Saturday, December 28, 2013


“They’ll get you if you misbehave” said my parents as we crossed the bridge over the creek below the old cattle barns. “Who will?” I asked. They responded as most parents have and now in the same manner which I respond to my son; with the story of the trolls that live under the bridge who seem to have a penchant for kidnapping misbehaved children and making stew out of them, or so I was told. This is among my first cognizant memories of my early visits to Brookberry Farm prior to my Grandmother’s death in 1974. The other would have been riding down what seemed to be the most impossibly long and steep hill that was the driveway on a Radio Flyer sled that had been outfitted with wheels and no brakes. That last detail was the most memorable being that one had to intentionally bail out in order to stop. I still have faded reminders of those moments on my left knee. Ah yes! The days before product liability took the fun out of everything. Our visits were few, but always special.

My Great Uncle Gordon Gray, bought the first pieces of land that now comprises Brookberry back in 1944. Shortly after the purchase he was called to Washington and realized that he would not be able to build and he sold the farm to my Grandfather, Bowman Gray, Jr. Although my Grandfather’s full time job was with RJR, I believe he secretly (or not so secretly) desired to be a cattleman. He kept and bred Guernsey cattle and later Charolais. He actually held a breeder’s conference with his Brother Gordon at Brookberry in the mid 1950’s hosting breeders from around the US. I expect that he found the land and the animals very therapeutic as they allowed him to decompress from the exposure to a high-pressure job. Rumor has it that not only was each cow named; he also in a style true to his persona, remembered them all. I think there is something inherent regarding my personal attachment and sentiment towards the farm. I believe my Grandfather left a good deal of himself in that land and I too have found peace out there during more stressful moments in my life.

Although I was born in Winston-Salem, my Father’s work took us to Paris when I was only six months old and then on to Pennsylvania until 1978 when we finally moved back to Winston-Salem and on to Brookberry. For a nine year old, this seemed to be heaven with the long driveway allowing for warp speed on a BMX bike, huge Magnolia trees perfect for climbing, small lakes full of fish, old barns ripe for exploration and a veritable zoo of animals, some domesticated, some definitely not. Dogs (some generously donated by local college students that no longer wished to care for the cute little puppies that their girlfriends/boyfriends had given them for their birthdays), cats, horses, cows, turkeys, rabbits, coyotes, fox and any number of large predatory birds swooping down at any given moment. At times it was like living in our own episode Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Being allowed full reign over the farm, I took to my bike and learned how to make relatively short work of the nearly mile and a half long driveway leading out to Meadowlark Drive even with a fishing rod stretched across the handlebars. There were several gravel roads leading to various work sheds, fields and the upper lake where I learned how to use a spinning reel and caught my first prize bass (a real mistake to try to cook and eat it). I also learned to ride horses, drive and shoot (not at the same time of course) by the time I was twelve. The summers seemed to last a lifetime and there is nothing quite like the symphony of sound that erupts at night out there in late July. Armies of crickets, cicadas and a few barn owls would sing us to sleep most nights. The smell of the boxwoods, the magnolia blossoms, freshly cut hay rolled into bales and even those confounded old chestnut trees that during the spring could make a skunk think twice, can take me back to my youth. Being that Brookberry was still considered to be way out in the country, having classmates over was not a common event and I spent most of my time with the children whose parents either rented houses on the farm or lived near by. Exploring, fishing and trying to defy the fixed laws of gravity on our bikes were the usual pass times. That period of time growing up between ages nine and thirteen is when we begin to define who we are to become. Little did I know that while I was starting to grow up, I was living in place that was slowly becoming a representation of what once was.

As a teenager when I “returned” home from boarding school, family life had changed and we had moved off of the farm. Although we were now living closer to town, I still sought the relative safety and solitude of the farm not because I really had an appreciation for it as I do now, but because like most teenagers I wanted to be out of sight of my parents and the authorities. I should add that it is a miracle that the trolls did not come and get me at age 16. I shared this privilege with many friends whose names will be withheld to protect the guilty, you know who you are. Anyway, the farm also provided a bit of relief from life’s stresses that we all encounter with usual family mayhem and disturbances. I will forever be grateful for having a place to hide if only for a couple of hours.

Now that I am grown (still seem to continue to grow outwards) and have a family of my own, I have had the chance to share this sacred place with my children. About half of the farm has yet to be developed and is still held for the family as private property. My family and I have had the pleasure of planting gardens out there with friends and their children, teaching my son to use a spinning reel, how to shoot a BB gun, sledding in winter and many of the other things that I experienced for the first time at Brookberry as a boy. I take them there, my family and friends, for the same selfish reason I share all of this with you – I want people to remember Brookberry as it was. I want to share these pictures with all of you so that maybe one of my memories, or possibly one of your own from out there, will stick just a little longer.

To those of you that are now living on or are considering living on Brookberry Farm, I want you to know how special it is. When next you visit Brookberry or return home to it, step outside, take a deep breath, look and listen to it all very carefully and with any luck you will find what four generations of my family have found.

As sad as I am to see it go, growth and progress are inevitable. My Grandfather was an advocate for the growth and progress of our hometown. How pleased he would be to see all of you sharing in what was his pride.

The trolls have had to move on as the bridge has been left in disrepair from construction vehicles and the area known as the “bottoms” has been flooded to create a new lake. This is the plight of the trolls. They are aware that no bridge lasts forever and that sooner or later they must find a new one. As they settle under their new bridge, as we all must do from time to time, their sadness eventually wanes and is replaced with happy memories of having chased all those unruly children who visited Brookberry Farm. So it is with us as well.

In closing I want to paraphrase something E.B. White said regarding writing his memoirs, he said that there is something rather narcissistic about sharing one’s thoughts and memories with others, because you do so being under the impression that somebody else is going to find your memories and thoughts as interesting as you do. Well, I have to admit that I do feel a bit odd about sharing these personal experiences with all of you, but do sincerely hope that I have caused you to look back or at least appreciate what I and many others once knew as Brookberry Farm.

But please always remember; They will get you……….  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

(Re)Fighting the Civil War

I had the chance to photograph a Civil War reenactment this weekend. I walked away very conflicted about the experience. The history, majesty and dedication to detail was something. The participants camped and lived and acted in a period correct fashion. While certainly the darkest hour in our nation's history, it must be remembered and studied as the old saying goes - if we fail to study our history, we are doomed to repeat it.

What I found disturbing is that for some, the war still rages and the opinion that President Lincoln was indeed a tyrant was very common among the participants and spectators. So this would suggest that among this group of self proclaimed patriots and Americans, that not all men are created equal and that freedom belongs to only a certain section of the population and that those who disagree are either traitors or simply un-American. This attitude coupled with an astonishing amount of revisionist history regarding our founding was beyond alarming.

I am glad I went and I believe that everyone should attend one of these especially now that we are approaching the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg. The more we know, the better prepared we are for the future and the avoidance of the idolization and romanticization of brutal and failed nation that was The Confederate States of America.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mourning Peter Pan

Peter Pan died and I’ve been mourning him for almost 25 years now. Well, he didn’t die as much as I finally have recognized the loss of my youth and I never really honored its passing with the time and sadness it deserved beyond passing moments of nostalgia as when you hear an old favorite song or catch the notes of a faint perfume worn by someone you once knew. I’m not talking about breakdown crying as one might do when we lose a loved one, but an acknowledgement of the power and intensity that is youth that is all too brief. Had I known heading into it, that one day I would actually feel this loss, I do not think I would have loved it as much because I would have been so much more cautious instead of heading into life and love as recklessly as I did – and it was those headlong sprints into everything that produced such sweet and painful memories that now define me. Each time I have allowed myself to wander back in my mind and heart I have instinctively pushed it all back down never allowing myself to pick it up in both hands into the light and marvel at its wonders and disasters. Like turning the pages of an old scrap book where you touch the pages as tenderly as you would stroke the hair of your children, you love the memories that much and in many ways they are just as precious. I suppose its kind of like the loss of a parent in that there will always be hole where they once existed in day to day life, but more than anything we are grateful for the chance to have had what we had while we did. It and they can never be replaced, but how sweet the sorrow knowing that they were born out of love and wonderment that we can only hope our children get to experience the same one day. So tonight I do shed a tear for Peter Pan and thank him for the life we lived so many years ago. Mostly now I am grateful for the perspective that maturity brings now knowing that while I must grieve all of this, I must not stay mired in it, otherwise the sweet memories that are mine to build now will be lost.

Rest well my old friend, thanks for the memories.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Time to burn out the underbrush.

A controlled burn on Pilot Mountain that clearly got out of control.

Sometimes we have these controlled or not so controlled burns in our souls as well. We go in with the intention of just clearing away some dead wood that is resting on the floor of our hearts only to have it result in an uncontrolled outpouring of emotion that we did not know was so very combustable. Setting fire to one branch not knowing that it will ignite the fear or insecurity that was resting against it then spreading to the dry grass of loneliness.

It took the better part of a week for firefighters to bring this burn under control resulting in what was to be a 175 acre burn turned into 1000. So it is with our hearts as well. While it looked so dangerous and damaging beyond its intent, I suspect that it was just what the mountain needed. Just like us, sometimes we start out talking about an old significant event that needs to be looked at and it becomes so much more than we expected and we can't stop it until it has burned all it needs to burn. Like trying to control the fire on the mountain,  if we try too hard to contain it, we ultimately only injure ourselves and place others in danger. We need to get out of its way, let it run as it wants and be ready to address it once it reaches its peak. Once the fire is seen and felt in its entirety, it is more manageable and can systematically be dealt with in pieces. Each section of the mountain soothed with the cool water from the lakes near by. The cool water of our friends extinguish the burn in our souls, a piece at a time until it and we have been exhausted.

Some will look at the charred mountain and lament the apparent damage only seeing what is, forgetting that the spring will bring tender new growth with a deeper green than the mountain has seen in our lifetime. Likewise people will look at us having been through our personal fire and lament our sadness and grief, not considering the sweetness of the new growth to come.

Do not be afraid of the uncontrolled burn. Yes, it is painful, yes, it takes time to allow it to run its course and douse, and yes, recovery takes time. The spring will come and with it an explosion of all things new.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

E.B. White and Genration X, Y and Z (The new silent generation)

First off allow me to apologize for being so long in posting. This has been an extraordinary year for which I am grateful. I will post more personal thoughts as I am able to collect them from the floor and the corners of my study (I think there might be some jammed under the seat of my car as well) and get them organized, or at least thrown together in a paper bag so I know where they are.

As all of you know I am an unabashed fan of E.B. White although I am fairly certain that "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little" were read to me, not by me. I am at present reading "The Letters of E.B. White" which is an amazing collection laid out chronologically beginning with a letter to his brother, Stan, when E.B. was only nine. I feel as if I am walking alongside a man who has been able to articulate with such depth, emotion and texture, the way I see things. It is imperative, however, that to understand these letters, you must read "One man's Meat" and his "Collection of Essays" before diving into his personal thoughts. I am sorry, there are no short cuts in this regard as you will only be left confused and wondering what all the hubbub was about.

In a letter dated 20 December 1938, a thank you note to a friend, White, as usual, weaves in observations from life out in Brooklin, Maine. There is the usual mention of the the current struggles with the hens or the dog or the weather or a looming deadline or the upcoming PTA meeting. He began to lament over the view of the current generation of Mainers in which I think he unknowingly  outlined the trouble with every "next generation".  Here now, in 2012 we look on and back at most recently the "Gen X, Y & Z" cultures or lack thereof, and gave them these very generic titles  that in and of themselves seem to be not so veiled insults about a group of listless wandering 20 somethings who would rather go rock climbing than get a job and be productive. With each new generation looking for direction, they have only one way to look for guidance, and that is to the generation that came before. And it is in that view wherein the root of what we may see to be the problem lies.

White put it like this (and where he references Maine, think of our country as a whole):

"The trouble with Maine is that is has too distinguished of a past. Every day the Bangor Daily News runs a long feature piece on Maine lore or history, usually and octogenarian who still thinks of himself as returning from the China Seas with a sandalwood box for his bride - or a bride for his sandalwood box. Or he is in a clipper ship in a gale off the Horn. I think this kind of reading makes the present generation restless and unhappy, and they are always looking for something bold to do."

He has nailed it with the last sentence "..looking for something bold to do." Today we read about the challenge to go the moon, the victory over other empires, the building of massive financial might and it's subsequent collapse under it's own weight and men like Steve Jobs, who in his own rite is our modern day Sir Edmund Hillary, and I think deserves his own honorary title of Founder in the Explorers Club. X, Y & Z read about, hear about and see nothing but these huge accomplishments (or disasters as the case may be) and I suspect that it all seems too much, so they go climb a mountain. Doing what is probably most valuable to the growing intellect that is not taught in any classroom - the challenge of self.

Now, here is the catch or the rub depending on what happens on that mountain top. Once the personal challenge has been met in the thin and clear air, the next big success or disaster is conceived of to be executed once they have descended from the hilltop. With a clear head, belly full of passion, a JD and MBA they exchange the Patagonia fleece for a suit and try to outdo the previous generation, and they always do. The successes greater than any imaginable and disasters that bring us all to our knees.

We need to be careful how we label this next generation and the implied insult of laziness and we need to be ever more careful about the challenge to boldness we issue to them, for after all, do we really want them to be more bold than those that came before?

Me? Well today I am pondering my ghost of a best friend and wanting to go climb a mountain, all the while being stared down upon by large portraits of my Great Grandfather and Grandfather issuing their challenge to me through old grey suits and deadly serious expressions,  but tonight is a business dinner at my house and I can already hear Monday morning's opening bell in the distance.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A little more North Carolina Tobacco -

This is a follow on to my previous post, except it has to do with what happens in between the time we see the gorgeous green leaves off country roads and when they finally become cigarettes. I was invited to witness what is probably the last live tobacco auction in existence, most are now silent auctions. This is pure Americana. The Auctioneer is a world champion retired from RJR. It is unlike any other live auction you have ever or will ever hear. They have their own language and cadence, the best auctioneer at Christies couldn't keep pace. There is a certain romance to this business that is completely disconnected from the political push and pull of the industry itself.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Out in NC tobacco country in late August

Needless to say that we have a certain nostalgia for tobacco in this part of the world. Some actually say that we consider it a vegetable. You may have seen my previous post (guest post actually) on the old tobacco auctioneers and my post from visiting a tobacco warehouse. Many of you found that fascinating as a piece of emblematic americana that is fast disappearing. Anyway one of the best drives to take here in northwest North Carolina is up around Hanging Rock State Park and Pilot Mountain - Highway 66 (not me in the video - just one I grabbed from youtube) for those who want to give it a shot. These are from a couple of days ago, I hope you enjoy them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blue Hill, Maine 2011

This year was a shortened trip as we were without Karen who had to tend to her shop. However, we had a wonderful time all the while missing her. Blue Hill is just such a pleasant place, full of interesting and dynamic people. I had the pleasure of meeting author Peter Behrens and exchanging some emails with Martha White (E.B. White's granddaughter) who has pushed me in the direction of doing a book on Maine in similar fashion to my first book of photography.  Anyway, turns out that Peter Behrens is a classic car nut as well and has a terrific blog AutoLiterate that all of you will appreciate. And, of course, spent some time at MERI and did one of the eco-cruises out in the Eggomogin Reach.

As usual I did a slideshow set to some music, give it a minute or two to load! Click here for slideshow.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Old friends just get better.

You may have read my previous post about this group of old friends. I am pleased to say that we only waited three years before getting together again. Each year that passes seems to ground us a little more. There are no expectations, there is no pretense  or anything that would present itself as not real. It's hard laughter, it's honest opinions, it's truth. Every now and again the universe smiles and opens the door to these kinds of friendships. Just another entry in the annals of a blessed man.

"Some of the most rewarding and beautiful moments of a friendship happen in the unforeseen open spaces between planned activities. It is important that we allow these spaces to exist."

Here is to my friends and to the unforeseen open spaces.

Link to the slides.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Back from Boca Grande, FL 2011

I know, I know - you are tired of hearing how much I love this place, so I won't bore you with the details of fishing with Captain Tommy Locke or eating at the Loose Caboose or playing tennis with my son or going for ice cream at the Pink Pony or just sitting on the deck and enjoying the warm gulf breeze and watching the flora and fauna of the island. So, here are just some pics from this last week.

Click here to see the slides - sound on.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Day at the Zentrum

All I can say is  WOW - what fun! I accompanied a friend to take delivery of his new BMW at The Zentrum in Greer, SC and was given the opportunity to throw a few of their cars around the track at the performance center.

Click here to see the slideshow.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Diving with Whale Sharks Video

Finally figured out how to rip, edit and post! I had to place it on iWeb as the blogger upload kept failing and trying to embed it from FaceBook did not work because of my security settings. So, please click the link and allow it to load for a minute or so as it is a big movie file. For those of you using Chrome - make sure you have the QuickTime plug-in. The Chrome browser can still be a little buggy. It works fine with all other browsers however.

Video of our dive with the Whale Sharks at the Georgia Aquarium.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

West Virginia

I had the opportunity to spend the night in Charleston, WV this last Friday. I was signing copies of my book at Taylor Books - a really wonderful shop. Anyhow, I was really struck by this capital city that is fighting to reinvent itself, since coal is not what it once was. I am familiar with this kind of work being that my hometown is doing the same; it was built on tobacco (RJR), Banking (Wachovia) and textiles (Hanes). Anyway, I took time on Saturday morning to drive highway 60 out of town to Fayetteville, WV to the New River Gorge. What an amazingly beautiful drive, although depressing at points seeing what has become of the small towns along the river. I did not photograph the rows of trailer homes or closed businesses - it didn't feel right. What has happened there and what has happened here are yet more reminders that nothing is forever. To quote Amos Lee "Time, it swallows everything, from the mighty to the meager things..."

Where the mountain river flows
And the rhododendron grows
Is the land of all the lands
That I touch with tender hands;

Loved and treasured, earth and star,
By my father's father far--
Deep-earth, black-earth, of-the-lime
From the ancient oceans' time.

Plow-land, fern-land, woodland shade,
Grave-land where my kin are laid,
West Virginia's hills to bless--
Leafy songs of wilderness;

Dear land, near land, here at home--
Where the rocks are honeycomb,
And the rhododendrons . . .
Where the mountain river runs.

Louise McNeill

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Diving with Whale Sharks

I wish I could post the video. It was an amazing experience and very well worth the trip to Atlanta. The Georgia Aquarium is not only beautiful and certainly entertaining, but one of the best educational resources we have in this country to talk about ocean health and how it impacts all of us. Call, order tickets and go. If you are a certified diver, get in the water with the whale sharks - you will be amazed. 

Link to the Georgia Aquarium.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Botany Bay Plantation, SC

There are no words to adequately describe this place. I will simply say - get thee down to Edisto Island, SC (just south of Charleston) and plan on spending a long and amazing day if not two - on foot.

The 4,687 acre Botany Bay Plantation Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island in lower Charleston County, South Carolina. The area lies near the North Edisto River just south of the intensely developed resort islands of Kiawah and Seabrook and just north of the rapidly developing Edisto Beach area. The SC Department of Natural Resources acquired this property and opened it to the public in 2008.

The area's location near the North Edisto River places it within the boundary of the ACE Basin Focus Area, one of the largest remaining relatively undeveloped wetland ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast. Botany Bay Plantation WMA with Botany Bay Island (under conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy) and Deveaux Bank form a core area of protected habitat in the eastern corner of the Focus Area.

The biological features of Botany Bay Plantation WMA are characteristic of Sea Islands along the lower Southeast coast. The undeveloped coastal habitats of the management area are important to numerous wildlife species. The beach is utilized for nesting by the federally-threatenedloggerhead sea turtle and the state-threatened least tern. The maritime forest and coastal scrub/shrub areas provide nesting and foraging habitat for neotropical songbirds including painted buntings and summer tanagers. The uplands support a wide diversity of wildlife. The tidal marshes and managed wetlands contain a variety of fish and shellfish resources and provide foraging habitat for numerous wildlife species.

The cultural resources on Botany Bay Plantation WMA are extremely significant. Cultural resource sites dating from as early as the Late Archaic Period through the 19th century are present. Several sites including the Fig Island Shell Rings, outbuildings from Bleak Hall Plantation and elements of the Alexander Bache U.S. Coast Survey Line are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.