A few weeks ago I visited New Lake in Hyde County North Carolina with the Carolina Vegetation Survey. We were looking for natural lake shore vegetation, a type of natural community that grows along these shallow bay lakes. No one in our group had been to this lake before so we hoped the community was in good condition. I had seen natural lake shore vegetation at other lakes and they can be quite lovely, large cypress trees marching out into a shallow lake with grasses swaying in the waves. We were disappointed to discover that the cypress trees had been cut long ago. Weathered stumps marked the places where ancient trees once stood. A new forest of young cypress now lined the lake shore.
If I had been alone I might have turned around and gone somewhere else, but the team I was with decided the rest of the vegetation was in good enough condition to sample so we decided to stay the rest of the day.
The trees I had hoped for were gone and the light was too harsh for landscapes. After a few minutes of dreary thoughts that were not producing photographs I decided I should see what sort of macro subjects I could find. It did not take long to discover tiny sundew plants growing in the shade of the young cypress trees.
One advantage of young trees is the foliage is easy to reach. These trees were mostly pond-cypress, very similar to the better known bald-cypress but the foliage is more like a rope than a feather and it points up from the stem rather than out.
After making the pond-cypress foliage photo I was out of ideas so I decided to sit quietly and observe until an idea was revealed to me. There was just one problem, there was no where to sit. The ground went from damp to soggy to shallow lake. The only dry place I could see to sit was the old cypress stumps along the lake shore. Most were weathered into very uncomfortable shapes, but after searching I found one with a very nice dry top that fit my bottom quite nicely.
My photography process has a lot in common with meditation. I sit quietly without thinking and just let the images I see wash over me. I try not to judge or think, I simply observe. After a time an idea for a photograph is usually revealed, provided I can remain open enough to see it.
After sitting there for a time I realized the images of all the stumps I had searched while looking for a place to sit were running through my mind. When I first arrived at the lake I looked at them in a negative way, they represented the loss of something great that once existed. But now I was seeing them without judgment, just the physical objects detached from their meaning. Each was different, weathered, and spectacular in its own way. The Universe had spoken, I needed to photograph the weathered cypress stumps!