It was a dark and stormy night (no-wait, that's Snoopy's line). It was a dark and chilly morning as we rumbled down the runway in our little one-engine Cessna 172. Our mission: to take aerial photographs of Hull Springs Farm. Professional photographer Jack Mellott from Charlottesville and I planned our shoot like a couple of pilots preparing for a recon mission. We had maps, charts, GPS coordinates, weather reports, and aerial photos from the Forestry department. We knew the latitude, the longitude, and the winds aloft. We had cameras, film, and a pilot to get us there. We had Dramamine. But in the pre-dawn darkness of an October morning, I was just hoping we could actually find the place.
As we took off from Shannon Airport near Fredericksburg, we gave the pilot the GPS coordinates of the farm ... "Can't use em - don't need em. I think I know where you're going - it's near Coles Point, right?" Well, yes, but from 5000 feet up, things look quite a bit different than they do on the ground. Luckily, I had visited Hull Springs Farm during the springtime, so I knew a couple of landmarks - the house with the red roof, the windmill, and the osprey nest on a piling in front of the main house.
Crossing the Northern Neck, we were gaining altitude and light. The sun began peeking over the horizon, burnishing the ground below with a golden glow. Fog gathered over the warm water of the rivers, making them look like gray cotton snakes winding through the countryside. It was going to be a beautiful day - a good day for photography.
Once we reached the Potomac we began skirting the coastline, looking for Coles Point and Hull Springs Farm. It wasn't that hard to find. The Farm looks pretty much like it must have looked over a hundred years ago and that was the clue. Other spits of land were dotted with houses, swimming pools, and boat docks. Hull Springs Farm stood out from the landscape because of its pristine nature and its stark contrast to the neighboring suburban sprawl. We made a couple of low-level passes over what we thought might be it and, once I saw the windmill, I knew we were on target.
My job, requiring superior manual dexterity and split-second timing, was to hold the window open for Jack as he hung out of the cockpit to shoot photos as the pilot tilted the plane on its side. He shot rolls and rolls of film. We went up, down, high, low - making sure we captured the Farm from all angles. As photographers like to say, film is cheap. Jack's a real pro and I knew we were getting some good shots.
When an assignment like this is completed, photographers and PR folks don't say, I think we're done. They say, "That's a wrap." As we banked away from the sun and headed back to our airfield, I couldn't help but think that Mary Farley would have loved to join us on this crisp October morning. Looking down at her beloved Hulls Springs Farm, I believe she would have felt that her legacy is in good hands. Like us, she would have said, "Mission Accomplished."