Fancy Frustrating Ferns

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“God made ferns to show what he could do with a leaf” said Thoreau.

And I’m convinced God also designed them so that no one could ever do them justice by means of a photograph. You have to be there, close to the earth, sitting on a fallen log at the edge of the wet meadow, to full appreciate them.

Early on as they first emerge and uncoil in their singular fiddlehead fashion, they hide among the jumble of leaf litter and fallen branches from spring’s last ice storm, camouflaged among the distracting flotsam of the forest floor. You’ll not likely find that one composition in all the forest where two or three tiny fiddleheads of Christmas Fern stand in the same plane, illumined against a black backdrop of shadow.

Later on, the Royal Fern and Cinnamon Ferns will shoot up in a matter of days to a ridiculous ratio of height to width so that you see them whole only from fifteen feet away or more, and lose all their divinely-inspired fanciness of detail. They are creatures you have to see complete and in place to imbibe their intricate beauties.

But I’m going to keep trying with my lens. So expect more less-than-heavenly fern pix in the next two weeks–if I’m not embarrassed to show you–and maybe if the gods smile, I’ll finally get a fern portrait I’m happy with.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. This one would be fine for biology class. But there’s a grace, a form, an artfulness to ferns that is far more difficult to capture.

    I can’t say exactly what I want, but will now it when/if I capture it!

  2. i think it’s a great capture, too. they look like coiled caterpillars standing on their hind legs. 🙂

  3. Down here in my neck of the woods we seldom see this sight. Our ferns are uncurling under the still green fronds from last year…