Yes, I liked it very much and you were a terrific shepherd."  George and his wife had driven over to the old country church for the annual Christmas pageant, and George sat uncomfortably in the overheated sanctuary to see his grandson dressed in an old robe and carrying the shepherd's crook that he had made for him.

"Mom said she didn't think you would come but I hoped you would."

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world." They stood in silence for a few minutes. In the dim light, George couldn't see the expression on Paul's face, but the boy seemed lost in thought.

"You know, when I was a boy I used to come here when I was in trouble, or I needed to think. I would lay down over there in the straw next to Pike and tell her all my troubles. She was a good listener."

"Did you talk to Amos?"

"No, Amos was not interested in much of anything except himself and Pike. And besides, he was apt to kick. Gave me some nasty bruises. No, I stayed pretty much away from Amos."

"Where are Pike and Amos now?"

"Come here." George lifted the boy up to the window. "My daddy took care of those mules for many years, even after he got a tractor and they got too old to do much work around the place, and when they died, he buried them over on the edge of this field, just by that far line of trees."

There was a scuffle and flapping of wings in the darkness behind them and then a bird began to sing in the darkness. George recognized the song. It was a house finch, like the one his mother rescued from the cat and nursed back to health the summer George graduated from high school. Unable to fly, the bird spent that summer in a cage on the screen porch. It sang all day.

After a minute the house finch in the stable stopped singing and in the silence, with the warm weight of his grandson in his arms, George stared through the window at the bare winter field. He thought about his father and mother and all the years gone. Suddenly he missed them and he missed Pike and Amos and he missed his mother's crippled house finch that sang from its cage one Christmas Eve many years ago.

George gave his grandson a rough hug and put him down. "Let's go see what your Grandmother has for dinner. You know, I'm not sure, but I think I saw something under the Christmas tree with your name on it."

George pulled the door to the stable closed behind him and watched his grandson run up the worn path to the house. His wife was waiting at the back door. "I'll be right there," he called to her and turned to look out over the land that he had known since birth. In the dark, he could just make out the barn, weathered but still solid and strong, and beside it the machine shed that he and his father had built when he came back from the Army. And all around, the fields, and the night and the stars above. Another Christmas Eve, night of miracles.

George turned toward the house. She's right, he thought to himself, I really should tear the old stable down. Maybe come spring.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Simple Christmas

Somerset Place - Washington County, North Carolina 

This picture is a repeat from last Christmas, but it captures perfectly the idea of "A Simple Christmas." This is the last weekend before Christmas and I hope your preparations are not so hectic that you cannot make time to stop and enjoy the season.

Please stop by on Christmas Eve for this year's Christmas story, and as always, thanks for reading Photography In Place. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Simple Christmas

Preddys Creek Baptist Church - Albemarle County, Virginia

Year by year it seems that Christmas decorations become more and more elaborate. It is fun to drive around after dark and see all of the decorations, but some are a bit over the top, it seems to me. Sometimes simple things are best.

A simple wreath on a wooden door (this one hand made by a Sunday School class, from the looks of it) holds more meaning for me than all the electric lights and inflatable Santas in all of Virginia.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Sunday - December, 2012

St. John's Chapel - Louisa County, Virginia

Yesterday afternoon my wife and I drove over to St. John's Chapel in the Green Springs Historic District. The church was built in 1888 and looks today much as it would have looked in the 19th century. There are no modern additions, no plumbing and no electricity. The interior is heated by a wood stove and lit by candles.

As we were walking around the grounds, a man and his small son stopped, unlocked the door and went inside to load the stove with kindling and wood, ready to warm today's Christmas candle light service. He invited us inside to see the interior of this remarkable building.

We sat for a moment on a simple wooden pew, and visited an earlier time. It was late afternoon and the air was cold both inside and out. There were no Christmas decorations in sight, but I couldn't help but feel a touch of Christmas spirit inside this simple and austere chapel.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Somerset, Virginia 

For one reason and another I have not been able to get out and take pictures for the past couple of weeks, so I have had to dig into my archives a bit this week. This picture was taken in September 2012 at the Somerset Steam and Gas Pasture Party (see here).

Have a great weekend and don't forget to check in on Sunday for Third Sunday. And as always, thanks for reading Photography in Place.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cypress swamp #4

Merchant Millpond State Park - North Carolina

Over the years we have spent a lot of time poking around the marshes and tributaries of the Potomac River and found that each marsh or creek has its own unique ecology. In one place a creek winds through tall marsh grasses dotted with red-winged blackbirds. A few miles away a small inlet leads into a shallow marsh choked with lily-pads where snakes and frogs are the only wildlife visible.

The same has been true in coastal North Carolina. While you might suppose that one coastal swamp is just like another, we have found that each area we visit has its own unique mix of terrain, foliage and wildlife. The Alligator River Refuge is quite different from the Dismal Swamp which is not very like Merchant Millpond.

A small boat is the ideal way to taste the individual character of these places, and to appreciate the extraordinary variety of the natural world. And whether you encounter a blackbird or an alligator, each trip is worth every mile and every minute.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cypress swamp #2

Merchant Millpond State Park - North Carolina

On a map, Merchant Millpond looks like a large lake, but cypress trees grow out of the water in profusion and there is little open water. It is a good place, I expect, to get lost and we were grateful for the marker buoys to help guide us through the maze of cypress trees. On this trip, we were able to explore only one small area but we plan to return this spring for a more thorough visit to this isolated and fascinating wetland.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cypress Swamp #1

Merchant Millpond State Park - North Carolina 

In the middle of November, I made another visit to eastern North Carolina. My fascination with this area began several years ago with a trip to Buffalo City and the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge. Since then we have made a number of trips to the swamps and marshes of North Carolina, exploring each one in our small inflatable boat.

Norfleet's Millpond was formed in 1811 and the gristmill, sawmill and associated businesses became an important part of the Gates County economy. The millpond became known as Merchant's Millpond. Shortly before World War II the mills closed down and much of the land was sold to developers. Nine hundred and nineteen acres were donated to North Carolina and Merchant Millpond State Park was established in 1972. Since then additional donations have increased the size of the park to  over 3250 acres.