Carolina in the Rain

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This photograph of my niece, Brynn, was taken days ago in Brevard, North Carolina.  I caught her running down the drive way to catch up with Kemper.  The morning was fog-filled, wet and cold, but spirits were high.  It was my dad’s birthday, and the whole St. Amand clan went on a morning constitutional around the property.  The kids splashed in the puddles and the swelling creeks, their wellingtons no match for the cold water.  They sat on the rocks, and almost in unison dumped out their boots one by one, seeming to compare who had sloshed more water in than the other.  Nature in North Carolina is singularly different than in Florida, especially in the winter, where the nights are almost silent, except the steady rain on the metal roofs of the cabins.  At home the tree frogs, unphased by the balmy December nights, chorus with the crickets.  I miss North Carolina, and I know that a piece of my heart remains in the rolling hills and willow trees that wait for my return.

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Morning through the Maples

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Dawn is often a foggy affair in the mountains.  This photograph was taken off of the front porch of our cabin in Brevard, North Carolina.  We have come up for a week, and though we have been up for only two days, I am reinvigorated after a long year at work.  Foggy beginnings seem familiar and yet foreign.  Though I am nostalgic for many things, living in a metaphorical fog is not amongst them.  Waking up, walking outside with a hot cup of tea, and watching as the low clouds creep through the maples is something different entirely.  Being here with my family, who walked through the fog with me, and seeing my son slushing through the creeks on the property like I did when I was his age is inspiring.  Even though the dawn is foggy, the sunlight burns through in the end.

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Dreamcatchers

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This photograph of the achenes or diaspores of a “horrible” thistle (Cirsium Horridulum) was captured two summers ago with my macro lens.  The diaspores have evolved over millions of years to to be light and airy, with tendrils that catch the air for dispersal far afield of their mother plant.  Though not the best composition, I was struck by the symmetry of the achenes and their simple utility.  The swampy path I was walking when I came upon them during the summer was littered with thistles for miles.  The evolution, though perhaps not complete, had certainly served its purpose well.  The most recognizable achenes are those of the dandelion clock, which children gather up with some eagerness only to blow the diaspores unwittingly throughout their parents’ front yard.

I wish Kemper had been old enough to accompany me when I took this photograph.  He finds great sport in blowing the silky white seeds from their presently denuded and spent host.  He was three then, and not quite up to a long jaunt in the summer heat.  The mosquitoes were particularly bad this day, and to be honest, I am surprised that I did not capture one in this photograph–they were so thick.  But this is Florida, and the beauty of nature invariably carries with it some danger, whether an alligator lurking silently beneath the surface of a calm fishing pond, or a rattlesnake blending in with the underbrush.  Having grown up here, these are calculated risks, and readily mitigated.  For the uninitiated, however, Florida is as wild as the outback of Australia.  This results, I think, in a fair bit of pride for us native Floridians who would as soon approach a four foot long gator, knowing full well it will quickly shy away, as a New Yorker would cross a busy intersection at the height of the noon-day traffic.  I do not begrudge the out-of-towners the novelty of seeing an alligator in the wild for the first time, but to us they are quotidian and predictable.  Yet, as this photograph shows, even the most commonplace native objects, when viewed with a different perspective, yield beauty.

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Drifting Together

September hurricanes framed this photograph of three water oaks (Quercus Nigra) astride one another on the shore of Little Talbot Island.  I took this photograph three years ago, and it remains one of my favorites of the driftwood beaches of Northeast Florida.  I returned to this spot with Kemper in early September, three hurricanes later, and the topography of the beach had changed radically.  The hulking live oak (Quercus Virginiana) skeletons with their naked root clusters, ten feet in diameter, perched in the air remained, but the smaller water oaks had been scattered by the waves.  This arrangement of trunks and limbs was no more.  I was disappointed that I could not point out to Kemper where I had taken the photograph that is displayed on a canvas in our living room, but then my mind wandered to the Romantic poets (which happens more than I care to admit).  They found beauty in the ephemeral existence of objects and life.  This photograph is my Ode to the West Wind, which rent the trees asunder with its driving gales and its nautical forces.  Like Blake, and Wordsworth, and Shelley, and Keats, I captured something fleeting, though, admittedly, I did not think that these huge skeletons were mutable, even through the power of a glancing blow of a hurricane.  But nature is ever-changing, and I took this for granted three years prior when I framed the scene in my camera and released the shutter.  It is a lesson to me to not underestimate the power of the elements and to capture what I can, when I can, lest it be gone in another season.

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Stirring

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I would like to say that this was a Christmas Eve candid of Kemper and Nora gazing into the lights and contemplating the true meaning of Christmas.  I would like to, but that would be disingenuous.  This “candid” took a half hour of bargaining and cajoling, many takes, and ultimately one perfect photograph.  In the end, though, that is what matters on Christmas–the memory of the moment, and not the chaos that went into the whole charade.  Christmas this year was one of the best I can remember, certainly in my adult life.  On Christmas Eve, I gave Kemper my old DSLR (a Nikon D40), which he will grow into and out of faster than a pair of tennis shoes.  On Christmas morning, we went to the Nocatee Preserve for his first photography outing.  As he took photographs of sticks and tree trunks, I thought back to when the photography bug first bit me in middle school.  Although Kemper is very young, only turning six at the end of January, he is just as curious as I was at that age, and he loved walking with me while I took pictures in the preserve or among the driftwood at Big Talbot Island.  Now he has his own camera, and in time, he will develop his own tastes.  As I said in a previous post, I have no doubt he will surpass me in time, when his patience kicks in (perhaps when he is thirty or so), but for now I will enjoy my little photography buddy.  I will teach him all I have learned, but the pose–that is all his own.

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Symptoms

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These desiccated little smoky polypore mushrooms (Polyporus Adustus), like a resurrection fern, will spring back to life after a brief winter rain.  Unfortunately, for the hardwood trees that they are found on, the time for resurrection has long past.  The enzymes in the mushrooms help to speed the decay of dead and dying trees in forests all over the world, including this one in North Carolina, west of Asheville.  Interestingly, they also can eat away synthetic materials, such as synthetic dies in plastics, and research is being done to see what role these common little mushrooms can play in bioremediation.  This dwarf American Chestnut (Castanea Pumila) still bore leaves, and but for the polypores on its bark, the tree would have otherwise appeared healthy.  But alas, it is the beginning of the end for the august old tree.  The mushrooms are a symptom of death and disease, otherwise invisible until the tree succumbs.

I think of my favorite aunt on my dad’s side, Irene, who died of cancer when I was younger.  I had seen her soon before the cancer took over, and she appeared healthy on the outside — albeit crusty and sarcastic to the end.  I regret not knowing her better, as she was a huge influence on my dad’s life.  My dad and I went to Maine to visit her and my memere, who was in the throes of dementia, and I spent most of the time in the back of Irene’s house on the rocky outcroppings looking for moose and wild blueberries.  I told her that I would bring her a harvest of the blueberries, which grew low to the ground, rooted in the interstices of the rocks.  I failed in my mission, eating at least two-thirds of what would eventually make it into my small bucket.  I told her that I had not found as many as I had wanted (which, I suppose, was true), but my lips, stained a dark shade of purple, belied my foraging skills.  She laughed and smiled her ever present wry smile, and we had an understanding.  I was the chubby kid who was not to be trusted gathering fruit, and she was the understanding aunt, too kind to say anything cross.  Perhaps if there were outward signs, I would have stayed inside longer to hear her stories of my dad and uncle, Harvey, and perhaps I would have been more judicious with the blueberries I promised her.

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Kemper

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How my son has changed in the brief time since I took this candid portrait of him sitting on the parapets of his appropriated, improvised stone castle on the beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California…  This is my favorite picture of him at this age, then just four, and now about to turn six at the end of January.  I took a number of shots with him looking the camera dead to rights, but something, perhaps a wanton setter or retriever frolicking in the surf, caught his eye, and the shutter released at just the right moment to capture him as I see him often, wondering at the world, a younger version of me–for better or worse.

I have a distinct sense that he will eclipse me with photography.  His sensibilities and sensitivities are beyond his years, and he is patient and kind.  He is gregarious, unlike me, and perhaps he will be more comfortable approaching a stranger for a portrait.  Above all, he is curious.  He has not yet ceased to find awe in the smallest things, which it took me years and a good macro lens to rediscover from the bowers of my childhood.  We are going to North Carolina just after Christmas and for the New Year, and I will bring my old camera and kit lenses to see what he will be able to find through them.  His attention span is limited, but his wonder of nature will, I think, balance the scales appropriately…or it could be a quick introduction to a skill for which his maturity is not yet prepared.

Like the rock in this photograph, which he gravitated towards as if he were a satellite, he has a favorite stone perch in North Carolina, though it is not a castle there, but the great jutting precipice in the Lion King movie from which Simba was introduced to the kingdom.  The Lion King rock is on the property of a family friend where we stay, along the drive to the upper cabin, and scarcely will the wheels have stopped their revolutions before he is unbuckled and hastening towards it.  Perhaps this year he will be able to climb it by himself, a feat he has yet to master.  If so, I fear we will see little of him that first day.  I was like him as a child, happy to be within myself amongst nature and my own thoughts on any manner of subjects.  Perhaps this year, I will send him out with a camera in hand to find what he finds interesting or beautiful.  Photography has been a window into my psyche, and perhaps it will give me an even better view into his.

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