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.

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.

North Carolina Nights

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I have seen successful astral photography.  The shots are generally taken in the middle of a deserted stretch of Earth, such as the desert, on a moonless night with the tails of the Milky Way visible.  Aside from shots of the moon, I have only dabbled in astral photography.  I could not resist this night, a couple of winters ago in Brevard, North Carolina.

The rich cerulean sky was dotted with an incomprehensible number of stars, and the moon was nowhere to be seen.  I set up my tripod in the middle of a large field, where the light pollution from the cabin we were staying in could not reach.  Although the focus is a bit off, this shot, and others from that night, manage to capture the beauty of the scene, though not quite capturing the awesomeness of the uninhibited night sky.  Last winter, it rained most evenings, and on the evenings it did not, the kids were already in bed, and it was hard for me to tear myself away to trek up to the field.  I regret not going.  Next time…

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Framed

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Life is a kaleidoscope of perspectives.

I have had many perspectives in my relatively short life.  I have seen the world from the top and from about as low a bottom as anyone could imagine.  I have begged for forgiveness, often undeserved, and I have forgiven.  I have now even seen the world through my own children’s eyes.

Photography allows me to manipulate perspectives, to frame them in ways that you may have never thought to look at a particular scene.  This photograph was taken at Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It was a hot summer day, and in my infinite foresight, I arrived around noon, just as the sun was reaching its apex in the sky.  The shadows played on the driftwood as it began its slow descent to the West.  I came upon a particularly large live oak (Quercus Virginiana), which had two large branches reaching towards the sky.  One was perfectly vertical, and the other was at about thirty degrees.  I took a number of photographs of the geometry of the branches, but none were particularly aesthetically pleasing.  Although mathematics often make photographs interesting, when it is particularly complex like a fractal in a snail’s shell, when the shapes are so simple, they sometimes do not lend themselves to a pleasing composition.

Determined to use them for a shot, I evaluated what struck me about them.  I zoomed into one of the closer shots I took, which approximately resembled this final photograph, and I loved the contrast between the dark, shadowed wood, and the brightly lit ocean and clear blue sky.  I reframed the photograph, itself a frame, and captured this scene.  The fact that the wave rolled in at the exact right time with a sandy color to complete the triangle was a bonus that I only realized when I was touching the photo up later that day.

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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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Fjords

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This photograph was taken on the journey to Skagway, Alaska up the Inner Passage from Juneau.  I must admit that I was unaware that there were fjords in Alaska, as in Norway and Iceland.  A fjord is simply a long waterway cut by glaciers into the bedrock.  The stone walls of the fjords were incredible, as were the markings on them.  You can see in this photograph the dark tide lines on the stones which lead into a deep chasm in the rock.  Alaska was mysterious to me.  It was true wilderness, which fascinates me.  Even in the wilds of North Carolina, I am still mindful that I was not the first person to trod upon the dirt.  There is a distinct possibility that if you stray to far afield of the paths in Alaska, you may be the first human to do so.  I long to go back to Alaska.

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Cypress Sunset

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I have observed many sunsets in California over the past three years.  The view west from my in-laws’ house peeks through the greenery to a patch of ocean and sky.  There was nothing particularly special about this night’s sunset.  The sky was a bit hazy, which somewhat amplified the corona, but there were no pinks or purples to speak of just above the horizon, as I had seen on a number of occasions.  Still, I managed to wrestle myself away from the others and stroll down to the path that runs along the ocean on Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I took a number of shots of the setting sun, but this one, framed by two yin and yang Monterey cypresses, was my favorite of the lot.

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Crescent

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The whirls of the driftwood on Big Talbot Island, just north of Jacksonville, Florida, are peculiarly wonderful to me.  My father is a woodworker in his spare time, and throughout the years, we have made scores of pieces of furniture, boxes, and we have even turned a number of bowls on the lathe.  As such, I am a constant admirer of wood and its natural beauty.  I have turned beautifully featured bowls from a pecan log wrought with worm holes, and ambrosia maple, and spalted sweetgum, but the oak bowls I have turned are lovely, but plain, almost like Shaker furniture.  They have a very ordinary grain, and little about them is exceptional.  The fallen oaks on Big Talbot Island, however, have fantastic patterns, some like the ornamentation of a medieval Celtic manuscript.

I do not know how these patterns came to be, though I speculate that it has something to do with the effect of the sea air on the tree’s formation, both nurturing and stunting the growth at the same time.  Some of the trees must have been tall and vast when they stood decades, or perhaps centuries, ago, but it is the smaller ones that have the more intricate patterns like this one.  To capture the perspective of this photograph, I set the aperture (depth of field) quite low, so that only a piece of the limb was in total tack focus.  The foreground and background are blurred, and the focused piece catches your attention, not only because of its placement in the composition (according to the rule of thirds), but also because of its contrasting sharpness.  I would have loved to turn a bowl from this tree, if only to see whether the patterns on the surface came through onto the finished product.  But now I have turned my artistic attention away from woodworking to photography, and so I must satisfy myself with capturing the beauty of the wood rather than pulling it from an unfinished block.  It is a different approach, but no less satisfying when the photographs turn out like this.

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Drifting Together

September hurricanes framed this photograph of three water oaks (Quercus Nigra) astride one another on the shore of Little Talbot Island.  I took this photograph three years ago, and it remains one of my favorites of the driftwood beaches of Northeast Florida.  I returned to this spot with Kemper in early September, three hurricanes later, and the topography of the beach had changed radically.  The hulking live oak (Quercus Virginiana) skeletons with their naked root clusters, ten feet in diameter, perched in the air remained, but the smaller water oaks had been scattered by the waves.  This arrangement of trunks and limbs was no more.  I was disappointed that I could not point out to Kemper where I had taken the photograph that is displayed on a canvas in our living room, but then my mind wandered to the Romantic poets (which happens more than I care to admit).  They found beauty in the ephemeral existence of objects and life.  This photograph is my Ode to the West Wind, which rent the trees asunder with its driving gales and its nautical forces.  Like Blake, and Wordsworth, and Shelley, and Keats, I captured something fleeting, though, admittedly, I did not think that these huge skeletons were mutable, even through the power of a glancing blow of a hurricane.  But nature is ever-changing, and I took this for granted three years prior when I framed the scene in my camera and released the shutter.  It is a lesson to me to not underestimate the power of the elements and to capture what I can, when I can, lest it be gone in another season.

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Symptoms

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These desiccated little smoky polypore mushrooms (Polyporus Adustus), like a resurrection fern, will spring back to life after a brief winter rain.  Unfortunately, for the hardwood trees that they are found on, the time for resurrection has long past.  The enzymes in the mushrooms help to speed the decay of dead and dying trees in forests all over the world, including this one in North Carolina, west of Asheville.  Interestingly, they also can eat away synthetic materials, such as synthetic dies in plastics, and research is being done to see what role these common little mushrooms can play in bioremediation.  This dwarf American Chestnut (Castanea Pumila) still bore leaves, and but for the polypores on its bark, the tree would have otherwise appeared healthy.  But alas, it is the beginning of the end for the august old tree.  The mushrooms are a symptom of death and disease, otherwise invisible until the tree succumbs.

I think of my favorite aunt on my dad’s side, Irene, who died of cancer when I was younger.  I had seen her soon before the cancer took over, and she appeared healthy on the outside — albeit crusty and sarcastic to the end.  I regret not knowing her better, as she was a huge influence on my dad’s life.  My dad and I went to Maine to visit her and my memere, who was in the throes of dementia, and I spent most of the time in the back of Irene’s house on the rocky outcroppings looking for moose and wild blueberries.  I told her that I would bring her a harvest of the blueberries, which grew low to the ground, rooted in the interstices of the rocks.  I failed in my mission, eating at least two-thirds of what would eventually make it into my small bucket.  I told her that I had not found as many as I had wanted (which, I suppose, was true), but my lips, stained a dark shade of purple, belied my foraging skills.  She laughed and smiled her ever present wry smile, and we had an understanding.  I was the chubby kid who was not to be trusted gathering fruit, and she was the understanding aunt, too kind to say anything cross.  Perhaps if there were outward signs, I would have stayed inside longer to hear her stories of my dad and uncle, Harvey, and perhaps I would have been more judicious with the blueberries I promised her.

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