The Angry Ibis

SSA Photography (302 of 400)

(Yes, this is a beautiful, if not cantankerous crow, but the ibis is skittish and I don’t have a long telephoto anymore…)

Taking up work at home has interesting advantages, as well as obvious drawbacks.  The munchkin, a two-year-old ginger girl with a heart of gold, weeps openly when I go upstairs to the office.  As you might imagine, this rends my heart.  The minion, a seven-year-old, decries the fact that I don’t take him fishing every seven minutes whilst I am home.  As you might imagine, this gets old.  Nevertheless, I love them both, and having the opportunity to see them more often has been a blessing.

My sleep schedule has not changed too radically, as I still wake up in the wee hours of the morning to write.  What has changed, is my company.  Instead of the irritable Vietnamese cleaning lady and the security guard that we all refer to as “Lurch” or the “Parking Nazi,” I have been visited daily by a beautiful, but very skittish, brown ibis that perches in the birch tree outside the office window come about 3:00.  He is either terribly lonely, horny, angry as hell, or schizophrenic.  I haven’t quite figured out which it is.  I have a sneaking suspicion that he is not lonely—though he might just be a racist—because he chased a white ibis away when I was walking Deacon yesterday.

His calls are monotone and shrill.  They sound like, as I imagine, a professional mourner may have sounded in an ancient Roman funeral.  “Aye-e, Aye-e, Aye-e.”  How this hasn’t woken up the minion who is highly sound-sensitive is beyond me.  He let me and the munchkin (duly muzzled for the endeavor) get a bit closer to him the other day while he was on the bank of the lake, and I think that he is more comfortable on dry land than he is perched in a tree.  I never took an ibis, a wading bird, as a tree-mourner, but there you have it.

I think it’s a fairly perfect metaphor, however, for where I am right now.  I am in a whole new roost in the converted “office” upstairs, which doubles as a guest bedroom, a TV room, a hermitage, and an observatory.  Like the ibis, I find myself disgruntled in the morning, and I often wonder whether he has been displaced by the virus, too.  Similarly, like the ibis, I find myself isolated, but not necessarily by anyone’s fault but my own.  I am enjoying this social distancing so far, but even I, an inveterate introvert, miss my people.  Perhaps the ibis is calling to a friend at the other end of the lake, and the two are masters in social distancing.  Lord knows I have the time to figure this out from my perch in the observatory.

 

Social Distancing from an Expert

KempPathGarrapata

It is that brief interval of time at 4:37 AM, between laconically tossing a peanut butter pretzel in my mouth and the first satisfying, ultimately ephemeral crunch, the mysteries of the world unfold themselves to me.  Sadly (for purposes of my own enlightenment), this reflectory period lasts but an instant before I nosh the pretzel into the verisimilitude of mastication and metaphor.

I wrote yesterday about my partner, my wife, an extrovert in exile during this period of revelatory self-distancing.  It is with great patience, a master’s degree in early childhood development and developmental risks, two years of teaching early childhood special ed, five years of teaching elementary ed, and two years of being at home raising the munchkin, that Anna finally reached the point of taking a razor blade to her bumper and the sticker that said “My child is an positive citizen.”  I cannot say that I blame her.

Children, on the whole, are enigmas.  Take for example, my firstborn.  Although I graduated from college, law school, and a post-doctorate program with pomp and circumstance, this little imp is smarter, by measure, then I ever was.  If and when he discovers nuclear fission, I pray that he uses it for good and not to get back at the three-year-old girl who dared to challenge his story that he discovered gold in North Carolina.

Our mayor has issued a conditional lockdown order, that those who could work from home must work from home.  Eager to initiate my obedient, pajama-clad workdays, I was soon informed by the Man that, much to my disappointment, I was not “dispensable” to the team.  Given my history with law firm politics, the fact that I am indispensable  should give me the ultimate reassurance.  Nevertheless, I found myself seeking out the hypochondriacal assistant who works at the other end of the office, in order that I might expectorate (with some gusto and propinquity to her) the post-nasal drip that has developed from all of this damn oak pollen.  Sadly, she had heeded the order, and was working from home.  My throat is tickly, and my spirit is spurred to action—which action, I might add, inevitably culminates (in my mind) victoriously, whilst I am in my pajamas.

Never one to be considered in apparatchik, I find myself in an uncomfortable situation.  On the one hand, I want to continue at work until the City shuts the power off (a threat that the Jacksonville Mayor actually voiced).  Yet, on the other hand, which hand I have carefully and diligently weighed, I want a good, long, peaceful nap.  I am not sure whether I am better served to try to sleep under the hollow in my desk at work, or in the loft at home.  Something, well, two things (children) really, tell me that the hollow was good enough for Mr. Toad and is good enough for me.

I hope everyone here in America and across the pond is doing well and are happy and healthy, albeit malcontent and ever so slightly disgruntled.  (For my Yorkshire readers, I am not quite sure of the kind antonym for “well chuffed,” but I imagine that is where you are right now.)

Good luck, Godspeed, and if you need lessons on social distancing, I am offering a master class tomorrow evening with a concentration on using biting sarcasm to establish a safe personal distance between you and your antagonist.  Attendance, as you may imagine, is severely limited.

The Extrovert in Exile

Backgrounds-37

I saw a funny Facebook post the other day about how self-quarantining and social distancing was, for introverts, the culmination of their life’s work.  I saw one today that said, “Check on your extrovert friends; we are not OK.”

For a self-described hermit, who has been practicing social distancing since at least the age of twelve, I have a lot of extroverted friends.  It’s not my fault.  I am like a magnet for social people.  I have tried valiantly to wear my scorn and antipathy on my sleeve, but they all brush it of as bluster and introverted bravado and then want to talk about how funny it is that I pretend that I am a hermit.  An hour later, when they are done talking at me, I have already crawled into my mental hole, and they tell me what a good listener I am…a vicious cycle, indeed.

I even happened to marry one – a kind, beautiful, chatty-Cathy of an extrovert.  Before amiable-Anna stayed home with the munchkin, she had been a professional extrovert, paid to talk to little people and to teach them how to become social butterflies, themselves.  She was an elementary school teacher.  If you sit down and think about it for a minute (any longer and the already impish introvert in you will get really steamed), elementary school is a not-so-subtle indoctrination into extroversion and general gregariousness.  The few of us who resist, and resist with some steadfast conviction, make it out relatively unscathed…only to be substantially scathed by middle school…

So, it comes to pass that my dearest, chatty-Cathy wife was thrust back into the teaching fray in the midst of the pandemic.  She is home, stir-crazy, with the munchkin and the minion, the dog, two cats (one of which is delightfully antisocial and crotchety and a bit of a spirit animal of mine, though I won’t readily admit it), and 17 goldfish.  Interestingly, the term “stir-crazy” likely originated as a slang term for “Start-crazy,” referring to the notorious 19th century British prison of Start Newgate in London where prisoners were isolated as a form of punishment.

So here she finds herself, committed to house arrest for the greater good, in the hacienda de hoosegow, an extrovert in exile, which is, perhaps, the most apt term.  Like Napoleon in Elba, she is so close—yet so far from her social network of moms and coffee dates and general social frivolity.

I cannot understand her angst and longing for social interaction.  Apparently talking to me is not enough for her, even though talking to her is often more than enough for me…  I don’t pretend to understand how the extroverted mind works, but even though I am loath find comfort in a flock (the very root of “gregarious”), I understand that chatty-Cathy, amiable-Anna needs socialization.  Therefore, I arranged a playdate on Saturday with my assistant and paralegal, the only two people I can stand and who, likely, did not have the plague.  This playdate for Anna was a tacit understanding that I understood, and, I dare say, even condoned her socially-accepted, normative, “friendly” tendencies.

She enjoyed herself thoroughly.

It is Tuesday, and I am still recovering and recharging.

So, hug your extrovert in exile.  Let them know that this too shall pass.  And then, gird your loins, because they are going to want to talk about it…

Ushering in a New Era

STA_1057-Pano

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!

Schoolhouse Falls

NC-Dec-Panthertown-7

I generally dislike hiking a day or two after a strong rainstorm.  The mud, while most enjoyable to Kemper in his rainboots, is cold and insipid, and no matter how much I go out of my way to avoid it, the muck and mire always seem to find their way into my socks at the very beginning of the hike.  This hike in Panthertown Valley to Schoolhouse Falls was no different.

The beginning of the hike was pleasant, as the mud puddles had frozen over.  As we descended into the valley, and the sun rose higher into the sky, the puddles thawed and into my sneakers they migrated.  Nonetheless, when we reached the falls, my madid socks became an afterthought.  The falls were running as strong as I had ever seen them after the deluge of the prior days.

I also had the first real opportunity to try out my new wide-angle lens, a Rokinon 12mm f/2.  I kicked myself for not bringing my neutral density filter.  We were in a hurry as we left, and I had misplaced it somewhere in the cabin.  Next time, perhaps, I will remember it, and I can picturesquely blur the water.  This panorama was about as artistic as I could get in the stark, mid-morning light.  The sun is just outside of the frame, and I cropped out a huge sunspot from the foreground rocks.  Still, given the less than optimal conditions, I was pleased with the composition and the photograph.

Short of a small adjustment to the exposure of the top half of the photograph, this shot is straight out of the camera with little post processing.  The new lens is tack sharp, and though manual focus is a new adventure for me, I rather enjoyed playing with the focus peaking and zooming in on the touchscreen to see that everything was in focus.  In reality, the field of view is so shallow, that everything past a couple of meters is in focus at infinity.

I’m looking forward to trying my hand at night photography with the lens.  There were a few cloudless nights that would have been good candidates, but it was cold, I was tired, and slogging the tripod up to the fields on the property did not seem appealing at the time.  Also, my remote release that I bought for my old Nikon did not work for my new Fujifilm.  Sure, I could have used a timer to avoid camera shake, but like I said…it was cold, and I was tired.

Until next time, then…

Sampling Deity

Backgrounds-81.jpg

This photograph was taken during a morning hike in Garrapata State Park, Carmel, California.  I bought a 10-stop neutral density filter for just this purpose, and I was so pleased with the result.  For those less photographically inclined, a neutral density (ND) filter is basically like a pair of sunglasses for the camera.  You screw it on to the lens and it blocks out a certain portion of light.  A 10-stop ND filter blocks out, you may have guessed, ten times the light that would ordinarily hit the sensor.  By doing this, you can reduce the shutter speed and anything that moves—such as waves and water—becomes blurred.  Many photographers use ND filters to achieve this “softness” in waterfalls, waves, etc.

This was one of my first attempts at using a ND filter, and I was thoroughly impressed by the effect.  The waves were crashing on these two rocks off the coast of Garrapata, but in this photograph, they look calm and soft.  The smoothness of the water belies the strong, fierce waves.  The ND filter also allows much more saturated colors, which can be artificially boosted in post processing, but here occurred straight out of camera.

I love the sharp contrast between the jagged rocks and the smoothness of the waves.  It is completely unnatural in light of what was actually happening while this exposure was being captured, but it appears completely organic.  I am not usually one to manipulate nature in my photographs.  Generally, I take what is given to me, capturing a moment of nature and editing the photograph only to enhance the natural effect, perhaps to capture the melancholy of how I felt when I pressed the shutter button.

Here, however, I sampled a bit of deity and fiddled with the elements.  The effect is completely different than what I saw; the photograph, in this way, is far closer to a piece of art than simply my effort to capture the art of nature which was presented to me.  There is something to be said for the artistic quality, though I must admit that I am a bit uncomfortable determining how the elements should be portrayed.  It is a departure from my more documentary nature photography, but this is, perhaps, not a bad thing…

Token of Winter

NC-Dec-Panthertown-12

I have not seen native snow since 1989.

We had our fair share in Winston-Salem, and more than our share during the blizzard in law school in Richmond.  Still, there is something about the chill of the air and the stark beauty of fresh snow that will always be a part of me.  I do not miss it like Anna does.  In her mind, no amount of snow would be enough.  I have learned not to challenge this desire with practical thoughts such as getting out of the driveway or being stuck in a snow drift on the highway.  I don’t want to ruin the Narnian illusion.

It did not snow when we were in North Carolina, though David did message us to let us know that it snowed the very day after we returned.  Anna was, in a word, displeased.  It was cold enough in Panthertown Valley, however, to throw some icicles off of Schoolhouse Falls.  The mud puddles had frozen solid, which made hiking a bit more of an adventure than usual, but it was a sweet reminder that winter does come in parts.

Perhaps next year we will have the opportunity to show the kids snow in North Carolina.  Kemper loves it, and I know that Nora will adore it as well.  (There are few things in which she doesn’t derive some pleasure.)  Nevertheless, this picture will have to serve as a reminder of winter to those of us who nary see icicles or snow.

And for anyone who is wondering, yes, we did crack it off for the kids to eat.

NC-Dec-Panthertown-13