This past weekend was an excellent example of all the emotions the study of nature can bring. On saturday I had the privelidge of joining a group of native orchid and nature photographers for their annual beat the winter blues get together. For the first year, many of the photographers brought their images from the past year in digital form. I rented a digital projector which we hooked to a laptop. After a bit of trial and error to get the projector color adjusted, most of us felt that the images projected from digital files were as good as any from the more traditional slides.
No matter the media, the photography was amazing. These men and women travel and photograph for the love of the experience, nature and the photos they capture. The images they produce are as good or better than any professional photos one would see in any publication. My own work seems amateurish in comparison, though my mpeg video of shots from last year was well received. I plan to post it online when I find a suitable broadband host. I'll let you know.
Sunday I spent traveling around West Virginia and Virginia. If you haven't seen the New River Gorge from the overlooks at Grandview, it is well worth the trip. I didn't have a wide angle lens with me so I don't have shots to show. But I'll be back when the trees are green.
Along the way I got to see a rare Saxifrage along the rocky roadside near Thurman. This is one of those amazing plants that seem to be able to grow out of nothing more than a crack in the rocks. Indeed, the name means "rock breaker" since it appears the plant is actually breaking up the rocks with its roots. Perhaps it is. There is an interesting time lapse sequence about one member of this family in the BBC video "The Private Life of Plants."
Along with waterfalls and plants and rivers and wide open spaces came a big reminder of the impact our insatiable hunger for comfort and technology has on the planet. My use of digital cameras, computers, high speed internet, heat and lights contribute to the demand so I must admit to being a part of the cause for what I saw. I was traveling with a friend who is one of the most knowledgeable naturalist I have ever known. He was the one who was driving and showing me the amazing sites around the Appalachians between Flatwoods, WV and Pulaski, VA. Of course we only touched on a few locations.
Our next to the last stop was in Carroll County, VA to look for a tiny relative of the Indian Pipe called Pygmy pipes. We scrambled up a shale slope and began to dig around carefully in the leaf litter under some pine trees. After some cold searching we decided that we were a few weeks early and headed off to the last site.
Trilliums are a favorite spring flower of many people and some of my native orchid friends like trilliums second only to the orchids. One of the slide shows on saturday was of nothing but the many varieties of trillium found in our part of the world. Down in Wythe County my friend/guide/naturalist had found a big patch of natural hybrid trilliums. Instead of the common whites and pinks and reds, these flowers have crossed to produce a rainbow of colors. In the same little area were huge patches of Puttyroot orchid and Crane-fly orchid and other wildflowers.
The location is along a little traveled dirt road on private property. A couple years back VDOT wiped out some plants with routine ditch work. An ever present hazard for plants that venture onto the open sunlit and often moist road edge. But we were not prepared for what we would find as we rounded the curve on Sunday. Gone were the trees that provided shelter and shade. Gone were the plants. Gone was much of the soil. Actually, many of the trees were still there, lifeless trunks laying in piles on the ground blocking any brave remaining flowers that might strugle to the surface.
Across the road and just above what had been the trillium site stood a giant steel robot with out stretched arms ready to support the steel cables of a 768kva power line. Around the giant structure and down the hill for a far as one could see a clear path of destruction and roads had changed what once had been a garden of wonders into a path for more power for city street lights and home computers. My friend, who has photographed native orchids in 49 states and 9 provences, had rated this site in the top ten of his favorites. And now it is gone.
It is good for all of us to remember from time to time that there is always a price to pay for the progress which we enjoy. In the quiet of the night, tears will come to the eyes of two grown men when they think of that site. Perhaps there is hope for all humans as long as that is so.