A Photographic Journey of Life on Pine Mountain
The Miracle of Life
Livestock is a way of life on Pine Mountain. There is lazy acre-after-acre devoted to cattle on all four corners and everywhere in between. In addition to cows of all colors, the Mountain has boasted llamas, ostrich, longhorns, goats, pigs, and horses. While the motorcycle riders love to wind along the mountain roads, I've often wondered if they can see past the view. In the quiet stillness and simplicity of nature, far from the reach of the noise of transportation, politics and pandemics, Mother Earth patiently awaits for all of us to simply find our way home.
I have lived on Pine Mountain for 15 years. In that time, I've seen a hundred calves, but only witnessed one live birth. To describe birth as a miracle sells it short if we still take life for granted. Life is FAR MORE than a miracle. It is an act of strength and bravery - an expecting mother has no recourse. The gestation period for a cow is the same as a human. When herds are left to themselves and something goes wrong, well, it just goes wrong. If all goes right, the calf comes into this world head and feet first and will be standing on it's own in minutes.
This mother separated herself from the herd along a fence line in the shade while another cow stood watch. Then she gave birth without incident while the water welling up in my eyes gave way to tears. I couldn't see her pain anymore and I was sure she couldn't feel it. That's the miracle of birth.
I haven't eaten beef since that day without thanking the animal for sacrificing it's life for me and still try not to. Thankfully, I've never seen a fish give birth!
Sometimes you get lucky and Mother Nature will share a secret with you. On this day, this baby male, which we named Bucky, licked the salt from our calves. Sunshine is free but sometimes too hot. Blue skies are free but sometimes littered with contrails. Grass is free but sometimes not right for barefooting. Holding a baby deer in your arms, priceless. (NOTE: Not to worry, Bucky is living comfortably on 100 acres and was only bottle fed until he could take care of himself in the wild.)
The Miracle of Snow
Pine Mountain exudes the simply bounty of hills and sky. There are abandoned silos and two story houses, but no tall buildings to leap over or boast. I have watched as the seven mountain ranges behind my home have changed oe'r the years. Entire tree lines have vanished. Highways have been cut through leaving stark empty rectangles through a mountainside. Cell towers now dot every range like dominos. There are flight patterns that drizzle the sky with contrails like it was a bowl of blue ice cream. As cities in the distance grow, so does light pollution.
Still I am lucky.
My spot on the mountain is touched by the hand of God and from there, you can still see the Milky Way, hear the call of pack coyotes and whippoorwills, and taste the blackberries straight from the bush without fear of pesticides. I've seen a bald eagle fly across this very stretch of land, just above the fence line, without once flapping its wing. Despite the changing world around me, here, in this place, I can stand still in time and wish for nothing more.
Snow used to be common on Pine Mountain -- two or three good snows a year. I've even seen it over a foot deep and wild rabbits bounce gracefully through it like it was cotton.
The last two winters haven't shown us a single flake and I fear a changing climate may forever take that from me. But I still have a still life photograph to remind me of just how special snow is when it's not littered with buildings, metal objects, automobiles, and the like.
Snow is synonymous with everything we wished we could be.
The Miracle of Majesty
The hay field is an essential element, just as if it were fire, water or air. Cows must be fed in the winter. In the heat of the summer, hay balers will bale hay by night rather than day. If you're lucky enough, like me, to live adjacent to a hay field, then you can see the lights of the machines dancing in the tree tops and across the sky or your bedroom ceiling. It's better than any fireworks display on July 4 and it leaves you just as proud and humbled to be an American without the risk of burning someone's haybarn down.
The Miracle of Rainbows and Butterflies
In the field behind my home, you can see the entirety of a rainbow. I've seen full rainbows there at least three times. But to see the entirety of double rainbows had my eyes watering again. It's as though God's perfect pen drew two perfect lines in the sky -- one for me and one for Himself.
Years after this photo, my mother passed on. On my way home from her bedside where I had spent weeks, I saw five rainbows along the highway and that was just the beginning. There is no rainbow's end unless you're looking for gold. Otherwise, rainbows are only beginnings.
Pine Mountain is a migratory pattern for many species of butterflies and birds. Just as important, it is home to many bees. In my own backyard, the sounds of a thundering beehive in the distance still puzzles me each year. I am yet to find it (which may be a good thing). Riding my bike one day, I traveled along ground as thousands of hawks migrated across the mountain in the sky. That was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had (but not because I was on a mountain bike).
I am reminded of the song that "life is not always rainbows and butterflies; it's compromise that moves us along." But what a glorious day it is when we can have all three.
The Miracle of Hope
The hay field is busy making daffodils and dandelions when it's not busy making hay. "Make a wish," we say, and then blow! It reminds me of a favorite childhood book called Dandelion. There the dandelion was a horse, but nonetheless, the Creed of the Dandelion was the very same:
"Picture in your mind - all that you may beAnd with a little time - you will come to see;That in the game of life - your dreams will come aliveBy thinking of the end result - as if it had arrived."
We should never give up hope. I have at times and it wasn't worth the anguish. There is far more beauty than pain in hope, if even you must go it alone. I learned the key is knowing when to let go of false hope. You can't hold real hope and false hope in your heart at the same time.
Every year at Christmas, "The Star" Lights up on the west side of the Mountain. It's an enormous feat of lights and can be seen from the neighboring mountains. It stands to remind us of another miracle, the most important miracle of all. We all need a star to guide our way and when we get there, let us not forget why we made the journey to begin with.
The Miracle of Peace
As if the natural miracles of Pine Mountain weren't enough for me, I created a peace garden in my backyard. Planted there are 13 varieties of fern, japonicas, a Lilly of the Valley, azaleas, and wild oak hydrangeas. There is no greater peace that a man can find that that which abounds in a garden. I learned the hard way that there is no peace without forgiveness and the person that needed forgiveness most, was myself.
As Dorothy Frances Gurney wrote,
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth."
I hope you enjoyed my photographic tour of miracles and I wish you all the peace that you can find, whether in the garden you planted in soil or the garden you've planted in your soul.