As passionate as I am about most things in my life, it is not unusual for me to find joy each day, but yesterday had to be the best day ever. I combined a few passions of mine – nature’s beauty, photography and exploring and, I got to meet someone that I had been friends with for years …but had never met.
In our virtual world, it isn’t uncommon to be friends online without having met someone. I am not sure how I met Mark Herndon, whether he was a reader of my stories or we met through “friends of friends” on Facebook, but we have been buddies for about three years.
In fact, I knew that Mark’s friendship had ‘staying power’ after I had exploded on him when I was still trying to get my sea-legs in the singles world. After my divorce it took a good two years before I would even try dating, but even then it seemed that I would put my toe in the water and take it right back. It was a raw time in my life as I was healing and also trying to stand on my own with confidence. As I achieved my independence and put my boundaries in place, I called the shots in my friendships or any attempts in dating. I knew that if I was not ready, I would not be rushed by anyone and, if they left my life, then it was their choice. I was through people-pleasing or letting people walk all over me and Mark respected that.
Before I had even attempted dating people, Mark and I had become Facebook friends and we were just mutual admirers of each other’s talents. Mark is an amazing photographer and he liked my writing. We would comment on each other’s Facebook post and became good friends in a non-threatening way. I never thought of Mark as a guy trying to hit on me – he was always polite and an encouraging friend.
Then… he commented on a Facebook post of mine ‘out loud’ in front of God and everybody, “We should meet and have coffee sometime.” That flew all over me! I deleted his comment and I messaged him privately. I believe it started out with “How dare you!!”
Yes …I let him have it. I told him that first of all, I would never consider going out with someone who asked me out on Facebook and, secondly, that my divorce proceedings were still going on and I was not even dating yet.
I think it shocked him that someone who seemed so sweet actually came at him with daggers, but he was very apologetic, sincere and tried to explain that he didn’t mean anything by it more than just meeting and even called it “in a professional manner.” I knew that in the business world, people have coffee or meet for lunch all the time and it doesn’t always mean that it is a date, but I didn’t want to take any chances as I had clearly donned my barbed wire.
Mark was surprised but gracious, yet he didn’t hike tail and run. He was still my friend, where most men who did have a certain agenda or motive would have vamoosed. Mark was truly my friend.
Sometimes, I felt he was a little over-zealous with his compliments, but after I had gotten over our clumsy spat, Mark grew on me and I have always appreciated our friendship. I am an admirer of his photography as well as a handful of others who all have different photography styles. Chattanoogan.com has photogs that I am also Facebook friends with and then I have a few other photog friends who I admire. What I liked the most about Mark’s photography was his landscape barn or horse photos and then his concert photos. I am not a big concert person unless it is an orchestra, but I do appreciate good art and Mark had a magical eye for capturing the essence of musicians as they played.
My favorite was when he captured BB King and there was a photo he took where you saw the very sweat on BB’s face and he had also captured ‘the mood’ of the moment. Mark and I have always encouraged each other in our creativity and I was never afraid that it would hurt his feelings to tell him my opinion of his craft. I helped him with ideas about his logos on his photos or to tell him what style I felt was his niche or not his niche and he seemed to appreciate that. There has been a mutual respect between us and I guess that makes the best of friends.
I liked being friends with Mark and keeping it just on Facebook because it was less threatening. After a few years though, I considered Mark a buddy and he became an endearing friend. I had hoped to someday meet him in person just to say we had met, but we never really planned it. He and I both were so busy and I have a few friends on Facebook that I have gotten close to and had never met. We just all have busy lifestyles but it is fun to at least have that social time on Facebook. One friend I still haven’t met is Kim Edwards – whom I have been virtual friends with for over five years. Her parents go to my church and I even did a phone interview with her for a story. We still talk of meeting someday.
When the autumn leaves peaked this weekend, I knew that I had to be a part of it and Mark was great at finding these secret spots and capturing great landscape photos. I don’t want to be a photographer, but I do enjoy capturing the beauty I want to remember and I wanted to get out this weekend and explore. Mark and I messaged each other saying we just needed to take a small scenic road trip to take a few pictures of the fall foliage – so we finally met in person.
He picked me up at my house and he met Mama and then we took off in his car. I had known him for years and it didn’t seem strange at all. We talked as if we were old friends and we were - we were just getting the face time now. As we got toward Cleveland, Mark was looking for his addiction – a Starbucks, but we had passed it because we were talking. We headed towards the Ocoee/Hiwassee area, and I had no idea how he would be without his Starbucks – some people get crazy. Mark was cool though and he didn’t seem to have any withdrawals.
Mark is a geologist (whatever that is… I just knew it has to do with rocks) and he knew of all the great places to take photographs. As we traveled up the road, he explained to me about what he did as a geologist. There were several beautiful places that we passed and I thought, “Oh wow, how beautiful… I want to stop,” but I didn’t want to take that liberty so I just let him keep driving to where he wanted to go. We finally got to a place where we could pull over and we got out and started shooting.
I like to take ‘whole pictures’ but I also really get into ‘minimal art photography’ where I zoom in on a certain object. So where Mark got a lot of shots of the scenery, sometimes I would take pictures of a leaf or a rock or an insect because I found it interesting. I had my ‘baby camera’ and cell phone and Mark had his grown up camera.
Just seeing the beauty of the fall color was breathtaking on its own, but to be with someone who I considered a good friend and to share the same passion was a great feeling. Not many people can understand the same passion I feel when I am out in nature or witnessing God’s natural art, but Mark was right there with me as we shot. We would hold our cameras at a scene and had each other look in the viewer to see what we were seeing. Even if we have different styles and Mark is a gifted photographer – where I only have a hobby - it was great to connect with a friend who ‘got it’.
We laughed as we remembered our budding friendship over the years and how I was ‘mean to him’. I had been so headstrong to set boundaries and keep people at arms length while I discovered myself and became stronger, that I guess maybe I had my moments where I showed my snarling teeth as a warning to people. Most males would not stick around if I set certain boundaries and they had other motives, but I could tell that Mark was truly a friend that I could trust and that is why it was so comfortable meeting in person.
It didn’t take long for the newness of ‘meeting in person’ to wear off and for our online friendship to catch up. I got to know Mark’s expressions more than just in Facebook photos and his personality was exactly as I imagined it would be. In fact, I was so comfortable with him, that finally I took the liberty to tell him to stop when I wanted to get a shot.
After shooting the water and rocks at the first spot, we went up the road to Hawassee Union Baptist Church – the old one. Mark loaned me a grown-up camera, but because I was not familiar with it, I didn’t take too many shots and I wanted what beauty I saw to be on my own camera. I climbed under the church and Mark warned me of spiders, but I like spiders and I guess that I just am not afraid of anything that would hinder me from capturing what I want to see.
As we were about to leave that site and had gotten in the car, Mark had asked me to hold one of his cameras in my lap. As he handed it to me, I saw a gnat land on his hand and I slapped it. I think it took him right back to the time I had yelled at him on Facebook. Poor guy just can’t win for losing with me … but it was funny.
As he had the car in reverse, I flung open my door gushing “Oh Mark, look!” and I ran over to where two men were approaching on horseback. Mark knew my passion for horses and he has always been good to ‘tag’ me on Facebook in any of the horse photos he would take. As soon as he saw where I was headed, he put the car back in park and joined me. We got to know the gentlemen who were breaking in a 10-month-old beauty named “Trigger”.
Danny Wooden was riding “Dollar Bill” who he called DB and Ronnie Keller was on “Dusty” and leading young Trigger alongside him. It was kind of neat as Mark and I introduced ourselves and told them that we were a writer and photographer out to get photos and a story. The two men were gracious to let me pet, kiss and love on their horses. DB and I bonded – he started flirting and nuzzling me and I knew that if he could talk, he would ask me on a date. He was a gorgeous horse!
When I see a horse – it makes my whole day no matter how the rest of the day turns out. The gorgeous day added the right amount of fluffy clouds, a couple of dark ones and a joyful sun to enhance the colors of the trees. I was in heaven just being a part of God’s beauty and being able to get to these great spots, but I also enjoyed being with my friend who seemed to understand me inside-out.
After a great day, we went to dinner. I let Mark choose the place and he ended up picking one of my favorite restaurants. Even though we were on an outing as ‘friends’, Mark is old-fashioned and insisted on paying for dinner. He was a perfect gentleman but, moreover, he was just fun to be with and I was glad to finally meet a good friend in person. The writer and the photographer made a good team yesterday as our passions of what we enjoy in life co-mingled.
Mark is a contributing photographer for Chattanoogan.com and I am not sure if he will send our publisher any of his professional photos, but you can view extraordinary beautiful scenery of water rapids, colorful trees, historic buildings and horses that I took on my web page at:
Or on my Facebook page at:
I am sure Mark will post his professional shots on his facebook page “Lasting Visions Studio” at: https://www.facebook.com/LastingVisionStudio