I’ve blogged before about the hidden jewels of Keene: those small, typically overlooked spots that wouldn’t be worth driving from afar to visit but that offer a quick, close-to-home getaway. Chesterfield Gorge is a scenic wayside on Route 9 between Keene, NH and Brattleboro, VT. Most folks who stop at Chesterfield Gorge pull into its parking lot in order to use the restroom, stretch their legs, or possibly enjoy a quick meal at one of its shady picnic tables. Although some folks presumably go to Chesterfield Gorge specifically to walk, the trail there is only 7/10 of a mile long: a chance to get out of the car and get the blood moving, but barely worth driving out of one’s way.

Yesterday, though, I didn’t have anywhere to go, just an antsy, August-roasted dog to walk, so driving out of the way was no problem. Chesterfield, NH is about 10 minutes from Keene, and the stretch of Route 9 that spans the two towns is a nice scenic drive: the same general area where I saw a bear several weeks ago. Figuring the gorge would be a cool shady spot where the dog could run off leash and go for a swim between intermittent afternoon showers, I took Reggie for his first visit to Chesterfield Gorge, telling myself that the forest shade, recent rain, and humid, misty conditions would prevent any serious shuttersnapping.

Not knowing anything about photography beyond the usual “point and shoot,” I figured there was no harm in trying to capture some low-light shots. I’ve never, for instance, been able to photograph sunlight glinting off rain-drenched spiderwebs even though I consider them to be one of nature’s loveliest sights: somehow, I never get the lighting or angle right. When I saw this eye-level, rain-glistened orb glinting in the setting sun, I took a handful of shots from an oblique angle: the web isn’t centered in this shot because I was pointing my camera at something that at the time, from my perspective, I couldn’t see. And although most of the pictures I took were fuzzy or poorly lit, this one looks like a recognizable spiderweb: although you can’t see its Creator sitting leggily at its center, this is the first spiderweb image I’ve successfully captured. Although I’m not yet in the same league as Fred First with his online gallery of jaw-dropping spiderweb images, I feel like I hit the jackpot with this shot: I wasn’t expecting it to turn out, and it did. That’s “bonus” in my book.

One of the things I love about summer rainshowers is the way they leave the woods damp, dripping, and befogged. Usually summer humidity is a tortuous thing, but a misty, steaming forest always seems more lush and intimate than a dry, summer-baked one. Yesterday as I dog and I hiked down to the bottom of the gorge and back again, I couldn’t tell if it had started to sprinkle or if overhanging trees were simply showering a series of hoarded raindrops. In the mist leftover from summer showers, everything seems blurred and magical, a scene out of a dreamy impressionistic vision.

By some convergence of the laws of reflection, refraction, and good ol’ fashioned timing, yesterday’s walk offered more than the usual assortment of slanted, prismatic sunbeams: filtering through rain-drenched leaves, the setting sun splintered into golden, oblique rays, like God’s own fingers. Again, I’ve never been able to capture satisfactory images of this phenomenon: usually I simply look, sigh, and try to remember the oohs and ahhs engendered by nature’s stained-glass window effect. Yesterday, though, I was either bored or emboldened enough to take photo after photo, entirely sure that few if any of the images would turn out. “It’s a digital camera,” I told myself, “so there’s no film to waste,” a truth that is quickly becoming my own photographic mantra. Shoot, shoot, shoot, then later you can delete, delete, delete. Way back in the days when I took pictures (rarely!) with a non-digital camera, I’d choose my shots carefully: if the image in the viewfinder didn’t match the grandeur of what I saw with my naked eye (and it never did), I’d put the camera away, shots not taken. Those days, my inner-photographer was miserly, my shots stingily hoarded. These days, though, I’m only burning batteries, so there’s no harm in taking seven shots of the same scene in the hope that one dice roll will win you the jackpot.

Reggie, of course, has simpler needs than I do. He doesn’t need a photograph to remind him of the pleasure of wading a ice-cold stream on a hot August day. No, Reggie came home with a different sort of jackpot reminder: now he’s covered with tiny prickling burrs, agrimony seeds or something similar, which I spent a good long while last night slowly, patiently picking out of his fur while he soughed and wriggled, indignant. When it came to gambling, my Irish grandfather used to joke that it takes only one raffle or lottery ticket to hit the jackpot: winning’s a matter of luck, not odds. Neither he nor I ever hit any monetary jackpots, and I think his miserly approach hits somewhere off the mark: the more you look, the more you see; the more you risk, the more you win. Unless you wade right into the stream of life, you’ll never reap its rewards; beauty is like a cosmic agrimony plant that will cover you with its self-replicating spores if you venture anywhere near it.

So, does it take luck, skill, or plain and simple perseverance to (finally!) photograph a chipmunk? Way back in May, I’d promised Jenny that I’d post a picture of a chipmunk as soon as I found a photogenic one…and yesterday is when I finally hit that jackpot. Chipmunks usually stay low to the ground; here in New Hampshire, they love to hide in the nooks of our ubiquitous stone walls. This feisty fellow, however, was scared about seven feet up a tree when Reggie and I returned to the parking lot picnic area after our walk down the gorge (in the background you can see the ventilation pipe from the picnic area’s outhouse). So, does this shot represent luck, skill or perseverance? It took me some three months to find a suitable subject and a half-dozen photos to capture that subject in focus. If I had better skill, maybe one lottery ticket would do the trick, but in the meantime, I guess I should buy them (like film) by the roll.