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.

Back to Where it All Began

 

Fuji-6I’ll admit, I didn’t feel a sense of nostalgia when I stepped onto the beach at Big Talbot on Saturday.  It wasn’t until I began processing the first photos from my new camera that the memories of the solace I found there five years ago came flooding back.

I came then to take pictures of the driftwood with my little Nikon D40.  It was the first place I brought my D7100 and D7500 after that.  It did not cross my mind, however, that I would be christening my new camera, as I had time and time again, by bringing it here.  Still, something in my subconscious drew me back to this beach on Saturday with a new camera and a renewed zeal for photography.

My new camera is a Fujifilm X-T30, a small but exceptionally powerful mirrorless camera.  It is so vastly different from the Nikons I have loved for so many years that I spent the better part of two weeks getting acquainted with the features and controls of the camera, watching tutorials and reading the manual like my very life depended on it.

Because the camera itself was more expensive than any of the Nikons I have owned, I only managed to pick up the camera and an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 AF lens at first.  I knew I wanted a wide angle lens, like my old Tokina 11-16 f/2.8, which had quickly become one of my absolute favorite landscape and architecture lenses.  The autofocus lenses would have put me back $500+, and I couldn’t justify this, so I took a flyer on a Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 manual focus lens.

I have not used a manual focus lens since I used my mom’s old Minolta SLR, but it proved to be an incredibly rewarding experience.  I felt more like a photographer dialing in the aperture manually and focusing the lens with the slightest movement to just below infinity, than I can ever remember on my autofocus lenses.  I picked up a cheap, but razor sharp manual focus 35mm f/1.2, which is by far the fastest lens I have ever owned.  I think this one is going to be more of a challenge, but I am greatly looking forward to it.  I have my eye on an 85mm f/1.8 for portraits of the kids (with their ages and frenetic movements, autofocus is all but a requirement).

The photograph above is the first one I took at Big Talbot.  The shot was taken handheld at 12mm, f/2.8, 1/350, ISO 125.  The sky was wonderfully expressive, and the application of a bit of a gradient filter to it in lightroom brought out the heaviness of the clouds that began to unleash their rain very shortly after I got into my car to leave.

I only took 150 shots during the hour and a half I was there.  With my Nikons, I would have taken at least twice that and kept, perhaps, five or six shots.  Something about the camera and the lens made me more thoughtful about composition and the elements in the shots.  I hope you enjoy this one, and the ones to come.  We are going up to North Carolina at the end of the week, and I cannot wait to see what my home away from home has in store for me.

On Cave Dwelling…

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Some days, I feel like a cave dweller, and others I feel like a contributing member of society.  This is true at work and in my life in general.

At work, I can get so focused on a project that I look up from lunch and its eight o’clock in the evening.  The light in my office turns off after 20 minutes or so, and it cannot see my fingers furiously typing, just my head staring at the screen—immobile and resolute.  As a consequence, I often find myself working in the dark, too.

If you were to talk to Anna, she would tell you that the cave-dweller lighting is a personal favorite of mine, and I am not going to deny that I like a dark room as much as the next hermit.

I have had a particularly social week, with lunches every day with various people, and to my utter surprise, I am not burned out by it.  As a consummate introvert, too much contact with other people used to drain me, and if they were the wrong people, I suppose it still would.  Some switch has been flipped in me, and suddenly I can find myself enjoying being out with people…in moderate doses.  Perhaps a switch flip is a bit too optimistic; it’s more like my extroversion dimmer has been turned up a few shades.

The irony is that I took this photograph on one of the mornings that Kemper did not want to come hike with me, and so I was alone.  I had a very interesting internal monologue, in which I admitted that I missed the minion being with me, but I also found that I absolutely enjoyed being able to go at my own speed, without the lamentations of a six-year-old.  I like my alone time, but I am like Goldilocks when it comes to being alone.  I like it, but on my own unreasonable terms.

When Kemper, Nora, and Anna were down in Disney, I enjoyed the first couple hours, and then I became restless.  I was, in fact, longing for human interaction.  It was so unlike me.  I ate at a barbeque restaurant in Ponte Vedra and chatted up the cook as I sat at the bar; I went to Trader Joe’s and Publix, and when I got home, I turned a baseball game on, just so the sound of voices resonated through the house in a paltry attempt at connection with people.

As I have become more comfortable with myself over the last four years, I have also become more comfortable with others.  I still like my caves every once in a while, but more often now, I am willing to come into the light.

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On Surviving…

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We survived the first day.

No call.  No tears.  No arson.

All in all, a good start to the first grade.

Now you may think that I am being a bit melodramatic—after all, Kemp is a good kid—but I am also being realistic after the ups and downs of last year.

No child is perfect, and this is a lesson that we learned the hard way when Kemper came back from Christmas break last year.  He has matured exponentially over the summer, and I knew that he would be in a different place, with a different teacher, who has more experience and, perhaps, more patience with little boys who just want to make you laugh.

The kid has a heart of gold, as I did at his age.  He only wants to please, and I lose sight of this in the moments where he is being obstinate or so literal that it makes you want to pull the three hairs you have left on your head out (personally speaking).  I lost some of that innocence and pureness of spirit in college and law school, but I feel like I am slowly gaining it back—which just goes to show that it does not have to be lost.

I know that I need to foster this uncharacteristic empathy and softness inside of him, and make him understand that despite the sometimes-toxic masculinity that the world presents as the paradigm, it is ok to be sensitive and caring, and it is ok to embrace the empathy that is innate within him.  I hope that he is able to hold onto these characteristics for as long as he can, at least through his formative years, because it is a lot easier to go back to a learned behavior than to start from scratch.

So now we wait for the call.  Maybe it will not come this year.  Maybe he’s bled all of the angst from his system, but I don’t think so.  I see the anxiety in his great big brown eyes, and the concern for things much larger than himself, and in those concerns, I revisit my own childhood and force myself to think of how I can make it easier for him, how I can facilitate finding himself in the morass that is growing up.

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On a New Year…

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To say that it was a quiet weekend would be something of an understatement.  Anna and the kids went down to Disney with a friend, and I was left to fend for myself in utter silence.  In my defense, I had made plans to go fishing with a buddy, but his boat was in the shop, and he ended up going out of town.  My solitude, therefore, was not completely of my own choosing—but I embraced it nonetheless.

Kemper starts school tomorrow—first grade—and to have seen him grow up just this summer has been amazing.  Last year was a learning experience for all involved, and I am not naïve enough to think that the first few weeks of the new schoolyear will be without its ups and downs.  Once he settles in, though, I am hopeful that this year will be even better than the last.

Nora begins a three day-a-week program soon, as well, and she blossomed in her “class” last year.  She is social, but I am terribly curious to see what her new independent, sassy streak will mean to her previously demure behavior.  As they say, history seldom remembers well-behaved women, so her cheekiness will likely serve her well.  It is something that her brother and I can foster with great aplomb.  I knew that she wouldn’t stay the sweet little cherub forever, and I am so enjoying her personality as it comes out more and more each day.

Life is good, and I look forward to seeing how much better it gets this year.

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On Thoughts of Fall in August

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As a consequence of the poison oak debacle that I have chronicled in my earlier posts, I went to the doctor, who prescribed some fairly powerful steroids to hasten my recovery.  One of the side effects, it turns out, is a heightened sensitivity to heat, which in the throes of summer in Florida is about as easy to avoid as sand in a desert.

Long story short, I got very dizzy, and I needed a bit in the artificial permafrost of my office to cool down and recover.  Once regained my bearings, this photograph flashed across the television on my wall that I use to display my photographs.  I took it last fall in North Carolina, and it immediately gave me a feeling of deep longing, and almost regret that I wasn’t there right now–even though summers in the Piedmont of North Carolina are about as miserable as in Florida.

I reflected on this nostalgia, literally an aching for one’s home, and it came to me that during my ten years outside of Florida, first in North Carolina and then in Virginia, I never felt the longing to be back in Florida like I do now longing to be back in Winston-Salem or even Richmond.  I missed my family dearly in Florida, and enjoyed every time that I came back to visit, but there is just something about Carolina and Virginia that make me long to be back there.

Perhaps it is that I loved Wake Forest so much.  I met Anna there, grew up there, and learned more about the world and myself than I had ever done in the eighteen years prior.  But a part of me thinks that it was the fall that draws me back, even today–the crisp mornings that we walked from campus through the grounds of the Reynolda House and through the village, the chilly strolls around campus with a steaming cup of coffee or chai, and the leaves that scudded across the bricks of the upper quad when the October wind picked up and you gathered your jacket that much closer around you.

Sure, Florida has fall, but its not the same.  Even the oak trees that were skeletons by November in Richmond balk at the coming winter in Florida.  There is no thought of jumping in the car and driving the half-hour to Pilot Mountain to see the leaves changing before your very eyes.  Fall, as we knew it in North Carolina, does not exist this far south.  But I am happy here.  I have an incredible job, and an incredible family that is only minutes away, and my roots are growing into the sandy soil slowly but surely.

Still, I feel that pang of remorse that comes over me when I remember the falls I spent at Wake Forest, and I know someday I will return in some capacity.  Until that time, as James Taylor said, “I’m going to Carolina in my mind.”

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