Usnea

ChristmasEveNoWatermark-9

This little piece of lichen (Usnea Florida) was the first photograph I took in North Carolina when we arrived in late December.  I had always known that the property was surrounded by natural beauty, but I took for granted the embarrassment of natural riches that the property had to offer.

I have spoken before about my reconnection with nature which coincided organically with taking up photography seriously in my late twenties and early thirties.  I had already begun a phase of my photography journey in which I was concentrating on lichen, and mushrooms, and other overlooked pieces of nature, and so when I arrived in North Carolina with that focus, I was almost overwhelmed by the proliferation of mushrooms and orchids pushing up from beneath the dense layer of fallen leaves.

As I mentioned previously, we go to North Carolina with my family – my parents, my sister, my niece and our clan of Nora, Kemper & Anna.  As much as I enjoyed spending time with them (and it was the best vacation we have ever taken in that regard), when everyone else was resting from a long hike, I would often try to sneak off with my camera to capture the little bits of nature that ordinarily go without notice.

Invariably, my father or mother would want to come with me, as they get to spend so little time with me during the rest of the year because of work (even though we live less than half-an-hour apart).  I was always happy to have them come along, and my dad even took it upon himself to be my “spotter” when I was so busy behind the lens to quite literally see the forest for the trees.  When I was accompanied, however, I always felt that my pace quickened, and I was not able to amble as slowly as I would have liked to take in as much as the wilderness had to offer.  That being said, I would not have changed those walks with my parents for anything.  Someday I will get the chance to walk alone through the woods, and I know then that I will long to have my “spotter” with me (or to have my mother asking whether I am taking my vitamins regularly, as mothers are wont to do).

Like this photograph, it is all about perspective.

Click here for a larger version.

Driftwood Core

LittleTalbot-13

At the core, we all have holes.

Some are larger than others, and while most can eventually be filled in, some remain empty.  My paralegal lost her daughter in August just after childbirth.  The sorrow was unimaginable, and we did all that we could for her, but nothing we did or said could fill the hole of the loss of her only child.  Her daughter left behind a husband and three children, five, two, and a newborn.  Our paralegal was out for three months, and our practice slowed in her understandable absence.  More than anything, I missed my friend, and I looked forward to the day that she returned.

She came back at the start of January, less than complete and not totally present, but she was managing better than I could have.  My job (self-appointed) was to keep a smile on her face, to listen when she needed it, and to offer a shoulder to cry on in the moments when she needed to be vulnerable.  I brought her lunch, and we joked with each other, superficially, but still she laughed.  It was a little thing, but it was a bit of normalcy.

On Saturday tragedy struck again.  The baby stopped breathing, and could not be resuscitated.  He was gone, and so too was she once more.  I could not do a thing but tell her that I loved her and that I was here for her – howsoever she needed me.  I cannot imagine the gaping hole that this tragedy tore asunder, ripping the partially healed one of her daughter’s death back open to the elements.  I don’t know if it will ever heal.

My own holes are filled for the most part.  There are still remnants of them, cavities and interstices that remind me of the voids that were once a part of my life.  I do not dwell on them as a practice, but at times like these, I am reminded of the grace and providence that allowed me to see the faintest hint of light peeking through the chasms.

We all have holes at our core.  Some will be filled by time, but the unimaginable others, I just don’t know.

Click here for a larger version.

Growth

Panthertown Valley

Christmas break was supposed to be a reset.

Kemper had begun showing out at school, becoming increasingly obstinate to the teachers.  It had not fully made its way home, but we received emails every night or notes home in his folder that he had refused to do work or told the teacher he did not want to do something she asked.  He was five, and she was a brand new teacher, so we thought he might just be going through a phase and feeling out her boundaries.  Little did we realize that it was just the beginning of a truly rough patch.  But Christmas break was going to be a reset.  We would go to North Carolina, and all of the energy that he longed to let loose could be released in the mountain air.

We started the year with high hopes for Kemper.  We had begun to see a child psychologist before we left for North Carolina, and Kemper seemed to react well to him.  He showed none of the behavior that had been plaguing him at school, and we thought that he might have moved past the obstinance that he had begun to show.  The first day back was a disaster.  He yelled at the teacher, swatted at her, and flatly refused to do his math work.  He was sent to the principal, and Anna was called in to pick him up.  We disciplined him as we then thought appropriate, taking away his beloved stuffed animals, and this seemed to affect a change in his temperament.  The next day was as bad, if not worse.  The day after that he barely made it into the classroom before he had an outburst that sent him to the principal’s office.

We had him tested, and he proved to be off-the-charts gifted (which came as no surprise to us), and we thought he was just bored.  After many tears and gritted words, we walked away with a diagnosis of severe AD/HD.  The poor little guy could not physically sit still long enough to focus on his work, which he was being forced to do and then being scolded for not doing appropriately.  The psychiatrist suggested medication, which we very reticently put him on.  The change was immediate. Saturday was his sixth birthday, and we saw for the first time in a while the true Kemper coming back to us.

I took this photograph of a small patch of crustose lichen growing on the fallen trunk of a large red oak (Quercus Rubrum) in passing while on one of the many hikes that Kemper enjoyed (though he lamented his boredom along the way).  It did not mean much to me at the time, but in context it illustrates to me the rebirth of a new year.  Christmas break was not the reset we expected.  The fallen oak did not immediately sprout new leaves.  But in the darkness, there was a hint of life anew.  I may come upon this tree when we go back to North Carolina in June, and the lichen may cover the trunk by that point…or, it may just remain there in that little patch, growing slowly but steadily.  And that progress, as small as it might be, is enough.

Click here for a larger version.

Steve at the Falls

Panthertown Valley-27

My family became the subject of a number of portraits during our post-Christmas vacation in Brevard, North Carolina.  On the whole, the portraiture was done mostly willingly (except my mother, who loathes having her picture taken – much like me).  I did not push her, except for one photograph with the grand-kids and one family portrait, which even I deigned to sit for.  This photograph was a candid of my father admiring Schoolhouse Falls in Panthertown Valley.

Although the falls were admittedly beautiful from the front, the view from behind the falls was something else entirely.  We had met a sweet older lady on the hike, just as we were about to turn around, who advised us to take ten minutes and hike to the falls that were running more strongly than she had ever seen due to the rain and snow melt.  She said that if we were careful, we could even hike behind the falls, which piqued my curiosity.  As soon as we turned the corner onto the side path, we heard the crashing of the falls.  The hike was easy to the falls itself, and I took a number of photographs of the falls that I have added to my portfolio “Falls.”

Click here for a larger version.

Emma

Panthertown Valley-5

My parent’s black lab, Emma, was our constant companion on our hikes in North Carolina.  We hiked five miles in Panthertown Valley, and she must have covered at least twice that.  She would run ahead, just far enough that my mother was still in her line of sight, and then run back, as if to report that there were no obstacles in our path to come.  I took many photographs of her along the way, but this one best captured her reconnaissance endeavors.

We have had a number of dogs growing up, and they would all have been faithful companions on the walk.  My parents’ dog, Tam, whom I remember as a kind old yellow rug, came first, and then we rescued Sadie, a bright red golden retriever, who I grew up with as a child.  Dylan, Emma’s great-uncle, came when Sadie was getting along in her years, and brought out the youth in her once more.  Hannah, who was the mother of my sister’s lab Zinger, was my girl all the way through college and law school.

Anna and I now have Zoe, whom we rescued ten years ago.   She is completely deaf now, and Anna claims her sight is going, too.  She has been there through the ups and downs in our marriage, at our kids’ births, and through it all with us.  I know that we will have to say goodbye, sooner rather than later, and it breaks my heart to think that one day, she will not be the first to greet me when I come home from work.  That will be a devastating day.

For now, I am patient with her as she lolls through the backyard when I let her out, stopping and sniffing at the wind, using the one sense that has not yet failed her.  She moves more slowly, and she will not get up from her bed in the morning until she is ready to take on the new day.  I admire this about her.  I took many photographs of her on this trip to North Carolina, because she was in her element in the cool mountain air with new smells to pursue laconically as she ambled ten steps in front of me at all times.  She is more wary of leaving me behind than Emma ever will be, and I am wary of ever leaving her behind either.

Click here for a larger version.

Paper Birch

NCWinter2018-64

The winter leaves had fallen on all of the trees on the property in Brevard, North Carolina, when we visited at the end of December.  The lone holdouts were the thin, wispy leaves of the white birch trees (Betula Papyrifera), which clung on despite the snowstorm that had toppled many larger trees.  The scientific name, Betula Papyrifera, literally means paper-bearer, and indeed the leaves were paper-thin and fluttered at even the slightest hint of wind.  (In truth, however, the “paper birch” is named due to the thin white bark which often peels in paper-like layers from the trunk.)

The paper-birch is a short lived species of the birch family, and in the climate of North Carolina will likely only live thirty to fifty years (though in colder, less humid climates it may live for a hundred years or more).  Despite the relatively short life of the tree, it is a survivor, as the leaves attest.  The paper birch is a “pioneer species,” meaning it is often one of the first trees to grow in an area after other trees are removed by some sort of disturbance. When it grows in these pioneer, or early successional woodlands, it often forms stands of trees where it is the only species.

What struck me the most, however, was that despite the relatively small stature of the trees (there were a number on the property easily recognizable due to its leaves), they were the only ones that held fast to their leaves, almost refusing to let them fall.  I admire this stubbornness, even in a tree.  What’s more, the leaves, though faded and whitened by the fall, were still beautiful, and decorated the tree admirably.  We can, perhaps, learn something from the paper birch about retaining beauty in the winters of our lives.

Click here for a larger version and a color version.

Astride

LittleTalbot-10

This photograph of Kemper was taken not too long ago at Big Talbot Island.  He is in his element among the low-lying branches of the fallen live oak (Quercus Virginiana).  Kemp is ever-cautious, and consequently has not broken any bones (so far).  Even convincing him to climb the trunk, no more than four feet off the ground, took some coaxing.  I am fine with his wariness of danger.  It would have served me well as a child, who, by his age, had already broken both wrists and a couple of toes.

Despite his cautious nature, he is impulsive and fiery.  His temper burns hot, though it is extinguished quickly with proper redirection.  This has caused great consternation at school, where someone will call him a name, and he will explode momentarily.  In that instant, he cannot control himself.  I was not as impulsive as a child, though as an adult, I find myself irrationally upset at times, which quickly cools.  I cannot help but think that he has seen me in such moments of weakness, where my sarcasm and passive aggression come through in full technicolor.  I hate that he has witnessed this, and since his temper has blossomed at school, I have made every effort I can to dull my own temper — especially around him.

He is a sweet child, and wants nothing more than to make those around him smile or laugh.  His intelligence is off the charts, but his emotional maturity lags behind significantly.  Eventually this, too, will catch up (though I admit, I am waiting for my emotional maturity to catch up even at age 34).  By every account, we are good parents, and he is a good kid.  Nevertheless, since he returned from Christmas break, he has been sent to the principal’s office nearly every day by his young teacher, who appears incapable of managing his behavioral outbursts.  He sees no point in doing the multitude of worksheets, on subjects that he has known since he was three or four, and he is overwhelmingly bored.

We have sat down with the principal, assistant principal, grade level chair, and his teacher, but the conflict between Kemper and his teacher persists.  Anna, especially, is questioning our decision to place him at this particular school, which is, admittedly, rigid in its principles.  Her years of training as a behavior specialist gives her great insight into how to manage children with his unique blend of intelligence and immaturity, which makes it all the more difficult to see him go unmanaged and unmotivated.  This, too, shall pass, and we may move him before the school year is up.  For now, we will provide him the positive reinforcement that he so thrives upon, and continue to embrace his unique personality.  I will continue to bring him to Big Talbot, where he has begun to climb the trees with less and less coaxing, and I will pick him up when he inevitably falls.

Click here for a larger version.