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Ocean Grove by Joel B. McEachern

by Joel B. McEachern

... yet I cannot express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away—the ravages of the axes are daily increasing—the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible to a civilized nation. The way-side is becoming shadeless and another generation will behold spots, now rife with beauty, desecrated by what is called improvement.
   — from On American Scenery, 1835, Thomas Cole, 'luminist' painter

Copyright Joel B. McEachern

Atop the marine terraces of the Pleistocene—the Wicomico, Penholoway, Pamlico and the ancient alluvial wash where the once Great Everglades now bleeds—grows a small tear of trees I call Ocean Grove. For fifteen seasons, it has been my pilgrimage, a journey of the eye to rest and repair in the face of first light.There among the buttonwoods, palm and the spidery red mangrove, I return to walk and work among them, to breathe their air and tell their time. From seedlings to adults, I have recorded their growth, their grace and their passing; their wooden bones all that remain from the storms and the sea that drowned then broke them from their earth. On the ebbing shore, seedlings rise from the puddled and speckled flats like letters scattered upon an empty page. A new sentence has begun to form. In this quiet and powerful place, life pulls on the heart as surely as an outbound tide. It is as it has always been: a geography of longing and loss, written in the waves and the wind.Somewhere along the way, this salty wood became greater than the sum of its parts, transforming both me and my work. Pictures became meditations on film and I became a fisher of the light in search of a particular light with a particular quality, content only if it was ripe and robust, in its own place and of its own making.Florida, the land of my birth, my father's and his before him, changed too. I began to see it as a land of islands set in a vast shallow pool that slowly funneled its sweetwater across broad grassy plains. Out there, among the cypress and the palm, where the alligator solitarily glides and the egret sails in chevron, sanctuary beckoned. Progress and presumption did not.

Of his work, Edward Weston said his purpose was to record rather then interpret his subjects. He understood the demands of simplicity, of fixing light to form. In Ocean Grove, I am a sentient being, and content to work as one.


Like other artists, Joel B. McEachern rises hours before dawn in search of Florida at first light. After sixteen seasons, it has become a search to picture grace, the work possessing a psychology of its own: a measure of the effects of our loss of attachment. He has published both photography and prose in Tropic (Miami Herald Sunday magazine), Earth Magazine, Camera & Darkroom Magazine, Birdwatcher's Digest, The Calypso Log, Wilderness Magazine, Water's Edge Magazine, Wild Earth, and others. He has exhibited across the eastern United States, from the southeastern regional office of the National Park Service to the Long Island Arts Council to the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
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