The temperature hung around freezing for over a week and I responded by staying indoors in the warmth and comfort of a controlled climate, watching the world through my protective window until I just couldn’t stand it anymore.
Grabbing my cameras and layering up for the cold, I set out to see a waterfall that I wanted to photograph. A few inches of new snow-covered the trail, and the blank canvas of white made it clear no other soul was walking the path ahead of me. The winter blanket provided a sound dampening layer to the forest floor around me and the silence broken only by the crunch of my boots and the occasional falling icicles from the branches high above me.
I heard the falling water long before I saw it. Making my way carefully down the slippery trail, the river came into view and then the target of the journey.
Heavy sheets of ice hung from the rock walls alongside the waterfall, building slowly from the freezing mist that danced with the wind in the small canyon; coating the ground and the trail that passed behind the cascade as well. A clear challenge presented itself. The best angle to photograph this scene was on the other side of the river. The trail to get there passed behind the waterfall and was clearly covered in thick ice. I cautiously started to navigate the obstacle course and very quickly realized that I was setting myself up for failure. The path had an almost imperceivable slope that announced itself with clarity once I started down it, moving me toward the wall of water and associated freezing river. I just wasn’t in the mood to go for a cold swim.
I re-evaluated my situation and gave myself a conservative 20% success rate of making it through this part of the journey unscathed; and then I quickly but carefully turned around.
I backtracked down the river and found a much more pleasant crossing point and did some off-trail navigating to get to where I wanted to shoot from. The picture above was one of the many I took that day.
I face new challenges everyday. Some of them are self-imposed and some of them present unexpectedly. Few are life threatening and most are easily negotiated. I look forward to each one of these challenges because they are what help me to continually develop my sense of judgement, they strengthen my self-worth, and they create a positive history of accomplishment or failure.
Positive failure? Yes. I don’t ever see failure as a bad thing for me; because I never fail by choice and I never fail from giving up. When I fail it’s only the result of my best efforts not being successful and does not reflect on my character or my abilities. With each, I have a new foundation of knowledge and a new skill set to learn.
The people who need to fear failure are those who use it an excuse to stop trying. I welcome it as a reason to try harder.
I am thankful for the opportunity to wake up each morning and know that by choice, I am always walking the path to success. The slippery slopes I wander upon may create the need for me to change direction, but they don’t require me to give up on the goal of the journey and with determination I keep moving forward.
As a wandering soul and curious photographer, I have a tendency to be easily distracted. Some might call this a weakness. I find it keeps things interesting and hold it up as a strength.
Not very long ago while wandering, I took a wrong turn. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a wrong turn, but more appropriately an unplanned turn. While on a journey from one point to another I felt an urge for an adventure and started down a road that I had not originally intended to travel. For a little while I would even say that I was lost.
I didn’t know exactly where I was or where the road I was on would take me. I didn’t have any cell service so I couldn’t pull up a map to help me. Perhaps a wiser man would have stopped and turned around. I just kept driving.
This wasn’t the first time I put myself in this situation and I can confidently say it won’t be the last. Each of these mini treks turns out differently and not always for the better. It’s never reckless and always a calculated risk, however, and a chance I’m willing to take.
The rewards are typically a sense of simple accomplishment when I navigate my way back to civilization and even greater when I have a card full of photographs to document the new sights I encountered. What the camera doesn’t bring back are the soul-stirring moments or the emotional return I get for the investment of time and chance.
On this particular path I encountered an opportunity for solitude and a chance to reflect on a number of challenges I faced. I witnessed a raptor of unknown origin assist a rodent in understanding the circle of life. I felt the pleasure of doing nothing and resting for a while afterwards. I captured some photogenic landscapes and a few idealistic moments posing perfectly just for me. All in all, this detour was a positive one.
I understand the need for direction and goals. I fully appreciate the importance of having a plan when traveling through this life towards a specific destination. But I also find that nothing helps me to appreciate my surroundings more than daring to take a little detour now and then and see if perhaps by “coloring outside of the lines” I might get the boost I need to keep the creative spirit alive.
I don’t do well in a rut. I’m looking forward to my next chance to turn the wrong way.
The air is crisp and biting as it grasps at the light fog that travels through the tall stands of majestic trees. They proudly keep watch as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years; guarding the path of the water below. The quiet is broken only by the low roar of the falls and the sound of the river as it travels it course; keenly directed by its banks and purposeful in motion. At the top of the falls it almost seems to rush in excitement to the edge and bounce along with joy to the waiting pool below. There, fine fingers of mist try to climb the walls in the hopes of running the gauntlet once again, only to be picked up by the wind and tossed playfully along, quenching the thirst of the plants that hang on with anticipation and turn their leaves up to the cool, comforting moisture that envelops them.
I watch this river, and I am envious of the journey. I imagine the excitement of being able to travel with such purpose and guided direction, but also with constant anticipation of the unknown ahead. I relish the excitement generated by the falling water and the fun it has sliding over the smooth helpful stones.
Such a expedition is mesmerizing. I contemplate how each day I would awaken and drink in new surroundings; it would change the person I become. On this type of path my future would be assured to develop itself tremendously different than the course I considered a year, a week, or even a day ago.
So why can’t I live this way? During my muddled existence every day, doesn’t each new adventure or obstacle encountered create new character traits to master? Somehow, I must learn to appreciate the opportunity afforded me with each new sunrise and eagerly embrace my voyage with the same enthusiasm that the river takes to its course. I need to jump off the waterfalls of life with the confidence of knowing there is a waiting pool of refreshing water to break my fall; pushing me down life’s river to see what might be waiting around the next bend.
♦Photo Tip♦ Framing your subject helps to guide the eyes in a photo. This can be accomplished with anything that provides a “border” to the picture, and does not mean it has to be present on all sides of the picture. In the photo above, a large tree is used to frame one side of the composition, while also providing some added depth to the picture. It is important not to get stuck thinking that framing always has to be something that provides a straight line. Shrubs, symmetrical clouds on the horizon, a road sign, the side of a barn…realize that being creative is the most important aspect to keep in mind when looking through the viewfinder or at your screen.
Not too long ago I was driving through Tennessee and came across a field of southern snow. It was white and expansive and from a distance looked like a bunch of small shrubs covered with icy white stuff. Of course, it wasn’t really snow, and I knew what it really was, but it was pretty to look at nonetheless.
I pulled over and stepped out into the thorny field to survey the white puffs of soft cotton. This was my first real close-up encounter with pre-clothing. I felt moved by what I saw (which is a prerequisite for me to capture pixels in the form of a photograph) and started taking pictures like the one above.
Cotton starts as a simple little seed and grows into the plants that produce bolls which contain the cotton fibers. Although there are a number of types of cottons, they all grow very similarly to become the plants that give up the fibers. From that point, what a handful of soft cotton becomes varies greatly.
Don’t stop reading yet. I promise not to bore you with too many more details…and I do have a reason for going down this path.
Some cotton is absorbent, other types not so much. The seeds can be pressed to produce cottonseed oil, and the remains fed to cattle for roughage. The cotton hulls are used as feed, fertilizer, fuel, and packing materials. Once cotton is spun into thread, it becomes a shirt, pants, socks, blended with other natural or synthetic fibers, a rope, a bag, shoes, a hat, and even automotive tire cords in some older tires. The list goes on and on.
As I pondered the life of a cotton pod I realized that people are like that too. We start off very similar on the day we are born. We may have different environments that we are born into, but we all have the chance of becoming many different things. Our advantage over the life of cotton; we typically get to pick or at least influence our direction. We have a chance to set goals and work for what we want to become. I may not reach all my goals, but each day I wake up I get to decide if I want to work toward my those goals or not.
I wonder if I take full advantage of my options every day. I wonder if I am using my full potential every chance I get. Do I have a clear picture of what I want to accomplish with the time I have or do I spend more time bouncing around aimlessly? What a waste it will be to get to the end of my days and look back with a regret that I foolishly squandered too many of my gifted days. I have to be more careful with my passing 86,400 seconds I get each time the sun comes up.
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A WanderingPixels blog remix.
A man wakes up early in the morning every day to go to work at a company he loves. He builds boats. He works with other people who build boats, specifically fishing boats. His particular craft, which he does well, is to hand-lay the air dried lumber planks that form the hull of the boat. He specializes in carvel planking, which he learned from his father who learned it from his father, who used the same technique when he built Tall Ships that crossed the oceans in earlier times.
The boats this man builds are used to catch shrimp off the coast of North Carolina. One boat in particular, the Miss Evans, spent many years in service bringing in shrimp that was served in restaurants up and down the East Coast. Some of those shrimp made it inland, traveling a few hundred miles on ice to satisfy the needs of Piedmont landlubbers craving a taste of the sea’s bounty.
In a small town in the central part of the state, there is a cozy diner that got a shipment of these delectable shrimp delivered only once or twice a year. It was news in this little town, and the arrival of the Miss Evans shrimp was always announced with fanfare. One particular individual was especially excited when the shrimp arrived. She had never seen the ocean. Confined to her bed by a tragic accident, she was limited in her ability to travel. Nonetheless, she appreciated good shrimp, and saved diligently to be able to purchase a few when they came to town. She never married and was focused on her trade.
Although immobile, she knew how to sew. She specialized in making jackets; heavy wool jackets that could keep a person warm and dry in the worst of weather. The fine detail and extra care that was put into her coats was well known. Each was handmade and crafted for the individual who ordered it. Although expensive by the standards of the time, she was only able to lovingly create 4 or 5 jackets a year due to the complexity of their needlework. Still, she had a waiting list of folks who wanted to own her treasured jackets that was pages long up until the day she died.
A gentleman from New England proudly wore one of those coats every day, weather permitting. He got the coat as a gift many years ago, from a friend who owned a boat building company. One of the workers had mentioned that his aunt made the nicest wool jackets, highly prized for their fit and finish. The owner had purchased a coat from Miss Evans and cherished it so much that gave a boat the same name, to honor her for the fine work she obviously took so much pride in doing.
The boat builder never knew a boat he carefully created had been named after his aunt.
The gentleman from New England later became president of the United States, wore the prized wool jacket at his inauguration, and now it hangs in the Smithsonian.
Miss Evans never knew that the shrimp she so loved came from a boat with her namesake, or a jacket she made became famous.
The owner of the boat building company eventually retired and moved inland. He bought a small diner in a central part of the North Carolina, where he serves shrimp when he can get it once or twice a year.
In the spirit of honesty; this story is a work of fiction. I created it while looking at the picture I took of a boat. And while none of it is true, the premise of the story line is not so far-fetched.
Edward Lorenz was a very smart man. His Chaos Theory, later leading to the term he coined– “The Butterfly Effect” describes how slight changes in one dynamic system can and will have an affect on other dynamic systems in proximity, which in turn will affect another, and so on. Basically stated, chaos is defined by Mr. Lorenz: “When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.”
Fascinatingly confusing to try and think about for a simple mind like mine, but here is how I translate it:
I like to think that I have have potential for lots of unseen connections of some form or fashion. Most of my acquaintances and people I run into each day come from different backgrounds, perform different jobs, and cope with daily life in different ways. I think we all have a story to tell that brought us to where we are today. Although different in many ways, I think I still impact many people I don’t even know by what I say and do to get myself through the day. I wonder what type of tangled web I would discover if I could see all the lines that remotely tie us together as I wiggle through life every day.
I just hope when I flap my wings, like the butterfly in South Africa; I create something more pleasant than a hurricane.
As the sun slowly sets over the distant horizon another day comes to a close and our measured time washes another 24 hours from the bank of life. If I am there to witness it, I consider myself fortunate for the chance to use those minutes and hours to write another chapter in my own book of memories.
Time is an interesting quantifier. 525,600 minutes of our time tick off each year. On leap years, we get an extra 1,440 — a days worth. Whether I pay attention to it or not, the background passage time makes is not impacted by my actions. It moves at a constant pace regardless of how it is measured. And while I perceive time to pass at differing speeds relative to the activity I am present in each moment; it cares not about my perception and gracefully or not it marches right along.
One of my favorite aspects of photography is it allow me to freeze a moment in time and put it into a 2-dimensional package for me to hang on to. With these papers covered with no-longer-wandering pixels, I can re-create memories and return to past experiences for any reason I chose. The past is the past, but memory can make it feel real again in the present.
I have to be careful, though. For some of my past is not always good to have with me in the present. I file those memories under the category of REGRET. My favorite definition concerning regret is, “to continually go back and visit untoward memories with the hope the past will somehow change.” I know it can’t be done. I know that others are aware the past won’t ever be different than it was. Yet I can still wander around back there in self-pity and a state of mental destitute for days at a time; but always return with the same history I started with. Those minutes, or days, or weeks are wasted.
Henry David Thoreau made a fine recommendation, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”
I still look back. I end up going that way sometimes. Perhaps another opportunity for positive change?
I can’t keep others from traveling into my past; especially to the memories I created with pain or suffering to them or others. All I can do is ask for forgiveness as payment on my debt and then I can travel in the present with a focused goal to not add to those debts. If my plea is ignored and those harmed chose to stay with regret in arrears, it is beyond my scope to belay it.
So I will chose to go forward tomorrow if I am allowed once more to be a part of that next 1,440 minutes of constrained eternity. I will look for good memories to pack into my camera and I will deliver them others. Whenever I can, I will be a positive force on the timeshare of life with my fellow travelers.
♦Photo Tip♦ Most of us are taught to put the sun at our back when we take a picture. Don’t be rigid with that advice. When you stand to take a picture, use the sun to create the effect you are looking for. To you back, your photo will be well lit for details; although people will be squinting for the same reason. The sun to either side; shadows are cast short or long and can add both dimension and contrast effects. Put the sun behind your subject and you get a silhouette as the focus of your shot. Experiment!
The quote above is one of my favorites, and comes from an author born in South Africa who grew up in England. He set out to write a children’s book and ended up with a series that became one of the most popular reads in the entire world for young and old alike.
That success story alone inspires me, but the essence of the quote is even more encouraging. Written for the series, this quote appears in a number of the books. I like to think of it as a good life-theme even today, especially if you include lines from an earlier rendition:
Not all that have fallen are vanquished;
a king may yet be without crown,
A blade that was broken be brandished;
and towers that were strong may fall down
Subject to individual interpretation, I like to consider the idea that guidance to a pleasant life comes in many forms. While I don’t take quotes and stories and use them to direct my paths I do believe that the insight of others on the ways of the world are worth investigation to add wisdom to personal experience.
I am kindred to the line, “All who wander are not lost”. Many times in my life I wandered with purpose and intent but not a straight path to follow. Still, I feel comfortable taking the idea a level higher to say, “Most who wander actually are lost, but for some of us, it’s by design.” There are many occasions I would say I end up not quite sure where I am on this journey. Sometimes that fact becomes a problem. Sometimes it seems to work in my favor. Most times I’m OK with it, and so I wander some more. By taking crooked paths to reach my goals and occasionally allowing the structure around me to crumble from the planning, it provides a more varied perspective on life, opens new doors, and reveals unplanned adventures.
I think goals are important, but I never want to be so focused on the goal that I lose the benefit of the travels I take to reach them. The experience grants me wisdom. The goal is just a terminus with a fresh start awaiting as I plan for the next one.