Go To The Woods

Wood-noun. plural noun: woods

an area of land, smaller than a forest, that is covered with growing trees.

Scene 6- The mist creeps in over the woods as the camera zooms in on a group of tents. Nearby figures are gathered around a campfire. A sound not too far off in the distance startles the assembled group. “What was that?” asks one of the group.  “Ah probably just an animal” says another. The camera zooms out rapidly to a lone figure seen from behind observing the campers nearby in silence. The music becomes ominous as the figure starts walking towards the campfire…Cut scene.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Having spent much of February locked away working on the Lord Franklin series I decided I wanted to go in a vastly different direction for a new post. For starters, writing about the frozen Arctic in the actual winter here in the Northeast was maybe an odd move on my part.  Nevertheless, I was so happy with the results of this collection that you will see it now immortalized at the top of this page as a menu choice in case you missed it the first time around.

I decided on a theme of the woods and forest as a change of pace for a few reasons. First, I have long wanted to feature the handful of photographs I have taken in the woods over the years. It isn’t a normal subject matter for me to be honest. Typically I feel more connected to the water. Second there is something by equal turns fascinating, mysterious and ominous about the woods. I’m sure everyone has seen a horror movie with a scene in the woods such as the fictional one I created above. Third, it is of course spring now, and the trees and flowers are bursting out in full force with each passing day conjuring up the poetical language employed by writers such as Thoreau.

One thing I find fascinating is the ability of the woods and forest to regenerate. From earthworms churning the ground underneath to birds flitting about or the tiniest sapling sprouting from the ground that may one day turn into a mighty tree, the forest is all about regeneration and renewal year after year. Amazingly after fires and natural catastrophes, recovery often starts at a microscopic level yet gradually takes hold and flourishes. Renewal is a big word for me right now as a result of the broader themes I wrote about in the Lord Franklin series and its short followup piece. But lets leave my own story there and consider some of the other thoughts and images of the woods brought up through the lyrics of the wonderful Dar Williams song ‘Go To The Woods’ instead.

‘It’s the woods! What do you see?
In all the spooky shadows, in the forest of green
Is there a windy path, angry ass woman who will eat you?
Sad-eyed lumberjack, savior who will greet you?
It’s a different story for you and for me
Go to the woods and see’

I have been familiar with the songs of Dar Williams for some time now, but just after Christmas I went with some friends to see her perform in Brooklyn. As a result I have been exploring her work more directly. When I came across this one, I knew I had my song for this post. Like other great songwriters, Dar conveys the broad themes of the woods within just a couple of lines. She skillfully weaves the narrative of spookiness, fear, mystery and desire of the woods within just a handful of lines. Even more effectively she goes backwards and forwards in time, reminding us of the very real fragility of our increasingly disappearing woods.

‘If I was your memory, what would you do?

‘Cause you know if you go back in time there’s something waiting for you.’

Listening to the song I started thinking back to some of my own memories of the woods. Call it the ‘storybook’ version of the woods Dar Williams describes.  In my suburban childhood, there was a small patch of woods we used to go to. There was a rope swing someone had put on a sturdy branch which made you feel as if you were hurtling off a cliff. There was not much else there to be honest, but in my child’s eye the area was a vast wilderness even though in reality it was just an overgrown area yet to be developed.  Also in the larger surrounding area were a variety of trails we often hiked on. The sounds of the highway may have punctuated the feeling of stillness, but to walk on those trails always felt like an epic journey even if it only lasted a few hours. Eventually I finally witnessed what truly large woods looked like when in the summer of 1979 my family drove across the U.S. and I saw places that really did have woods like the Black Hills, Yellowstone, and the Redwoods.

As I got older my interactions with the woods were resigned mostly to hiking and camping in various places in the northeast. At first photography was not part of the equation, but gradually it took hold and allowed me to experience the woods in different ways. The deeper my interest in photography, the more understanding I  feel and think towards a subject matter. Cliche though it may sound, you really have to become one with the scene in front of you and being in tune with your surroundings. Photography is visual, but by listening to the sounds around you or feeling the breeze on your skin it can benefit the end result.

What being in the woods specifically taught me as a photographer is that there is an interplay of light and shadows throughout the day. There are the sounds of unseen birds in the trees or acorns suddenly plummeting to the ground.  There is both motion and stillness.  Each season of the year accelerates or slows down the process and adds to the sensory experience. As I sit here writing this piece I suddenly realized there is something magical or fairy tale like about setting off into the woods. There seems to be an imaginary line of demarcation between life inside and outside of the woods. We use phrases such as ‘out of the woods’ to imply foreboding. But if you dare cross that line a world of  wonder, mystery and discovery await. If you avoid it altogether you are missing out on potential treasures contained within, be you adventurer, botanist, photographer or even songwriter.

Writing this piece has reminded me that perhaps I do have a deeper connection to the woods than when I started. Though I may consider being near the water to be where my  heart lies, the woods have provided me with a lot of good memories over the years too. Perhaps I need to ‘go to the woods’ to witness the renewal and mystery of the woods for myself again.

Go To The Woods-Written By Dar Williams

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Photographs By Robert P. Doyle


50 Things @50-#30 Write A Poem

#30-Write a poem

After a week recovering from celebrating 50, I thought it was time to dive in and begin crossing some items off the list. Its probably obvious but I should just mention that there was no plan to do these in order. I think its fun just to randomly cross things off as the year goes on. So we’ll start with this one, which I am rather terrified of. Writing a blog the past (almost) 5 years is one thing. Those are sometimes hastily thrown ideas together, adding a photo and a song and I can call myself a ‘writer’. But the few little bits of fiction and this poem you are about to read represent ‘real’ writing. And that is rather terrifying to me. Even more so because it is a poem. I enjoy reading them and I actually have found myself returning to that recently. But writing them…oh lord!

I took as inspiration a few photos I took of a tree on the property of my family in Ireland. Long time readers here know I have a thing for trees, and indeed might recall these photos from older posts. I have always been drawn to the idea of how strong trees are. Even when the tree is gone, the roots stay deep in the ground long after. They are powerful things and speak to me of the strength we find in our family and friends but more importantly the resilience deep inside of us. So don’t judge me too harshly for these randomly constructed words!

To view the full 50 Things @50 list, click Here



Veins churning below the earth

strike out into the darkened void

seeking, searching not for light

but deeper fortitude

Veins climbing the sky ladder

grasping for the shimmering sky

Further, higher by the day

capturing the universe itself with a clutch 

Veins of multiple colored hue

balance the natural architecture in view

A swishing, shifting sound on the breeze

of nature's choir

These veins sit for generations

A sentinel to history. A guardian, a protector

Bending, not breaking to time's will

These veins do not fade

Veins in the earth

Veins in our hands

Rooted and pulsing

Crisscrossing between our worlds
Tree On Family Farm, Kilcar Co. Donegal

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle


Monochrome Mondays

The deeper I have gotten into photography, the more I find myself interested in the texture and contours of random objects. It might be the windows on an old building, or the pattern to a wrought iron fence. It might be the vintage lights in an old restaurant, or the lettering of a street sign. Texture was something I never really appreciated as an artistic concept I suppose.  Years ago when the computer games Myst and its sequel Riven were released, I picked up a companion book about the games called From Myst To Riven : The Creations And Inspirations. Anyone who has ever played  those games knows how groundbreaking the art was, particularly in Riven. While a great deal of it was done in a more cinematic fashion, creating worlds via the computer, the book explained that some of the styles, colors, and shapes were built around a photo expedition some of the team had made to New Mexico. While there they took close up photos of building textures-stone and brick patterns from houses, as well as plants and even Native American textiles. It opened my eyes to realizing that by moving in closer visually, shapes and color patterns can be quite intricate and fascinating in their own right. Not everything has to be seen on a large scale.

Awhile back here I used a photo of the rotunda in the old customs house here in NY (which now houses the National Museum Of The American Indian). It was a bit of trickery in that it was actually shot in color, but looked like monochrome because of the subject. I wanted to do something similar again, and while looking through some old photos remembered these shots I took last year of some white birch trees. Once again I photographed these in color, but because the bark of a birch is a variety of patterns of black and white it gave the effect of being photographed in monochrome and I really liked the end result of shapes and textures.

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle


Monochrome Mondays

After weeks of bleak, cold and snowy weather, we had a nice preview of spring this past weekend. Heavy coats, gloves, hat and scarf were ditched and traded out for lighter clothing. Windows were opened for the first time in awhile. Moods seemed to brighten as well, and everyone seemed to take advantage of it. Now we all know that winter is not over of course, and many a hope of early spring are dashed once March comes around, but for this weekend, we could sense it. When we get a tease like this our minds race forward to budding trees, lush grass and bright colors after months in the ‘darkness’ of winter. I know mine certainly does but then I am reminded that winter really does have a unique beauty to it as well, despite the darkness and the cold. The starkness of the background, contrasted with the silhouette of the tree branches in this photo is appealing to me. The twists and turns of the branches can really only be viewed like this in winter, and they appear almost like the veins in your hands. In a month or so buds will begin to blossom and the starkness will be replaced with vibrancy. But as a photographer, I have learned that they can both be equally beautiful.


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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle


Sway With Me


Sway With Me

As a teenager growing up in the 1980’s I had a lot of the usual influences-MTV for music, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Star Wars for movies, and TV shows like Hill Street Blues. In addition, appearing in newspapers (remember them?) starting in about 1980  was a comic strip called Bloom County written by Berkely Breathed that loomed large in my life at the time. The lovable but honest characters of a Mid-West town included the precocious Milo Bloom, his wishy-washy sidekick Michael Binkley, the loathsome Steve Dallas, the fun loving wheelchair bound Vietnam veteran Cutter John, but especially the naive, yet honest penguin Opus. I loved the strip for its often timely stories that were presented in a funny way. It poked fun at the major news-makers of the day, but was never truly vicious. Occasionally though, as an extension of Breathed’s pen, the characters captured the mood perfectly.

To anyone who especially read the early days of the strip ‘the meadow’ was a central location to the storyline. Quite often the characters would sit in the meadow, ruminating on various topics, or reciting silly poetry. There was always a punch line. But in one particular post that has stuck with me long after my once prized editions of Bloom County books became relegated to the bottom of my bookshelf and scarcely looked at, the meadow served as a perfect analysis for something not so silly. It became a place of shutting off the interference and noise of society. Of bad news and violence. Of shouting and screaming. It became an all too brief moment of respite. The other day while walking the grounds of the Storm King Art Center, I came across a scene that reminded me once again of that strip, and just like the fictional characters in that Bloom County cartoon, I wanted to take a ‘Mass Dandelion Break’ too.

Continue reading “Sway With Me”

My Four Seasons In Photos

A note about the order of these. More than likely you have landed here after clicking the menu option for My Four Seasons at the top of the page. Unfortunately this puts the series out of order, and I cannot change it. If you wish to read the entire series, you will have to start at the bottom with ‘Spring’ and work your way up. Sorry about that!

For my four part blog series My Four Seasons I used photographs of trees I took throughout 2014. As I explained in the introduction to the series I stumbled upon a method of photographing them in a different way. I enjoyed the viewpoint of standing under the trees and looking up, seeing the contortions and twists that are not seen as easily when viewed standing away from them. I thought I might share all of these, as well as a few additional shots that did not make it into the blog in one separate photo blog. Enjoy!


All photographs by Robert P Doyle All images in this blog are available in limited supply for purchase as unframed prints. Sizes may vary. Contact via robpatdoy@hotmail.com for details.

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