Ode

SSA Photography (369 of 400)

Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
Isaiah 57:2

I have met many men who could quote the Bible and many men who preached for a living.  Yet, I have never met a man more learned in the Bible and its teachings than Anna’s great-uncle Michael, who passed away yesterday.  Michael was a lay preacher, and he dedicated his life in an uncommon way to God.  Michael was Anna’s grandfather’s brother, and he was predeceased by his wife auntie Pat.  David, or Ardy as Anna and her sisters called him, was wise beyond measure, and was a strong student of religion.  As successful as he was with his mill, his business, and his family, even David would admit that he could not hold a candle to Michael’s vast ecclesiastical knowledge.

I regret not seeing Michael the last time I was in England.  I hadn’t seen him since David’s death nine years ago, where he spoke so eloquently about death and the afterlife.  His death leaves a void in our family—I say “our” because Anna’s British family has adopted me as one of their own.  It also leaves a void in the community, because a gift and a dedication like Michael’s is almost unheard of these days.  Very few laypeople dedicated their lives to the study of God’s words like Michael did, and even fewer such people exist today.

We will go to church this weekend, and I will think fondly of Michael finally being home.  His belief was absolute, and I know that he did not mourn his passing but instead embraced it with the knowledge that his “light and momentary troubles” in this life achieved for him “an eternal glory that far outweighed them all.”  Corinthians 4:17.

I rarely quote from the Bible, mostly because I know so few verses, but also because my faith has been tested so much over the past ten years.  With faith restored, I do not feel as hypocritical drawing from the knowledge that has been set down by generations of believers.  And so I close with a quote, as Michael would have done.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8

The Anecdote of the Jar

SSA Photography (291 of 400)

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.

On Discovering an Artist’s Mind

SSA Photography (259 of 400)

Salt lingers on my tongue, the shore in my nostrils, even five years later, and miles removed from the rough-hewn valley, where I tried in vain to compose the essence of the waves, the spirit of the ocean in a single exposure.  My camera pulled at me as we walked gracelessly across the rocks.  That’s where Kemper and I found her, sure-footed above the whitecaps, a small silhouette against a dense layer of mist that settled over the shoreline, whitewashing the coal-black granite.

What does it say that I, myself, framed her body against the foothills, lingering on the shadow-play of her form, as if the roil of the ocean were quotidian; yet her profile swelled in the portrait like a distant odalisque?  What draws me back to her silhouette on that promontory, at that moment–that moment that will never be forgotten, though she may not have know that we were even there.

Aide-Mémoire

SSA Photography (215 of 400)

In the nape of the cove, above the canopy of bull kelp, where the thick marine layer divides the day by half like a subtle reminder to drink in the sweet salinity of the Pacific, a small sailboat drifts in the ebbing tide, its mainsail rippling ever so slightly suggesting a gentle draft.

But the shore is still where I sit languidly, my back to the seawall watching the setters splash in the dying waves, my wife a stone’s throw away with our napping children whose bedroom windows are cracked ever so slightly so that the sea salt sweeps over their peaceful brows.

The air is different here, the coves tranquil and silent, where we may rest anchorless and safe in the still waters, whose undercurrents remind me dolefully that this place is not my home; I am a peregrine, like the sailboat, who must return eventually to port.

Two Crows on Spanish Beach

CaliSet3-2

The sky was sepia and thick from the smoke from the highlands where fires raged, uncontrolled and hungry like it had so many times before.  Fire trucks lined the Pacific Coast Highway, which was closed south of Rocky Point.  Any hope of going to Big Sur and seeing the redwoods was dashed, and the new hope was that the fire was stopped before it reached them.

I walked on Spanish Beach with Kemper and Anna, among the seaweed and the granite outcroppings, where Kemper stacked stones in little cairns as if to say “I’ve been here, and I was industrious.”  He was first to spot the two crows babbling amongst themselves, perhaps about the fires, and perhaps about the little visitor approaching without caution.  They hopped from place to place, not quite flying though propelled by their charcoal wings, themselves dappled with ash.  They settled on a low stone, glancing at us with queerly knowing eyes, whose whole blackness belied the sentience behind them.

I told Kemper to slow, to admire the birds before he scared them to flight.  He stopped, perhaps as intrigued as they were.  I told him that they had been known to drop nuts on the street so that passing cars could crush them, only to swoop down and pick up the fresh meats from the cracked shells.

In his small universe, these two were the birds that I spoke of.  Not those crows in Japan that had learned this behavior.  But I understood then, that this beach, these rocks, these crows—these were his universe.  These crows were the only oddities that his four-year-old imagination could process at the time.  The sky was smoky in and of itself, like a chthonic deity.  There need be no fires, only smoke.  There need be no other crows, only these.

As we walked away, careful to keep a wide radius from the crows, they continued to look at us, their heads panning ever so slightly as we passed.  The crows will still be there, as they are in this photograph and in his mind, fixed in eternity, a memory of a distant beach on a foreign coast, until he sees the next pair of crows flitting about the shortleaf pines in his backyard, wondering how they made the journey but ever grateful that they made it for him.

Setting Out in a New Direction

SSA Photography (347 of 400)

I haven’t posted in a while, and for that I apologize.  I have been happily consumed with my first love, which is writing.  Although photography is a deep passion of mine, I have been a writer since I was eight and turned in a fourteen-page, typewritten draft of a story to my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Gibbs, when everyone else was struggling to get a page written.  She gave me a gold folder to keep my stories in, and I have it to this day.  I have listened to countless books on tape on my long drive into work, including a few volumes of short stories including a brilliant anthology entitled Florida, by Lauren Groff.  I highly recommend it.

In reading all of these stories, I was bitten hard by the writing bug.  In the last few weeks, I have written a longer one and a shorter one, and I have submitted the shorter one for publication in a few journals and magazines.  Now we wait…

The title of this blog post is perhaps a bit melodramatic.  It is my intention that the new posts will be a bit more literary, and in most cases less (directly) personally confessional.  I have always been inspired by my photographs, which is the purpose of this blog, and so this is a natural next step.  You will see photographs that you seen before, but hopefully the new narratives will give them a new perspective.

Foggy Path

NCWinter2018-90

As evidenced by a number of my earlier posts, I am fascinated by paths and roads.  They make beautiful pictures in composition and metaphor.  I took this photo on the family friend’s property in Brevard, North Carolina, where we vacation each year.  This road leads up to the cabin where my parents have stayed for nearly a decade now, and I cannot fathom how many times I’ve walked it.  Yet, this was the first time I thought to take a photograph.

The early January morning was cool, and the fog was thick in the fields that sit just above the lower cabin.  For the first time, Anna, the kids, and I stayed there, while my parents, sister, and Brynn stayed in the upper cabin. I was afraid that the distance would cause us to lose a little something in the vacation, but all in all it was one of the best vacations we ever had in North Carolina or otherwise.

Large rhododendrons canopy the road that is lined with oaks, and maples, and even an errant chestnut.  Large hemlocks and black pines are scattered just off the road, a few of which have become diseased in the last few years, their hulking trunks covered in woodear mushrooms that portend their eminent downfall.

For a still life, the photograph has substantial motion.  In a sense, you are drawn up the path into the fog and unknown, and this is, perhaps, why photographs of roads and paths are so interesting to me.  They draw you along, involuntarily, and create a sweeping motion in your mind, or your spirit, where none physically exists.

The fact that the fog fades into gray at the end of the path makes the motion almost ethereal.  Although I have been drawn lately more to including figures, whether dog or human, in my photographs, I feel like this one works just right the way it is.  The path beckons, and I cannot wait for the next time I am able to heed its call.

Click here for a larger version.