Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Florida: Soundscapes, Cellphones and Misunderstood Silence
“Silence is the think tank of the soul.”
Water moccasin. Its name sounds like assassin. A snake to fear.
Yet this one was not moving. Curled on a stump next to the boardwalk, under a canopy of cypress, oak and pine, the serpent's stillness was a mystery. Perhaps it was shedding, sloughing its skin. One thing was clear: this silent snake was not a threat. It was quiet, and was surrounded by the consonant soundscape of the Six Mile Cypress Slough.
A slough is a place of soft, muddy ground. This one has a boardwalk over the swamp that winds through the forest. A red-bellied woodpecker, upside down, drills into a tree: Chirrr (pause)... chirrr (pause, pause, pause)... chirrrrr. As it calls, the bird's tail vibrates. Its beak moves so fast while pecking, 7 meters per second against the wood, that its head accelerates to 1,000 G's. To grasp this force and speed, a comparison helps: a dragster going from 0 to 100 in under a second only accelerates about 6 G's. The slough's canopy shelters many birds with a range of skills.
A purple gallinule walks on water, hunting in the lilies of Otter pond. Its blue, red and white colors stand out from the green lily pads. Legs dancing, the gallinule flips lily pads around like a wind surfer changing sail direction.
Taking a cue from the gallinule, Otter Pond gradually changes hues. As afternoon flows into sundown, the sky's colors grace the pond. Cottony-textured clouds, reflected, drift amid the lily pads. The blue water darkens, its surface rippled here and there by rising fish. Otter Pond's onlookers are without words. We are awakened by these rippling waters.
A little green heron calls softly. A black crested anhinga takes off. Wing beats caress the hush. If we practice our capacity to listen to her closely, the forest will expand our spirit.
A band of pink appears on the horizon above Alligator Lake. White ibis glide across the lake like airborne angels as they join the flock. They flap, stall and grip the tree branches. The water surface on Alligator Lake is still. Then, the hush is broken by a discordant racket: shotgunning cameras, a child's sulking and a ringing cell phone.
This cacophony consumes the silence, so I turn away. Walking the boardwalk, I pass by a quote attached to the railing. It is a thought Henry David Thoreau wrote long ago: “In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.”
Take The Stairs
Take The Stairs
Today, January 12th, is National Take The Stairs day. Travelling, I take the stairs twice. First, I climb the stairs because it's good exercise for the legs and lungs. Then, I take the stairs through photographs, to portray a sense of place and express how I feel in that place.
Junkanoo in The Bahamas
Cowbells clang. Drums keep a steady salvo. Whistles 'fweet'. Trombones and tubas join in the parade. In time with these throbbing musical rhythms, fancy dancers wave their arms and twirl. I gesture with the camera, smile and move in close.
Tonight is Junkanoo. The parade dances through Governour's Harbor, on the island of Eleuthera. On Eleuthera, in Nassau and other islands, Junkanoo Festivals reflect the heart of Bahamian culture.
Governour's Harbor has a group called the Harbor Boys. They kindly shared their skills and told me they begin making costumes and floats a year in advance. The Harbor Boys compete with visiting groups across Eleuthera island such as the Savannah Sound Lucayans, Harbour Island’s Barracks Hill Warriors, New Vision from Rock Sound.
TIPS: 1. Before photographing kids in public, I always ask parents for permission first. 2. Try to go to Junkanoo parades in person, even if you have to wait awhile. During our current 2022 covid pandemic, there will be virtual events online, but wait until you can be there on the street, to feel the beat and soak up the spirit!
TODAY: NATIONAL ARGYLE DAY
Today, January 8th, is National Argyle Day. In Scotland, the tartan patterns of overlapping diamond motifs have a long and colorful past. We drove from Edinburgh to Skye in search of our AirBnB. The journey across Skye took us back into Scottish history, In city and in rural Scotland, we saw people wearing argyle patterns. Arriving at our lodging, I came across one of Scotland's great mysteries, the Appin Murder, about the assassination of Colin Roy Campbell. This tale is one of power, politics and murder, and it was the source for Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel. There is tartan mentioned in Stevenson's book as well.
A WRONG TURN
Driving to our lodging, we took a wrong turn before we finally locate Ballachulish House Bothy in Glencoe. A Bothy is a seasonal worker's lodging. This delay worked in our favor because there was a break in the damp weather as we arrived. Driving a rented Mercedes up the driveway which paralleled the creek, a rainbow appeared as the wind abated.
We parked the car by the storm-swollen creek. Our warmly-dressed host came out to greet us, and led us inside the 19th century, white, rectangular, stone and slate abode. Described as a self-catering bed-and-breakfast, its exterior doors were a distinctive vivid blue. Inside, on the mantle above the fireplace, rested a complete set of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels. The book Kidnapped was in the middle of the three-foot wide stack about halfway between The Hair Trunk and Saint Ives. As the wind howled around Ballachulish house that night, I turned the pages. Kidnapped is a famous fictional tale, set around historical Scottish events and real historical characters. Its main character is David Balfour, a 17-year-old seeking an inheritance from his uncle. Alan Breck Stewart is David's companion in the novel. Kidnapped's central theme is the concept of justice, the imperfections of the justice system and the lack of a universal definition of justice.
MURDER AND HANGING OF JAMES OF THE GLEN
Our Ballachulish guesthouse, built in 1640, was famous for its connection to the Appin Murder, the last great Scottish mystery. Colin Campbell of Glenure, called The Red Fox, was shot in the back near Appin, Scotland. He was a government employee under the Hanoverian King George II, the 5th Great Grandfather of Elizabeth II. The Kings men took land from Jacobite clans and arrested Seaumas a’ Ghlinne, or James of the Glen, the Steward of Appin, a quiet, educated man. James was arrested, imprisoned and hanged for the murder of The Red Fox.
James' trial was a mockery; from the start there was no doubt about its outcome. Witnesses were bullied and bribed. Presiding was the Lord Justice General, Archibald Campbell, Duke of Argyll. The Campbells were Hanoverians, like the King. They wanted to clear as many Stewarts off their land as quickly as possible. James of the Glen (James Stewart) was found guilty, not of having committed the murder but of being a member of the conspiracy to commit it. James of the Glen was hanged on 8 November 1752 on a gibbet above the narrows at Ballachulish. Since that day, many believe that an innocent man was cynically hanged for political reasons.
HOW IT GOT KIDNAPPED
The historical mystery of the murder inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Kidnapped. In Stevenson's novel, the action takes place at a time when wearing argyle Tartan was against the law. In his story, Stevenson introduces the fictional character of young David Balfour, who witnesses the murder. Although David Balfour flees with Alan Breck, he suspects him of the killing even, initially, by Balfour. The pair's adventures on the run in the Scottish Highlands create the famous tale.
HE TARTANS OF KIDNAPPED
Here's the thing about argyle. Tartan is a woven material, generally of wool, having stripes of different colors and varying in breadth. Kilt patterns represent the Clan. There are tartans for regions and districts in Scotland, such as Argyllshire in Western Scotland. Argyll is also a surname, and the family tartan was first recorded in 1819. In Scotland, the tartan you wear in battle is a code of honor.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUED
Leaving Glen Coe to explore other regions on the Isle of Skye, I pondered on the time that has passed since the Appin Murder. The injustice of the case, and the drama of Kidnapped, still stay with me. I think of English write and poet D.H. Lawrence, who worte: Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar."
1. Ballachulish Guest House Bothy AirBnB
2. Kidnapped, Disney 1960 Film
The sun cast shadows from the lattice of roof beams. They danced across the West wall inside the abandoned Bahamas church. The shadows vanished as high clouds floated overhead, and then returned again. Between the arched doorway and the windows, the dancing shadows were lively. At times, it seemed the wall itself was still, and my thoughts were dancing.
Photographing inside this old Anglican church, I wanted to portray its textures and forms. Later, I learned more of its history. When I met him in Old Bight, Reverend Father Eric A. Miller told me there were 11 Anglican churches on Cat Island, five of which had fallen into disuse from population and economic changes. The Parish Church of Saint Savior in New Bight, pictured here, was one of these five. Watching rays of light and shadows move across Saint Savior's concrete wall, I slowed down to steady my mind and enjoy the warm Cat Island sun. It was January 21st, 2018.
Vivid green hues emerged from outside the windows. Their shutters were broken, perhaps blasted by one of the hurricanes that blasted Cat Island in years past. Through the broken shutters, vines were growing in. Eventually, I thought, natures tendrils will cover these aging church walls. There were two ancient, timeless Gods at work here: Nature and Faith.
We worship two Gods of photography as well: Speed and Sharpness. The God of Speed is worshiped in camera ads and in photo club chats. The God of Sharpness demands our obedience. These two false Gods dominate popular photography.
If we worship these Gods blindly without a healthy skepticism, we demolish creativity. Sharpness and Speed are only passing clouds. I believe they do not embody the nature, or the true faith of photography. Change and growth are truths in photography. Photograph is a language, and language changes over time.
Like vines, new ideas grow in through the windows of our mind. Creative seeing begins when we are open to new growth, and question outdated ideas. Like abandoning a building that no longer serves us, we can let go of the false gods of speed and sharpness, that we worship today. They are dogma, not truth.
"When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow." ~ Anais Nin
“Like a lighthouse beam, focused yet illuminating all horizons,
our slow photography process is bright, outwardly directed
and keeps our journey on a steady course.”
7 Point Slow Photography Manifesto
1. Slow photography is a way of thinking. Our photographs become meaningful when we see what others see but visualize them uniquely. Doing slow photography, we do not need any special gear, camera, lens or filter.
2. Let the scene's meaning emerge gradually. Our brain's visual system requires time to slow down and compose in context. A camera may have a light speed computer, but in the human brain, thought takes time.
3. Slow photographers practice compassionate ethics. We try to make our moves and actions compassionate and "full of mind." We avoid putting others, animals, nature
or ourselves at risk.
4. Sit down, be quiet, take a visual inventory.
5. Go back again, and photograph again. The meaning of a place, and your place in it, will deepen over repeated visits.
6. A slow photographer visits fewer places but lets each one fill her vision.
She stays longer, explores one area and its residents, and then recharges her mind. Sleep is essential to make creative work. A well-rested photographer makes better images than a hyper-caffeinated one. Don't run on fumes.
7. If circumstances make us rush, we pause. Speed kills. Don't chase your subject; return to it. Find where no tripod holes have been, stay still, listen, watch.
Note: This declaration and viewpoint are my opinion and perspective only,
not intended as facts or advice.