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.
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.
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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