Saturday, January 31, 2009

Magic Circle

This little plaza by the BB&T tower looked so magical in the light reflected from the tower's windows.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Blue on Blue

The impossible blue of the Bijou Theatre's new marquee matches an impossibly blue sky.
Head on over to Sky Watch to view a realm of celestial possibilities.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fort Sanders Whispers

Imagine it's not long into the 20th century. You're sitting here on the handsome wrap-around porch of the Pickle Mansion looking out over Fort Sanders neighborhood from the top of the hill. Perhaps you're taking evening tea with your neighbors. The lowering sun is still shining benignly and life moves at a gracious, stately pace. I don't know if the Pickle Mansion is haunted, but I can see the ghosts, can you?

Although I really can't do this image justice in words, I know of someone who did...

Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite works by local writer James Agee, Knoxville: Summer of 1915. It's an autobiographical essay he wrote which was included in the preface to his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Death In the Family, remembering his life in his family's Fort Sanders home:

"We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.
...It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto: a quiet auto: people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squaring with clowns in hueless amber. A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping; belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter; fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew."

- James Agee, Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

There's lots more, and you should really read it to get a sense of Knoxville's essence at a singular point in time. And then come join me in looking for the ghosts in Fort Sanders.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Since I'm up on my historic preservation horse again, I figured I might as well ride it around for a few more posts. So, next stop, the Pickle Mansion in the Fort Sanders neighborhood near the University of Tennessee.

This once-glorious mansion was built in 1889 in the Queen Anne style by then-Tennessee State Attorney General George Pickle. When it was whole and well, it had a hipped roof, ornately-topped turrets, a wide wrap-around covered porch, and beautiful brickwork. Like many of the grand old Victorian homes remaining in Fort Sanders, it had been carved up into student apartments and left to a genteel decay.

Then in 2003, a horrible fire gutted the roof and top floors; luckily, there were no human casualties. But Knoxville lost a grand dame that day. The previous owners were denied a demolition permit by the city. The current owners, who purchased the mansion in 2005, pledged renovation and have stabilized the structure, but have not progressed to the exterior as yet.

I'm hoping for a future where I won't see the sky, even as lovely and blue as it is in this photo, through lonely architectural bones when I walk by. I'm hoping also that I won't see a vacant lot, or another cinderblock apartment complex squatting like a toad by the curving driveway.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bijou Redux

The historic Bijou Theatre has just finished a renovation, and the last touch has been added this week: a replica of the original marqee was hung over the entrance. The theater is celebrating it's 100 Year Jubilee this month. Knoxville is lucky to have two historic theaters downtown.

This building has a long and colorful history. The structure has not changed much on the outside since its completion in 1817 as the Lamar House hotel and tavern. It became a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. Union Brigadier William P. Sanders died of his wounds in one of the hotel rooms.

The building was transformed into the Bijou Theatre in 1909. George M. Cohen was the featured actor in the first performance of "Little Johnny Jones". Many famous performers graced the stage in subsequent years, including the Marx Brothers and jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.

For years after that the Bijou showed second-run movies, but then its lease expired. The building went into freefall in the 70s when it became an "adult movie" venue. There was talk of tearing it down - probably to build another parking lot, but it was saved at the last minute by the forrunner of our present Knox Heritage organization.

Of course, like every good theater, the Bijou is reported to be haunted. The East Tennessee Paranormal Society's report has photos, sound files, and a video of some suspicious activity.

The renovation of the Bijou has been another wonderful bonus for Knoxville.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Out For a Walk

There's nothing as satisfying as a brisk walk on a sunny winter morning for dog and owner.
The Gay Street Bridge downtown is the backdrop for this little stroll.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


These are the chandeliers that hang in the lobby of the historic Tennessee Theatre downtown.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

By Any Other Name

The Holy Land Market on Sutherland Avenue has all kinds of good Middle Eastern food, including feta cheese, kalamata olives, tahini, spices, and fava beans. It's my go-to place for supplies when I'm in the mood to cook a good Middle Eastern or Mediterranean dinner.
But this also caught my eye. They can call it "luncheon meat" if they wish, but I know Spam when I see it.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Glowing Somewhere

Not really clouds, but a contrail that has reflected some sunset glow in a clear winter sky.
There's lots more at Sky Watch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


More macro practice - the unravelling of an old steel cable has a certain graceful aspect.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Snowy Trees

Snow is a word that strikes panic into the hearts of Knoxvillians. The one inch dusting of snow that fell yesterday closed all the schools in Knox and surrounding counties. But to be fair, the roads around here are hilly and winding, secondary roads are not treated or cleared, and no one has snow tires.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let It Shine

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
- " This Little Light of Mine", gospel spiritual

All the wonderful little lights in this photo are our future hope. It was the most appropriate photo I could think of to post for Inauguration Day today. This was one of many scenes from yesterday's Martin Luther King Jr memorial parade, a two mile, snowy, joyful march down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue from Tabernacle Baptist Church to Greater Warner Tabernacle AME Zion Church. Over 2,000 people participated and I had the privilege of marching with the Knoxville Interfaith Network.

Can I show you more than one photo today?
Yes, I can.

Here's my group, Knoxville Interfaith Network. That space behind the banner is where I'm supposed to be standing instead of taking photos. The parade and the snow were just starting.

One of the floats shows what it's all about - remembering Dr. King and, this year, looking forward to President Obama.

Monday, January 19, 2009


"I will lift mine eyes unto these hills from whence cometh my help."
-The Bible, Psalm 121

I wanted to give you something uplifting to look at as we celebrate Martin Luther King Day here in the US today, and look forward with hope to a new presidency tomorrow.

The immutable Smoky Mountains frame our horizon and our lives here in East Tennessee. I feel a great sense of peace when I look at them.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Shelf Fungus

Not moss or lichens, alas. But I found a nice bunch of shelf fungi that gave me an opportunity to practice my macro shots. And what a cheerfully colored fungus among us.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Empty Kilns

For the next few days, I've loaded up some more photos of Ijams Nature Center and the Mead Quarry area because, y'all, it's just TOO DARN COLD to go out and take new photos. My little Southern-acclimated self just can't deal with single digit Farenheit.

So, be patient. I have a list of places to go, things to photo, when Knoxville thaws out a bit.

These are the old lime kilns at the Mead Quarry site. The pile of white lime ash is there in the foreground.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Here's an austere winter scene: a full moon rising by a bare tree on a cold winter afternoon. This is one of the few moon shots I've taken that doesn't totally look like an amorphous blob. Progress!
For seasonal scenes around the globe, go visit Sky Watch.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Forest On the Trees

With some major inspiration from lichen and moss lovers Benjamin at Victoria Daily Photo and USElaine at Willits Daily Photo, I went looking for the forest on the trees at Ijams Nature Center. My macro doesn't compare to some of their wonderful photos, but still. I wanted to convey the feeling of a forest-within-a-forest. These little fronds were actually swaying in the winter breeze.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Walking down the railroad tracks in the Old City reveals the usual detritus of civilization: plastic bags, broken bottles, and cigarette butts. But once in awhile, something else turns up. Something maybe a bit more interesting and historic. Like this: an old railroad spike. These tracks have been here since the late 1800s; the Old City grew up to take advantage of that prime location, wanting to move all kinds of goods along the railways to be sold in other cities. And you know, those trains rumble down the tracks, and the tracks quake, a call and response that repeats day after day, century after century. Once in awhile, all those vibrations cause one of the old iron spikes to pop out and lay in the gravel, useless as a beached fish. But quite interesting to wandering photobloggers.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beaten Tracks

Oh boy, a mini-theme! These railroad tracks pass through the Mead's Quarry section of Ijams Nature Center. They used to service the company that mined the quarry for marble, but are no longer in use, in contrast to yesterday's post of the Southern Railway tracks downtown. Which is a good thing, as I seem to be developing an unfortunate habit of standing in the middle of the tracks.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Raison d'Etre

The Old City section of downtown came to be because of the railroad. The Southern Railway transformed Knoxville into a hub for transporting goods throughout the South. By the turn of the 20th century, Knoxville was one of the largest wholesale cities in the South. The recently closed White Lily flour plant is there on the left.

In this century, the Old City is primarily an entertainment district, but these tracks are still used by the Southern Railway. Which means that I was standing in the way of commerce to take this photo. Good thing commerce runs on a schedule so I will live to take more photos.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Enough with the nature, let's get citified again for a moment.

Lucille's in the Old City was a classy little hole-in-the-wall jazz joint for many years. The best of the Knoxville jazz scene would play there. And before you go making rude noises about the words "best", "jazz", and "Knoxville" residing cozily in the same sentence, let me remind you that the Jazz Studies program at UT attracts some very talented students and faculty to our area.

Anyway, Lucille's. It had a reputation not only as one of the best jazz venues in town, but also as the go-to place for visiting performers to unwind after their shows. It's true. I was there the night Joan Baez danced on top of the bar to the sounds of Donald Brown and his jazz quartet.

Too bad Lucille's is no more, only the sign remains. The place is now a beer-and-BBQ spot, and while I do enjoy my occasional beer and BBQ, it doesn't have the same flair. And believe me, in this crummy economy, we need some flair. You picked a fine time to leave us, Lucille's.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Things They Left Behind 2

Stanton Cemetery lies at the very top of the limestone bluff overlooking Mead's Quarry. You'll come upon it suddenly as you wind along Tharp Trace trail, an austere place on a winter's afternoon. The little community is long gone, but the cemetery was literally uncovered from beneath a thick tangle of vines when Ijams began improving the nature trails around the quarry.
Graves are dated from 1870 through 1939, although there are many graves marked only with small fieldstones. Life was hard for these quarry workers and their families; many of the markers record the brief histories of infants and children. They break my heart.

A local Boy Scout troop cleared the land and built a little post rail fence and benches, and it's a beautiful, mindful place to stop and sit. But I kind of liked it when I first saw Stanton Cemetery as I believe it was meant to be, when the trail first opened, and the vines still swirled thick and lush around the headstones.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Monet's Sun

Not a water lily in sight, but I think Mead's Quarry gives Giverny a pretty good run for its money in this shot.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Things They Left Behind

Bricks. Piles and piles of bricks litter the Mead's Quarry site. When you walk the quarry trails, you'll come upon them suddenly, unexpectedly, lying in broken heaps, or covered gently with creeping vines.

The good folks at Ijams gave many of them a new life in rest areas such as this, where you can sit and contemplate the slant of winter light on bricks.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Still Water

Frog-strangling rains have moved into East Tennessee - I'm not kidding, many county school districts are closed today because of severe flooding, but the rain should be leaving us later today. So I'm continuing my Ijams series, showing you a sunnier day a few weeks ago, when I admired the deep, deep blue-green water of Mead's Quarry at Ijams Nature Center. Yesterday, you saw it from the bluff behind red berries. Today, we're at ground level.

The stillness of the water is eerie. Occasionally I'll hear a rock plonk into the water from the limestone bluff, or I'll hear a roiling bubbling of gases charge up to the surface, perhaps from a junked auto still resting deep and drowned and unreachable at the bottom of the quarry. Boating and swimming aren't allowed, so nothing but waterfowl will glide across the surface.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Winter Berries

The Tharpe Trace trail follows the bluff around Mead's Quarry. It's a strenuous hike, but it's one of my favorites. The drowned marble quarry and surrounding property, an abandoned repository for junk and a popular site for criminal activity for many years, was purchased a few years ago by Ijams Nature Center. While the footprint of industry remains, nature is reclaiming its own. And of course, I've taken some interesting shots of this in-between-land that I'll post later.

Monday, January 5, 2009


The Sunsphere peeks over the concrete wall of the top floor of the Locust Avenue parking garage. Maybe this shows the stealth of architecture. Or maybe it shows that I'm very short.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


If Georges Seurat was alive and painting in Knoxville, do you think he would've put brush to canvas for the spraying fountain in the middle of the lake at Victor Ashe Park? We'll never know, so here's my photographic interpretation, with apologies to the Neo-Impressionists.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

1/2 Morgan

I don't explain 'em, I just show 'em: cryptic message on the railroad tracks in the Old City.

Friday, January 2, 2009


This orange sky greeted me as I rolled into the parking lot at work early one morning in November. You can also see the Smoky Mountains in silhouette peeking over the treeline.
Now go peek at some other fabulous skies at Sky Watch.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Theme Day: Best of 2008

Well, "best" is such a relative term. As a beginner to photography, I count on the Laws of Large Numbers of Photos to grant me one or two Really Good Photos over the span of many months. So I'm picking my August 15th entry of Clefhenge, an arty-farty closeup of some downtown public art in which I also got to howl at the moon.

But my personal "best" in my mind is the whole enchilada of this project from day one, my love song to Knoxville (see "howl at the moon", above), good photos and bad ones, and the narrative that I duct-tape to the bottom of each photo, the sum of my personal experience in this quirky Southern city.

Happy New Year!