Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Robert H Treman State Park

images from Robert H. Treman State Park, Ithaca, NY

After a long day—less than 60 miles of driving, but all morning hiking up and down Watkins Glen, photographing around Seneca Lake, driving over to Cayuga lake for more waterfalls, then wandering around Ithaca and the Cornell campus in the later afternoon—I spent the night at Robert H. Treman State Park, less then a ten minute drive down the road from Ithaca. There are two state parks right next to Ithaca which are both used as municipal swimming places all summer long by the locals: Treman, and Buttermilk Falls State Park. Buttermilk wasn't yet open for the season, but camping was open at Treman.

What's cool about Treman and Buttermilk Falls is that they have big deep pools right at the foot of the lower falls. In summer, at Treman, the pool is partially dammed to make a huge natural swimming area. I remember one hot afternoon in 1990, the place was full of kids and parents cooling off. The place was loud and merry and full of kids running around. There's a diving board installed in summer, and a lifeguard present to keep watch.

One of the activities almost everyone tries is to walk along the ledges in the waterfall itself, those steps and shelves made in the falls by the local flat stones, just as at Watkins Glen. People edge sidewise along the falls, till they reach the side of the falls, step out, and dive back into the water.

That's where I took this photo, in 1990. This has become of my own favorite photos, over the years. It's iconic: a personal symbol carrying deep meaning for me: almost archetypal of struggle, survival, and overcoming. I later used the image as part of a Photoshop piece, some of my earliest B&W collage work in Photoshop.

Beyond the lower falls, Enfield Gorge runs for miles up the hillside. There are several falls along the trail, and some spectacular views. It was too early in the season, unfortunately, for the trails to be open yet.

I found myself a relatively isolated and private campsite under a grove of tall trees, scrounged firewood from the deadfall around my site in the failing light—enough to have a merry campfire till I was ready to go to sleep, at least—set up camp, made dinner, and set up the tent. This roadtrip was so often rainy and cold that I camped out less than I'd originally planned. This was one of the best camping nights of the trip. I used some of the food I'd brought with me from home for dinner, and made myself a gourmet meal of buffalo burgers with green onions, rice, and a glass of wine.

After dinner I drove into Ithaca briefly, feeling restless, and spent time at a big chain bookstore till they closed. This is where I bought a series of lectures on CD about Walt Whitman, which I listened to during the return trip, spaced over three days. The lectures were pretty good lectures, overall, with extensive discussion about the context of Whitman writing his poems, and their importance to and impact upon poetry and culture since Whitman's death. I listened to all of these CDs before eventually stopping at Whitman's final home in Camden, NJ, for a brief visit. (Online, The Walt Whitman Archive is a huge resource worth exploring: it contains texts and images of each edition of Leaves of Grass, extensive scholarly material, and a valuable collection of every known photo of Whitman.) Whitman's presence grew in my mind during this roadtrip, as the trip itself shifted more and more towards being an arts and literature pilgrimage, and away from being purely about photography and video. I'm still sorting all this out; which of course is why I need to write about it; call it thinking out loud, if you must.

When I went to bed, there were stars and a moon standing silent behind the trees, whose uppermost branches were dancing slowly in a night breeze. On the hillside near my campsite, there were trillium in bloom everywhere.

Later, there was a ring around the moon: which means high atmospheric ice crystals, which means cirrus clouds, which usually foretell another storm within a day or two.

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