Experimentation

One of the gifts I have been very fortunate with in recent years is the presence in my life of a few special young ladies who like to experiment with my camera and me.

Experimenters have helped me blossom and expand my range of photography skills in many directions. From steel wool to long exposure photography, a key element of my success has been the patient and willing support of these very beautiful ladies.

And to a person, they have been so much more than just subjects for my lens; they have developed plans, creative ideas, and in many instances guidance that has taken my skills down some interesting paths.

In many ways I am still only at the beginning of these journeys and many miles from being expert. But it is the learning (as well as occasionally achieving) that gives me the real thrill.

I spotted Brittany the other evening under a tree putting a lighted hoop through its paces and so it called me out to try to capture it. Typically, I wouldn’t even have tried because it was really too bright at that time of early evening to properly shoot long exposures on the light trails.

And so I had to adapt what I had already learned about the camera and try to get it to ignore a lot of the ambient light. She encouraged my efforts and kept working her magic and after many failed initial efforts, I stumbled into this sequence that I have attached here. I hope you enjoy them!

This morning as I awoke to a chilly but beautiful Florida morning, I heard my camera moaning in anticipation at what this weekend might bring it. And by the time the weekend is over, I hope to have delivered something that puts a smile on its face.

I have a few ideas and I will see where they take me.

But in the meantime, I began to think this morning about how my own camera success is not just dependent on some willing co-conspirators but very much enriched by their presence.

Gone are the days when passive observation of a beautiful happening is enough to count my imagery as successful. Sunrise and sunsets are enriched by birds, silhouetters, and yes even hoopers. (OK, I need to stop making up words for a while … pretty soon no-one will even understand me as I resort to a made-up language to help paint my pictures).

Flowers are enhanced by bees, love bugs and raindrops. And the trails brought to life by alligators that cross them.

One of the lovely aspects of what we do is that there is always someone or something to enrich our experience. We just have to step off our island and offer a welcoming hand.

And when it comes time to try something new, it is almost always better in the company of others. They expand our thought process and provide insights into a variable that might make our experiment work. Or at the very least, work better.

A huge part of life’s learning comes from our involvement with others. And an open mind is one that learns better.

So I always try to share an experience with those that I learn from. It becomes a joint effort and when it works, a joint success. Those are the best successes.

As experimentation tools, cameras provide a wonderful platform. Their success is very quickly determined and their feedback is invaluable to the learning process.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of life behaved like that? An instant feedback loop that helped redirect our efforts and improved our aim?

I think what I have learned thus far is that true friends are the cameras in our “real” life. They help guide us and let us know when we are doing something right or wrong. They don’t judge and only support.

When we experiment by traveling down a new path, they give us the feedback on whether it is a good or bad move. And when we listen and understand, then we are best able to determine if this really is a path for us, or not.

The destination for each of us is the same, so it doesn’t really matter where we actually go. Only how we get there!

By experimenting we take our lives in new directions and our lives become more interesting and full. Why would you want anything less for your one life?

People who are success-obsessed and destination-focused, avoid experimentation because of the risk of failure. But the real failure is never having tried.

Travel the path less-worn and bring someone with you. Life’s journey is best witnessed through the eyes of a true (and experimental) friend.

Have a wonderful week!

Hoola Hoops & Airplanes

The other evening, Brittany and I returned to the scene of the crime; the opposite side of the lake, from where we could watch the sun go down.

It had been a grueling work day and I think we both needed the same restoration by the time five o’clock hit.

She gathered her hoola hoop and I my camera and while I promised not to take any shots of her, I had already broken that promise in my head by the time we were half-way there.

I prefer non-posed, candid shots anyway, so the less she knew about my plans, the better. Her unwinding involved setting up her music and working through her paces with one or both of her hoops and while I feigned a set-up that made it seem I was shooting the sunset, I had skillfully set myself up so that she was the unwitting silhouette in many of my shots.

Yes, I have been known to lie once in a while … but always in a good cause. But as someone once said “it is better to seek forgiveness, thank to seek permission” … so forgive me, Brittany!

By the time I had begun to capture the sun and the hooper, I was also being treated to the appearance of many other “extras” in my deceptive screenplay. There were the Ospreys and Herons of course along with many of their noisy neighbors that were either circling the skies looking for one last meal of the day, or setting up nest for their night.

But I was also treated to the sight of a speed boat racing by our little pier and then a sea-plane that landed in time for me to catch it in a worthwhile shot or two.

I hope you like the selection that I have put together at the end of this little blog.

So, the whole concept of a white lie began to play out in my head as I started to pull these images together and while I don’t doubt she knew that my promise was worth about as much as the paper it was written on, I was allowed to carry off my charade without being made to account for my transgressions.

Lies are peculiar little things .They range from an innocent “look what the Tooth Fairy left you” to the more onerous “Wasn’t me” that Shaggy made a hit of some years back.

Lies permeate every aspect of our lives. From the moment we tell her that dress looks wonderful on her, to where she tells us we’re the best lover she ever had.

We lie in interviews. We lie to our parents. We lie to our children.

We will even back up a friend on their lie, if it feels right at the time.

Hell, we even knowingly elect liars as our leaders.

Hitler wrote “if you tell a big enough lie, and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed!” which is a good preface to why propaganda is such a useful tool in life.

We hear so many lies from within our most-inner circles, to the widest spectrum of news, that it is almost impossible not to believe some of it.

I mean, we all heard with our own ears this tic-tac popping, pussy grabbing, misogynist tell us we didn’t hear what we think we heard. And there were enough believers out there to bring him within 3 million votes of the real winner.

And then, we all stood by and let them tell us that the person with the least amount of votes was actually the winner and that we live in a democracy.

But the politics of lies is merely a symptom of how we treat lies within our personal lives and even within ourselves. Because we have conditioned ourselves into thinking that lies are ok, we accept them as an OK behavior.

From the moment our children are born, we lie to them. We tell them about Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, and Easter Bunny. We tell them to do good things and good things will happen to them. We tell them that hard work will be rewarded with success.

And don’t forget, from the moment we were born, our parents lied to us too!

Lies form the basis of so much of our interactions and to a flawed species that can prove disastrous.

When we allow lies to console us that the planet is really ok, that we haven’t polluted things too much, that global warming is just a myth created by China, that we aren’t spitting out too many babies for our planet to be able to actually support … this is where the lie comes home to roost.

With morals long gone, the only real brake on our train of lies is the eventual wall that derails it and brings us to a final resting place.

I am already ancient, so will likely be long gone by the time the wheels leave the track, but I feel desperately sad for our children and their children … sad that they believed all our lies.

Roadside Flowers

There is a little stretch of road a mile or two from my house, where the road goes through 5 or 6 sudden sharp bends in the space of a quarter mile.

As a motorist, I hate that stretch of road because it forces me to slow down. As a naturalist, I love that stretch of road because it forces me to slow down.

The seldom used word for such a situation is “conundrum” and depending on my mood as I hit that stretch, I either groan at the inconvenience or I moan at the soothing sights around me.

This stretch is through green farmland features; fences and trees, cows and goats. And then once a year for about 6 or 8 weeks, a little stretch within those bends, blooms in the most beautiful of pink, violet, purple, blue, and white flowers. Did I mention yellow? Well, them too!

I went down there this morning just as dawn heralded in another day and I meandered with camera in hand, in and out of the ditch to capture some of this early season color.

We are probably only at the 10% mark of what will bloom there over the coming weeks, but my eagerness drove me to take these images this morning, anyway. Hope you enjoy them!

I deliberately shot some with the cars that were passing by, in frame. I did so, because the thought that formed in my head was about the beauty that is around us every day which remains invisible to so many.

Perhaps 20 or 30 cars sped down that road this morning, barreling past this old fool crouched over in the ditch, no doubt indulging his pre-dementia years in some odd way.

I wondered what they thought (those that even noticed me) and whether my own actions helped them notice these wonderful little flowers that they pass by every day.

Some gave me a wide berth, so I guess they saw me. But others glided past me no more than one or two feet from where I crouched trying to get the shot. Perhaps they were doing something “important” like texting or changing channels on the radio.

I couldn’t help but smile at myself, as I eventually climbed back out of the ditch and said hello to an old-timer who was standing in his doorway, watching me. My smile came from my ability to enjoy what nature so willingly offers each of us.

It is a very fulfilling experience that immerses the senses in colors, shapes, and scents. And it is completely free.

Just requires you to slow down on one of those bends and occasionally get out.

No matter where we journey, we all have bends. They serve to remind us that the journey and not the destination is very often the experience to remember.

I hope you experience some bends of your own this week and if they slow you down enough, stop. Get out and walk. Breathe in the fresh air and let your surrounds wash your soul with their beauty.

Your soul will thank you for it!

Beer buddy

Yesterday evening descended upon us in a golden haze tinged with the reds and ambers that only Florida can boast.

That it was mid-seventies accompanied by the most gentle of breezes, only served to make the evening more special.

We picked up a couple of beers on the way to the lake’s edge and as Brittany played with her hoola hoop behind me, I crawled belly down on the ground trying to get shots to record how special the evening was.

I hope you like this little collection that shows the progression from the moment the sun fell below the horizon until the night crescendoed above us. I know, I know … I am still making up words. Crescendo was never meant to be a verb.

After I got home and began to reflect on the evening, I had a familiar thought that I have already shared. And that is the importance of having someone special to share a moment with.

Our life is full of moments, good and bad, and while their intensity varies, they are almost always better when shared with a true friend.

Bad moments seem not so bad and good moments seem magnificent.

Which really only works to bear out the social aspects of being human.

But when the ooohs and aaahs in appreciation of a moment like last night, are not just coming from your own mouth, then the importance of a simpatico friend takes a front seat. Particularly when they share your own fervor for the situation.

Sometimes when your friend shares such a moment with you, they do so in an arm’s length manner. They are not wildly interested in the moment themselves but they are there for you.

But the true win is experienced when they have every bit as much an interest in the experience as you do. It becomes very much a case of the sum of two parts being greater than the individual parts.

So, when we seek out people to share our lives with, it is important to have at least some within our closest circle that share our passions. People who feel as we do, and whose thoughts run parallel to our own.

Oftentimes, our circle of friends is defined by the life we live. The social circle we move in, or the work people that we befriend along the way.

Sometimes these circles produce a friend that shares your passion, but not necessarily. People can be wonderful friends without sharing your interests on your level. But they can never produce a shared moment like a “passionate” friend can.

A shared passion will motivate and reward on a level otherwise not experienced. And so perhaps over your coffee or quiet moment, ask yourself what passion(s) you have and who you have to share them with.

If, like me, your passions are fully mated, then great … pull those friends in closer to you as they are a key to truly rewarding moments. But, if there are holes in your friends’ circle, then consider seeking one out. They are out there and while they may be strangers now, your passion will unite you both.

As W.B. Yeats wrote … there are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met!

Compelling Story

It was about 5:30 or so when I climbed out of bed this morning and headed off to watch the sunrise.

It was only 41 degrees as I grabbed a coffee and jumped into the car, all-eager to see what mother nature might serve me up this morning. For Florida, that counts as an exceptionally chilly start to the day but I didn’t care, I was a man on a mission.

The drive there was very dark so I couldn’t tell if I was going to have the right sky or not but sometimes you just have to put your faith in the weather app.

When I made it to the lake’s edge, I could see there was some cloud on the horizon but I had hope it might scatter before the night turned into twilight.

Here is a collection of images from this morning and you can see for yourself the progression from almost darkness to the splash of red that preceded the sun’s arrival.

I put myself into a number of the shots (remotes are handy accessories) and really, that is what made me develop this morning’s blog-thought.

I asked myself what had compelled me to make this morning’s journey, as in all honesty, it would have been easier (and warmer) to just stay at home in bed or with the kitties.

Obviously, in order to overcome the objections, there must have been some kind of driving force that made we want to miss out on a breakfast and venture out into the cold armed with just a cup of black coffee.

So the word “compel” sprang to mind and it was easy for me to answer the question because it is clear in my own mind that I am a real naturalist. The power of nature compels me … to paraphrase a line from the movie, The Exorcist.

But what is it that compels you? And why does everyone develop habits that makes them do certain things?

Things that compel us can be either good or bad. And recognizing what these forces are, is a first step in the process of tweaking our lives away from the bad and towards the good.

I would argue that my passion for all things natural is a good force in my life. It takes me outdoors. It positions me as an advocate of all things natural. It adds positivity into each day that I submit to the force.

But what of negative forces? What makes people drink to excess? Or exhibit intolerant behaviors towards others. Or habitually let people down while missing commitments?

It might be a need to forget about something, an inadequacy within themselves, or a carelessness towards others and the impact we have on them.

But whatever it is, we are better off understanding what it is, where it came from, and how we can tackle it. Thus begins our path to correction.

And it is important that we correct ourselves away from negative tendencies.

If we don’t, we risk being lesser of a person than we otherwise could be and living a life that is a pale imitation of what we could otherwise achieve.

There are dark forces in all our lives. I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there that doesn’t have a negative thought somewhere in their head. And it is OK to have negative thoughts. It is when we allow them to compel us into negative actions that we must pull in the reins and take control.

How often have we seen others take the wrong path … one that leads to destruction or isolation?

This same path is before us too and we can take the same journey quite easily if we don’t stop ourselves and ask why.

At the end of the day, we are all best served when the story of our life is a compelling story. But let’s try to make it a story we are proud of and not an easily-foreseen tragedy.

Breaking Rules

Early yesterday morning, I took a road trip to Miami for business and, me being me, I hit the road around 4:30 in order to get a jump on traffic.

I much prefer driving in the darkness at the start of a long trip than later in the day coming home in the darkness, with worn out eyes and exhaustion just a few miles ahead.

The first bit of the drive is an hour an a half of non-interstate, so speed isn’t much of an option. By the time I get to the turnpike, that accelerator pedal is itching under my right foot and it takes almost no pressure to suddenly find yourself cruising at 90.

So perhaps 90 isn’t an ideal speed for taking sunrise shots out your window but with the camera sitting on the seat beside me, I couldn’t resist. I hope you like these three shots!

Thankfully none of the speed traps caught my early morning high-jinx, even though they caught many of my unfortunate fellow-travelers along the route.

In one of these shots, you can see the SUV had just sped past a trooper when he lit up the morning and sped after him. I was thrilled to get that one, even if it carried a certain guilt associated with it as I saw them pull off to the shoulder in my rear view mirror.

But it got me thinking about this whole concept of rules and then breaking them. How useless certain rules are because everyone breaks them, and how important others are because we need to have a civil society rather than a wild west world.

I mean, some of us fail to come to a complete stop at a stop sign while there is no traffic around and a traffic camera catches us and dishes out a $275 ticket. Others pop tic-tacs, grab young women’s pussies (not my words, ladies and gentlemen) and we make them president.

Some of us worry about reporting every dollar of earnings come tax time, while others use hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to coerce foreign leaders into getting them reelected.

So, forgive me if I have a slight skepticism about rules.

Generally speaking I follow the normal rules of engagement with people I meet. I try to avoid lying to them, show them respect and treat all with dignity. I avoid talking behind their backs and try to keep my behavior above board and my intentions obvious.

When it comes to rules that are government mandated, and class-based, I flaunt them whenever I think I can get away with it. I owe no allegiance to a system that has one set of rules for the ordinary person, while the wealthy live their lives above it all.

Perhaps it is the Irish in me. We were taught to rebel at an early age. British invaders had raped and pillaged the country for centuries without apology and under the guise of British rule.

So now when I experience a rule that is mandated on an issue I disagree with, then I put my foot to the floor and race towards the sunrise.

I fully understand that one day I will likely see the blue lights shining closer in my rear view mirror, but what is life if we we can’t live at least some of it on our own terms?

In the words of Oscar Wilde, when confronted with archaic rules that sought to enforce anti-gay fervor, “Fuck them all!”

OK, I confess, I might have paraphrased him slightly. Oops that’s another rule broken!

Imbolg

Now there’s a word that I suspect most of my friends here have never heard … it’s an ancient Irish festival that marks the beginning of Spring and the end of Winter.

Victoria reminded me that yesterday was Imbolg and asked me what I was shedding for this new beginning. Traditionally it is a time to shed things from the past (purification) and embark on new beginnings.

So, I carried her reminder during the day and asked myself what I might shed.

First thing this morning, armed with my plans, I went down to Lake Parker to watch the sunrise, which for me is always a sign of new beginnings.

It was a freezing start to the day here in FL … I actually had to wear a long sleeve shirt! OK, the sound you are now hearing in the distance is the sound of me laughing at all you folk that choose to live in the great white north.

Anyway, I digress …

I could tell from the chill in the air and the clear night sky overhead, that this morning would likely deliver a pure sunrise, unadulterated by clouds. And I was right. Below are a collection of the progression of twilight and I hope you enjoy them!

Incidentally, I also for the first time in my life, came across a slight murmuring of birds out over the lake and it was wonderful to witness. I didn’t bring a zoom lens with me but nonetheless I captured it in video for a moment and uploaded it on YouTube, if you are interested. Probably best viewed on something larger than a phone, btw.

The purification thoughts that I brought with me to this morning’s sunrise centered on unhappy thoughts of the loss of my parents that has plagued me for the past year in particular. I have struggled with reconciling the manner of their loss and it has been a weight in my heart that has muted my own enjoyment of life.

So this morning I shared the sunrise with them both and resolved to discard the sad thoughts and replace them with happy memories of my life with them both. And there were so many over the years that it will not be difficult to lose myself in them and allow my heart to heal.

The murmuring seemed cathartic in its sudden arrival and firmed up my resolve in moving forward.

So, as I drove away from the lake, I began to wonder why we choose to carry negative energies forward from our past at all. They inevitably harm our present and sometimes can even ruin our futures.

Negative emotions such as sadness, regret, and shame, inevitably happen to us all at some stage. But it is important to put them in a box after a short indulgence and then keep a lid on it for the remainder of our lives.

Too many of us reopen that lid and allow the past to shape our future.

That, my friends, is almost never a good idea!

There is no shame in experiencing negative shit. It happens. But we have to be able to not just deal with it, but to recover from it.

Once we allow it to perch on our shoulders it can weigh down our dreams and crush our our memories.

And with life being essentially our own personal collection of memories, we then allow it to crush our very life.

Finding happiness in memories is a key ingredient to living a joyous life. The pursuit of happiness is the right of every living soul on the planet. And when we deny ourselves this right because of something from our past, then we reduce our own life to that of a memory. A bad one.

So, with Imbolg upon us, it is a wonderful time to stand at this crossroads and choose a path that is unencumbered by negatives from our past.

I have a true belief that each one of us can choose our future. We may not be able to control it, but we can choose our direction and to make the best choice it is a good idea to disregard the past and begin the rest of our journey afresh and full of hope.

Who knows, the best days of our lives might actually be ahead of us!