all pics by tj worthington
Focus this week is on my relationship with nature, the natural world, the uncultivated world, the wild things, the four-leggeds, the winged, the ground, the green things, earth. This world, my mountain, is my refuge, my home, my need. I know this region of the mountains so well it gets taken for granted, but not too much. I went out on a small lake in a boat fishing with Justin. It was his day off and he had to get some fishing in. Fishing recharges his internal battery. He catches a fish, kisses it and throws it back. He stopped by to pick me up and I rode with him to the next farm down the road, turn up a long gravel driveway to the lake. It's called the Willis lake. The owners live in Winston-Salem, my neighbors Allan and Gary have a stain glass studio where they support themselves selling their wares. Allan takes care of the land, a few hundred acres of largely meadow. It was the old Jim Scott place. Their boy, Sherman, went to school and revival meetings in this house. Sherman has been dead quite a while now. He was a humble man. In NC he did not need a driver's license to drive a tractor on the roads. Sherman fixed a small wooden box to the back of his old Ford red-belly to carry groceries. He drove the tractor to town for the bank, the doctor, the lawyer, the drug store, leading a long line of cars snaking slowly toward town, temperatures rising, road rage in abundance, but nobody made a problem. Sherman's going to town day. It was excruciatingly maddening to fall in behind Sherman. Couldn't pass. There you are, 10-15 mph and can't do nothin about it. Sherman was a little bit slow and had a good mind too. The people I've known who went to school with him said he was a whiz with numbers. His mother and dad wouldn't let him play with the other boys, retarding him somewhat. The lake was put on the farm after Jim Scott sold it.
The temperature was mild enough, but the air had a chill in it and a constant wind. Three guys from town we knew were on different banks fishing. Three geese swam together out in middle of the lake. Putting the boat in the water did not scare them off. They continued to swim and watched the boat as a curiosity. The wind on the water was cold. Justin threw the lure toward the bank letting it splash into the water like it jumped from the bank, then wiggles to the bottom and swims. He did not catch one fish. He said the water was too cold. I don't care anything about fishing. I go along with camera. First time I had camera in the boat, I went for landscape pictures, none of which was ever worth looking at. This time I sat and waited for It, whatever It may be. Sitting quietly in the boat, gazing all around, even the sky, nothing took hold of me. Suddenly, I saw the surface of the water like I'd never seen it before. It was familiar. Everything about it was familiar, but I was seeing it the first time. I found a zone five to ten feet from the boat where the water made changing patterns with light so fast the eye sees colors in motion. The camera stops the motion. I zoomed the camera down pretty close and pointed at the zone where the patterns were flowing and clicked. Could not see the viewing screen for the bright sky all around, so I'd point the camera at the zone I wanted and clicked. Most often had no idea what I was getting. Some were out of focus, some so blurry it was nothing, and some with sharp clarity. I made pictures of the lake's surface from distance and up close. Sunlight was dancing on the water in sparkles in certain places. The only one I aimed was the goose. Couldn't aim it but by landscape around it and zoom in from there.
Tapped into the zone close to the boat is a very different experience from gaping at the surface of the water. Out a little ways it turns into waves on water. In this zone five to ten feet from the boat I found continually changing abstract patterns that move so fast the eye cannot see the patterns the camera stopped. Following the patterns in swift change, I'd think of how fun it would be to stand in front of a painting by Clifford Still and watch the colors change patterns so fast the eye couldn't follow. Right away, the eye understands there is no keeping up, eye relaxes and I relax. It's like watching a fire, the changing shapes and images, a quickened flow of the clouds. My Swiss cheese memory is recalling that I believe it was Pablo Neruda said the bridge between matter and spirit is water. I can't affirm or deny it, but it's awfully poetic. I think about such ideas gaping at the water in a minor trance, a meditation, fixed on the rapidly changing flow of light reflecting on water. Every living thing grows by principles of water flow, water being the earth's blood. I stand in Spring Lizard Creek that runs beside my house and someone stands in a creek in southern China, we are standing in the same water. Maybe not the same molecules, but water everywhere on earth is connected. Our blood that runs through a vein in a finger is the same blood that keeps feet warm. Justin sat at one end of the boat and I at the other, almost never talking. Not keeping quiet for any reason but we just didn't feel like talking. He was working the fishing reel with what he had on his mind and I holding the camera taking pictures of reflections on the water with what I had on my mind. We don't talk a lot. Something I learned from country people and Justin learned from mother's milk, that presence is the same as conversation. Conversation is about enjoying the presence of the other. Talking does not always have to accompany presence.
My old friends, Tom Pruitt and Millard Pruitt, brothers, grew up in what ended as Tom's house, visible from the boat. They went to school and Regular Baptist revival meetings in my house. Both have been dead about twenty years. I went to Millard's church for fourteen years. He lived in another part of the county called Glade Valley. Tom and Millard were less than ten miles from each other and had not seen each other in a number of years neither one of them knew. I suggested I take Tom in his later years to visit Millard. He liked the idea. They sat in their chairs and never spoke for an hour. Tom stood up and said it was time to go. A year or so later, I took Millard to visit Tom. They sat in silence for an hour and Millard was ready to go. Both in their late 70s. Snow was on the ground, quite a lot of it, though the paved roads were clear and the gravel roads had the snow scraped off them, snow scraped off the ice on the bottom. Both roads up the mountain were terrible with ice. My 78 Toyota pickup had one-wheel drive in the rear. Not proficient on ice. But I knew what it could and could not do. I suggested I take him down the mountain on the old wagon road that ran the ridge parallel Waterfalls creek beside all three waterfalls. Couldn't see them from the road, but can hear them. I went down the bank once looking for how to get to the third waterfall from there. I tied a 50 foot rope to a tree and used it like a stair rail walking down it backwards, leaving rope in place for the return. It was steep and sheer rock under layers of old leaves. I knew the back road would be in good shape. It doesn't melt during the day and freeze at night. I knew it would still have the snow pack on it. I know the road from driving it a thousand times and walking it a hundred times. It's bad. But I've driven a new Cadillac and a new Honda down it, owner sitting beside me chewing a hole in the seat, and we never scraped bottom once. In snow the road looked like a luge track. Millard's eyes were big as Ping-Pong balls, and we never lost traction. At the top he didn't believe I could do it. At the bottom he didn't believe I did it. It was a smooth ride compared to the others. All it took was following its flow.