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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Lichen

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This little lichen (Usnea Florida) hung from the limb of a eastern red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana – not to be confused with the live oak (Quercus Virginiana)) dithering ever so slightly in the wind that had been left over from the storm the day prior.  I chronicled the Sunday walks I take through the swamp in Nocatee Preserve in an earlier post, and this day was no different, save for a different lens.   Instead of capturing the hidden beauty of the swamp in a macroscopic, wide angle tilt, I opted to only bring along my macro lens and lighting apparatus, which makes for a very serious looking photography setup to the uninitiated.  Few people passed me this day, on bike or foot, as the paths were still muddy from the day before.  The epiphytes, like this lichen, were bright and renewed from the downpour.  This particular varietal reminded me of the microscopic pictures of neural pathways and ganglia in the brain.  The common pattern, I am certain, is no coincidence of nature.

Interestingly, I later found out that usnea lichen contain potent antibiotics which can halt infection and are broad spectrum and effective against even tuberculosis. Usnic acid (C18H16O7), a potent antibiotic and antifungal agent, is found in most species, including this Usnea Florida.  This, combined with the hairlike structure of the lichen, means that Usnea lent itself well to treating surface wounds before sterile gauze and modern antibiotics.  It is also edible and very high in vitamin C.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not confident enough in my sight identification of mushrooms or lichen to test the medicinal properties of either, though there are no lichens nicknamed “Death Angel” or anything so nefarious, so I might be more willing to nibble on the ganglia of this lichen than an anonymous mushroom–if push came to absolute shove.

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Quarry

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As I stared at the tall, sheer rock face of the long-abandoned quarry, in the middle of the Pisgah National Forest, my dad reminded me that one of my relatives had been a dynamite man for a quarry back in Maine many years ago.  Whether he was deaf from the work, or simply unsocial, my father never knew.  The long drills would bore vertically into the solid stone, and then he would carefully lower the dynamite into the channel to blast thousands of tons of rock and rubble from the mountainside.  Most of the bores in the Pisgah quarry were high on the stone face at least ten feet long, irregularly spaced, but distinctively smooth interstices in the jagged profile of the mountain.  The small paper birch trees were deceptively omnipresent in all of the photographs I attempted, and I was not satisfied with any of them–even as I took them.

As we began to walk on, however, I saw this remnant of a small bore, and I snapped a quick photograph of it, not thinking too much about it at the time.  This hole was unique from the others.  It was only a foot or so long, and its edges were not smooth like the channels higher up.  The crevasses and splintered stone that surrounds the bore suggests that it was an afterthought, and the jagged striations within the shallow channel evidence a blast that wrought the uniformity from it.

This photograph is a microcosm of the quarry, but far more representative than a wide-angle shot of the sheared-off face of the mountain with its uniform bores.  It is evocative and telling that the work was violent and loud and dangerous, but the quarry no doubt was necessary in supplying building materials for the early denizens of Brevard.  Though Robinson Jeffers noted, as I have quoted before, “Not everything beautiful is pleasant,” I have to believe that the opposite might be true.  The violence of a volcano or a blast-torn bore can be beautiful if the time is taken to appreciate it.

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Panthertown Skies

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North Carolina in the winter is breathtaking.  I haven’t spent a full winter there in over ten years, since Anna and I graduated from Wake Forest.  The little time I do spend there is with family over the holidays, and the less than frequent trip back to our Alma Mater.  So often now, I find myself looking down, whether it be watching the footfalls of Kemper and Nora, or searching out the low-lying objects that I neglected for so many years as I grew taller and less aware of the beauty that only years before had been at eye level.  As a child, though, I often looked towards the sky.  It was a predilection of mine, and was lost through high school, college, law school, and then my post-graduate work.  As a litigator, I have been trained to look ahead and anticipate the roadblocks before me, and  I have, along the way, lost the penchant for gazing into the clouds above the treetops.  Photography, though in many ways a mature art, has brought me back to my childhood wonder of nature, and as we hiked through Panthertown Valley over the New Year, I caught myself looking upwards once again.

This photograph, though a simple composition, captures some of the innocent wonder.  The clouds of the late morning were beginning to roll in, heavy with precipitation, and we laconically raced to avoid the rain that settled in as we reached the trailhead.  The fingers of the maples and sweet gums and oaks looked like arteries against the pale sky, and in many ways this is a fitting simile.  Nature is a lifeblood–one that I am reconnecting with after years of the wonder of it lied fallow.  Even though I am at my desk from the darkness of the morning through to the early darkness of the winter evenings, I catch myself looking often to the sky, especially as the sun rises and sets.  Jacksonville, to its credit, is beautiful at these times of day.  The rich colors wrought by the low sun are no match to a North Carolina dawn, but then I am biased and nostalgic for the old days, when I could skip my morning lectures and find myself in an hour at the base of Pilot Mountain as the leaves were beginning to redden at the first breath of winter.  Until we return, I will always long for those days, simpler by measure and winsome.  For now, I will console myself with the memories and the short trips when I will fill my camera with shots such as this of the mountain skies on a chilled winter day.

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Morning through the Maples

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Dawn is often a foggy affair in the mountains.  This photograph was taken off of the front porch of our cabin in Brevard, North Carolina.  We have come up for a week, and though we have been up for only two days, I am reinvigorated after a long year at work.  Foggy beginnings seem familiar and yet foreign.  Though I am nostalgic for many things, living in a metaphorical fog is not amongst them.  Waking up, walking outside with a hot cup of tea, and watching as the low clouds creep through the maples is something different entirely.  Being here with my family, who walked through the fog with me, and seeing my son slushing through the creeks on the property like I did when I was his age is inspiring.  Even though the dawn is foggy, the sunlight burns through in the end.

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Stirring

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I would like to say that this was a Christmas Eve candid of Kemper and Nora gazing into the lights and contemplating the true meaning of Christmas.  I would like to, but that would be disingenuous.  This “candid” took a half hour of bargaining and cajoling, many takes, and ultimately one perfect photograph.  In the end, though, that is what matters on Christmas–the memory of the moment, and not the chaos that went into the whole charade.  Christmas this year was one of the best I can remember, certainly in my adult life.  On Christmas Eve, I gave Kemper my old DSLR (a Nikon D40), which he will grow into and out of faster than a pair of tennis shoes.  On Christmas morning, we went to the Nocatee Preserve for his first photography outing.  As he took photographs of sticks and tree trunks, I thought back to when the photography bug first bit me in middle school.  Although Kemper is very young, only turning six at the end of January, he is just as curious as I was at that age, and he loved walking with me while I took pictures in the preserve or among the driftwood at Big Talbot Island.  Now he has his own camera, and in time, he will develop his own tastes.  As I said in a previous post, I have no doubt he will surpass me in time, when his patience kicks in (perhaps when he is thirty or so), but for now I will enjoy my little photography buddy.  I will teach him all I have learned, but the pose–that is all his own.

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A Sunday Walk (In Florida)

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Being from Florida and going to college in North Carolina, the natural questions often arose as to whether I kept an alligator as a pet or whether I lived in a swamp.  The latter question was more on point, as most of Florida is a swamp.  We live near two nature preserves, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and Nocatee Preserve.  I love taking Kemper in either, as his wonder for nature is still brimming with optimism and zeal.  I could not pry him away from his animal figurines, and so I went to Nocatee Preserve by myself.  I made a concerted effort to view the swamp that surrounds the paths through his eyes, and I snagged a number of photographs that captured a child-like whimsy that I had lost long ago (when it comes to swamps).  This photograph of grove of bald cypresses (Taxodium Distichum) typifies this approach.  I have seen so many in my life, that I take their majesty for granted.  In the wild, these august trees can live for thousands of years.  The largest and oldest, the “Senator” was estimated to be 3,500 years old.  One of the bald cypress’ most unusual characteristics is its “knees.”  The knees are conical growths protruding up from the root system that radiates out from the tree’s trunk.  They often have a knobby, knee-like appearance at the top.  Their function is unknown, although studies suggest they may help the cypress absorb oxygen and remain stable in loose wet soils.  Approaching the swamp with a renewed perspective (a truly Florida tack) was a great lesson for me to learn.  As this photo attests, there is beauty even in the brackish, tannin-dyed waters of the Florida swamps.

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