Forest for the Trees


Seeing the trees is not as easy as it sounds, at least not through the single monocular vision of the camera.

I love being in the deep broadleaved woods, but I don’t often bring back an image that helps others understand why. I guess you just have to be there–in your skin, with your associations of forests past, smelling humus and fog and the marvelous rot and riot of life. The trill of a wood thrush about here is always a nice addition, the camera misses it entirely.

Here’s a shot I was happy to have, just for me, that comes closer than some to take me back. Standing trail-side along a steep cove margin, the camera looks OUT into the tops of trees, most straight and tall, following the same cues of gravity and sun toward heaven.

Then, in the hazy-bright fog, the canopy grades nicely into shades of gray–not green–so that even the full color image shows green below and monochrome above. I’ll show you that soon.

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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. The forest has always been a difficult subject for me to photograph. Any one composition usually lacks a subject on which to focus and is chaotic. I think that’s what is best about being out there however. With all the diversity, chaos, and lack of focus in the forest, the mind is freed from trying to impose it’s own law and order. It just has to go with the flow.

  2. I think Fletch is on to something. I couldn’t say it better myself. I think the woods is one of my favorite nature locations, but getting a worthy photo is very difficult.

  3. I think the choice to go black&white on the forest shots during this week in fall a few years back was to help the eye find something to settle on. The monochrome simplifies that. And I wanted badly to convey the order in chaos of being immersed in the diversity and depth of branches, trunks and leaves. It is indeed difficult to capture.