Black, White, and Shades of Gray

The world is not black and white.  Or so we tell ourselves.  If, of course, we were not endowed with whatever particular function of our brain tells us we see colors, the world would be black and white indeed.

Today I decided to conduct an experiment in black-and-white.  I re-processed a series of color images without the color.

It’s interesting we refer to it as black-and-white.  While I suppose in the purest sense, only black ink is used on white to create the shades of gray that lurk between pure black and pure white.

I like the metaphor.  Even when we have only black and white to work with, we still end up with shades of gray.  I am convinced that the essence of life comes in shades of gray.  It’s the shadows created by what we believe to be absolute truths that hold the real truth.

And that real truth is a paradox:  there is no real truth.

Someone recently asked me what a RAW image file looks like.  We cannot view the true RAW file as an image.  We can only view the subset of the RAW file indicated by the camera settings recorded along with the rest of the data or the version we create when we change those settings in software.

This is because the file contains the data for many possibilities and we have to choose which possibilities we want rendered into an actual image in order to view it.  The truth of the file is greater than what we are able to perceive at any given point in time.  I think this is exactly how all truth works.

Take, for example, the old story of the 3 blind men, each touching a different part of an elephant.  Each accurately describes the part they are touching, but each describes an elephant completely differently.  Each is correct, yet they are also wrong.

Today, we have more data available with less effort than anyone imagined possible just a few decades ago.  But we can only extract a small set of information based on our personal settings.  Our internal filters tell us what to notice, what to agree with and what to reject.  Ultimately, we come away mostly with what is consistent with everything we already believe or want to believe.

This is like using the camera settings to decide how to render an image.  It’s automatic and easy.  Peeking into the shadows and looking at what other possibilities we might be missing takes energy and intention.

What fascinates me is that even when I know I am uninformed, under-informed, misinformed, I rarely fail to form an opinion–usually a passionate one.  And I am not alone.  Without this human tendency, we would have nothing to argue about–we would all be too busy realizing we can never know who is really right.

Is it possible to decide what we think is best without believing we are right?

Craven Birds

A singing Eastern Towhee may not be the most unusual sight in Tennessee, but this was the best picture I got of the day

A singing Eastern Towhee may not be the most unusual sight in Tennessee, but this was the best picture I got of the day

Today was a big birding day.  I got out birding with some really expert birders.  We met at Cravens House on Lookout Mountain.  When we arrived, I was surprised to discover that the gate to the main parking lot was still locked.  I’ve never been to Cravens House when the gate was locked, but then I don’t think I’ve ever been there at 9AM on a Sunday morning, either.

Not the usual sighting on a bird walk, but seeing the include railway train pass over the trail was kind of fun

Not the usual sighting on a bird walk, but seeing the include railway train pass over the trail was kind of fun

Pat and Tisen drove up with me in case no birders showed.  Normally, we don’t take dogs birding.  It’s just not the best mix.  Even though Tisen is not a big bird chaser, a lot of birds key off the shape of a canine and go into hiding.  I know this is particularly true of water fowl like geese.  I haven’t really witnessed this with song birds, but since I’ve never known anyone to bring a dog on a bird walk, I don’t know that I would have noticed.  The birds at Renaissance Park are so used to seeing dogs, I don’t think they’re a good test case.

Our plan was to go for a hike if no one showed and for Pat and Tisen to hike a different direction if others did show.  As it turned out, Pat and Tisen took their own hike.

A large variety of Trillium whose name I don't recall

A large variety of Trillium whose name I don’t recall

One birder joined us who moved to Chattanooga fairly recently.  He and his wife and children moved here from Seattle.  He was so excited to get to go birding.  He mentioned that since moving to Chattanooga he’d been a stay-at-home-dad.  I think that explained his enthusiasm for getting out and doing something with adults.  He was fun to bird with–he had lots of great birding stories from parts of the world like Australia.

We walked for 3 hours and saw about 34 bird species.  We might have seen more had we started out on a different trail, but I didn’t know the trail we ended up on was even up there until Clyde mentioned it.  Clyde is one of Chattanooga’s best birders.  I love it when he comes to bird walks–I’ve never birded with anyone who can bird like him.  He seems to hear or see a bird with every breath.  It’s really amazing.

One of the more exciting sightings of the day--the Hooded Warbler

One of the more exciting sightings of the day–the Hooded Warbler

In any case, the Carolina Wrens and Northern Cardinals were singing so loudly that we joked we wished we had a volume control for them.  Carolina Wrens are one of those birds I never tire of.  Although they are so common it’s not particularly exciting to see them, their fussy little personalities and extraordinarily loud voices continue to amuse me.  On the occasions when I get to see them sing, I am always impressed by the effort.  Their entire body seems to throw itself into the production of sound.  It’s no wonder they produce a sound that seems at least a magnitude larger than their tiny bodies.

Another favorite that turned up--an American Redstart

Another favorite that turned up–an American Redstart

But today, no wrens were willing to pose for me.  The best I managed to capture was a singing Towhee.

The Easy Way to Point Park

View from canon in Point Park

View from canon in Point Park

My plan was to walk from Cravens House to Sunset Rock to Point Park and then back to Craven’s house.  This would be more like a loop vs just an out and back.  Since both Sunset Rock and Point Park are 1 1/2 miles from Cravens House, the math in my head indicated we’d be walking 3 miles regardless of whether we did the loop or the out and back.

I forgot about the part between Sunset Rock and Point Park.  Turns out that’s something like an extra mile.  While I wouldn’t have minded the extra mile, the rest of the crowd turned against me.  Pat completely over-ruled any consideration of walking to Point Park.

Making our way back down the trail

Making our way back down the trail

When we got to the point in the trail where we had to pick between walking back towards Cravens House or up to Point Park, Pat asked if we were going to Point Park.  We were all surprised.  Then, he clarified that he was asking if we wanted to drive up to Point Park after we got back to Craven’s House, not if we wanted to walk to Point Park.

Oh well.

On the way back to Craven’s House, the trail did a switch-back near the top of the cliff and then passed below Sunset Rock.  When we were at the top, we passed a group of young adults who had hung camping hammocks between some trees that hung over the edge of the cliff.

Two hammocks visible from the trail below the cliff

Two hammocks visible from the trail below the cliff

We took some photos for them with their iPhones as we went by.  I attempted to get a shot for me as well, but I had one of my typical moments where I believed I had my camera set on aperture priority and didn’t worry about checking the exposure.  Several minutes later, when we were well down the trail, I took a peak and discovered my shot was a giant black rectangle.

When we passed underneath, I managed to get a shot of the two visible hammocks from below.  It looked a lot scarier when we were looking down from the top.  All I could think to myself was, “I don’t care how strong those hammocks are, how can they know the trees will hold?”  After all, the trees were right on the side of the cliff with very little place to grip with their roots.  I had visions of them toppling over and dragging the hammocks with the young campers with them.

Tisen making sure I'm coming along

Tisen making sure I’m coming along

For the record, we have seen nothing on the news about any hikers who fell from Sunset Rock, so I think they were OK.

We made it back down the trail, past the square tree branch, off the cliff, and back to Cravens House.

While we did make it up to Point Park (via automobile), we made only a quick jaunt around the asphalt path and skipped the off-road trail out to the point.  I felt like we short-changed my brother and sister-in-law, but they plan to come back.

My brother and sister-in-law posing being the wheel of a canon at Point Park

My brother and sister-in-law posing being the wheel of a canon at Point Park

Got Cravens?

One end of Cravens House with a leafless tree against background clouds

One end of Cravens House with a leafless tree against background clouds–can you spot Pat and Tisen?

After our little adventure at the Nature Center (yesterday’s post), we drove up Lookout Mountain a couple of miles to Cravens House, part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

Cravens House is not spectacular from an architectural perspective, but the history of the place, the view, and the fact that it’s a trailhead for many great trails more than make up for the lack of creative design.

We thought it would be a good destination to walk around with Tisen for a half hour or so, expecting to walk through the woods until we tired and then turn around and come back.  We were not dressed for serious hiking.  I had on my typical casual outfit, including a winter coat perfect for going to a casual dinner.  The exception was my hiking boots and rolled up jeans–just in case there was mud.  Pat also was dressed in his casual gear meaning a T-shirt, sweatshirt, and corduroy jacket that isn’t exactly warm.

This is only one of many monuments commemorating units who fought in the civil war, many of them from the Union

This is only one of many monuments commemorating units who fought in the civil war, many of them from the Union

When we got out of the car, the wind blasted us, immediately making it feel 15 degrees colder than lower down the mountain.  Snow flurries started falling from the gray, gray sky.  Tisen gave us a look when he hopped out of the van that seemed to say, “Really?  We drove all the way up here for this?”

We made our way across the wind-blasted lawn, the only ones out and about at this elevation.  We made a circular lap past Cravens House, then past the giant monument in the lawn and over to an odd looking half-modern, half-historical log cabin.  We paused behind the cabin, seeking shelter from the wind while Tisen sniffed.

The more historic looking end of the log cabin with a pine tree blending into the chimney

The more historic looking end of the log cabin

Tisen has a funny habit.  Well, he has many funny habits.  One of them is quite funny to watch, but has been very challenging to catch on camera.  He backs up to a bush, hunches up his back like he needs to heed the call of nature, and then sways his rear end back and forth under the tree branches, giving himself a good scratch.  He decided the shrubs behind the cabin represented the perfect opportunity for a good scratch.

A little more of Cravens House with a more visible Pat and Tisen

A little more of Cravens House with a more visible Pat and Tisen

This was about the time a car pulled into the parking lot and a man and a dog got out of it.  They’d come for a game of fetch.  The man was even less prepared for the cold than we were–he had no jacket at all.

The man didn’t see us until his dog came running over.  He apologized profusely, but the dogs greeted each other with proper dog etiquette and hit it off.  We asked if it was OK to let Tisen off his leash and soon, the dogs were chasing each other around the yard.  It made me sad that we don’t have a yard for Tisen to run around in.  He got the most exercise of all of us and completely stopped noticing the cold.

A less happy Tisen won't hold still for a picture when we took him for a post-romp bath

A less happy Tisen won’t hold still for a picture when we took him for a post-romp bath

Bluff Trail

Having made it to Sunset Rock, instead of going back the way we came, we looked for the more popular trail back to Craven’s House, Bluff Trail.  However, the map was a bit confusing as to whether we had to go back down the trail we’d come up to get to Bluff Trail or if it was at the same elevation as Sunset Rock.

There was a trail leading in the correct direction from Sunset Rock, so we decided it must be the trail we were looking for and headed on a treacherous route along the cliff.  It ended about 100 yards beyond Sunset Rock and we were forced to double back.  When we returned to Sunset Rock, a man with a young daughter was there.  There were two choices:  go up or go down.  I decided to ask the man which direction they’d come from.  They’d come down the trail we were eye-balling.  Turns out, we could have gotten to Sunset Rock by driving o the top of the staircase and walking about 1500 feet.  We walked over 2 miles to get to the same place that the man and his daughter had walked about 500 yards to.  It’s almost depressing, but we really enjoyed the walk.

In any case, we deduced that back down was our only option.  We climbed the “stairs” back down to another junction and then headed parallel to the bluff.  We were treated to occasional glimpse between the trees of a view of the valley.

Tisen liked this trail a lot.  He came into his own trotting along, right next to a cliff.  I was more worried than he was. Any time I started to freak out that he might fall over the edge, I’d call him and he’d look up at me with an expression that clearly said, “you’re not good at math.”  Maybe he’s right–he never did slip over the edge.

The rock formations on Lookout Mountain are pretty amazing.  Giant Rocks have fallen into unexpected places, decorating the landscape in places where it seems they must have been air-lifted in by helicopter.

The rock formations are a  beautiful.  They are sandstone, with intense layers that create interesting caves or have splits and vines and/or moss, all depending on where you see these giant reminders of a time long gone.

I don’t know what exactly is so attractive about these giant boulders.  Perhaps it’s because where each one appears, it’s as if time has stood still for centuries.

Tisen was less impressed with formations and more concerned about ensuring he had a way out.

Perhaps this is why Tisen had a magical ability to always end up in my frame?  His obsession with being in front led him to pass me whenever I stopped to shoot.  I’m not sure what was driving him to always be in front, but he ended up walking into my frame almost every time I stopped to get a shot.

Sunset Rock

Lookout Mountain is both a backdrop and a center piece for Chattanooga.  It’s full of tourist destinations and local favorites; quiet neighborhoods and busy streets; civil war history and quiet countryside.  It offers fantastic views and shaded woods.  It all just depends on where on Lookout Mountain you go.

This past weekend, when we were trying to decide where we wanted to hike, my husband’s criteria was that he wanted to spend less than an hour driving round-trip and he didn’t want to hike more than 5 miles.  My criteria was that I wanted there to be a view and I wanted the trail to be doable in my fivefingers shoes.  Lookout Mountain was our perfect compromise.

We’ve gone up to Point Park on Lookout Mountain many times.  We’ve walked the paved trail down to the overlook at the point.  And, off in the distance, we noticed people sitting on Sunset Rock.  Today was our day to sit on Sunset Rock.

We decided to start at Craven’s House.  There are several trails from Craven’s House that can get you to Sunset Rock.  We chose the longest route.  Even so, it was not much more than 2 miles to Sunset Rock.

We took a trail called Rifle Pits Trail.  I’m sure there is an explanation for why it’s called “Rifle Pits,” but all I could think about was rifles spewing out shells and leaving behind the casings like I might spit out the pits from Kalamata olives.  We did not see a single shell casing, however.

This trail was partially an old road, which made for easy walking.  However, when we got to the Gum Spring Trail juncture, we turned and started climbing a lot of steps.  While it wasn’t so difficult as to be daunting, we were a little worried about Tisen.  These were mostly large stones positioned to form stairs, not actual stairs.  But every time I stopped to check on Tisen, he would run into the backs of my legs, he was so tight on my heels.

I made it up the steep section in 1 piece–it’s a miracle I didn’t trip over Tisen and fall off the cliff.  And the view from Sunset Rock was spectacular.  Unfortunately, it was, as usual, the wrong time of day to be shooting, but I did what I could.

Speaking of shooting, does anyone know how to train a dog not to walk into the frame when you stop to take a picture?  I had to trash about 50 images because of a Holstein-like blur running through them.  While we’re talking about unexpected visitors in the camera frame, let’s talk about my husband.  I think we’ve reached a point in our photographer/non-photographer relationship where he’s tired of assisting.  I didn’t bring my tripod or any extra lenses (for once), which meant he didn’t feel obligated to carry anything for me.  But, he still felt obligated to walk through my frame.  What do you suppose that means?