Dusk on the Davidson

NCWinter2018-8

This photograph was taken just before the golden hour in the Pisgah National Forest in Brevard, North Carolina.  A combination of heavy snows just weeks before, warm weather thereafter, and torrential rains contributed to an incredible amount of flooding, especially along major tributaries like the Davidson River, which is pictured here.

As we hiked along the banks of the Davidson, I was shocked to see a water line about a foot and half up on the trunks of the trees, even a hundred yards from the river.  Limbs and leaves and detritus were scattered along the muddy paths, and Kemper found great pleasure in stomping in the mud and his wellingtons.  In fact, the mud puddles seem to be the only redeeming factor in many of our walks which he begrudgingly accompanied us on.

The snowfall, the likes of which had not been seen in decades, knocked many large trees down, as evidenced by the fresh sawdust on the trails where the park rangers had come through earlier that week with chainsaws.  It is humbling to think, despite the power that we wield, the sheer power of nature is unparalleled.  Having grown up in Florida, I am accustomed to this come July through September when hurricane season is in full effect.  I am sure the next time we go up, new growth will have taken the place of the grand old black pines, whose time it was to cede to a younger generation of saplings.

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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Winter Willows

NCWinter2018-55

I leave today, I’m packing light: a suitcase, some toiletries
The rolling hills and willow trees of Carolina wait for me

-Benjamin Gibbard, Carolina

When I set foot on Wake Forest’s campus, I knew it was home.  It is often difficult for me to recall the details of every important life moment, especially if I didn’t put much stock in the moment at the time.  Yet I remember pulling off of Silas Creek Parkway, and seeing the hedges at the entrance to Wake’s campus like it was yesterday.  It was the Fall, and the leaves had already begun to fall as my dad and I pulled through the gate and onto the main road into the campus.

Carolina is still home in many ways.  It is home insofar as I have deep, sometimes painful nostalgia for it.  Nostalgia comes from the Greek meaning an aching for home.  I ache to be back in the foothills, to be back when the leaves turn and fall.  For a long time, I ached to be back at college, but now that I am in a job I enjoy, in a place I love, I do not covet the thought of being back in the dorms and going to class every morning.  Too much has happened in the interim, and I am not the person I was when I was eighteen and stepped foot onto the campus.

Having said that, in many ways, I am more that eighteen-year-old now at thirty-four than I was at twenty-two when I left, or even thirty, when I hit the reset button and chose to fundamentally change who I had become.  To all who met me, I was a happy, laid-back person, who had the capacity to find the joy in the littlest things in life.  I was more this person than perhaps I gave myself credit for being, though at the time, I considered it quite the facade.  Today, I am returning to (or perhaps becoming for the first time) the person I so desperately wanted to be when I was at Wake.  As they say, selfishness and self-seeking have slipped away; I have a new outlook on life.  I comprehend serenity, and I know peace.  For me, North Carolina embodies these promises, and so, one day I will pack my back, to where the rolling hills and willow trees of Carolina wait for me.

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Alaskan Rainforest

SSA Photography (24 of 400)

Few places in America have resonated with me as much as Alaska.

To me it is otherworldly, which is, perhaps, because I was born and raised in the flat scrub-filled swamps of northern Florida.  Still, the glaciers and fjords seemed so foreign to me when I first saw them.  This photograph was taken in Glacier Bay National Park, along the inside passage of Alaska.  Amongst the ice features that dominate the state, there is a temperate rainforest (as opposed to the tropical ones we are wont to think of).

The paths that cut through the forest were each uniquely beautiful, and I wish that I had truly hit my photographic stride when I was there.  Unfortunately, I have been there just once, and it was my inspiration to become a better photographer, rather than coming out party as a well-meaning, somewhat skilled amateur photographer, whose eye for photographs is punctuated by luck and somewhat more advanced post-processing skills.

Someday we will return, and I will be prepared.  I will bring my arsenal of lenses, but I hope that I give enough time to simply taking in the majesty of my surroundings.  It is easy for me to slink behind the lens and capture the beauty of nature without being engaged with it until days or weeks later when I can appreciate it through the photographs.  Still, they are a memento of the voyage to a place so unlike my home, and I treasure them.

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Quest

LittleTalbot-9

In the end, we are all searching for something.

The quote I chose for my yearbook junior year of high school was “Life’s a journey, not a destination, and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow will bring.”  This was from Aerosmith’s Amazing, which hit so many chords with me even then.  The quote is hackneyed and attributable to dozens of people, most commonly Ralph Waldo Emerson (though he does not appear to have written the exact quote, just the sentiment).  Some days I regret choosing it instead of Faulker’s quote from the Unvanquished: “I realized then the immitigable chasm between life and print – that those who can do, and those who cannot, and suffer enough because they cannot, write about it.”  That, I think, would have been more appropriate for that time in my life.

Kemper has inherited many things from me, but at his core he does not know what it is to deceive.  We often joke that he acts the same for Anna and me as he does for his teachers, and as he would for a stranger; what you see is what you get.  It is a brilliant, albeit foreign, trait to me.  As he has matured, I have waited for the introversion to take over, but he must have received a recessive gene from Anna.  Though he cedes to quietness after a long day of entertaining people – and not as a defense mechanism – he is not like me, like who I was.

In my earlier years, if you saw me, casually, on the street, to you I looked happy.  I was the greatest liar that ever lived.  That did not seem like hyperbole at the time, and when I look back on the years between college and where I am today, I can still say that without any reservation or apprehension (which, perhaps, is a testament to how often I convinced myself of my own deception).  But then I recovered.

I am different now, too.   I remain introverted, but the life I lead is no longer a duality of darkness and feigned brightness.  Hawthorne once wrote “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”  I read this quote (from The Scarlett Letter) in high school, and I still remember it to this day.  I lived the quote, not as much then as in my later years, but even at sixteen, I recognized my ability to con and fool others (and even myself) into believing I was capable of feeling joy.  But then I recovered.

I have found that capability, and I experience joy every day.  I am cautious though.  The joy is always tinged at the corners with a fear of free-falling back to a time and place I can now barely remember.  I do not regret my past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it.  Instead, it has made me who I am at this moment, and this moment is all I have until the next one passes.  For now, I have joy and contentment and knowledge and peace that there are things both within and without my control.  Honestly.  Because I recovered.

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Driftwood Core

LittleTalbot-13

At the core, we all have holes.

Some are larger than others, and while most can eventually be filled in, some remain empty.  My paralegal lost her daughter in August just after childbirth.  The sorrow was unimaginable, and we did all that we could for her, but nothing we did or said could fill the hole of the loss of her only child.  Her daughter left behind a husband and three children, five, two, and a newborn.  Our paralegal was out for three months, and our practice slowed in her understandable absence.  More than anything, I missed my friend, and I looked forward to the day that she returned.

She came back at the start of January, less than complete and not totally present, but she was managing better than I could have.  My job (self-appointed) was to keep a smile on her face, to listen when she needed it, and to offer a shoulder to cry on in the moments when she needed to be vulnerable.  I brought her lunch, and we joked with each other, superficially, but still she laughed.  It was a little thing, but it was a bit of normalcy.

On Saturday tragedy struck again.  The baby stopped breathing, and could not be resuscitated.  He was gone, and so too was she once more.  I could not do a thing but tell her that I loved her and that I was here for her – howsoever she needed me.  I cannot imagine the gaping hole that this tragedy tore asunder, ripping the partially healed one of her daughter’s death back open to the elements.  I don’t know if it will ever heal.

My own holes are filled for the most part.  There are still remnants of them, cavities and interstices that remind me of the voids that were once a part of my life.  I do not dwell on them as a practice, but at times like these, I am reminded of the grace and providence that allowed me to see the faintest hint of light peeking through the chasms.

We all have holes at our core.  Some will be filled by time, but the unimaginable others, I just don’t know.

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Growth

Panthertown Valley

Christmas break was supposed to be a reset.

Kemper had begun showing out at school, becoming increasingly obstinate to the teachers.  It had not fully made its way home, but we received emails every night or notes home in his folder that he had refused to do work or told the teacher he did not want to do something she asked.  He was five, and she was a brand new teacher, so we thought he might just be going through a phase and feeling out her boundaries.  Little did we realize that it was just the beginning of a truly rough patch.  But Christmas break was going to be a reset.  We would go to North Carolina, and all of the energy that he longed to let loose could be released in the mountain air.

We started the year with high hopes for Kemper.  We had begun to see a child psychologist before we left for North Carolina, and Kemper seemed to react well to him.  He showed none of the behavior that had been plaguing him at school, and we thought that he might have moved past the obstinance that he had begun to show.  The first day back was a disaster.  He yelled at the teacher, swatted at her, and flatly refused to do his math work.  He was sent to the principal, and Anna was called in to pick him up.  We disciplined him as we then thought appropriate, taking away his beloved stuffed animals, and this seemed to affect a change in his temperament.  The next day was as bad, if not worse.  The day after that he barely made it into the classroom before he had an outburst that sent him to the principal’s office.

We had him tested, and he proved to be off-the-charts gifted (which came as no surprise to us), and we thought he was just bored.  After many tears and gritted words, we walked away with a diagnosis of severe AD/HD.  The poor little guy could not physically sit still long enough to focus on his work, which he was being forced to do and then being scolded for not doing appropriately.  The psychiatrist suggested medication, which we very reticently put him on.  The change was immediate. Saturday was his sixth birthday, and we saw for the first time in a while the true Kemper coming back to us.

I took this photograph of a small patch of crustose lichen growing on the fallen trunk of a large red oak (Quercus Rubrum) in passing while on one of the many hikes that Kemper enjoyed (though he lamented his boredom along the way).  It did not mean much to me at the time, but in context it illustrates to me the rebirth of a new year.  Christmas break was not the reset we expected.  The fallen oak did not immediately sprout new leaves.  But in the darkness, there was a hint of life anew.  I may come upon this tree when we go back to North Carolina in June, and the lichen may cover the trunk by that point…or, it may just remain there in that little patch, growing slowly but steadily.  And that progress, as small as it might be, is enough.

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