In April 1865, the Civil War found its much-needed resolution in the tiny crossroads village of Appomattox Court House in central Virginia. On the morning of the ninth a small battle was fought near here, and the afternoon arrived with the winds of surrender. Grant, Lee and thousands of troops gathered within view of the eastern flank of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in a small house, papers were signed that would put it all to rest. The owner had moved to the area after watching his home get shelled at First Bull Run. Despite some initial reluctance he opened his doors, thus becoming a witness to both the beginning and end of the war.
The area is now administered by the National Park Service and If you’re of the mistaken opinion that the Federal Government does nothing good with your money – you should plan a visit soon. We were there on a recent April break within a few days of the anniversary. We’d traveled south from Gettysburg, having visited a number of similar sites all managed by the Park Service. In each of these places, the exhibits, grounds, and even the gift shops, were full of extraordinary and well-presented information.
The day at Appomattox was breezy, and unseasonably cold. The sun was hesitating and storm clouds were blowing across Virginia like they meant business. I stepped outside because the skirmish between shade and light was now catching my attention. It was one of those ambiguous spring days that comes with a hunch of incoming rain but soon convinces you otherwise. The shifting moods seemed appropriate given the significance of the place. Likewise, the terrain was hard to pin down. The historic buildings that dot the fields of the monument sit upon grounds that could be described as somewhere between hilly and not. The barns and other structures are spaced with an a airy distance between them but remain close enough to convey a sense of neighborhood. From any doorway in Appomatox you’ve generally got a view of another but not without a healthy serving of rural landscape. The fields, fences and mountains convey an ambient sense of human presence in the natural world, and in this case, the presence is benign. It’s apropos that a place this important to our collective history comes with a view of clouds. I put a camera on my tripod and began to wander.
I took several pictures that afternoon but it’s these two that caught the mood. Again, opposing sides are studied. In this case, a pair of photographs that combine interior and exterior subjects. In the vertical picture, the viewpoint is from a partially draped window with wavy antique glass. There is uncertainty – a mood amplified by the old glass and its somewhat distorted view of the neighboring brick building. The tall home stands behind a picket fence beneath dark clouds.
In the horizontal picture, the point of view is that of an unseen occupant. Someone is in a doorway. The door divides the image abruptly in the foreground from another building in the distance. There are fences. The sky is turbulent and grey, with a hopeful patch of blue.
There’s contrast in the each of the pictures. It’s the marriage of line and light that can bring about resolution.