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I drove to Vermont for Thanksgiving this year, timing it just right so that I spent the first four hours of my evening journey covering 2.5 hours worth of highway in the midst of a heavy snowstorm.  Fun times!  (Eventually I gave up and finished the journey the next morning, which was definitely a smart choice.)

In the weeks leading up to this trip, I kept hoping that Vermont would have snow on the ground – a white Thanksgiving was all I wanted, so that there’d be both opportunity and subject matter for some morning photo outings.  Well, I got what I wished for, and so the morning after Thanksgiving I set out early, under thick overcast and a trickle of snowflakes, for a visit to Kent Pond.

Kent Pond is one of my Vermont destinations and I return to it almost every time I visit.  Aside from being easily accessible from my family home, it’s simply a lovely location and always seems to be photogenic, in any season and any weather.  This was no exception, as the pond and the surrounding forest were blanketed with at least a foot of fresh snow, with only the tracks of a few other visitors on the trails.

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I began, as always, at the shore of the boat launch, shooting across the lake at the mountains and pine-filled shorelines.  I grew up in this landscape, but I’ve spent the past 6 years living in Pennsylvania, where there are very few (real) mountains and the forests are dominated by hardwoods, so upon returning to the pine forests of my youth, I am always drawn to them as subjects.

The two photos above were taken from the same place, the only difference being the composition and vantage points.  And I can decide which I prefer; the top for it’s more intimate feeling, looking out through the branches at a scene where the outflow of Kent Brook mirrors the highlights in the clouds above, or the bottom, where the focus is on the half-frozen brook, the patterns in the ice and water, where I can feel the tug as it heads out into the pond.

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I turned around and moved only a few steps to make this next image, looking upstream at the lowest in a series of small waterfalls, this time mostly obscured by the the pines that overhang the creek.  It’s a simple scene, very quiet – like the woods that morning – and I like the darkness of it, the quality of the shadows and the gradation among them.

I hiked uphill along the creek, pausing in a few places to make photos.  Hurricane Irene did a great deal of damage in Vermont, massively changing the course of rivers, isolating entire towns at its peak, and leaving scars that will remain for years to come.  Kent Brook isn’t very big, but even it was changed by the flooding, and has since been reinforced with boulders at a bend just upstream of the waterfalls, a new bridge replacing the old one, which was swept away.

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I clambered down the embankment to the streamside below the bridge – which is a fancy way of saying that I tried not to fall on my ass and slide into the creek – so that I could capture the of the isolated, snow-capped boulders mid-stream, with the wood bridge above.

The forest is almost monochrome, with just a hint of deep blue, and it speaks to the coldness of a winter morning, of fresh snow and freezing water.

I hiked farther along the trail than usual – in fact, farther than I think I’ve gone before, following in the footsteps of a hiker who had passed through the day before.  I ended up in a shallow ravine, where the smallest trickle of a creek emerged into a shallow bay, only partially frozen.  I made the image below looking out at the pond through the trees, using the short pine as an anchor.

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In the end, this was as much about taking a hike in the woods as it was about making photos.  The woods are therapeutic; walking in them eases my soul and gives me a time and place to sort out whatever jumble of crap is clogging my mind.  It had been some weeks since I’d been for a hike, and it felt good to get out again.  I find that returning to Vermont always causes conflicts within me; I don’t much care for the state in a cultural sense, or as a place to live; yet at the same time I love visiting my family and returning to specific places outdoors that feel important, or special, to me.

This month my high school class is hosting their 10 year anniversary.  I’m not going, which I doubt will surprise anyone.  The few real friends I had in high school I’ve stayed in touch with, while the rest…well, I haven’t missed them, so I really don’t see the point in seeing them again.  But it was on my mind, being back there, and I found that my hike that morning helped me settle my thoughts on the matter.

The woods is good for that.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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