Thursday, July 21, 2016

Not so Mellow Yellow in Maryland

Sunday was yet another day of blasting heat walloping me every time I stepped out of the door, the humidity so wet and heavy that I was soaked within minutes. I was meeting Emily and Richard late afternoon to photograph the River Road sunflowers at sunset. I wore jeans and boots to try and ward off those dratted mosquitoes and ensured I had the bug wipes ready. But even in the pub where we had dinner first, there were flies buzzing around; it was just going to be an evening of insect infestation...
After driving from field to field we finally settled on one that didn't have too many people in it, then set up tripods in readiness for those wonderful low light images that we were sure to capture. But even though I had fully prepared for the bugs, they still came. We were all dripping from the steamy humidity and my finger kept slipping off of the shutter button. I had wiped every surface of exposed skin with the bug wipes and my face was stinging from the Deet but because of the perspiration diluting my chemical skin defense those blighters still buzzed and bit, evidently relishing my group O blood that was now laced with beer. I was a veritable feast for those crafty critters and they found every tiny minuscule spot that I'd sadly neglected to wipe. The bite just above my left eyebrow, yes, well played, well played. I've been scratching and rubbing my arms and cheeks for days, carefully because on my face I don't want to break the skin.
So while standing in the middle of a field, sweating profusely and being intimidated by buzzing blighters, I found it extremely difficult to rustle up any mood of creativity, which was particularly annoying as I'd been looking forward to this shoot. So I pointed the camera around, and up and down, clicked a few times, waved my flashlight around in a futile attempt at light painting and swatted furiously. I really wasn't expecting any half decent results but had to admit as we walked back to the car, scratching and scraping my arms and neck, that we had once again managed to have a good time, interjecting the air with snippets of funny jibes and laughter in between the sound of palms clapping together as a pestiferous pest was gleefully crushed.
The following day I looked dejectedly at my images but with some heavy Photoshop processing I did manage to salvage a few. I didn't get any beautiful magentas, mango or peachy hues from the sunset, but I shall try harder at that next time, so now I have another reason to return. And next time I'll be in a Haztec suit.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Ferry Brewtiful Day in Scottsville, VA

On Saturday Rob and I headed down to Scottsville, VA, to see the Hatton Ferry, the last poled ferry in the United States. It was a sweltering hot day and I welcomed the opportunity of a car ride with cool AC rather than being outside for too long. We trundled along country lanes and I knew we were reaching our destination when we found ourselves behind a truck hauling two young girls and their tubes. Not a scene you see anymore with today's health and safety officials haranguing every activity. The joy of living in rural America where around so many corners you see folks living as they want, and not as they're told to.
Hatton Ferry came very close to closing down in 2009 due to claims from VDOT that they couldn't afford to fund the ferry because of budget cuts. It's now owned by the Albermarle Charlottesville Historical Society, which established the Hatton Ferry non-profit corporation to take it over. The ferry is about 5 miles from downtown Scotsville, crossing the James River from 9:00am to 5:00pm on Saturdays and Noon - 5:00pm on Sundays, as long as the river height allows it, from mid April through October.
 There's a little visitor center above the ramp with a pretty view looking down on to the ferry over clumps of wild flowers. There were plenty of young folk in the river, most of them bobbing by in tubes, slowly, since the river isn't very deep. We stepped out of the cool car straight into a wall of humidity, the dense heat was a little overwhelming after the comfort of the AC but we weren't able to dwell on our discomfort as almost immediately we were approached by a friendly man asking us if we wanted to ride on the ferry.
His name is Captain Craig, a naval veteran who told us he used to be a cook on a submarine and now he's the captain of a ferry. For the rest of our time here he was an absolute gem, a walking information booth loaded with so many useful and interesting facts about the ferry that I had a hard time trying to take in even half of it. And I often forgot to take notes as he had such an absorbing way of sharing his knowledge that it was like we were listening to a storyteller.
Rob and I were the only passengers on this trip and without hanging around Capt Craig starting winching out the cable so the end of the ferry would swing out and then have the river current assist it to the bank on the other side, 700ft away.
This is the winch, used to haul in the cable or ease it out depending on what angle the ferry needs to be at for the river current to catch it and help it across. The cable is attached by 200lb pulleys to both ends of the ferry and then to each bank. As far as Capt Craig is aware, it's never needed to be replaced since Hurricane Agnes in1972 when he said the ferry was pushed upstream by the intense winds and current. The height that the river rose to is shown at the top of the marker that stands outside the visitor center, 36.51ft!
A quick pose in the middle of the river with the small rapids behind us upriver. And then we had to start preparing to stop the ferry and return. We didn't want to go all the way over as an ominous cloud of biting flies were there, hungrily awaiting us, and we were cowards, so it was all systems go to winch the cable again to get us going back in the opposite direction, with the pole ready for action if needed.
The water had dropped about 5" today but we still couldn't see the rock 'marker' that juts out from the surface when the river at that point is down to 4 ft deep. There are a couple of spots where the currents needs some manual help so I was handed one of the 14ft poles, which weighed a ton, and I gave it my best shot at thrusting us over the water. And failed miserably. But at least the boys made the photo look authentic!
And Captain Craig showing us how it's done properly.
A steering wheel from an International tractor has a new lease of life on the ferry!
This ferry was brought up by rail from the Surry Shipyard,VA, in 1985, this time made from metal whereas the previous ferries had been wooden. I loved the weathered old boards on the ramps at each end and the huge chain that secures the ferry .The ramp into the river is the original ramp used since the beginning of service.
Captain Craig handed us a postcard showing an image of the ferry about 1910. It really doesn't look that different today.
 This image is from the visitor center of the new ferry's dedication ceremony in 1973. It was attended by Richard Thomas  who played John-Boy in The Waltons as well as Doris Hammer, the mother of the series creator, Earl Hammer, Jr.
200 years ago there were more than a thousand poled ferries that carried people across rivers throughout this country, but today the Hatton Ferry is the very last. It's reassuring and warming to know that's it's in such good hands and so obviously treasured. We hugged and shook hands with Captain Craig, promising to return next month, when we'll be down for another ride on the ferry, this time with a motorbike. So we'll have helmets to protect us against those biting flies!
Another link with more information and history is here.
I also found a YouTube video from 2011.
Driving back down into town I spotted a really cool house name, where evidently some very spoiled felines dwell, and then we saw a scary hand drawn poster attached to a front door, with 'Welcome' above it! It reminded me of the nursery rhyme," Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly..." So funny!
There was a more welcoming sight on Valley St in town, The James River Brewing Co., which of course simply could not be passed by. Another couple of 'out-of-towners' were sitting at the bar and then shortly we were joined by a very friendly lady who advised us well on the selection of hummus and beers.
She turned out to be the Mayor of Scotsville, Nancy E. Gill. We couldn't have timed our visit better. We spent the next hour in tremendously welcoming company, sharing a lot of laughs and enjoying the mighty fine beer. Rob and I sang the praises of Captain Craig which resulted in the brewery owner saying she would name a beer after him in the near future! I was very reluctant to leave this small town, its friendliness and charm drew me in, and I was glad that we'd be back soon.
We headed back to Rob's house and interrupted the peace of Miss Marbles who promptly fled as I walked through the door.
She did pose briefly for a couple of portraits but only with plenty of bartering, in the form of treats.
I'd brought down a shotgun to try out so we trudged outside and set up a water bottle target.
I was hopeless. I'm blaming it on the heat for sapping my strength as I hit it first time with Rob's much lighter 22. Of course Rob hit it too and within 10 minutes we were back indoors, escaping from the wilting temperature. I could barely hold up the barrel and my enthusiasm had dried up faster than the perspiration on a penguin but Rob did get a great 'down the barrel' portrait shot for me. Wish I had the nerve to post it on Facebook. I'm praying these temperatures won't be this high for our motorcycle ride next month or Captain Craig will need to fix a diving board for us on that ferry so we can cool off!

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Mystery of Mt Zion is Solved

For over 5 years I have trundled back and forth along Rte 50 and passed a small building near Aldie, VA, with a sign out the front, Mt Zion Historic Park, home of the Old School Baptist Church. I've seen the occasional school bus park up there and also spotted a police car hiding behind the dense foliage, but this morning I decided to stop myself. It was about 6:15am on my way to work and the sun was just peaking over the horizon, bathing everything in a warm yellow light, a time known as The Golden Hour by photographers. I stepped out of the car and immediately put the sound of the constant traffic to the back of my mind and immersed myself in the history and presence of this hallowed place.
The church was built in 1851 and the first interment in the cemetery behind it was in the following year. Being on high ground and at the junction of two roads, it became a hub during the Civil War for 4 years from 1861, used as a hospital, barracks, prison and as a rendezvous. There are boards placed outside explaining the battle that took place, starting in the afternoon of July 6, 1864 between Mosby and Major Forbes, and resulting with Forbes being trapped under his horse and captured with his men. The battle must have made an impact on the two men as their families began a friendship that spanned more than 30 years.
 The church has been beautifully restored. I walked all around, noticing the clean bricks and the stone foundations visible along the base. The church closed in 1980 and was unused until its restoration in 2007 and 2008. It's now open to the public on the fourth Sunday of the month, except winter months, whichever those might be...
I walked through to the cemetery, passing a commemoration marker that has caused some controversy since it was placed here, click here.
I did look up on Google to see what Wayd's sketches were like and was impressed. Some are here.
 There are over 300 graves here and the cemetery is still in use today. A veteran from the 1812 War, Robert Coe, is buried here, 13 confederate soldiers, and in a corner are 12 markers honoring Union soldiers, all from the 1964 battle that took place here on July 6.
I came across a list of the transcripts here. but I couldn't find little Annie J. Cockbill, who was tucked under the tree root.
 What I thought was an engraving on the back of a stone caught my eye until I looked closer and discovered it to be a huge cicada. He had only recently emerged from his cocoon, which is still attached to the side of the stone. I got down on the ground for a few minutes, careful not to frighten him, and marveled at this amazing creature, who's been underground for years. What a beautiful morning he'd chosen to surface into his new world.
 There are also about 60 graves outside the cemetery wall which are believed to be African American, some possibly slaves. It really saddens me that these are left outside the cemetery. I wish somehow a holy man could bless this ground or a small wall could be built around these markers, some of which are now just broken pieces of stone.
I managed to peer through the windows of the church which reminded me of an old schoolhouse inside.The church can be rented for weddings, funerals or baptisms.
There's a two minute video here with a brief history of the grounds.
I also discovered this link with some really interesting information about the church and the Baptists. Apparently there's a dinosaur imprint in the cemetery wall, and baptisms were carried out in the nearby Aldie Mill pond as a full immersion was required.
After an hour of exploring I had to think about getting to work, but I was really reluctant to leave. So many commuters whizz past here on a daily basis and they have no idea of the interest and history that this little corner of land holds. I'm glad to say that I'm no longer one of them.