on witten pond

Most people would say that Witten Pond belongs to its owner. I believe he would say that he is merely the caretaker. I would go a few steps further though and say that Witten Pond is a place where the sacred most assuredly resides, providing those who witness its purity and grace with an enhanced view of life. I felt a strong presence of serenity the first time I set foot upon Witten Pond land. I had informal, quiet dialogues with myself and any creature, flora and fauna around, while I walked, photographed, or simply basked in the calm and peace that permeate the world of Witten Pond. Every leaf and blade of grass, the sound of the rushing stream, the haven that wild life seeks, the slowing of each moment into sheer perfection, the presence of tranquility in both the wild and tamed landscape — all of these can only exist in hallowed time. It is now almost thirty years since I first saw Witten Pond.

Surrounded by state forest preserve, it is a secluded fifteen-acre property ensconced in the Hudson Valley Region of New York state. I lived there for a while and visited many times over these three decades to do my photographic work. In fact, Witten Pond has provided me with a rich cache of subjects that evolved with the years. I created a self-imposed retreat many times in what is now the guesthouse, Lily of the Valley, experiencing some of the greatest joys of my life given the inspirational energy that abounds on this land. My most recent visit was in early spring of this year. The gardens were not yet in full bloom. However, the spring-fed Pond’s rippling reflections shone through its sparkling waters with such clarity that much of what I photographed were images reminiscent of impressionist paintings.

The oldest structure on the property is the guesthouse, now replete with heating and plumbing — though thirty years ago, those conveniences were iffy at best. The fishing and hunting lodge-cum-renovated guesthouse was built in the early 1900s of chestnut, prior to the blight, and is of post and beam construction. It stands high on a hill with stonewalls banking steps of indigenous bluestone that lead to a charming, rustic porch. The porch, of course, overlooks the Pond as well as the high Catskill Mountain peaks, and there are secret gardens in almost every direction. For now, those gardens will remain hidden, but I captured the Lily of the Valley house as it stands so nobly on the hill.

Lily of the Valley House © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan

Inside the guesthouse, I came upon a small, hand-carved Buddha on the dining room table. Though it was largely cloaked in shadows, the simplicity of the setting silhouetted against the light-filled French doors leading to yet another secret garden, intrigued me so that I released my camera’s shutter to hear the Buddha say, Yes, come dine with me! 

Dinner with the Buddha © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan

Leaving the house to walk to the other side of the Pond, I turned to evaluate the perspective. There is a giant, outrageously red maple tree that resides on the front lawn of the guesthouse and it was ablaze with its new color. Again, the Pond rippled and danced with light as the red maple punctuated the scene.

Outrageous Red Maple Tree © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan

An old Zen bench sits at the Pond’s edge and appears to almost rest in the water. It is a place of meditation and prayer, sequestered by aged trees with round, thick trunks and a backdrop of lush, green foliage. Though the Pond is stocked with enormous trout that the owner only catches and releases, when I photographed the Zen bench through the water’s reflection, it was alone … steady and timeless.

Zen Bench at Witten Pond © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan

Across the Pond from the guesthouse, is the Barn residence, and the owner’s private art gallery. My inaugural photography exhibit was held at this gallery many years ago. The owner collects art and wine, but I was interested in the treasure trove of sculpture inside the barn’s gallery.

Barn Residence & Gallery © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan

We know little about this Buddha except that she is from Thailand. It is the largest wood-carved icon I have seen, since it is all head and stands at eight or nine feet and is about four feet wide — an imposing work with a majestic energy.

Buddha Wood Carving © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan

At last though, I sought out a much smaller wooden sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi by Italian sculptor, Alfeo Faggi. I have longed to photograph this piece, but something always went wrong. That day in early spring was THE day at last. I had never before seen this inanimate St. Francis look so vivified with love, caring and compassion.  Weeks later, when I reviewed my finished images, I was awestruck. One could almost say that these images were of an ancient mystic emanating great compassion.

St. Francis in Christ No.1 © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan
St. Francis in Christ No. 2 © 2012 Lee Anne Morgan

A Coda 

In the process of writing this journal, I recalled an image I took many years ago with black and white film. It was during a full moon whose rays flooded the landscape and illuminated an extravaganza of light and shadows. That night, the moon’s stunning blue-green hue spilled onto an old garden bench that resides under dogwood trees overlooking Witten Pond. It remains there to this day.

Garden Bench in Moonlight © 1993-2012 Lee Anne Morgan

I love Witten Pond for it is a sacred place holding mystery, even magic, in its trees, gardens, waters, meadow, and unparalleled mountain views. I feel a shift within when I walk the pathways of the land and sit at the Pond’s edge. Once more, my visit to the Pond yielded its grace and wonderment for me to photograph. And once again I was renewed.

Blessings and Namasté