Tag Archives: challenge

A Little Package of Big Inspiration

Fill the frame
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.

RubyThroatAcro

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.

Lesson Learned From A Pelican Instructor

Pelican Flock copy

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.

Pier Pelican

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.Making the turnDiving for dinner

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.

Icy Challenges And Successful Failures

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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.

Wrong Turns Are Sometimes The Right Way To Go

Apache Trail

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.

Some Days The Fight Doesn’t Need To Be Part of the Struggle

Dock

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.

Past Meets Present and Keeps Me Going Forward

Past Meets PresentHead down and arms out as I push hard against the heavy hanger door. Cold steel pushes back against the palms of my hands and the loud squeal of sliding rusty metal permeates the quiet of the morning. My breath is visible in the air around my head, suspended in the frigid spell of dawn. A distant rumble shakes the sleepiness from my mind and the wandering thoughts bouncing around become more focused. I smell the aroma of burning fuel and oil as I’m snapped awake by the stiff breeze generated when four large radial engines are summoned to move history from the 1940’s to the present and get it airborne. In awe I watch as a ghost from the past ambles by on rubber shoes and slowly lifts itself into the waiting blue sky.

Excitement replaces sleepiness and I can’t wait to follow that path upward as I get my less notable craft ready to go.

Bird are born to fly. Humans had to work hard to accomplish the same feat. I appreciate the dedication and sacrifices made by the many who poured their heart and soul into the goal of taking mankind from a ground based being who was stuck to the earth by the glue of gravity and giving us the freedom to change our perspective skyward. I love to fly and putting into words the feeling it gives me is one of the few things I struggle to describe. The closest I can come is an excerpt from the most famous poems about it:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of …

–John Magee “High Flight”

I wish I could go back and watch that first interaction; the first time someone told someone else they were going to try and fly. I can only imagine the laughter and ridicule that followed. Fly like a bird? Are you crazy? I am certain that same conversation played out many times again and again over the years, but with a different subject. You are going to make a pen that you don’t ever have to dip in an ink well? Are you crazy? You want to make a contraption that travels faster than 35mph on wheels? Are you crazy? You want to make a boat that travels across the oceans but does not use a sail? Are you crazy? You are going to get into that aircraft and fly faster than the speed of sound? Are you crazy?

I wonder what our world would look like today if any of those who challenged the common sense of the times listened to the nay-Sayers, put down their work and wandered off? I wonder how many times I have really been my own worst enemy in this same department and convinced myself that the goals I have are foolish ones?

The B-17 pictured above was ahead of it’s time and changed the course of history for many people. Someone had an idea and was encouraged to follow it. The rest really is history.

I have ideas and I have dreams. I don’t need to change history for many, but I do need to make sure I don’t let my own fears or the negative words of others change mine.

Time for me to fly. I never was very good at keeping my head out of the clouds.

I Wish More Days Were Made of A Wet Rough and Tumble Spirit!

blackwaterFalls_St Pk WV

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.

I Fell Asleep a Leaf and Awoke a Starfish

StarfishLeaf

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.

Falling Water and the World of Unknowns.

Oregon Falls

The sound of rushing water becomes almost hypnotic; the steady rhythm of wet dripping notes pounding out on rock drums far below. A cooling mist blows from the falls as the energy of the descending water creates its own wind. Painted ferns dance to the music and shine in the kaleidoscope of sunbeams bouncing around on natures stage.

 I sit in the quiet company of elder trees and listen. My thoughts turn to the words of an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he is not the same man.”

 Heraclitus was big on change. In his writings, he spends a lot of time contemplating and philosophizing on what would be termed in present day as “Universal Flux.” Some attribute another famous saying to him, “the only thing constant in life is change.” I believe in many instances this quote holds true. Change. A difficult and vast contemplation for sure.

I’m not big on change. I’m glad for opportunity to see the changing river flow, the change of the seasons, or the downward change in the price of gas; but when it comes to me and my life, my excitement for change quickly wanes in most professional circumstances.

Resting on a fallen log in natures den, I breathe in the forest air, strong in scent of woody pine. I know that to shy from change sets the foundation for stopping progress, for without embracing the new, we are stuck with the old and the evolution needed for success is cut down in its prime. I realize that change means moving forward into the unknown. Perhaps it’s not the idea of change that causes my angst, but this idea of the unknown. Change will, many times, actually be a good thing and bring about a positive movement for the future. But can the unknown ever provide the same confident look into tomorrow?

Under the shimmering water of the flowing stream beside me sit multicolored rocks smooth from the constant polishing of the every changing river. The rocks don’t move much without considerable force, and yet even sitting still they are impacted by the water moving over and around them.

Sometimes I’m a rock. Sometimes I will just sit still and yet will continue to find myself being influenced and moved by the world going by around me. Sometimes the world pushes a little harder and I have no choice but to move in the same direction. The world is ignorant to my wishes, and I am forced to adapt with some change. But even as I am forced to change, I am guided down a path that is full of unknown and the question remains; how do I get comfortable with what is coming that I can’t see?

A large pine cone drops solidly beside me with a loud, “Thump!” I’m startled. I didn’t know that was going to happen. My heart rate jumps and my sense of awareness is heightened. More unknown.

I don’t think I have to necessarily be OK with the unknown. I think being a little on edge about what comes next in my tomorrow or even in my next few moments will help me focus more on being present in each of them as they are passing. I’m already aware that time will continue with or without me. I can’t influence it at all. To be the best person I can, I have to pay attention. I have to maintain awareness of what goes on around me. I must make certain that I remain as prepared as I can for what happens next, but not spend so much energy worrying about it that it consumes my ability to be fully present in the “right now” moments as they occur.

What are you thoughts on this philosophical quandary; Is change good? Is the unknown to be feared? If a large pine cone were to fall in the woods and I wasn’t there to get startled by it, would it still make a sound?

Photo Tip♦ One of my favorite ways to photograph water and waterfalls is with a slow enough shutter speed set to let the glowing smooth water gather a visual motion. There are a few things that will help make your same water pictures turn out the best they can.  A good, steady tripod is really a must for tack sharp pictures with the slow speed shutter. You want to try and get a shutter speed that is slow enough to smooth the falling water, but fast enough so you don’t blow out the whites with over exposure. For most waterfalls, the tumbling drops will start to blend around 1/30th of a second or slower. The time of day, angle of the sun, and weather will all impact what settings work best, so don’t be afraid to take lots of pictures with different set ups until you find the one that works for your current environment. If you have the ability to take bracketed exposures you can really make these photos pop. If you’re not sure how that works, just stay tuned to this blog and we’ll get to it sometime I’m certain!

Patience isn’t just a virtue; Sometimes it’s a necessity.

I’m not a patient person by nature. I really try to be; but like most of us in this encompassing culture of instant gratification, I like for things to happen faster than they usually do. We’re programmed by our surroundings to expect things to happen quickly or we think something is wrong.

I still remember the days when pictures from across the Country had to travel by mail and the journey required 5-7 days to complete. Now pictures from across the world arrive almost instantaneously from people and places I’ve never met or seen.

The hurry up world we live in can take its toll on us if we let it. I feel it tugging at my soul when I try to sit quietly and just enjoy the next minute to arrive. I know there are times when I miss out on moments of clarity or opportunities of interest because I am just not patient enough for them to arrive in my time. But every once in awhile I am faced with a choice for patience and I know that to capture the moment I want, there is no correct decision except the one that says to just wait.

This photo is just such a moment.

Sunburst Trees

One morning last fall I drove up before dawn into the dark of the Tennessee Smokey Mountains. There was a location that I knew had deer, turkey and other wildlife wandering at sunrise and I wanted to see if they might cooperate for some pictures.

After parking my car and walking about a half a mile through the damp air, the sunlight slowly started to filter through the thick morning fog that settled during the night into the area around me. As I turned toward the east, it occurred to me that just as the sun were to pop over the mountain behind this tree, I believed that the resulting sunburst would be spectacular. Should I wait and see if my intuition was correct, or should I wander on and find the “next best picture” that might appear? I chose to wait, and so I sat down. It took about 20 minutes from the time I stopped until the sun peeked over the hill. When it did I was ready. This photo is one of many I got that day, some truly amazing. I still believe that had I kept going, none of the other opportunities that followed me through my day would have been available. The timing would have changed and so would the course of my day and the subjects of my pictures.

Now I try to make certain that I at least take the time for consideration when I feel myself getting impatient. What will I miss if I hurry on? What will I gain if I stop and wait? I think it’s best to avoid being in so much of a hurry that we miss the journey entirely. Perhaps this week is a good one to try and slow down.

Photo Tip♦ Morning light is a great photo enhancer. I’m not as much of a morning person as I used to be, but getting up early sometimes is the only way to grab the really great shots. It amazes me how just being out at dawn can cause average photos to become eye-catching photos when the rising sun, the morning dew, and the misty fog all cooperate to create backdrops and enhancements to add a “wow” factor to the subject I want to shoot. Take advantage of the natural light show that arrives early with the sun.

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