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.

Ode

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Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.
Isaiah 57:2

I have met many men who could quote the Bible and many men who preached for a living.  Yet, I have never met a man more learned in the Bible and its teachings than Anna’s great-uncle Michael, who passed away yesterday.  Michael was a lay preacher, and he dedicated his life in an uncommon way to God.  Michael was Anna’s grandfather’s brother, and he was predeceased by his wife auntie Pat.  David, or Ardy as Anna and her sisters called him, was wise beyond measure, and was a strong student of religion.  As successful as he was with his mill, his business, and his family, even David would admit that he could not hold a candle to Michael’s vast ecclesiastical knowledge.

I regret not seeing Michael the last time I was in England.  I hadn’t seen him since David’s death nine years ago, where he spoke so eloquently about death and the afterlife.  His death leaves a void in our family—I say “our” because Anna’s British family has adopted me as one of their own.  It also leaves a void in the community, because a gift and a dedication like Michael’s is almost unheard of these days.  Very few laypeople dedicated their lives to the study of God’s words like Michael did, and even fewer such people exist today.

We will go to church this weekend, and I will think fondly of Michael finally being home.  His belief was absolute, and I know that he did not mourn his passing but instead embraced it with the knowledge that his “light and momentary troubles” in this life achieved for him “an eternal glory that far outweighed them all.”  Corinthians 4:17.

I rarely quote from the Bible, mostly because I know so few verses, but also because my faith has been tested so much over the past ten years.  With faith restored, I do not feel as hypocritical drawing from the knowledge that has been set down by generations of believers.  And so I close with a quote, as Michael would have done.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8

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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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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Worth

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How I arrived at the top of this particular moor, I don’t really care to recount.  It suffices to say, that in a land of paths cut by more intrepid travelers over the centuries, there were no paths at the top of this moor, as we were, apparently, four of the only masochists to decide that it was prudent to visit the rock in the left foreground of the photograph.  I would have grumbled the entire way, as I am wont to do, but I had no breath.  Thus, the grumbling was internal–albeit vociferous.  Nevertheless, when we reached the apex of this last moor (we had already traversed at least four), my grumbling ceased.  I even managed to catch my breath, and yet I did not utter a discouraging word.  How could I at such a magnificent sight.  The purple heather that I disregarded with certain animosity as I trapsed through it was gorgeous, and gave the moors on the horizon an almost surreal violet hue in patches.

Three miles or so down in the Worth Valley is where Anna’s grandfather build their house, stone by stone, from the ruins of an ostler barn.  It is where Anna’s mother grew up, and where I proposed to her in a field across the valley from the house–but in a line of sight from the kitchen window, so that we could always look over to the field when we were at the house.  Looking further into the horizon, you can make out a pinpoint landmark, which is the rock outcropping that we came to mount.  This is where the Brontë sisters wrote their novels, and in fact Top Withens, the inspiration for Heathcliff’s home in Wuthering Heights, sat only minutes away atop an adjacent moor.  A steam train runs through the middle of the valley, on which tracks Anna’s great-great-grandfather was an engineer.  The valley is of another time, and it affects me like no other place I have visited in the world.

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Setting above the Sycamores

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This was the last photograph I took on our trip to England in late August of this year.  I was tired, having climbed over moors, through the dales and back again at least four times over the course of the three hours or so.  The flatness of this picture belies the vertical bent of everything in England.  The sunset was magnificent because the clouds in the sky possessed such an impressionist character.  The patch of sycamores on the horizon grew closer and closer as we approached the setting sun, with Top Withens (the inspiration for Wuthering Heights) behind us.  There were no paths towards the top of the hike, which should have been an early harbinger of the difficulty of the climb.  For all I knew (and willingly shared with the rest of the hiking group), we were likely the only masochists to have made the hike for generations.  As we wended our way through the dense heather and tall wild grasses and bracken ferns, and I gasped for breath at manageable intervals, I thought back on that field twelve years prior where I proposed in a similar field across the valley from Anna’s grandparent’s house, amongst a small herd black and white Friesians.

The beauty of Yorkshire has ceased to surprise me.  By this, I do not mean that it has become any less wondrous or awe inspiring, only that I have come to expect to look out on a field and see the beauty that inspired the Brontës and Wordsworth and John Constable and all of the other artists that have spent their lives’ work attempting to capture the magnificence of this landscape.  Indeed, the sky was something out of Constable’s painting of Salisbury Cathedral (sans the rainbow).  The beauty is almost laughably ubiquitous.  I have been to England three times now, and each time I am left with the distinct sensation that I was born on the wrong continent.  My archaic turns of phrases, my passion for history and ancient things, all find root in the mother country.  Anna’s grandmother, a strong Yorkshire woman, who still travels the world at 94, has adopted me as her “cloth” grandson, an appellation that I take very seriously, and I have been warmly embraced by the network of aunties and cousins — just the toe-holds I needed to claim a bit of Yorkshire as my own.

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Among the Ferns

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These bracken ferns on the moors in Yorkshire are substantially shorter than those in the lake district; nevertheless, they nearly engulfed my wife, Anna, as she tried to follow the path cut between the fiddleheads that popped out from the skeletons of heather, long since overcome by the dark green ferns.  This photograph was taken at dusk outside of Haworth, England, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote.  Their stories were heavily   influenced by the moors and the hardy people who lived on them (especially Wuthering Heights).  Indeed, in this photograph, on the horizon to the left, there is a lone sycamore next to the barely perceptible ruins of a farmhouse (Top Withens), which is said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights.  My mother-in-law grew up among the ferns on the moors, and she is closer to nature than anyone I have ever met.  Yorkshire does something indelible to a person.  The first time you walk over the top of a moor and look down into the Worth Valley at the train steaming along the tracks towards Leeds, you realize that you are in a living snapshot of a much simpler time.

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