Climbing

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My parents have identical photographs of me at Kemper’s age climbing amongst the rocky shores of Maine and up to the narrowest branches in the trees in our yard, which in hindsight (now as a parent) was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad practice.  Kemper is a bit more grounded than me, less of a risk-taker, which is why in his almost six years, he has not yet broken a bone.  By his age I had already broken both of my wrists (at the same time), a few ribs, and a number of toes.  I look back at this period of my life and laugh, though as a parent, I cannot imagine what I put my own through.

Kemper found the supine trees on Boneyard Beach at Big Talbot Island, which have been the subject of many posts in the past, and though they were only feet off the ground, he was still tentative in climbing them.  I urged him, almost begged him, to overcome his fears and climb.  As you can see by the wry smile on his face, it was a worthwhile pursuit.  Of course, once I got him to climb one without incident, every new one we came upon needed to be ascended, which made for a fitful photography session of the trees, but was great fodder for capturing him candidly enjoying his boyhood.  When we were in North Carolina last week, he had shed his fear of climbing somewhat, and mounted the rocks on the property with great aplomb.  Still, he was more keen to slosh in the creeks and melted snow puddles with his wellingtons.  He is grounded, and this will undoubtedly bode well for him in the future.  Breaks are a part of childhood, a part of life, but his caution may let him escape the many breaks of bone and heart that I experienced.  This is my hope, perhaps a naive one, but my hope no less.

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Quarry

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As I stared at the tall, sheer rock face of the long-abandoned quarry, in the middle of the Pisgah National Forest, my dad reminded me that one of my relatives had been a dynamite man for a quarry back in Maine many years ago.  Whether he was deaf from the work, or simply unsocial, my father never knew.  The long drills would bore vertically into the solid stone, and then he would carefully lower the dynamite into the channel to blast thousands of tons of rock and rubble from the mountainside.  Most of the bores in the Pisgah quarry were high on the stone face at least ten feet long, irregularly spaced, but distinctively smooth interstices in the jagged profile of the mountain.  The small paper birch trees were deceptively omnipresent in all of the photographs I attempted, and I was not satisfied with any of them–even as I took them.

As we began to walk on, however, I saw this remnant of a small bore, and I snapped a quick photograph of it, not thinking too much about it at the time.  This hole was unique from the others.  It was only a foot or so long, and its edges were not smooth like the channels higher up.  The crevasses and splintered stone that surrounds the bore suggests that it was an afterthought, and the jagged striations within the shallow channel evidence a blast that wrought the uniformity from it.

This photograph is a microcosm of the quarry, but far more representative than a wide-angle shot of the sheared-off face of the mountain with its uniform bores.  It is evocative and telling that the work was violent and loud and dangerous, but the quarry no doubt was necessary in supplying building materials for the early denizens of Brevard.  Though Robinson Jeffers noted, as I have quoted before, “Not everything beautiful is pleasant,” I have to believe that the opposite might be true.  The violence of a volcano or a blast-torn bore can be beautiful if the time is taken to appreciate it.

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Panthertown Skies

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North Carolina in the winter is breathtaking.  I haven’t spent a full winter there in over ten years, since Anna and I graduated from Wake Forest.  The little time I do spend there is with family over the holidays, and the less than frequent trip back to our Alma Mater.  So often now, I find myself looking down, whether it be watching the footfalls of Kemper and Nora, or searching out the low-lying objects that I neglected for so many years as I grew taller and less aware of the beauty that only years before had been at eye level.  As a child, though, I often looked towards the sky.  It was a predilection of mine, and was lost through high school, college, law school, and then my post-graduate work.  As a litigator, I have been trained to look ahead and anticipate the roadblocks before me, and  I have, along the way, lost the penchant for gazing into the clouds above the treetops.  Photography, though in many ways a mature art, has brought me back to my childhood wonder of nature, and as we hiked through Panthertown Valley over the New Year, I caught myself looking upwards once again.

This photograph, though a simple composition, captures some of the innocent wonder.  The clouds of the late morning were beginning to roll in, heavy with precipitation, and we laconically raced to avoid the rain that settled in as we reached the trailhead.  The fingers of the maples and sweet gums and oaks looked like arteries against the pale sky, and in many ways this is a fitting simile.  Nature is a lifeblood–one that I am reconnecting with after years of the wonder of it lied fallow.  Even though I am at my desk from the darkness of the morning through to the early darkness of the winter evenings, I catch myself looking often to the sky, especially as the sun rises and sets.  Jacksonville, to its credit, is beautiful at these times of day.  The rich colors wrought by the low sun are no match to a North Carolina dawn, but then I am biased and nostalgic for the old days, when I could skip my morning lectures and find myself in an hour at the base of Pilot Mountain as the leaves were beginning to redden at the first breath of winter.  Until we return, I will always long for those days, simpler by measure and winsome.  For now, I will console myself with the memories and the short trips when I will fill my camera with shots such as this of the mountain skies on a chilled winter day.

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Behind the Falls

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This photograph of my dad standing behind a waterfall was taken in Panthertown Creek near Brevard, North Carolina.  We hiked about three miles and were prepared to turn around, when we ran into a sweet older lady who said, “The falls are really running today.”  We asked for directions, and she pointed us down a side path, which we traversed for about ten minutes until we heard the roaring of the waterfall.  I took many photographs and wanted to get closer.  I found a not so well-worn path, and my dad and I followed it until we found ourselves behind the waterfall.  He remarked that although walking behind a waterfall had not been on his bucket list, it should have been.  It was truly remarkable.  The hike behind the falls had been tough, but it was so very worth it.

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Stirring

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I would like to say that this was a Christmas Eve candid of Kemper and Nora gazing into the lights and contemplating the true meaning of Christmas.  I would like to, but that would be disingenuous.  This “candid” took a half hour of bargaining and cajoling, many takes, and ultimately one perfect photograph.  In the end, though, that is what matters on Christmas–the memory of the moment, and not the chaos that went into the whole charade.  Christmas this year was one of the best I can remember, certainly in my adult life.  On Christmas Eve, I gave Kemper my old DSLR (a Nikon D40), which he will grow into and out of faster than a pair of tennis shoes.  On Christmas morning, we went to the Nocatee Preserve for his first photography outing.  As he took photographs of sticks and tree trunks, I thought back to when the photography bug first bit me in middle school.  Although Kemper is very young, only turning six at the end of January, he is just as curious as I was at that age, and he loved walking with me while I took pictures in the preserve or among the driftwood at Big Talbot Island.  Now he has his own camera, and in time, he will develop his own tastes.  As I said in a previous post, I have no doubt he will surpass me in time, when his patience kicks in (perhaps when he is thirty or so), but for now I will enjoy my little photography buddy.  I will teach him all I have learned, but the pose–that is all his own.

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Nascent

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I debated (at greater length than I care to admit) what to call this photograph, which typified to me the life cycle of the swamp near my home where I went hiking this weekend.  (In Florida, we hike in swamps, have snapping turtles as pets, and casually brush away alligators with nine-irons when they encroach on your golf ball to the horror of your father-in-law, who grew up in Maryland.)  This small laurel oak (Quercus Laurifolia) sprouted at the very base of the gigantic live oak (Quercus Virginiana), and I nearly passed by without paying it any heed.  I found myself gravitating towards the bright green moss that was overcoming the live oak’s hollowed trunk.  As I was musing on the etymology of the word phoenix (which bears its own post), and how, in the swamp, death feeds the living, I noticed this little laurel oak, no more than a year or two old, quite literally rising in the shadow of the live oak, which would have been more than three hundred years old, judging by its size.  The English word “nascent” has its origins in the deponent Latin verb, nascor, meaning to come into existence or to spring forth.  As I thought about calling this post “Ancient and Nascent,” I balked.  This photograph, though set against the old live oak, is, in truth, about the laurel coming into existence and its embryonic roots taking hold betwixt and between the taproots of the dead oak, which could stretch for hundreds of feet in all directions.

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Looking Glass Falls

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This photograph of Looking Glass Falls was taken in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  The name “Looking Glass” comes from Looking Glass Rock, where water freezes on its sides in the winter and then glistens in the sunlight like a mirror or looking glass.  There had not been much rain during the summer I took this photograph, so the waterfall was tame in comparison to the rushing falls I remember from my youth.  Even today, miles removed, I can still hear the crashing water and recall the look of awe on Kemper’s face as we climbed down the steps to view the falls from water level.  You can see more of my fascination with falls in the gallery, ever so creatively named “Falls.”

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