For me, the interesting thing about this picture is what you can’t see—and, perhaps, just as importantly, what you can’t hear. On a trip last fall to visit relatives in my home town, I spent two nights in Lexington, Virginia, which is 40 miles east of my destination. When I’m down that way, I camp in Lexington because it’s a small town situated in a beautiful spot just off I-81, in the gentle foothills where the Shenandoah Valley narrows between the Blue Ridge and Alleghany Mountains. There are lots of things to see and do nearby, in contrast to where I come from, which is also situated in a beautiful area much deeper into the mountains. My birthplace is a depressed (and for me, somewhat depressing) paper mill town very near the West Virginia line. Lexington, being a university town (Washington and Lee, Virginia Military Institute), has all the amenities that come with that, including many good restaurants. It’s a wonderful destination and not just a stopover. On my first evening there this trip, while killing time before dinner, I wandered around town with my new digital point-and-shoot camera and soon found myself in the graveyard in which “Stonewall” Jackson is buried. The historic site is in a residential area on Main Street, just a few blocks south of the business district.
I shot several pictures in the graveyard, but the one above is my favorite. I love the way the late afternoon light comes through the silhouetted trees and creates those long shadows, the darker edges of the image framing some of the gravestones. Of course I was thinking about that when I composed the picture, and that’s also when a sort of eerie-beautiful event took place. As I stood there (and I stayed in that one spot for at least five minutes), a large flock of crows began to swoop in and out between the trees, caw-cawing the whole time as they cavorted. I had seen this sort of “happy hour” bird behavior before during the “golden hour” just before sunset, a favorite time of day, it seems, for birds, photographers and cinematographers. But I had never witnessed it in quite so dramatic a setting and with such loud sound effects. (Imagine being in the middle the gathering-of-the-birds scene in that Hitchcock movie, but experiencing it as pleasant rather than threatening.) This may have been the only time while out and about photographing when I wished that I had video instead of a still camera. Another disappointment: I had hoped to catch a bird perched on the foremost gravestone, but no luck. Not one bird landed while I was there, and even if it had I doubt I would have been quick enough to capture the image. You see, I was still a pretty slow photographer at that point, consulting the instruction book for just about every move I made with my new camera.