Purpose

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It is amazing to me just how far one can come in a short while.  I’ve been preparing for my first big hearing at the firm since Monday, and the fact that I am calm and confident this morning is a far cry from the panic I used to feel what I had to go before a judge and argue my client’s case.  The last time I argued a motion for summary judgment, I was at a different firm and certainly in a different place.  I was sweating profusely, my hands were shaking, and I was completely overwhelmed.

This photograph was taken in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  I do not know the man who gives his silhouette to the scene, but I purposely framed the shots so that he was nearly out of the photograph.  It wasn’t that he was walking quickly; instead, he was walking with purpose.  These days I feel like I am walking with a purpose, because my life has purpose.  My kids, my wife, my job, my writing—all these things give my life meaning.

Still, there is a little voice inside me, faint and almost unrecognizable, which used to scream “You’re going to fail.”  And I did fail.  I failed because this voice overcame me and drowned out my confidence, my self-worth, and my abilities to function.  Nowadays, I can rarely hear this voice unless I let myself listen for it.  When that happens, I distract myself with writing or tending to my plants in my office (which the other associates have lovingly dubbed the “Grove”).  I will not let this terror control me any longer.  That part of my life is over, never to be revisited again.  I am thankful that, like the silhouette in the picture, I am passing through with a purpose.

The Anecdote of the Jar

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Boneyard Beach on Big Talbot Island is one of my absolute favorite places to photograph in Northeast Florida.  I often lament how uninspiring North Florida is for photography, because there are very few changes in topography.  I think my feelings on the subject are driven in large part due to the mosquitoes and ever-present danger of an alligator or water moccasin deciding that this is the day to make me a statistic or a cautionary tale.  Although I have seen an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake in the surf before, he was as confused (if not more) than I was as to how he found himself there, and though he was quite large, he posed no threat to me.  Thus, the beach is safe.

Having grown up near the beach, I take it for granted.  I also take for granted the incredible wildlife we have from wild roseate spoonbills and butterflies of every variation, to even the bobcat and Florida panther.  (I have seen my share of bobcats, but thankfully I have never had a run-in with panther.)  Yet there is something so unique about walking through scrub oak woods, hearing the crash of waves, and finding yourself not on an empty beach, but on a beach filled with old, weathered live oaks lying there like skeletons strewn about by hurricanes.

Ironically, this photograph of a driftwood oak, still tethered by its roots to the beach, was taken in Jekyll Island—another barrier island about an hour north of Big Talbot in Georgia.  This photo captures a bit of what struck me so emphatically when I came upon the tree.  Unlike Big Talbot, this was the only driftwood feature on the entire beach.  But for this tree, it would have been a perfectly ordinary, flat, featureless Florida beach, and I would not have given it a second thought.  Because of this tree, however, the beach took on meaning.

Wallace Stephen once wrote a poem about the universe taking shape around a jar he placed on a hill in rural Tennessee.  It is a perfectly beautiful little poem that has always resonated with me.

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.  
It made the slovenly wilderness  
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.  
The jar was round upon the ground  
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.  
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,  
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Around the jar the world gained meaning.  What was once a wilderness was now not so wild, as it found order in relation to this jar.  In the same way, this featureless beach took shape around this tree.  The beach that was perfectly ordinary became extraordinary because of this tree, just as the wilderness became forever commended to words by Stevens and became a part of American literature because of that simple little jar.  This tree is a testament to how some otherwise ordinary object can bring meaning to an otherwise ordinary, pedestrian setting.

Carmel Bay

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On vacation, I do not keep the same hours I do for work.  So getting up before the sunrise was rare, but since everyone else was still asleep, I decided to leave a note and go for a walk.  I made my way down to Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, just as the sun was coming up.  I was born and raised on the East coast, and so to have the sun rise at my back when I looked at the ocean was a new experience.  The marine layer was thick as I made my way down the coastline.  The house at the left of the photograph is the Walker house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  He said that he wanted to design a house “as durable as the rocks and as transparent as the waves.”  He achieved this with his uncanny ability.

I love Carmel, and I feel a special kinship to the place.  I always feel creative out there, surrounded by the beauty.  I understand why Robinson Jeffers called it home, and why so many other artists like Steinbeck were so inspired by this area of California.  If I ever win the lottery (and I have a few eggs in this basket), I will find my way out there for part of the year.  For now, I will look forward to the next visit and the next morning stroll.

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Framed

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Life is a kaleidoscope of perspectives.

I have had many perspectives in my relatively short life.  I have seen the world from the top and from about as low a bottom as anyone could imagine.  I have begged for forgiveness, often undeserved, and I have forgiven.  I have now even seen the world through my own children’s eyes.

Photography allows me to manipulate perspectives, to frame them in ways that you may have never thought to look at a particular scene.  This photograph was taken at Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It was a hot summer day, and in my infinite foresight, I arrived around noon, just as the sun was reaching its apex in the sky.  The shadows played on the driftwood as it began its slow descent to the West.  I came upon a particularly large live oak (Quercus Virginiana), which had two large branches reaching towards the sky.  One was perfectly vertical, and the other was at about thirty degrees.  I took a number of photographs of the geometry of the branches, but none were particularly aesthetically pleasing.  Although mathematics often make photographs interesting, when it is particularly complex like a fractal in a snail’s shell, when the shapes are so simple, they sometimes do not lend themselves to a pleasing composition.

Determined to use them for a shot, I evaluated what struck me about them.  I zoomed into one of the closer shots I took, which approximately resembled this final photograph, and I loved the contrast between the dark, shadowed wood, and the brightly lit ocean and clear blue sky.  I reframed the photograph, itself a frame, and captured this scene.  The fact that the wave rolled in at the exact right time with a sandy color to complete the triangle was a bonus that I only realized when I was touching the photo up later that day.

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Quest

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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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Fire in the Highlands / Smoke on the Water

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In classical mythology, Eurus and Apeliotes, interchangeably, were the gods of the easterly winds, though Eurus was favored by the poets such as Homer and later Ovid.  Homer, in naming the Anemoi (the winds) noted that Poseidon was the master of the winds, and after the blinding of his son Polyphemus (and Odysseus’ subsequent boasting), “Poseidon massed the clouds, clutched his trident and churned the ocean up; he roused all the blasts of all the Anemoi and swathed earth and sea alike in clouds; down from the sky rushed the dark.  Eurus, the east wind, and Notus, the south wind, clashed together, stormy Zephyrus, the west wind, and sky-born billow-driving Boreas, the north wind.”  Ovid, placing the Anemoi’s parent Aeolus at their charge, noted that “Fierce as Aeolus is, far harsher than his own sons, surely, something comes from a life with savage winds; his temper is like that of his subjects.  It is Notus and Zephyrus, and Sithonian Boreas, over whom he rules, and over the pinions, wanton Eurus.  He rules the winds.”

This photograph was taken on Spanish Beach just off of  17 Mile Drive in Monterey, California, near Pebble Beach.  The natural sepia tone of the photograph is derived not through the use of any filters or post-processing, but from the thick, cloying smoke that hung in the air from the raging Soberanes Fire then burning through the highlands south of Carmel, California.  As I mentioned in my post of the Lone Cypress, taken at the same time as this, I was off-put at first by the way the photograph turned out.  I have numerous panoramas of the coastline of Carmel, strewn with stones and shattered boulders, and this photograph offered nothing new.  Further, the smoke bled any detail from the scene.  I boosted the detail with post-processing software, but eventually I came back to the unedited version, finding a certain nostalgia with the memory of the smoke, poured out to sea by Zephryus, the west wind, and then wafted back to shore laconically by Eurus, the wanton east wind.  What is not captured in the photograph is the utter, lifeless silence of the coastline, aside from the ever-present sluice of the capped waves on the rocks.  The shore, always buoyed to life by crows and sparrows of every type, was abandoned in the smoke.  Perhaps the birds knew better to seek higher ground to the west, where the smoke had not yet permeated.

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