Steve at the Falls

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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.”

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Emma

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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.

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Paper Birch

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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.

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Astride

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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.

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Cheeky

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This photograph of Kemper, and my niece Brynn, was taken a few weeks ago in Brevard, North Carolina.  The two cheeky little gremlins had just been sloshing through the creek that was running higher than I had ever seen it on account of the torrential rain and snow melt.  Still, it was shallow enough in places to come just over their wellingtons, thereby defeating the boots’ entire purpose.  I think they had more fun splashing in their boots on dry land, listening to the sucking sounds that their feet made within the boots, than they did in the creek itself.

Living square in the suburbs, Kemper and Brynn play “outside” all of the time, meaning they play with chalk on the driveway, ride their bikes and trikes, but they do not have the chance to slosh through the creeks in Florida.  There are too many unseen dangers, the least of which are alligators and moccasins.  So, to be able to traipse through the mud and cold water in North Carolina was as much a release for the kids as it was to watch for the grownups – my sister, Claire, Anna and me.  We got to see the nature of our kids come out in the natural elements.  Though Kemper lamented the long hikes, he loved to play with the sticks and threw the rocks that he found along the way.  Give him a mud puddle, and he will have fun for longer than any sow or elephant might.  It was heartening to see them both having fun, and whats more, having fun together.

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Fjords

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This photograph was taken on the journey to Skagway, Alaska up the Inner Passage from Juneau.  I must admit that I was unaware that there were fjords in Alaska, as in Norway and Iceland.  A fjord is simply a long waterway cut by glaciers into the bedrock.  The stone walls of the fjords were incredible, as were the markings on them.  You can see in this photograph the dark tide lines on the stones which lead into a deep chasm in the rock.  Alaska was mysterious to me.  It was true wilderness, which fascinates me.  Even in the wilds of North Carolina, I am still mindful that I was not the first person to trod upon the dirt.  There is a distinct possibility that if you stray to far afield of the paths in Alaska, you may be the first human to do so.  I long to go back to Alaska.

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Cored

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This old pignut hickory (Carya Glabra) has seen better seasons, but the beak of a red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides Borealis) has extensively excavated the trunk, reaching through the growth rings of those seasons for the tunneling larvae of hickory bark beetles (Scolytus Quadrispinosus).  Although I only captured two of the woodpecker’s cavities in this photograph, the length of the trunk of the dead pignut hickory was pocked with them on every side.  I had hoped to capture the guilty woodpeckers in flagrante delicto, but I was only able to capture the evidence of their tenacious, voracious nature.

The black and white captures the deep shadows of the holes, and gives the bark an almost tessellated appearance, which is true to form.  The gray lichen on the bark just to the right of the lower cavity is almost inconspicuous, but I would be remiss to not note the thin layer of crustose lichen, perhaps Pertusaria Epixantha, which gives a more complete vision of this small ecosystem with tree, and bird, and insect, and fungi within millimeters of each other–coexisting in harmony, even after the tree has lost its sap and vigor.  Nothing in the woods of North Carolina goes to waste.  Even the autumnal leaves that fall by the wayside eventually feed the very trees that shed them, not to mention the other fauna and flora that feast upon them.  Thus, even in the hollowed, cored trunk of this long dead tree, I saw embodied a brief arc of the circle of life.

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