25% off - Small Business Saturday! by sam taylor

Like A Technicolor Dream - West Virginia

Hi Gang!

We are a small business, and y’all have been great to us for years now. As a small gesture, take 25% off any order as part of Small Business Saturday, using code STPSALE in our store (or send us an email).

If you have something that you really, really want by Christmas, we need your order by 12/28 to make sure we can get it ready.

Sale starts 5:30pm on Thursday, 11/22, just in time for your post-dinner surfing and football watching. :)

Hope folks have a great holiday.

Valley Falls (Autumn 2018) - West Virginia by sam taylor

Valley Falls (Fall 2018) - West Virginia

Good Thursday Morning!

This is a story about perseverance. Perseverance and luck. And learning.

About 10 years ago, I bought what I thought was a “good” digital camera. A point and shoot Canon A640, 10 mega pixels, and at first I used it the way most people use their cameras. Taking pictures at birthday parties, smiling faces standing on the beach, new cars. Then I decided that I wanted to learn how to take Photographs, not snapshots. I started learning how to use the manual modes on that little guy, I started to figure out how ISO, Aperture, and Time worked in creating images.

And I went to Valley Falls a lot - my daughter loved the playground and the rocks, and I loved the variation in scenery - rocks, water, trees. I learned the basics of waterfall photography there on that little point and shoot. After that first success in the technique, I tried, over and over, to get an image of the falls that I truly liked. I got some I liked better than others, but there were so many that I thought fell short.

Over the years, I returned. I got better gear (but stuck with Canon). I learned about my gear.  I kept trying, and some were better than others, but I never took one that felt like a “signature” image of Valley Falls.

And then this year, we went down on a wet, overcast, fall day, and it seemed like this was my chance. 10 years of trying, and learning, and trying some more.

And I came home with what is my personal favorite capture of Valley Falls.

Does that mean I won’t return to try again? No. I’ll be back, to try again.

But at least I can see the progress.

Hope y’all have a great weekend.

Valley Falls (Autumn 2018) - West Virginia

The Back Way - West Virginia by sam taylor

The Back Way - West Virginia

Good Tuesday Morning!

A lot of thoughts on my mind today, as I can see the upcoming year being one of seismic change for me - and that’s if things go according to plan. I have thoughts on art and the work we do here, and what “authenticity” means in the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts” and digital manipulation. I have thoughts on culture, education, and how these things must be addressed if we want this little part of the world to be the best it can be.

Maybe we’ll get into all of these over the winter months, where we have to make up for the fact that the world is grey and dark with a bit more thought-provoking content.

Today, I just want to remind folks that sometimes - often, matter of fact - simpler is better. Today’s image is not about how to make your dog an “instagram influencer” or about the perils of AI. Today’s image is about taking the back way. The slow road. About seeing the beauty that lives everywhere around us, whether or not folks are “liking and commenting”, or charging admission, or trying to put a posted sign up and a fence around it to keep everyone else out.

Hope folks have a great week.

The Back Way - West Virginia

Halfway There - West Virginia by sam taylor

Halfway There - West Virginia

Holy crap it’s early. Still dark. Cold. And I am very comfortable under the blankets (Carmen adding some warmth isn’t hurting either).

We had set the alarms last night, knowing it would be early, but we have talked about wanting to experience sunrise here pretty much since the first time we saw this place. It had been clear last night, but leaning my head out I see fog, and think some more about how it is really warm under those blankets. But, the excitement wins out, and we roll out into the darkness.

Carmen has a camp stove and kit to make coffee, we both have headlamps, and noting the “bears frequent this area” sign we head into the woods singing made-up songs:

We are singing!

So the bears

Do not freak out.

We are singing!

So the bears

Know we are here

As we round the corner for the overlook, the glow is already lighting up the ground to where we don’t need the headlamps, and…

Wow.

I stop, put my gear down, and stand in awe of what I am seeing. A rolling sea of clouds, with islands - mountaintops - peeking through them. A crescent moon rising in the pre-dawn, stars visible high in the sky. It literally brings a quick tear to my eye - this is where I live. This is home. I am here, in this moment, and no one other than us will ever see exactly this moment ever again.

I hope folks have a great weekend, and you seize the moments given to you.

Halfway There - West Virginia

Water, Rocks, Leaves - Maryland by sam taylor

Water Rocks Leaves - Maryland

Happy Election Day Tuesday!

This season was a bit of a slow burn - it held on green a lot later than I expected, then when it happened, it happened everywhere, all at once. It also has been a somewhat wet fall, and while that usually doesn’t suit us very well, it has meant spectacular conditions for this type of shot - water, rocks, and leaves.

Our falls are usually the “dry season” in West Virginia, so folks tend to congregate and shoot the same places, over and over. Carmen and I made it a stated mission to not go (or shoot) to the Glade Creek Mill (Babcock) or Dolly Sods this year, but instead, see if we could fill the portfolio with off-the-track beauty that is every bit as good - and a lot less crowded.

Today’s image from the site of the long-extinct town of Schell, WV and Maryland. From what we can tell, Schell was a town on both sides of the Potomac River, established in the late 1880s. Today, the road (and some bridge remnants) still exist, and you can see where the earth has been moved for… something, but that’s it. And on this day, we had this beautiful place - accessible by car, and roughly an hour from Morgantown, all to ourselves.

That beats the crowds any day, in my book.

Water, Rocks, Leaves - Maryland

Top of Cranberry - West Virginia by sam taylor

Top of Cranberry - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

I had a great opportunity to lecture a class here at WVU this week - “Art and Environment”, where I got to speak to a class of up and coming photographers at the College of Creative Arts. It was a rare moment where I got to talk about the intersection of my passions - West Virginia, photography, what makes a good image, and then about the people, economy, our relationship with energy and industry, and the environment.

I got to talk about how West Virginia isn’t poverty porn - or the tourist book. I got to talk about how, as artists, I believe that we have a responsibility to tell the stories of this place and our experience with it, and not just take “pretty pictures”. I got to talk about how none of our challenges are easy - brain drain, the future of energy in the state, how we make good decisions going forward. I got to talk about how if anyone tells they have the “silver bullet” to our challenges, they either don’t know - or are trying to sell you something.

All in all, it was an incredible opportunity, and I’m glad folks thought of me for it.

Today’s image more from “the tourist book”, from before my recent trip to China (and thus explaining all the green). This was from way on top of the Cranberry River (closer to the Glades), and had me mesmerized in the beauty of the place. This is one of those spots like those mentioned in “The Last Forest” - crisp mountain water running under the trees, looking for a brook trout, and joyous that there are places like this left in the world.

Hope folks have a great weekend!

Top Of Cranberry - West Virginia

The Green Light - West Virginia by sam taylor

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A bit of a strange one today. Folks that are regulars to this page know that we spend a lot of time in the woods and mountains, and that has been true for me going back to my childhood. Sometimes, we see or experience things we can’t totally explain.

As a kid, I remember being out sleigh riding by myself down into the woods, and felt sure I was seeing something moving parallel to me in the woods as I hiked out - trying to move quickly, but not too quickly back to the house. I had a scary day hiking the Scenic Highway with my friend John, and hearing what sounded like a party, or a group of voices far off into the woods while we sat, exhausted, on a guardrail in the middle of the night after a horrendous weather day hiking. I’ve felt unexplained dread in my tent in the middle of the night, clutching my hatchet to my chest and trying to will my hearing a little further into the dark.

Lately, it’s been lights. Strange lights, green lights, in places with no roads or houses. Lights that don’t look like campfires or headlamps, but have a hue to them that is so compelling that I’ve felt compelled to try to walk to them, through the dark even though it makes no sense.

I usually write these posts a few days in advance, and today’s is no exception. This image from a recent trip that took us along that old-old Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, and past a long-forgotten Civil War Battlefield on our way to camp.

These lights were not as bright to the naked eye, but a long exposure in the dark revealed this. I’m hoping to get back up there this week and maybe get a little closer.

Hope folks have a great week,

The Green Light - West Virginia

A Hazy, Pleasant, Memory - West Virginia by sam taylor

A Hazy Pleasant Memory - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

Time is funny. Rolling on the backroads with Carmen, we started thinking about how it seems “just like yesterday” that we were first taking the old 4x4 out to chase fall leaves and scenery and adventure, but it was now at least 5 years. 5 years is a long time, and we can weave a tapestry of “remember that one day” across a great part of this beautiful country - but it always feels surprising to visit somewhere and realize that it’s been a couple of years since you’ve been there.

This is becoming an annual tradition for us - we take a tour of the state, ticking between low country and high country - visiting places that we’ve noticed in the years past as either being nice, or “could really be nice” if we catch it at the right time. So we have lots of memories of being in the moment, rolling, some small-town radio station on in the background, trying to figure out how to connect this one-lane road to the next one. And virtually all of those memories are good, even when we were getting our butt kicked by bad weather, or drive up into the mountains to find the leaves going from green-to-brown, or hit someplace and realize that we are a week late. Why? Because we remember the good parts, or the laughing at our bad luck, or the eternal optimism that “we’ll get it next year.”

Hopefully, this day - where we caught the sunrise on a mountaintop looking down at the clouds, then came here for early morning sun and breakfast, before a full day of playing in the Indian Summer part of the fall, will slot right in there. A Hazy, Pleasant, Memory that we keep for a long time to come.

A Hazy, Pleasant, Memory - West Virginia

The Old Ways - West Virginia by sam taylor

The Old Ways - West Virginia

Good Tuesday Morning -

A thought I always have while roaming the backroads and old grades and trails of West Virginia is how fast this place reclaims it's history, but how delicate it can be to those changes. I am a huge fan of the book "The Last Forest" by G.D. McNeill - this book is set initially in the 1880s, when the old-growth forest still dominated this state, and he tells tales about fishing for trout and hiking and camping the mountains near where I grew up - along the Cranberry and Williams Rivers. The book ends 50 years later, with the virgin forest utterly destroyed, and the men that had grown up there surveying the destruction.

Reading through that book, McNeill talks about camping in the spruce forests before the timber era, bed down on the moss, staring at the stars.

It's hard to imagine, looking out at the forests of today, but of roughly 10 million acres of virgin forest in West Virginia, only 263 acres remain - at Gaudineer Scenic Area and in Cathedral State Park. That means that just about anywhere you go in the state - someone has been there before.

Today's image is a call-back to McNeill. Camped out in a hemlock grove, feeling the moss and the soft needles in the understory, watching the stars wheeling through the sky above, and trying to imagine what it would have been like, and wondering who might have slept in this spot before, over the long arch of time.

The Old Ways - West Virginia

Taking Breath - West Virginia by sam taylor

Taking Breath - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning - 

I've been trying to be a bit conscious about any "political leaning" posts lately.  The tone and tenor of just about every discussion of late has been tense - friends and family going at each other, not over political differences anymore, but about the core of whether the people we are surrounded by are "good". Do they truly care about their fellow men and women? Do they have empathy for folks around them, for folks that may have a different but equally hard life? Or are they “screw you, I’m fine” - or even worse “screw you, you don’t have it so bad”. It’s tough - having these fundamental questions about the character, the morals, of people we know, people we feel close to.

In a sense, that is part of why we have felt more motivated than normal to disappear to the mountains, keeping our own company, because trust is low.  

What does this have to do with today's photo?  We talk about West Virginia having "breathtaking scenery", and so far this fall, it has been no exception.  The combination of changing leaves and storms has made this fall one of the most serene and beautiful seasons I've seen in a while - which has given us a chance to escape the noise, and the rancor, and the worry about being "let down" by people.  We get a chance to take a breath, be with each other, and know that we are pulling this load together.

Hope y'all have a lovely weekend.

Taking Breath - West Virginia

Could You Do It? (I could) - West Virginia by sam taylor

Could You Do It?  (I could) - West Virginia

Good Monday Morning!

Glad to be back in the US, and back in the good old mountains of West Virginia in the fall.  

I keep seeing a photo/meme in my social media, and while the details and the image are always a little different, the message is always theis same:

"You have to stay in this cabin for a month, with no internet, cell phone or tv. On the last day you walk out with $100,000."

This seems like one of the silliest things I've ever seen, especially after the last week I've had.  In the last week I traveled to some of the most populated and dense parts of the world, Beijing and Taiyuan China.  As a country boy, I don't know that I will ever get used to places like Beijing.  20 million people in an area slightly bigger than Pocahontas County.  Having massive jet lag, and walking the city at 3am, and there still being a LOT of people up, and working, and shopping.  Whole lives where the city park may be the biggest open area they see.   

Because today, in a world that is getting increasingly hot, developed, and crowded, what I see is that not only would I - and many others - take that deal, I suspect that the ability to go to the cabin in the woods, and intentionally disconnect, and enjoy nature for its own sake, is going to be a luxury reserved for the well-to-do. 

To those of us fortunate enough to call West "By God" home, lets make sure we realize the value of these things.  

Today's Photo feels quaint after this conversation - this is a long abandoned farm, in one of the high valleys of Preston County.  I'm sure at the time, they would have liked a bit more connectivity.  ;)

Could You Do It?  (I Could) - West Virginia

300 Miles to Sunrise - Maryland by sam taylor

300 Miles to Sunrise - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

There is a difference between traveling “for fun” and traveling “for work”. Lucky for me, I generally enjoy traveling regardless. It always helps to recenter and reset my thinking about this world we live in, and help me keep perspective on the problems and joys we face, both here in West Virginia/Appalachia, and in the country more generally.

I feel like every time I go on a “big” trip, I come back imploring folks to travel - even it it’s a lower-cost fully road-trip camping and couch crashing trip, and to someplace not in the tourist guides. There isn’t much to learn about our world from a week in a chain hotel in Myrtle Beach, drinking the same drinks and eating the same food that you can get at home. It also doesn’t just mean “cities” - I have learned so much from going to the “Richwood” sized towns in New Mexico, or Indiana, or even China, and seeing how “normal” folks live “normal” lives in their little part of the world.

Today’s image tries to speak to that romanticism of the road. Pushing through the night, heading for a new experience in the morning. Only 300 miles to sunrise.

300 Miles To Sunrise - Maryland

Antique Apples - West Virginia by sam taylor

Antique Apples - West Virginia

Good Early October -

The leaves are still awfully green out there, but it does seem that fall is upon us. We traveled over the high-country this weekend, and not a lot of leaf-changing, but all the other signs - including the fall fruit and harvest - are on full display right now.

I decided to highlight this apple tree today as it has been a long time resident of the homestead, and I have no idea what it’s history is. The tree is old - very old, for apple trees - as my dad remembers this tree when he was a boy. More interesting to me, the fruit is darn near inedible off the tree - extremely hard and tart - and it’s a tough old lady, holding fruit through the winter on the limbs. I wonder if they could be used for (or originally were) hard cider apples, based on their taste, and if anyone out there has any ideas I’d be excited to hear them.

I am thinking about picking a couple of apples and trying to get some new starts. Would be a shame to let something as old and tough as this pass without trying.

Hope folks have a great week.

Antique Apples - West Virginia

She - West Virginia by sam taylor

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Once upon a time, I met a girl while playing Jenga. We hit it off, but we weren’t on a date, and we were pretty sure we weren’t dating.

Then, a little while later, she took me out and we danced, and she hiked with me to waterfalls, and she walked with me in summer sun, and we found our way home, and then we were pretty sure we were dating.

Then, we decided that we wanted to “say something” about this place, and we worked together to talk about our adventures, and she went with me to Seneca Rocks, and High Falls of the Cheat, and Blackwater, and we danced, and we won, and we lost, and tried, and we failed, and we won some more.

Then, one day, she asked me to marry her. No way that was going to be normal, because none of the rest of it had been. We went too hard for everyone else, and we wanted different things than everyone else, so why would we do that like everyone else?

So now, we are planning a wedding, and she does things everyday to make me laugh, or to make me calm, or to make me curious. And she is pretty much the only one that can get me to dance.

She is pretty great.

And I’m glad she chose me.

She - West Virginia

The Abandoned Turnpike - Pennsylvania by sam taylor

sideling hill tunnel - pennsylvania

Good Tuesday Morning!

We love traveling to historic and abandoned places.  We've done full write ups on lost ranches and civilizations (The Die Back), abandoned railroads (Adventure in the Gauley Canyon) and decaying factory towns (The Lost Town of Hammond).   Because of this, sometimes we have our readers send us ideas, and sometimes we find things on our own.  Today's post is a bit of both.  

After the Hammond piece, I received some comments about the "abandoned turnpike" in Pennsylvania.  I did enough homework to know, generally, where it was, but we didn't travel in that direction very often, and it got pushed back on the stack.  A few weeks ago, we had an event in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, and it seemed like the right time. 

The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940, and was meant to help connect the mountainous central part of Pennsylvania to the east and west, using a right of way and several tunnels that were originally bored for an uncompleted railroad in the 1880s.  The highway was successful - too successful.  By the late 1950s there would be traffic jams at the tunnels - where the road necked down from 4-lanes to just 2, and the state started working to widen the road.  After looking at the designs and costs, it became cheaper to bypass two tunnels, the Rays Hill Tunnel and Sideling Hill Tunnel.  Once this happened, a 13-mile section of turnpike became abandoned in the rural Pennsylvania mountains. 

I always feel a bit sad and confused when we find things like this - to think that there were people that devoted their lives to building and maintaining things like this, and now they are left to the elements. 

Regardless, it was a very cool - and surreal - detour into Pennsylvania.  For a bit of context, the photo in the advertisement below is of this same spot - the entrance to the Sideling Hill Tunnel, from 1959.

goodyear-tires-pennsylvania-turnpike-1.jpg

You can find a map for the parking area for the Sideling Hill Tunnel section here.

Talk to y'all on Friday.

The Abandoned Turnpike - Pennsylvania

Headwaters of Glade Run - West Virginia by sam taylor

Headwaters of Glade Run - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning!

Sometimes we are on an adventure, and see something so good that the pressure is on trying to capture it - that you REALLY want to make a good image of what you are seeing.

We took off to celebrate Carmen's birthday, and managed to get what has been a rare combo lately - nice weather, on the weekend.  We drew up a loop that took us out and around some "greatest hits" spots near Davis and Thomas, and then by some friends house - way too ambitious for the time we had, but we knew that going in, so at least the pressure off.  As we rolled out, it seemed like the universe was working for us - our friends called us somewhere near Rowlesburg, and we connected with them first - so started the day with some of our favorite people - and then, only had to make a plan that would get us to dinner time.

From there, we decided that we'd aim for the backside of Dolly Sods/tippy-top of Canaan Valley, a patch of ground that has been very good to us in the last few years - full of adventure, and critters, and plants - and after a bit of navigating and jeeping, we were watching a beautiful summer afternoon transition to a beautiful summer sunset. 

We wandered the alder stands, sunk in bogs over our shoes, marveled at how much it felt like the west - aspens at 3,000ft - and then got to watch this - and felt the pressure to "get it right".  Because it was right.  The day was right.  Our people were right.  And we felt right - a lovely, quiet afternoon together out in the wilds. 

Headwaters of Glade Run - West Virginia

With Tired Souls We Slept - West Virginia by sam taylor

With Tired Souls We Slept - West Virginia

Good Tuesday Morning!

 

It's setting up to be a busy fall for us.  October is "Art Show Season", and is always a time of heavy travel generally for weddings and being outside.  I'm working up a bigger piece with some of my thoughts on Autumn, and hope, maybe, to have some time for a little fiction project going into the fall and winter.  Why am I sweating it so hard?  Because 2018-2019 is shaping up to be crazy busy - I'm trying to push a degree across the finish line, plan a wedding, and continue to contribute to all the things I do already.  If that means our posting is a little lumpy this fall, I hope folks will understand.

 

The title of today's image reflects a bit of that fatigue and view going forward.  It feels like we are putting a lot of effort out there for lumpy returns, but we must keep trying.  So we rest up, and we try again.  The view is obscured, but we can still see the light, and we know the beauty is out there.

 

With Tired Souls We Slept - West Virginia

 

Monarchs Munching Milkweed - West Virginia by sam taylor

Monarchs Munching Milkweed - West Virginia

Good Friday Morning Everyone,

It's funny the things that you learn as you grow older.  When I was a kid, one of my jobs around the farm was to cut out milkweeds in the hayfields around the house - the milkweed could mess up the hay, and poison the animals that were fed it.  This led to me thinking for a long time that milkweed was "bad", and didn't serve much of a purpose.  It also seemed to be terribly common when I was doing this job - I never lacked for work while doing this. 

As I got older, I started hearing that monarch butterflies are on the decline, and that some of the cause may be agricultural conflicts - people cutting out the milkweed on farms and fields, and it not getting planted in other places.  I also started to notice that I wasn't seeing it "around" the way I did when I was younger.  It wasn't growing in the ditchlines or in the unmowed lawns of old houses the way I remember.  This is a big problem for these guys, as monarchs feed exclusively on milkweed when they are in the early stages of their development.

This guy inspired me, taken in the top of Canaan Valley last week.  This single plant had 3 caterpillars on it - and there weren't many other plants around.  Even up in the valley, I wasn't finding as many as I expected. 

So, I found myself shopping for milkweed seeds today, and with a little luck, I'll have a little milkweed flower garden out beside the house next year.  I'm not feeding cattle so much these days, so maybe I can feed a few monarchs on their way through town.

Monarchs Munching Milkweed - West Virginia

 

 

Summer Sunset Sheep - West Virginia by sam taylor

Summer Sunset Sheep

Good Tuesday Afternoon!

Today's image is all fun, but it does speak to why I love where I live.  Last week, we had a break from what has been non-stop rain, and decided we'd go on a "hike" around Morgantown.  Morgantown is a unique town - there are hidden corners, dead end streets, whole neighborhoods that are tucked away, but right in the middle of town.  Today's image highlights a little bit of that - a corner of the University Farm.  

I had family that went to the Agriculture School in the 1940s, and talked about how far it was to walk from the downtown campus to the farm.  In the intervening 60+ years, town grew up around the farm, and today the farm is a welcome break from the sprawl and townhouses and roads.  It was a bit surreal to hike up on these guys while looking back into town, and seeing the apartments on the other side of the valley.

Summer Sheep Sunset - West Virginia

 

One Year Ago - Wyoming by sam taylor

One Year Ago - Wyoming

Good Friday Morning,

I've been seeing a lot of flashbacks to the "Great American Eclipse" from a year ago this week, and I'll admit a bit of nostalgia.  That trip was incredible to us, and while we did the eclipse proper - from a partridge farm in Torrington, Wyoming, I wanted to share an image from that trip that didn't make it into our trip log.  This image from the approach to Killpecker Dunes, in the Green River Basin part of Wyoming.  The prominent spire in the center of the image is the "Boar's Tusk", and for perspective, it's 400 feet tall above the plain. 

I suspect it's a matter of time before I end up retreating to the West - the older I get, the less I can manage our winters and wet, cold springs - and when I imagine that change, places like this are what I imagine. 

In the end, time is a slippery, tangled up thing.  It's always humbling to think about where you were a year ago (or five years ago).  Lucky for me, on this date at least, I was in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. 

Hope folks have a great weekend. 

One Year Ago