The Angry Ibis

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(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.

 

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.

The Anecdote of the Jar

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Boneyard Beach on Big Talbot Island is one of my absolute favorite places to photograph in Northeast Florida.  I often lament how uninspiring North Florida is for photography, because there are very few changes in topography.  I think my feelings on the subject are driven in large part due to the mosquitoes and ever-present danger of an alligator or water moccasin deciding that this is the day to make me a statistic or a cautionary tale.  Although I have seen an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake in the surf before, he was as confused (if not more) than I was as to how he found himself there, and though he was quite large, he posed no threat to me.  Thus, the beach is safe.

Having grown up near the beach, I take it for granted.  I also take for granted the incredible wildlife we have from wild roseate spoonbills and butterflies of every variation, to even the bobcat and Florida panther.  (I have seen my share of bobcats, but thankfully I have never had a run-in with panther.)  Yet there is something so unique about walking through scrub oak woods, hearing the crash of waves, and finding yourself not on an empty beach, but on a beach filled with old, weathered live oaks lying there like skeletons strewn about by hurricanes.

Ironically, this photograph of a driftwood oak, still tethered by its roots to the beach, was taken in Jekyll Island—another barrier island about an hour north of Big Talbot in Georgia.  This photo captures a bit of what struck me so emphatically when I came upon the tree.  Unlike Big Talbot, this was the only driftwood feature on the entire beach.  But for this tree, it would have been a perfectly ordinary, flat, featureless Florida beach, and I would not have given it a second thought.  Because of this tree, however, the beach took on meaning.

Wallace Stephen once wrote a poem about the universe taking shape around a jar he placed on a hill in rural Tennessee.  It is a perfectly beautiful little poem that has always resonated with me.

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.  
It made the slovenly wilderness  
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.  
The jar was round upon the ground  
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.  
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,  
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Around the jar the world gained meaning.  What was once a wilderness was now not so wild, as it found order in relation to this jar.  In the same way, this featureless beach took shape around this tree.  The beach that was perfectly ordinary became extraordinary because of this tree, just as the wilderness became forever commended to words by Stevens and became a part of American literature because of that simple little jar.  This tree is a testament to how some otherwise ordinary object can bring meaning to an otherwise ordinary, pedestrian setting.

Curiosity

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As evidenced by the sweat on Kemp’s brow, it was a hot day at Big Talbot Island when I took this picture of him in his live oak “fort.”  Although he went through a bit of a rough patch at the beginning of the year, since then he’s been everything we thought he could be in more.  Although we never doubted that he was a great kid, his attitude and outlook on life has changed for the better in ways that we could not even imagine.  He still has his moments, but then he is a six-year-old boy.

I love taking him to Big Talbot Island, selfishly because I can take pictures of him candidly as he plays amongst the live oaks, but I enjoy watching him in the outdoors getting sandy and wet while he chases the sand fleas and the ghost crabs among the huge driftwood trees.  He’s a cautious little guy, but he is become more comfortable climbing the trees which only rise about five feet from the sand at their highest.

I am incredibly proud of the little boy he’s becoming, and I am constantly amazed at the way his brain works in the capacity of his memory and his intelligence.  He has a fascination for music, and I am always blown away when I hear his little fingers on the piano.  His newest number that he practices without prompting is “Ode to Joy.”  Out of the blue, I will hear the opening notes slowly at first and picking up steam as he becomes more comfortable.  They are instantly recognizable, and his natural year for rhythm and tonality fascinates me as much as the music fascinates him.

This photograph shows a little bit his curiosity, but it is impossible to capture the depths thereof.  The questions he asks are genuine and delving beneath the surface.  When he asks “why,” he is genuinely curious of the answer, and the questions usually go to the very mechanics of the universe in his life.  I don’t know what he will become, whether lawyer, or musician, or doctor, or professor – the world lies open before him, and his curiosity will lead him to places that none of us can imagine.

Turkey Tails

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This photograph of the “turkey tail” mushroom (Trametes Versicolor) was taken in the Nocatee Preserve on Christmas morning with Kemper as my photographer’s assistant.  I gave him my old Nikon D40, which was the first DSLR that I ever had.  It has seen Alaska and many other beautiful places, and it served me well until I upgraded to my current D7100.  Kemper took to photography like a duckling to water.  As I am drawn to paths and mushrooms and other natural wonders, he is drawn to sticks and mosses and the sky.

A number of his photographs turned out, though we need to work on focusing a bit more.  His hands are a bit small yet for back-button focusing, and so I reset the camera to focus on depressing the shutter button by half.  I think he gets so excited when he is ready to take a shot (as evidenced by The Pose).

I love taking photographs of mushroom, because they have some of the most beautiful variety of any natural phenomenon.  Some are medicinal, while others are deathly poisonous.  Some are edible, while some are deathly poisonous.  Some are beautiful, and some are beautiful and deathly poisonous.  The turkey tail has gorgeous growth rings that show up especially well in black and white.  Like many woodear mushrooms, they are harbingers of doom for the tree that they grow on, but even as such, they are beautiful to look at and to photograph.

Click here for a larger version.