These photos were taken between October of 2007 and April of 2009.
I was living in Delaware while working contracts in Philadelphia, New Jersey and surrounding areas. This is a common living arrangement because the trains provide a straight (and easy) commute from Delaware into Philadelphia. In fact, while living in Philadelphia, my commute to other areas of Philly often lasted around 2 hours (each way), and moving to Delaware cut that time down to approx 30 minutes (on average).
Anyhow, public transit and highway driving aside…I was living in an apartment located a short distance from Bellevue State Park and a slightly longer distance from Brandywine Creek State Park.While I put in some volunteer hours in the native plants garden at Brandywine (and even more hiking the trails), I regularly visited Bellevue and walked the old horse track with my digital camera.
Bellevue State Park was once a thriving horse track with a history of hosting tennis competitions. The wealthy and elite would visit to socialize and play. The track has become a walking trail, but the tennis courts are still in use, the mansion, gardens and gazebo are rented out for weddings (and similar events), the horse barns are rented by anyone with a horse in need of a stable and horse back riding lessons are available – along with art classes and the usual family oriented, outdoors events State Parks tend to offer. During the summer there are live music concerts in the evenings, and a pumpkin float at Halloween. It’s a popular place to visit for a picnic, an afternoon outdoors or a few hours feeding geese (which are simply everywhere).
At the center of the old horse track is a slow moving stream ending in a small pond with a footbridge. (The photos above are images of the water and bridge.) The horse track was still hard packed dirt. To the best of my knowledge it is no longer used by horses, but large numbers of people walk this track on a daily basis. Most of the walkers are families with children of varying ages and the kinds of strollers you see on sidewalks (so the earth was hard-packed enough for a standard small-wheeled stroller to get through, albeit with occasional difficulty).
I was trying to learn how to use a digital camera and working on increasing my photographic abilities (in general), so I tried to visit the park in the early morning hours, when the crowds were minimal or non-existent.
Bellevue has many flowering trees, the gardens, and all sorts of wild-growing plants. There were plenty of opportunities to take pictures of beautiful flowers, elegant trees, shimmering waters and sun-drenched leaves – all with gorgeous variations displayed across the four seasons. One of the lessons I learned over the year and a half I spent playing with my camera in this very specific and limited geographic location, is that there is a difference between ‘pretty’ and ‘interesting.’ It is significantly easier to take a pretty picture than it is to take an interesting picture.
Much like the flowers, I quickly learned that getting a photo of a horse or a goose is much easier than getting a good or an interesting photo of an animal – any animal.
In another section of the park, there are trails leading through woods and large fields. When I would mention visiting Bellevue State Park to co-workers and other locals, they would often comment on how ‘remote’ Delaware was (in general) and how remote or wilderness-like Bellevue State Park is.
Excuse me for being blunt but….anyone who uses the word ‘remote’ in reference to either Bellevue State Park (specifically) or the state of Delaware (in general) has limited experience with farmland – much less true wilderness. Delaware is small enough to walk across in a day (yes, the entire width of the state can be traveled, on foot, in a day). It has several moderate sized cities, at least one large city, multiple (HUGE) highways crisscrossing the state and thriving vacation-oriented tourism all along the ocean front. Drop a person anywhere in the state, without a map, and within a few hours he or she will find a road and a town.
Where I come from, that is not remote. Midwestern vacations are often taken inside of wilderness areas that cannot be crossed in a few weeks (much less days) and sometimes swallow up unprepared human beings who simply cannot be found, despite extensive search and rescue resources (and efforts). My family farm was located in an area that was harder to navigate (in a car) than the entire state of Delaware (on foot).
I have been to places in the United States that make my family farm, and even some of the Midwest’s national parks, look like quaint little suburbs. I have seen remote on a scale that truly suits and defines the word. Delaware is a wonderful state, but it is not remote.
Which brings me to this tree. If you spend any amount of time reading my blog (and viewing my photos) you will notice an affinity for trees. I can’t explain why this is. When i was a kid, there was a large maple tree in the neighbor’s yard. I could see it from my window. This was long before my family moved to the country and started working the apple orchard. I loved that maple tree. I would wake up every morning and look out my bedroom window, admiring the coloring of the current season. It’s a thing. No reason – just is.
Anyhow – the tree. I found this tree in one of the fields. It was HUGE and standing alone. Trees seem strange when alone. Exceptionally large trees seem even stranger, like they are the last member of a once mighty family. Everyone of the trees that must have made up an ancient and long-gone forest are conspicuously missing. Only this one tree remains.
There was no story behind this tree. It was not pointed out by locals or park staff. There wasn’t a plaque or a brochure identifying its type or history. It was just a big tree standing in the middle of a field, and it caught me up short.
During my years on the east coast, I would occasionally (randomly) find myself looking at some aspect of the over-developed landscape and imagining what it had once been, before the cement and steel and black top and exhaust and never-ending march of human feet. I imaged what the wilderness might look like if the people were to go away and the human-made landscape were left to crumble under the weight of time and growth of non-human life. In those moments, I could imagine remote truly applying to this landscape.
For some reason, walking through this field and stumbling upon this big old tree inspired just such a moment. For a brief second I could see the landscape around this tree emptied of human habitation and filled with plant and animal life. I am not an expert in native species or the nature history of any region, so I can’t say how accurate my imagination was, but the feeling of open, free and wild juxtaposed next to the feeling of closed, trampled and caged was always the same.
It made me long for the opportunity to spend time in a place that truly was remote.
(C) Adora Myers 2014