View from the Top

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For whatever reason, I am drawn magnetically to people who have had a rough go of it, and who have come out the other side.  Some people coast through life, while others of us have traveled a bit more of a rocky road.  The same is true for animals.  Growing up, we rescued a golden retriever who was severely abused.  It took Sadie years to trust, but when she did, it was that much more rewarding.  In many ways, the love she gave was more unconditional and genuine than any other dog I have ever known, even Zoe.

When we lost Zoe six months ago, I wasn’t sure that we would ever find another dog that fit our family as well as she did.  She was great with the kids and the cats, and she was an absolute love.  Still, she hadn’t come from a bad life.  Though she was a rescue, her family gave her up because she had outgrown the apartment they lived in.  They gave her up for a better life, and we gave that life to her for ten years.

There was no question that we would rescue a dog if we were to get another one.  So, when Anna told me that she was ready to start looking, I eagerly began looking for lab or golden to fill the void left by Zoe’s passing.  When I read the profile for “Smokey,” I knew he was the one.  Though he was only 18 months old, he had spent most of his life on a 2-foot-long chain, being fed every other day.  Though he was still a puppy, he already had gray on his chin, a sign of his tough life.

The amazing people at WAGS rescued him, treated him for heartworms, and saved his life.  When I spoke with Kathy, the head of WAGS, I knew immediately that he was the right fit for our family.  It wasn’t until I met him, though, that I realized that I needed him as much as he needed me.  My life has changed inexorably in the past five years, but I have a long way to go yet.  Now, I have someone to share that journey with, to heal with, and to thrive with.

By 3:30 this morning, Deacon and I had already walked 2 ½ miles.  It was dark, frigid (by Florida standards), and nothing could have compelled me to put on my sneakers and go for a walk.  When I got up from bed, I heard his tail thumping in the crate, and my mind was already made up.  For him, I would brave the 37 degree morning.

People (and dogs) come into your life for reason.  Some challenge you, while others enrich you.  I’ll always have a fondness for Zoe.  She was our baby before our real babies came.  She loved unconditionally, and was the sweetest dog that we could’ve asked for.  Like Sadie, however, Deacon is damaged goods.  Perhaps that is why, in the three days he has been in my life, I have grown so very fond of him as quickly as I have.  We’re cut from the same cloth, and I think he knows that he needs me as much as I need him.

If you’re looking for a pet, please rescue.

I cannot recommend the WAGS organization enough.  Go to https://wags-rescue.org/ to see their available animals.

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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Outcropping

SSA Photography (138 of 400) This photograph was taken a few summers ago in North Carolina.  The afternoon presented a small break in the rain that had been falling consistently for nearly a week, and so we put on our boots and braved the trails that were muddy in parts and wholly impassable in others.  The green of the forest was indescribable.  Everything glowed with a vibrant verdigris, especially the moss that grew on the rocks and the fallen trees.

This patch of moss was unique, insofar as it hung from the rocks instead of clinging to them.  Perhaps the moss just followed the water that always trickled down from the mountaintops during the summer rains.  Certainly the water had enough nutrients for any living thing to subsist.  The bright, almost neon, chartreuse was stunning.  When I got back to the cabin, the rain having begun to fall again, I was somewhat morose.  I am not sure if it was because our hike was cut short, or because I was stuck inside once again, when all I wanted to do was walk around with my camera and capture the beauty of Western North Carolina.

Whatever the reason, my displeasure at the situation made this photograph monochrome.  I am sure that I have the original on a hard drive somewhere, but I have come to know this photograph as black and white.  When it cycles through the slideshow in my office, it is monochrome, and it reminds me of my grumpiness that day.

Photographs are queer like that, I suppose.  They capture a moment, but the moment is so much greater than what actually registers on the sensor as a photograph.  For me, the act of taking a photograph is a holistic experience.  When I look at a shot I took, I remember where I was and how I felt about the shot when I took it and when I edited it.  Some memories have been lost along the way, but the important ones persist.  Even the thought of that rainy July day four years ago has stayed with me.  If I ever begin to lose my memory, my photography will become all that much more important.

My photography is a record of my journey through the last ten years of my life, a journey that was filled with tempest and the afterglow of a rainy afternoon, when everything appears that much more green after the rain has passed.

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Atop the Moors

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I often muse that I was born on the wrong continent at the wrong time.

This is not to say that I am not well pleased with my life, only that I feel a kinship to England that reaches beyond a penchant for visiting.  When I am there, it feels like home.  It helps to be surrounded by scores of my wife’s family, but there is something natural, intrinsic about the moors that makes me feel like throwing on a flat cap and taking a stroll down a back lane in the afternoon.

In Florida I am loath to take strolls in the afternoon, mostly because it is as hot as the seventh circle of hell for 80% of the year, and its raining or threatening to rain for another 15%.  The final 5% of the year is pleasant, and I would not want to be anywhere else – except England, or Carmel, or North Carolina.  I have left pieces of my heart in all of these places.  I met Anna in North Carolina, and I proposed to her in England – on the moors.  We have spent many beautiful days on the coastline in Carmel, and I feel a certain creativity out there that I do not feel anywhere else.

Florida is our home, though.  I was born here, and I have set down deep roots since we moved back from Virginia nine years ago.  My job is here, and I am finally happy.  That is not to say if we won the lottery, I would not spend more time in England and Carmel and North Carolina, but I am content.

Contentment is a far cry from the anhedonia I once thought was just a part of who I was, and who I would always be.  I had a wonderful wife, a young child, and yet I was desperate for something more, something tangible that I could take hold of and claim as my own.  I felt out of control, and I did little constructively to find my way back to center.  Yeats captured this in his poem The Second Coming:  “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / the falcon cannot hear the falconer / things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

It has been over three years since I felt lost, at once like the falcon and the falconer.  I was a paralyzed man learning how to walk again, and in many ways I am still learning – learning how to smile, learning how to appreciate the simple joys, and learning how to hold the center.  I miss England, but I do not pine for it as I once did.  When I return, and I will, I know that I can appreciate it for what it is, and not what I long for it to be.

I may very well have been born in the wrong time and on the wrong continent, but I have an English spirit about me, a spirit of humored resilience…and that, for now, is enough.

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Atop the Moors

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Another selection from my “Paths” portfolio, this photograph of a rocky road was taken on the the moors just outside of Haworth, England.  Almost indiscernible at the end of the road, towards the horizon, are the minuscule figures of my mother-in-law, Vivien, and her brother, Robin, who both grew up wandering the moors like the Brontës, who lived in a parsonage in Haworth, adjacent to the church where their father Branwell preached.  The moors are the inspiration of many of the gothic scenes in their novels, in particular Emily’s Wuthering Heights.  Wuthering is a Yorkshire word meaning blustery and turbulent, and often describes the fierce, noisy winds that blow across the moors.  The winds were calm this day, but only the day before, they were truly wuthering, rattling the shutters and whipping horizontal rain against the panes of crown glass in the home that Anna’s grandfather built, stone by stone, from the ruins of an ostler barn, where the horses were housed during the construction of the Worth Valley railway.  

Whether to give Anna and I our own space on the hike up and down the steep moors, or because we could not keep up, Vivien and Robin always appeared as part of the horizon, which in this photograph looks south towards Ostlerhouse.  As the sun set on us, the sky became iridescent, the faintest inchoate hint of which can be seen in this photograph.  Having finally caught my breath from the harrowing ascents and descents, through many of which I cursed my mother-in-law for promising a nice calm amble through the heather, I could at last appreciate the beauty that would have only come from striding atop the moors.  I have captured, between heavy, heaving chestfuls of fresh Yorkshire air, these breathtaking (pun intended) views of the moors in my portfolio, aptly titled, albeit simply, “The Moors.” 

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Cypress Sunset

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I have observed many sunsets in California over the past three years.  The view west from my in-laws’ house peeks through the greenery to a patch of ocean and sky.  There was nothing particularly special about this night’s sunset.  The sky was a bit hazy, which somewhat amplified the corona, but there were no pinks or purples to speak of just above the horizon, as I had seen on a number of occasions.  Still, I managed to wrestle myself away from the others and stroll down to the path that runs along the ocean on Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I took a number of shots of the setting sun, but this one, framed by two yin and yang Monterey cypresses, was my favorite of the lot.

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