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.

Back to Where it All Began

 

Fuji-6I’ll admit, I didn’t feel a sense of nostalgia when I stepped onto the beach at Big Talbot on Saturday.  It wasn’t until I began processing the first photos from my new camera that the memories of the solace I found there five years ago came flooding back.

I came then to take pictures of the driftwood with my little Nikon D40.  It was the first place I brought my D7100 and D7500 after that.  It did not cross my mind, however, that I would be christening my new camera, as I had time and time again, by bringing it here.  Still, something in my subconscious drew me back to this beach on Saturday with a new camera and a renewed zeal for photography.

My new camera is a Fujifilm X-T30, a small but exceptionally powerful mirrorless camera.  It is so vastly different from the Nikons I have loved for so many years that I spent the better part of two weeks getting acquainted with the features and controls of the camera, watching tutorials and reading the manual like my very life depended on it.

Because the camera itself was more expensive than any of the Nikons I have owned, I only managed to pick up the camera and an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 AF lens at first.  I knew I wanted a wide angle lens, like my old Tokina 11-16 f/2.8, which had quickly become one of my absolute favorite landscape and architecture lenses.  The autofocus lenses would have put me back $500+, and I couldn’t justify this, so I took a flyer on a Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 manual focus lens.

I have not used a manual focus lens since I used my mom’s old Minolta SLR, but it proved to be an incredibly rewarding experience.  I felt more like a photographer dialing in the aperture manually and focusing the lens with the slightest movement to just below infinity, than I can ever remember on my autofocus lenses.  I picked up a cheap, but razor sharp manual focus 35mm f/1.2, which is by far the fastest lens I have ever owned.  I think this one is going to be more of a challenge, but I am greatly looking forward to it.  I have my eye on an 85mm f/1.8 for portraits of the kids (with their ages and frenetic movements, autofocus is all but a requirement).

The photograph above is the first one I took at Big Talbot.  The shot was taken handheld at 12mm, f/2.8, 1/350, ISO 125.  The sky was wonderfully expressive, and the application of a bit of a gradient filter to it in lightroom brought out the heaviness of the clouds that began to unleash their rain very shortly after I got into my car to leave.

I only took 150 shots during the hour and a half I was there.  With my Nikons, I would have taken at least twice that and kept, perhaps, five or six shots.  Something about the camera and the lens made me more thoughtful about composition and the elements in the shots.  I hope you enjoy this one, and the ones to come.  We are going up to North Carolina at the end of the week, and I cannot wait to see what my home away from home has in store for me.

On the Path Less Traveled By

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As an English major and a writer, I find metaphors in just about everything I do.  Just as I referenced the metaphor of Kemper on the path in yesterday’s post, this photograph of divergent paths struck me when I came upon it during a solo hike in Garrapata.  Kemper had decided that three days of strenuous hiking in a row was enough daddy-son time, and he sat that morning out—with the express condition that I bring a cinnamon (pronounced “cimminum”) roll for him on my way back through the village.

I love this photograph, not for the intrinsic compositional value of it, but because it is the literal embodiment of Frost’s poem (sans the yellow wood).  I took the one less traveled by, and indeed it did make all the difference.  It has, quite probably, scarred me for life.  Not exactly the effect that it had on Frost, but this is reality and Frost’s poem was a metaphor.

You can see in the bottom right corner, if you zoom in on the photograph, the incipient bunch of tripartite leaves of what, it turns out, is poison oak.  It was so prevalent along the paths, that certainly no one in their right mind would have traipsed through virulent shrubbery, and so I paid it no further thought until a few days post-hike.  Further, I am used to poison ivy, which grows on a vine rather than a bush of regret and sadness.  Sadly, some of the evils of the West Coast are disguised as hedgerows.

The path was, at the time, a fun little adventure.  It meandered closer to the edge of the cliffs’ edges, while keeping a respectful distance from the precipice in most spots.  There was a dodgy stretch, but some travelers, as disinclined to stride along a hare’s-breath of path juxtaposed against a sixty-foot plummet, had cut a secondary looping jaunt (through the damnable undergrowth) that avoided the cliff’s edge and certain death.  This was acceptable to me, and quite lovely, on account of the omnipresent, verdant, and then-innocuous shrub of despair.

When Anna, Nora, Kemper and I came to Garrapata later that day, I took Kemper on a small section of the secondary trail.  He was reticent to follow, but, ultimately, he did.  I told him only “big kids” could come on the path, and this was enough to carry the day.  Luckily it was chilly, and he was wearing jeans and a jacket – fully armored against the chaparral of anguish.

By Kemper’s age (6.5 years) I had already broken both of my wrists, sliced my thumb to the bone with a utility knife, and cracked a few toes; but he has, heretofore, not suffered any major bodily injuries.  He is cautious of the unbeaten paths, for which I am grateful.  In Frost’s poem, the narrator does not rush headlong down the path less traveled by.  Instead, “long I stood / and looked down one as far as I could / to where it bent in the undergrowth.”  As impulsive as he can be, this is Kemper’s general approach to life choices.  It will serve him well.

Garrapata Coastline

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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.

Lake District Panorama

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This photograph, taken in the Lake District in Cumbria, England, is proof that even the most stunning photographs do not always require fancy cameras and lenses.

This photograph probably did more to push me along my way into photography than any other.  Taken in July of 2007, I used an old point and shoot Olympus – which is all that I had at the time.  This panorama is actually about six photographs stitched together.  At the time, I had no software to do this, and it was not until 2016 or 2017, when I became serious about photography and invested in the Adobe Suite that I could finally stitch together the photographs.  The result was incredible.

Since that time, I have become enamored with panoramas and landscapes, as you can see from a number of my other posts.  I long to go back to the Lake District with my fancy camera and expensive lenses just to experience and to capture something like this once again.  I also want to bring Kemper and Nora to experience the bracken ferns that reach higher than my head, and the paths that are cut through them (which you can see a bit in the bottom left of the photo).  The lakes are like no place I have ever visited, and this picture alone draws me back.

Whitewash

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Please indulge this wizened writer for a brief moment.

I have been a writer since I could hold a pencil.  I did not always blog, but I have done so since 2012, when I was at a previous large law firm, and I was the Florida Banking Law Blog.  I learned a lot over the course of writing those posts, both about content and generally about what readers are seeking when they visit.  The post must be informational and educational, else they will have no reason to visit it, and the post must be at least mildly entertaining, else they will lose interest quickly, and they won’t bother reading the content.

Before I blogged, I was a creative writer and an editor.  I am a published poet, a fairly widely published legal author, and I attended Wake Forest on the Presidential Scholarship for Excellence in creative writing – based upon a novel I had written, which I began when I was sixteen.  In college, I was an editor of a journal, and in law school, I was editor-in-chief of the second largest journal at the school.  As such, I am rightly proud of my writing.  And then along comes Brandi.*

My current firm has decided to enter the blogosphere, and I have taken on the responsibility of creating the website and the lion’s share of the content.  Some of the content is very dry – after all, I am a tax lawyer – but I have striven to engage the reader in even the most esoteric posts.  Some of the posts are downright funny, and they have been incredibly well received by my peers and my shareholders.  And then along came Brandi.*

Without solicitation, a young lady (I think she’s thirteen or fourteen), a lackey at the marketing agency that our firm has chosen to engage, sent me an email at 5:23 last night “editing” and “proofreading” one of my more creative blog posts about the use of testamentary trusts for your animals (think Leona Helmsley or Karl Lagerfield).  I read through the comments, first with bemused apathy, and then with growing vitriol that rose to a veritable boil by the final page.  The white-hot anger washed over me like the surf in the photograph at the beginning of this post, which was taken in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

I can be criticized for many things, and often rightly so.  I am overweight, though I have lost eighty pounds since last March.  I am a perfectionist.  I can be untidy.  I can be many things less than the paragon that I strive to be, but when it comes to criticizing my writing, this is an inviolate line that nary a person ever crosses (nor, I must point out, dear reader, would they have reason to).  And then along came Brandi.*

I have calmed down since last night, when I quite literally turned off my computer – physically pressing the power button without logging off or shutting down – with the full knowledge that if left to my own devices, Brandi* would have been the recipient of a wrath-filled dissertation on the error of her ways.  Ultimately, her words will pass like those written on running water, a simile that was first used by the Roman poet Catullus.  One of my fellow associates at the firm left me with these parting words: “Scott, you have too many degrees to worry about what she said.”

I will respond, likely with class and dignity.  I will rise above, likely with great aplomb.  If I see her, I will smack her, likely with my shoe.  The fact that I know that those three sentences contained the rhetorical device tricolon crescens, and the fact that I intended such effect, gives me solace.  I will rest now on my laurels, laugh at her comments, and disregard them like a wave washing over the rocks on a sunny day.

Click here for a larger version and a black and white version.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the little twerp.

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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Framed

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Life is a kaleidoscope of perspectives.

I have had many perspectives in my relatively short life.  I have seen the world from the top and from about as low a bottom as anyone could imagine.  I have begged for forgiveness, often undeserved, and I have forgiven.  I have now even seen the world through my own children’s eyes.

Photography allows me to manipulate perspectives, to frame them in ways that you may have never thought to look at a particular scene.  This photograph was taken at Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It was a hot summer day, and in my infinite foresight, I arrived around noon, just as the sun was reaching its apex in the sky.  The shadows played on the driftwood as it began its slow descent to the West.  I came upon a particularly large live oak (Quercus Virginiana), which had two large branches reaching towards the sky.  One was perfectly vertical, and the other was at about thirty degrees.  I took a number of photographs of the geometry of the branches, but none were particularly aesthetically pleasing.  Although mathematics often make photographs interesting, when it is particularly complex like a fractal in a snail’s shell, when the shapes are so simple, they sometimes do not lend themselves to a pleasing composition.

Determined to use them for a shot, I evaluated what struck me about them.  I zoomed into one of the closer shots I took, which approximately resembled this final photograph, and I loved the contrast between the dark, shadowed wood, and the brightly lit ocean and clear blue sky.  I reframed the photograph, itself a frame, and captured this scene.  The fact that the wave rolled in at the exact right time with a sandy color to complete the triangle was a bonus that I only realized when I was touching the photo up later that day.

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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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Rocks of the Bay

My dad grew up in Biddeford, Maine (south of Portland) and spent his summers in Old Orchard Beach.  My mother’s parents would rent a house on the coast during the summers when I was much younger, and all I can remember from those days is climbing through the rocks that lined the shore.  Because of this, I have a certain affinity for Down East (the coast of Maine).  So when my in-laws decided to take a vacation to Bar Harbor, I was excited to be able to personally revisit some of my childhood memories.

We took a small boat around the harbors, and saw many of the lighthouses that dot the coastline.  The stones along the coast longed to be climbed on, but that was a long while ago.  My son, Kemper, is as old as I was then, and he would love the (relative) safety of climbing on the rocks of the bay (versus the cherry tree in my parents’ front yard, which mercifully died before I got too big for the topmost branches to hold me).  He is not a risk-taker, for which I am very grateful.  His impulsivity would not be well met by fearlessness.

Although I usually prefer black and white photographs, the contrasts of the trees and coastline to the skies and water were to beautiful to reduce to monochrome.  For whatever reason, the photographs I have taken in Maine tend to end up in color.  This is a testament to the natural beauty of Down East (and to the fact that I always visit in the summer).

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