Verdigris

SSA Photography (76 of 400)

Sometimes the loveliest composition is the most simple.  This photograph of the mossy trunk of a fallen water oak (Quercus Nigra) was taken in the Nocatee Preserve south of Jacksonville, Florida.  The day was extremely overcast, and the photographs that I came to take were not turning out as I had hoped.

I saw this tree lying astride the path, and I took a dozen or so photographs of it from various angles.  As I was leaving, I decided to put my macro lens on to see what I could capture with the lens and ring light setup that I use.  I took a few test shots of the tree, with the aperture as far open as it could go, and I did not think anything of them until I returned home to see what had turned out.

Life is often like this, recognizing the beauty only in hindsight.  This is by no means my most treasured photograph, but it is special insofar as it was a happy accident that reminds me never to dismiss even the most mundane subject.  With the right angle and eye, most anything can turn into art, even a dime-a-dozen fallen water oak in the middle of a North Florida swamp.

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Lichen

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This little lichen (Usnea Florida) hung from the limb of a eastern red cedar (Juniperus Virginiana – not to be confused with the live oak (Quercus Virginiana)) dithering ever so slightly in the wind that had been left over from the storm the day prior.  I chronicled the Sunday walks I take through the swamp in Nocatee Preserve in an earlier post, and this day was no different, save for a different lens.   Instead of capturing the hidden beauty of the swamp in a macroscopic, wide angle tilt, I opted to only bring along my macro lens and lighting apparatus, which makes for a very serious looking photography setup to the uninitiated.  Few people passed me this day, on bike or foot, as the paths were still muddy from the day before.  The epiphytes, like this lichen, were bright and renewed from the downpour.  This particular varietal reminded me of the microscopic pictures of neural pathways and ganglia in the brain.  The common pattern, I am certain, is no coincidence of nature.

Interestingly, I later found out that usnea lichen contain potent antibiotics which can halt infection and are broad spectrum and effective against even tuberculosis. Usnic acid (C18H16O7), a potent antibiotic and antifungal agent, is found in most species, including this Usnea Florida.  This, combined with the hairlike structure of the lichen, means that Usnea lent itself well to treating surface wounds before sterile gauze and modern antibiotics.  It is also edible and very high in vitamin C.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not confident enough in my sight identification of mushrooms or lichen to test the medicinal properties of either, though there are no lichens nicknamed “Death Angel” or anything so nefarious, so I might be more willing to nibble on the ganglia of this lichen than an anonymous mushroom–if push came to absolute shove.

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A Sunday Walk (In Florida)

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Being from Florida and going to college in North Carolina, the natural questions often arose as to whether I kept an alligator as a pet or whether I lived in a swamp.  The latter question was more on point, as most of Florida is a swamp.  We live near two nature preserves, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and Nocatee Preserve.  I love taking Kemper in either, as his wonder for nature is still brimming with optimism and zeal.  I could not pry him away from his animal figurines, and so I went to Nocatee Preserve by myself.  I made a concerted effort to view the swamp that surrounds the paths through his eyes, and I snagged a number of photographs that captured a child-like whimsy that I had lost long ago (when it comes to swamps).  This photograph of grove of bald cypresses (Taxodium Distichum) typifies this approach.  I have seen so many in my life, that I take their majesty for granted.  In the wild, these august trees can live for thousands of years.  The largest and oldest, the “Senator” was estimated to be 3,500 years old.  One of the bald cypress’ most unusual characteristics is its “knees.”  The knees are conical growths protruding up from the root system that radiates out from the tree’s trunk.  They often have a knobby, knee-like appearance at the top.  Their function is unknown, although studies suggest they may help the cypress absorb oxygen and remain stable in loose wet soils.  Approaching the swamp with a renewed perspective (a truly Florida tack) was a great lesson for me to learn.  As this photo attests, there is beauty even in the brackish, tannin-dyed waters of the Florida swamps.

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Southern Needleleaf

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This photograph of a southern needleleaf air plant (Tillandsia Setecea) on a water oak (Quercus Nigra) was taken on a hike in Nocatee Preserve near my home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  The needleleaf is an epiphyte, an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and debris accumulating around it. I am fascinated by epiphytes, like the resurrection fern in an earlier post.  In Florida, they are everywhere.  We had a few large crepe myrtles in our back yard, and the needleleafs practically covered the trunks and branches of the trees.  I have always been curious how they take hold on their host tree.  Many people have seen these members of the bromelaid family, but few have ever seen the beautiful and delicate purple flowers that bloom for an instant and are gone.  I have been lucky enough to see the blossoms, having grown up around them, and perhaps as the Romantic Poets believed, they are all the more beautiful because they are so evanescent and fleeting.

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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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Kintsugi

SSA Photography (78 of 400)

In an series of three poignant essays, F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that he was fractured like a dinner plate that you would hide from the neighbors if they came over.  One of the greatest writers of the early 20th Century had indeed “cracked” under the pressure of his own success.  I identified with Fitzgerald’s essays—and Fitzgerald himself—on many levels, except that once cracked up, Fitzgerald never ventured to put himself back together again.

The Japanese have a beautiful word, kintsugi, which is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer, generally mixed with powdered precious metals like gold.  Kintsugi, however, stretches far beyond the art form.  It has become a philosophy, which accentuates the breakage and repair of the object as evidence of its history—rather than something to disguise or sweep into the dustbin.  The fractures are part of the object’s story, part of its beautiful memory.

We are all broken, some of us more than others, but these faults, these breaks shape who we are when we come out the other side—but only if we venture to put ourselves back together again like a shattered vase in the hands of an artist.

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