Wait for it

I’ve noticed a trend over the past week or two when I go to put out the buffet for the raccoons, possums, et al.

There is a genuine increase in the gathering that occurs, waiting for my arrival. I first noticed it a while back with the birds. Cardinals set the pattern first.

On evenings when I was a few minutes late, I would often get a cardinal up near the kitchen window looking in at me while I was getting the dishes ready and he would chirp at me through the glass. It was a definite “you’re late” chirp and I felt the pressure.

Over the subsequent weeks, they were joined by blue jays and squirrels, occasionally at the window but mostly just sitting patiently in the trees near where I set out the first stage of food and throw the bread.

On a typical evening there are five or six cardinals, two blue jays, a few smaller little birds, and a couple of squirrels … all waiting patiently for my arrival.

But then I noticed this past week or two that there is a raccoon who has joined the early audience and he waits patiently for me to set down the food and step away so that he can be there for the early bird special.

Yesterday evening I got to talk to him for a few moments and he didn’t run away. He just patiently waited for me to be done with the “wah, wah, wah” sounds so that he could get on with the eating.

That “wah, wah” by the way is my Charlie Brown reference for adult voices.

Anyway I managed to get a few quick pics of him up to where he chose his first beefaroni and then I left him alone. They are at the end of this blog and I hope you enjoy.

As I got on with the rest of my evening, I began to think of the patience shown by all these little creatures and how we humans could learn something from them.

“Patience is a virtue” was the old saying and I remember hearing that thrown at me several times growing up. But in many ways it is a lost virtue.

We have become an instant gratification race where everything needs to happen immediately if not sooner.

Fast food, instant winners, movies on demand, are all symptoms of an unwillingness for anybody to wait for anything any more.

I remember the first time it ever really slapped my in the face; I had just moved to America and was shocked at the practice among some of my new friends that their tradition was to open a Christmas present the night before Christmas. Now to those of you that do such a thing, you may not see how crazy that is to people that actually wait until Christmas to open their “Christmas” presents.

I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t an Easter egg hunt the night before Easter, or trick or treating going on October 30th.

Instant gratification fits with a culture that has focused on productivity to an extreme. Where every minute is critically important and therefore needs to be shortened.

So we go through a drive-thru so as to not have to wait in line for something. We use personal shoppers and curbside pick up at Walmart so that we don’t have to waste our precious time doing it. We use the fast pass at Disney so that we don’t have to wait in line for a ride.

We zip home in traffic determined to shorten our drive by a minute here and there, risking life and limb with questionable speeds and driving practices.

And then what do we do with all this precious time we have saved along the way?

We sit on a sofa in front of the TV and vegetate.

So, though we describe our actions as a time saving mechanism, the reality is that we are simply impatient. It has nothing to do with actually saving time, because saving implies you are planning on using it for a greater purpose at some later moment.

Generationally speaking we are evolving into a more impatient race, as we pass on technologies and behaviors to our children that makes them more impatient than us. Remember dial-up internet anybody? Explain that wait to a 16 year old.

I don’t know where we expect it all to end. Do we just blink our eyes and whatever we want is immediately there? Is that the end point?

And as if that whole trend isn’t bad enough, we have somehow evolved into thinking that it is ok for some people to get things faster than others. Premium services allow for the rich to access the internet faster than Po Folks, allow “special” people to bypass queues at airports, allow faster shipping of purchases they just have to have today or tomorrow.

There used to be a general belief that if something was worth having, it was worth waiting for.

It was a belief that placed some value on patience. It recognized patience as a virtue.

Virtue in itself is rapidly becoming a forgotten value, unfortunately. We don’t seem to seek it in others any more and I am not sure we even aim for it within ourselves.

There is a lot to be learned from these little wild creatures … perhaps if we try, we might rediscover some of our lost virtues.

When we allow virtue to become a lost value to us we only breathe life into that famous quote by Plato: “Knowledge becomes evil, if the aim be not virtuous.”

… just a thought!

A lifetime in 12 hours

I was out gathering the dishes mid-morning from last night’s furry revelers and came across this lone mushroom on my “forest-floor” back yard.

He was all alone, from what I could see, but stood there bathing in the sunlight and showing off his delicate beauty to anyone that might observe.

There was no vanity … he was just doing what mushrooms do and reaching for the sky in an attempt to shout out his praise to the heavens.

I put the dishes down and grabbed my camera (don’t I always) took these few shots and then just admired him for a moment. Then I picked up my dishes and went back about my day.

Three hours later, I remembered him and went back to see how he was doing. He was bent over, dying on the cold ground beneath him. A few feet away from where he stood, I saw his cousin whom I had missed earlier. He stood there, shriveled and brown, and clearly in distress over the fall of his kin. A lone tear rested on his fading face and I felt sorry for him.

I felt sorry for them both. They were taken from us so young.

At the end of the blog are some of the shots I got … just three hours apart.

And as I walked back to my desk, slightly crestfallen, a sadness came over me. Sad because it is very possibly that I was the only one to have seen this lovely little guy over the entire duration of his life.

He lived his life for just this one moment in the sun and then ashes to ashes, returned to whence he came.

Perhaps his beauty shone out to a passing butterfly, who herself was destined to live a short life…. though not as short as his. Or perhaps his cousin briefly spotted him in the distance and managed to wave to him before he fell. We will never know.

How long we live is largely a function of the type of “thing” we are. From hours to years, to possibly a century. While it is happening, it may feel of substance but in the grand scheme of things, we don’t even appear as a dot on the timeline of the planet we live on.

So the relevance of our longevity is minimal. Though some people make it their mission to be remembered after they are gone. They build monuments, statues, walls, determined to write themselves into the history books.

For what?

Do we really think there is an immortality to be found in the page of a history book? There is every likelihood that a person will be remembered for an atrocity as much as an act of greatness. Hitler will likely outlive us all.

So, the pursuit of immortality is a fools game. But more importantly it can become in itself a purpose and therefore distract away from the love we can share and experience with those with whom we share our here and now.

My little mushroom guy shared some of his moment with me, this morning and however unintentional, I now add to his level of immortality by showing his picture here. But it was surely incidental to his real purpose in life.

It would be nonsensical to imagine that he stood there waiting for me to appear with a camera. Unless of course, he was a prophet among mushrooms. And maybe he was … who am I to cast shadows on a prophet.

But far more likely is the story that he was born this morning just before the sunrise, grew to maturity before the hard heat took hold of the day and then bade farewell when his time was up.

And did the world come to a stop when he fell? No.

It will not stop for anyone. Rich or poor, famous or unknown, loved or unloved. The world will continue to turn.

We put such value in our lives because we know one day it will be replaced by death. Some go to great lengths to extend the quantity of time they have here, without deference to the quality of the time here that they have.

My suggestion? Learn a lot from the mushroom … he was born, he lived, he died. So do we all.

Enjoy the middle bit while you can!

… just a thought!

Downtown 2

Threw the camera into the car last night as the day darkened into night and headed off downtown Tampa again. Last weekend’s fiasco was still fresh in my mind, so I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a little bit of fear in the pit of my stomach as I returned to the scene of such a miserable moment.

But I was determined to try the blue-hour, long exposure shots regardless. That was my original intent last week before the evening fell apart.

The skies themselves were absolutely not cooperating, with thick, heavy cloud all over the bay area. So the blue aspect wasn’t very likely to oblige.

The blue hour, by the way, is that hour immediately after sunset when photographers get to play with the camera just a little and extract some remaining tinges of blue from the sky before it turns to black.

So, from the outset I knew that the clouds were definitely muting part of the effect I was looking for. But that was OK. It was important that I get back in the saddle, so to speak, and put a better memory around a downtown visit.

I found the spot I felt would give me the best vantage point for some light trails and while of course downtown traffic is somewhat minimal these days, I still got a few I was happy with.

They are here at the end of the blog and I think my favorite is the very last one. Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Taking these type of shots by hand is definitely not the way to go. They most definitely should be tripod mounted because of the long exposure. But I wanted to get down close to the puddle (for reflections) and the tripod was keeping me too high above it.

So there I was kneeling in a puddle, hands resting in the water, trying to get some shots as traffic rolled by. Oh the lengths we go to when we are doing something we enjoy!

I just hope none of the people who saw me cracking eggs in the rain the other evening were driving by. They don’t need any further evidence.

I even tore the front of my shoe in one of my efforts to crouch lower. So, by the time I was heading back to the car with my wet jeans and broken shoe, I must have looked a pitiful sight.

But regardless of how I looked, I was genuinely happy.

Whether the pictures came out or not was secondary because the real enjoyment was in the trying. I was lost in my own happy spot, oblivious to the traffic or the passers-by, untroubled by wet knees and hands, unbothered by the clouds.

The world may have been turning, but I didn’t notice. For almost an hour, my world stood still.

There were no thoughts of work-stresses, personal issues, pandemic worries. The world was completely shut out.

And as I drove home last night, that was the thought that played out in my head.

The importance of being able to find our happy place.

We all need a happy place. It is the place where serenity takes over and your world is a beautiful place.

We can sometimes be so busy in life that we forget we even have such a place. But, when we do that, we do ourselves a disservice.

So if it’s been a while, why not go to your happy place this week?

Finding time for our happy place is an essential part of soul-rejuvenation. Your best soul-mate is your inner-self and you will find them there, waiting for you. Smiling.

We don’t all have the same happy place. If we did, my puddle would have been awfully crowded last night.

Yours might be in a good book, resting your head in your partner’s lap, or standing in a river, waiting for the fish to bite.

It doesn’t matter where you physically are, because the real happy place is inside your head. You take it with you everywhere you go and it is just waiting for you to open the door and let it out for a while.

This is why they say that true happiness comes from within. And it is why relying on others for your happiness is a shallow puddle. One without depth or reflection.

So, go on … get your knees wet this week.

… just a thought!

Omelettes anyone?

If you haven’t already figured it out yet, I am a bit weird, to say the least. But don’t judge me on the back of the images in this blog. There is a perfectly logical explanation.

You see, I was on my way back from Walmart yesterday, laden with groceries. Carrying them up from the car to the house, I chose the “lazy man’s load” as my Dad used to say. Twelve Walmart bags in your hands while trying to fumble with a key in a door-lock is a recipe for disaster and sure enough one fell.

And no surprise, it was the one with the eggs!

I mean seriously … there were eleven other bags and not of them had something that would break from a small fall. But, as Murphy forecast many moons ago, it will always be the bag with the eggs.

When I climbed back down from the ceiling and inspected the bag, nine were fine but there were three casualties. One was really quite smashed and the other two a little bit so.

Now, if I had wanted fried eggs or an omelette, it wouldn’t have mattered but boiling smashed eggs for an egg-sandwich would be rather messy, to say the least.

So, I put them to one side as a little idea began to play out in my head. The old saying “you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs” ran around in my head and given that I am in the middle of trying to create a series of smalls ads, I came up with a plan.

I hopped back in the car, smashed eggs in their box and camera by my side and raced off down to a Publix shopping center just down the road.

For the next few minutes, there I was at one end of the parking lot; an old man squeezing eggs in his hands in the middle of the rain. If there were men in white coats around, I was definitely in trouble. They would have had all the ammunition they needed to take me away.

Anyway, here are some of the pics I got at the end of the blog. I know, I know. I already told you I was a little weird.

I did end up with one that played out well for the ad, so the end purpose justified the strange situation I found myself in. And before anybody accuses me of utter waste, you should know that just off camera under my hand, they all oozed back into the egg box itself. And they were happily eaten by some possums overnight. So, nothing was wasted.

So really the whole point behind this blog was not so much to impress anyone with my manly hand crushing some jumbo sized eggs.

No. What occurred to me was the significance of that old saying about omelettes and eggs.

I looked up the origins and, believe it or not, it was attributed to Fran├žois de Charette, who was a lieutenant general in the anti-republican army that was defeated in France in 1796. At his point of execution he was asked how he could justify so many deaths because of his actions, wherein he conjured up the quote that you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.

He was either quite a philosopher at 32 or perhaps just a simple chef, but his words still survive today and have been used in many situations across the world.

My simple interpretation of these words is that in order to achieve anything of significance, some sacrifices are inevitable. And that is what I wish to talk about here.

Many of us go through life wishing and hoping for success in something, yet doing little to secure it. Whether it be a career, a financial purpose, a love, an experience, a talent … whatever it is, it nearly always has a cost associated with it.

If something took no effort to secure, then it likely has no value. Anything of value will likely require us to extend ourselves in order to achieve it.

So, on one hand I look at people who go through life feeling entitled to things and I shake my head. Much of youth culture is such, but inevitably they seem to grow out of it. Life’s experiences tend to educate them in the principle of earning achievements.

On the other hand, I see others that are so focused on achievement to where they barely notice the sacrifices they are making or worse still the sacrifices of those around them. These people step on others and even themselves in order to achieve their goal. And again, I shake my head.

While achievements are important, it is more important to create a balance in our lives. A balance that forces us to examine what we are working towards and what we give up in the process.

When we give up those that love us, we fail them and we fail to find that balance. When we give up our souls, we fail our very humanity.

There are so many examples and I am sure we have all witnessed many along the way. A couple of years ago an ex-sibling sold her mother into a nursing home for $32,000 so she could buy more gin and adorn her twisted body with fur coats.

And look at evangelical Christians, selling their very savior in order to put a pussy-grabbing molester in the White House for a more conservative supreme court.

In both instances, they each explain away that sacrifices have to be made. They agree on the premise that “the end justifies the means”.

And I disagree violently with that.

The end never justifies the means. The means must be able to stand in the daylight and justify itself.

Isn’t it ironic that in almost all instances where sacrifice is freely given, the sacrifice is done by others?

Every now and then, we see the opposite; that moment where someone sacrifices themselves for someone they love. It can be on a grand scale, where they jump in front of a bullet, or on a less obvious level where they forego their own comforts in order to put their kids through school.

For everything in life, something has been sacrificed and in order for us to understand its value, we need to recognize the sacrifice.

Such recognition not only helps us respect the achievement but it can also remind us of the balance required to truly live a happy life.

Happiness is not in the achievement but in the balance.

… just a thought!

What are the odds

There was a torrential downpour here yesterday afternoon all of a sudden and while Lola and Daisy were inside, Coco was caught outside in it. Hopefully under a car or cover of some sort.

When I am in the office, I have my door open and tied with a gap of about six or eight inches to allow the cats to come and go as they please throughout the day.

Yes, I know it really screws with my air conditioning but the cats freedom is more important to me. And yes, it means the occasional mosquito and on a rare instance (three in the past six months) a snake or two slithering in and causing mild panic in the office.

But, as I often do in sudden downpour crises, I swung the door fully open and called for Coco to make a dash to the safety of the office.

He didn’t come and wherever he was must have been providing sufficient shelter for him, that it wasn’t worth the wet dash across the drive to the quiet dry of the office.

In any event, as I stood there in the doorway calling his name, I noticed the leaf that landed into the sign on the door in this picture.

Me being me, of course I took the pic. But then I just stood there for a moment in silence and thought “what are the odds?”

I mean, think about it. This must have happened yesterday while the door was slightly ajar for the cats. So because this is the inside of the door, the leaf had to fall stem first, through a gap of of less than three inches (as it’s half way across the door), and land vertically in a decorative gap between the door and the sign of about an inch.

And the nearest tree with that kind of leaf is about 75 or 80 feet from the door.

You could stand there millions of times dropping similar leaves from directly above the partially open door and never manage to get it to stick as such. And then imagine doing that from a distance of 75 to 80 feet away.

Not a chance in hell.

While it isn’t likely to make this evening’s news, this image did serve to give me food for thought overnight.

As humans we like to think that life is somehow structured and organized and that variables and unusual happenings can be explained away.

We use science and anecdotes to help us understand everything that we may witness along life’s journey.

If we can’t explain it away, we invent a god and tell everyone that god works in mysterious ways.

I am absolutely not rejecting science, even remotely. My engineering degree is a Bachelor of Science for god sake, so yes, I am a firm believer in science.

But at some stage, regardless of science or religion, it becomes painfully aware to some of us that life is simply a state of chaos.

Chaos, simply put, is the underlying principle of everything that happens everywhere to everyone. We make patterns out of certain happenings so that we can predict outcomes. For example, if you stick your hand in the fire, you will get burnt.

We attempt to apply patterns (incorrectly, may I add) such as if you are good, good things will happen to you.

But others are simply outside our realm of understanding or have too many variables and so we simply ignore. Like an airplane explodes in the sky and a child on his swing in the back yard fie miles away is killed by falling shrapnel.

That one gets put in the old god-works-in-mysterious-ways-box and on we go.

In failing to understand that there is so much beyond our comprehension, we invariably search for answers that can’t be found. And so we come up with fake answers. The world is flat. The sun god brings warmth and the rain god waters our earth.

As absurd as those statements sound today. At some point in time, people completely believed them. And those who questioned were seen as heretics.

But that is the thing about this endless battle between chaos and human understanding. Occasionally we are able to understand something. See a pattern and predict it. And so we buy into the concept that one day we will know it all.

Yes, there are some idiots who think they know it all already, but you republicans elected him, so we are stuck with him for the moment.

But the rest of us mere mortals experience a dawning early in life that reconciles our own limitations in life. “I’m no good at math. I will never understand grammar.” Or whatever our individual limitations are.

Yet collectively we behave as if we should have all the bases covered between us. But the simple truth is that we never will.

Chaos, the possibility of anything happening to anyone at any given moment, undermines the very best of plans. We can be plain sailing one moment and dealing with some catastrophe the next.

We can be driving along a city street with our toddler in the back seat and get t-boned by some drunk idiot, killing our baby and paralyzing us. If we hadn’t stopped to put the lid on our coffee cup before leaving the house we would have been ten seconds ahead in time and would have missed the crash.

Try explaining that pattern in that to the paralyzed ex-parent!

Life is a random, unsequenced, series of events that just happen … to us, to everyone. By trying to define it the way we do, we blur our focus from the importance of just experiencing it.

Living for the moment and loving those we share that moment with. These are the things we are really in control of. The rest of it is, simply put, shit happens.

… just a thought!

Bad Decisions

I had stomach pains most of the afternoon yesterday and even though I lay down for a couple of hours, they didn’t budge.

These are the kind of pains that make you think you were in a boxing match and took a lot of body blows. They emanated from the top part of my stomach, so being a man (idiot) I figured I could just walk them off.

So instead of doing something sensible, I grabbed my camera and drove the 45 minutes to downtown Tampa to see what I could capture.

I remember about half way down when my pain seemed to be getting worse, I talked myself into continuing instead of turning around and heading for the comforts of home.

Because of parking restrictions, I ended up parking about a 20 minute walk from where I wanted to shoot and initially those steps gave me reason to believe that I could indeed walk this off.

Shoot-wise, I imagined talking some slow exposure shots of traffic in the downtown darkness. They always look neat.

But I was there too early and the sun hadn’t even gone down yet. So I figured to see what the setting sun might do behind the ever-raised Cass Ave rail bridge.

I stood there taking unappealing shot after unappealing shot as the skies refused to oblige me with any color worth capturing. And my pains were now at a level where I really couldn’t bear to stand still any more, so I hoisted camera up in my arms and headed back for the car.

Aborting a shoot is something I almost never do, so I recognized immediately that I was in some health-trouble. This was not good.

As I painfully retraced my steps to the car, about half-way I looked back over my shoulder and saw the beautiful reds that had come out of hiding as soon as I left my post. So, I hurried close to the river-walk and snapped a few shots which I include here at the end of the blog.

Yes, it was a gorgeous scene, but I missed most of it.

I continued to the car, sweating profusely and was so glad to get there that I momentarily got a false-positive feeling of being OK.

It was only when I drove to get back on the interstate at Ashley Drive, that I realized the trouble I was in. I never throw up. I just don’t. But as I got onto 275, it became clear that the convulsions in my stomach were not going to be tamed.

So I pulled my shirt up from its normal tucked in mode and proceed to empty with force the contents of my stomach. While the shirt was actually the only good decision I made, it still managed to get everywhere.

And so I drove home with a combined feeling of ignomy, embarrassment, and a genuinely ill-feeling.

That I managed to repeatedly throw up while driving in the dark on a crowded interstate at 50 to 60 miles an hour, while not hitting anyone, was simply put a miracle.

We have a saying in Ireland that “the devil looks after his own” and apparently he was guiding my steering wheel last night. I felt so faint that I nearly passed out behind the wheel, and my vision became a mix of blur and swimmy to where I couldn’t really see where I was going.

But I have traveled that particular stretch of road enough times that the lanes were well know to me and I somehow made it to I-4 without dying in a wreck.

Morgan took care of me when I got home and she even managed to clean out the car, poor soul. No one should have to do that for another person. But love is love and we do things for people we love that we would never do otherwise.

So, the good news is that I am still alive and this is not being ghost-written by one of my “fans”.

I feel completely drained and will take a very slow day today to heal. It is almost certainly a case of bad food-poisoning and having followed all of Toria’s telephone instructions, I am comfortably ruling out COVID for now.

But this morning as I slowly ate some plane bread and butter with black coffee, I mused over the sequence of truly bad decisions that I made yesterday and that’s what led me to wanting to write this blog.

I should clearly have never left the house yesterday evening. I should have turned around when half-way down there and gone home. I should not have parked my car so far away from where I wanted to shoot. When I left the bridge area, I should have walked directly to the car and not be distracted by the red skies behind me.

I should not have tried to drive home but stayed parked safely until whatever happened, happened. I should not have gotten on the interstate in the dark, with fast moving traffic all around me. I should have found a place to pull in when the first wave of throwing up was about to start. I should have recognized that I was about to pass out and that I couldn’t see safely enough to continue driving.

But no, being singularly focused on what I wanted to happen, I completely missed what was happening!

Our lives are filled with moments of decision. We make hundred of decisions every day from the simple to the important ones.

It is very important when we are making an decision that we do so from a sound basis in fact rather than a wish or intention.

From eating that one more cookie, even though we are full, to drinking that one more beer even though we know we are driving; decisions abound.

Bad decisions are what leads to mistakes. Not being able to fit into your jeans without an overflowing muffin-top isn’t likely to cause your world to end. But climbing into a car when you are anything but sober, certainly can.

None of us are perfect and some of us are a lot less perfect than most. So, thinking that you are an excellent decision maker is conceited and one that is likely to blind you to realities that you are faced with.

When I am clear-headed, I often refer to the practice of asking yourself what would you advise your friend or loved on to do. In other words, to put some objectivity between yourself and the decision. This approach will often lead to better decision making.

Being objectively positioned on any decision is almost always the best vantage point from which to determine which decision to make.

There are factors (such as stomach pain) that force our hand in bad decisions. For example, haste is a big one. So too is a biased interest in the outcome. Influences that force our hand should be called out for what they are and discarded if at all possible.

I remember many years ago taking management accountancy courses in Canada and being exposed to the guiding principle that past expenses should never be considered in whether we should proceed with something as a future endeavor. But it is exactly that failure that makes the gambler decide whether he should stay at the table when he already thousands down.

So too our decisions that have nothing to do with money. Recognizing the factors that might distort our ability to objectively something is critical to decision success. Do we stay in a relationship with a partner that beats us because we had some lovely years with them before the first punch landed and we hope for things to return to how they were?

The obvious answer we would guide our sister or friend is that minutes from that first punch, you should have your bags packed and be starting a new life somewhere.

But do we make that same decision for ourselves. “Aaah, but he didn’t mean it. He is under such stress and he loves me.”

I have reviewed my own decisions from yesterday and can pretty much guarantee they will never be done again. I know why I made each decision and what the factors were that persuaded me to do so. That allows me to build on the experience and adjust future situations where similar situations might arise.

Analyzing your decision making is a very good process to put your brain through. Look at some of your bad decisions and see what led you to them. If you are still under the same influences today, then you are very likely to have learned nothing and inevitably will repeat the errors.

OK, I am heading back to the sofa now. Time to lay horizontal for an hour or two.

Have a wonderful week and try to make only good choices … just a thought!

Life-saving Moments

As weeks go, this one won’t have won many awards in the Ronan family. Negative energy abounded, bad news broke, and demoralization seemed to be “modus operandi” for most of us.

So when the chance to do a sunset shoot came along last night, I jumped at the opportunity. The babies had been fed, work completed, and responsibilities all ticked off. Even the heavy threatening clouds above couldn’t dissuade us and we cavalierly jumped into the car and headed off for Picnic Island.

My dear friend Kelsi is visiting at the moment and she is as adventurous as her name is unique. So risking witnessing only a downpour rather than a sunset, she hopped in the car with a “ready when you are, Neville” and off we went.

It was about an hour of drive and the dark horizon with torrential rain happening in every view, played second fiddle to the wonderful music and the great conversation.

Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” very much sprang to mind as lightning to the left and thunder to the right made the journey feel very much like a fools charge.

But we didn’t care. Our optimism in catching something outshone the dark skies and even if we didn’t what was the worst that could happen … being stuck in the car for a couple of hours with a lovely young lady? I can live with that one.

As we reached the beach at Picnic Island, the heavy rains seemed largely to be on the opposite side of the bay and they gave a lovely perspective to the horizon as they fell from the cloud cover to the shores beneath.

While the cloud cover did in fact mostly stay there as the sun fell, fortune would have it that there was one section of the sky that lit up beautifully as the sun fell to earth.

I managed to get a few shots showing its better moments and have attached them at the end of the blog for you to enjoy. I hope you do.

We certainly did. There were several moments where there was no click of shutter and we just watched what was happening in front of us while breathing in the evening beauty.

So, it was really first thing this morning when I awoke and began to process the thought in this blog. It dawned on me that I had had a restful sleep for the first time this week and my mind wasn’t haunted to awakening by incessantly negative thoughts.

All the week’s prior issues had been bathed in the warm colors of a friend’s company and an invigorating sunset.

There is little doubt in my mind that without both, my sleep would have continued to be disrupted and so in every sense of the phrase, last night was certainly a life-saving moment.

Life saving can be literal inasmuch as our physical life is endangered and then rescued, but more importantly the life we want to live can be threatened by negativity and therefore equally needs saving.

In the past couple of hundred years, life-saving medicines and surgeries along with foods and living practices, have extended the lives of humans to where we now routinely live twenty years longer than our grandparents.

Yet, in many ways we have taken much of the quality from our life in the process. Family meals are almost a thing of the past (at least in the sense that they used to be) and productivity pressures from an increased workload have added untold stresses to our suddenly longer lives.

Little things such as bonding with nature, family time, relaxation and reading time, have arguably been replaced with fast-food-entertainment and the farming-out of family time to third parties (such as TV, video games, internet).

We have become the proverbial rat in the rat race as we rush from wakening to sleep trying to be as productive as possible.

Kelsi quickly pointed out to me earlier today, that while we try to maximize every living minute, cats manage to rest and sleep on average 16 hours per day.

Meanwhile, I truthfully believe that one day, humans will invent an alternative to sleep and the “Open 24 hours a day” sign will apply to more than just Walmart.

So is sleep and rest the enemy? I don’t think so.

I think this is part of the system of balance that keeps a quality of life in consideration and not just a quantity as a goal.

For life to have real quality, we need to offer more than simply productivity. Multi-tasking is not necessarily a positive development, even though our brains can typically handle it.

No, quality of life is largely about doing things in our life that we enjoy with people (or creatures) that we love. Like last night for me with Kelsi. Photography, sunset, beach, and the company of a special friend. At the end of my week, it was most definitely life-saving.

I hope your weekend affords you the chance to step away from the rat race a little and find your life, share it with someone special, and breathe it deep into your soul.

Just a thought …

Crime Scene

I was outside a few minutes ago, gathering the dishes from last night’s raccoon-possum-party-fest.

There are four different stations that I set out the dishes in and so my daily routine of gathering dishes, washing dishes, and then setting them back out again, leaves a well-worn path across the wilderness otherwise known as my back yard.

Last night’s end-of-world rain storm washed away surface dirt and exposed a couple of mutilated barbies on that path. Now, if this were an episode of “Bones”, the crime scene team would already be there looking for the heads that were clearly decapitated from the bodies of two shapely young debutantes.

I took this one picture, because as I stood there I realized these most likely have been buried in that spot for at least fifteen years, maybe longer. The legs and arms showed the deterioration of time more so than the torsos but even so, they still hadn’t degraded much over that space of time.

But, in stopping there and musing over the circumstances that led to these two young ladies being buried there in the first place, I wondered how many of life’s things that were important to us as one stage, but are now buried and irrelevant?

I am sure that when their boxes were first opened and their locks of golden hair released into the real world, both of these ladies became the treasured objects of their new owner.

And even before that, while in their boxes on the Toys-R-Us shelves, they were coveted by several passers-by before ultimately being dropped into the shopping cart.

And before that, during their manufacturing process, each component had been carefully quality checked and boxed, after an assembly operation that kept some 6-year-old Chinese child employed.

I guess what I am trying to say is that at several stages prior to being exposed by the Florida rains last night, they had varying levels of importance, wants, and even needs associated with them.

Material things generally follow that same path. Even the ones that don’t end up in my back yard.

They are designed, assembled, bought, and used, in varying degrees of importance. And the coveting and yearning that is associated with getting them into the hands of the user creates industry on a level that only humans could.

Other creatures don’t really produce material things like we do. We call that evolution. I call it consumption.

And hand-in-hand with consumption is one of the seven deadly sins … greed. We can all define greed in ways that suit us best but I have a simple equation in my mind for it.

Want minus Need = Greed

Humans are insatiably greedy. There are those of you now who are dismissing my equation above because you know your drawers are full of things that you wanted but didn’t actually need. And you don’t want to be called greedy. So you will assign to word “greed” to a level of excess of things beyond what a normal person might want.

If humans weren’t inherently greedy, there would be no fat people on the planet and wealth (or resources) would be fairly evenly spread. Now before all you thyroid activists start jumping up and down on me; I know, I know. I am only making generalities and I acknowledge there would be exceptions.

But when we live on a planet full of morbidly obese and super wealthy people while others are starving and poor, that, my friends is GREED.

Unfortunately there is a sad aspect of human character that makes us very unlikely to correct our greed anytime soon. Humans and particularly well-off humans, don’t like giving up something they already own.

They would much rather keep it in a drawer that have someone who needs it, use it.

So they die with burgeoning bank accounts consisting of huge numbers on spreadsheets and statements. While others die with a pain in their bellies from no food and disease.

The disparities between the have’s and have not’s are gaping and the divide is growing wider. There is no trend to reduce it.

Politicians or activists that try are generally ridiculed by the have’s and vilified as being left-wing nut jobs or god forbid, socialists. Even Christians for god sake use the word “socialist” as a put-down when their very founder was himself a socialist.

Building walls and getting rich off the back of poor labor are methods of normalizing greed and making it an integral part of our way of life.

The morality of excess has been explained away as god’s reward to the good and allows these “men of conscience” to sleep on their eiderdown pillows dreaming no doubt of what else they can acquire tomorrow.

The American Dream has become an all-you-can-eat buffet for some, but if your skin isn’t the most perfect shade of Aryan White, then just wait in the alley out back, we’ll be throwing out the leftovers soon.

Can you believe all these rambling thoughts came on the heels of a couple of headless Barbies suddenly exposed by last night’s torrent?

Oh, if only we could have a torrent of conscience that exposed the world for what it has become.

Kittens

Is there anyone in the world not brought to a smile by looking into a box of kittens?

A few minutes ago, I wandered into the back of the studio to see how Daisy and her babies were doing and was greeted by a collection of babies just beginning to open their eyes and climbing all over each other.

I have never raised baby anythings before. Daisy arrived on my yard pregnant so my hand was forced into being there for her. She was so young herself, how could I not?

Her mothering skills are second to none and these two weeks have been a real eye opener for “yours truly” in how much the natural world works … no need for midwives, nurses, gynecologists, hospitals, or the bevy of post-partum specialists that teach us how to raise our babies.

It just Daisy on her own under the lawnmower by the side of the house. And she took it all in her stride.

I moved her indoors immediately and gave over my studio to however long she needs it for child-rearing. Coco and Lola didn’t necessarily agree with my decision, but they have slowly gotten used to having a third cat down here and all her babies keeping them company overnight.

Here is the little collection of shots I managed to get a few moments ago. Hope they bring some smiles to you, like they have already given me.

So the whole “kitten thing” this morning got me thinking about life’s pleasures and how we find them.

Except for psychopaths, most of the rest of us instantly gravitate towards little creatures and a general sound of oohs and aahs fill the air when we pause our lives for them.

What is it about these little creatures that provokes such a response?

Kittens are so gentle, and playful, and beautiful that they create an instant feeling of well-being in us when we encounter them. Is it those qualities then, that takes our attention and interest?

Baby animals the world over, tend to be show-stoppers in the mad life race that we occupy our days with. We can be truly busy and even stressed with all the negative around us and yet a little gasp of kitten-breath will bring us to our knees.

But not all creatures produce beautiful babies. Human babies all look like Winston Churchill for god sake. So it can’t be just beauty that stops us.

I suspect vulnerability and innocence might be the draw.

Life weathers us pretty quickly and shapes us all into what we eventually become. Along the way, our innocence is lost and most vulnerabilities are shut off.

So when we see this in little creatures, our own thoughts are brought back to when the very essence of life was pure and the only apparent complication was what nipple to grab onto.

Life’s complications can make old folk of us all, very quickly in fact. We become “wise” to the way of the world and even within the first few weeks a baby human has learned that when it screams, it gets fed. So, the manipulation begins even at that very early age.

By the time we reach the Methuselah age, like me, life can have weathered us to the point where we go through it in a weariness that eventually stops with the last beat of our heart.

But here is the trick to avoiding all that negative and wearing effect folks. It’s really quite simple.

Keep little creatures in your life and every now and then breathe in some kitten breath.

Neither will stop whatever negatives hit you, but they infuse a soft memory and feeling of innocence within you that provides a bit of balance against life’s harsher realities.

As I started writing this, I had to momentarily stop to pick up an adventurer who climbed out of the box and was screaming because he couldn’t find his little siblings.

The moment he felt the warm furry cuddles of others by his side, his screams stopped and happiness returned to his world.

As I sat back down to the PC, happy with my little brush with the pure innocence of it all, I realized “damn, he has probably already figured out now that when he screams, this old fur-less creature will stop whatever he is doing and come find him.”

And so, the manipulation starts … but hey, if I am going to have anybody manipulate me over anything, I think I would choose a kitten!

Have a wonderful week.

3 AM memories

I have no idea why, but I found myself completely awake at 3 this morning. Lying there in the darkness of a quiet room, my mind seemed consumed with memories of the past.

I was thinking about my folks, our Irish home. I was thinking about mistakes made and times gone.

I was thinking about wrongs that needed to be righted. I was thinking about frustrations that had to be endured.

And I was thinking about smiles shared.

It was a wild ride of busy thoughts that consumed my brain and refused to let my body go back to sleep.

I am sure we have all had nights like that and apart from having to eventually crawl out of bed in a state of tiredness, they can also leave us with a sense of longing. Longing for when times seemed simpler and less fraught.

That was me this morning, making my way down to where the kitties impatiently needed to be let out and another day begun.

Despite the stresses though, there was a sense of visitation that was actually calming, believe it or not. With both my parents now gone, there is no reason for me to take a physical return to Ireland. So, better just to go there in my dreams.

Reminds me of that song “Spancil Hill” which begins with:
“Last night as I lay dreaming,
of pleasant days gone by.
I stepped on board a vision,
And to Ireland I did fly”.

The writer obviously shared similar dreams with me and dreams are probably the best way to revisit our past. Our home.

Thomas Wolfe in his 1940 novel wrote “You can never go back home” and a wiser word has never been written. We enamor the past and select pieces that we choose to remember, while leaving others to be forgotten.

And when the ties to home (aka parents, for example) are gone, even the very nature of home changes on us.

So home is best reserved for memories.

But the word “home” isn’t restricted to a physical place or time. The old adage of “home is where the heart is” extends the concept to a place that may only exist in our mind. A moment that made us happy or gave us a feeling of comfort, achievement, fulfillment, or whatever.

Even if it is nothing more that a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie that we ate in a diner on our way somewhere. It is never the same when we go back to find it again.

Life is full of experiences that we encounter along our journey and the good ones should indeed be cherished but there is no need to try to relive them. We should keep them in our memories and keep moving forward to encounter new experiences before our journey’s end.

One of my trains of thought this morning brought me to a memory of the very first nature picture that I took. This is the very first pic that started me down the path of photography.

It was almost twenty years ago and a rain storm had drenched everything. It was just after I moved to Tampa from Ireland. There was still rain falling but I could see that there were drops caressing the edges of roses just outside our home in the flower bed.

So wearing just a pair of underwear, I went outside, lay on my back in the muddy flower bed and got the shot I wanted. It was a moment. I felt achievement and I often revisit that feeling even today when I am looking for inspiration.

I found the picture from then, a few moments ago, and attach it at the end of this blog.

It will always be a special moment for me. It started me on a path for certain. But there were also funny little attachments to the memory; like coming back indoors to find both my teenage daughters laughing at their soaked, muddy, almost naked, old-man.

I know I have taken images that are better since then, but they say you always remember your first. And I have such a soft spot for this one.

Oftentimes we look back on the past and see it through rose colored glasses (no pun intended). We see it the way we want to remember it. Or even perhaps we distort the memory into something that it wasn’t.

For example, one of my real problems with family pictures is that they are innately deceiving. Uncle Charlie pulls out the camera and says “Smile” and we all smile. Then we come across the picture in an album many years later and crave the days when we were so happy. I mean look, we are all smiling!

Photographs do indeed tell more than a thousand words. But many of them are lies.

Memories will recreate themselves within the shadows of our minds and step out from the darkness even at three in the morning. And the ones that carry fond thoughts attached to them, should be embraced and relived because they are indeed a feel-good moment.

Returning to such a moment is in many ways better than the original moment and such a visit can leave us with a positive feeling with which to launch into the new day.

I have had several visits with my folks in the past few years I would never forego even one of them. Invariably they bring my heart to a happy place and that is worth losing sleep over.

So, whether it is a person, a place, or a moment in time, we should indulge ourselves in these moments and take that trip home.

Our mind is taking us there for a reason!

Just a thought …