Source of all life

I was sitting here working away on my PC and a couple of those tiny flies kept hovering around me … you know the kind. So small that you can barely see them, but every now and then they fly up your nose and your whole world grinds to a halt as you go into spasms trying to get them out.

Well, it wasn’t my nose that needed protection but my cup of coffee was precariously open to any kamikaze intentions that they might have, so I looked around for something that might protect this oh-so-precious liquid. It was early morning and the last thing I needed was to lose my first cup of caffeine.

There was an old CD resting near my keyboard and being the lazy ass that I am at that time of the morning, I figured that might do the job nicely. Funny thing is I never even checked what was on the disc or how important it might be … the threat of losing my black coffee at that time of the morning took absolute precedence.

Here’s hoping I didn’t end up losing the missile launch codes because of that decision!

But happy that I had protected my source of sustenance from these intruders, I went back to work on some image editing that I needed to do. The thing about image editing is that you can lose yourself in it. You lock your stare into the screen as you remove imperfections and make some minor adjustments.

So it could have been ten minutes before I remembered the coffee and went to take a drink. That’s when I noticed the condensation that had gathered on the underside of the CD.

I left the image on screen and stared endlessly into the tiny beads of water that had formed. I watched how they changed in hue as I tilted them against the backdrop of the light beaming in through my open office door.

Being the distracted kitten that I am, I grabbed my camera and the CD and brought it outside and began to shoot the condensation against the natural light and I have attached a few images for today’s viewing. Hope you enjoy!

The story would have a wonderful end if I when I got back in from my distraction there was a fly floating in my coffee, but in truth there wasn’t.

The appearance of water on the CD and how it is ultimately the source of all life began to play around in my head, though. And that is the real story behind today’s thought.

With this hurricane barreling down on Florida these past few days, I have watched with dismay at the amount of panic and greed that has been playing out, as some have decided to hoard as much of this commodity as possible (not to mention gas, and canned food).

There are those who have hoarded so much that they couldn’t possibly consume it but their wallets allowed them to do so. Then there are others who live paycheck to paycheck who just don’t have the resources to hoard in such a manner.

Explorations in space are very much about finding planets with the presence of water. Universally, we all agree that this is the general source of all life. Yet there are some who believe water is something that should not be readily available to all. They fill their garages with so much that their fellow human beings of less privilege are left to deal with empty shelves.

A sixty-something woman, physically pushed me out of the way this morning at Walmart. I was looking for a 9V battery for a camera accessory and she shoveled the last six or seven packs of C batteries into her shopping cart. I could have said something suggestive about what she might need the batteries for, but the polite person in me just stayed quiet.

There isn’t a can of pasta, bottle of water, or gallon of gas, to be had anywhere near me. Could this level of greed be any more absurd?

So much for home of the brave … mention the word hurricane here and watch peoples’ true nature come to the fore. And speaking of “fore” … our forefathers, the people that established this land of the free, would be so ashamed of how “me-and-mine” focused, its citizens have become.

I shake my head.

On any given morning …

In between the end of my first coffee and the start of a hectic day, I decided to carve out some time for my lens and I.

I headed down the road to an overpass at I-4 and tried to catch the rising sun against the hurried traffic heading east and west. I enjoy long exposure shots … they carry motion into an otherwise still photograph.

On my way back, I pulled over at the ball-fields on Walker Road and took in the rest of the sunrise as it painted the clouds and reflected in the ponds.

I hope you like this little collection of images!

By the time I got back to my desk, yes, my feet were wet but my heart was full. I leaned back into my chair as the sounds of my second coffee played out in the Keurig and I was pleased with myself.

Pleased, not because the pictures were so amazing, but pleased that I had carved a little time for myself before the madness that is Wednesday took over.

Sometimes it is easy to fall directly into the previous workday, picking up the pressures where we last left off. But doing that just allows one day to blend into another without the punctuation that makes it all worthwhile.

I know in the grand scheme of things it probably cost me an hour from my day. But endlessly working can cost us our souls.

We can convince ourselves, at times, that every moment has to be work-productive. We can even guilt ourselves for not being productive.

But productivity is not an end in itself and should never be our driving force.

Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining chillingly reminds us that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It doesn’t take an axe to kill our soul though; it withers away when we fail to nurture it with love.

Love of another, love of ourselves, and love of the world we live in. It waters our soul like no other pastime.

We’ve all heard it before that nobody lies on their deathbed wishing they could just have one more work moment. But for one more moment of love, what would we all give?

Getting up again …

For what must be the tenth time in a couple of months, the “simple” task of taking lightning shots was turned into a near monumental failure, by elements outside of my control.

I knew there was a decent shot at a good lightning storm so I headed off down to Lake Parker with my hopes high and camera in hand. Other attempts have failed on the back of camera problems, battery problems, location and storm problems, and even Neville problems, but last night’s issue was rain.

It wasn’t a huge rain, but enough to soak my camera and equipment. It killed my setup and stopped me from being able to make adjustments as I tried to cover the camera with protection. After an hour of struggle and misery, and a couple of mosquito bites, I decided that I couldn’t keep the camera at that level of risk and so I packed everything up and drove home with a sense of frustration.

Here are the only two shots from my mission … hope you enjoy!

Driving home, my brain began turning on the whole issue of how our lives at times are filled with one obstacle after another. Things that catch us at every twist and turn as we dodge and weave our way around them.

Getting knocked down repeatedly is no news to most of us, but like that Chumbawumba song, the trick is getting back up again!

Some times are admittedly harder than others and for me last night, the cumulative effect of prior failures seemed to make it another degree harder.

So what I managed to do was to consider that even though the outing was certainly on the “fail” list, there was at least one or two things that I could take as a positive (I improved focus, and controlled the aperture better than my prior attempts). They aren’t major achievements by any stretch of the imagination, but I took them as a sign that I was getting perhaps just one step closer to being able to pull off a decent lightning shoot.

Sometimes, it may be difficult to find a positive, but there is always something. We just need to search a little deeper at times. So we get back up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward.

The child in us may want to find a dark corner and assume the fetal position, but that then requires that a force external to us picks us up and makes us feel better. As children that force was likely to be one of our parents or older family member. But most of us “seniors” have long outlived that luxury and so any lift has to come from within.

I believe it all comes down to our mental approach. How we look at challenges and how we handle an occasional loss, can be a true “distinguisher” in how we progress through life.

Failure in something is never a complete failure if we walk away having learned something. And sometimes that “something” is nothing more than regardless of the knock, we managed to get back up again.

Rest in Peace

The end of a stressful and mind-numbing week saw me gather my camera and bag of bits as I headed off down to Picnic Island to see what the night sky might bring. In truth I was hoping for a storm but storms seem to be avoiding me at the moment.

I tried the beach first but didn’t really like the view and after taking a moment to feed a raccoon with some Arby’s french fries, I drove over to where the fishing pier was. He loved them, btw!

I set up my stall at the near-end of the pier and watched the comings and goings as the sun dipped from the sky and beneath the horizon, creating a golden, to amber, to red set of hues along the way. Hope you like this collection of images from what turned out to be a very picturesque evening.

I am not a fisher-person and object strongly to sport fishing but the people on this pier that were catching fish looked very much ordinary folk who were likely going to eat anything they caught and that is altogether fine with me.

But the greater sense that I got in watching them was the peaceful joy they seemed to have in fishing with friends, or with their sons, or even those who just went to the pier and rested on the railing to watch the sun go down.

All around the greater Tampa Bay Area, droves of people headed to malls, movies, restaurants, bars, clubs, etc … but the people here with me had chosen to find a level of enjoyment that was centered about peace.

And that is the thought that ran around inside my head, as eventually I climbed into the car and drove home.

Most of us leave the notion of finding real peace as something that is akin to death. Hence the whole “Rest in Peace” sentiment often expressed at death.

But what is wrong with a Live in Peace sentiment?

Why is rush (and the stress that comes with it) the norm for so many of us? I am not dismissing the thrill of exciting pastimes. Honestly. But I think oftentimes we forget that life is about balance and we focus only on the thrill and forego the peace.

In olden days, people drew much of their joy of life from quiet times with family and friends. Or even alone times when lucky enough to be able to breathe in the air in the lovely surrounds of somewhere beautiful.

Theme parks, action movies, video games, and other adrenaline-rush activities have replaced reading, listening to music, sharing stories around a fireplace, or relaxing in front of a setting sun… for too many of us.

But thankfully, as I witnessed last night, there are still some souls out there who understand that living and breathing should also include “breathing in” … breathing in our moments, our surrounds, our fellow travelers through life. Finding the peace within us and outside of us.

I hope you take the time to give yourself some peace this coming week. And if you do happen to find it, also take the time to share peace with others. Likely as not, they probably need it!

Late night amusement

It was the end of a rough week and I needed a distraction that might balance out the pressures and help my soul find some solace. So, what better way than to grab my lens and explore the joys of a long-exposure shoot downtown Tampa.

There is so much for me yet to learn in squeezing a different style of shot out of my camera and there is no-one better than my good friend Jax in patiently helping me piece together the necessary adjustments that create arty images worth capturing.

Over the years she has very much become my muse, not just patiently working her side of the lens, but giving meaningful guidance and suggestions that take my limited knowledge and hone my skills into a memorable shoot like this one. I hope you enjoy this little selection of shots we captured together last night.

After I dropped her back home and I drove back to mine in the wee hours of the morning, the whole concept of “muse” played around in my head. It wasn’t a novel concept to me that she was very much mine. But rather I began to consider how each of us can draw inspiration from others in life, far beyond the camera/art aspect.

In many reaches of our existence, we struggle through life alone. Regardless of our relationship or family status, there is much of our growth and development that comes solely from within. And then there are bits that we draw from others within our circle. People that mentor us, or inspire us. People that inadvertently challenge us to be better people ourselves. People that help us to step out of our comfort zone and experience a facet of life that only exists outside our box.

And our box becomes bigger because of them.

These are the people that add real value to our lives with their presence, friendship, or love. Our lives become more complete because of them and our batteries take a charge.

The “no-man-is-an-island” concept is very much what I am trying to get at here. And the whole idea of “self-made-success” is really a bogus notion that only the selfish and egotistic idiots out there could really believe.

For the rest of us, we should surely understand that any success we have is a shared success and therefore any glory we experience should also be shared. If we can share it with those who have helped us experience the success, then great! But we should also share it with those in whose orbit we have the opportunity to muse a little.

As Jax remonstrated with me last night, one of the biggest gifts we can receive in life is the gift of being able to give to others. And giving of ourselves (rather than something material) is perhaps the biggest gift of all.

Have a wonderful week and if you happen to know Jax, be sure to let her know how “a-musing” she is!

Let them conspire

Another dismal attempt last night to get lightning shots. My success rate is extraordinarily low and some of it is purely my own fault, while weather and camera issues and even batteries (yes, batteries) make up the rest.

I thought I had grabbed everything and went down to Lake Mirror, figuring the lake was small enough that no matter which direction lightning might be in, I could quickly walk around the side to put the lake between me and it.

I looked at the sky with longing and then ultimately dismay as after thirty minutes, it was obvious there were no storms in the area. That’s when I realized that my trigger battery was dead anyway and my replacement was back in the car.

So I had the choice to dismantle everything, head back to the car and return with the replacement and set it all up again, or just call it a night. The city skyline and the very low clouds meant that I wasn’t even going to see a sunset from that position anyway, so why return at all?

The prospect of calling it a night meant that I had to accept defeat and I wasn’t in the mood, so once at the car I decided to head off and find another lake. I live in Lakeland for god sake; there’s a million of those things around.

I found a small lake without buildings on the far side and the tiny crack in the cloud cover just above the horizon and a decent zoom lens that managed to get me in tight to it, was just the trick. These four pics show how gloriously red that little spot in the sky got as the sun dropped below the horizon.

To the naked eye, the view was mostly of just grey clouds that dominated the skies but my lens allowed me to create my own wonderful sunset!

So, as I drove home at the end of it all, there might have been no sense of a win (remember, I went out looking for lightning) but there was also no sense of defeat. I began to revisit in my head how the gods sometimes seem to conspire against us and how sometimes no matter what avenue we take, they cut us off with some degree of obstacle.

But at the end of the day, that is all they are … obstacles. The gods can’t make us fail, no matter how they try. We can fail, of course, by taking the obstacle as a defeat and giving up. But that is up to us. There are many times we feel the struggle to the point where we can’t battle any more, but the wise choice then is to simply retreat, regroup, and live to battle another day.

Robert the Bruce, back in the 1300s learned that persistence is the answer to eventual success. Giving up is not an alternative. Remember that spider story?

It’s one of the most wonderful characteristics that humans have …. the will to succeed despite the odds. Failure only exists within us and if we keep it in check, then does it ever even exist at all?

So, let them conspire, but carry extra batteries, find a better location, don’t run off home just yet and you too can find a glorious little sunset of your own!

Have a wonderful week!

Double Edged

I think this might end up being a long one … it will take a bit, to get to the end point I am trying to make. Grab a coffee ….

So, this morning after an hour at the PC, I decided to head off to Circle B Bar Reserve. I was feeling a bit off and decided that a good trail might be the right remedy. It was just after eight when I got there and the blue skies were already responsible for the morning being in the low 80’s.

In the early part of the trails, I happened across the same woman twice; she had a huge lens (maybe 600 mm) and she was hand-holding it, which told me she really wasn’t likely to get much. But both times, she muttered “there’s nothing here. Complete waste” and as I countered with comments about how lovely it was anyway or how we should just breathe it in and enjoy, she just dismissed and walked on.

The second time she was standing right in front of where I got the moth on the violet colored flower (attached to this) and she just looked beyond it. People will be unhappy if they want to be, I guess. Me, I was delighted and between the moths, butterflies, birds and plants, I had a wonderful time that lasted a couple of hours.

I took the long trail this morning and I was on the back end of it, maybe three miles or so into it when I began to reflect on her “nothing here” comments and revisited in my own head what I had seen. I found that I couldn’t really remember as I had taken about five hundred pics at that stage. “But when I get back home, I will see them on the PC, so no worries.”

And that’s what made me think … we have externalized much of our memory and thought process these days. We rely on PCs to remember important work stuff for us, phones to remember people’s numbers, and cameras to remember moments that we have witnessed.

No, I am not going to address the whole laziness aspect. That’s a different point. In this instance though and particularly when it comes to cameras, we have found a way to remember stuff long after our evolved brain ever should remember.

There is a real cost to remembering … by photographing people at events and at times that were special to us, we introduce a whole world of sadness and unhappiness into our future that our brains were never meant to deal with. When we look at images taken 20 years ago, the presence of a lost love or a lost family member, or even a grown child can have a seriously negative effect on us and make us profoundly sad.

Humans were never meant to remember stuff indefinitely. Our brain’s capacity for memory and recall is limited and often even devolves with age. In the past, recollection was limited to very significant moments in human’s lives and even then, was generally a glossy version of what happened. We didn’t have to live with total recall and face the consequences of any loss or changes that could severely impact us.

Extending human memory really originated when we began to write things down. Until then, we relied on storytellers to capture and recite history for us. I can imagine that moment when they sat around the table coming up with the first alphabet, so that words could be formed and the past could be remembered.

There was probably some idiot in the corner arguing against that progress and that we should make storytelling great again.

But words alone could never capture the true essence of the past. They were limited in their scope and often influenced by those with a message to instill within them.

Then came images …

Everyone now has a phone camera and many of us shoot endless numbers of pics with digital cameras. There is no cost associated with it so we shoot everything. From baby’s first drool, to grandma snoring in the chair at the wedding.

The proliferation of images is astounding and in years to come, current generations will struggle to cope with the added emotions of all these captured memories. We are already doping a sizable percentage of these kids so I guess we will just have to up the dosage.

But in all seriousness, technology for all its advantages has a very sharp other side to it that we should really be very cautious of. We don’t know the long-term effects of memory-overload and there could be very dark clouds on the horizon.

As Gladys Knight sang about memories in “The way we were” … “those too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget”. But what if we aren’t allowed to forget?

My own answer is to photograph nature, and creatures, and abstract stuff. But I avoid shooting my friends and loved ones at all costs. I willfully choose to forget.

Anyway, hope these shots brighten your week … I absolutely love the shots of the dew on that grassy plant and likely still will in ten years, if I get to see it again.

Hey buddy, can you spare some change?

Escaping from a stress-filled day, I headed off to Lake Mirror yesterday evening. I wanted to just breathe in a little and take sunset as a sedative.

In truth, there wasn’t likely to be much of a sunset, but I figured it might be a good chance to explore some camera options that I haven’t mastered quite yet.

The clouds looked angry when I first arrived but then after the sun went down, and I entered the blue hour, the setting became much more peaceful, even when some distant lightning put on its early show. Hope you like these shots!

Once again I struggled against my own shortcomings but these were outweighed by breathing in the cool summer breeze that made its way in off the lake. It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

As I drove away and my mind began to reflect, I thought about how even though I never moved my camera set up once, the scene in front of me managed to bring its own variations to my lens.

It made me think that sometimes, it isn’t so much about what changes we do but rather how we open our mind to changes that occur about us. Change is generally a good thing in life. Being open to change is a key ingredient to growing as a person.

It is one of the reasons I shake my head at conservatives (who are driven to keep things as they are) and regressives (who are trying to return to “when things were great”).

Life is not static, nor does it regress. It moves forward and to get the most out of life, it behooves us to move forward with it. Evolution moves our species forward anyway regardless. It pulls us down from the trees, gets us to walk upright, and create tools and technology to generally improve our fellow man.

But as people, we live only within the scope of one generation and so any progress we benefit from, can only come from our own willingness to open our hearts and minds to change and live the life that happens in front of us.

Conservatism is destined to fail in the long run so these petty political actions/reactions are irrelevant. Empires, colonialism, fascism, communism, conservatism … history is witness to their failure.

In the words of John F Kennedy; “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Last night’s change happened in the space of an hour or two. Life’s changes mostly take a tad longer. But whenever and however, we should embrace it so that in turn it embraces us.

For whom the sun rises …

It was one of those mornings. After giving the kitties their breakfast, I grabbed my camera and a coffee and headed off to the lake to watch the sun come up. Along the way, traffic lights turned green as I approached them and the skies ahead looked promisingly clear.

Lake Parker is only ten or fifteen minutes from the house, so there was still plenty of coffee in the cup to just relax and breathe the moment in before Mother Nature worked her early morning show.

Since my parents died, I have lost much of the impetus of heading down there so early but this morning reminded me that they are still watching me from just beyond the horizon. I smiled at the thought and waved and wished them both a good morning.

For a moment, I begrudged the fact that the sun seemed determined to rise just behind an industrial chimney on the far side, ruining what could have been a spectacular natural view. But then a few things fell into the right perspective …

  1. The sun doesn’t rise …. my world turns towards it.
  2. I was the one choosing to shoot from this particular spot in the first place.
  3. “Ruining” was a distinct over-reaction borne from not having things entirely my own way.

Once I accepted that the sun rise wasn’t simply a performance that Mother Nature was putting on to Neville Ronan’s specifications, my role of chronicler is simply to push a stupid shutter-button and let it all happen around me.

I think that is the main message that played out in my head this morning on my way home … that the world turns and things happen, whether I am there or not. My ability to affect anything of significance is really quite small and to allow frustration to steal even the tiniest of moments, is frankly stupid.

Frustration affects us all, but we need to understand that it is a negative force and one that we should resist. I am not suggesting that we become passive in our lives. Absolutely not.

But we need to be aware of what we can and what we can’t affect. Worry about the things that you can affect and only to the point that it makes you do your best in affecting them. But the rest of the stuff …. the traffic light, clear or cloudy skies, and the sun rise … just learn to let it go.

So my message is simple as you head into yet another week … as things appear on your horizon, try sorting them into two groups. Things that you can do something about and things that you can’t. Pour your energies into the former and you will experience a much more rewarding week!

Enjoy these shots from this morning!

Green is Green

We have seen a lot of rain over the last couple of weeks; it’s clearly rainy season here in Florida. Although my home office took a hit from a flash flood last week, my neighbors have lakes where once were yards and have running water in and out their front doors … so I shouldn’t complain.

But one thing this water does, with the summer heat and sunshine, is cause real tropical conditions to flourish all around. Immediately after each rain fall, there is a chorus of a million frogs in my yard alone and their noise could be a problem for light sleepers.

On the edge of my fern garden (sounds fancy, but it’s just ’cause I might be too lazy to mow it) there appears a small crop of tiger lilies around this time each year. The first one is probably no more than five feet from my office door. I take great joy in seeing their annual splash of red, orange and yellow competing with the overwhelming green of everything else around them.

So, I went out a few moment ago and took a couple of shots that I would like to share as they still have remnant drops from the most recent shower. I hope you like.

As I stepped back into the office I had this slight feeling of guilt that I hadn’t gone further afield in search of more interesting shots for this weekend’s blog. But then I realized that contrary to the popular myth, our own grass can be quite green enough, thank you!

Why is it that we always fantasize about foreign places or imaginary sights yet unseen? Don’t we realize that people living in those places are in turn fantasizing about the place we call home?

I live in Florida, one of the most natural and sought out destinations for visitors from all over the world. And yet, I can’t tell you the number of native Floridians who have openly fantasized about Ireland to me while ignoring the wonders of their own world here.

It is a genuine flaw within our makeup that creates dissatisfaction in what we have and makes us crave what we have not. It works to undermine any possibility of contentment that we could otherwise feel in our lives and full of regrets on our deathbeds for “not having seen more of the world”.

Human nature has many flaws, that if left unchecked, can ruin our lives. The happiest people I have met are those that are content with where they are and what they are doing. Happiness has nothing to do with power or money but everything to do with love … of our life, our friends and family, and our own little patch of green grass.

So as you go through the week ahead, try to remember that the next precious moment may only be a few feet away from your own door. Try not to step over it on your way to foreign lands …