On Yogi, Moe, and Poison Oak

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It is not unusual for Kemper to wake us at 6:30, or if he is feeling particularly spunky, at 5:45—rip-roaring and ready to go.  Although we thought that he would be jet lagged and might, perhaps, sleep in, this was a false hope.  What he did when he came bounding into our room fully dressed, however, took us by surprise.  Instead of asking to go watch TV, he asked me if I wanted to go “exploring” (hiking) with him and take pictures.  I couldn’t say no, nor did I want to deny him this adventure, so laconically I drifted into shorts and a fleece jacket, grabbed the rental car’s keys, and we headed to Garrapata State Reserve, about 15 miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Kemp and I had never been to Garrapata, so we parked where we already saw cars at 6:45 in the morning, which proved to be brilliant on our part.  We found the trailhead and there was a fork in the path, so we took it, a-la Yogi Berra.  We went on the right-hand path the first day, which began in a heavily wooded cedar grove, thereby blocking out any inkling of the view that was to come when we emerged on the other side.  When we did make our way through the tunnel of conifers, we arrived at a coastline that was simply magnificent.

The photograph at the beginning of this post, and the one in my first post-vacation post on Monday, were some of the first I took.  Kemp and I had a few more early morning adventures which continued from Sunday through Wednesday, when the entire reserve had been weighed, measured, and found to be at least pedestrian, and at most menacingly dangerous to a six-year-old whose motor coordination, though developing age-appropriately, closely approximates the pratfalls of the Three Stooges.

Having left Moe (Kemper) at home on Thursday and Friday, I tried my hand at long-exposure photography, which I will post in the coming days.  I was quite pleasantly surprised at how even my first attempts turned out.  (God bless YouTube tutorials.)

Kemper joined me on Saturday for one last hurrah.  We went on the original right-hand trail, as he had deemed the left one to be too dangerous for prudent adventurers like we were.  He advised me of this precondition to the hike while we drove to the park, lest I form any inchoate thoughts of taking him to the cliff’s edge for a photo opportunity.  I agreed to his preconditions, and we had a lovely (albeit moderately abbreviated by a six-and-a-half-year-old walnut-sized bladder) hike through the underbrush and verdant leaves of a plant with which I was theretofore unfamiliar.  Upon some post hoc analysis, I came to determine that the entirety of Garrapata’s chaparral had been carefully seeded with poison oak to keep the riff-raff (read tourists) in their place and on the well-marked trails.

Well played, Garrapata.  Well played.

Garrapata Coastline

Garrapata Coastline Color

What a trip.

Anna, the kids, and I spent the last week in California.  Although this was not the first time by any stretch that we had visited Carmel-by-the-Sea and its surrounding coves and hamlets, it was the first time that we visited just the four of us.  In point of fact, it was the first vacation that we’ve taken as a single small family unit without parents or siblings.

I cannot speak for the whole side of the country, but from the scenes I have encountered from Seattle to San Francisco (and a few points in between), the beauty of the West Coast dwarfs the Atlantic coast, just as the waves dwarf those small undulations of good humor that pass for waves in the eastern seas.

Traveling with the kids was not as thoroughly oppressive as I anticipated, which was one of the small victories of the trip.  Kemper (six-and-a-half) is at an age now that he has formed strong, concrete memories, and will continue to form them.  For him, California is no longer abstract as it was when we first brought him to Carmel when he was only a few months old.  Nora (nearly two) will have to make her memories through the photographs I took of her, which is how I remember climbing on the rocks in Bar Harbor bay when I was three or four and could fit in the narrow crevasses with little foresight or consequence.

To his credit, Kemper, who likes walking about as much as I did as a kid, woke me up each morning to go explore the coastline.  We would leave the house around 6:30 and get home before 9:00, checking out the fare of the Carmel Bakery on our way home.  He earned every cinnamon roll he received, and by the end, he was eating more than just the icing and that choice middle piece that Anna is wont to steal if I look away for a moment.

Our favorite hike was in Garrapata State Preserve, about 20 minutes south of Carmel via scenic Highway 1.  The views are comparable to those in Point Lobos State Reserve, which is closer to Carmel, but Garrapata had two distinct advantages: (1) it is free to hike, and (2) there are no gates, and so we could hike at any godforsaken hour of the morning that the minion chose to wake me.

This photograph was taken on one of the foggier days we had in California.  The sun refused to creep through the marine layer, and it gave the scene a rather Gothic aesthetic.  Just below where I set up the tripod for this photograph, there was a quaint little double waterfall that ran from the mountains to the sea.  The crashing of the waves and the low rush of the waterfall drowned out most thoughts of the job I had left behind, in the midst of trial preparation (much to the horror of my boss).  (In my defense, the federal judge took it upon herself to accelerate the trial by a month after we had bought the plane tickets.)

I took 1,800 photographs from Sunday to Friday, and I have just begun to cull through them to select the ones that might make the first cut.  I imagine that I will end up with 50-100 fully edited photographs, maybe more, and so keep your eyes peeled on the blog and (gasp) on Instagram (@stamandphotography) for more frequent updates.

On Discovering an Artist’s Mind

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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.

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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

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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.

Hidden Cove

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There are so many coves along the shoreline in Point Lobos State Preserve in Carmel, California, that I am only moderately ashamed that I don’t know the name of this one.  I have posted a picture of China Cove previously, with its colors that defy the natural palette.  In comparison to the China Cove, this one is a bit pedestrian.  If there were no China Cove, however, this unnamed cove very well could be the highlight of the entire shoreline.  This is a testament to the beauty of this part of California.

As I’ve mentioned previously, California brings out a creativity in me that North Florida never has.  I long to go back, and when I am there, I am always conscious that I must leave.  I honestly don’t know if the desire to be in California is simply a desire to be creative at all times, or at the very least to have freedom to be creative.

As I wrote this post, specifically that last paragraph, I thought immediately (as one clearly does it was spent so many years in the Latin classroom) of the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus.  Although many of Catullus’ poems survive in full, some are only excerpts.  One such excerpt, which has been labeled in the modern canon as Carmen LXXXV, is only two lines long but it is powerful in its brevity, its directness, and its meaning: “Odi et amo.  Quare id faciam fortasse requiris / Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.”

Roughly translated, this means “I hate, and I love; why do I do this perhaps you ask. / I know not why, but I know it happens, and I am tortured by it.”  Although Catullus was speaking about the conflicting feelings he had towards his lover, who he calls Lesbia (her real name was Clodia), and who was the sister of Cicero’s mortal enemy Publius Clodius Pulcher, the second sentence speaks to me in the context of this Cove.  I can’t say why the California air draws out the artist in me, nor can I say why the Florida air does not; but I know it happens, and for the time being, I am (if ever so slightly) tortured by it.

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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