Schoolhouse Falls

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I generally dislike hiking a day or two after a strong rainstorm.  The mud, while most enjoyable to Kemper in his rainboots, is cold and insipid, and no matter how much I go out of my way to avoid it, the muck and mire always seem to find their way into my socks at the very beginning of the hike.  This hike in Panthertown Valley to Schoolhouse Falls was no different.

The beginning of the hike was pleasant, as the mud puddles had frozen over.  As we descended into the valley, and the sun rose higher into the sky, the puddles thawed and into my sneakers they migrated.  Nonetheless, when we reached the falls, my madid socks became an afterthought.  The falls were running as strong as I had ever seen them after the deluge of the prior days.

I also had the first real opportunity to try out my new wide-angle lens, a Rokinon 12mm f/2.  I kicked myself for not bringing my neutral density filter.  We were in a hurry as we left, and I had misplaced it somewhere in the cabin.  Next time, perhaps, I will remember it, and I can picturesquely blur the water.  This panorama was about as artistic as I could get in the stark, mid-morning light.  The sun is just outside of the frame, and I cropped out a huge sunspot from the foreground rocks.  Still, given the less than optimal conditions, I was pleased with the composition and the photograph.

Short of a small adjustment to the exposure of the top half of the photograph, this shot is straight out of the camera with little post processing.  The new lens is tack sharp, and though manual focus is a new adventure for me, I rather enjoyed playing with the focus peaking and zooming in on the touchscreen to see that everything was in focus.  In reality, the field of view is so shallow, that everything past a couple of meters is in focus at infinity.

I’m looking forward to trying my hand at night photography with the lens.  There were a few cloudless nights that would have been good candidates, but it was cold, I was tired, and slogging the tripod up to the fields on the property did not seem appealing at the time.  Also, my remote release that I bought for my old Nikon did not work for my new Fujifilm.  Sure, I could have used a timer to avoid camera shake, but like I said…it was cold, and I was tired.

Until next time, then…

Sampling Deity

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This photograph was taken during a morning hike in Garrapata State Park, Carmel, California.  I bought a 10-stop neutral density filter for just this purpose, and I was so pleased with the result.  For those less photographically inclined, a neutral density (ND) filter is basically like a pair of sunglasses for the camera.  You screw it on to the lens and it blocks out a certain portion of light.  A 10-stop ND filter blocks out, you may have guessed, ten times the light that would ordinarily hit the sensor.  By doing this, you can reduce the shutter speed and anything that moves—such as waves and water—becomes blurred.  Many photographers use ND filters to achieve this “softness” in waterfalls, waves, etc.

This was one of my first attempts at using a ND filter, and I was thoroughly impressed by the effect.  The waves were crashing on these two rocks off the coast of Garrapata, but in this photograph, they look calm and soft.  The smoothness of the water belies the strong, fierce waves.  The ND filter also allows much more saturated colors, which can be artificially boosted in post processing, but here occurred straight out of camera.

I love the sharp contrast between the jagged rocks and the smoothness of the waves.  It is completely unnatural in light of what was actually happening while this exposure was being captured, but it appears completely organic.  I am not usually one to manipulate nature in my photographs.  Generally, I take what is given to me, capturing a moment of nature and editing the photograph only to enhance the natural effect, perhaps to capture the melancholy of how I felt when I pressed the shutter button.

Here, however, I sampled a bit of deity and fiddled with the elements.  The effect is completely different than what I saw; the photograph, in this way, is far closer to a piece of art than simply my effort to capture the art of nature which was presented to me.  There is something to be said for the artistic quality, though I must admit that I am a bit uncomfortable determining how the elements should be portrayed.  It is a departure from my more documentary nature photography, but this is, perhaps, not a bad thing…

Token of Winter

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I have not seen native snow since 1989.

We had our fair share in Winston-Salem, and more than our share during the blizzard in law school in Richmond.  Still, there is something about the chill of the air and the stark beauty of fresh snow that will always be a part of me.  I do not miss it like Anna does.  In her mind, no amount of snow would be enough.  I have learned not to challenge this desire with practical thoughts such as getting out of the driveway or being stuck in a snow drift on the highway.  I don’t want to ruin the Narnian illusion.

It did not snow when we were in North Carolina, though David did message us to let us know that it snowed the very day after we returned.  Anna was, in a word, displeased.  It was cold enough in Panthertown Valley, however, to throw some icicles off of Schoolhouse Falls.  The mud puddles had frozen solid, which made hiking a bit more of an adventure than usual, but it was a sweet reminder that winter does come in parts.

Perhaps next year we will have the opportunity to show the kids snow in North Carolina.  Kemper loves it, and I know that Nora will adore it as well.  (There are few things in which she doesn’t derive some pleasure.)  Nevertheless, this picture will have to serve as a reminder of winter to those of us who nary see icicles or snow.

And for anyone who is wondering, yes, we did crack it off for the kids to eat.

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Roots, Radical.

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If you have read any number of my posts, it would not be an overstatement to say that I enjoy metaphors.  This lonely tree on the beach at Jekyll Island just begs for one, and who am I to deny what nature has so freely given.

I took this photograph on our “babymoon” just before Nora was born.  By “just before” I mean that Anna went into labor shortly after this photograph was taken.  We got back to the house just in time to turn around and go to the hospital, where Nora was born a brief time later.  I did not have time to process this photography until quite a while later, and here it is two and a half years later before I am posting it.

I was this lonely tree for longer than I would care to admit.  I had come out of that phase of my life by the time I came upon this tree, roots bare, and stark against the cloudless sky, but it is no less significant.  It represents many of the days that I walked on the beach at Big Talbot or nearer to our house in Ponte Vedra searching for soil into which I could sink my roots.  The irony of looking for this in the shifting sands of beaches is not, now, lost on me.  Nor is it lost on me that this tree took root on those sands, or that it continues to stand there despite hurricanes and erosion that would have felled weaker trees.

In fact, this tree stands because it is small, and its roots are proportionally giant and deep.  It would not surprise me if the root system was as large and deep as the tree is tall and wide.  As I look at it now, I imagine that the roots are a mirror image of the branches above the gray sand.  They are gnarled and strong, irregular and radical.  Radical is a favorite word of mine.  It literally comes from the Latin word radix, which means root.  To be radical is to affect the fundamental, root nature of something.  Conversely, a radical is someone who advocates a departure from the fundamental, root nature of a thought or idea.  I love the derivations, the roots of words.  They give words that we take for granted so many more layers, more strata, which, if you were wondering, means layers of things strewn about…I could go on and on…ad infinitum.

And they wonder why I was a Latin and English major…

On Gratitude

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When I write these posts, I often just start typing and what comes, comes.  I thought about this post a fair bit driving into work this morning at 2:45 AM.  I reflected on the days that I spent in North Carolina with my family, and how I would have far preferred to be there to just about anywhere else.  I also thought about how lucky we are to be able to spend that time in the mountains with family that loves us and whom we can tolerate—even enjoy—being with for a week.

Being grateful is one thing, and a good thing, but gratitude is something different.  Gratitude is active.  You can be grateful, but you show gratitude.  I don’t think I ever reflected on the difference, but as I sat down to write this post, I was struck by the distinction.  I was grateful to have been in North Carolina, but did I show gratitude for being there?  I thanked my parents, and David, who graciously allowed us to stay on his property, and, perhaps, this was enough.  Still, I am nagged by the thought that I could have done more.

It is a new year, and in this new year I will make a concerted effort to actively show gratitude for what I have been given.  I have worked incredibly hard for the life I have, but in many ways, I have been blessed with things that I could never have received without a great deal of grace.  I am slowly recognizing this, and I am grateful for all of the blessings in my life.  Gratitude, like faith, without action is nothing.

So, thank you, one and all, for all that I have been given, and all that I am able to give.  As I start this new year, the first of a new decade, I will continue to reflect on these thoughts of gratitude.  Perhaps they will nag at me even in the times where I want to be anything but grateful.  Life is a journey, not a destination, and like this forest path, I will try my heartfelt best to walk it with gratitude.

In my mind, I’m going to Carolina

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We head back up to North Carolina for a week tomorrow.  There is something about crossing the state line from South Carolina and feeling like I’m home.  I miss Winston-Salem, and the nostalgia sets in every time that I drive through the main entrance to Wake’s campus.  The feeling of home is much more than being at Wake, walking to classes, or spending the weekends walking with Anna to Reynolda Village through the woods.

North Carolina is where I became who I am.  Though I lost myself for a while, I have recaptured that feeling, and I long to be back in the Piedmont, or even back to the mountains.  I know I will feel the same fulfilment of longing that I feel every time I return, and I know that I will feel heartsick to leave in the new year.

For now, though, in my mind, I’m going to Carolina.

Wright

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This picture makes me feel like a phony.

Compositionally, the photograph is nearly perfect.  The sight lines of the rocks and the mountain in the back converge on Kemper.  There is strong texture and contrast between the foreground and background.  Kemp forms the apex of a natural triangle, and the rule of thirds has been followed with strict adherence.  He’s looking away from the camera, natural and insouciant.  Hell, the wildflowers are even in bloom.

Yes.  This is technically ideal, and, had I planned it, I could not have executed it much better.  But that is just the thing.  I didn’t plan it.  I snapped the picture of Kemper on a rock in Garrapata State Park because he had come with me on a cold and windy morning, and he found a rock that he wanted to climb, and far be it for me to stop him from doing what brought me such joy when I was his age.

Perhaps there was something in my subconscious that told me to stand exactly where I stood to take this picture, rather than a couple feet to the left or right.  Perhaps it wasn’t happenstance.  I still remember one of my elementary school art teachers looking at a lump of unformed clay with me and saying that we had to take what the clay gave us.  What she meant, I think, was that an artist is not always the creator (if ever), but instead is—to use an archaic, but fitting term—the wright, who makes the best of what is given to them.

Ultimately, I didn’t have to take the photograph.  I didn’t have to make the decisions I did in post-processing, to bring out the contrast between the foreground and the misty background, or to crop it as I did.  But there we are.

This photo is not going to win any prizes or be displayed in a gallery, but it will make the rotation on the slideshow in my office.  When I look up and glance at it for the moment it remains, I will appreciate the happenstance of art a bit more, understanding that as a photographer I am not so much a creator as a wright…and that is OK.