On Thoughts of Fall in August

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As a consequence of the poison oak debacle that I have chronicled in my earlier posts, I went to the doctor, who prescribed some fairly powerful steroids to hasten my recovery.  One of the side effects, it turns out, is a heightened sensitivity to heat, which in the throes of summer in Florida is about as easy to avoid as sand in a desert.

Long story short, I got very dizzy, and I needed a bit in the artificial permafrost of my office to cool down and recover.  Once regained my bearings, this photograph flashed across the television on my wall that I use to display my photographs.  I took it last fall in North Carolina, and it immediately gave me a feeling of deep longing, and almost regret that I wasn’t there right now–even though summers in the Piedmont of North Carolina are about as miserable as in Florida.

I reflected on this nostalgia, literally an aching for one’s home, and it came to me that during my ten years outside of Florida, first in North Carolina and then in Virginia, I never felt the longing to be back in Florida like I do now longing to be back in Winston-Salem or even Richmond.  I missed my family dearly in Florida, and enjoyed every time that I came back to visit, but there is just something about Carolina and Virginia that make me long to be back there.

Perhaps it is that I loved Wake Forest so much.  I met Anna there, grew up there, and learned more about the world and myself than I had ever done in the eighteen years prior.  But a part of me thinks that it was the fall that draws me back, even today–the crisp mornings that we walked from campus through the grounds of the Reynolda House and through the village, the chilly strolls around campus with a steaming cup of coffee or chai, and the leaves that scudded across the bricks of the upper quad when the October wind picked up and you gathered your jacket that much closer around you.

Sure, Florida has fall, but its not the same.  Even the oak trees that were skeletons by November in Richmond balk at the coming winter in Florida.  There is no thought of jumping in the car and driving the half-hour to Pilot Mountain to see the leaves changing before your very eyes.  Fall, as we knew it in North Carolina, does not exist this far south.  But I am happy here.  I have an incredible job, and an incredible family that is only minutes away, and my roots are growing into the sandy soil slowly but surely.

Still, I feel that pang of remorse that comes over me when I remember the falls I spent at Wake Forest, and I know someday I will return in some capacity.  Until that time, as James Taylor said, “I’m going to Carolina in my mind.”

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Moments

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There is something so genuine about a little boy being outside, skinning his knees, sloshing in mud puddles, and engaging with nature.  I used to be that little boy.  Now I have one.

The week before Father’s Day, I woke Kemper up at midnight and we hopped in the car for a surprise trip up to Brevard, North Carolina, where my parents and sister were on vacation.  It was a spur of the minute surprise for Father’s Day for my dad, and when we walked into the cabin while he was eating his breakfast, it was clear that it had the intended effect.

I had worked a couple of long months (hence the dearth of posts), and I had mentally burned the candle at both ends until it was nearly extinguished.  I needed to check out for a couple of days, and so with Anna’s blessing, and This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby on audiobook (I’m on a Fitzgerald kick, what can I say), Kemp and I made the 7.5 hour trek to North Carolina in the dead of night.

Initially, my only thought was that it would be a great surprise for my dad.  Bringing along Kemper was secondary, and my own enjoyment of the trip was a distant tertiary consideration.  My dad was thrilled.  Kemper enjoyed himself.  But the effect the four days I spent with them in North Carolina had on me was more powerful than I could have ever anticipated.

I am, by most metrics, a very good son.  I call my mother often; I have lunch with my dad at least once a month; and we visit (though not as often as we, perhaps, should).  I thought the trip would be a nice surprise, and little more.  My dad had texted me when they arrived the week prior that he really wished that I would have been able to come up.  My mom echoed this sentiment to me on a phone call later that day.  This planted the seed, but I was too busy to even think about pulling myself away from my desk.

I cannot say precisely what it was that made me realize that surprising my dad was more important than two days of billables.  I do not remember the tipping point.  It may have been at 1:00 AM, sitting at my desk at work, having not been able to fall asleep that night because I was thinking about all that needed to be done.  Perhaps.  At some point I had an epiphanic realization that my life over the last two months had been, quite literally, all work and no play.

Fitzgerald always inspires me to imagine that there is more to the world that what I have done so far—whether this is writing the next Gatsby, or simply stepping outside my comfort zone to see what comes of it.  Shipping up to North Carolina on a whim was completely out of character for me, who needs to plan his major life choices with spreadsheets and agony.  I have not made a better personal decision in a very long time.

We are going to California, Anna, the kids, and I, in July before my in-laws sell their house in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I am selling all of my earthly possessions including my trusty Nikon D7100 to buy a new camera so that I can take the best photos of what might be my last trip out there for quite a while.  (The D7100’s still for sale, if you’re interested!)  I have planned out an itinerary to maximize my photographic opportunities.  I am resolute about capturing every sunset while we are there.

The trip to North Carolina helped to readjust my perspective on life.  It is short.  Work is an important part of my life at this point, but providing for my family means more than just a paycheck and a bonus.  I saw that in Kemper as we took the hike along the Davidson River, where he stopped and sat for a minute on a fallen elm tree just looking over the river flowing before him.  For a moment, he understood what it took me 30+ years to understand.  (In fairness, it will have escaped him as quickly as the twigs that he threw in the quickly flowing current…)

Life is about moments, and moments are about what you make of them.

I’m going to try my very best not to forget that.  Maybe I will keep Fitzgerald on repeat to remind me.

Daniel Ridge Falls

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Waterfalls pepper the landscape of Western North Carolina.  This particular one comments Daniel Ridge Falls, can be found in the Pisgah National Forest, about thirty minutes outside of Asheville.  It was a hot, dry summer, but I am told that in the early spring when the showers are abundant in the snow is melting, the falls are spectacular.  Despite the dryness, everything was green and alive.

Kemper was much younger then, and he made the hike in a pack on Anna’s back.  He has seen this photograph of the falls, but I doubt that he remembers them personally.  I, too, have memories of places that I’ve been through pictures, such as climbing on the rocks in Bar Harbor, Maine.  My grandparents used to spend months of the summer in a rented house on the coast (Down East), and when we visited them, I was, apparently, enamored with the rocks.

I am not sure what memories Kemper will have of the places we have taken him as a child.  Nevertheless, I have recorded everything and every place that we have ever taken.  Thus, he may have memories of places through the photographs that he would never otherwise have.  He has seen England, California, Maine, and others; the photographs themselves are memories, but for a child they are sometimes all that exists to trigger the memory of the place.

I have vague memories of scooting down the hill in Bar Harbor, but because there are no photographs, the memory is just a blurry snapshot.  I do, however, remember vividly (whether by first-hand knowledge or more likely through the photographs) climbing on and through the rocks on the coast, the smell of the bay, and even the way the barnacles and seaweed felt under my young feet.

Woodears #2

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Woodear mushrooms (genus Polypore) are some of my favorites.  As I’ve shared an earlier post, they release a protein which breaks down wood, thus any tree that you see with wood years on them are goners.  Although this is a bit depressing, it is an amazing testament to the cycle of nature.

I found these two little polypore mushrooms on a picnic bench on a friend’s property in Brevard, North Carolina, where my parents have stayed for seven years, and where we have visited numerous times.  The bench was not particularly old, but it was beginning to get weathered in these two little woodear mushrooms appeared to be a bit confused as to the medium on which they chose to grow.

In nature, as in life, it pays to be adaptable.  When I was younger, I was adaptable.  Not too much fazed me.  As I grew older my anxiety grew, and I began to be much less adaptable.  I would get grumpy when plans changed, much to the chagrin of Anna and her family.  I think this change was brought about by my extended blue period, which I am thankful to say I am on the other side of these days.  What once came so easily to me when I was younger, I now have to work for.  Adaptability as an adult is a learned skill, and once lost it is hard to relearn.

Mirrored

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My wife was under the weather for the past few days, and I took off work on Thursday and Friday to take care of her and the kids.  I cannot describe the satisfaction (and often joy) that I had being the caretaker for a change.  I take care of the family in a panoply of ways, first and foremost making a living at my job, but I lend a hand when I get home, cooking and cleaning and putting the minion to bed; but there was something so satisfying about being the caregiver over the last four days.

I took Nora to her infant swimming lessons, which were hard to watch, and I played with her for most of the day until I picked Kemp up from school.  We played, we laughed, and being a clumsy little thing, she cried every so often when she took a particularly magnificent stumble.  (Note: The only bump she received this weekend was when Anna was watching her, and so I feel pretty good about that.)

All in all, I kept my family fed, clothed, and where they needed to be.  Kemper hit the ball on his first try at t-ball (thought he swung before he was supposed to, and I missed the video), and he seems to be enjoying it.  (If he could remember which hand his glove goes on, he could be an all star…)

This photograph was taken in Panthertown Creek, just outside of Cashiers, North Carolina, close to Brevard.  I gave Kemper my old digital camera, and he thoroughly enjoyed snapping pictures of leaves and sticks and other miscellany.  He especially enjoyed taking pictures of other people, including this one, in which he took a picture of me taking a picture of him.  Something about this photograph struck at my heartstrings, and it is even the background to my phone now.

I work very hard, long hours (I am posting this at 3:15 AM), but it is all worth it when I come home and Nora comes running up to me, arms wide open, and screaming “Dada, up please.”  When she buries her face in my neck, or gives me an unsolicited kiss, my heart melts, and I know that outside of its meaning to the clients, my work has meaning to my family.  Although I am not there as much as I would like, I provide, and I am there as much as I can be.  I was sad to see Anna at less than 100%, but I appreciated the opportunity to pick up the slack and play the role of both parents as Anna often does.  I am so fortunate to have the life I do, and these four days were a welcome reminder of that life.

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Foggy Path

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As evidenced by a number of my earlier posts, I am fascinated by paths and roads.  They make beautiful pictures in composition and metaphor.  I took this photo on the family friend’s property in Brevard, North Carolina, where we vacation each year.  This road leads up to the cabin where my parents have stayed for nearly a decade now, and I cannot fathom how many times I’ve walked it.  Yet, this was the first time I thought to take a photograph.

The early January morning was cool, and the fog was thick in the fields that sit just above the lower cabin.  For the first time, Anna, the kids, and I stayed there, while my parents, sister, and Brynn stayed in the upper cabin. I was afraid that the distance would cause us to lose a little something in the vacation, but all in all it was one of the best vacations we ever had in North Carolina or otherwise.

Large rhododendrons canopy the road that is lined with oaks, and maples, and even an errant chestnut.  Large hemlocks and black pines are scattered just off the road, a few of which have become diseased in the last few years, their hulking trunks covered in woodear mushrooms that portend their eminent downfall.

For a still life, the photograph has substantial motion.  In a sense, you are drawn up the path into the fog and unknown, and this is, perhaps, why photographs of roads and paths are so interesting to me.  They draw you along, involuntarily, and create a sweeping motion in your mind, or your spirit, where none physically exists.

The fact that the fog fades into gray at the end of the path makes the motion almost ethereal.  Although I have been drawn lately more to including figures, whether dog or human, in my photographs, I feel like this one works just right the way it is.  The path beckons, and I cannot wait for the next time I am able to heed its call.

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Cabin in the Woods

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My parents stay in North Carolina twice year on the land of a family friend, who has become part of the family.  I have taken hundreds of photographs on David’s property.  There is just so much beauty on the land.  Even this simple photograph of one of the two cabins on the property turned out well.

I took it simply is a documentary photograph, to remind Kemper in years to come where we had stayed the Christmas when he was five, but its simple elegance made me keep it in the collection of photographs that I consider to have made the artistic “cut.”  The cabin is surrounded by black pines, hemlocks, and huge magnolias.  It overlooks a large pond that is stocked with large trout, and it is just a brief walk up to the two large fields on the property.

As I’ve said many times in the past, North Carolina holds a special place in my heart.  I loved it before I went to Wake Forest, I loved it my four years I spent at Wake, and I love it every time I get a chance to come back.  A part of me will always consider North Carolina home.  These cabins on David’s property have become a home away from home, and I look forward to returning every chance we get.

They say home is where the heart is, and I know this to be true.  I have left a part of my heart in North Carolina, Yorkshire, and even Carmel.  Thus, it is no wonder that I have Nostalgia to return.  As I’ve explained in an earlier post, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek meaning an aching for home.  North Carolina is unique in that I have spent every phase of my life there.  I spent the waning days of my childhood at college there; I learned love and loss and melancholy there; I became independent there; I met Anna there; I left, cracked like a dinner plate; and I returned whole, almost reborn, a few years ago.  North Carolina has molded me, and I will continue to return – one day, perhaps for good.