The beholder filter

I went on a wander yesterday morning with a couple of friends. We wandered in amongst the tress of a shady garden, fighting off mosquitos but finding such beauties as I have attached in this email.

The spectacular coloring of the Peacock and the vivid magnificence of the Parrot ( who incidentally, greeted us with a wonderful “Hello there”) were easy to take away as evidence of their beauty. The giant grasshopper that blocked our narrow path presented his structural beauty against the soft greenery around him. But as I stood and chatted with this wonderful pig and admired his beauty, I began to think about the whole concept of beauty  and how it shapes our interaction.

The phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” first appeared in Greek literature in the 3rd Century BC and yet while it is therefore not a new concept, many of us still strive to create absolute definitions rather than admit its subjectiveness.

I crouched down before the pig and he came over to say hi. He was full of chat and curiosity and we had a wonderful exchange, There was little doubt in my mind, as I stood up to walk away that this was indeed a beautiful creature.  He may not have been adorned with red or blue feathers, but his character shone right through his ruffled exterior and melted my heart.

Those we define as beautiful are generally given special treatment in our lives; beautiful people tend to get paid more, succeed more in business, and even their opinions are more listened to. Those we regard as ugly are generally derided, treated poorly, and are assigned little or no value. In the natural world, “ugliness” is often even more costly as creatures are killed just because we look at them with disdain or disgust. Cockroaches make most of us recoil and we feel justified in spraying them with toxic chemicals or just stomping on them.

But it beggars the question; when they look at us, do they see a beautiful creature? And do they validate their own ugliness? Unlikely …

I remember a wonderful movie from the 80’s with John Hurt as the lead character. It is called The Elephant Man. It was based on the true life of Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man from the late 1800’s in London. If you haven’t seen it, do! It creates a stunning reflection of man’s inhumanity to man. It has the one line from a movie that I will always remember… as he gets cornered by an angry mob, bent on hurting him because of his deformities. His “I am not an animal. I am a human being” gives pause to the angry crowd and should also give us pause.

All creatures (human or not) have a right to life and whenever we take away that right, we should do so for a stronger reason than something just not satisfying our own definition of beauty.

So next time you witness an insult of being called a disgusting pig, understand that this is more a reflection of the person saying it than for whom it is aimed at. Pigs are truly wonderful creatures… intelligent, social, and beautiful. If a Munro-detractor called you a disgusting Marylin, would you be overly insulted?

I love the natural world we live in and find beauty everywhere. By widening my “beholder” filter, I welcome more beauty into my life. Try it …

Hope you have a beautiful week!

Lives and forks

Anticipating a day in the nineties, I decided to take to the trails first thing this morning before the sun and humidity took over the day. So I grabbed a couple of cameras and began yet another journey down towards Lake Hancock.

I was only ten minutes in when I came to a fork in the trail … there was a little sign that gave me a choice of a lakeside trail or a shady oak trail. And my choice took me onto a path adorned with plants and trees covered with wonderful early morning dew. These are my two favorite shots and I hope you like them.

But the simple fork in the trail gave me cause to think, when faced with such forks how do we go about choosing our path when given such little information to make a choice? Of course there are some people in life, that when encountering a fork, they typically go to the right and there are those that go to the left. And there are those that don’t even see the fork because they are so committed to the right or left that there isn’t even a choice to be made.

Then there are those that stand there at the fork, unable to make a choice of their own. They wait for someone to tell them which way to go or perhaps some divine intervention to help them walk towards the light.

There must be millions of such forks in our lives and our ability to decide and move forward is really what makes our journey unique. No two of us actually follow the same path. Because, as happened this morning on the trail, we make our decisions for our own reasons and while it may look like we are going in the same direction for a while, we are encountering little more than temporary companions. On my chosen path this morning, I encountered others … there were lone naturalists, couples out for a stroll, a dad and his kid on bikes. There was a middle aged son with his elderly parents, and three long-distance runners momentarily on the same path as me.

Each had their own reasons; perhaps social, fitness, love of nature, or who knows what. My reason was that I miss my Mom and Dad and these outings really bring me closer to them and gives me time to talk with them  away from the maddening noise of “regular life”. So, it is highly unlikely that others shared my specific reason.

The funny thing is that whichever path you chose this morning, you ended up at the same lake. You may have taken longer in one direction than the other, you may have experienced different smells and sounds, seen different creatures or plants. But ultimately you arrived at the same place.

This is the start of alligator nesting season, so they had placed a barrier on the trail that ultimately became a dead-end. Much like our own journeys through life where we all reach our own dead-end eventually. So, if you spent your journey this morning, racing forward trying to get around the lake, then you missed out on what the journey was really about.

If our journeys bring us past roses, then we should really stop and smell them. If there are forks that give us alternatives along our path, then we need to make our own decisions and see where they take us. Mine brought me through dew-covered webs and I stopped and marveled at each one.

Life is too precious to run through it at pace or to have others make our decisions for us. By the time we reach that dead-end, we should have savored every step along the way.

Have a wonderful week and if you would like to see the awesome alligator that come over to check me out when I reached the lake, I uploaded a one-minute video on YouTube here …

Forests and trees

I went out last night and stood in a parking lot by a baseball field. Stood there for an hour, hoping to catch some lightning in the night skies. Mosquitos attacked my head and face, elbow and hand. The weather app on my iPhone said there was a 40% chance of thunderstorms and this time I had my tripod, ready to capture the lightning that might come with them.

There wasn’t a single flash. Not one.

I had set up the camera with long exposure and timed release as the post-sunset skies faded to black. Took a few shots of that so I could get the focus and aperture right.

But then  .. nothing. Not a single shot. I waited in hope originally. But by the end of the hour, my wait was fear-based. Fearful that the moment I turned off the camera, there would be some magnificent lightning strike that I would carry as a regret for life.

As I disassembled my set up, climbed back into the car and drove away, there was a feeling of abject failure. It is the kind of failure that you experience after you have raised your hopes so high that you have pre-ordained your own destiny.

It wasn’t until this morning, that I found these two pics which I had taken only to help adjust my camera settings. And as I stared into the wonderful colors of the fading sky, I realized how singularly focused I was to the point where it had stolen my abilities to appreciate what was actually going on around me.

The old saying of not being able to see the forest for the trees rang out loud and clear. I allowed my own focus to overpower my other senses to where I attached the label “failure” to my hour of darkness. As I sit here this morning, cup of coffee in hand and a good night’s sleep behind me, I look at these pictures and realize the only failure was in me. Thankfully Sony cameras have the ability to overule moments of personal failure and produce their own moments of wonder, regardless.

Hope you have a wonderful week and get to spend some time in the forest rather than the trees.

Dreamers and artists

This evening I am heading back downtown to the Riverwalk camera in hand, and so I revisited some of the pics from  a prior visit a few moments ago. And it made me realize something ….

I am often railing against the effects that humanity has on the planet and not often enough recognizing those who walk among us making the world a richer place. The Dreamers and Artists, the Poets and Songsters, … at the end of the day, these are the people that leave behind traces of positivity of our human race. If humans were to disappear off the planet today, what would the next dominant race look to as a sign that we were here? And what would they see as our real contribution to the planet’s timeline? Would they be impressed by walls and borders? Money in bank? Corporate bodies? Cars and planes?

Even if we only look back on prior generations of humans, what is it from the past that we stare at with wonder? Mechanics and technologies of the past are irrelevant to us. Their monies and organizations, modes of transport, … all outdated and little more than a curiosity.

No, it is their art and dreams that successfully live beyond them; we gaze at their paintings (whether on cave or canvas) and revel in their concepts (pyramids and sphynx).

We need to listen more to the dreamers and artists among us and less to the bullies and money-men. When our children pick up their first crayon and make non-sensical scribbles across a page, we should encourage them. When they proudly sing their first made-up song in front of us, we should applaud them. Somewhere among all the scribbles and notes will form the creative mind of an artist and their creation will enlighten not only the lives of those around them but also those beyond them.

I imagine within Tampa city council the arguments that took place prior to the creation of the Riverwalk. The bullies and money men will have argued about budgets and the need to build a wall to keep all the homeless from invading our city. But in this argument, the artists and dreamers won and their victory brightens the lives of rich and homeless alike.

They have taken an urban setting and enhanced it. They have gone beyond function and this little corner of the world is now a better place for their existence.

Have a wonderful week and allow yourself to dream a little …. Grab a crayon!

Remember the Fraggles?

After ten weeks of behind-closed-doors creation, my daughter, Morgan, gave me this gift. I have always been a Fraggle fan ever since my daughters were little girls.

To say I was gobsmacked with what she created would be an understatement; how her mind came up with such a beautiful idea and how her skills materialized it in such a wondrous fashion is a huge source of pride for me.

For the Fraggle-lovers among us, we might appreciate how she captured a lovely variation on what Jim Henson originally had in mind with his wonderful little band of creatures. There is a softness and warmth in the final art piece that embraces the wonderful world that came into our living-room in the mid-eighties. The Fraggles (as in most of Jim Henson’s creations) endeavored to help lay a foundation of values as it entertained our children. Much of these values were about how we relate to each other and how we relate to the world around us.

That she created such a piece from recycled materials says a lot about Morgan. She crafter over 90% of this from little bits and pieces that lay around her, giving each piece another and arguably higher purpose. Bottle tops, beads, bits of waste paper, old containers … they were all reimagined and refashioned into something beautiful. In fact the only real thing she bought of substance was the huge amount of glue that holds it all together … so no doubt she is on a substance abuse watchlist somewhere.

The central figure in Morgan’s piece is herself as a Fraggle artist. She imagined herself into that world …  a world that she has many times said to me that she would love to live in. In one of the pictures, it looks like a collection of pencils, but they are in fact tiny little twigs from our yard that she pared and turned into imitation pencils.

I guess the reason I wanted to us these images for this week’s email isn’t so much about how amazing my daughter is or how lucky I was to receive such a gift. Both are true, by the way, but I really wanted to use the fact that this wonderful piece was made almost entirely of recycled materials. It is in stark contrast to how we have morphed into a disposal society that repairs nothing and reimagines even less. Our willingness to discard things that our grandparent’s would have fixed and kept is a true reflection on consumerism at it’s worst. The irony of the fact that I make my living within the framework of a retail industry isn’t lost on me. But that doesn’t mean that we have to just dump things that are dirty, dusty, or a bit worn.

Environmental consciousness screams out when we hear stories like those in the past few weeks, where Canada has been shipping out unapologetic amounts of trash to third world countries. Who even came up with that idea and how did it fly past the censors? We will censor nudity on TV, lyrics in songs, and ideologies we don’t agree with. But we will allow first-world countries to create so much trash that they ship it out to third-world countries to deal with?

But the saddest such story that might have caught your eye was a couple of weeks ago. The American expedition to the ocean floor set a new world record dive of almost seven miles … an incredible feat of human adventure and achievement. And when they reached the bottom of the ocean floor, what did they find?  â€¦a  plastic bag. Can you imagine?

The real beauty of the Fraggles was their delight and innocence. The guiding principle of each Fraggle show was their moral compass and how it guided them through any situation that life would throw their way.

Perhaps it’s time to search for our own moral compass. We could certainly find one … Down at Fraggle Rock.

Have a wonderful week ?

Snake eyes

When I came across this little treasure sitting just outside my front door, my immediate thought was not one of fear but one of “how do I get may camera without scaring him away?”.

Some people see a snake and run a mile, while others reach in to pick them up.

I have been known to blunder into dangerous situations in order to get a shot and yet mention flying to me and my stomach does a summersault or two. So, it isn’t that I am fearless.

Most of us have our own pet-fears and oftentimes they are unfounded and yet severely disabling.

When I mention to some people that my daughter, Victoria, is a critical care doctor in pediatrics, I often hear that they could never do that because the fear of losing a life or two in a given week would destroy them. But, as she reminds me; it’s the lives she saves that makes the vocation worthwhile.

Many of us allow fear to define our careers and even our lives in that way … fear of failure becoming a guiding principle. Fears can render us disabled, if we allow them to, so it is important to find the courage to move forward despite our fears. Perhaps even to conquer them.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it”  … Nelson Mandela

So next time you encounter a snake at your door, lean over and give him a kiss, take his picture, or just smile and introduce yourself ?

But if it’s a Cottonmouth, go ahead … run that mile!