The hummingbirds have long since moved on from where I am now to warmer places for the winter. I don’t blame them. More than once in the past few months I also considered flying south until the weather warmed up.
When they are in town, these little acrobats always amaze me with their antics. Trying to get a picture of them teaches me great patience as well. They move fast, rarely stay in one place very long, and tend to be a little apprehensive around me and my big black camera; even when using a zoom lens and sitting very still a ways away.
The average hummingbird weighs in at a whopping 3 grams. For comparison; the nickel in your pocket weighs 4.5 grams. It seems that the hummingbird is a lot of fluff. They are also one of the most aggressive bird species around and have no hesitation to take on big blue jays, crows, and even hawks that infringe on their territory.
As small as they are; there are some specific species that migrate more than 2000 miles every year. A few even include a 500 mile nonstop journey across the Gulf of Mexico. Makes me tired just trying to comprehend that trip.
As migratory birds, hummingbirds serve two very important purposes. They can transport resources between ecosystems located thousands of miles apart. They also assist with pollination, which is vital to many trees and flowers that would not be able to reproduce without the aid of the mighty hummingbird.
All this is interesting to some degree, but why do I care about this pocket-sized bird?
To me it is a small package with large-sized inspiration all around it.
I’m encouraged that the size of this bird does not impact its vision of what it can achieve. Size plays no part in deterring it from pushing toward the goals it needs to accomplish. The hummingbird doesn’t stop to worry about the bigger competition, larger obstacles, or percived impediments. It can move quicker and in different directions than the larger birds it encounters. There is no indication that this bird spends any wasted time considering areas of weakness and uses all its unique attributes as strengths for accomplishing the task at hand.
The hummingbird does not appear to have a confidence problem; and it proves itself with remarkable feats that would not be considered reasonable by just looking at its stature. I like the way this little bird thinks big.
All business and all great projects start as a small thought or idea, but with proper nurturing they can grow into big accomplishments and a create lasting impact even from a small footprint.
Like the pint-sized squeaker; I’ll continue to focus on the staying power of consistent determination and watch small philosophies become large successes.
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.
There are special souls born of compassion and placed into the lives of others for a special reason. They not only see their glass as half full, they are happy to give you their half just to fill yours up.
Their gift is to give. Pleasure is found in the ability to enrich the lives of others while asking nothing in return. Their purpose is well defined by the lives they lead.
“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson
In the mirror they see an ordinary person. In their actions they sense comfort and peace that only comes from following their natural path. They don’t feel as if they are special and they don’t need the recognition of others to know the value of self-worth.
They are not found on the forefront of life’s stage, they toil in the wings; their only goal to assure that all others have the performance of a lifetime.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
They generate kindness and encourage consideration for others; helping us to realize we all have our struggles and the journey we travel is difficult if attempted alone.
They don’t wait until Christmas or other holidays to give because they must breathe to live, and giving of themselves is the breaths they take each day.
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”
-John Andrew Holmes
Holidays are great times to feel that giving spirit rejuvenated, but I like to think about how wonderful the coming year will be if that same spirit is kept alive long after the holidays are gone.
“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’”
I’ve never met a truly happy “taker.” I’ve never met a truly unhappy “giver” either. If my goal is success and happiness, it appears the intelligent road to take is the one that does not try to travel on the backs of others, but rather helps to clear the way for them to proceed.
As the New Year approaches I want to make certain I keep focus on the proven promise by a man who demonstrated its effectiveness may times over;
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.