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.

Ushering in a New Era

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There is a fair bit of irony in this photograph.

With all of the money I have spent on fancy cameras and lenses, this was shot on an old Olympus point-and-shoot back before I ever took photography seriously.  This photograph is actually seven shots merged together.  I took the photograph without any knowledge of how to stitch the photos together, and I only rediscovered them about a year ago when I was going through my photographs of England in 2007.

There are very few photographs that I can point to in my collection that shaped me as a photographer.  One is The Man at Rocky Point, and the other is this one.  This one triggered my utter fascination with landscape photography.  How could it not?

This is a sweeping view of the Lake District in England, more specifically around Lake Ullswater.  The bracken ferns, which look like small hedges, were taller than I was, and the sheep roamed freely under their canopy.

I long to go back, this time with proper gear, and capture all that the Lake District has to offer.  Until then, I will always have this photograph and the memories it brings back.  That is a large part of what photography is for me—a prompt for memories—and, what good memories this brings back!

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.

Wright

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This picture makes me feel like a phony.

Compositionally, the photograph is nearly perfect.  The sight lines of the rocks and the mountain in the back converge on Kemper.  There is strong texture and contrast between the foreground and background.  Kemp forms the apex of a natural triangle, and the rule of thirds has been followed with strict adherence.  He’s looking away from the camera, natural and insouciant.  Hell, the wildflowers are even in bloom.

Yes.  This is technically ideal, and, had I planned it, I could not have executed it much better.  But that is just the thing.  I didn’t plan it.  I snapped the picture of Kemper on a rock in Garrapata State Park because he had come with me on a cold and windy morning, and he found a rock that he wanted to climb, and far be it for me to stop him from doing what brought me such joy when I was his age.

Perhaps there was something in my subconscious that told me to stand exactly where I stood to take this picture, rather than a couple feet to the left or right.  Perhaps it wasn’t happenstance.  I still remember one of my elementary school art teachers looking at a lump of unformed clay with me and saying that we had to take what the clay gave us.  What she meant, I think, was that an artist is not always the creator (if ever), but instead is—to use an archaic, but fitting term—the wright, who makes the best of what is given to them.

Ultimately, I didn’t have to take the photograph.  I didn’t have to make the decisions I did in post-processing, to bring out the contrast between the foreground and the misty background, or to crop it as I did.  But there we are.

This photo is not going to win any prizes or be displayed in a gallery, but it will make the rotation on the slideshow in my office.  When I look up and glance at it for the moment it remains, I will appreciate the happenstance of art a bit more, understanding that as a photographer I am not so much a creator as a wright…and that is OK.

Dupont Falls

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This photograph of Dupont Falls in the Pisgah National Forest is but one of the waterfalls contained in my portfolio “Falls.”  The sheer scale of this one separates it from the others, however.  What I remember most about the hike up to the falls was the difficulty I had climbing the steep incline of the path.  I was near the heaviest weight that I’ve ever been, and I was incredibly out of shape.  Over 80 pounds lost, I look forward to the hikes in North Carolina, where I once feared and loathed them.

When I decided to have weight loss surgery (vertical sleeve gastrectomy), I worried about the stigma, specifically that people would think I was taking the easy way out.  I worried about not being able to enjoy food like I used to or lean upon it as an emotional crutch, which is precisely what got me in that predicament in the first place.  Nevertheless, I was tired of constantly watching the scale rise and being unable to do simple things like hike a short distance to take a picture of a waterfall without great difficulty.

Having the surgery was one of the most difficult decisions ever made.  Nevertheless, one year removed, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  That is not to say that the journey has not been difficult.  My stomach has still not fully regained its fortitude, and perhaps it never will.  However, watching the reactions of people who hadn’t seen me since before the surgery, and feeling younger, healthier, and more energetic than I had for years (longer than I can remember), makes it all worth it.

I am no longer ashamed that I sought out medical intervention to help with my weight loss journey.  As I was counseled in the beginning, the surgery is not a panacea, but is instead a tool.  It has been an incredibly useful tool, one which I utilize sometimes more appropriately sometimes less, but that I will always have at my disposal.  I still have a ways to go, but 80 pounds is a great start.  Perhaps next time we are up in North Carolina, I will turn even further up the path for another angle of what the falls have to offer.

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.

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.

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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Glacier Bay

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This photograph was taken in Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska, just west of Juneau.  President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the area around Glacier Bay a national monument under the Antiquities Act on February 25, 1925. Subsequent to an expansion of the monument by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act enlarged the national monument by 817.2 square miles on December 2, 1980, and created Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

This is the Johns Hopkins Glacier, named in 1893 by H.F. Reid after the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which sponsored an expedition to this glacier.  It is the only advancing tidewater glacier now (its advance started in 1924 when Grand Pacific Glacier started receding towards Tarr Inlet) and is combined with Gilman Glacier (first got attached to Hopkins in the 1990s, broke off and rejoined several times and once again it appears joined since 2000); both are advancing as one single ice block, and at the waterfront, has a width of 1 mile with a depth of 250 feet, rises to a height of 250 feet and stretches to about 12 miles  upstream.

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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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