Quest

LittleTalbot-9

In the end, we are all searching for something.

The quote I chose for my yearbook junior year of high school was “Life’s a journey, not a destination, and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow will bring.”  This was from Aerosmith’s Amazing, which hit so many chords with me even then.  The quote is hackneyed and attributable to dozens of people, most commonly Ralph Waldo Emerson (though he does not appear to have written the exact quote, just the sentiment).  Some days I regret choosing it instead of Faulker’s quote from the Unvanquished: “I realized then the immitigable chasm between life and print – that those who can do, and those who cannot, and suffer enough because they cannot, write about it.”  That, I think, would have been more appropriate for that time in my life.

Kemper has inherited many things from me, but at his core he does not know what it is to deceive.  We often joke that he acts the same for Anna and me as he does for his teachers, and as he would for a stranger; what you see is what you get.  It is a brilliant, albeit foreign, trait to me.  As he has matured, I have waited for the introversion to take over, but he must have received a recessive gene from Anna.  Though he cedes to quietness after a long day of entertaining people – and not as a defense mechanism – he is not like me, like who I was.

In my earlier years, if you saw me, casually, on the street, to you I looked happy.  I was the greatest liar that ever lived.  That did not seem like hyperbole at the time, and when I look back on the years between college and where I am today, I can still say that without any reservation or apprehension (which, perhaps, is a testament to how often I convinced myself of my own deception).  But then I recovered.

I am different now, too.   I remain introverted, but the life I lead is no longer a duality of darkness and feigned brightness.  Hawthorne once wrote “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”  I read this quote (from The Scarlett Letter) in high school, and I still remember it to this day.  I lived the quote, not as much then as in my later years, but even at sixteen, I recognized my ability to con and fool others (and even myself) into believing I was capable of feeling joy.  But then I recovered.

I have found that capability, and I experience joy every day.  I am cautious though.  The joy is always tinged at the corners with a fear of free-falling back to a time and place I can now barely remember.  I do not regret my past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it.  Instead, it has made me who I am at this moment, and this moment is all I have until the next one passes.  For now, I have joy and contentment and knowledge and peace that there are things both within and without my control.  Honestly.  Because I recovered.

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Path to Pebble Beach

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The Pebble Beach ProAm golf tournament was played last weekend, and as I watched the scenes of the course from the sky, and the ubiquitous shots of Stillwater Cove, I thought about how absolutely lucky I am to personally know and to personally be connected with this magnificent place.

My in-laws have a house in Carmel-by-the-Sea, three blocks from the ocean, and about as many from the beach access to this rocky path which leads onto the Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Specifically, this path leads to the fairway of the sixth hole, and you can just make out the trees on the horizon to the left of the path that mark the seventeenth green.  The scenery is rugged and stunning.  This path is about five miles from the Lone Cypress, and about a mile from the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

I came to California when I was ten, but the California I knew was the Kemper Campbell Ranch in the highlands of the Mojave Desert (Victorville, to be specific).  My great-aunt and her family had a ranch in the middle of the desert, through which the Mojave River flowed and gave startling contrast between the lush fields where the cows roamed and the hot, sun-baked sand and ancient petroglyph-covered rock outcroppings that I characteristically climbed with great zeal (and moderate aplomb).  My mom’s cousin, Scott, for whom I was named lived out there, as did her cousin, the famous historical romance writer Celeste De Blasis.

Even at ten, I knew I wanted to write, and so meeting Celeste was incredible for a young, naive boy, who had only written a couple of short stories at the time, but who knew he wanted to write more once he had a command of the language.  (Yes, I did think in these terms at that time.  I have never claimed to be a normal kid.)  Celeste passed away in 2001, just before I graduated high school, and just as I was beginning my first novel.  I wish that I had gotten to know her better and to have been able to trade war stories about writer’s block or overcoming the crippling fear of the blank page.  (To me, as a writer, there is nothing more intimidating than a crisp, empty journal.)

So the Californias I know are as unique as can be.  One is dominated by water, and one is defined by the lack thereof.  I have not been back to the Kemper Campbell Ranch in twenty years, but I have my own Kemper now, and perhaps someday when we travel out to Carmel, we’ll make a sojourn into the desert so that he can climb the rocks that grow ever taller in my memory to this day.

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Lion’s Teeth

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I am a philologist, a lover of words.  As an English and Latin double major in college, I pursued my love of language (even through the trials of reading Beowulf in its original Old English).  As you have seen in many of my previous posts on nature, I like to include the taxonomic name of the plants, not because I want to show off my knowledge of nature – it’s a notch above rudimentary, at best – but because I love the Latin names.  A white oak is so much more august as a Quercus Alba, or the sweet-gum tree as Liquidambar Styraciflua, which literally means a tree flowing with amber liquid (referring to the gum that exudes from the tree when it is cut).

In this vein, I give you a (false) dent de lion, a lion’s-tooth flower, better known as a dandelion.  Although the appellation refers to the coarsely toothed leaves, this photograph – one of my early macro lens experiments – focuses on the petals and the pseudanthium, or false flower head in the middle, which is actually a small cluster of tiny flowers grouped together.  The pictured flower is actually a false dandelion, or a Carolina desert chicory flower (Pyrrhopappus Carolinianus).

The simplicity of the composition is appealing to me on the one hand, and on the other, I have always been troubled by the dead center focus on the flower.  Unfortunately, when I was first taking my macro shots, I was more concerned with aperture and focus than I was with composition.  I have sincerely amended my ways.  Nevertheless, the clarity and the stark contrast of the petals and the void behind them have always been pleasing to me.

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Glacier Bay

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This photograph was taken in Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska, just west of Juneau.  President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the area around Glacier Bay a national monument under the Antiquities Act on February 25, 1925. Subsequent to an expansion of the monument by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act enlarged the national monument by 817.2 square miles on December 2, 1980, and created Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

This is the Johns Hopkins Glacier, named in 1893 by H.F. Reid after the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which sponsored an expedition to this glacier.  It is the only advancing tidewater glacier now (its advance started in 1924 when Grand Pacific Glacier started receding towards Tarr Inlet) and is combined with Gilman Glacier (first got attached to Hopkins in the 1990s, broke off and rejoined several times and once again it appears joined since 2000); both are advancing as one single ice block, and at the waterfront, has a width of 1 mile with a depth of 250 feet, rises to a height of 250 feet and stretches to about 12 miles  upstream.

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Jellyfish #4

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This photo of a Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia Labiata) was taken on a past trip to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium just outside of Carmel, California.  The invertebrate room at the aquarium is huge, and must contain thousands of jellyfish of every shape, size, and color.

Instead of long, trailing tentacles, moon jellies have a short, fine fringe (cilia) that sweeps food toward the mucous layer on the edges of the bells. Prey is stored in pouches until the oral arms pick it up and begin to digest it. The coloration of a moon jelly often changes depending on its diet. If the jelly feeds extensively on crustaceans, it turns pink or lavender. An orange tint hints that a jelly’s been feeding on brine shrimp.  Found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters (as well as the Monterrey Bay itself and up and down the California coast), moon jellies feed in quiet bays and harbors. Although moon jellies have a sting, they pose little threat to humans.

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Atop the Moors

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Another selection from my “Paths” portfolio, this photograph of a rocky road was taken on the the moors just outside of Haworth, England.  Almost indiscernible at the end of the road, towards the horizon, are the minuscule figures of my mother-in-law, Vivien, and her brother, Robin, who both grew up wandering the moors like the Brontës, who lived in a parsonage in Haworth, adjacent to the church where their father Branwell preached.  The moors are the inspiration of many of the gothic scenes in their novels, in particular Emily’s Wuthering Heights.  Wuthering is a Yorkshire word meaning blustery and turbulent, and often describes the fierce, noisy winds that blow across the moors.  The winds were calm this day, but only the day before, they were truly wuthering, rattling the shutters and whipping horizontal rain against the panes of crown glass in the home that Anna’s grandfather built, stone by stone, from the ruins of an ostler barn, where the horses were housed during the construction of the Worth Valley railway.  

Whether to give Anna and I our own space on the hike up and down the steep moors, or because we could not keep up, Vivien and Robin always appeared as part of the horizon, which in this photograph looks south towards Ostlerhouse.  As the sun set on us, the sky became iridescent, the faintest inchoate hint of which can be seen in this photograph.  Having finally caught my breath from the harrowing ascents and descents, through many of which I cursed my mother-in-law for promising a nice calm amble through the heather, I could at last appreciate the beauty that would have only come from striding atop the moors.  I have captured, between heavy, heaving chestfuls of fresh Yorkshire air, these breathtaking (pun intended) views of the moors in my portfolio, aptly titled, albeit simply, “The Moors.” 

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Tulips at Noon

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The main draw to Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, is the driftwood beach, commonly referred to as “Boneyard Beach.”  The first time I went to Boneyard Beach with my camera, I was so focused on the gorgeous shells of the trees scattered across the beach, some of them with full root systems intact, as if they just had been uprooted the day before, I failed to notice the smaller elements around me, such as these gorgeous tulip snails, which I featured in one of my first posts to this page – and still one of my favorite photographs, “Three Hermits.”

It was not until I bought a good macro lens and began avidly looking for the beauty of the minutiae that I first discovered the snails, and their unique patterns of verdigris and Tyrian purple.  The ancient Romans valued the murex shell for its dying purposes, and purple robes dyed with the tint were reserved for royalty (and during the Republic, for senators and upper statesmen).  The murex snail was found only in Carthage, the capital of which was Tyre, hence the appellation of the deep purple hue.

The deep saturation of the shells only shows up when the light hits them just right (or in some minor post-processing of the photographs), and I was lucky enough to catch them early on a sunny Florida afternoon.  They congregate on the trunks and branches of the driftwood trees, often in the crooks and interstices that are too small for even barnacles to have taken hold.  They must live in such crevasses for months, perhaps years, because their shells are too large to have found their way into them fully grown.  These two were on the top of a lower branch of a white oak (Quercus Alba), which was drying out from the ever more distant ebb and flow of the tide.

The patterns and gradients of the shells are almost abstractly perfect.  Looking at them that day, and again as I began to write this post, reminds me of the divinity of nature.  Although Darwin explained the evolution of creatures in his Origin of the Species, he did not (to my knowledge) opine on the divine proportions of the carapace of the Galapagos tortoise.  It took me many years to accept that there was a divinity common in all living things, but now that I have seen it, it cannot be unseen.  God, as you understand Him, is present in these snails – you just have to find the trees in the forest and look a little closer.

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No Handbills

NCWinter2018-46

The floods from the melting snow unearthed two old metal signs on the property in Brevard, North Carolina, which we found on a morning walk.  They fallowed under cover of sweetgum leaves and time.  The signs, rusted and riddled with bullet holes, were still legible, and demonstrated the disdain for the hippies that once made the property their home, before they were forced out by a more puritanical wave of valley residents.

The property sits on a geologic fault line, and the streams on the property are headwaters for the French Broad River, one of the oldest rivers in the world.  The property was a summer camp in a former age, and the ruins of the old stone buildings are still visible.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the property was once a common stopping ground of a folk-singing, free-loving, cache of hippies and musicians, including Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie.

These signs are further reminders that we were not the first to enjoy the hills and fields where generations of boys spent their summers away from home and hippies did – well, what hippies do…

In the seven years my family has been coming here, the land has become a part of us, a memory we carry with us in our day to day lives in Florida.  I will never know who put the bullet holes in the signs, but they will remain nevertheless.  We have left our own marks on the property, no less visible or timeless.  Generations from now, the cabins may fall and the sapling white pines may overtake them, but our time on the property will still be felt.

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Rocks of the Bay

My dad grew up in Biddeford, Maine (south of Portland) and spent his summers in Old Orchard Beach.  My mother’s parents would rent a house on the coast during the summers when I was much younger, and all I can remember from those days is climbing through the rocks that lined the shore.  Because of this, I have a certain affinity for Down East (the coast of Maine).  So when my in-laws decided to take a vacation to Bar Harbor, I was excited to be able to personally revisit some of my childhood memories.

We took a small boat around the harbors, and saw many of the lighthouses that dot the coastline.  The stones along the coast longed to be climbed on, but that was a long while ago.  My son, Kemper, is as old as I was then, and he would love the (relative) safety of climbing on the rocks of the bay (versus the cherry tree in my parents’ front yard, which mercifully died before I got too big for the topmost branches to hold me).  He is not a risk-taker, for which I am very grateful.  His impulsivity would not be well met by fearlessness.

Although I usually prefer black and white photographs, the contrasts of the trees and coastline to the skies and water were to beautiful to reduce to monochrome.  For whatever reason, the photographs I have taken in Maine tend to end up in color.  This is a testament to the natural beauty of Down East (and to the fact that I always visit in the summer).

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