DREAMSCAPES

Fall at Table Rock. See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

100 Years Of Perfection

All across the South, evergreen shrubs burst with warm splashes of color in a season known for cool, dark days. These heirloom camellia blooms, perfection’s essence, grew on 100-year-old bushes in a Columbia, South Carolina garden.

Yearning to inhale their sweet fragrance? Well, forget it. In the dead of winter few flowers rival camellias, thus pollinator-attracting perfumes prove superfluous. (Some species are fragrant.)

Though native to eastern and southern Asia, camellias share a strong association with the South thanks to double-dealing. In colonial days, the British, coveting an afternoon spot of tea, sailed to China to buy tea shrubs. The Chinese sold them camellias instead, an easy ruse since camellias and tea plants are cousins in the family Theacea. Imagine the Brits’ disappointment. (China’s native name for camellias means “tea flower.”)

We brew tea from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Our imported cousins of sinensis may not be palatable, but crème de la crème blooms such as these brew joy for the eyes and spirit: evocations of roses and longings for spring and summer.

Perhaps in 2120 these beautiful centenarians will brighten the winter of those to come for camellia bushes can live over 200 years.

Fall at Table Rock. See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

Autumnal Majesty

Though softened by rain, maples brighten the land nonetheless—testament to hardwoods’ autumnal majesty. Autumn—that’s when we realize just how much grandeur we miss owing to the million of pines that have displaced maples, oaks, and hickories. Pines are a non-event come fall.

Not hardwoods. As summer retreats, chlorophyll’s decline unveils their magnificent hues. Temperatures drop and fall’s palette of red, orange, and gold banishes summer green.

You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t love fall and its cavalcade of colors. Predicted with accuracy or not, fall’s arrival kicks off leaf-lover season. Colors pull hard at foliage worshipers and all highways lead to the northwest corner. Without doubt, fall colors are one of Earth’s better performances. There’s music in the mountains and no resisting the trees’ siren song.

See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

Lonely Sentinel

Late September. The seasons turn and Hunting Island lighthouse catches gold-burnished light beneath a cloudless sky. An empty path hints of desolation as wind fence shadows render a patch of sand blanket-like.

Summer’s throngs are gone, and grain-by-grain, winds carry their footprints away. Beautiful solitude—all in all, it leaves one a tad melancholy. Henley captured what fall’s arrival means. “Nobody on the beach. Summer’s out of reach.”

These lonely sentinels now witness passing seasons and beachcombers, not schooners nor clippers, as they serve time: Life without light. Steeped in romance, lighthouses linger, outcasts from another time. Towers whose beams warned mariners of danger, lighthouses served as symbols of hope, beacons of mighty candlepower destined to become true Americana. Among their ranks remains this elegant lighthouse down St. Helena Way. Looming 133 feet over the continent’s edge, it slung sweeps of light out to sea every 30 seconds.

Closed in 1933, it robbed the night sky of pulsing white light. Changing times, however, would elevate this romantic loner to a place of myth beloved by painters, photographers, and star-struck couples. Now the lighthouse awaits the arrival of winter. And the trees? They beg the lonely sentinel to stave off winter’s blue, cold light.

crabapple grove copy
See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

That Unforgettable Tartness

You never forget your first taste of a crab apple. Tart—just plain sour—it shriveled your mouth and made your jaws ache. Blame its high acid content for that. It was different, however, when grandmom used her magic to turn those bitter apples into jams, jellies, pickles, and cider. The translucent jelly let sunlight shoot right through turning it amber gold … “Topaz,” some would say.

Seeing the beauty of a flowering fruit tree used to be common. Before supermarkets arrived, old folks planted fruit trees. Growing up, I recall pear trees, fig trees, peach trees, and one crab apple not that far from Granddad’s outhouse. “Hmmm … Is that’s why it’s bitter,” thought the little boy’s mind.

The Profusion crabapple orchard you see. Does it not nourish the eyes? Taken on Easter day. The limbs and trunks hold up a bouquet.

One thing of note. Consider the crab apple the parent of all apple varieties. It’s grown wild for thousands of years throughout the Northern, Eastern, and Western Hemispheres. People developed newer varieties from the lowly crab apple to make today’s apples larger and more edible. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Granny Smith.

Order Rosales

Genus Malus

Sept9th peaches
See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

Pretty As A Peach

Four things I love about peaches: their sun-struck colors, golden-crusted peach cobblers, orchards aglow with delicate pink blossoms, and childhood memories. I remember Sunday afternoons when Mom and Dad sliced Edgefield peaches. Mom would make the ice cream mix and the alchemy of Dad’s hand-cranked churn would transform gold-red nuggets and liquid snow into ice cream.

To this day, split-oak baskets filled with pretty-perfect peaches prove irresistible. The next time you sit down to peach ice cream or pie, thank a farmer. Peaches are most susceptible to frost during the blooming phase, and growers don’t rest easy until they pluck that first peach.

horizontal dew copy
See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

The Rosarians

Gone but not forgotten. The late Dr. Charles Jeremias and his late wife, Mattie Lephron “Lee,” cultivated roses, and some of their roses literally traced their roots to the 1600s.

The Jeremias loved “old garden roses,” roses known prior to 1867. Lee called them “roses out of circulation.” Once they found an old garden rose, in a forgotten family plot, perhaps, Charles rooted cuttings. If the plant grew, the next step was identification, not always easy. For ten years, he couldn’t identify a rose. The he found an 1817 rose book (“The most expensive rose book I ever bought!” he said). He came across a rose that sounded like his mystery rose and nailed its identity: a tea rose known as St. Josephs.

Among their favorite old garden rose specimens was Champneys Pink Cluster, a Charleston discovery—the first in a line of species developed in the United States. A Charleston indigo/rice planter developed this species and sent a bush to his brother in France. His brother liked it so much, he put it out as Noisette, which rosarians now know developed from Champneys Pink Cluster.

One final note that should stick with you: Dr. Jeremias held the patent to super glue.

field of sheep's sorrell
See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

One Man’s Weed

Is another man’s wonder. Consider sheep’s sorrel. Red and luxuriant, it mimics a crop, but no, many consider it a nuisance weed. How wrong they are.

Over the centuries, people found uses for this perennial that include anti-cancer therapy, diuretic, immune system booster, essiac tea, and antioxidant. Its tart, lemony leaves give a salad zing. I suspect Ches McCartney, the fabled Goat Man, was familiar with this so-called weed come dinnertime.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I beheld lush fields of Rumex acetosella on recent drives from the coast and down through Georgia. Interspersed with bitterweeds, it rendered fields into fetching paintings, just as it does here beneath a partly sunny sky. (Hold its leaves up to the sun, and tiny sparkles burst forth.)

Yes, one man’s weed is another man’s wonder. Some tout sheep’s sorrel as an anti-cancer therapy (Sloan Kettering disclaimer: “There is no evidence that sheep sorrel can treat cancer, diarrhea, scurvy, or any other medical condition.) According to folklore, every part of what many consider a weed finds medicinal uses.

Earlier men saw in it benefits. Most of us today can’t identify edible plants. We can, at least, appreciate beauty when we see it.

best dogwood copy
See more of Robert C. Clark’s work at robertclark.photography

Springtime Snowstorm

A blizzard of white heralds spring’s arrival. Passion tree, popular ornamental tree, and a hint to Native Americans to plant corn—the flowering dogwood’s that and more. Though this wildly popular tree is referred to as the flowering dogwood, let’s set the record straight. Dogwoods don’t flower. Their distinctive “petals” are specialized leaves that can be white, pink, or yellow.

Is there any space a dogwood can’t bring glamour to? This dogwood, wider than high, possesses graceful, tiered branches laden with white. Free your imagination and soar over an exotic land. You’re high above the earth gazing at a snow-mounded landscape crisscrossed by rivers and tributaries.

We know the tree of legend possesses bloodstained bracts with a crown of thorns at their center but did you know dogwood sap is toxic? Indian tribes used the dogwood’s secretions as a poison. And here’s a surprise. The fine-grained wood makes excellent golf club heads, mountain dulcimers, and cutting boards. In the 19th century its dense wood made superb shuttles for textile mills. Tree of great utility.

Two other species, kousa dogwood and Cornelian cherry dogwood grow throughout South Carolina but search all you want you’ll not find them along the coast from Charleston to Savannah.

Ebenezer Cemetery
A Robert C. Clark Photograph

We Can’t Have All Things That Please Us

Stark light illuminates a spate of clouds, a field of stubble, and small cemetery. Spring will soon break winter’s grip and bleakness will retreat. That line of naked hardwoods will then clothe itself with a million leaves.

Walker Evans, photographer, and James Agee, writer, didn’t pass by Ebenezer Memorial Garden, but had they, they would have stayed a while. “Tarried,” they’d say. A small tombstone would have caught their eye, for here lies a child.

  1. Evans and Agee, on assignment for Fortune magazine, drive into countryside and enter the world of three tenant farming families. An American classic of photojournalism results—an unsparing record of living with dignity with poverty—Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

In the book, Agee describes a cemetery’s gravestones in detail. “On others of these stones, there is something I have never seen before: by some kind of porcelain reproduction, a photograph of the person buried there.” In “Shady Grove, Alabama, July 1936,” Agee’s chosen sentiment rends the heart. The headstone bearing a six-month girl’s likeness preserves her parents’ heartache. “We can’t have all things in life that please us. Our little daughter, Jo Ann, has gone to Jesus.” —Off Highway 9 in Marlboro County

basket of heirloom tomatos copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Heirloom Tomatoes

Derrick Gunter grows heirloom tomatoes in Lexington County’s ancient ocean sands. His varieties flaunt names as colorful as they are. Cherokee Purple, Black Krim (Crimean), German Johnson, and most colorful, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter.

Heirlooms became Derrick’s passion when he made a sandwich from a Russian heirloom. “Best tomato I’ve ever eaten.”

Most heirlooms trace their heritage to the mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. They thrive there because of the climate. Down here, heat and humidity torment heirlooms. Derrick’s flourish, he says, “Because I nurture them. (It’s better to underwater than overwater.)”

Heirloom tomatoes’ odd shapes, splits, and scars hold a lesson. In our celebrity-obsessed society, beautiful people get more love than plain folk, just as round, red, perfect-but-tasteless tomatoes “look better” than heirloom varieties. How easily we overlook what matters. Plain people of good taste quietly go about making the world a better place.

And Derrick? Consider him a preservationist. “The benefit of the heirloom is remembering the past and securing the future,” said Derrick. “When you’re gone, your family can enjoy the exact same thing you enjoyed. By preserving heritage tomatoes, we give others a never-changing world. Something that stands the test of time.”

covered bridge in Tennessee copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Survivors

The Harrisburg Covered Bridge, Sevierville, Tennessee. The bridge spans the Little Pigeon River’s east fork and something else. Years of attrition and fallen comrades. The Volunteer State has but six covered bridges left.

A tip of the hat to Sevier County. Over the years, the county maintained the bridge as other covered bridges fell to progress. 1975—The Harrisburg Covered Bridge joins the National Register of Historic Places as a rare covered timber truss bridge. 1983—The deteriorated bridge faces closure, but the county gives it new flooring and beam replacements, yet again breathing life into this classic survivor.

And the classic survivor speeding out of this one-way time passage? Difficult to identify. It came down to a 1952 Chevrolet Styleline or a 1950 Plymouth Cranbrook. The hood badge and lights behind the grill say it’s a Plymouth Cranbook.

“What made this scene so unusual was the classic red car. I was photographing the bridge interior when I saw this car coming from the other side. I ran to my position and got three shots of the car passing by … one of those ‘right place at the right time’ moments. What were the odds of all this coming together?” —Robert C. Clark

28-A-Lowcountry copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Rockville Crayolas

If happiness were a flower, it would be a tulip. Symbolic and iconic, perennial and showy flaunting Technicolor glory, tulips, members of the lily family, signify all this and more. Give a red or yellow tulip to declare your love.

Emblematic of eternal life, abundance, and indulgence, it so happens tulips make a fine addition to the grounds. These tulips burst into flame and fame down Rockville way just off the Maybank Highway. Consider them heralds of spring, for tulips join daffodils and crocuses as the first flowers to bloom. Faint of fragrance, the blooms’ colors seduce.

Leaning over their dark green leaves, these blooms look a bit like the tips of slightly used crayons. Blunted but beautiful from streaking the earth with primary colors. The blossoms’ waxy sheen does nothing to lessen the Crayola impression.

Suppose the sun might shine with such savagery that it melts these classic colors of red, green, and yellow into kaleidoscopic swirls. What might the gardener do? Rise at dawn and take a photo as grand as this one? Cut each bloom with care and share them with friends and neighbors? Surprise some soul marooned in the hospital? The happy answer is obvious—all of the above.

This photo appears on page 204 in Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, University of South Carolina Press, 2012.

Camellia Blossoms copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Cold Flower Perfection

All across the South, evergreen shrubs burst with warm splashes of color in a season known for cool, dark days. These heirloom camellia blooms, perfection’s essence, grew on bushes over a century old in a Columbia, South Carolina garden.

Yearning to inhale their sweet fragrance? Well, forget it. In the dead of winter few flowers rival camellias, thus pollinator-attracting perfumes prove superfluous. (Some species are fragrant.)

Though native to eastern and southern Asia, camellias share a strong association with the South thanks to double-dealing. In colonial days, the British, coveting an afternoon spot of tea, sailed to China to buy tea shrubs. The Chinese sold them camellias instead, an easy ruse since camellias and tea plants are cousins in the family Theacea. Imagine the Brits’ disappointment. (China’s native name for camellias means “tea flower.”)

We brew tea from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. Our imported cousins of sinensis may not be palatable, but crème de la crème blooms such as these brew joy for the eyes and spirit: evocations of roses and longings for spring and summer.

Perhaps in 2120 these beautiful centenarians will brighten the winter of those to come for camellia bushes can live over 200 years.

starstreaks copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Starry, Starry Night

Turn, Turn, Turn

Beyond the crystalline Nevada desert air, stars streak over the Rocky Mountains. How easy to look at this picture and think, “Neat. A time exposure shot of stars,” but it’s much more than that. The stars streak over rocky times too. With your feet stuck to the ground and your mind chained to worries, nights and days fade into mere spots on the calendar. You overlook the beauty that surrounds you.

Worries, trivial matters, and negative people bog you down … The hour hand creeps … time stands still. “Another slow day,” you sigh. No, not really. You’re spinning about 800 miles per hour as you read my words. Let Robert’s 30-minute exposure remind you that Earth literally spins us past the heavens. The late Pete Seeger understood this. When he penned, “To everything—turn, turn, turn—There is a season—turn, turn, turn,” he lamented life’s split personality of good and bad. Seasons come and go, bringing their assorted ills and joys.

Look at the streaking stars again. You are seeing concrete proof that time does indeed fly. Let this season be one of joy. Let it turn you into a star. Fly high over all things that would bring you down.

Sept16th Wind Fence
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Sand Fence Pathway

Who can see the wind? Neither I nor you, but when the winds pass through, beach sand does too. Winds encountering plants, however, slow and drop sand. As grains accumulate, plants grow and spread, further limiting the wind’s ability to carry sand away. When plants are scarce, sand fences like these at Folly Beach slow the wind letting sand accumulate around their base. It’s a win-wind scenario.

Walking through grassy dunes harms the growth of plants letting winds blow flakes of mica and grains of quartz and feldspar away. These Folly Beach sand fences, however, provide more than a pathway to the sea. They build dunes—barriers against storm surges. Photographed ten minutes after sunrise, Folly Beach will warm creating winds. Sands passing through the fences will drop and plants will grow.

Sweetgrass and dew

Photo by Robert C. Clark

Bejeweled, Bedeviled, Beloved

Weather Folklore: When dew is on the grass, rain will never come to pass.

Science: When air temperature cools to the dew point, water droplets materialize and frost Muhlenbergia filipes rime-like. Known too as purple muhly grass, you know it as sweetgrass. Most people take no notice of this plant much of the year, but come autumn you can’t miss its pinkish-purple plumes. When the sun backlights this long-stemmed rosy-pink grass, it blazes afire. Known also as fire grass.

Come cool mornings, dew strings crystal beads onto sweetgrass and refashions spiders’ orbs into diamond necklaces—an ephemeral, bejeweled world receives early risers. Let these exquisite, feathery grasses fire up your imagination. Do you see wind-ginned cotton candy? Dreamlike clouds drifting into a rain forest? Chiffon, sheer and silky? Downy breast feathers of a roseate spoonbill? Whatever you conjure up, understand that these plants face adversity.

An Admonition: Sweetgrass grows behind dune lines and along the fringes of marshes and forests. Development and gated communities bedevil the grass. Charleston and Sea Island weavers must go farther afield to find the sweetgrass that, cut into sheaves and coiled and worked with broken spoons, becomes beloved heirloom baskets.

Said a weaver, “Grass getting so hard to find.” Here today. Gone tomorrow.

Mountain Storm

Drama In The Mountains

(Read as if you’re Sir David Attenborough.)

Our journey takes us to Appalachia where we see the power and majesty of minute droplets of water …. A storm rises over a ridge. Its vast quantities of water will unleash torrents upon the mountain cove forest—a unique ecosystem, though it shares a fate with man. Neither can exist without water, and that brings up a perplexing question.

If Earth’s water didn’t come from outer space, where did it come from? A 4.4 billion-year grain of sand holds a clue.

Scientists studying ancient grains of sand believe water was here from the start, secured in grains of rock. Once Earth’s crust began to solidify, rampant volcanic eruptions spewed out molten rock and water and an amazing drama took place. A saturated atmosphere rained a Biblical 40 days and 40 nights filling Earth’s basins and aquifers. When you sip a bit of water, you’re drinking Earth’s first rains. Absolutely extraordinary.

And our ridge? Fiery backlight gives the ridge a volcano-like semblance and we perceive ash clouds appropriately enough near Asheville, North Carolina. It’s as if Earth re-enacts her great volcanic release of water once again. And the rain’s journey? It’ll form the headwaters of a southern river, a journey for another day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From Gumball To Rumball

Encase sugary, chewy, rainbow-colored treats in glass and chrome. Add a slot, handle, and chute. Position at little boy and girl eye level and station by doors to irritate parents. Out comes a quarter. Parents have long endured this ritual. The first gumball machines appeared in 1907.

So, what’s in a gumball? Sugar, dextrose, corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, malic acid, confectioner’s glaze, glycerin, tapioca dextrin, carnauba wax, food additives, and artificial colors. Sounds yummy.

The U.S. leads the world in gum consumption, but we didn’t invent gum chewing. Ancient Greeks chewed tree bark resin. Mayans chewed sap from the Sapodilla tree. American Indians introduced settlers to chewing spruce resin.

Myth says a German grocer in New York invented the gumball. Frustrated that his flat, stick gum wasn’t selling, he wadded up a piece and threw it across the store. Into the sugar barrel it fell whereupon he picked it up and admired its new, sweet taste.

Need to lose a few pounds? Gum tastes good and releases flavor for a long time. Just 5 to 10 calories per portion.

And kids? Seems they move from gumballs to rumballs faster than ever and soon it’s their turn to hand out quarters.

Foggy Green Spring Trees
Photograph by Robert C. clark

Spring Awakening

The buds on these trees slept all winter. Awake, they burst into solar collectors called leaves. That’s a far cry from autumn when darkening, colder days forced the trees into dormancy. Then the days lengthened and warmed, and now grass, greenery, and gray bark tint Earth’s breath as it suffuses a quiet copse.

A beautiful scene. A simple scene that’s not so simple. These vapors. Are they fog or mist?

When minute drops of water, droplets, hang in the air, mists result. Fog is a cloud that touches Mother Earth. What spells the difference between mists and fog? Density. If you can see no farther than two-thirds of a mile, fog clouds your vision. See farther and you peer through mists.

Here we see ever-so-slightly green mists. Fog or mists matter not to these trees bursting out with their newly minted leaves. The growing season commences, and jobs posted for rain and groundwater need filling. Over summer, leaves will demand far more than vapors.

Photographed near Spartanburg.

I really love fog. It hides you from the world and the world from you. You feel that everything has changed, and nothing is what it seemed to be. —Eugene O’Neill, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

33-B-Upcountry copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

The Colors Of The Earth

Two continental plates collided beneath North America 250 million years ago thrusting rocks to Blue Ridge Mountain fame. For eons, water, ice, sun, gravity, and wind have weathered mountains, liberating boulders, and cutting gorges and riverbeds.

With its milky filaments and moss-green rocks, what enchanted river might this be? The Middle Saluda in Jones Gap State Park. Running through northern Greenville County she drops 1,000 feet in four miles. A 20-second exposure charms rocks into streaming water and fog.

Other waters cascade, mist, and thunder for falls with melodic names live up here … Issaqueena and its stair-stepping cascades … Laurel Forks, spilling into Lake Jocassee … Brasstown, a sheer curtain of water … Station Cove, a glittering filigree of silver … King Creek, an upside down geyser of white slashing through a green alleyway.

But the Middle Saluda possesses allure uniquely her own. With her jade moss, burnt-sienna boulders, and pearl and sea green waters she flaunts the colors of the earth.

Look and listen. Close your eyes and hear her purl, burble, and chime her way over, through, and past rock. Each day, all night, she carries remnants of the great collision toward the Atlantic in the great planet-building cycle.

best dogwood copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Springtime Snowstorm

A blizzard of white heralds spring’s arrival. Passion tree, popular ornamental tree, and a clue to Native Americans to plant corn—the flowering dogwood’s that and more. Though this wildly popular tree is referred to as the flowering dogwood, let’s set the record straight. Dogwoods don’t flower. Their distinctive “petals” are specialized leaves that can be white, pink, or yellow.

Is there any space a dogwood can’t bring glamour to? This dogwood, wider than high, possesses graceful, tiered branches laden with white. Free your imagination and soar over an exotic land. You’re high above the earth gazing at a snow-mounded landscape crisscrossed by rivers and tributaries.

We know the tree of legend possesses bloodstained bracts with a crown of thorns at their center but did you know dogwood sap is toxic? Indian tribes used the dogwood’s secretions as a poison. And here’s a surprise. The fine-grained wood makes excellent golf club heads, mountain dulcimers, and cutting boards. In the 19th century its dense wood made superb shuttles for textile mills. Tree of great utility.

Two other species, kousa dogwood and Cornelian cherry dogwood grow throughout South Carolina but it’s written that you’ll not find them along the coast from Charleston to Savannah, hard to believe.

ant on daylily copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark (Ant courtesy of Mother Nature)

The Universe Within

This otherworldly image could easily portray life on an alien planet, but, no, it’s merely a daylily. Filled with luminescence, it flaunts nebula-like plumes of yellow, red, and gold. Within this daylily lives another universe entire.

Lured by nectar, our high-stepping member of the family Formicidae seeks sustenance for the colony. Antennae touching, tasting, and smelling, our alien explorer descends into the throat. It’s a quest for survival.

This intrepid loner seeking sugary secretions runs counterpoint to the image of collaborating ants. And it defies with reason. It’s a scout sent to forage. Having found nectar, this voyager will return to the colony laying down a scent path. The masses will follow. The daylily, however, will be gone tomorrow, replaced by a bloom at a different position. But that won’t deter the colony that will drain the nectar from all daylilies in its path. From beautiful destruction new life will come.

Each day we walk over, past, and through a universe of life but pay it no heed. A phone call, a text, a job, too little time—we miss a lot. This macro image of an ant, however, reminds us that the universe within holds more beauty than many realize.

broad river master file copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Smoke On the Water

Cold air encounters a warm veneer of Broad River water, giving rise to meteorological wonder. Cooled to the dew point, water droplets and autumn air layer the corridor with river smoke.

If fog is but a cloud fallen to the ground, then river smoke resurrects spirits from the depths. Streamers march across the water like ghostly prisoners, apparitions that haunt the river valley. Haunt, indeed, but in an ephemeral way. A patch of blue suggests sunlight will soon burn off the mists, but that’s old news. Already the sun blazes through and like ghosts, mists vanish into thin air.

Were it not for bridges and morning commutes, few would see this miracle. As it is, no boat, no egrets nor stalking great blue herons, no flotsam, not even a leaping bass break the spell as mists mute the Broad River’s purling as it flows to a confluence with the Saluda River. There, two waterways born of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains mingle waters long familiar with mountain mists and fog. Smoke on the water? Rivers have long played this song. A one-hit wonder it’s not.

purl 2 |pərl|verb [ no obj. ] (of a stream or river) flow with a swirling motion and babbling sound.

boneyard beach on jekyll
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Beautiful Losers

Death can be beautiful. So goes the line in a forgotten novel. Here, we witness the last days of a monarch doomed to topple into the sea, overthrown by lunar tides.

And where might we be? Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach, where sea-ravaged trees become beach statuary. Unrepentant Atlantic tides undercut roots, and gravity takes over. Stripped of foliage and bark, the trees throw up sand-smoothed limbs seeking salvation that never comes. Thus, by day, their sun‑bleached trunks, limbs, and rootballs become monuments. By night, these ghostly spectators behold bioluminescent, phosphorescent tides. By dawn, they bless the coast with a phantasmagoric presence like no other.

We call such places bone yards. Here we witness an opus, an epic performance, “Bone Yard Ballet.” Prima ballerinas grace a dais of sand and foam and we catch them at the precise moment all freeze in supplication to the rosy goddess of dawn, Aurora.

In plain talk, we witness the demise of a maritime forest, assassinated by saltwater encroachment as oaks, maples, and other trees lose their battle with the Atlantic. These beautiful losers will never leaf out and turn golden red come fall. Still, we cannot deny that in death they showcase perfection—a photographers’ paradise.

covered bridge in tennessee copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Survivors

The Harrisburg Covered Bridge, Sevierville, Tennessee. The bridge spans the Little Pigeon River’s east fork and something else. Years of attrition and fallen comrades. The Volunteer State has but six covered bridges left.

A tip of the hat to Sevier County. Over the years, the county maintained the bridge as other covered bridges fell to progress. 1975—The Harrisburg Covered Bridge joins the National Register of Historic Places as a rare covered timber truss bridge. 1983—The deteriorated bridge faces closure, but the county gives it new flooring and beam replacements, yet again breathing life into this classic survivor.

And the classic survivor speeding out of this one-way time passage? Difficult to identify. It came down to a 1952 Chevrolet Styleline or a 1950 Plymouth Cranbrook. The hood badge and lights behind the grill say it’s a Plymouth Cranbook.

“What made this scene so unusual was the classic red car. I was photographing the bridge interior when I saw this car coming from the other side. I ran to my position and got three shots of the car passing by … one of those ‘right place at the right time’ moments. What were the odds of all this coming together?” —Robert C. Clark

full moon at dawn
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Lowcountry Illusion

Seeing is not always believing. Behold an illusion. This landscape misleads viewers into thinking a full moon floats over the rising sun. Just the opposite. The moon sets in the west as the sun rises. Anticrepuscular rays—cloud shadows converging opposite the rising sun—reinforce the illusion.

We’ve all seen the common crepuscular rays known as sunrays. Thanks to perspective, they converge like spokes to a hub. Nothing new. You’ve seen a field’s plowed rows go from wide to narrow and train rails converge into infinity.

To put things in perspective, imagine you’re standing in the middle of a long straight road. To the east, it converges at the horizon. Now look to the west. There, too, it converges. Crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays behave much the same way.

As for that mouthful, “crepuscular, it means resembling twilight.

The setting? Fripp Inlet. None other than Blackbeard may have hidden his pirated bounty on Fripp Island, the most seaward of South Carolina’s islands. Perhaps a beautiful morning such as this greeted Edward Teach after a long night of plundering and drunken revelry. Most likely this old salt was quite familiar with such atmospheric optics. Drunk or not, no doubt he checked his compass ’fore setting sail.

(This photograph appears on page 224 in Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, University of South Carolina Press.)

Pretty Place at Camp Greenville
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Sunrise At Symmes Chapel

A new day. Sunrise at Symmes Chapel. Locals call it Pretty Place. The open-air chapel tops Standing Stone Mountain in northern Greenville County near the North Carolina line. Not far away, Caesars Head juts o’er the land. Close by is Cleveland, South Carolina. Straight ahead? A peerless view of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and below? A 2,000-foot drop to the floor of Jones Gap valley.

Inscribed just above the cross is a line from Psalms 121:1. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills ….” Lift up your eyes to the dawning of another day on planet Earth.

Symmes Chapel, part of YMCA Camp Greenville, looks out over Jones Gap State Park. Its unbridled majesty draws photographers like hummingbirds to nectar.

The start of a new life. More than 100 couples tie the knot here each year. Fred Symmes donated far more than a chapel to the YMCA. He donated memories and grand vistas, oft described by visitors as “breathtaking,” “an indescribable feeling,” and “a perfect 10.”

US 276 will take you to Symmes Chapel. Call the camp office at 864.836.3291, Ext. 0 before visiting.

“Because we’re going to the chapel, and we’re gonna get …” —The Dixie Cups, April 1964

shrimper and birds copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark This photograph appears on page 148, Reflections Of South Carolina, Vol. II, USC Press 2014.

Foragers All

Early morning at Folly Beach dawns on the eternal quest as people and shorebirds seek sustenance from the Atlantic. Pelicans glide by as morsels wash ashore, and though the distance makes them invisible, raucous seagulls wheel, swoop, and swirl around the trawler. Deck hands—swarmed by the opportunistic scavengers—are guaranteed a boisterous day filled with seagull chatter.

Steeped in mystique, the trawler is one of the more photographed scenes along the South Carolina coast. Life on a trawler may seem romantic but it’s not. Up at dawn, the shrimper works a long day, often without benefits other workers take for granted, but that’s okay. “Shrimping gets into a man’s blood.”

Nothing easy about being a shorebird either. DDT got into its blood. The eastern brown pelican made the endangered species list in 1970 when its population plummeted to less than 100. DDT ran off farm fields into rivers and the sea. Plankton absorbed DDT, menhaden ate plankton, and pelicans ate menhaden in a lethal game of food-chain dominoes that weakened eggs’ calcium content. Thin and easily crushed during incubation, the eggs never hatched out.

DDT’s ban and recovery efforts saved the pelicans. Few beach vacationers today, however, know of this sad saga.

seaoats bunch copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

After The Storm

“If it keeps on raining, levee’s gonna break.” When torrential rains set in, some dams give way. The natural world’s creations don’t so easily capitulate. Need proof? Go to the Lowcountry. At the continent’s edge where water and land forever clash, nature engineered an ingenious bulwark: a dune line anchored by feathery sea oats. They stand ready to repulse tidal onslaughts. Ready to keep the sea in check.

Nature beautifully combines form and function. Reminiscent of Midwestern wheat, wind-struck sea oats move with grace. When sun struck, they cast a silhouette like no other plant. Tall, subtropical, salt loving and slow growing but long-lived with rhizomes that cling to sand, sea oats build dunes. For that reason it is illegal to pick them.

Here you witness the morning after a tropical storm moved on to the Northeast. For the first time in days, the sun breaks through and a line of sea oats greets it. Inland, morning air is as clear as a chalice. Beneath a cobalt sky, weary men struggle to shore up dams, roadways, and bridges. After the storm, morning sunlight shines with seldom-seen purity for the torrents scrubbed the air clean. It’s fitting and symbolic. A new day brings hope.

summer wheat
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Summer Wheat

The still image can’t convey this summer wheat’s rippling movement but the imagination can. Like wind-borne whitecaps, seed heads catch the breeze ghosting over them and hurdle downstream. No going against the grain here—no dam will hold back this river of gold that flows toward a confluence with buyers, bakers, and brewmasters.

The Lowcountry has its summer-green then autumn-gold spartina. Inland, we have flaxen fields of wheat. This summer wheat near St. Matthews, just off Highway 601, puts off such a fresh, sweet fragrance you’ll think you’re in a bakery and you are: the sun’s.

Before The Harvest—Standing by this tributary of sun-struck wheat you feel its warmth, inhale its additive-free fragrance, and hear its windy whispering and rustling. And when the currents build to a certain pitch, the eye beholds a billowing river.

After The Harvest—No other crop covers more of our planet than grassy wheat for wheat is, indeed, a grass. Nutritious, concentrated, and moved from field to table, wheat provides 20 percent of the food homo sapiens consumes. It’s a feast for the eyes, too, on a summer day remembered and rendered immortal by a man and his camera.

“Summer Wheat” appears on page 150 in Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, USC Press, 2014.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Threads Of Silk

Witness a battle older than mankind. The irresistible force versus the immovable object. Water wins. Note the fractures freezing water cleaved in boulders. The battle never ends, and eons of weathering, water, and gravity shatter rock into seaward-bound shards. A beach of the future waits among the greenery, rock, and water.

See the copper-like glint of rock? Riches hide in streams. Aspiring miners (if you know one) will tell you. They pan for placer gold. Trout fishermen, too. They use their pan in an altogether different way, however.

This silky water, like “many threads being pulled,”* seeks the Atlantic, giving man many gifts along the way and receiving no small amount of abuse in return.

The Middle Saluda, thankfully, has a fairy-tale-like story. It was the first river South Carolina’s 1978 Scenic Rivers Program protected. Roughly five miles of the Middle Saluda and its major tributary, Coldspring Branch, enjoy a 600-foot wide scenic corridor from U.S. Highway 276 to one mile upstream of the defunct Cleveland Fish Hatchery.

The river, running through northern Greenville County within Jones Gap State Park, drops nearly 1,000 feet in four miles. Its clear, cold water supports self-sustaining trout populations … and beaches of the future.

kayakers at dawn
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Kiawah River Kayakers

Towering clouds, sumptuous light, and water slick as glass make for an inviting morning. Double-bladed paddles aloft, kayakers ride the tides; they go with a moon-tide flow as dawn breaks across salt marsh encased in serenity and drenched with grandeur and wildlife.

Today is the day to ease up on unsuspecting creatures of the marsh and sea. Kayaking lets man join nature rather than play the role of clumsy intruder. Silent and low in the water, kayakers possess unusual stealth, and that makes nature watching one of kayaking’s joys. There’s much to see. As the tide goes out, wading birds flock to the delicacies exposed on banks. Other sightings can include dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles. Sharks?

Wildlife views kayakers with far less suspicion. Men have known this for 4,000 years. The kayak, created by Inuit, Aleut, and Yup’ik, originated in icy waters far to the north, nothing like this palmetto postcard of paradise.

Kayaker’s choice—the whitewater of the Chattooga or the calm water of the estuary—why not both? As for the Kiawah River, it runs through a narrow channel between Seabrook and Kiawah Islands. Kayakers’ warning: the kayak doesn’t perform well in the sea: avoid Atlantic breakers this morning.

(This photograph appears on page 223 in Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, University of South Carolina Press.)

Three Walkers
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Mother-Of-Pearl Sky

Three mothers walk beneath an iridescent sky. Wind in their hair, water about their feet, they talk of days gone by and days to come. Though they walk the edge of the continent, they stand at a crossroads. In one direction, aging parents, decline, and death. In another, concerns for children and grandchildren. And the others? One can only guess. One thing’s certain. They can’t turn back.

Some gift from the sea, a shell, a sand dollar, a piece of driftwood, perhaps, should memorialize this moment, for this walk makes them feel vulnerable and powerful at the same time. A vast sky overpowers them and yet they walk upon water like goddesses. The sun, a pearl in an oyster shell, illumines morning and life itself as three women share concerns, hopes, confessions, and dreams beneath a mother-of-pearl sky.

ant on daylily copy
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

The Universe Within

This otherworldly image could easily portray life on an alien planet, but, no, it’s merely a daylily. Overflowing with luminescence, it flaunts nebula-like plumes of yellow, red, and gold.

Within this daylily lives another universe entire.

Lured by nectar, our high-stepping member of the family Formicidae seeks sustenance for the colony. Antennae touching, tasting, and smelling, our alien explorer descends into the throat on a quest for survival.

This intrepid loner seeking sugary secretions runs counterpoint to the image of collaborating ants. And it defies with reason. It’s a scout sent to forage. Having found nectar, this voyager will return to the colony laying down a scent path. The masses will follow. The daylily, however, will be gone tomorrow, replaced by a bloom at a different position. But that won’t deter the colony that will drain the nectar from all daylilies in its path. From such beautiful destruction comes new life.

Each day we walk over, past, and through a universe of life but pay it no heed. A phone call, a text, a job, too little time—we fail to absorb it. This macro image of an ant, however, reminds us that the universe within holds more beauty than many imagine.

Clouds & Clouds
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Angel Hair Illusions

Bows and flows of angel hair … and feather canyons everywhere …. It’s clouds’ illusions I recall —Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”

A childhood rite of passage. Lying on a patch of grass and seeing things in the sky. Clouds don’t cloud children’s vision; they unleash it. Adults, too. In this stark black and white of cirrus clouds, a deer peers from behind a palmetto. The brain’s alchemy conjures up a sinister face, a carnival mask, a dragon, and more. What do you see?

Summer clouds rain joy. A thunderhead brings danger and the thrill we call lightning. A cloudburst paints the sky with rainbows and brings out the kid in us. Water vapor creates marvelous illusions and resurrects memories. In the Carolina Pee Dee an anvil-headed cloud takes on the ghostly semblance of a naval destroyer cutting across an ocean of sky. Soon, winds aloft render it into a Hiroshima-like mushroom cloud. Suddenly, I remember my father took a troop carrier to Japan.

This summer I’ll stretch out on the lawn and watch illusions float by. I’ll see birds, angels, faces, and more in clouds. How about you?

full moon rising
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Foggy Moon Arising

John C. Fogarty saw a bad moon arisin’. You, my friend, see a Carolina moon arisin’ through ground fog in Enchantment Bay. Fog or not, the moon rises as it always has. Predictably. To those who preceded us eons ago the moon and other heavenly bodies provided a great calendar. For the ancients, understanding the heavens literally meant the difference between life and death. And so, early men were in synch with the rhythms of life for a simple reason: they had no choice.

These rhythms, doubtless, were the only events they could depend on. The sun always rose. The moon went through its cycles, and day and night came predictably. Knowing when to migrate to avoid cold weather … knowing when to plant and harvest … it all depended on reading the skies. Thus did the ancients erect giant monuments to mark the comings and goings of the sun, moon, and stars a la Stonehenge.

This cumulative knowledge in time it helped create the first written calendar. That was more than 4,000 years ago. As surely as the moon controls the tides, there’s a rhythm to life. Nature still has that rhythm, but calendars and clocks bred it right out of man.

boneyard beach on Jekyll
Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island  Photo by Robert C. Clark

Beautiful Losers

Death can be beautiful. So goes the line in a forgotten novel. Here, we witness the last days of a monarch doomed to topple into the sea, overthrown by lunar tides.

And where might we be? Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach, where sea-ravaged trees become beach statuary. Unrepentant Atlantic tides undercut roots, and gravity takes over. Stripped of foliage and bark, the trees throw up sand-smoothed limbs seeking salvation that never comes. Thus, by day, their sun‑bleached trunks, limbs, and rootballs become monuments. By night, these ghostly spectators behold bioluminescent, phosphorescent tides. By dawn, they bless the coast with a phantasmagoric presence like no other.

We call such places bone yards. Here we witness an opus, an epic performance, “Bone Yard Ballet.” Prima ballerinas grace a dais of sand and foam and we catch them at the precise moment all freeze in supplication to the rosy goddess of dawn, Aurora.

In plain talk, we witness the demise of a maritime forest, assassinated by saltwater encroachment as oaks, maples, and other trees lose their battle with the Atlantic. These beautiful losers will never leaf out and turn golden red come fall. Still, we cannot deny that in death they showcase perfection—a photographers’ paradise.

Ebenezer Cemetary In Clio copy
Ebenezer Memorial Garden  Photo by Robert C. Clark

Last Stop

Stark light illuminates a spate of clouds, a field of stubble, and small cemetery. Spring will soon break winter’s grip and bleakness will retreat. That line of naked hardwoods will then clothe itself with a million leaves.

Walker Evans, photographer, and James Agee, writer, didn’t pass by Ebenezer Memorial Garden, but had they, they would have stayed a while. “Tarried,” they’d say. A small tombstone would have caught their eye, for here lies a child.

  1. Evans and Agee, on assignment for Fortune magazine, drive into countryside and enter the world of three tenant farming families. An American classic of photojournalism results—an unsparing record of living with dignity with poverty—Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

In the book, Agee describes a cemetery’s gravestones in detail. “On others of these stones, there is something I have never seen before: by some kind of porcelain reproduction, a photograph of the person buried there.” In “Shady Grove, Alabama, July 1936,” Agee’s oh so carefully chosen sentiment rends the heart. The headstone bearing a six-month girl’s likeness preserves her parents’ heartache. “We can’t have all things in life that please us. Our little daughter, Jo Ann, has gone to Jesus.” —Off Highway 9 in Marlboro County

full moon at dawn

Lowcountry Illusion

Seeing is not always believing. Behold an illusion.

This landscape misleads viewers into thinking a full moon floats over the rising sun. Just the opposite. The moon sets in the west as the sun rises. Anticrepuscular rays—cloud shadows converging opposite the rising sun—reinforce the illusion.

We’ve all seen the common crepuscular rays known as sunrays. Thanks to perspective, they converge like spokes to a hub. Nothing new. You’ve seen a field’s plowed rows go from wide to narrow and train rails converge into infinity.

To put things in perspective, imagine you’re standing in the middle of a long straight road. To the east, it converges at the horizon. Now look to the west. There, too, it converges. Crepuscular and anticrepuscular rays behave much the same way.

As for that mouthful, “crepuscular, it means resembling twilight.

The setting? Fripp Inlet. None other than Blackbeard may have hidden his pirated bounty on Fripp Island, the most seaward of South Carolina’s islands. Perhaps a beautiful morning such as this greeted Edward Teach after a long night of plundering and drunken revelry. Most likely this old salt was quite familiar with such atmospheric optics. If not, no doubt he checked his compass ’fore setting sail.

(This photograph appears on page 224 in Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, University of South Carolina Press.)
Middle Saluda River copy
Middle Saluda  Photograph by Robert C. Clark

Threads Of Silk

Witness a battle older than mankind. The irresistible force versus the immovable object. Water wins. Note the fractures freezing water cleaved in boulders. The battle never ends, and eons of weathering, water, and gravity shatter rock into seaward-bound shards. A beach of the future waits among the greenery, rock, and water.

See the copper-like glint of rock? Riches hide in streams. Aspiring miners (if you know one) will tell you. They pan for placer gold. Trout fishermen, too. They use their pan in an altogether different way, however.

This silky water, like “many threads being pulled,”* seeks the Atlantic, giving man many gifts along the way and receiving no small amount of abuse in return.

The Middle Saluda, thankfully, has a fairy-tale-like story. It was the first river South Carolina’s 1978 Scenic Rivers Program protected. Roughly five miles of the Middle Saluda and its major tributary, Coldspring Branch, enjoy a 600-foot wide scenic corridor from U.S. Highway 276 to one mile upstream of the defunct Cleveland Fish Hatchery.

The river, running through northern Greenville County within Jones Gap State Park, drops nearly 1,000 feet in four miles. Its clear, cold water supports self-sustaining trout populations … and beaches of the future.

* From James Dickey, Deliverance
October 22nd image Marsh
Photograph by Robert C. Clark

A Golden Treasure … The Sea’s Nursery

The colors of the Earth live in this Hunting Island estuary. The hues hint of abundant life, for when marsh grass turns golden, it begins to break down and nourish the sea’s food chain.

The beauty’s obvious. The utility isn’t. Yet few places are as biologically rich as a salt marsh where sunlight, nutrients, and water produce five to seven times more protein per acre than an acre of Midwest wheat.

Tides flow in and tides flow out, planetary breathing. And how lovely when winds ghost across marsh grass, which gives form to zephyrs. And when the tides stand still, the sea holds its breath until the moon’s push-pull nourishing of creeks resumes.

Gazing upon this spartina-fringed estuary near Hunting Island should resurrect the fertile smell of marshes, a fragrance that speaks of life rising from death.