Walking on the beach seems to help me relax and gain perspective when I need it. The rhythmic sounds of the waves as they rolling onto their sandy landing and the wind that travels for miles, passing by me without slowing as it heads on its journey inland. The environment allows me simple time for extended contemplation.
A few weeks ago while strolling down the beach, camera always at the ready; I was intrigued by a sudden gathering of pelicans just outside the wave breaks. First just a few, then very quickly a flock of more than 50 formed as pelicans arrived as if a frantic invitation had just been dispatched with a call to respond. It was mesmerizing to see this somewhat controlled chaos of birds develop.
It became clear rather quickly what the entire ruckus was about. Food.
For those who may never have had the opportunity to see a pelican up close; these are not the most graceful looking aviators I have seen in the kingdom of the birds. Large heads with long fat wings, up close they look far from aerobatic.
What I observed during this frenzy was a different bird than I pictured in the past when observing pelicans.
Flying at a good clip, as they spotted a fish for feeding, they abruptly rolled over and dove with impressive speed headfirst into the water, typically from a height of about 15-25 ft. No hesitation. Total commitment and fully engaged with the task at hand with agility that defies their outward presentation. And it appeared they were all regularly successful at getting what they had their eye on.
I wonder how long an uncommitted pelican would last. A pelican that regularly had the opportunity to see what it was he or she needed to go after, but was always wavering just a little bit about taking the plunge. The water is too rough. The fish is too deep. What if it hurts when I dive in? What if I miss?
I believe this pelican would not survive long. Hesitation and missed opportunity would get the better of them. They would trade the 10 seconds of full commitment needed in exchange for days of hunger and eventual demise.
I think sometimes I need to realize how important that same 10 seconds can be. See the opportunity. Make the informed decision to risk possible short term failure for the larger opportunity to succeed. I have many successes already. I have many failures as well; but I continue to learn each time that with each failure I am really just creating a new opportunity to succeed the next try.
The pelicans are not hungry because they never give up and they don’t let how they are seen by me influence their willingness to be graceful. Lesson learned.
Look closely at the photo above. I love the calm, mirrored surface of a pond and a crowd of willing models gracefully standing still to have their picture taken.
Interesting thing about pictures in modern times. Things are not always as they appear. The digital age is a wonderful time to practice photography for sure. I remember when I first started taking pictures with a 35mm Pentax camera using rolls of film. The photos required perfection when you snapped the shutter; there was anticipation in the darkroom as the negatives developed, and there was at times disappointment when you realize hours after taking a picture that you missed the shot that you hoped to capture. Digital photographers will never feel that emotional pit in their stomach that was so devastating as a roll of film gone bad or a picture missing attention to detail that isn’t realized until long after the chance to re-shoot is gone. I don’t miss that at all.
And that’s a good thing! Now I can take pictures, see my work immediately, and when shooting non-moving landscape; delete and try again if needed. It is a wonderful thing.
The challenge in today’s photo world is for the observer. With tools like Lightroom and Photoshop, I can not only “fix” photo issues after the fact, but I can literally create entire canvases of images I never saw except in my mind. I can transform photographs into personalized art. I can also attempt to manipulate what I want my audience to see or feel when they look at the pictures I take.
The picture at the top of the page is actually cropped and rotated 180 degrees so that what you think are the trees actually are just their reflection. A keen eye may notice on their initial look the subtle feeling that something wasn’t right, but even I tend to believe what I see at first glance.
Life can be tricky this way as well. It’s so important that with all that goes on around me, I don’t fall into the trap of always just accepting things at face value. When I do, I become a pawn to those who will happily take advantage of a malleable personality that comes with “crowd thinking”. I am who I am. I am responsible for who I become. I have to be vigilant on a daily basis to be certain that my perception is correct before I let it become my reality.
The alternative is to find myself upside down in this crazy world and never being able to figure out which way is up.
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 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.
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.
Ouch. This was a rough week.
In the struggle of what I wish my life was like every day and the real life I have to deal with, real life won out by a large margin this week.
Times like this I have to go back to a very simple but favorite saying for encouragement, “They say it gets better in the end, so if it’s not getting better, it must not be the end!”. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I hope they have the wisdom of the ages to back up that prediction.
I strive to maintain a level mood, and most days I am very successful. I do this by drifting back to places like the picture above. This was taken on a small lake in North Carolina. I wandered out on this dock as the sun began to set over a very calm water. No wind. No sound. No distractions but my own thoughts. I was alone and void of pressure from outside. It required me to focus on letting myself get just as calm on the inside. This helps me remember that inner peace is something I can really get used to.
So much goes on around me every day that can really put a hurting on my emotional stability. Like others around me, I have to deal with illogical people; people who are smarter in their heads than they are in real life; people who challenge my integrity and my sanity at the same time. Add to that the noise of everyday living, the pressures I let others put upon me, and internal strife that I carry as baggage from the past; Kaboom. If I let it all have a piece of my soul, there will never be any left for me.
So I can’t let that happen.
I find my “dock” like the one above. I take a few minutes and realize that the only person I have to answer to every day is myself. I need to step back, breathe deeply and let out the frustration that comes along in dealing with other beings. We all have our daily battles. I am not alone and can’t survive by always being focused on just my struggles without taking a moment to identify my part in keeping these struggles alive, and how I chose to get caught up in group angst.
I need to ask myself: Am I trying the hardest I can to do the best with what I have and who I have to work with? Do I look to find the common goals I might have even with those who are selfishly only looking out for their own interests every day? Can I do something to make the people around me happier and try to improve my environment by improving theirs? Do I try to change the things I can’t and create my own internal struggles in the process?
This week I need to spend a few more hours sitting on the dock. I need to flush the poison of emotional sabotage from my system and breathe back in the realization that I don’t need to let others pick away at my soul. They can chose to do that to themselves, but not to me. My goal will never be to help them self destruct, but always just to help them get into a better place when I can.
I will get up tomorrow and do what I am able and as long as the end of the day lets me lay my head back down with my integrity and my character intact; I’ll be ready to do it again the next tomorrow that I may be granted access to.
For a photographer, every time the seasons change we are presented with the opportunity to record it in digital admiration. Summer is good for green and thunderstorms and outdoor action. Winter is good for black and white and high contrast pictures; ice and snow and crisp mornings. The spring time brings new growth and colorful flowers, gentle rain and windy fields of flowing grass. The Fall, though. Wow. Trees compete to see which can show off the most spectacular transformation and present us with shows that rival broken clouds in vibrant summer beach sunsets. The picture above was taken a few days ago while flying over the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. The one below was snapped while wandering through those same mountains last year at this time.
For a few precious days the colors are amazing and mesmerizing and emotion-creating…and then just as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone for another year. The leaves fall to the ground and the naked trees are left just standing in perhaps a bewildered embarrassment before they go to sleep. They must then wait patiently for mother nature to wake them up and tell them it’s time to get dressed and get back to providing shade once again.
Although the colors are spectacular, as they go away so does my excited spirit. This time of year tends to be more melancholy as I feel the changes from warm and bright to dull and white.
But my mood is mine to control. If I don’t take an active role in what direction is wants to take, it will pull me down quickly. I start to dwell on the cold of last winter or the somber visions of grey boney trees.
So I pull out the colorful pictures and use them to remind me of the things I have to look forward to and rekindle the memories of the bright and warm days I know are still possible.
Sometimes I need to do this with my personal goals as well. I lose my focus on the end-game I am striving for and allow myself to get distracted when the changing scenery around me starts to become less than spectacular. I get pulled down by the memory of past failures and dwell on flaws.
In the same way I use the pictures to boost my spirits I can use the past successes to keep me motivated towards my goals. I reflect on the many challenges I faced head on in the past and realize that I am who I am and where I am because of the tenacity needed to keep going.
I recall that one of the key character traits that distinguishes those who are successful in life from those who are not is that those who succeed will always get up again when they miss their mark. They don’t always reach their goals or get to expected outcomes. They just never stop trying.
If I stop when I fail, I chose to remain identified by that failure as my last act. I make a decision to be unsuccessful.
Once I get up and try again I immediately move back to the category of a potential achiever. My past becomes my past. I don’t need to drag it along to the future with me. Although it will always be part of who I am, those times when I was less than stellar do not become my prime source of identification.
I will be successful right up until the day I decide not to be.
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.
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.