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.

Wander/Wonder

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As I have aged, especially recently, I have found my once immitigable fuse has shortened significantly.  Patience, it seems, is wont to abandon me with greater swiftness than just about any other of my more respectable traits.  I can generally keep my composure at work, and in most instances at home, but when the screws are tightened just that extra bit by a six-year-old who has an answer to every question—especially those which have not been asked—my patience dissolves.

Patience, I am coming to find, is inextricably linked to gratitude, as I posted about last week.  Without gratitude, why even bother being patient.  Take for example, the minion.  He received a gift card for Christmas and bought a building block marble maze kit.  Anna showed him the basics of how the blocks fit together, and we told him to have at it.  Ultimately, I broke down and helped him build a towering plastic edifice that clicked and clacked as the marbles careened around the corners.

At the outset, I couldn’t be bothered to build this with him.  I wanted him to figure out how the blocks fit together.  It was a classic, teach a man to fish moment.  If I built the maze for him, he’d never learn…  In reality, I was tired, and I wanted to close my eyes for a minute or thirty.

But I realized that had I asked my dad to sit down and build with me, he wouldn’t have balked for a moment at the suggestion.  He would have been down on the ground before I finished asking him.  Why wouldn’t I do the same thing?

“Because I am tired,” means nothing to a six-year-old with unspeakable reserves of energy, and I knew that building the maze with him had the potential to be a memory that lasted for longer than I would ever think it would.  I don’t remember everything that my dad and I built in the garage, but I remember bits and pieces of being out there with him.  What if this maze building moment was one of the bits that Kemp remembers?  I don’t want him to remember me taking a nap, or never having the time to build with him.

Yes, I was tired.  I still am.  In a sense, though, I am far more energized by the bond that the thirty minutes it took to build that unstable tower of marble glory instilled.  I am energized by the thought that when he’s my age, writing a blog, or thinking about building something with his own children, he might—just might—look back on that Sunday afternoon to the example that I set, just as I looked back at the example my dad set for me.

I would not have reached this point if I had not reminded myself to be grateful for what I have been given—a family who loves me, whom I love in return.  If I keep that gratitude in mind, the choice between building and napping becomes a no brainer.

Setting Out in a New Direction

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I haven’t posted in a while, and for that I apologize.  I have been happily consumed with my first love, which is writing.  Although photography is a deep passion of mine, I have been a writer since I was eight and turned in a fourteen-page, typewritten draft of a story to my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Gibbs, when everyone else was struggling to get a page written.  She gave me a gold folder to keep my stories in, and I have it to this day.  I have listened to countless books on tape on my long drive into work, including a few volumes of short stories including a brilliant anthology entitled Florida, by Lauren Groff.  I highly recommend it.

In reading all of these stories, I was bitten hard by the writing bug.  In the last few weeks, I have written a longer one and a shorter one, and I have submitted the shorter one for publication in a few journals and magazines.  Now we wait…

The title of this blog post is perhaps a bit melodramatic.  It is my intention that the new posts will be a bit more literary, and in most cases less (directly) personally confessional.  I have always been inspired by my photographs, which is the purpose of this blog, and so this is a natural next step.  You will see photographs that you seen before, but hopefully the new narratives will give them a new perspective.

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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Worth

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How I arrived at the top of this particular moor, I don’t really care to recount.  It suffices to say, that in a land of paths cut by more intrepid travelers over the centuries, there were no paths at the top of this moor, as we were, apparently, four of the only masochists to decide that it was prudent to visit the rock in the left foreground of the photograph.  I would have grumbled the entire way, as I am wont to do, but I had no breath.  Thus, the grumbling was internal–albeit vociferous.  Nevertheless, when we reached the apex of this last moor (we had already traversed at least four), my grumbling ceased.  I even managed to catch my breath, and yet I did not utter a discouraging word.  How could I at such a magnificent sight.  The purple heather that I disregarded with certain animosity as I trapsed through it was gorgeous, and gave the moors on the horizon an almost surreal violet hue in patches.

Three miles or so down in the Worth Valley is where Anna’s grandfather build their house, stone by stone, from the ruins of an ostler barn.  It is where Anna’s mother grew up, and where I proposed to her in a field across the valley from the house–but in a line of sight from the kitchen window, so that we could always look over to the field when we were at the house.  Looking further into the horizon, you can make out a pinpoint landmark, which is the rock outcropping that we came to mount.  This is where the Brontë sisters wrote their novels, and in fact Top Withens, the inspiration for Heathcliff’s home in Wuthering Heights, sat only minutes away atop an adjacent moor.  A steam train runs through the middle of the valley, on which tracks Anna’s great-great-grandfather was an engineer.  The valley is of another time, and it affects me like no other place I have visited in the world.

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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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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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Etched

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“Etch” comes to us from the German ätzen meaning “to eat” via the Dutch etsen.  Etching is the traditional process of using an acid to cut into the unprotected parts of a surface to create an intaglio (incised) design on the surface.  The word has been borrowed for human application, with it meaning something that is affixed permanently in one’s memory.  This photograph has elements of both meanings.  The breaks in the heather and scrub are beautiful, lasting reminders of what has come before.  The paths on the moors have been etched by the footfalls of generations of Yorkshiremen and, indeed, even us outsiders.  Likewise, the scenes captured along such paths, as if created by old masters, have been indelibly etched into my mind.

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Tempest

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“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
-Shakespeare, The Tempest
This photograph was taken on the moors outside of Haworth, England earlier this year.  It was cloudless until dusk, when shadows crept over the heather, and tempestuous clouds filled the sky.  The rock in the foreground is a landmark that can be seen for miles, and indeed it can be seen from the house which Anna’s grandfather built stone by stone from an old ostler house.  It is but a pinpoint on the horizon from the house, and we trekked miles up and down (and up again) through the heather and sheep until we reached it.  The views, as can be seen here, and in the gallery “The Moors” were breathtaking, and though I cursed Anna’s mother and uncle for taking us on such a hard-fought scramble up the moors, it was indeed worth it in the end.  And in the end, as the Bard said, “what’s past is prologue.”
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