Carmel Bay

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On vacation, I do not keep the same hours I do for work.  So getting up before the sunrise was rare, but since everyone else was still asleep, I decided to leave a note and go for a walk.  I made my way down to Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, just as the sun was coming up.  I was born and raised on the East coast, and so to have the sun rise at my back when I looked at the ocean was a new experience.  The marine layer was thick as I made my way down the coastline.  The house at the left of the photograph is the Walker house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  He said that he wanted to design a house “as durable as the rocks and as transparent as the waves.”  He achieved this with his uncanny ability.

I love Carmel, and I feel a special kinship to the place.  I always feel creative out there, surrounded by the beauty.  I understand why Robinson Jeffers called it home, and why so many other artists like Steinbeck were so inspired by this area of California.  If I ever win the lottery (and I have a few eggs in this basket), I will find my way out there for part of the year.  For now, I will look forward to the next visit and the next morning stroll.

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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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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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Dreamcatchers

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This photograph of the achenes or diaspores of a “horrible” thistle (Cirsium Horridulum) was captured two summers ago with my macro lens.  The diaspores have evolved over millions of years to to be light and airy, with tendrils that catch the air for dispersal far afield of their mother plant.  Though not the best composition, I was struck by the symmetry of the achenes and their simple utility.  The swampy path I was walking when I came upon them during the summer was littered with thistles for miles.  The evolution, though perhaps not complete, had certainly served its purpose well.  The most recognizable achenes are those of the dandelion clock, which children gather up with some eagerness only to blow the diaspores unwittingly throughout their parents’ front yard.

I wish Kemper had been old enough to accompany me when I took this photograph.  He finds great sport in blowing the silky white seeds from their presently denuded and spent host.  He was three then, and not quite up to a long jaunt in the summer heat.  The mosquitoes were particularly bad this day, and to be honest, I am surprised that I did not capture one in this photograph–they were so thick.  But this is Florida, and the beauty of nature invariably carries with it some danger, whether an alligator lurking silently beneath the surface of a calm fishing pond, or a rattlesnake blending in with the underbrush.  Having grown up here, these are calculated risks, and readily mitigated.  For the uninitiated, however, Florida is as wild as the outback of Australia.  This results, I think, in a fair bit of pride for us native Floridians who would as soon approach a four foot long gator, knowing full well it will quickly shy away, as a New Yorker would cross a busy intersection at the height of the noon-day traffic.  I do not begrudge the out-of-towners the novelty of seeing an alligator in the wild for the first time, but to us they are quotidian and predictable.  Yet, as this photograph shows, even the most commonplace native objects, when viewed with a different perspective, yield beauty.

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The Lone Cypress

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I often wonder how this iconic tree took root.  For those who don’t immediately recognize the scene, this is the “Lone Cypress” off the coast of Monterey, California.  This photograph was taken during the height of the Soberanes Fire southwest of here in the valleys just off the coast of Carmel and Big Sur.  Although likely surpassed by the recent Woolsey Fire, the Soberanes was the costliest wildfire in the history of California.  It coated everything in a thin layer of ash, and the smoke that hung thickly, almost unctuously in the air made shots of the coastline nigh impossible.  This photograph was taken towards the tail end of the trip, as the fire was winding down, and still the haze bled the details from the shot.

When the sun managed to pour through the thick air, the sky took on a burnt, sepia tone, which made every picture I took look like I had applied a strong filter to it.  The tree is at least 250 years old, and for the last 65 or so has been held in place by strong metal cables.  When I saw the cables in person, I thought that it was a supremely arrogant act by man to forestall the inevitable cycle of nature for the sake of Japanese tourists (and me) making a pilgrimage to gaze through chain-linked fence to snap an awkward photograph of the icon sitting on its outcropping, engirded as it is by a brick and mortar parapet.  But still, we come en masse, ogling the tree with a misplaced reverence.  When this one dies, as it will, it will be replaced with a fellow that I am certain is already being grown for its stead, like a Cardinal waiting in quiet for the Pope to abdicate.

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Through the Briar Patch

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Nostalgia is a beautiful word.  It is a is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of the Homeric word νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home.  Nostalgia is a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.  For me, nothing evokes nostalgia like the mountains of North Carolina.  The earliest associations are of visiting the Smoky Mountains with my family when I was much younger, and later the mountains close to Winston-Salem, which were only a short drive away from Wake Forest.  For reasons I cannot explain, the feelings are strongest in the winter, when the wind has stripped away the leaves from the branches, and you can see through the skeletons of the trees through the valleys and to the peaks.  This photograph, taken outside of Brevard, North Carolina, evokes so many strong memories – all positive – which was not always the case in North Carolina.  Hindsight and nostalgia are curious like that, though.  No matter the number of disheartening days and nights, I still long to be back in the mountains.  We’re going up for a week after Christmas, and I know the feelings will rush back, satisfying the homesickness for a while.  Until then, in my mind, I’m going to Carolina…

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Wheat & Chaff

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This photograph of a seedhead of tall ryegrass was taken on a high in Panthertown Creek, outside of Cashiers, North Carolina.  It is a simple photograph, and one which I would normally have skipped right over when I was sifting through the hundreds I took that day.  Nevertheless, something caught my eye in the simple elegance of the seeds and the blur and bokeh of the background.  Although not actual wheat, this native grass reminded me of the old aphorism “to separate the wheat from the chaff,” which is exactly what I do when I cull through the photographs to find the “keepers.”  The irony is not lost on me that the “chaff” nearly included this photograph.

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Silhouette

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The word silhouette is derived from the name of Étienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister who, in the mid eighteenth century, was forced by France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years’ War to impose severe economic demands upon the French people, particularly the wealthy.  Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply.  Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.  I think that this silhouette of the female photographer on the rock is one of my best black and white compositions.  The mist and morning layer in the background contrasts sharply with the wet stone in the foreground, with the tiniest break in the line of the outcropping (in perfect thirds, I might add) made by the photographer.  I cannot say that my eye was drawn to her initially, but once it caught her, my eye became curious and could not look away – and if I did, I was always drawn back.

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Perspective

Perspective

This photograph was taken in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.  Of all the waterfalls we saw, this was perhaps the most impressive.  Without the two people standing at its base, this would have been a great picture – a study in contrasts; but the two individuals lend such perspective to the grand scale of the waterfall that I could not, in good conscience, leave them out.  Perspective is a term that covers all manner of sins, from the linear perspective of Da Vinci, to the perspective one gains from a tragedy, to even the perspective that you grasp from the sheer insignificance of two humans set against the backdrop of indefatigable nature.

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Starry Night

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This photograph was taken around midnight in Brevard, North Carolina.  I hiked about a mile up to a remote field on the property of a family friend, where there was little to no light pollution.  It was my first attempt at astral photography, and aside from the stars being a tad out of focus, I was thrilled at how the photograph turned out.  The moon had not risen, and the field was pitch black.  I used a 30 second exposure, and I was pleasantly surprised at how the sky was illuminated.  The wisps of clouds immediately made me think of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”  After I uploaded the photograph and did some very minor post-processing, I trekked back up to the field.  Unfortunately, the wisps of clouds had turned into a think blanket, and all of the stars were obscured.  When we return at the new year, I hope for clear skies and good weather so that I can capture more of these scenes.

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