Photo journey: South Meadow Fence Road

By Ande Jacobson

As mentioned in an earlier installment of this series, I traveled to the Washington, D.C. area frequently at one point in my career. While I was a complete weather wimp being used to a very temperate climate in the San Francisco Bay Area, I found the mid-Atlantic intriguing in a number of ways despite loathing the oppressively humid summer weather. On the other hand, I rather enjoyed the other three seasons, even winter with its bone chilling cold from time to time. The two months of the year I enjoyed most in that region were October and March. October was by far the most comfortable month. The summer humidity was gone, the days were often warm and quite comfortable, and the nights were cool and crisp. Beyond that the leaves always started changing color at that time. My previous essay in this series opened with one of my favorite scenes from the greater Gaithersburg, MD area, Lake Whetstone on a nice October day. In this essay, I return to a Montgomery Village neighborhood adjacent to the lake, but this time in March.

March isn’t generally as comfortable as October, but I find it rather scenic because of the crispness and the artistry of the trees in that region. The bare branches not yet bursting with spring leaves provide a different kind of aesthetic, one that I very much appreciate. In the first essay of this series, I discussed my favorite shot of the U.S. Capitol, taken in March 1995. It was cold that morning, right around freezing, but being March, the day warmed greatly landing in the low 60s by afternoon. The air was still clear and bright, and I took a walk partway around Lake Whetstone. I wandered up into the adjacent neighborhood near where my friend and mentor lived. As I meandered, I came upon a scene that caught my eye – a side street (South Meadow Fence Road) branching off of Whetstone Drive. I needed to capture the scene on film. Being the days before the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, of course I had my trusty Canon 35mm camera over my shoulder. I unsnapped the case, removed the lens cap, and took this shot. I loved the architecture and the tree branches framing the houses along the street. I also was quite taken with the shape of the street as it arced away from the main road. There was a hint of snow on a few of the lawns remaining from a recent dusting. There was also a good deal of snow on the house just out of the frame by the nearer lamppost, and the path from the lake was just past that unseen house.

There is nothing remarkable about this street compared to others nearby. It’s representative of the village in which it resides. Montgomery Village is adjacent to Gaithersburg, but it’s quite different from the San Francisco Bay Area, and to me it represented my travels and kind of a home away from home. It had a warmth about it. I took several other pictures through the neighborhood that day, but none were as picturesque as this one.

Almost exactly a year later, I was back in Gaithersburg for yet another business trip, this time arriving on a Sunday in March, two days after the third snow of the blizzard of 1996. I had never seen so much snow. Driving up from Dulles International Airport was a challenge as freeway lanes disappeared into giant snow drifts. That weekend, several folks cross country skied through the village before the plows had made way for cars.

Although I had a busy week at work, I took my lunch hour on Wednesday to go see if I could take a picture of South Meadow Fence Road with snow. This was several days after the last snow of the blizzard, and one lane had been plowed. It was a bit of a challenge to get the shot, and it’s not exactly the same angle because the near lamppost isn’t visible, but it’s close. The challenge was that every time I tried to pull off to the side and get out to take the shot, somebody would drive up behind me such that I would have to move my car out of the way. Why were all these people here? Why weren’t they at work? It took me about 40 minutes, but I was finally able to get the shot and headed back to work.

I love the contrast in these two pictures seeing very close to the same scene. Both were approaching spring, the first with blue sky on a bright sunny day, and this gray, snow covered version with only one lane plowed the following year. I took a few other pictures around Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village that week, though none are worth sharing here. It rained on Friday that week, taking out most of the rest of the snow and creating a huge fog as the snow melted. I wasn’t able to capture that event due to my work schedule. I didn’t leave work until after dark that day, and I really couldn’t get any decent photographs without the light of day, though it was a rather interesting drive to dinner that night.

Enlargements of these two pictures hang on the wall of my living room below my Capitol shot. They remind me of how much I loved that area, and of the time I was able to spend there. There were definitely some downsides such as having to deal with much harsher winters and hot, humid summers compared to the SF Bay Area. I sometimes wonder if I missed an opportunity by not moving there in the 1990s, but then I consider the opportunities I’ve had in California that wouldn’t have happened had I left. I think I made the right choice overall. That really is the magic of photography. In some ways, it’s more engrossing than video because you can keep the story with you in your imagination, prompted by the pictures rather than having the whole thing played out in front of you.

Additional photo journey essays:

My quest for the perfect capital shot

Reflection obsession

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