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.
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.
I admire the mighty saguaro cactus; an amazing adapter to the harsh desert environment where it thrives. This plant can grow over 40 feet tall, weigh in at many tons, and live well beyond 100 years. It is the giant overseer of the arid landscape it calls home.
I took this picture on an afternoon hike through the mountains of Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. This is the only place on earth to see these remarkable cactus. I was surrounded by saguaros of varying size, but this one stood tall, high up on a rock out-cropping; a guardian surveying its leagues and I imagined its stentorian commands echoing through the rock walled canyons through the ages.
The saguaro survives by acclimating to the unpredictability of a desolate landscape that counts raindrops as a precious commodity. Plunging a taproot up to 5 feet into the desert sand, and then stretching out a network of shallow finger roots to capture surface water; the larger saguaros can gather up to 200 gallons of liquid from a single rainfall.
Adaptability like this is so important, especially if I want to able to leave any legacy. My environment changes daily. Weather changes, social circumstances change, financial positions change, locations change, attitudes change. The list goes on and change is one of the few consistencies I can count on in life. How I adapt to these changes plays an enormous part in my ability to be successful in negotiating the passing days with a positive outlook. Failure to adapt moves me from the chain of events each day, discarded as the weaker link. Like the saguaro, I must be adaptable.
I do wonder if I should always be willing to bend to adapt all the events that make up my day? What if by giving in at times I compromise my integrity just a little? Adaptability is key, and I have to be willing to compromise at times; but what determines the limits of my compromise? Interesting comparison here that once again my friend the saguaro can teach.
If this immense and prodigious succulent allows the hardiness of its wooden support structure to be compromised it can fall the entire cactus. This same inner skeleton is what keeps the longest living legacy of the desert upright in the blowing sands that attempt to topple it. A spiny exterior fends off the larger predators that can harm it, but certain birds can create a small hole in just the right place, and the cactus will form a barrier that keeps it healthy and allow the two a symbiotic relationship. Standing straight and true give this beauty the strength it needs to hold strong to its roots.
I cannot compromise the values that make me who I am or I too will start a downward slide that eventually will lead to my own demise. I have to keep up my guard each day and be aware of my surroundings. I have to be present in the moments I have and make certain my relationships are based on trust and mutual respect. I have to be truthful in the dealings I have with others, and keep myself healthy in mind and body to perform at the level of expectation I set for myself.
I must adapt, but never compromise my integrity. I must be able to stand straight and work only in truth. If I am careful to do these things, I can weather the storms, survive the droughts and hope for the chance to live a life worthy of legacy.
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 quote above is one of my favorites, and comes from an author born in South Africa who grew up in England. He set out to write a children’s book and ended up with a series that became one of the most popular reads in the entire world for young and old alike.
That success story alone inspires me, but the essence of the quote is even more encouraging. Written for the series, this quote appears in a number of the books. I like to think of it as a good life-theme even today, especially if you include lines from an earlier rendition:
Not all that have fallen are vanquished;
a king may yet be without crown,
A blade that was broken be brandished;
and towers that were strong may fall down
Subject to individual interpretation, I like to consider the idea that guidance to a pleasant life comes in many forms. While I don’t take quotes and stories and use them to direct my paths I do believe that the insight of others on the ways of the world are worth investigation to add wisdom to personal experience.
I am kindred to the line, “All who wander are not lost”. Many times in my life I wandered with purpose and intent but not a straight path to follow. Still, I feel comfortable taking the idea a level higher to say, “Most who wander actually are lost, but for some of us, it’s by design.” There are many occasions I would say I end up not quite sure where I am on this journey. Sometimes that fact becomes a problem. Sometimes it seems to work in my favor. Most times I’m OK with it, and so I wander some more. By taking crooked paths to reach my goals and occasionally allowing the structure around me to crumble from the planning, it provides a more varied perspective on life, opens new doors, and reveals unplanned adventures.
I think goals are important, but I never want to be so focused on the goal that I lose the benefit of the travels I take to reach them. The experience grants me wisdom. The goal is just a terminus with a fresh start awaiting as I plan for the next one.