Setting above the Sycamores

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This was the last photograph I took on our trip to England in late August of this year.  I was tired, having climbed over moors, through the dales and back again at least four times over the course of the three hours or so.  The flatness of this picture belies the vertical bent of everything in England.  The sunset was magnificent because the clouds in the sky possessed such an impressionist character.  The patch of sycamores on the horizon grew closer and closer as we approached the setting sun, with Top Withens (the inspiration for Wuthering Heights) behind us.  There were no paths towards the top of the hike, which should have been an early harbinger of the difficulty of the climb.  For all I knew (and willingly shared with the rest of the hiking group), we were likely the only masochists to have made the hike for generations.  As we wended our way through the dense heather and tall wild grasses and bracken ferns, and I gasped for breath at manageable intervals, I thought back on that field twelve years prior where I proposed in a similar field across the valley from Anna’s grandparent’s house, amongst a small herd black and white Friesians.

The beauty of Yorkshire has ceased to surprise me.  By this, I do not mean that it has become any less wondrous or awe inspiring, only that I have come to expect to look out on a field and see the beauty that inspired the Brontës and Wordsworth and John Constable and all of the other artists that have spent their lives’ work attempting to capture the magnificence of this landscape.  Indeed, the sky was something out of Constable’s painting of Salisbury Cathedral (sans the rainbow).  The beauty is almost laughably ubiquitous.  I have been to England three times now, and each time I am left with the distinct sensation that I was born on the wrong continent.  My archaic turns of phrases, my passion for history and ancient things, all find root in the mother country.  Anna’s grandmother, a strong Yorkshire woman, who still travels the world at 94, has adopted me as her “cloth” grandson, an appellation that I take very seriously, and I have been warmly embraced by the network of aunties and cousins — just the toe-holds I needed to claim a bit of Yorkshire as my own.

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Hollow

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I have long since wondered what befell this little pignut hickory tree (Carya Glabra) that I found on a walk in the Pisgah National Forest, just outside Asheville, North Carolina.  Its brothers and sisters in the grove around it were healthy, but perhaps this one was hollow from an early age.  In my journey through the morass of my own personal demons, I met many individuals who were all but hollowed-out inside.  For some, their facade mirrored their inner emptiness, like this little hickory stump.  For many, however, they looked strong and confident and healthy on the surface, all the while roiling with anguish inside.  Even those of us who manage to come out the other side still have hollow pockets, places where the memories of the shadows still live, which catch us by surprise every so often.  Eventually, for the fortunate few, these shadows subside, but they remain–never to fade completely into the light, like scars that sometimes catch the sunlight at just the right angle to remind you that you were once injured, too.  And every once in a while, you may come upon a hollow stump, a not so subtle memento of the emptier days.  Maybe you walk by it, trying not to remember those times, but maybe, just maybe, you snap a photograph, a token to hold close to you, reminding you how insidious the hollowness can be.

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Among the Ferns

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These bracken ferns on the moors in Yorkshire are substantially shorter than those in the lake district; nevertheless, they nearly engulfed my wife, Anna, as she tried to follow the path cut between the fiddleheads that popped out from the skeletons of heather, long since overcome by the dark green ferns.  This photograph was taken at dusk outside of Haworth, England, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote.  Their stories were heavily   influenced by the moors and the hardy people who lived on them (especially Wuthering Heights).  Indeed, in this photograph, on the horizon to the left, there is a lone sycamore next to the barely perceptible ruins of a farmhouse (Top Withens), which is said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.  My mother-in-law grew up among the ferns on the moors, and she is closer to nature than anyone I have ever met.  Yorkshire does something indelible to a person.  The first time you walk over the top of a moor and look down into the Worth Valley at the train steaming along the tracks towards Leeds, you realize that you are in a living snapshot of a much simpler time.

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China Cove

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The colors of China Cove in Point Lobos State Natural Reserve are surreal.  The first time I saw China Cove was on a postcard in Carmel.  That postcard, and this photograph do not do justice to the emeralds and turquoises of the water, framed by dense, dark bull kelp.  I took this picture before I came into possession of a ultra wide angle lens, and so I am looking forward to capturing the whole cove when we go back to California next.

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Wheat & Chaff

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This photograph of a seedhead of tall ryegrass was taken on a high in Panthertown Creek, outside of Cashiers, North Carolina.  It is a simple photograph, and one which I would normally have skipped right over when I was sifting through the hundreds I took that day.  Nevertheless, something caught my eye in the simple elegance of the seeds and the blur and bokeh of the background.  Although not actual wheat, this native grass reminded me of the old aphorism “to separate the wheat from the chaff,” which is exactly what I do when I cull through the photographs to find the “keepers.”  The irony is not lost on me that the “chaff” nearly included this photograph.

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Silhouette

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The word silhouette is derived from the name of Étienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister who, in the mid eighteenth century, was forced by France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years’ War to impose severe economic demands upon the French people, particularly the wealthy.  Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply.  Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.  I think that this silhouette of the female photographer on the rock is one of my best black and white compositions.  The mist and morning layer in the background contrasts sharply with the wet stone in the foreground, with the tiniest break in the line of the outcropping (in perfect thirds, I might add) made by the photographer.  I cannot say that my eye was drawn to her initially, but once it caught her, my eye became curious and could not look away – and if I did, I was always drawn back.

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Hokusai

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I took hundreds of photographs, waiting for the waves to crash on the rocks at just the right angle, with just the right force.  This photograph evoked feelings of “The Great Wave” the famous woodblock print by by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai in his series Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji.  It also made me think of the creation myth of Aphrodite, which unlike Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, was, by all accounts, a violent affair.  Although Aphrodite can be broken down into “aphros” (foam) and “ditos” (risen), there is no direct etymological derivation.  This did not stop the Greeks (Hesiod, specifically) from crafting a story of Aphrodite rising from the foam after a great battle between Cronus and Uranus, which would foreshadow the same father-son battle between Zeus and Cronus.  In the whitewash, I can almost see Aphrodite throwing her hair back, casting off the spray as she nears the coastline.  But then, I suppose that’s what you get when your two favorite subjects in school were Latin and Art History…

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