Author Archives: OneRedTree

The Great Smoky Mountains Adventure – Chapter One

We all have heroes that inspire and motivate us, even nutty photographers like me. I recently had the honor of meeting one of my own heroes, Richard Bernabe, at a workshop he held in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (If you ever get the chance to attend one of Richard’s workshops, do it!) It was a huge step for me to make a trip like this all alone. Was I really brave crazy enough to venture off into the woods for a week with a bunch of strangers? You bet! I was eager to sharpen my creative eye and couldn’t miss the chance to learn from a true master. So I packed the car, kissed my kids good-bye and headed south. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt on the two day drive to Tennessee!

Waking up to this view from my room…magical!

Waking up to this view from my room…magical!

I arrived a day early to give myself a chance to settle in, explore a little and just inhale the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. Waking up that first morning to see the sunrise burning through the mist was simply surreal. I had to pinch myself to believe I was really here and doing this. Yay me!

Spring awakens in the Smokies.

Spring awakens in the Smokies.

Sunday afternoon was the first meeting of our group; seven adventurous photographers gathered around our esteemed teacher. Richard is as charming as he is talented, and the group seemed to hit it off immediately. We packed up our gear and headed out for the first of many excursions that would lead to great photographs, endless laughter and wonderful new friendships.

So begins my story of The Great Smoky Mountain Adventure. I didn’t need my crystal ball to know this was going to be one incredible journey! Stay tuned!

An amazing adventure lies ahead...

An amazing adventure lies ahead…

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Inspiration and Raw Faith

The gray mist draped Derby Street like a leftover from Halloween the week before and suited my mood perfectly. I had ventured to Salem alone with hopes of testing my brand new camera, but the weather refused to cooperate. The November chill was just another dreary reminder that it was my anniversary. This trip was an escape, part of an unscripted journey I began a few weeks earlier when my marriage suddenly shattered. Looking to get out of the damp cold, I decided to explore the House of Seven Gables instead. I was searching for the elusive parking space when she caught my eye. Moored at the end of the pier, her pirate ship hull stood starkly different from the scores of shiny sailing vessels that filled the harbor. There was something defiant and strong about her that drew me in. I parked my car and wandered into the marina, never taking my eyes off her. I managed to snap a few quick photos despite the heavy mist, but was so fascinated by this unusual boat I almost forgot I had the camera in my hand.RawFaithBoard01

As I neared, I saw a sign on the pier inviting everyone for a tour. I looked up and decided to climb aboard even though the tours were almost over. Stepping onto her deck affirmed my notions that this was no ordinary sailing ship. She was ruggedly beautiful, with the signature of handcrafting everywhere I looked. There was an energy about her, a sense of determination and struggle that resonated somewhere deep within my heart. Like me, she was different, as if the face she presented the world hid the story she lived. Her captain was standing on deck, attending to his chores and talking to the few remaining visitors. I shyly asked him if I may photograph a few sections of the deck that were roped off from the tour. He nodded an OK and told me her name was Raw Faith, cautioning me to watch my step as I walked around the wet deck.  Feeling a little awkward as the only person left aboard, I halfheartedly took a few pictures of her details and went over to thank him for his time. His name was George McKay. He asked if I had eaten lunch yet and would I indulge him by sharing a pizza.

I thought about it for a moment, wondering if I was crazy to accept the offer of a complete stranger, but the rumbling in my belly made my decision for me and I agreed. He secured the deck and we walked across the street, grabbing a table in the corner of the pub. As we waited for our lunch, he told me the tale of Raw Faith. I sat watching his face as he talked about his dream, one that would make it possible for his daughter to travel, despite the limitations of her wheelchair. He spoke of  his wish to share the splendor of the sea with others who faced similar difficulties. It was a such a noble dream, and his eyes came alive as he poured it out to me. I could sense the struggle behind his journey even before he told me how Raw Faith had grown from dream to reality in a little town in Maine. It was written in the lines of his face and reflected in hands that had seen their fair share of weather and hard work.


A labor of love, her massive 88 foot, 200 ton hull was built entirely by hand with the help of his sons, family and friends. His love for them was vividly clear, as alive as the passion for his dream. He confessed how it eventually consumed him, consumed them all, until one by one they turned away, leaving him to sail the dream on his own. His pain was palpable, but his determination was unflagging. As he finished his story, I reflected on my own pain and the journey I unexpectedly found myself on. He asked about me, and I answered him almost sheepishly, feeling my own saga quickly pale in light of his poignant one. I spoke of the life that fell apart and my fear of where the road would take me. I revealed my own dream of traveling with my camera, capturing life through my lens and sharing it with the world. He smiled, a silent understanding hanging between us. We were two strangers sailing our own uncharted waters, our wakes trailing the debris of broken lives, both clinging to a dream only we believed in. Neither of us knew what lay ahead, but at least for this one moment we weren’t alone. I asked him what wind kept him sailing despite all he had lost, through all the storms life threw in his path. He looked at me and said simply, raw faith.

The pizza was gone, the long light of late afternoon was fighting to burn off the gray mist and it was time for us to part ways. We raised our mugs to toast our journeys, to mourn our losses and celebrate what was to come. As we said our goodbyes, Captain George asked me to promise I’d never give up my dream, to keep sailing in spite of the storms and never stop taking my pictures along the way. We vowed to stay in touch, agreeing to meet again when they were settled in another port. I wished him safe travels. As he walked back to Raw Faith, I stood watching her, even more in awe of her strength and defiance after knowing her story. Suddenly I knew, I understood.

It was the last time I would see Raw Faith. She left Salem just a few weeks later and was lost in an early December storm, swallowed by 6000 feet of an unforgiving sea. I only met her and her captain for a day, but they left an indelible mark. I remember how proud and strong she looked as I left the marina that afternoon. I still often think of George’s parting wisdom and remember how he and his incredible boat inspired me, igniting a tiny flame of hope. I still carry  that inspiration with me, determined to follow my dream through life’s many storms, always clinging tightly to my own raw faith.

RawFaith One Sheet

Raw Faith sank in 2010,  but I only learned of her fate recently while researching for this blog. My heart ached as I read the headlines. Although she was lost at sea, Captain McKay and his crew were successfully rescued by the Coast Guard. My search for her captain led me to Gregory Roscoe of SeaWorthy Productions, who produced an incredible documentary of George McKay and his journey of Raw Faith. Greg was kind enough to share the  beautiful image of Raw Faith seen here at full sail. His film, Raw Faith, has already received critical acclaim and is a must see for anyone who has ever dared to dream. It wonderfully captures the love, the passion, the pain, and the raw faith of one man’s journey to bring his dream to life. If you can’t make it to Maine for one of the film’s screenings, please follow the link here for more information:  Raw Faith Movie

I am happy to report that I was finally able to get in touch with Captain McKay. He is alive and well, writing his story from dry ground.

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Catching a Free Spirit

I love to photograph young children. They’re challenging subjects to capture well with a camera, but boy are they fun! I’m not a fan of formal, ‘plastic’ posing when it comes to kids, but that’s just my own preference. Kids are naturally free spirits with an amazing energy about them; they just exude life and excitement! Catching that spirit with a camera is my goal, but it isn’t always easy. I prefer to do children’s sessions on location, whether it’s at their home or another familiar place. If they’re comfortable in their surroundings and have some freedom to explore, they hardly notice the strange lady with the big, scary camera and just get on with doing what they do best, being kids.


Let them play! Give them the opportunity to be themsleves and they’ll reward you with some great expressions! Of course this requires more effort on my part and typically means getting down (and often dirty!) to catch them at their level. Anyone who has ever cared for a toddler knows they’re super charged and don’t sit still for more than a few seconds at a time. It can be quite a workout doing a full session with little ones. I’ll run, crawl, roll around, and lie on the ground to photograph them from their perspective. I’ve even been known to wade into a lake to get the just right shot.

Once in a while a child is just so shy, they make every effort to hide from the camera. In a situation like that, I’ll ask mom or dad or even an older sibling to play with them while I step back a bit. It usually doesn’t take long for them to forget about the camera. The key is to be ready to snap away and always expect the unexpected. Those wonderful surprise moments when they discover a cool bug or suddenly peek out from hiding behind a tree are often the best shots!

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Fragments of the Past

I love photography more than almost anything else. There’s just something magical about picking up my camera and capturing a slice of life, clipping a little swatch from the fabric of time so that others can see forever what my eyes saw in that one fleeting moment. It’s saving a piece of the present for those who come after us. I love historical places for the same reason. They are galleries filled with the slices of life left by those who went before us. To stand in a place our ancestors stood or to touch an object that was once used by someone centuries ago has a way of grounding us. It connects today to yesterday and can momentarily transport us back to a time long past.

I’m blessed to live in an area rich with centuries of history. Much of it is preserved in museums and public displays, but some is hidden, tucked secretly away in little known corners of an ever changing landscape. Many of these treasures are quickly being absorbed into their surroundings, subject to forces of nature that will eventually erase all trace of them. Some stand boldly in the open, but others are nestled deep in forested areas that can be difficult to find and challenging to reach. They aren’t marked on any maps, known instead only by an oral history passed along for generations or the shared tales of those who have stumbled across their remains. Many are forgotten and lost to the years. Finding and photographing them is a mission for me.

Recently, a friend invited me to join a photography group he belongs to for a day exploring the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Always up for any adventure involving my camera, I was happy to join him, as this is a favorite haunt of mine. A 70,000 acre wilderness playground, it was once home to a thriving farm community that has long since vanished. My grandmother had a home there when I was a child, and I spent countless hours fishing and hiking in the woods around the Gap with my dad. The area is rich with remnants of history I’ve always loved to discover.

We met on a paved road that winds along the Delaware River and is peppered with old barns and structures. The rest of the group went on to photograph the barns, but my friend and I decided to set out alone, in search of a few old vehicles we were told were hiding over a nearby ridge. The climb up was steep and with no sign of a path, not even from the herds of deer that populate the area. The undergrowth was a dense jungle of wild barberry and multiflora rose, covered in thorns that tore at us, determined to slow our climb. They almost seemed angry, as if wanting to stop us from disturbing the secrets they protected so fiercely.

We finally made our way to the top of the ridge, tired, sweating and looking a bit like we tangled with a few cranky alley cats. At first we didn’t see anything except more forest and undergrowth, but suddenly, there they were. Partially hidden by brush, they seemed to rise from the fern that carpets the forest floor. As we got closer we realized that these weren’t just junks someone had dumped in the woods. They were classic and beautiful, even in their state of decay. They sat forlorn and broken, as if weary of waiting for one more chance to drive off with the pre-war family that once owned them. A glance at our surroundings revealed a few low stone walls that spoke of the farm once perched on this ridge with a commanding view of the river, many years ago when the forest was still young. I could imagine them all piling into that once shiny car, dressed in their Sunday best to drive to the little church in town. I envisioned the farmer in his overalls loading the old pickup with feed for the livestock he would have raised to support his family.

We stayed and photographed what was left of these relics, mostly silent except for the clicking of our shutters. As we moved around to try and capture every angle, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for them up on that ridge, back in a time when life was hard, but family was abundant. As the rich, golden light of the afternoon dipped lower into the trees, we packed up our gear and began the descent back to our own cars. I looked over my shoulder to the top of the ridge as we made our way down and for just a moment, I felt as though I should wave goodbye to the ghosts that probably still call it home.

I plan to return and search for more of the history hidden in this spot. Perhaps I’ll find another treasure that will reveal a little more of the story of this long forgotten homestead and the family who built it. For now I’m content, knowing I’ve preserved a few more fragments of the past to share with those who will surely walk behind me

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