Woodears #2

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Woodear mushrooms (genus Polypore) are some of my favorites.  As I’ve shared an earlier post, they release a protein which breaks down wood, thus any tree that you see with wood years on them are goners.  Although this is a bit depressing, it is an amazing testament to the cycle of nature.

I found these two little polypore mushrooms on a picnic bench on a friend’s property in Brevard, North Carolina, where my parents have stayed for seven years, and where we have visited numerous times.  The bench was not particularly old, but it was beginning to get weathered in these two little woodear mushrooms appeared to be a bit confused as to the medium on which they chose to grow.

In nature, as in life, it pays to be adaptable.  When I was younger, I was adaptable.  Not too much fazed me.  As I grew older my anxiety grew, and I began to be much less adaptable.  I would get grumpy when plans changed, much to the chagrin of Anna and her family.  I think this change was brought about by my extended blue period, which I am thankful to say I am on the other side of these days.  What once came so easily to me when I was younger, I now have to work for.  Adaptability as an adult is a learned skill, and once lost it is hard to relearn.

Foggy Path

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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.

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Cabin in the Woods

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My parents stay in North Carolina twice year on the land of a family friend, who has become part of the family.  I have taken hundreds of photographs on David’s property.  There is just so much beauty on the land.  Even this simple photograph of one of the two cabins on the property turned out well.

I took it simply is a documentary photograph, to remind Kemper in years to come where we had stayed the Christmas when he was five, but its simple elegance made me keep it in the collection of photographs that I consider to have made the artistic “cut.”  The cabin is surrounded by black pines, hemlocks, and huge magnolias.  It overlooks a large pond that is stocked with large trout, and it is just a brief walk up to the two large fields on the property.

As I’ve said many times in the past, North Carolina holds a special place in my heart.  I loved it before I went to Wake Forest, I loved it my four years I spent at Wake, and I love it every time I get a chance to come back.  A part of me will always consider North Carolina home.  These cabins on David’s property have become a home away from home, and I look forward to returning every chance we get.

They say home is where the heart is, and I know this to be true.  I have left a part of my heart in North Carolina, Yorkshire, and even Carmel.  Thus, it is no wonder that I have Nostalgia to return.  As I’ve explained in an earlier post, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek meaning an aching for home.  North Carolina is unique in that I have spent every phase of my life there.  I spent the waning days of my childhood at college there; I learned love and loss and melancholy there; I became independent there; I met Anna there; I left, cracked like a dinner plate; and I returned whole, almost reborn, a few years ago.  North Carolina has molded me, and I will continue to return – one day, perhaps for good.

Usnea Florida

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This patch of Usnea, though very similar to the same type found in Florida (aptly named Usnea Florida), is unique to the Appalachians.  Like it’s Florida relative, this lichen has medicinal properties, is high in Vitamin C, and in a pinch can be used as gauze due to its antiseptic properties.  Although I should not be amazed any longer by things that indigenous people knew about nature, including the Timucuans chewing on willow bark to alleviate headaches, I am no less delighted every time I learn about a new use of a natural phenomena.

The lichen hangs on a black pine branch, and given its size and volume it must’ve been growing there for quite a while.  Lichen is a slow-growing organism, but I must admit that I don’t know enough about it to judge how long this one has been growing.  The light green of the lichen is set off by the dark rhododendrons behind it, and I actually enjoy the composition from a purely artistic, aesthetic standpoint as well as a documentary one.

I grew up around Spanish moss hanging from every limb of our oak trees that grew outside my bedroom window.  The only attention I paid to the moss was the ever-present caution from my mother to avoid the ever-present chiggers whose bite itched worse than a thousand mosquitoes.  I did not appreciate the epiphytes then, and it wasn’t until very recently (during my self-education on lichen) that I discovered that Spanish “moss” is actually a bromeliad, and is more closely related to the pineapple then actual moss.  Most of the epiphytic air plants that grow in Florida (genus Tilandsia) are bromeliads, and the subtropical climate of Florida is perfect for them to flourish.

Perhaps because I grew up around so much moss and lichen, I never truly appreciated them before I began documenting them in photographs.  In the photographs, I was able to more greatly appreciate their simple beauty.  I think my gateway drug was resurrection ferns (Pleopeltis Polypodioides), which fascinated me through their natural (no pun intended) symbolism and their innate ability to come back from the “dead.”  Once I found one epiphyte that captured my attention, it was a short matter of time before the others did so as well.

I love being able to share my renewed, and almost childlike, fascination with nature with Kemper.  Though his attention span is short, I can see the buds of interest taking root.  Perhaps it won’t take him almost thirty years to fully appreciate the natural world around him, but if it does, then he is in for a treat.

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Dusk on the Davidson

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This photograph was taken just before the golden hour in the Pisgah National Forest in Brevard, North Carolina.  A combination of heavy snows just weeks before, warm weather thereafter, and torrential rains contributed to an incredible amount of flooding, especially along major tributaries like the Davidson River, which is pictured here.

As we hiked along the banks of the Davidson, I was shocked to see a water line about a foot and half up on the trunks of the trees, even a hundred yards from the river.  Limbs and leaves and detritus were scattered along the muddy paths, and Kemper found great pleasure in stomping in the mud and his wellingtons.  In fact, the mud puddles seem to be the only redeeming factor in many of our walks which he begrudgingly accompanied us on.

The snowfall, the likes of which had not been seen in decades, knocked many large trees down, as evidenced by the fresh sawdust on the trails where the park rangers had come through earlier that week with chainsaws.  It is humbling to think, despite the power that we wield, the sheer power of nature is unparalleled.  Having grown up in Florida, I am accustomed to this come July through September when hurricane season is in full effect.  I am sure the next time we go up, new growth will have taken the place of the grand old black pines, whose time it was to cede to a younger generation of saplings.

Brynn’s Leaves

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I would like to say that this was a candid shot, and that it only took one “take” to get it right.  I would like to say that, but I cannot.

I caught my niece Brynn throwing individual leaves in the air to watch them float back to the ground, and I asked her to do it again so that I could get a picture of it.  She grabbed a pile of leaves and threw them towards the camera, which, if Kemper had done it, I would have taken as a sign of protest, but Brynn does not have a mean bone in her body; so I just figured a bit of context would be in order.  I told her that I wanted to see her having fun throwing leaves into the air, and so this photograph was born.

Brynn is a sweet soul.  For Anna and me, she is easy-going and carefree.  I know that this is not always the case for Claire, but Brynn is her daughter, and no mother can be so lucky.  Claire is a phenomenal mother, and our relationship has grown substantially since the kids were born.  Brynn is only a year younger than Kemper, and so they have grown up together.  He is very sweet with her, just as she is with him and Nora.  She tries to mother Nora, which is fun to watch – as our little nugget weighs just about as much as Brynn.

Brynn has had some health and development issues, but despite these hurdles, she has not lost her love of life.  As a working parent, I am not sure how Claire manages to balance her exceptional responsibilities as a principal of a K-8 school with being a full-time, single mother.  I am in awe.  I would like to think that I could do it if anything were to happen to Anna, but I would lean so very heavily on Claire for guidance, because she has navigated the way so successfully.

I was never close to my cousins growing up.  They lived far away, and I regret not knowing them better.  I will always remember my cousin Charlie teaching me how to play chess, but I hate that I wasn’t closer with them.  I am so happy that Kemper and Nora will grow up with Brynn, and that the three of them will be as thick as thieves.  I am also grateful that Claire and I have passed our childhood squabbles into the relationship that we share now.  We lean on each other, which is a far cry from the button-pushers we were (well, mostly I was) growing up.

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Falling Behind

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As the lone photographer on nature walks (Kemper stayed behind), my place is in the back of the queue.  I used to feel as if I needed to walk with the pack, and would scurry to keep pace, missing many photographs to do so.  Soon, though, I stopped and thought how rare it was for me to be out in nature in North Carolina, and also how it was my vacation as well.  North Carolina used to mean fly fishing for my dad and me, and we still fish on occasion, but my attention has shifted to photography in the past three years or so.  He relishes the role as my “spotter,” and so we are still engaged together, even without fly rods in our hands.

We both used to loathe walks, but something about the woods of North Carolina evinced a change in us, and we willingly go on hikes through the fallen logs and chaparral of the dense undergrowth.  Anna tagged along on this hike, and she kept pace with me at some points and at others she walked ahead with my dad.  When I stopped to change lenses (from telephoto to macro ), they evidently had lost interest in waiting for me, and I quickly lost sight of them.  I caught up in about fifteen minutes, after finding a bunch of polypore mushrooms and an intriguing shelf mushroom.  They were happy to wait and chat as I ambled up the path back towards the car, and I was happy to watch my footfalls, lest I miss the photographs I once raced past to not be left behind.

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