Insomnia and Ducks

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Insomnia is awful.  I have been having trouble sleeping, even before I was sent off to self-quarantine upstairs last week (a lovely little coronavirus scare to keep me on my toes), and so I couldn’t employ my go-to coping mechanism of going into work at 2:30 in the morning and writing, whether it be one of these posts—which I know have been few and far between—or any of the panoply of novels, short stories, or legal articles that I begin only to get distracted by another idea or topic like a young racoon chancing upon his first shiny bauble.  (Apologies for the Faulkner-length sentence.)  It sucks.  (There, some Hemingway to balance it out.)

As a consequence of my insomnia, I got out of bed, perfunctorily showered, and dressed for work.  I must have been feeling a bit plucky, because I chose a golf shirt rather than a button down and a tie.  (Mind you, I haven’t seen an actual client in months, but I like to keep up appearances.)  My office is both a greenhouse (on account of all of the plants) and a meat locker (on account of the schizophrenic/bipolar air conditioning in the building).  I throw on a sweatshirt, thinking nothing of the embroidered “University of Florida Law School” emblem just over my heart.   This, it turns out, in hindsight, and with the gift of retrospection, was somewhat of an error in judgment.

I tiptoe out of the bedroom, lest I wake Anna, get in my car, and realize that I still have the ambient music playing that was supposed to lull me to blissful sleep.  (Lies.)  Let me tell you what—if you have never experienced cellos and formerly-soft synthesizers decibel levels higher than front row at a Kiss concert, because the last music you played was Social Distortion unnaturally loudly, because you were at the office until 9:30 working on an appellate brief, because the boss is a procrastinator.  But I digress.

I arrived at the gas station to get my coffee, as I am wont to do.  I always enjoy getting to the gas station before 3:00, because that is, apparently, when the shift change for the sheriff’s office happens.  So here I am, likely with a caked line of drool down my chin, at 2:45 in the morning, in the company of seven large deputies.

“Morning guys,” I say, recognizing some of them from my previous pre-3:00 AM trips.  In unison, almost as if they had trained for this exact moment, they all nod at me slightly, in sort of an acknowledgment that yes, I may pass without incident.

Unfortunately, they were bogarting the coffee station, and I did not feel like further disturbing them (the nods were enough), and so I made my way to my old crutch—the energy drink.  I bought one (read three) and before the door to the cooler even shut, one of the employees, who is a bit slow on the uptick, approaches me, rather sheepishly, I might add.  I think nothing of it until Carl opens his stubbly lips.

“Do I remember you saying you were a lawyer?”

Shit.  Why am I my mother’s son, who must make friends with everyone?  Damn you cordiality.

“That’s right,” I say with a smile on my face, which was 67% genuine, which counts for something.

Carl proceeds to tell me that he inherited a bar from his mother.  (Let me tell you, this context made Carl’s character a whole lot rounder and believable in the pantomime that was my pre-dawn frolic and detour to get coffee.)  We go through the steps of recording of a promissory note (there’s really only one step…you hand it to the clerk and pay $5), and I thank God I took the Virginia Bar as well as Florida’s, because in Virginia, the sadists they are, the Bar examiners test secured transactions.  Without that knowledge, I would have been lost.

Carl shakes my hand, genuinely appreciative, and I feel a bit schmucky for my inner monologue being so glib.  With Carl satisfied I make my way up to the counter with my one (read three) energy drink, and that is where I meet Kyle.  Kyle is about seven and a half feet tall and not narrow.  (I happen to be a subject matter expert in want of narrowness.)  I hand my drinks to Kyle, he scans them, but before the kindly, pasty young ogre hands them back to me, I apparently must pay a toll or solve a riddle.

“You went to UF Law?” he asks, staring at my chest.

I look down and see that this, indeed, is my post-grad sweatshirt.  Shit again.

“Yep.”  Ok, now give me the drink, I think to myself.  Transaction complete.  I don’t need my receipt.  I don’t need to show ID (or empathy).  Give. Me. The. Drink.  And then Kyle says the single most unexpected thing I have heard in some time.

“Is it illegal to steal ducks from the park?”

“What’s that?” I ask genuinely.  Yep, wasn’t ready for that one.  Hell, perhaps the ambient music worked, and I am dreaming.

“Ducks.  From the county park.  Is it illegal to take them?  I mean, they’re just sitting right there.”  They’re just sitting right there.  That sentence will be etched in my brain until I take my last breath.

I crane my neck to look Kyle straight in his duck-thieving eyes, and I tell him that if he has to use the word “steal” it’s probably not a good idea.  In my most judicious voice, I tell him that I would advise against it.

In the back of my mind, though, I’m thinking to myself.  Well, hell, if your lumbering butt can catch a duck, it’s yours.  Abscond with the sucker.  I guarantee you that no one’s going to believe the provenance of that duck when you tell them the story of how you, with agility and aplomb, caught a duck with your bare hands at the park.

And then I think to myself, is it really any less conceivable than what has happened to me in the last seven minutes?

But seriously, insomnia.

Sampling Deity

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This photograph was taken during a morning hike in Garrapata State Park, Carmel, California.  I bought a 10-stop neutral density filter for just this purpose, and I was so pleased with the result.  For those less photographically inclined, a neutral density (ND) filter is basically like a pair of sunglasses for the camera.  You screw it on to the lens and it blocks out a certain portion of light.  A 10-stop ND filter blocks out, you may have guessed, ten times the light that would ordinarily hit the sensor.  By doing this, you can reduce the shutter speed and anything that moves—such as waves and water—becomes blurred.  Many photographers use ND filters to achieve this “softness” in waterfalls, waves, etc.

This was one of my first attempts at using a ND filter, and I was thoroughly impressed by the effect.  The waves were crashing on these two rocks off the coast of Garrapata, but in this photograph, they look calm and soft.  The smoothness of the water belies the strong, fierce waves.  The ND filter also allows much more saturated colors, which can be artificially boosted in post processing, but here occurred straight out of camera.

I love the sharp contrast between the jagged rocks and the smoothness of the waves.  It is completely unnatural in light of what was actually happening while this exposure was being captured, but it appears completely organic.  I am not usually one to manipulate nature in my photographs.  Generally, I take what is given to me, capturing a moment of nature and editing the photograph only to enhance the natural effect, perhaps to capture the melancholy of how I felt when I pressed the shutter button.

Here, however, I sampled a bit of deity and fiddled with the elements.  The effect is completely different than what I saw; the photograph, in this way, is far closer to a piece of art than simply my effort to capture the art of nature which was presented to me.  There is something to be said for the artistic quality, though I must admit that I am a bit uncomfortable determining how the elements should be portrayed.  It is a departure from my more documentary nature photography, but this is, perhaps, not a bad thing…

Whitewash

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Please indulge this wizened writer for a brief moment.

I have been a writer since I could hold a pencil.  I did not always blog, but I have done so since 2012, when I was at a previous large law firm, and I was the Florida Banking Law Blog.  I learned a lot over the course of writing those posts, both about content and generally about what readers are seeking when they visit.  The post must be informational and educational, else they will have no reason to visit it, and the post must be at least mildly entertaining, else they will lose interest quickly, and they won’t bother reading the content.

Before I blogged, I was a creative writer and an editor.  I am a published poet, a fairly widely published legal author, and I attended Wake Forest on the Presidential Scholarship for Excellence in creative writing – based upon a novel I had written, which I began when I was sixteen.  In college, I was an editor of a journal, and in law school, I was editor-in-chief of the second largest journal at the school.  As such, I am rightly proud of my writing.  And then along comes Brandi.*

My current firm has decided to enter the blogosphere, and I have taken on the responsibility of creating the website and the lion’s share of the content.  Some of the content is very dry – after all, I am a tax lawyer – but I have striven to engage the reader in even the most esoteric posts.  Some of the posts are downright funny, and they have been incredibly well received by my peers and my shareholders.  And then along came Brandi.*

Without solicitation, a young lady (I think she’s thirteen or fourteen), a lackey at the marketing agency that our firm has chosen to engage, sent me an email at 5:23 last night “editing” and “proofreading” one of my more creative blog posts about the use of testamentary trusts for your animals (think Leona Helmsley or Karl Lagerfield).  I read through the comments, first with bemused apathy, and then with growing vitriol that rose to a veritable boil by the final page.  The white-hot anger washed over me like the surf in the photograph at the beginning of this post, which was taken in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

I can be criticized for many things, and often rightly so.  I am overweight, though I have lost eighty pounds since last March.  I am a perfectionist.  I can be untidy.  I can be many things less than the paragon that I strive to be, but when it comes to criticizing my writing, this is an inviolate line that nary a person ever crosses (nor, I must point out, dear reader, would they have reason to).  And then along came Brandi.*

I have calmed down since last night, when I quite literally turned off my computer – physically pressing the power button without logging off or shutting down – with the full knowledge that if left to my own devices, Brandi* would have been the recipient of a wrath-filled dissertation on the error of her ways.  Ultimately, her words will pass like those written on running water, a simile that was first used by the Roman poet Catullus.  One of my fellow associates at the firm left me with these parting words: “Scott, you have too many degrees to worry about what she said.”

I will respond, likely with class and dignity.  I will rise above, likely with great aplomb.  If I see her, I will smack her, likely with my shoe.  The fact that I know that those three sentences contained the rhetorical device tricolon crescens, and the fact that I intended such effect, gives me solace.  I will rest now on my laurels, laugh at her comments, and disregard them like a wave washing over the rocks on a sunny day.

Click here for a larger version and a black and white version.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the little twerp.

Rocks of the Bay

My dad grew up in Biddeford, Maine (south of Portland) and spent his summers in Old Orchard Beach.  My mother’s parents would rent a house on the coast during the summers when I was much younger, and all I can remember from those days is climbing through the rocks that lined the shore.  Because of this, I have a certain affinity for Down East (the coast of Maine).  So when my in-laws decided to take a vacation to Bar Harbor, I was excited to be able to personally revisit some of my childhood memories.

We took a small boat around the harbors, and saw many of the lighthouses that dot the coastline.  The stones along the coast longed to be climbed on, but that was a long while ago.  My son, Kemper, is as old as I was then, and he would love the (relative) safety of climbing on the rocks of the bay (versus the cherry tree in my parents’ front yard, which mercifully died before I got too big for the topmost branches to hold me).  He is not a risk-taker, for which I am very grateful.  His impulsivity would not be well met by fearlessness.

Although I usually prefer black and white photographs, the contrasts of the trees and coastline to the skies and water were to beautiful to reduce to monochrome.  For whatever reason, the photographs I have taken in Maine tend to end up in color.  This is a testament to the natural beauty of Down East (and to the fact that I always visit in the summer).

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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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Crash

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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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Hokusai

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I took hundreds of photographs, waiting for the waves to crash on the rocks at just the right angle, with just the right force.  This photograph evoked feelings of “The Great Wave” the famous woodblock print by by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai in his series Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji.  It also made me think of the creation myth of Aphrodite, which unlike Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, was, by all accounts, a violent affair.  Although Aphrodite can be broken down into “aphros” (foam) and “ditos” (risen), there is no direct etymological derivation.  This did not stop the Greeks (Hesiod, specifically) from crafting a story of Aphrodite rising from the foam after a great battle between Cronus and Uranus, which would foreshadow the same father-son battle between Zeus and Cronus.  In the whitewash, I can almost see Aphrodite throwing her hair back, casting off the spray as she nears the coastline.  But then, I suppose that’s what you get when your two favorite subjects in school were Latin and Art History…

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Invasive Beauty

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This post was originally titled “Native Beauty,” as I had seen these beautiful purple flowers up and down the coast near Carmel, California.  With a bit of research, however, I found that these stunning flowers are an invasive species known as Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans).  In fact, forestry officials are removing them from native plant communities as part of habitat restoration efforts in coastal parks such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The genus name is from an ancient Greek word for the plant. It is derived from “echion,” with the root word “echis” meaning “viper.”  There are conflicting etymological justifications for the name, including that the shape of the seed resembles that of a viper’s head, and  that Echium Vulgare, a related plant, was a historically thought to be a remedy for the adder’s bite.  Candicans or “shining white” refers to one of the more famous varietals in Madeira, Portugal, where the plants originate.  It was originally referred to as Echium Fatuosum, which is where the “pride” in the name originated.  In California, however, the purple E. Candicans varietal shown in the photograph is the most common.

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Roil

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This photograph was taken on a blustery morning in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  The winds were coming through the bay at a fierce clip, and the waves were the largest I had ever seen.  We went on a hike to Point Lobos, and I captured this scene after one of the larger waves had crashed across the rocks – completely covering them in a mix of foam and roil.  One of the apocryphal origins to the name Aphrodite is “risen from the foam,” but I cannot imagine that this was the type of scene the ancients envisioned of her birth.  I think Botticelli got it right.  The violence of the waves made me marvel at the strength of the stone, which has invariably been battered for eons.  Love is like that in many ways, often beaten but never broken…so perhaps the ancients were onto something…

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Awash

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I have lived near the ocean my whole life, and yet it took my first trip to the California coast to truly admire the beauty of the sea.  The rocks and the waves are gorgeous in and of themselves, but together they are magical.  This photograph captures the instant when the two come together to produce an ephemeral wisp of beauty.  But for my camera capturing the fleeting moment, this little crash would have been forgotten, lost beneath the weight of the others that have come after it.  My fascination with the waves and the rocks can be seen in my collection California Waves.  I hope you enjoy this instant as much as I have.  The Romantics–Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley–all tried to capture that one infinite moment in words.  I will never have the words to capture it like they did; but then, they didn’t have a lens…

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