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Autumn Blueberries

Autumn Blueberries
Blueberry bushes in full autumn color at Dolly Sods, West Virginia

Dolly Sods Again

For the second week in a row, I set my alarm to the ungodly hour of 2:30 AM in order to make the drive in to West Virginia and the beautiful area known as Dolly Sods in time to arrive for the sunrise.

What exactly is a Sods and why is this one so dolly, you may ask?

Well, according to wikipedia, a Sods is an Appalachian term for an open mountaintop meadow, and Dolly is a derivation of the name of a Hessian soldier, Johann Dahle, who fought for the British in the revolutionary war, was captured at the battle of Yorktown, held prisoner near Winchester, Virginia and eventually wound up homesteading near where Dolly Sods is today.

What makes the place so remarkable is that the flora and fauna found here are usually found much further north in Canada. The history of the place is really quite remarkable and I invite you to click the wikipedia link I provided above and learn how a man-made ecological disaster has undergone a rather remarkable recovery.

At any rate, the reason I voluntarily subjected myself to a significant lack of sleep in order to return for the second week in a row was the prospect of a combination of freezing and foggy conditions. The top of the mountain is normally quite humid and is foggy more often than not. Combined with the forecast of freezing temperatures, I was anticipating the phenomena known as Hoar Frost, where the humidity would freeze onto the plants and trees turning everything into a shimmering white wonderland.

As you can see, that’s not what I got, but what I got was pretty wonderful in its own right.

While the humidity was quite low considering the norm for the area, it had rained the previous day and there was enough moisture on a patch of autumn-red blueberry bushes to catch the light of dawn, which gave the impression that the bushes were simply glowing from within.

I was also mindful of how the purple in the dawn sky related to the reds of the blueberry bushes and a big part of the making of this image was the use of two graduated neutral density filters to bring the sky brightness down closer to the level of brightness on the bushes. This was to ensure that the brightness of the sky didn’t overpower those subtle purples when exposing correctly for the blueberry bushes.

Getting to this spot is not exactly easy. Notice the rocks in the foreground and that can be seen throughout the image? You basically have to hike over rocks just like that for about half a mile to get to this spot, which is in an area of the sods known as Bear Rocks Preserve (emphasis on “rocks”). It is very rough on the knees and ankles, let me tell you. There are many paths through the blueberry bushes, all of them extremely narrow, none of them straight, and chock full boulders and roots just waiting to twist an ankle or cause a spill.

But oh, so worth it.

Stephen Girimont

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