Tulips at Noon

SSA Photography (97 of 400)

The main draw to Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, is the driftwood beach, commonly referred to as “Boneyard Beach.”  The first time I went to Boneyard Beach with my camera, I was so focused on the gorgeous shells of the trees scattered across the beach, some of them with full root systems intact, as if they just had been uprooted the day before, I failed to notice the smaller elements around me, such as these gorgeous tulip snails, which I featured in one of my first posts to this page – and still one of my favorite photographs, “Three Hermits.”

It was not until I bought a good macro lens and began avidly looking for the beauty of the minutiae that I first discovered the snails, and their unique patterns of verdigris and Tyrian purple.  The ancient Romans valued the murex shell for its dying purposes, and purple robes dyed with the tint were reserved for royalty (and during the Republic, for senators and upper statesmen).  The murex snail was found only in Carthage, the capital of which was Tyre, hence the appellation of the deep purple hue.

The deep saturation of the shells only shows up when the light hits them just right (or in some minor post-processing of the photographs), and I was lucky enough to catch them early on a sunny Florida afternoon.  They congregate on the trunks and branches of the driftwood trees, often in the crooks and interstices that are too small for even barnacles to have taken hold.  They must live in such crevasses for months, perhaps years, because their shells are too large to have found their way into them fully grown.  These two were on the top of a lower branch of a white oak (Quercus Alba), which was drying out from the ever more distant ebb and flow of the tide.

The patterns and gradients of the shells are almost abstractly perfect.  Looking at them that day, and again as I began to write this post, reminds me of the divinity of nature.  Although Darwin explained the evolution of creatures in his Origin of the Species, he did not (to my knowledge) opine on the divine proportions of the carapace of the Galapagos tortoise.  It took me many years to accept that there was a divinity common in all living things, but now that I have seen it, it cannot be unseen.  God, as you understand Him, is present in these snails – you just have to find the trees in the forest and look a little closer.

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Crescent

SSA Photography (99 of 400)

The whirls of the driftwood on Big Talbot Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, are peculiarly wonderful to me.  My father is a woodworker in his spare time, and throughout the years, we have made scores of pieces of furniture, boxes, and we have even turned a number of bowls on the lathe.  As such, I am a constant admirer of wood and its natural beauty.  I have turned beautifully featured bowls from a pecan log wrought with worm holes, and ambrosia maple, and spalted sweetgum, but the oak bowls I have turned are lovely, but plain, almost like Shaker furniture.  They have a very ordinary grain, and little about them is exceptional.  The fallen oaks on Big Talbot Island, however, have fantastic patterns, some like the ornamentation of a medieval Celtic manuscript.

I do not know how these patterns came to be, though I speculate that it has something to do with the effect of the sea air on the tree’s formation, both nurturing and stunting the growth at the same time.  Some of the trees must have been tall and vast when they stood decades, or perhaps centuries, ago, but it is the smaller ones that have the more intricate patterns like this one.  To capture the perspective of this photograph, I set the aperture (depth of field) quite low, so that only a piece of the limb was in total tack focus.  The foreground and background are blurred, and the focused piece catches your attention, not only because of its placement in the composition (according to the rule of thirds), but also because of its contrasting sharpness.  I would have loved to turn a bowl from this tree, if only to see whether the patterns on the surface came through onto the finished product.  But now I have turned my artistic attention away from woodworking to photography, and so I must satisfy myself with capturing the beauty of the wood rather than pulling it from an unfinished block.  It is a different approach, but no less satisfying when the photographs turn out like this.

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Drifting Together

September hurricanes framed this photograph of three water oaks (Quercus Nigra) astride one another on the shore of Little Talbot Island.  I took this photograph three years ago, and it remains one of my favorites of the driftwood beaches of Northeast Florida.  I returned to this spot with Kemper in early September, three hurricanes later, and the topography of the beach had changed radically.  The hulking live oak (Quercus Virginiana) skeletons with their naked root clusters, ten feet in diameter, perched in the air remained, but the smaller water oaks had been scattered by the waves.  This arrangement of trunks and limbs was no more.  I was disappointed that I could not point out to Kemper where I had taken the photograph that is displayed on a canvas in our living room, but then my mind wandered to the Romantic poets (which happens more than I care to admit).  They found beauty in the ephemeral existence of objects and life.  This photograph is my Ode to the West Wind, which rent the trees asunder with its driving gales and its nautical forces.  Like Blake, and Wordsworth, and Shelley, and Keats, I captured something fleeting, though, admittedly, I did not think that these huge skeletons were mutable, even through the power of a glancing blow of a hurricane.  But nature is ever-changing, and I took this for granted three years prior when I framed the scene in my camera and released the shutter.  It is a lesson to me to not underestimate the power of the elements and to capture what I can, when I can, lest it be gone in another season.

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Post & Lintel

SSA Photography (95 of 400)

Though I do not take many abstract shots, this one came rather organically.  Taken at Big Talbot Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, I had fixed my macro lens on my camera halfway through the long walk down the driftwood-strewn beach.  I had already taken many photos of the fossil-like trees, languishing and bleaching in the hot sun, and so I set out to capture the little elements that required me to look closer and actually observe the microcosms of barnacles and tulip snails and patterns in the grains of the wood.  The day was cut short by the heat, which beaded down my forehead into my eyes, making the very act of photography an unpleasant task.

As I walked back the mile or so to my car, I left the lens cap off of my camera in case anything small, otherwise insignificant, caught my eyes, which burned with the sweat.  Near my car, there was a rickety old circular wooden handrail.  I cannot say why, but the way the rough-hewn logs stretched horizontally around, propped up by a glorified dock piling, reminded me of Stonehenge.  I’ve never been, though I did see a large stone circle in the Lake District years ago.  I scrunched up to where the post met the lintels, and manually focused my lens on the dark interstice between them.  I thought nothing of the photograph until I got home and began editing the photographs which I had taken that day.  There was something appealing about the abstract composition of the capture that pleased me, and, what’s more, intrigued me.

Photography has a way of elevating the mundane to art.  Whether that was achieved here, I leave up to you, but in this particular perspective, the photograph seems to create something far more significant than a fence and its post.  It is, itself, a simile without words.  By giving it a title, I was able to ascribe significance to it–it was no longer simply pressure treated lumber bolted together.  It was like Stonehenge.  This photograph taught me a lesson, which I carry with me to this day.  What may seem insignificant may be given artistic meaning, sometimes simply by capturing it with the camera, and other times simply by giving it a name, an identity.  In this way, photography is kin to poetry, revealing the beauty and grace within the quotidian.

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Whirls

SSA Photography (101 of 400)

As I have mentioned before, the patterns of nature fascinate me.  The swirls and whirls on this driftwood tree, most likely a live oak (Quercus Virginiana), caught my eye immediately when I took to the beach with my macro lens.  I had passed the tree numerous times before, camera in hand, but I overlooked the fascinating, almost embryonic patterns along the large branch that reached towards the ocean.  I cannot believe that I missed it, but in hindsight, I was not looking for the little intricacies of nature when I first came to Boneyard Beach; instead, I was looking for patterns in the trees strewn about the sand, which I found in the hulking driftwood trees.

A certain bit of melancholy washed over me as I returned a few months ago, two years hence, and two hurricanes since.  The beach was not as I remembered it.  The huge live oaks were still there; not even a category three storm could have moved them.  Yet the smaller ones, like this one with the whirls, had been washed away.  Perhaps they will be rolled back to shore by the heavy waves of a nor’easter, or, perhaps, by another hurricane.  But for now, they were gone.  I brought my son to the beach when I returned, hoping that he would find the same beauty in his five year old eyes.  He, too, was enamored by the tulip snails, and he let go of his fears long enough to sidle up the trunk of one of the supine live oaks.  I let go of the melancholy, as well, and I ventured to find new patterns in the niches where limb meets branch or branch meets trunk.  Someday, Kemper will be old enough to mind the patterns, but for now, I will let him find the joy in the bigger picture.

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Boneyard Beach

SSA Photography (84 of 400)

I do not know who settled on the name Boneyard Beach for this stretch of coastline on Big Talbot Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It is fitting, though, that the skeletons of the old live oaks (Quercus Virginiana) stretch towards the ocean like Tantalus stretched towards the water beneath his feet and fruit above his head.  This photograph was taken three years ago, before the northeast coast of Florida was battered by hurricanes Irma and Matthew.  Kemper and I went to Boneyard Beach earlier this year, in the height of summer, to take photographs.  I figured to get some photographs of him among the stripped, bleached bones.  To my great surprise, many of the trees that I had become accustomed to (which are featured in my gallery Driftwood), had vanished into the sea since I had been there last.  Kemper was disappointed for a moment, but then he caught sight of a ghost crab skittering around the base of a monolithic oak, unaffected by the reshaping of the coastline.  It would have taken a much stronger act of God, or His hand itself, to move that oak from its spot.  Innumerable hurricanes have battered the island over the centuries, and as the new oaks, themselves, fall to the beach, the skeletons will once again reappear–until, of course, another set of storms carries them off to the sea.

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Morning Dew

SSA Photography (83 of 400)

This photograph was taken just after dawn on Little Talbot Island, north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It was one of the first macro photographs I took, and it remains one of my favorites.  I love how it captures the pendant dewdrop and the weight of the driftwood branch and the water.  The little bubbles add an interesting depth of field.

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