Thursday, September 8, 2011

"The Brevity and Expansiveness of Time"

Fall in Vermont
I am thinking of Andrea Modica's photographs of wild apple trees in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Pastoral writes, "In Northeast Kingdom, (Modica) has perhaps created an awareness of both the brevity and expansiveness of time and what it means to hang onto it."

I first encountered Modica's photos one autumn when I worked on a farm. We took turns driving a tractor with a wagon attached to the back to and from the farmyard and welcome center, picking up children and their keepers, driving them over the turning landscape to the farmyard where animals calmly waited behind fences to be pet and cooed over. One afternoon, the leaves had just started to turn, I flipped through a journal at the welcome center while I waited for my wagon to fill. Near the end, I found some of Modica's photos from her Portfolio Northeast Kingdom. How I was drawn to those black and white photos of wild apple trees.

No one tended those trees, harvested their bitter fruit or trimmed back their branches when they began to droop against the earth. Modica, as her photos seem to explain, was drawn to her abandoned subject as a symbol of time, change, growth, death and loss. The pictures are often out of focus except for one small circular patch caught in the detail of her lens. They seem to spiral or swirl out, creating an orbiting blur that frames fine and delicate detail. Modica said, the apples hung on even into the wintry cold, through the ice, to spring. One photo (shown above) catches a shriveled apple the size of a plum hanging from a long and slender thread of branch. In another, the alchemy of shadow and distance sweep across an orchard, smudging time, rendering the picture seasonless.  

I carried the dream of those photos with me as I drove the tractor out over the field, past the Canadian geese stopping to rest on their journey south, and the spring calves now grown and close to slaughter, up to the farmyard. The children shuffled off the wagon and, stretching their legs, ran towards the farmyard animals. When I could, I went back into the welcome center to comb through the four or five pages of photos. They fed me something that fall. I thought of the wild trees growing along a dirt road, the white bloom a shock of spring beauty, the full branches of fall beseeching a belief in nature's generosity. I dreamed of the icy branches to which a few lone apples clung on by a thread--I won't go, I won't go into the snow, they cried.

Of course, I gave the photos no meaning then; I simply looked at them, thought of them, and let them nurish me. It is only now, returning, that I find such meaning. I have since looked at the photographs, my husband eagerly peeking over my shoulder in the welcome center at the farm. "They still have this?" I whispered. It's still here.

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