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.
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.
Not too long ago I was driving through Tennessee and came across a field of southern snow. It was white and expansive and from a distance looked like a bunch of small shrubs covered with icy white stuff. Of course, it wasn’t really snow, and I knew what it really was, but it was pretty to look at nonetheless.
I pulled over and stepped out into the thorny field to survey the white puffs of soft cotton. This was my first real close-up encounter with pre-clothing. I felt moved by what I saw (which is a prerequisite for me to capture pixels in the form of a photograph) and started taking pictures like the one above.
Cotton starts as a simple little seed and grows into the plants that produce bolls which contain the cotton fibers. Although there are a number of types of cottons, they all grow very similarly to become the plants that give up the fibers. From that point, what a handful of soft cotton becomes varies greatly.
Don’t stop reading yet. I promise not to bore you with too many more details…and I do have a reason for going down this path.
Some cotton is absorbent, other types not so much. The seeds can be pressed to produce cottonseed oil, and the remains fed to cattle for roughage. The cotton hulls are used as feed, fertilizer, fuel, and packing materials. Once cotton is spun into thread, it becomes a shirt, pants, socks, blended with other natural or synthetic fibers, a rope, a bag, shoes, a hat, and even automotive tire cords in some older tires. The list goes on and on.
As I pondered the life of a cotton pod I realized that people are like that too. We start off very similar on the day we are born. We may have different environments that we are born into, but we all have the chance of becoming many different things. Our advantage over the life of cotton; we typically get to pick or at least influence our direction. We have a chance to set goals and work for what we want to become. I may not reach all my goals, but each day I wake up I get to decide if I want to work toward my those goals or not.
I wonder if I take full advantage of my options every day. I wonder if I am using my full potential every chance I get. Do I have a clear picture of what I want to accomplish with the time I have or do I spend more time bouncing around aimlessly? What a waste it will be to get to the end of my days and look back with a regret that I foolishly squandered too many of my gifted days. I have to be more careful with my passing 86,400 seconds I get each time the sun comes up.
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The symphony of nature can be wonderful to hear. The melody is everywhere. Gentle cresting waves lapping onto an otherwise quiet southern beach. The single cricket playing a first chair solo in a distant wheat field. The chorus of bull frogs who echo their a capella rhythm across great distances on a hot summer evening. The sound of the wind as it plays through the swaying pines on cool spring morning. A serenade of rain drops across a tin roof with echoes of thunder rumbling in the distance. Nature conducts the tune in the chords of its character.
If your life was added to the music already playing around you, in what chord would it be played? I think mine would be E minor.
Major chords are just so happy. They resonate with fortitude, strength, and determination. They announce their entrance and need no resolution before moving to the next gusto of vibrato. I guess that there are days my life could be a major chord. Those days when I have no choice but to stand and deliver what is expected of me. Those days when everything is falling into place with precision and timing. Those days I could pull off living in the spirit of a major chord.
Minor chords are much more moody, though. They tend to convey contemplation, a more somber emotion, and evoke a melancholy reply. They sound the call of the mystery and mark time for curiosity. They don’t always need resolution, but they can draw out a strong anticipation for the upcoming tone. I think my life would be played in a minor chord; lost for periods in thoughtful consideration of what transpires around me, always feeling hope that the next note played will lift the tempo and the mood. Sometime life is so much of a mystery that a minor scale is all I can manage.
I have to be careful, though. I wouldn’t want to let myself fall out of tune and wander into the company of diminished chords; they can be unsettling. They create tension and emotional confusion, they long to be followed by a major chord, or even a transitional minor chord as they hang on the scale. No, my life is definitely not a diminished chord.
Why does any of this matter? Plato said it best, “[Music] gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and adds charm and happiness to everything”. The song of my life has meaning. The concert started long ago. I am allowed an occasional intermission to gather my thoughts, but the show must go on.
It is important to me that when the curtain closes on the symphony of my life, I want the audience to feel as if they have not wasted their time or money on the ticket for the show I provided. I do not get the benefit of an encore on this earth so I have to do my best the first time around. I am not sure what movement or act I might be on, but it is time to perform once again!