Weather Be Damned

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by me, December 1985.

This was originally published elsewhere on March 9, 2019. This is an updated and edited version.


ecember of 1985 my parents and I were driving through the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and made periodic stops to admire the scenery and stretch our legs. The weather was cold and wet and it was not far from freezing as the rain drops were slow to fall like thick tears from the nude limbs of the trees. I spent so much time outdoors in this type of weather as a child either in Georgia or North Carolina or Tennessee that I thrived in it. Perhaps this is partly the reason why, besides being born in the wettest month in Georgia, I harbor a fondness for cold, foggy and rainy weather. Put me in a jacket, a wool sweater, thick socks and a pair of boots and I am ready to charge into the foulest and most miserable weather.

It was around this time that I became more interested in photography. I had my third camera by then, a point and shoot Kodak 35 mm, it was nothing terribly special as far as cameras go, but I bought it with my own money. My first camera was a Polaroid OneStep that I inherited from my parents and my second was a beautiful Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera given to me by an uncle. I liked taking pictures of everything around me except people. Most of my allowance in those years was spent on film and film developing. This was when the hobby of photography bit me hard and deep.

We were driving through Swain County, North Carolina on U.S. Highway 19/ U.S. 74 which parallels portions of the Nantahala River in the Nantahala National Forest. This was an area we had spent lots of time in during the latter half of the 1980s. We would sight-see, take walks, raft the Nantahala River a couple of times and sometimes just drive up for the day from Georgia to loaf in the North Carolina mountains. As a teenager in high school and in college in my early twenties, I returned here several times alone to think about life and make decisions.

The rugged landscape of western North Carolina on a topography map.

Coming back south, in December 1985, along the highway we stopped at a roadside picnic area, the Ferebee Memorial picnic area and launch site, next to the river. We stopped to look at the water and stretch our legs before heading home. In the cold and rain I snapped a few photos of the scenery.

This spot is at a bend in the Nantahala River wedged narrowly between two sharp ridges of mountains. One ridge ascends to 3,600 feet in elevation and the other ridge is more steep reaching to over 5,000 feet in elevation. These two ridges form the Nantahala Gorge and on the highest ridge is the Appalachian Trail as it runs from Georgia to Maine.

The Nantahala River in North Carolina. Photo be my, December 1985.

Of the two remaining photos from that moment, one is taken from the banks of the Nantahala River. I feel cold just looking at all those dark colors of the drenched terrain.

We were the only people around and the mountains were all ours. There were no houses around, no cars passing as the tourists had better places to be on a dreary December day. What I recall most from that moment was not the numbing cold but the heavy silence disturbed only by the sound of the river.

The Nantahala Gorge. Photo by me, December 1985.

I snapped one photo of a mountain towering over the hardwood trees in the foreground. I was probably thinking at the time that I would have loved to have been up there exploring the endless woods, weather be damned. It was difficult to keep me out of the woods as kid and had it been just me that day I would have wandered around more than I did. My parents were ready to travel on in the warmth of the car.

For twenty years I did not have most of the photos I shot as a child or teenager. When I left home in 1995, I left my photography at my childhood house in the care of my father. I should not use "care" because he would throw away much of what I shot or lose them in moving them between his various houses in three states. What I did manage to rescue from him in 2015 was found in a plastic storage bin in the top of his barn in Alabama. My photos had been exposed to the damaging elements to heat and moisture and many were stuck together or not salvageable. The negatives I had kept were gone too. Fortunately,  some were saved, perhaps a few hundred photos. Many were scratched or faded like the scar on my left wrist that is always hidden by my watch band.

My juvenile photography consisted mostly of landscapes. I seldom shot photos of people. There was a good reason that I did not often turn my camera on people. I remember saying to my mother that I did not like photographing people when she asked. I did not like photographing people because I would not have liked what I would have seen, such as the misery of my parents. The storms of my family were too miserable even for me to set to film.


I wish I had shot more photos of the people in my life then,  especially my friends and the people close to me. Photographs of the people that were a part of my secrets would be nice to see later in life, but if I had photographed them then maybe I would not have hid those secrets for so long.

It was not until some time in the 1990s that I began to enjoy photographing people along with nature. By the mid 90s, I was photographing cities. In the 2000s it was nightlife, nature, cities and people. After almost forty years of putting a camera to my eye and pressing a button to record a millisecond of time, I would give my mother a different answer if I could. I would answer that the storms were so significant that my mind could not forget what the camera did not see. Weather be damned.