Uncovering the Brandywine Valley
After traveling the world, discovering secrets in the surrounding hills brings me the most comfort.
It wasn’t long ago that I didn’t have a passport. But that didn’t mean I didn’t travel. Before obtaining that coveted, compact blue book, I’d visit all of the lower 48 states. Prior to that, I never really thought about traveling. I was happy in the Brandywine Valley. Short hops to Maine or Nantucket didn’t really seem like travel, nor did visits to family events, where my sister and I were in tow. Somewhere along the way, my attitude changed, and leaving these borders opened up whole other worlds.
Now that I have my passport, I’ve visited Iceland seven times, Italy twice, England four times, Africa, Belize, Canada, Cuba and Mexico three times each. I’ve traveled the Caribbean several times, and I’ve stopped and wandered other destinations along the way. Still, I don’t consider myself well traveled.
But it was always the Brandywine Valley I wanted to return to. Each time I go away, I’m thankful to cross over Smithsbridge, the Brandywine. Once, after covering the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, I was so excited and thankful to return that I hopped out of my car on the Granogue side and kissed the pavement.
While covering the events in Los Angeles, I’d become entangled in police action in the “designated protest area” outside the Staples Center, where journalists were targeted. I was one of the unlucky ones who came under fire, but lucky enough only to be hit with rubber bullets and propelled bean bags—eight times—while shielding fellow journalists, trapped against a wall next to the press gate.
Among us were not just journalists. There were lawyers and protestors also injured and beaten—all trapped and struggling to be free. That evening, the air was tinged with the scent of gunpowder. It’s a smell I won’t ever forget.
As I crossed Smithsbridge following that ill-fated trip, I considered, rather ironically, how gunpowder residue had made the very place I was, the Brandywine Valley, a remarkably pleasant place to be. Our schools, roads, open spaces, and so many of the local arts have flourished, directly or indirectly, around New Castle and southern Chester counties because of it—what, with it having been home to gunpowder mills. Even travel in this region is better because of it.
Driving today in the Brandywine Valley, winter still has its hold on many of the narrow country roads. Hay-colored fields rise and fall, naked tree branches appear to be pressed against a mottled gray sky. This is the time of year when the Brandywine’s enchantments aren’t so obvious, but rather seep into the soul with their desolate beauty. Andrew Wyeth, who captured the true sense of this place, once said, “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape—the loneliness of it, something waits beneath it. The whole story doesn’t show.”
I started making images for The Hunt magazine more than 20 years ago. Just a few years before, I started a project that I’ve yet to complete, photographing Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds. I’ve been asked several times of late as to why I still go out. It’s simple: I haven’t found the whole story. Something still waits for me to find with my camera. There’s something out there in Cheshire Country I haven’t seen yet.
I don’t need a passport or a trip across the globe to travel. I just need to take three steps out of my door and hop into my car.
Hope you enjoy the ride.