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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On the Journey Ahead

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I am sure that in a few years (e.g., when he hits puberty) the allure of Kemper walking away from me on a wooded path will have gone the way of Old Yeller, but for now, I cannot stop taking pictures of him doing just that.  If I ever work up the gumption to have a gallery show at my in-laws’ art gallery, I will have material for a whole wall of “Minion Marching” photos.

I love photographs of paths, and I love photographing Kemper.  Although he has the memory of an eidetic elephant, I hope that he will be able to remember the trips we took when he was younger through the pictures that I have taken.  He is walking through the path of life (sorry, I’m not sorry…I was an English major), and these photographs are as much about his journey as anything.

For now, I will walk behind making sure that he does not stray too far.  In the not so distant future, these photos of him walking in front of me will take on new, different significance.

 

Reunion

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We leave for Carmel on Saturday morning.  Although I am usually one who goes with the proverbial flow, I created an itinerary for the whole week.  I loathed the idea of sitting around for forty-five minutes pondering what we were going to do that day, and so I sat down in my office at 2:13 AM (as I am increasingly wont to do) and plotted out a schedule for what may prove to be our last trip out west for a while.

I sent the itinerary to Anna on Friday, and she glanced over it with approbation.  We are going to visit Rocky Point, Big Sur, Big Basin Redwoods state park, and the Monterey Aquarium to name but a few.  The trip was planned, the minivan rented, and the camera batteries charging when I got a text from an old college friend of ours.  She had happened across a movie that the three of us watched together for the first time years ago, and she realized we had not talked in a while.  She lives in DC, and, though Anna has seen her more recently, I have not seen her since law school in Richmond.

She was scheduled to fly out to San Francisco on Saturday, but she managed to change her plans and will be joining us Thursday and Friday in Carmel.  We could not be more excited.  EmGood has a joie-de-vivre that is insurmountable, and she has been down rocky paths (like the one that heads this post) only to come out even better on the other side.  She needs a vacation, and we need a shot of EmGood in our life.  We just didn’t know it at the time.

Needless to say, the itinerary is shot to hell, and I couldn’t be happier about it.  For someone who hates change and loathes planning (and understands the inherent contradiction), I am wonderfully at peace with this.  So now I will retire from this post to rearrange the days so that EmGood can see all of the highlights of Carmel while she is there, and we can enjoy them together.

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.

Paths

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The depth of Robert Frost’s most famous poem, The Road not Taken, is often overlooked.  The poem is remembered by the lines “two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by.”  The poem, though, is tinged with regret (“And sorry I could not travel both”), and it reflects the difficult choices life presents us when we come to a metaphorical fork in the road.  (Yogi Berra’s sage advice to “take it,” notwithstanding.)

Even when I had lost the lion’s share of my faith, I still believed that everything happened for a reason.  Having since regained the better part and more, I hold firm to the belief that the paths I have taken were not trodden in vain.  They have made me who I am today.

Last August, Anna, the kids and I took a trip to England with her parents.  I wanted to take photographs of the moors, and so I agreed to an evening walk with her mother and uncle, both of whom it turns out are rotten liars and sadists.  I love my mother-in-law beyond measure, but I learned a valuable lesson that evening: never trust an Englishman (or woman), who tells you that a walk is “quite pleasant” or “easy.”  This is the same woman, who once told Anna’s sister that the cure for disliking walking was more walking, which probably should’ve been my first clue.

The Brits have a word for what we did up and down the moors.  They called the steep climbs and rapid descents “scrambling.”  I call it attempted murder.  My heart has never beat as hard, nor have my legs ever felt as weak.  Yet the photographs that I was able to take, once we reached the top, were spectacular.  The irony of all ironies was that at the pinnacle of our “scramble,” there were no paths, only heather and ferns and potential.  The photograph below was taken on that hike.

Frost may have taken the road less traveled by, but we forged our own.  I reflected on the symbolism of this hike only afterwards when we were safely on the journey home.  I didn’t have the capacity (mental or lung) to contemplate it in the moment.

The above photograph was taken in Alaska, on a much more “pleasant” hike.  We were younger then, without kids, and without the concomitant cares.  I don’t know what I would’ve done differently had I known what lay ahead.  I don’t regret the paths that I’ve taken, because I am grateful and content where they have led me.  But I took the less traveled path, and that has made all the difference.

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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

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.