Jumping Into Fall

Ahh . . .fall.  Every year I am surprised to discover summer truly is over.  More so since moving to Chattanooga where the temperatures stay summer-like longer and then catch you off guard with sudden dips that remind you you’re no longer used to temperatures in the 30‘s.

I laughed at myself the other day when 26 degree weather in the early morning caused me to put on both a down sweater and a mid-thigh down jacket over it.  I couldn’t help thinking back to Ohio where I once rode my bike 13 miles to work in pitch darkness when it was 19 degrees.  I have been southern-fied.  I suppose that is better than southern-fried!

Having discovered my new sensitivity to cold, I realized I was pre-maturely cocooning this fall.  I liken the feeling of cocooning to the feeling of dread I get right before jumping into a cold swimming pool.  There’s that pause, that moment of hesitation when I ask myself “is it really worth it?”  The colder the weather, the shorter the days, the harder it is to get out and get into the water.

Today, I reminded myself that every time I’ve ever jumped in a pool, I was always glad I did.  Much like I remind myself every Friday morning when the alarm goes off at 5:15 that as much as I want to roll back over, I’ve never once regretted going to yoga class once I’ve gotten myself there.

It was this reminder that caused me to say to Pat, “Let’s go hiking” today.  We headed over to Raccoon Mountain, a combination Tennessee Valley Authority power station and recreational area.  It sounds like a strange combination, but the pump station makes a scenic lake and the surrounding woods provide miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

I was surprised to realize we had almost missed the fall color.  The top story of trees were all but bare.  Fortunately, the understory was still going strong.  With temps back into the 60’s, we didn’t mind the tiny sprinkling of rain and the foggy, overcast skies.  In fact, the leaves seemed only more brilliant against the drab backdrop.

Tisen romped along with us, charging down the trail to catch up whenever we got ahead of him.  His wagging tail and high spirits did my heart as much good as the woods.  His recent improvement with his allergies and skin issues has made all of us wag more.  (Of course, Tisen is the only one who doesn’t look insane doing it.)  This was the first time he’s been able to run free since he started feeling better.  He’s snoozing soundly by my side now–I think he wore himself out.

As did I–the fatigue of a little physical effort reminds me how little movement I’ve gotten in the past several months.  It feels so good to get out and move!  I don’t know how I’ve lived so long without it!

Fall Impressions

With no yard, no rake, and no worries, I was feeling a little detached from the experience of fall.  But a long walk up to Stringer’s Ridge, currently peaking in color, got me back to a childhood full of crunching through leaves.

As Tisen and I made our way up to the ridge, I looked up and there was an oak tree shaking its top like my grandmother shaking out a rug.  It looked like it was trying to shake its loose leaves free like a dog shaking water out of its fur.

By the time I was ready to shoot, it stopped.  I stood still and waited.  I could hear the wind, I figured it would start again.  I just had to be patient.  Tisen pulled at the lead, catching a new smell just out of reach.  I took a step forward to give him something to do and then stood still again, waiting.

We were still at the edge of urban neighborhood and nature preserve, standing in the middle of a residential street.  I had to step to one side when I realized a car was barreling down the hill.  We walked a little ways further and I stopped again, Tisen stopping and giving me a puzzled look as I once more turned my eyes to the tree top.

Eventually, I turned and shot some brilliant leaves across the street until I realized there was a car stopped, waiting for me to finish so it didn’t drive through my shot.  I smiled and waved and turned back to my tree.  It was starting to wear me out.  I checked my watch and realized I couldn’t afford to stand there waiting much longer; we were going to run out of time for our walk.  I sighed and off we went with no shots of the swirling cloud of leaves.

Somewhere between that uncooperative tree and the start of the Stringer’s Ridge trail, I thought of trying to pan with a falling leaf.  I don’t know exactly what made me think about trying it, but I sure did amuse myself in the process.  It’s not easy to pan in general.  You have to start the motion of the camera so you’re smoothly following the thing in motion, then press the shutter while you continue to smoothly pan.  This is more difficult than it sounds.

A falling leaf is not predictable.  It gets picked up, shot off course, and suddenly picks up speed when the edge starts slicing through the air.

I didn’t think a single one of my panning shots turned out when I was standing there reviewing my shots.  But when I looked at them on the computer, I was actually quite pleased.  These are minimally processed, although in some cases I brushed in adjustments to the single leaf I was panning with to make it more noticeable.

I am beginning to see a wall covered with images of falling objects in my future.

Foggy Moments

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

–Carl Sandberg, 1878

Fog whispers secrets in barely audible hisses

Hinting of terror shrouded in its mist.

I watch as it crawls and creeps

Rises and disappears

Revealing nothing.

I love fog.  Now that the weather has been cool long enough, the water temperature has dropped.  This results in a giant, natural fog machine running through downtown.

At sunrise, if I happen to be down at the river at the right time, I love to watch the tiny wisps of fog swirling off the water’s surface, rising and joining the large cloud of fog above.  It’s so fascinating to watch the formation of a cloud that I may have to figure out how to make a video of it.

Eventually, a large cloud forms over the river, with strands of fog still connecting it to the river like a balloon vendor at a carnival with an endless collection of monochromatic balloons.  From up high, the fog looks so thick you wouldn’t be able to see your own hand in front of your face.  But when you’re actually down on the ground, the fog just looks more like an low-lying cloud.

On this particular morning a day or two ago, I had been meaning to go up on the roof to try to shoot some of the fall colors at sunrise.  When I saw the fog, I figured it would be a good morning to go shoot.  I shot from 3 corners of the roof.

I’m still trying to figure out how to shoot Stringer’s ridge well.  There’s a lot of crap between our building and the ridge that I can’t quite figure out what to do with.  I also seem to end up with more sky than I want in the frame.  I’m talking myself into shooting it with my 70-200mm so I can get in much tighter.  I’ll have to try that before the leaves fall.

I’m amazed how long the leaves are lasting down here.  They just keep getting brighter and brighter in color (still not as bright as midwestern color, but getting pretty close).  I keep thinking one morning I will wake up and all the leaves will be gone.

Of course, I couldn’t stay on the Stringer’s Ridge side of the roof for long.  Switching back to the opposite side of the roof, I tried to get an angle on the smoke monster crawling up the river.  It almost looked like it had a head on the other side of the smoke coming out of the chimney.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great angle.

As I watched the fog shift, the BlueCross/BlueShield building peeked through a sudden window that appears in the fog.  It looked like it had been hung in the sky and was floating on a cloud.

It was a lovely morning.

Fall Color

Wanderlust is a chronic illness for which there is no known cure.  Treatments range from acceptance and indulgence to denial and deprivation.  Every once in a while, a little indulgence really pays.  Especially in the fall.

If there is one thing I miss about the midwest, it’s the intense colors of the fall leaves.  But, a road trip through Northern Tennessee and Kentucky provided a fantastic surprise.  The leaves are amazing here in the South this year.  There was one major drawback, however:  I didn’t get to take any pictures.

The images in the gallery were taken several years ago in Columbus, Ohio.  One of the big problems about wanting to take photos of leaves in Columbus is that it’s really flat.  It makes it difficult to find a perspective that really shows off the leaves.  It hadn’t occurred to before why everyone goes to Vermont for fall color viewing.  Not only does it have more hardwood trees that provide the intense colors we see in the midwest only multiplied, but it also provides lovely mountains completely covered in these brilliant leaves.  Until I drove through the Southern version of Vermont today, it had never occurred to me what a difference mountains make, and, specifically, mountains in the East, in how spectacular the color looks.  You don’t get that in the Rockies.

I really wanted to pull off the highway, get out my camera and start shooting.  I was worried about two things however.  First, I was really tired and I wanted to make it back home before I started falling asleep at the wheel.  Second, I’m pretty sure the shoulder of a freeway is for emergencies only.  Would the highway patrol accept perfect lighting hitting brilliantly colored leaves as an emergency condition?  If there would have been an exit with an obvious route to the same view I had from the freeway, I definitely would have pulled over when beams of sunlight burst through dark clouds and highlighted some of the trees on the hillside.  Or, when the sun was setting and the light was hitting the tops of the mountains while thick cloud cover above provided the perfect contrast from above.

I started plotting whether I could find time to take another drive on Sunday.  But, the sun went down and left me guessing as to how colorful the leaves were as I got closer to home.  I was still two hours away when the light faded.

Tisen curled up on the passenger seat and took no notice of the leaves.  Maybe it’s true that dogs only see in black and white.


One of the hazards of having a 2TB hard drive is the immediate accessibility of old photos.  There is something about fall that causes me to review.  With 9 years of photos on my hard drive, this can be quite a journey.

Along with review comes a sense of nostalgia.  As much as I appreciate my new life in Chattanooga, there are things I miss about my old life in Columbus, Ohio.

I try not to think about how much I miss my friends.  Although I have made a dozen or so friends in Chattanooga now and I would miss them, too, I don’t find that friends are replaceable or interchangeable.  Each is a unique relationship and each relationship is something I value.

I don’t need old photos to remind me how much I miss my friends.  What the photos do remind me of is there are other aspects of my old life that I miss as well.  Being within an easy 1/2 day’s drive of family is a big one.  Going from a 3 hour drive to a 7 and 10 hour drive is a big difference in how frequently we see family.

But there are small things I miss as well.  For example, I miss my gallery wall from our former living room.  Given that we somehow lost the prints on that wall in one of the two moves after selling the house, I miss the art as much as the wall to display it on.  It was one of those little pleasures I enjoyed everyday.

I also miss playing in the snow.  Although, I guess I would have missed that had we still been in Columbus this past winter given it was unusually warm.

Perhaps a bigger gap for me is the feeling of being part of the community.  Although I’ve found volunteer gigs I enjoy here in Chattanooga, it’s a little less immediate than being part of a neighborhood group that invests time and energy in improving the street we live on.

Along with changes that came from changing states, I also miss some of the things we left behind when we sold our house.  Like the raccoons on our deck that would eat peanuts left out for the birds.  Or being able to look out the windows and be eye-to-eye with birds ranging from Red-shouldered Hawks to Scarlet Tanagers to even occasional warblers.

I guess I am really missing living in a wooded ravine that not only brought the birds up close to our windows, but also allowed for a woodland garden, intense fall colors along our street, and a hummingbird nest above the deck in the summer time.

But even as I miss these things, I am also relieved.  After all, as much as I enjoyed life in the ravine and life in the house and community there, giving up those things has created an uncertain future that brings with it a sense of endless possibility.