These little birds don’t communicate like you and I. In fact, while watching them wander along the shoreline I never heard them make a single noise. And yet, as the waves would brush up onto the beach the entire group would move as if connected. Mesmerized, I followed their dance up and down the sandy promenade that mirrored the ebb and flow of the gentle water waltz. Occasionally, the group would stop and some members would plop down to rest, the others going on about their business with little regard for the setting few. Then, as quickly as they stopped, they jumped up again and meandered their way along the shoreline in search of the next best thing to find, whatever it might be they were looking for.
Although they moved as a group, it was clear that they did not have any specific pattern of interaction. Each little avian hunter appeared expertly focused on whatever tasty morsel it might find in the fringes of the watery diner and seemed oblivious to what the active peeper next to it might be doing. As an observer, it was fascinating to see this flock move as a unit, yet work as individuals. There was not an obvious collective goal, but it did feel like they had a strong desire to remain together. Interesting and fun to watch.
I know that many times in the past I also wandered through the day in crowds of people and focused on my own tasks at hand, unaware or maybe unfocused on the people surrounding me. It is so easy to get lost in myself at times. In fact, some of my loneliest moments presented while surrounded by the largest number of people.
I believe we’ve all been there at one point or another and truthfully that helps to consider that this feeling is never unique to just me. But how I deal with it is so much more important. As so well put by John Donne:
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Perspective is the key and understanding that although at times I may walk with blinders on toward those around me, and try to consider myself alone, as soon as I am willing to open my eyes to the synergistic quality of human life; I am no longer capable of being alone or lonely.
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.
The elderly man shuffles slowly down a deserted street, fatigue weighing heavily on his shoulders. The broom he pushes falls without ceremony to the ground as he grabs to his hat. Gusting wind sends old paper wrappers and an empty can clanking down the empty street before it. Cigarette butts litter the sidewalk, mixed with confetti and slowly dying balloons. The dampness from a recent rain brings up the musty smell of wet cardboard into the air, rising from the nearby alleyway clogged with old boxes and burdened with evidence of population overload.
Two days ago it was impossible to walk this same path without being jostled about by the crowd. Not today. The holiday is passed and the parade is over. What was festive is now dull and lifeless with little to celebrate but the triumph of one more block to clean and the knowledge that another days work will be offered. The gentleman picks up his broom from where it fell, adjusts his hat and starts the repetitive motion of pushing filth once again.
Sometimes work is just that. Work. According to the Deloitte Shift Report in 2013, a whopping 89% of the workforce is not passionate about their jobs. 11% responded that they felt passionate about what they did for a living. Only 11%. Ouch.
I tried to be passionate a few times, but work got in the way. Too many people whose passion is themselves and they pay for it at the expense of others. I still hold onto promise and search regularly for the passion to make tomorrow’s work a focus of desire and not just a necessity. I need the hope. One day I hope not to need the job.
In the interim, I take pictures and reflect on the moments they capture. I use the memories of frozen pixels as a handhold to lift me from the struggles of today into the hopefulness of tomorrow. I see the storms of life and know they too shall pass, usually with a powerful sunset and the refreshing calmness that following a summer thunderstorm. I stare into the calm waters and see the reflection of clouds moving to their next adventure. I wait patiently for my next adventure as well.
The street sweeper continues to push his broom, knowing the next parade will someday come and go with celebration and fanfare. I will continue to find the reflections of optimism in the pictures I take and we will both wake tomorrow with a renewed sense of purpose.
Feeling extra ambitious the other day, I set out on an 8 mile hike to see a waterfall. I was anxious to make a trip like this before the leaves were done changing colors, and hoped to get some great autumn vibrancy captured for this year. The decision was firmed up when the temperatures dropped into a pleasant range and weather cooperated to make the trip enjoyable.
Forty miles of comfortable travel on paved roads brought me to the point of entry for my journey. Fifteen more miles of dirt road traveled slowly with muddy ruts and jarring potholes guided me to a flat spot to park the truck and started the hiking part of my adventure. The first of many choice confronted me. A number of routes were available and the wilderness trail I chose was one of the easier ones, but it connected with multiple others that could lead me astray if I didn’t stay alert.
Ahead of me, the trail started out flat; covered with a blanket of colored leaves that recently took flight from their perches and glided gently to the forest floor. A recent rain dampened the path and the familiar crunch of leaves underfoot was missing from my expected nature soundtrack. There was quiet in fact. Lots of quiet. Too far from the river to hear it even murmur, I was wrapped in the silence that descends from large trees when there is no wind to stir them on a crisp fall morning.
I walked on. The passage of time was lost to me and the weight of worldly stress lifted as the sound of the river grew louder; beating a hasty path over the rocks and trees that attempted to impede its enthusiasm. I let it lead me along until I reached the falls and watched the water yell as it jumped into the waiting pool below with a crash. Camera in hand, I wandered beside as an observer to the wet playground and took portraits of the trees and falling water; cascading poses that dancing sunlight used to build rainbows across my lens. A busy setting of active peace that surrounded me with multiple sensations.
And then it was time to leave. I made certain to find the correct trail and start back, occasionally checking my map just to be sure. I walked and listened; the soft leaves slowly beginning to dry and add character to my step. Walking around a corner, I was suddenly startled by another adventurer briskly heading by. He looked up, just as befuddled to run into someone on this otherwise lonesome trail.
We mumbled pleasantries and then he asked me in an offhand way; “how much further do I have to go?” To which I replied, “That depends on where you are going.” He laughed as he realized how vague he had been and how correct I was. More specifics were conveyed, information passed and we parted company; each going in our own direction.
As I continued on I contemplated the question that my fellow traveler asked and how it really was applicable to more than just this tree covered byway. How often do I start off on a new project before I very clearly identify the end goal? Do I take the time to make certain I’m headed in the right direction before I pick up my pace? Am I willing to stop and ask directions when I need them and when I do; am I careful to make sure the questions I ask are clear enough to get a proper response? Do I know what I want to accomplish next in this life so I can correctly figure out how much further I have to go on this leg of my travels?
I made it safely back to my truck before the sun went down and slowly started the rough ride back to reality. I left this journey with both colorful pictures and some added wisdom to take with me into my next tomorrow.
♦Photo Tip♦ I love to get the glowing, smooth picture of water as it runs over falls or down a rocky creek bed. To do this during the day requires two very important things. A tripod and a neutral density (ND) filter. The best way to get the look of blended water smoothly falling over the rocks is to use a shutter speed slower than 1/30th of a second. This is too slow to hold in your hand and keep the picture sharp. It also will cause the photo to be overexposed in daylight at most settings. The tripod gives you the steady base you need and the ND filter keeps the light down while the lens is open. The pair lets you take pictures like the one above.
I admire the mighty saguaro cactus; an amazing adapter to the harsh desert environment where it thrives. This plant can grow over 40 feet tall, weigh in at many tons, and live well beyond 100 years. It is the giant overseer of the arid landscape it calls home.
I took this picture on an afternoon hike through the mountains of Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. This is the only place on earth to see these remarkable cactus. I was surrounded by saguaros of varying size, but this one stood tall, high up on a rock out-cropping; a guardian surveying its leagues and I imagined its stentorian commands echoing through the rock walled canyons through the ages.
The saguaro survives by acclimating to the unpredictability of a desolate landscape that counts raindrops as a precious commodity. Plunging a taproot up to 5 feet into the desert sand, and then stretching out a network of shallow finger roots to capture surface water; the larger saguaros can gather up to 200 gallons of liquid from a single rainfall.
Adaptability like this is so important, especially if I want to able to leave any legacy. My environment changes daily. Weather changes, social circumstances change, financial positions change, locations change, attitudes change. The list goes on and change is one of the few consistencies I can count on in life. How I adapt to these changes plays an enormous part in my ability to be successful in negotiating the passing days with a positive outlook. Failure to adapt moves me from the chain of events each day, discarded as the weaker link. Like the saguaro, I must be adaptable.
I do wonder if I should always be willing to bend to adapt all the events that make up my day? What if by giving in at times I compromise my integrity just a little? Adaptability is key, and I have to be willing to compromise at times; but what determines the limits of my compromise? Interesting comparison here that once again my friend the saguaro can teach.
If this immense and prodigious succulent allows the hardiness of its wooden support structure to be compromised it can fall the entire cactus. This same inner skeleton is what keeps the longest living legacy of the desert upright in the blowing sands that attempt to topple it. A spiny exterior fends off the larger predators that can harm it, but certain birds can create a small hole in just the right place, and the cactus will form a barrier that keeps it healthy and allow the two a symbiotic relationship. Standing straight and true give this beauty the strength it needs to hold strong to its roots.
I cannot compromise the values that make me who I am or I too will start a downward slide that eventually will lead to my own demise. I have to keep up my guard each day and be aware of my surroundings. I have to be present in the moments I have and make certain my relationships are based on trust and mutual respect. I have to be truthful in the dealings I have with others, and keep myself healthy in mind and body to perform at the level of expectation I set for myself.
I must adapt, but never compromise my integrity. I must be able to stand straight and work only in truth. If I am careful to do these things, I can weather the storms, survive the droughts and hope for the chance to live a life worthy of legacy.
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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Comfortably resting on a sturdy branch high above the forest floor, I surveyed the nature scape that surrounded me. Life was simple. I provided shade for the creatures below me and turned sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar energy for my tree while happily making oxygen. Those were easy days, hanging out in the sunshine.
Easy I should say, until that day everything changed. I went to sleep a leaf and dreamed I was a starfish. When I awoke, I had fallen from my tree and landed in a puddle. The experience was exhilarating, but now I’m wet and cold and want to be back where I belong. I fear that things will never be the same again.
Life is full of surprises. Especially if you are a leaf and unprepared for the changing seasons; but us human types have to be on our toes as well.
I know that my whole world can change in the blink of an eye. I can’t plan for every contingency, but I can learn to adapt to those surprises when they do present. The years of surprises and unexpected change have taught me that having the right attitude is just about the most important part of being prepared.
My attitude is one of the only things that I have complete control of every day. Circumstances and the world around me can bring changes in the weather, changes to my plans, and present me with new and exciting challenges every day.
But no one can affect my attitude without me allowing them to.
I used to make statements about how others made me mad, until I came to the realization that no one on earth has the ability to control my emotions other than me. Period. Others can act in a manner that has the potential to upset me, but happy, sad, or mad; all these are ultimately mine to decide and mine to control unless I give up that power to someone else.
…and between you and me; I don’t want to give that much power and control over my day and my spirit to anyone…
I am not a big fan of surprises and I don’t like to be upset any more than I have to so I work to face my challenges on an even keel. Sure, I still get angry and I still get sad, but I let myself feel those emotions when I want to or I feel I need to; not because someone else decided to try and ruin my day.
The leaf in our photo had a life changing event and now has to deal with it. Life in the tree is gone, but playing starfish for a while may turn out to be the next best thing.
I believe that if I control my attitude I maintain control of my satisfaction with life and I remain ready to take on the next best thing that shows up for me as well.
The symphony of nature can be wonderful to hear. The melody is everywhere. Gentle cresting waves lapping onto an otherwise quiet southern beach. The single cricket playing a first chair solo in a distant wheat field. The chorus of bull frogs who echo their a capella rhythm across great distances on a hot summer evening. The sound of the wind as it plays through the swaying pines on cool spring morning. A serenade of rain drops across a tin roof with echoes of thunder rumbling in the distance. Nature conducts the tune in the chords of its character.
If your life was added to the music already playing around you, in what chord would it be played? I think mine would be E minor.
Major chords are just so happy. They resonate with fortitude, strength, and determination. They announce their entrance and need no resolution before moving to the next gusto of vibrato. I guess that there are days my life could be a major chord. Those days when I have no choice but to stand and deliver what is expected of me. Those days when everything is falling into place with precision and timing. Those days I could pull off living in the spirit of a major chord.
Minor chords are much more moody, though. They tend to convey contemplation, a more somber emotion, and evoke a melancholy reply. They sound the call of the mystery and mark time for curiosity. They don’t always need resolution, but they can draw out a strong anticipation for the upcoming tone. I think my life would be played in a minor chord; lost for periods in thoughtful consideration of what transpires around me, always feeling hope that the next note played will lift the tempo and the mood. Sometime life is so much of a mystery that a minor scale is all I can manage.
I have to be careful, though. I wouldn’t want to let myself fall out of tune and wander into the company of diminished chords; they can be unsettling. They create tension and emotional confusion, they long to be followed by a major chord, or even a transitional minor chord as they hang on the scale. No, my life is definitely not a diminished chord.
Why does any of this matter? Plato said it best, “[Music] gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and adds charm and happiness to everything”. The song of my life has meaning. The concert started long ago. I am allowed an occasional intermission to gather my thoughts, but the show must go on.
It is important to me that when the curtain closes on the symphony of my life, I want the audience to feel as if they have not wasted their time or money on the ticket for the show I provided. I do not get the benefit of an encore on this earth so I have to do my best the first time around. I am not sure what movement or act I might be on, but it is time to perform once again!