Around the world in 30 days (3)

The plane flew east over the Pacific. I slept as we passed over a quarter of the earth, and the clock turned back to yesterday. In LA I changed planes in a daze, and woke up only near dawn, to a question about coffee or tea. I can take bad coffee easier than bad tea. As I nursed a tasteless hot cup, I looked down at a very rumpled landscape cut through by rivers of clouds.

Where were we? The seat next to me was empty, and the cabin crew had done their job and passed on. The announcement from the cockpit was my saviour. We were passing the rockies. I looked down as we flew towards the terminator, the colour changing to a bright gold as the peaks turned gradually towards the sun. This must have been the southern tip of the range; we were perhaps over north Arizona or south Utah.

These 50 million year old mountains were not my destination this time. We flew over the north American continental divide towards the 450 million years old Appalachian mountains. I find it amazing that these mountains continue on into the Scottish hills and the Atlas mountains of Morocco. They were formed in the collision of the north American and African plates as the supercontinent of Pangaea was formed.

My destination was Gatlinburg in Tennessee. Thirty years ago this was still a bustling tourist town. It was amazing luck that someone would actually want to have a conference in this lovely place, otherwise I would never have thought of coming here. Soon enough I had my first view of the Smoky Mountains (see featured photo). I always thought that the “smoke” that hangs over these mountains must be mist. But I read that this is at least partly caused by organic compounds exhaled by trees.

I managed to get away from my work for long enough to go for a short walk through the mountains. Autumn is a wonderful time here. Even after seeing the deliberately planted autumn garden of Nikko in the previous week, a walk through the woods was stunning. I have a fond memory of a part of the path in which all the trees on one side had turned red but those on the other were green.

The mountains have (had? This was thirty years ago) cut through by beautiful streams, with absolutely clear water. This was my first visit to a national park in the US. My memories of the town of Gatlinburg have faded, but not of my walk through the forest. There are so many things left to see around the world that I don’t think I will go back, but it is a memory that remains alive.

The Purple Mountain

I’d two alternatives planned for Sunday morning in Nanjing. If the weather was good, I would go up to Zijin Shan, the Purple Mountain, and visit the Xiaoling tomb of the first Ming emperor. On the other hand, if it rained or it was too cold, I would go off to see the famous Nanjing Museum. As it happened, it was a beautiful autumn day, crisp and cool, and I felt very well rested after a long sleep, and ready for a good walk. I wasn’t sure that the autumn colours would still persist into the middle of November, but it had been a warm month, and I was lucky. The first view of the area was stunning, as you can see in the featured photo.

It was a lovely day for a walk, and clearly a large number of people had come to the same decision. The Purple Mountain covers a large area, but Nanjing is a large town. The place was crowded. When I’m not on the track of birds or wildlife, I don’t mind crowds. I walked along with Chinese families, groups of friends, couples out to enjoy themselves. A sunlit meadow surrounded by maple trees drew my attention. I sat on a bench below a tree and shed my sweater. The leaves were turning colour above me. It was wonderfully restful, but after a week of sitting in meetings, I wanted to spend the day walking.

Later, when I got back to the stream I walked along it. In the beautiful light even dry twigs could be beautiful. Families had claimed bits of the river bank for a while, to take photos of each other, or to sit down for a picnic. I sat and took photos of the beautiful autumn.

The weeping willows which dip their leaves into the flowing water were turning colour. How does one capture the warmth and the sunlight? Perhaps by concentrating on little details like the backlit leaves.

Little dry leaves floated down the river. I took a few photos. It was time to go.

A miniature world

Autumn is supposed to be the time when life shuts down, trees dry up, the land turns barren. Demeter is supposed to withdraw from the world to mourn for Persephone. These are stories and suppositions, which my new macro lens puts a lie to. A dried bush (see the featured photo) becomes home to mould which germinates and begins to spread its spores. This world is spring, as far as the mould is concerned.

After a long spell of continuous rain, I walked to work on a sunny morning and stopped to admire a six century old rubble wall. In hollows and cracks in the stone, between the flakes of mortar, and against the sometimes-dry-sometimes-wet stone, new life is burgeoning. “Winter is coming” is a slogan for life in this miniature world.

This is a green and brown world which I had paid no attention to earlier. Now that I have a macro lens, I look continuously for new subjects to photograph. What a difference a new tool can make to your whole worldview!

Rilke country

This is my favourite time in northern Germany. The cold has not yet settled in. The weather is fickle: sunny and warm one day, foggy another, and cooler with rain if you are unlucky. But through it all there is the glow of leaves turning colour.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.
–Rainer Maria Rilke

I think of this as Rilke’s country, where lonely people sit under the golden trees writing long letters and reading a little. I will post more on this through the season. Here are a few photos through my first day here.