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.
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.
Why do I take pictures, you ask? I am happy to explain. I believe we all should take more pictures; and here is why.
There are very few things that get me to the relaxed state faster than sitting on an open beach like the picture above.
Taking pictures is one of those things.
You see, I am drawn to the sound of the ocean and the lullaby that the waves can whisper in my ears. The feel of warm sand on my feet and the smell of the salt air pressed against my face by the ever present warm breeze waltzing in from it’s watery voyage. The blues and greens of the sea and the sky mixing colors that artists envy. Cotton-soft clouds that float through the air and bounce invitingly on the atmospheric currents. All of these things cover my spirit with a gentle blanket of peace.
But I am limited right now in the time that I can spend in this coastal Arcadia; so I stare at the picture above and I imagine all the sounds, scents, and scenery that I felt when I snapped the exposure.
I struggle daily with the harsh reality of the world and I allow it to overwhelm me at times. The levels of cruelty that we can reach with each other and the conflict that I and the souls I mingle with face each day all pass before my eyes and are seen with unfiltered vision.
But when I raise the camera and peer through the viewfinder my vision clears. The chaos and anxiety created by the world is removed and I see a picture. I see a story. I feel a calm developed by a sense of wonder pushed toward me through the lens with creative earnest. I snap a picture. I stop time. I grab a reprieve and I carry it away with me in pixels full of color and form. The camera stops the insanity that is our world and settles it down to red, green, and blue channels and mixes them together to show me something more wonderful and peaceful, and simple.
As I have said on my photo website; I selfishly take these pictures for me, but I happily share their vision with anyone who will take a look, in the hopes that they offer a moment of reflection. Although I have a specific tale to tell in each of the pictures I take, the story seen by others in each one is theirs to do with as they please.
I think we all need to take more pictures of the good things and take the time to narrate our fond memories with the hope of easing the strain of life’s journey just a little at a time.
Every morning we awake and go through the motions of what will be our legacy for the day…until the sun sets and the colorful lights fade, and the moments allotted us for that period once again pass along into eternity.
What we accomplish and who we touch and what we say; these all play together to create other tomorrows for us and for those with whom we have interacted. These contact moments are the lifeless lumps of clay that we give away for others to work with and mold them to create their own life stories. Once hardened in the kiln of memories, and glazed with the colors of love, these timeless moments can be packed away and treasured for as long as we continue to care for them.
Through their power, even in the dark of the coldest night, they give us the opportunity to feel comfort from the warmth of growing friendship and kindred spirits.
So as you travel your life’s journey, always carry the knowledge that you are special. By mere existence, you have the chance to touch another life and spark an ember of warmth that will continue to glow and spread a spirit of joy; always connected. You are now destined to continue to do great things. You are a comforter, a servant, perhaps a caregiver to many, a leader of some…but most importantly…always capable of being a friend.
♦Photo Tip♦ A tripod or a place to brace your camera is essential for early morning or late evening shots. The slower shutter speed will highlight any movement and blur it. For water shots, this can be just the soft focus you are looking for, but for the surrounding area, you want it to be tack sharp with a steady camera.
I love the ocean and I love the beach, but there are times when I actually avoid both, even on those beautiful sunny afternoons. The sand is warm and the water is inviting, but the crowds that pack them have the ability to quickly wick the enjoyment from the experience.
Those same crowds will disappear during the evening hours as night moves in. The the sun drops into a distance horizon, and a quiet calm blankets the beach as the moon slides into view. Stars slowly pop out of the dark sky and a kinder, gentler mood mingles nicely with the cooler salt air.
Now I can hear myself think.
Nobody is trying to talk over the sound of the crashing waves or boisterous crowds, vying for control of the soundspace around them.
Interesting how sometimes we tend to fight for that same desire to be heard throughout the day. I used to think that the louder I spoke, the more likely I was to be heard. It wasn’t long for me to figure out a different strategy. Like the beautiful quiet of the night time coast, I have found that by stepping back and speaking softly, many times the world around will get quieter as it strains to hear what I have to say.
Next time you feel nobody is listening stand tall, speak softly and see what happens.
♦Photo Tip♦ Don’t give up on pictures because the sun goes down. All it requires is patience and a steady resting point for the camera. I took the photo above on a North Carolina Beach late one night using a tripod and a long exposure. This will smooth out the water and as you can see; bring out the light of a full moon to mimic bright sunshine with darkness surrounding.