The Lenape (Delaware) Indians would have said Taghkanic, meaning great fall in the woods. Indeed. The main cataract at Taughannock is impressive, rising 33 feet taller than Niagara, and plunging 215 feet to the valley floor. These Taughannock Falls are just outside of Ithaca, New York; we visited there last weekend. Imagine a large river with a number of tributary streams. Now imagine a period of climate change such that the environment cools and these moving bodies of water freeze, as they did during the Pleistocene glaciation. The bottom of a tributary glacier is initially at the same level as the glacier which forms in the river. Under the influence of gravity these move and scour the substrate. Because the river glacier is more massive, it scours a deep (V-shaped), very wide (high walled) gorge; because the tributary glacier is smaller, it forms a smaller (U-shaped and shallower) one. When the glaciers recede the tributary gorge rides high above the river gorge and forms what is called a Hanging Valley, and Taughannock is a classic example of one. Geology lesson aside I wonder why we find nature, at its extremes, so awe-inspiring? Why do our eyes widen at the sight of a water fall, a deep gorge, or an ocean abyss? Why do we marvel at breaking waves, twisting tornadoes, evidences of vulcanism, cracks of thunder, and flashes of lightning? Why is it that nature both frightens and inspires? If I had to guess I would say that we are predisposed to these influences because our very ancient ancestors were directly impacted by them. Today, of course, we simply crawl into our stick boxes and are thereby afforded some protection from the elements, Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. In the old days folks couldn’t run and they couldn’t hide, they lived intimately with nature and were a part of it. I am sure this realization instilled genuine fear at the thought of an advancing storm, a flash of lightning, or the crack of thunder. We have learned, for better or worse (I do not know which) to, mostly, circumvent the inconvenience that some would call nature. Perhaps our primitive fears have been transmogrified to find expression in doubt, awe and, especially, inspiration.


20 thoughts on “Taughannock

  1. Very well done, you are quite an artist. Ithaca is beautiful. Upstate New York is beautiful, for that matter. I think that people busy themselves with survival and find themselves in situations of awe or fear because of it. I am surrounded by community that mostly respects the environment and therefore, more hopeful. We never tire of driving past the same eskers, the same soft, old mountains … coming across a glacial erratic or chutes in the mountains. And the pastures bordered by stone walls are equally beheld. However, put us in a concrete jungle and we have a difficult time finding the structures and planning “beautiful.” Let’s hear it for nature!

    • Speaking of nature’s wonders … I forgot to report that I just about gave myself a pretty good case of whiplash as we drove by the Whipstock Hill road cut just outside of Bennington [http://www.newark.osu.edu/facultystaff/personal/jstjohn/Documents/Rocks-and-Fossils-in-the-Field/Whipstock-Hill.htm]. Beautiful … the rocks here are part of the Bascom Formation (Lower Ordovician) and are approximately 450 million years old! Talk about a wonder! I still wish we had stopped to take a picture … we drove by it in the dark on the outbound trip so didn’t see it. On the way home we passed it in daylight but were on the wrong side of the road. Drats.

      • We LOVE that roadcut! When they first built the “by-pass”, as it is called locally, we were studying earth science (we homeschooled) and so the timing was perfect for field trips! By the way, you were spitting distance from our farm when you were there! 5 minutes off of the North Bennington exit! Oh well, next time!

  2. What an amazing photo, Dave, of one of my favorite places! It looks quite painterly which I mean as a real compliment. How you captured such detail is beyond me. And yeah, yeah, the prose are intriguing also!

    • Hey Lynn … so wonderful to click in this afternoon and to see your comment. Thank you very much for taking the time to swing by, to read, to look, and to comment … I know you’re busy so taking even just a few minutes means much. It’s interesting you should use the word ‘painterly’ to describe the image of the falls. It’s actually a composite of three images sandwiched into one (one underexposed, one overexposed, and one right on – creates more dynamic range in the end). After putting these together the final composite gets processed as a preset and then I tinker with the image until it reflects the landscape as it presented itself as I pressed the shutter. The point of all this is that the preset I used is called ‘Painterly.’ Unless you are familiar with a Photomatix I wonder how you came up with the label? Any way thanks again for touching base … and please do take a more extensive look across the blog when you have time … you might enjoy the most recent image taken just yesterday on a bit of a drive Joanna and I took along the back roads not far from here. D

  3. What a beautiful and moving photo. It leaves me feeling awed by nature’s beauty, and your photography skills. For me places like this are imbued with the mystery of being liminal, on the edge of change, and so filled with energy and power 🙂

    • Great description … and I learned a new word “liminal.” When I sat down to write about the falls my first thoughts concerned the primal sense of awe which rises from deep within when one views it (or any number of other natural events). In that light the term, liminal, resonates quite well. Aren’t the senses interesting? Isn’t instinct interesting? Aren’t we (as creatures) interesting? Yup … I think so. D

  4. Well, you have certainly captured Nature here. The angle of this shot is fantastic: I feel very tiny looking into the screen. 🙂 Nature is certainly bigger than we are, but we are also part of it … the bigness is in us.

    • Thanks Lemony for the thumbs up on the image. I agree that we are part of the natural world but at the same time I am convinced that the idea is not shared by most with whom we share the planet. Perhaps that can change? I hope so. Have a great day. D PS: More poems please.

  5. I think we’ve been motivated to cultivate nature since someone first picked up a stick and struck something with it. Thanks to thumbs and a brain, things really took off from there. The question that fascinates me is this, when did we, as a species, first became horrified to learn we can’t control the forces of the earth? There must have been a shift in thinking that went from, ‘cool, look what I can do’ (thwack with the stick) to a sense of entitlement like, ‘throw some goats on the fire and the gods will spare us.’ I suspect that even though it is more reliable than goat sacrifice, technology has similar psychological consequences to the former practices of sympathetic magic. (Maybe?)

    • Well considered and well said M. I wonder too about the psychology that made sacrifice, or at least reverence I suppose, rationale in the minds of our very earliest ancestors. What in the world made these folks think that, as you say, throwing a goat on the fire was going to do anything at all? Sorry, I expose my twenty-first century naivete and snobbery. Certainly they rationalized the behavior because they knew no better and it was all they could hope to do in the face of adversity. And, in the final analysis they took advantage (wrongly) of correlation and causation … once, just once, when they saw (just by coincidence of course) the correlation between tossing the goat and cessation of the floods, the practice was sanctified (and falsley imbued them with power). I also agree with the premise that we have yet to come to terms with the fact that we cannot hope to control nature. What a silly animal we are … don’t you think. D

    • Yes, as a matter of fact I walked right past the sign which read, “Please stay on trail,” to get a better angle at the falls (Joanna was not pleased). The wide angle lens I was using gave a false impression of distance and I was much closer than the picture would suggest. It was nice that the wind was blowing to the right … keeping the mist off of my lens! D

  6. Not hard to feel awe (probably my favourite feeling) when looking at your photo. Nature + technology = more than the sum here! My home is heavily glaciated so we are no stranger to hanging valleys either. But … I don’t think I’ve seen a local picture that captures it as well as you just did.

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