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.

On Gratitude

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When I write these posts, I often just start typing and what comes, comes.  I thought about this post a fair bit driving into work this morning at 2:45 AM.  I reflected on the days that I spent in North Carolina with my family, and how I would have far preferred to be there to just about anywhere else.  I also thought about how lucky we are to be able to spend that time in the mountains with family that loves us and whom we can tolerate—even enjoy—being with for a week.

Being grateful is one thing, and a good thing, but gratitude is something different.  Gratitude is active.  You can be grateful, but you show gratitude.  I don’t think I ever reflected on the difference, but as I sat down to write this post, I was struck by the distinction.  I was grateful to have been in North Carolina, but did I show gratitude for being there?  I thanked my parents, and David, who graciously allowed us to stay on his property, and, perhaps, this was enough.  Still, I am nagged by the thought that I could have done more.

It is a new year, and in this new year I will make a concerted effort to actively show gratitude for what I have been given.  I have worked incredibly hard for the life I have, but in many ways, I have been blessed with things that I could never have received without a great deal of grace.  I am slowly recognizing this, and I am grateful for all of the blessings in my life.  Gratitude, like faith, without action is nothing.

So, thank you, one and all, for all that I have been given, and all that I am able to give.  As I start this new year, the first of a new decade, I will continue to reflect on these thoughts of gratitude.  Perhaps they will nag at me even in the times where I want to be anything but grateful.  Life is a journey, not a destination, and like this forest path, I will try my heartfelt best to walk it with gratitude.

On the Path Less Traveled By

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As an English major and a writer, I find metaphors in just about everything I do.  Just as I referenced the metaphor of Kemper on the path in yesterday’s post, this photograph of divergent paths struck me when I came upon it during a solo hike in Garrapata.  Kemper had decided that three days of strenuous hiking in a row was enough daddy-son time, and he sat that morning out—with the express condition that I bring a cinnamon (pronounced “cimminum”) roll for him on my way back through the village.

I love this photograph, not for the intrinsic compositional value of it, but because it is the literal embodiment of Frost’s poem (sans the yellow wood).  I took the one less traveled by, and indeed it did make all the difference.  It has, quite probably, scarred me for life.  Not exactly the effect that it had on Frost, but this is reality and Frost’s poem was a metaphor.

You can see in the bottom right corner, if you zoom in on the photograph, the incipient bunch of tripartite leaves of what, it turns out, is poison oak.  It was so prevalent along the paths, that certainly no one in their right mind would have traipsed through virulent shrubbery, and so I paid it no further thought until a few days post-hike.  Further, I am used to poison ivy, which grows on a vine rather than a bush of regret and sadness.  Sadly, some of the evils of the West Coast are disguised as hedgerows.

The path was, at the time, a fun little adventure.  It meandered closer to the edge of the cliffs’ edges, while keeping a respectful distance from the precipice in most spots.  There was a dodgy stretch, but some travelers, as disinclined to stride along a hare’s-breath of path juxtaposed against a sixty-foot plummet, had cut a secondary looping jaunt (through the damnable undergrowth) that avoided the cliff’s edge and certain death.  This was acceptable to me, and quite lovely, on account of the omnipresent, verdant, and then-innocuous shrub of despair.

When Anna, Nora, Kemper and I came to Garrapata later that day, I took Kemper on a small section of the secondary trail.  He was reticent to follow, but, ultimately, he did.  I told him only “big kids” could come on the path, and this was enough to carry the day.  Luckily it was chilly, and he was wearing jeans and a jacket – fully armored against the chaparral of anguish.

By Kemper’s age (6.5 years) I had already broken both of my wrists, sliced my thumb to the bone with a utility knife, and cracked a few toes; but he has, heretofore, not suffered any major bodily injuries.  He is cautious of the unbeaten paths, for which I am grateful.  In Frost’s poem, the narrator does not rush headlong down the path less traveled by.  Instead, “long I stood / and looked down one as far as I could / to where it bent in the undergrowth.”  As impulsive as he can be, this is Kemper’s general approach to life choices.  It will serve him well.

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.

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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Part of Me Remains

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Life has taken me down many paths, some of which I stayed on for far too long, and some of which I am still journeying.  This photograph was taken on the moors in West Yorkshire near Howarth, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote.  The road leads from Top Withens, the supposed inspiration for Heathcliff’s home in Wuthering Heights.  I first visited this place over a decade ago, before Anna and I were married, before the kids, and before I had traveled down any truly difficult paths.

We were engaged in these hills, under this sky, and returning here after a decade since Anna’s grandfather died felt like coming home.  I would be happy here in the countryside living a quiet rural life, walking the moors and communing with the sheep.  West Yorkshire is so antithetical to Northeast Florida, in its weather, its topography, and even its residents.  When I am in England, walking a mile to the store just seems appropriate.  At home, we live about a mile from the store, and I have never once walked there.  I can explain it.  The country just brings out something in me.

I would follow this path as far as it led, catching another one until I reached the coast, where I would find another leading elsewhere and follow that one to the end.  Anna has ties here, and I know that we will always return.  I hope that it will not take me another nine years to find my way back to these paths, but perhaps then I will appreciate them even more than I appreciated them last year, when I appreciated them exponentially more than I did the first time I came upon them.  Some not-so-small part of me remains in the heather and the ferns, on top of the moors, and in the sun-soaked valleys.  One day I’ll return, but I won’t take this part of me home.  It is where it is meant to be.