Walking On

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I was initially not pleased with how this photograph turned out.  The figures of my mom and Kemper are sharp, but the trees and leaves in the foreground are blurred, as I was fiddling with my settings to take earlier photographs with my wide angle lens and, candidly, I forgot to change them.  When I came back to it after a bit of contemplation, however, it grew on me.  The focus of this photograph is and should be my family, and the other blurred features, which seemed like a distraction at first, repose in a secondary position.

This is, I think, a good lesson learned once again from a photograph that has taken on a life of its own.  Family is, and should be, the focus.

I keep long hours in my job.  When I started, I would get in around 5:30 and leave after 7:00 in the evening.  I saw Nora and Kemper very little during the week, and it took a toll on me.  Nora was young enough that she changed daily, and getting home after she went to sleep meant that she had changed drastically in a week.  Kemper changed, too, but not as quickly.  Still, I missed being able to see them each day.

These days, I get into the office around 4:30 and leave around 5:30 or 6:00, and rarely do I miss either of them before they have to go to bed.  Nora runs to me now (or at least toddles quickly) and throws up her arms when she sees me.  I pick her up and she tells me about her day in her own language that she can only assume I understand.  I hesitate to put her down, even to give Kemp a hug, because this is our time.  When Anna feeds her and puts her to bed, Kemper and I have our time.  We have taken to lying in his bed and talking about both of our days, if for no other reason than to share that my days have their challenges as well.  He cherishes these “long talks.”  I do too.

My days are long, and I am worn out by the end.  I shoulder a lot of responsibilities in the hours that I am in the office, but as this picture attests, family is my focus – even if sometimes I lose sight of this for the blur that is the rest of my life.  Indeed, even when I forget to change the settings, the important things remain tack sharp.

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Whitewash

SSA Photography (261 of 400)

Please indulge this wizened writer for a brief moment.

I have been a writer since I could hold a pencil.  I did not always blog, but I have done so since 2012, when I was at a previous large law firm, and I was the Florida Banking Law Blog.  I learned a lot over the course of writing those posts, both about content and generally about what readers are seeking when they visit.  The post must be informational and educational, else they will have no reason to visit it, and the post must be at least mildly entertaining, else they will lose interest quickly, and they won’t bother reading the content.

Before I blogged, I was a creative writer and an editor.  I am a published poet, a fairly widely published legal author, and I attended Wake Forest on the Presidential Scholarship for Excellence in creative writing – based upon a novel I had written, which I began when I was sixteen.  In college, I was an editor of a journal, and in law school, I was editor-in-chief of the second largest journal at the school.  As such, I am rightly proud of my writing.  And then along comes Brandi.*

My current firm has decided to enter the blogosphere, and I have taken on the responsibility of creating the website and the lion’s share of the content.  Some of the content is very dry – after all, I am a tax lawyer – but I have striven to engage the reader in even the most esoteric posts.  Some of the posts are downright funny, and they have been incredibly well received by my peers and my shareholders.  And then along came Brandi.*

Without solicitation, a young lady (I think she’s thirteen or fourteen), a lackey at the marketing agency that our firm has chosen to engage, sent me an email at 5:23 last night “editing” and “proofreading” one of my more creative blog posts about the use of testamentary trusts for your animals (think Leona Helmsley or Karl Lagerfield).  I read through the comments, first with bemused apathy, and then with growing vitriol that rose to a veritable boil by the final page.  The white-hot anger washed over me like the surf in the photograph at the beginning of this post, which was taken in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

I can be criticized for many things, and often rightly so.  I am overweight, though I have lost eighty pounds since last March.  I am a perfectionist.  I can be untidy.  I can be many things less than the paragon that I strive to be, but when it comes to criticizing my writing, this is an inviolate line that nary a person ever crosses (nor, I must point out, dear reader, would they have reason to).  And then along came Brandi.*

I have calmed down since last night, when I quite literally turned off my computer – physically pressing the power button without logging off or shutting down – with the full knowledge that if left to my own devices, Brandi* would have been the recipient of a wrath-filled dissertation on the error of her ways.  Ultimately, her words will pass like those written on running water, a simile that was first used by the Roman poet Catullus.  One of my fellow associates at the firm left me with these parting words: “Scott, you have too many degrees to worry about what she said.”

I will respond, likely with class and dignity.  I will rise above, likely with great aplomb.  If I see her, I will smack her, likely with my shoe.  The fact that I know that those three sentences contained the rhetorical device tricolon crescens, and the fact that I intended such effect, gives me solace.  I will rest now on my laurels, laugh at her comments, and disregard them like a wave washing over the rocks on a sunny day.

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*Names have been changed to protect the little twerp.

Atop the Moors

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I often muse that I was born on the wrong continent at the wrong time.

This is not to say that I am not well pleased with my life, only that I feel a kinship to England that reaches beyond a penchant for visiting.  When I am there, it feels like home.  It helps to be surrounded by scores of my wife’s family, but there is something natural, intrinsic about the moors that makes me feel like throwing on a flat cap and taking a stroll down a back lane in the afternoon.

In Florida I am loath to take strolls in the afternoon, mostly because it is as hot as the seventh circle of hell for 80% of the year, and its raining or threatening to rain for another 15%.  The final 5% of the year is pleasant, and I would not want to be anywhere else – except England, or Carmel, or North Carolina.  I have left pieces of my heart in all of these places.  I met Anna in North Carolina, and I proposed to her in England – on the moors.  We have spent many beautiful days on the coastline in Carmel, and I feel a certain creativity out there that I do not feel anywhere else.

Florida is our home, though.  I was born here, and I have set down deep roots since we moved back from Virginia nine years ago.  My job is here, and I am finally happy.  That is not to say if we won the lottery, I would not spend more time in England and Carmel and North Carolina, but I am content.

Contentment is a far cry from the anhedonia I once thought was just a part of who I was, and who I would always be.  I had a wonderful wife, a young child, and yet I was desperate for something more, something tangible that I could take hold of and claim as my own.  I felt out of control, and I did little constructively to find my way back to center.  Yeats captured this in his poem The Second Coming:  “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / the falcon cannot hear the falconer / things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

It has been over three years since I felt lost, at once like the falcon and the falconer.  I was a paralyzed man learning how to walk again, and in many ways I am still learning – learning how to smile, learning how to appreciate the simple joys, and learning how to hold the center.  I miss England, but I do not pine for it as I once did.  When I return, and I will, I know that I can appreciate it for what it is, and not what I long for it to be.

I may very well have been born in the wrong time and on the wrong continent, but I have an English spirit about me, a spirit of humored resilience…and that, for now, is enough.

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Turkey Tails

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This photograph of the “turkey tail” mushroom (Trametes Versicolor) was taken in the Nocatee Preserve on Christmas morning with Kemper as my photographer’s assistant.  I gave him my old Nikon D40, which was the first DSLR that I ever had.  It has seen Alaska and many other beautiful places, and it served me well until I upgraded to my current D7100.  Kemper took to photography like a duckling to water.  As I am drawn to paths and mushrooms and other natural wonders, he is drawn to sticks and mosses and the sky.

A number of his photographs turned out, though we need to work on focusing a bit more.  His hands are a bit small yet for back-button focusing, and so I reset the camera to focus on depressing the shutter button by half.  I think he gets so excited when he is ready to take a shot (as evidenced by The Pose).

I love taking photographs of mushroom, because they have some of the most beautiful variety of any natural phenomenon.  Some are medicinal, while others are deathly poisonous.  Some are edible, while some are deathly poisonous.  Some are beautiful, and some are beautiful and deathly poisonous.  The turkey tail has gorgeous growth rings that show up especially well in black and white.  Like many woodear mushrooms, they are harbingers of doom for the tree that they grow on, but even as such, they are beautiful to look at and to photograph.

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York Minster Windows

SSA Photography (344 of 400)

I am indebted to many of my past teachers and professors, but there are those who leave a more lasting impression than others.  My Latin teacher, for instance, was one of the most influential teachers I had in high school, and she prepared me so well that my Latin major at Wake Forest was all but a foregone conclusion.  We all use Latin daily, whether we are aware of it or not.  Us Latin geeks are more tuned in to the derivatives, and we make conscious decisions to use Latinate words wherever possible (in lieu of that vulgar German stock).

As a lawyer, I am a writer first and foremost.  It is my craft.  As a photographer, too, I view the world differently than most attorneys.  Indeed, I perceive the world aesthetically through an artistic lens, whether or not I am behind my camera.  This appreciation for art is due in large part to my AP Art History teacher.  When I was 20, I saw my first cathedral outside of my art history books.  It was on a trip with my wife and her family to Europe.  We stopped for a day in Mallorca, and I made a pilgrimage to La Seu (Palma Cathedral).

I stood before the great vaulted entrance for a terribly long time, for the first time in my life appreciating the magnitude of what Judy taught me.  I took in the carvings and the arches, and then once inside, I looked with a child-like wonder at the rose window.  I walked down the central aisle in the nave (knowing, of course, what this part of the cathedral was called), and for the first time it struck me that although I had memorized the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I had never known what it felt like to physically stand under Michelangelo’s handiwork.  I couldn’t tell you how the chapel smelled, or what sensation I had when I first walked inside.  But now, standing in the dimly lit chapels of La Seu, I knew what it was to be inside a gothic cathedral.

Last summer, I visited Anna’s family in England.  Her cousin/godmother lives in York, and we went for a short day trip to visit Alice.  Alice had inherited a tortoise from the previous owner of her home, and he was nearly one hundred years old.  Kemper still asks about the tortoise, and this will be his memory of York (for now).  For me, however, I will remember York through the photographs I took of York Minster, the grand cathedral of York.  I will remember it, because I understood it.  I will remember York Minster, not just because of its august presence, but because I was taught to appreciate the buttresses and the vaulted ceilings by an uncommonly wonderful teacher.

In many ways, I think I missed my calling.  I am always mildly jealous of my best friend (Nora’s godfather) who is a professor in North Carolina.  I was helping proof a paper for which he allowed me to contribute some research, and I was overcome with a modest pang of regret (made all the more acute when I had to turn back to the Response to Petitioner’s Motion to Dismiss that I should have been working on instead of immersing myself in the effect of language policy on the colonialization and Americanization of Puerto Rico at the turn of the 20th Century).  But I am happy where I am in life.  I have a job I enjoy at a firm I adore, and I will always have my photography and my writing.  I owe all of these things to my teachers and professors, especially those select few whose lessons continue to teach me to this very day.

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Deer Moss

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This lichen (Cladonia Evansii) is a familiar one.  Known mistakenly as “deer moss” this fungus is a lichen, not moss.  As the name suggests, this fruiticose lichen is important forage for whitetail deer in the eastern states.  Though not as plentiful amongst the trees as the usnea lichen that seems to attache to the branches and trunks of even the youngest saplings, among the rocky hills, the light ash-gray clumps of lichen are visible from long distances, interspersed between the darker slate-gray stones.   The lichen grows extremely slowly, only three to ten millimeters per year.

The patch that Kemper and I found on our walk down the driveway was decades old and thick with a radius of lichen stretching out ten feet from the center in all directions.  The thalli (branches) are interwoven, and the result is a springy, spongy mass.   This type of lichen (Cladonia) can be found all over the world, and its name varies as the animals that forage on it change.  In the northernmost reaches, it is known as reindeer moss, and further south it is known as caribou moss.  Kemper and I even found some in a Jacksonville swamp during a hike, and sure enough, cast in the mud was a hoof print of a small whitetail deer.

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North Carolina Nights

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I have seen successful astral photography.  The shots are generally taken in the middle of a deserted stretch of Earth, such as the desert, on a moonless night with the tails of the Milky Way visible.  Aside from shots of the moon, I have only dabbled in astral photography.  I could not resist this night, a couple of winters ago in Brevard, North Carolina.

The rich cerulean sky was dotted with an incomprehensible number of stars, and the moon was nowhere to be seen.  I set up my tripod in the middle of a large field, where the light pollution from the cabin we were staying in could not reach.  Although the focus is a bit off, this shot, and others from that night, manage to capture the beauty of the scene, though not quite capturing the awesomeness of the uninhibited night sky.  Last winter, it rained most evenings, and on the evenings it did not, the kids were already in bed, and it was hard for me to tear myself away to trek up to the field.  I regret not going.  Next time…

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