The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Morning At Big Creek

Because my job doesn't afford me much time during the week to pursue my hobby of photography, I look forward to the weekends, particularly Saturday mornings, to explore the outdoors with my camera. I usually start checking the weather reports on Thursday, hoping for a little cooperation from the elements. Depending on what the forecast is (and now, the price of gas), I start making my plans for my Saturday morning trip. Because I'm blessed to live in the southern Appalachian mountains, there are always plenty of choices.

The forecast for last Saturday looked a little risky, so I decided not to venture too far from my home in Canton, NC. The Big Creek area of The Smoky Mountain National Park is only about a 30 minute drive from my house, so I decided to visit there again. I loaded a small backpack made for camera gear with the equipment I'd need, and also checked the contents of a fanny pack I carry with some survival items to make sure everything was there. A hot cup of coffee in my travel mug, and I was ready to go.

The best light for nature photography occurs in the first two hours after sunrise, and the last two hours before sunset. The middle of the day is best left for other activities as the sun light is usually too bright and harsh. I left my house early so I could arrive at Big Creek to enjoy the best light of the day. A crimson glow was just beginning to form in the clouds in the eastern sky. Had I been after a sunrise to photograph, the conditions would have been perfect since clouds in the eastern sky make for the most spectacular sunrises. But today, clouds were not a welcome sign. I decided to press on anyway and risk the possibility of encountering a rain shower. Overcast skies are actually better for photographing wild flowers and white water because it decreases contrast, so it might turn out to be a great morning after all.

I arrived at the entrance to the Big Creek area and made my way down the only road to the parking lot for the picnic area and hiking trail. Upon exiting my truck, I was immediately greeted by the sound of rushing water from the creek that I was not yet able to see. There is something soothing about the sound of water in motion. Whether it's the sound of water gently lapping at the shore of a lake, a rushing mountain stream, or the sound of surf running up to meet the sand at the beach, the sound of water always has a calming effect on me. I could feel all the tension of the past week fading away as I slipped on my back pack and headed down the trail towards Big Creek.

At the beginning of the trail there is a metal foot bridge across the creek that gives a nice view in both directions. I set up my tripod, and made a few exposures of the creek from this vantage point. Although there were a few cars in the parking lot, there were no other hikers in sight as I started down the trail. It was as if I had the whole area to myself. This was another advantage of going early. I imagined the area would be crowded with picnickers and hikers later in the day. For now, it was my own private world.

When I was a freshman in college, I visited a cousin who is a Benedictine monk at his abbey in Louisiana. With another of the brothers, he took me on a hike through the woods surrounding the abbey, and for the first time I learned how to walk in the woods. For them, walking in the woods was not just a way to get some exercise, or to get from point A to point B. They taught me to walk slowly, and to really observe what was there. I learned to see flowers, animal tracks, tiny mushrooms, and other things that most people just walk right by. That one hike with my cousin changed forever the way I walk in the woods, and I believe this way of seeing has improved my photography also. I slowly made my way down the trail, not caring how much ground I covered, but rather, wishing to see all that was there.

Though it was a little past peak time for the trilliums, there were some yellow trillium still in bloom. This flower has three narrow, yellow petals that rise upward forming a spike shape. Later, they fold open and down, with the petals over lapping each other in a shape that reminds me of a boat propeller. There were several I found in various stages of this blooming sequence, and I photographed several.

Near its beginning, the trail rises high above the creek, offering some nice views from above. But I wanted to get back down to creek level to get some photos of the rushing waters. I found a side trail that led down to the creek, observing more wildflowers, mosses, and beautiful views through the trees along the way. I stopped several times to take some pictures of the things I observed. This is why I often take these walks alone because my pace is much too slow for my children who haven't learned to slow down and enjoy yet. For them, rushing to the next bend in the trail to see what's there is the objective. They'll learn eventually.

Upon reaching the bank of the creek, I began to work my way around and over the rocks and boulders, using my tripod as a makeshift walking stick. I photographed the water rushing over the rocks in the streambed from several angles. I found bluets growing in the moss on a rock on the bank. There was beauty everywhere I looked, and I felt inadequate in trying to capture it all with my camera. I stayed on that creek bank for quite a while, enjoying the sights, the smell of the forest, and the sound of the rushing water. I am so thankful to be able to live so close to such beautiful places.

Three hours at Big Creek passed quickly. I would have loved to stay longer, but there were chores to be done back home, and a family who would be worried if I was too late in getting back home. I began to head back down the trail that went back to the parking area, snapping a few more photos as I went. There were more cars in the parking lot now, and a few families getting ready for a Saturday picnic. Soon the area would be noisy and full of people. It was a good time to go. One of the benefits of living where I do is that Big Creek will always be there waiting for me whenever I am able to return. And I will be back!


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