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.

On Discovering an Artist’s Mind

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Salt lingers on my tongue, the shore in my nostrils, even five years later, and miles removed from the rough-hewn valley, where I tried in vain to compose the essence of the waves, the spirit of the ocean in a single exposure.  My camera pulled at me as we walked gracelessly across the rocks.  That’s where Kemper and I found her, sure-footed above the whitecaps, a small silhouette against a dense layer of mist that settled over the shoreline, whitewashing the coal-black granite.

What does it say that I, myself, framed her body against the foothills, lingering on the shadow-play of her form, as if the roil of the ocean were quotidian; yet her profile swelled in the portrait like a distant odalisque?  What draws me back to her silhouette on that promontory, at that moment–that moment that will never be forgotten, though she may not have know that we were even there.

Two Crows on Spanish Beach

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The sky was sepia and thick from the smoke from the highlands where fires raged, uncontrolled and hungry like it had so many times before.  Fire trucks lined the Pacific Coast Highway, which was closed south of Rocky Point.  Any hope of going to Big Sur and seeing the redwoods was dashed, and the new hope was that the fire was stopped before it reached them.

I walked on Spanish Beach with Kemper and Anna, among the seaweed and the granite outcroppings, where Kemper stacked stones in little cairns as if to say “I’ve been here, and I was industrious.”  He was first to spot the two crows babbling amongst themselves, perhaps about the fires, and perhaps about the little visitor approaching without caution.  They hopped from place to place, not quite flying though propelled by their charcoal wings, themselves dappled with ash.  They settled on a low stone, glancing at us with queerly knowing eyes, whose whole blackness belied the sentience behind them.

I told Kemper to slow, to admire the birds before he scared them to flight.  He stopped, perhaps as intrigued as they were.  I told him that they had been known to drop nuts on the street so that passing cars could crush them, only to swoop down and pick up the fresh meats from the cracked shells.

In his small universe, these two were the birds that I spoke of.  Not those crows in Japan that had learned this behavior.  But I understood then, that this beach, these rocks, these crows—these were his universe.  These crows were the only oddities that his four-year-old imagination could process at the time.  The sky was smoky in and of itself, like a chthonic deity.  There need be no fires, only smoke.  There need be no other crows, only these.

As we walked away, careful to keep a wide radius from the crows, they continued to look at us, their heads panning ever so slightly as we passed.  The crows will still be there, as they are in this photograph and in his mind, fixed in eternity, a memory of a distant beach on a foreign coast, until he sees the next pair of crows flitting about the shortleaf pines in his backyard, wondering how they made the journey but ever grateful that they made it for him.

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.

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.

Click here for a larger version.

Dupont Falls

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This photograph of Dupont Falls in the Pisgah National Forest is but one of the waterfalls contained in my portfolio “Falls.”  The sheer scale of this one separates it from the others, however.  What I remember most about the hike up to the falls was the difficulty I had climbing the steep incline of the path.  I was near the heaviest weight that I’ve ever been, and I was incredibly out of shape.  Over 80 pounds lost, I look forward to the hikes in North Carolina, where I once feared and loathed them.

When I decided to have weight loss surgery (vertical sleeve gastrectomy), I worried about the stigma, specifically that people would think I was taking the easy way out.  I worried about not being able to enjoy food like I used to or lean upon it as an emotional crutch, which is precisely what got me in that predicament in the first place.  Nevertheless, I was tired of constantly watching the scale rise and being unable to do simple things like hike a short distance to take a picture of a waterfall without great difficulty.

Having the surgery was one of the most difficult decisions ever made.  Nevertheless, one year removed, I would do it again in a heartbeat.  That is not to say that the journey has not been difficult.  My stomach has still not fully regained its fortitude, and perhaps it never will.  However, watching the reactions of people who hadn’t seen me since before the surgery, and feeling younger, healthier, and more energetic than I had for years (longer than I can remember), makes it all worth it.

I am no longer ashamed that I sought out medical intervention to help with my weight loss journey.  As I was counseled in the beginning, the surgery is not a panacea, but is instead a tool.  It has been an incredibly useful tool, one which I utilize sometimes more appropriately sometimes less, but that I will always have at my disposal.  I still have a ways to go, but 80 pounds is a great start.  Perhaps next time we are up in North Carolina, I will turn even further up the path for another angle of what the falls have to offer.

Hidden Cove

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There are so many coves along the shoreline in Point Lobos State Preserve in Carmel, California, that I am only moderately ashamed that I don’t know the name of this one.  I have posted a picture of China Cove previously, with its colors that defy the natural palette.  In comparison to the China Cove, this one is a bit pedestrian.  If there were no China Cove, however, this unnamed cove very well could be the highlight of the entire shoreline.  This is a testament to the beauty of this part of California.

As I’ve mentioned previously, California brings out a creativity in me that North Florida never has.  I long to go back, and when I am there, I am always conscious that I must leave.  I honestly don’t know if the desire to be in California is simply a desire to be creative at all times, or at the very least to have freedom to be creative.

As I wrote this post, specifically that last paragraph, I thought immediately (as one clearly does it was spent so many years in the Latin classroom) of the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus.  Although many of Catullus’ poems survive in full, some are only excerpts.  One such excerpt, which has been labeled in the modern canon as Carmen LXXXV, is only two lines long but it is powerful in its brevity, its directness, and its meaning: “Odi et amo.  Quare id faciam fortasse requiris / Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.”

Roughly translated, this means “I hate, and I love; why do I do this perhaps you ask. / I know not why, but I know it happens, and I am tortured by it.”  Although Catullus was speaking about the conflicting feelings he had towards his lover, who he calls Lesbia (her real name was Clodia), and who was the sister of Cicero’s mortal enemy Publius Clodius Pulcher, the second sentence speaks to me in the context of this Cove.  I can’t say why the California air draws out the artist in me, nor can I say why the Florida air does not; but I know it happens, and for the time being, I am (if ever so slightly) tortured by it.