Philosopher William James visited Grandfather Mountain in 1891, calling the town of Linville “the most peculiar, and one of the most poetic places I have ever been in” (see The Letters of William James for James’ complete thoughts on his visit). Of the mountain he wrote, “The road, the forest, the view, the crags, were as good as such things can be….Later, doubtless, a railroad, stores, and general sordidness with wealth will creep in. Meanwhile let us enjoy things!”
Well, I’m happy to report that in the century or so since then, relatively little sordidness has been allowed to encroach. I visited Grandfather this past weekend with my family, where we were lucky enough to meet the Morton family and get a personalized, behind-the-scenes tour of the facilities and surroundings from Hugh’s grandson Crae, the current President. Growing up in Boone, obviously I had been there before—but it’s been years, and I’ve become far more accustomed to looking at the mountain in two dimensions only (at work). It’s far more impressive in three. (Especially impressive, but not recommended, is crossing the Mile High Swinging Bridge in winds gusting to 95 mph. “We’re about to close the bridge due to safety concerns,” they said . . .”but you can go across first.” Big mistake.)
There’s no question that Hugh Morton developed an amazing ability to photograph the mountain and its surroundings to their fullest advantage. Crae drove me around to several of Hugh’s best photographing spots, including his favorite tree in MacRae Meadows, the point from which you can sometimes catch a glimpse of the Charlotte skyline, and the rock from which he took those gorgeous shots of the Parkway. To illustrate my point, here’s a photo I took from the Viaduct rock:
And, here’s one of Morton’s photos of the Viaduct, which I borrowed from Go Blue Ridge Card blog (I’m sure it’s around here somewhere . . .):
Obviously, it helps to go at certain times of the year. But it also helps to be patient and persistent, as Hugh was (photographing from the same spots over and over again, waiting for lighting and cloud placement to be exactly right). And, Crae let me in on another secret—sometimes Hugh would recruit (or coerce) a volunteer to position the foliage just so, to achieve maximum framing effect. Who knows, maybe just outside the frame of this very image there is a young Crae Morton, straining on his tiptoes to hold up those leafy branches in the foreground while his grandfather snaps the shutter . . .