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.
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.
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.
This photograph, taken in the Lake District in Cumbria, England, is proof that even the most stunning photographs do not always require fancy cameras and lenses.
This photograph probably did more to push me along my way into photography than any other. Taken in July of 2007, I used an old point and shoot Olympus – which is all that I had at the time. This panorama is actually about six photographs stitched together. At the time, I had no software to do this, and it was not until 2016 or 2017, when I became serious about photography and invested in the Adobe Suite that I could finally stitch together the photographs. The result was incredible.
Since that time, I have become enamored with panoramas and landscapes, as you can see from a number of my other posts. I long to go back to the Lake District with my fancy camera and expensive lenses just to experience and to capture something like this once again. I also want to bring Kemper and Nora to experience the bracken ferns that reach higher than my head, and the paths that are cut through them (which you can see a bit in the bottom left of the photo). The lakes are like no place I have ever visited, and this picture alone draws me back.
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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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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The Pacific intrigues me like no other body of water. Having grown up minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, I am accustomed to what I always considered crashing waves. I remember the muscle memory as a child of being tossed and rolled in the waves after a visit to the beach lasting for hours after we arrived back home. The sheer strength of the Pacific dulls these memories somewhat, and forces me to reconsider the awe of my childhood fascination with the placid Atlantic.
This photograph was taken amongst the rocks in Carmel Bay. Although the crash of the waves in this photograph is impressive, the highest swells and tallest sprays seemed to come the moment I turned my camera off after waiting for the next great wave to roll in. Kemper joined me on this trek down to the water’s edge, but he was more interested in throwing pebbles to the tide pools than the august waves and cacophony of them extinguishing themselves on the rocks. Perhaps he is jaded, having grown up with the Pacific, or perhaps he is simply a child, whose attention is drawn more by his controlling of nature than nature’s control over the elements.
The morning layer was thick when I dragged him from bed to amble down to the coastline, and the colors were muted. The deep dark shades of the wet rocks and the brilliant white of the salt spray were perfect contrasts, and so my inclination to monochrome most of my photographs was well founded in this one. Although I am taking more photographs with Kemper in them, which capture his growth and my fondness of him journeying with me as I did with my father, I had not yet begun this practice when I captured this wave against the rocks of Carmel Bay. When we return, hopefully soon, to California, I will rectify this shortcoming. Perhaps he is old enough now to appreciate the power of the Pacific, but more likely, he will return to his old pursuits of watching his ripples in the tide pools as I wait for the great wave.
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The beautiful irony of this photograph is that I have little memory of where it was taken in Alaska. The tall mountain, offset by thirds from the center, may or may not have a name, and then, it may only be known to the natives. It is tall enough to be the highest peak in a number of the contiguous states, tall enough to catch the cumulus clouds that passed by, hooking them on its summit, and tall enough that it should be memorable–but that is the awful truth of Alaska’s wilderness, the majesty is overwhelming. For nature lovers like I am, it was a total sensory overload. I snapped thousands of pictures, not photographs, but pictures to simply document what I could not trust my visual cortex to process. That I managed to take this photograph and others as beautiful was simple dumb luck. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every once in a while.
I long to go back to Alaska with better gear and a better understanding of what to expect. Using kit lenses on my Nikon D40 in automatic mode was like cutting one’s first filet mignon with a teaspoon, ultimately effective, but crude and personally unsatisfying in hindsight. Still, I cannot regret the photographic experience totally. I stumbled on some amazing photographs through the law of averages. When your subject is so magnificent, it is hard not to capture some inkling of the awe, as here with this unnamed mountain, likely passed by in a matter of minutes during our cruise up the inside passage as the clouds passed with equal celerity over the peak, trailing it like a wispy pennant casually waving in the boreal air.
Click here for a larger version, and see the rest of my Alaska portfolio here.
This was the last photograph I took on our trip to England in late August of this year. I was tired, having climbed over moors, through the dales and back again at least four times over the course of the three hours or so. The flatness of this picture belies the vertical bent of everything in England. The sunset was magnificent because the clouds in the sky possessed such an impressionist character. The patch of sycamores on the horizon grew closer and closer as we approached the setting sun, with Top Withens (the inspiration for Wuthering Heights) behind us. There were no paths towards the top of the hike, which should have been an early harbinger of the difficulty of the climb. For all I knew (and willingly shared with the rest of the hiking group), we were likely the only masochists to have made the hike for generations. As we wended our way through the dense heather and tall wild grasses and bracken ferns, and I gasped for breath at manageable intervals, I thought back on that field twelve years prior where I proposed in a similar field across the valley from Anna’s grandparent’s house, amongst a small herd black and white Friesians.
The beauty of Yorkshire has ceased to surprise me. By this, I do not mean that it has become any less wondrous or awe inspiring, only that I have come to expect to look out on a field and see the beauty that inspired the Brontës and Wordsworth and John Constable and all of the other artists that have spent their lives’ work attempting to capture the magnificence of this landscape. Indeed, the sky was something out of Constable’s painting of Salisbury Cathedral (sans the rainbow). The beauty is almost laughably ubiquitous. I have been to England three times now, and each time I am left with the distinct sensation that I was born on the wrong continent. My archaic turns of phrases, my passion for history and ancient things, all find root in the mother country. Anna’s grandmother, a strong Yorkshire woman, who still travels the world at 94, has adopted me as her “cloth” grandson, an appellation that I take very seriously, and I have been warmly embraced by the network of aunties and cousins — just the toe-holds I needed to claim a bit of Yorkshire as my own.
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These bracken ferns on the moors in Yorkshire are substantially shorter than those in the lake district; nevertheless, they nearly engulfed my wife, Anna, as she tried to follow the path cut between the fiddleheads that popped out from the skeletons of heather, long since overcome by the dark green ferns. This photograph was taken at dusk outside of Haworth, England, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote. Their stories were heavily influenced by the moors and the hardy people who lived on them (especially Wuthering Heights). Indeed, in this photograph, on the horizon to the left, there is a lone sycamore next to the barely perceptible ruins of a farmhouse (Top Withens), which is said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. My mother-in-law grew up among the ferns on the moors, and she is closer to nature than anyone I have ever met. Yorkshire does something indelible to a person. The first time you walk over the top of a moor and look down into the Worth Valley at the train steaming along the tracks towards Leeds, you realize that you are in a living snapshot of a much simpler time.
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