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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Purpose

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It is amazing to me just how far one can come in a short while.  I’ve been preparing for my first big hearing at the firm since Monday, and the fact that I am calm and confident this morning is a far cry from the panic I used to feel what I had to go before a judge and argue my client’s case.  The last time I argued a motion for summary judgment, I was at a different firm and certainly in a different place.  I was sweating profusely, my hands were shaking, and I was completely overwhelmed.

This photograph was taken in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  I do not know the man who gives his silhouette to the scene, but I purposely framed the shots so that he was nearly out of the photograph.  It wasn’t that he was walking quickly; instead, he was walking with purpose.  These days I feel like I am walking with a purpose, because my life has purpose.  My kids, my wife, my job, my writing—all these things give my life meaning.

Still, there is a little voice inside me, faint and almost unrecognizable, which used to scream “You’re going to fail.”  And I did fail.  I failed because this voice overcame me and drowned out my confidence, my self-worth, and my abilities to function.  Nowadays, I can rarely hear this voice unless I let myself listen for it.  When that happens, I distract myself with writing or tending to my plants in my office (which the other associates have lovingly dubbed the “Grove”).  I will not let this terror control me any longer.  That part of my life is over, never to be revisited again.  I am thankful that, like the silhouette in the picture, I am passing through with a purpose.

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

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.

Mirrored

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My wife was under the weather for the past few days, and I took off work on Thursday and Friday to take care of her and the kids.  I cannot describe the satisfaction (and often joy) that I had being the caretaker for a change.  I take care of the family in a panoply of ways, first and foremost making a living at my job, but I lend a hand when I get home, cooking and cleaning and putting the minion to bed; but there was something so satisfying about being the caregiver over the last four days.

I took Nora to her infant swimming lessons, which were hard to watch, and I played with her for most of the day until I picked Kemp up from school.  We played, we laughed, and being a clumsy little thing, she cried every so often when she took a particularly magnificent stumble.  (Note: The only bump she received this weekend was when Anna was watching her, and so I feel pretty good about that.)

All in all, I kept my family fed, clothed, and where they needed to be.  Kemper hit the ball on his first try at t-ball (thought he swung before he was supposed to, and I missed the video), and he seems to be enjoying it.  (If he could remember which hand his glove goes on, he could be an all star…)

This photograph was taken in Panthertown Creek, just outside of Cashiers, North Carolina, close to Brevard.  I gave Kemper my old digital camera, and he thoroughly enjoyed snapping pictures of leaves and sticks and other miscellany.  He especially enjoyed taking pictures of other people, including this one, in which he took a picture of me taking a picture of him.  Something about this photograph struck at my heartstrings, and it is even the background to my phone now.

I work very hard, long hours (I am posting this at 3:15 AM), but it is all worth it when I come home and Nora comes running up to me, arms wide open, and screaming “Dada, up please.”  When she buries her face in my neck, or gives me an unsolicited kiss, my heart melts, and I know that outside of its meaning to the clients, my work has meaning to my family.  Although I am not there as much as I would like, I provide, and I am there as much as I can be.  I was sad to see Anna at less than 100%, but I appreciated the opportunity to pick up the slack and play the role of both parents as Anna often does.  I am so fortunate to have the life I do, and these four days were a welcome reminder of that life.

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Foggy Path

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As evidenced by a number of my earlier posts, I am fascinated by paths and roads.  They make beautiful pictures in composition and metaphor.  I took this photo on the family friend’s property in Brevard, North Carolina, where we vacation each year.  This road leads up to the cabin where my parents have stayed for nearly a decade now, and I cannot fathom how many times I’ve walked it.  Yet, this was the first time I thought to take a photograph.

The early January morning was cool, and the fog was thick in the fields that sit just above the lower cabin.  For the first time, Anna, the kids, and I stayed there, while my parents, sister, and Brynn stayed in the upper cabin. I was afraid that the distance would cause us to lose a little something in the vacation, but all in all it was one of the best vacations we ever had in North Carolina or otherwise.

Large rhododendrons canopy the road that is lined with oaks, and maples, and even an errant chestnut.  Large hemlocks and black pines are scattered just off the road, a few of which have become diseased in the last few years, their hulking trunks covered in woodear mushrooms that portend their eminent downfall.

For a still life, the photograph has substantial motion.  In a sense, you are drawn up the path into the fog and unknown, and this is, perhaps, why photographs of roads and paths are so interesting to me.  They draw you along, involuntarily, and create a sweeping motion in your mind, or your spirit, where none physically exists.

The fact that the fog fades into gray at the end of the path makes the motion almost ethereal.  Although I have been drawn lately more to including figures, whether dog or human, in my photographs, I feel like this one works just right the way it is.  The path beckons, and I cannot wait for the next time I am able to heed its call.

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Cabin in the Woods

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My parents stay in North Carolina twice year on the land of a family friend, who has become part of the family.  I have taken hundreds of photographs on David’s property.  There is just so much beauty on the land.  Even this simple photograph of one of the two cabins on the property turned out well.

I took it simply is a documentary photograph, to remind Kemper in years to come where we had stayed the Christmas when he was five, but its simple elegance made me keep it in the collection of photographs that I consider to have made the artistic “cut.”  The cabin is surrounded by black pines, hemlocks, and huge magnolias.  It overlooks a large pond that is stocked with large trout, and it is just a brief walk up to the two large fields on the property.

As I’ve said many times in the past, North Carolina holds a special place in my heart.  I loved it before I went to Wake Forest, I loved it my four years I spent at Wake, and I love it every time I get a chance to come back.  A part of me will always consider North Carolina home.  These cabins on David’s property have become a home away from home, and I look forward to returning every chance we get.

They say home is where the heart is, and I know this to be true.  I have left a part of my heart in North Carolina, Yorkshire, and even Carmel.  Thus, it is no wonder that I have Nostalgia to return.  As I’ve explained in an earlier post, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek meaning an aching for home.  North Carolina is unique in that I have spent every phase of my life there.  I spent the waning days of my childhood at college there; I learned love and loss and melancholy there; I became independent there; I met Anna there; I left, cracked like a dinner plate; and I returned whole, almost reborn, a few years ago.  North Carolina has molded me, and I will continue to return – one day, perhaps for good.