Finding an Oasis

When Jax wrote me that the first of her black racer eggs had hatched last night, it didn’t take any convincing for me to plan a trip to her little hatchery to see for myself.

Any baby snake is gorgeous, but black racers are particularly so.

The coloring on these little guys is stunning and when they mature, the early coloring is lost into the darkness that gives them their names.

When I got there this morning, her kids were in mid-conversation with a squirrel in a tree and it felt like i had arrived in a Disney, Snow White, world where animals and humans were one.

I snapped that quick moment in picture one, when I stepped out of the car but the rest of the pics are about the newborn, or should I say, newborns. To my delight, a second baby had left her shell this morning and I was there for that awesome moment where she met her brother for the first time.

Interestingly, black racers are born aggressive, so their initial words were one of hiss and threat. But then they realized they were siblings and the world became calm again.

A third one had started to cut through their shell, so i suspect the full clutch will be out and about pretty soon.

Interestingly enough, when we began handling them and they experienced their first ever sunlight-warmth, they became quite friendly and they were more curious than anything else.

Shooting them was such fun and I was really pleased with the images. I hope you like them … they are at the end of the blog.

Before I left, I had the joy of having both babies in my hands and also the joy of getting a hand-shake from a young squirrel.

So, for the drive home, at least, the world I live in became a place of peace and harmony.

And that is what really occupied my mind and led to this blog.

There can be periods of our lives where we encounter relentless stress and unhappiness. And yet, just stepping away for a moment can help us recover to the point where we are ready to continue.

in my mind, this morning, I likened it to an oasis … a small haven of respite where things don’t feel so bad.

When we cross a desert and find an oasis, it isn’t really a place where we can stay forever in and live out of lives there. For whatever reason we are crossing the desert, it is important that we get to the other side.

But the oasis gives us some respite and rejuvenates our step so that we can continue with our journey.

Whatever desert we find ourselves in, we need to aware of what the relentless heat (stress, pain, hurt, worry) is doing to us. We should indeed be resilient enough to handle it in bursts. But we need to aware of when the relentlessness is wearing us down.

There are signs, such as depression, tiredness, and perhaps even despair. And we need to be able to realize their realities and react before they overwhelm us entirely.

Taking a small diversion and finding an oasis is well worth the trip. For me, that oasis is often in the form of something natural, But, in reality, it can be anything or anyone that helps you escape whatever is forming your desert.

It could be a movie, a visit with a friend, or even a good book.

Whatever works for you, take it. But remember, it needs to be unrelated to whatever has created your desert. A true oasis is lush and green and replenishing. It bears no resemblance to the desert around it.

And depending on the length of your journey through your desert, you may need to find more than one oasis to help you make it through.

A desert is not a solution to your problems, merely a respite from them.

… just a thought

Finding forgiveness on an old fishing pier

It was a cloudy evening and I knew driving over that there wasn’t going to be a sunset worth capturing.

But it was the 6th anniversary of my Dad’s death, so I wanted to visit with him at Lake Parker, which is where some of his ashes found their resting place.

My mood was as cloudy as the skies but I was determined and brought a candle and lighter with which to shine a little light for him.

I found an old fishing pier by a power plant on the edge of the lake. One I had never visited before. And as places go, it was a nothing little place.

But there were only a couple of people at the near end, fishing off it, so I strolled to the very far end where I had complete privacy for my little “ceremony”.

The privacy allowed me to sing his song, as I let the candle light reach out from the darkness. And out of nowhere a little miracle happened. He lit up a tiny section of the cloudy sky to let me know he heard.

It was a wonderful moment and I have attached a few images I managed to take, at the end of this blog. You will see what I mean by the very strange section of sunset in a thoroughly clouded sky.

Anyway, the whole “sunset” lasted less than 3 minutes and then disappeared as quickly as it arrived.

It returned me to the darkness of the evening and I strolled back down the pier to where I had parked and drove home.

There are a million distractions on me at the moment and it took Ann to remind me of the special day that it was. I was annoyed at myself for having to be told and felt that I had disappointed his memory.

But he forgave me. I could feel it. So, I forgave myself too.

In fact, forgiveness is the thought that really ran through my head for the drive home and ultimately led to this blog.

When you are forgiven there is an amazing feeling of acceptance that we are all human and slip up occasionally. I slip up more than occasionally and need more forgiveness than others.

Accepting forgiveness is an act that can restore some peace to a heart that is troubled by conscience. Many of us expect perfection within ourselves and therefore get overly disappointed at our failures.

It is one of the mechanisms by which we improve as people. Accepting the failure and resolving to try harder next time.

In the Rocky saga, Morgan and I have been struggling with trying to nurse the little guy back to health and it is a difficult road. The next two weeks are the proving ground for us.

He has to wear an e-collar and a harness and take all sorts of nasty medicine. And we hate having to do this to him. He doesn’t understand and quite possibly thinks he is being punished for something. Which breaks our hearts even more.

But each time, after a round of medicine and his initial frown is over, he forgives us. And we bask in his forgiveness and recover from the ordeal a bit better than we otherwise would.

If only we could explain the what and why to him, life would be so much easier, but we can’t. So collectively we all just have to push forward and try to get through it all.

I don’t know if his act of forgiveness helps him. I hope it makes him feel a little better.

I know that when I forgive, I too feel better.

There is a passive healing that occurs when you are able to let go of a wrong or a hurt and forgive.

Grudges being held, just fester within us and don’t just make us less happy, but they can ultimately change who we are.

Why on earth should we allow a wrong that was done to us, change who we are?

Clearly we shouldn’t.

I am atheist but one of the things that I love about Christianity and in particularly Catholicism, is the act of forgiveness. While weekly confessions might be a thing that most of you reading this, won’t recognize, it was a moment when the priest would forgive us our sins. No matter what we did, we stepped out of that confessional, clean and renewed.

Turning the other cheek is an approach that I will accept any day over an eye for an eye approach. Yes, it leaves the offender unpunished but punishment per se is not what makes people better humans.

We each have to accept the wrong that we did, accept the forgiveness that we might luckily receive and resolve to try harder next time not to err.

We will err of course. But the key word there, was “try”.

A very special person asked me last night “what outcome I expected” from my coming years and I answered that I have none, other than focusing on the journey that leads me to my own sunset.

A big part of this journey will no doubt involve making many more mistakes and causing hurt to others along the way.

But hopefully, my own efforts and their forgiveness will light a little candle and make the world a little less dark for each of us.

… just a thought.

At the end of the rope

Yesterday morning I needed an escape and so against all my internal “you don’t have time” objections, I headed to the trails at Circle B.

My frequency of visits has been way down for a myriad of reasons and so stepping out of the car and breathing in the fresh air, was a genuine moment of calm before I had even set foot on a trail.

I had both zoom and wide lenses with me on different cameras and with them dangling off my body harness, I looked every bit the pro as I stepped forward onto one of the trails. The harness is marvelous inasmuch as it allows me to easily carry both cameras without effort and quickly switch from one to one, depending on which need arises first.

In reality the wide lens use is for scenery so that isn’t a quick-grab moment as much as the zoom which is often used to catch a fleeting activity of some distant creature.

So, my right hand dangled perilously close to the release for the camera on zoom, much like a gunslinger come to town to avenge some miscreant’s actions at noon. “which one of you, killed my Paw?”

Anyway, enough of the theatrics … the morning was absolutely perfect, and the low-lying light of early morning gave me a predisposition to keep my eyes mainly focused on what was happening to my west.

I wasn’t disappointed with the wonderful range of creatures out in the early morning looking for breakfast and for some, finding it. I have attached all the “regular pics” at the end of this blog and I hope you find one there to enjoy. There are Great Blue Herons, a little blue heron, alligators, butterflies, … all ably supported by a cast of unfortunate fish. And all under the watchful eye of a bald eagle that soared high above me against the deep blue sky.

in the meantime, I also include here some panoramic shots taken by the camera in panoramic mode (oddly enough), where it keeps shooting and compiling images together as you pivot with the camera through 180 degrees. Aah, the fun of modern cameras!

Anyway, here they are and you might want to click to zoom in to get the full panoramic aspect, depending on how you are viewing this blog.

Part of the wetlands away from Lake Hancock

Typically alligators all over this section, but they must be camera shy today
Final view from the trail due west towards Tampa
The aforementioned trail … I love this spot!

It was really only when I got home that I began to muse over a thought that led me to this blog. It was how oftentimes we realize that we are living very much at the end of our rope and how life seems bent on being too much for us, mo matter what we try.ddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd-06

I left that in, because just as I typed “try”, Coco jumped up and took over my keyboard for a moment. And cats are very much a part of how I am dealing with this subject.

Anyway, for weeks now I have had a growing sense of being overwhelmed and negativities have been swarming all over me as I try to claw my way back to the surface.

I won’t go into the why’s and wherefore’s here. It is irrelevant.

But yesterday’s respite that I gave myself at Circle B gave me a momentarily distant view that made me realize that others have it infinitely worse. Poor little Rocky, my severely injured stray kitten that was the subject of a gawd-awful dog attack, is living his life, hanging by a thread. Forget rope.

He has had two awful surgeries in the past few days that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and yet his outlook is startlingly brave and cheery. When we got back from the overnight emergency surgery this morning, he purred at being home for a solid hour and a half, as I rubbed him up on the bathroom floor.

Grateful to be alive, he shines a bright light for any of us that get lost in the darkness of our own despair.

If I had a wish to receive right now, I would give it to this little guy, in hopes that his story has a happy ending. But I don’t … so all I can do is try to do what I can and live in hope that his little life experiences an upturn.

As much as I am sad and in tears at his situation, his own approach to his life leaves me feeling that perhaps the ropes we complain about being at the end of, are far more powerful positions to be in, than we give them credit for.

The length of our rope is very much something we define and a life of adversity tends to lengthen it. So, though we may feel at the very end of it, there is still more, should we choose to let it out.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I struggle deeply with these same feelings at times and this weekend has been rife with them.

But the answer is never to give up or let go the rope. The answer is to hang on for all that we’re worth and if we need a little more, then take it.

Because at some point (simply the law of averages), life will change and either someone will begin to pull on the rope and lift us up, or we will learn how to climb from these depths that we find ourselves in.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is yes, feel sad, feel overwhelmed, feel depressed and dejected, but never, never give up.

Think of little Rocky and his undying spirit and draw from it. Oh and while you are thinking of him, please send a kind thought his way. The little guy deserves a break.

… just a thought.

Serenity Now

Spent a little while this morning wandering the boardwalk over at Lettuce Lake.

It is a gorgeous day here and as I hadn’t been there in a while, it felt like a perfect day for a visit.

There was a conscious choice in my decision to go there … did I want to see creatures (if so, then Circle B was where I needed to go) or did I want scenery and I chose the latter.

Lettuce Lake is on the Hillsborough River just north of Tampa and it has a wonderful boardwalk that runs right along the water’s edge. It opens up every so often and gives the senses a lovely view of this very natural setting.

While I had the zoom lens with me, my choice with a primary interest in view, was a wide angle that could capture as much in one shot as possible.

At one stage, I took this panoramic, as even the wide angle couldn’t correctly capture the breathtaking scenery around me. Zoom in on it if you can. It was very captivating.

As I wandered the length of the boardwalk, my eyes weren’t looking for the normal feathered friends or alligators. They were looking beyond the immediate and more into the distant.

It made for a very serene visit and you can probably tell as much from the selection of images at the end of this blog. Other than a tell-tale surface bubble that resembled a flying saucer, life took second stage to the peaceful beauty of the place that I was in.

Hope you like these!

Anyway, it would have been difficult to be more mellow, as the fresh air and warm sunshine helped to create a paradise-like environment for such a quiet and gentle setting.

I was only a level or two above sleep state, as my feet kept moving me forward without purpose. My soul just saturated in the beauty and peace around me, brought to mind that Seinfeld episode where the Jerry Stiller character preached “Serenity Now” as his way of dealing with all the stresses around him.

I identified entirely with this mantra as the turbulent week just faded in a quiet murmur in the back of my mind and peace flowed freely throughout me.

It was seriously wonderful.

As I drove away home, it gave me thought as to why I don’t choose serenity more often. Why don’t all of us?

I think in most cases life has us conditioned into a rat race condition, and we feverishly chase around from goal to goal, issue to issue, and moment to moment.

We operate as if we have to accelerate through life to some level of grading system at the end. An A+ or gold star being awarded if we can fit 110% of stuff into our lives before we fall over and die.

On the sidelines we continually get drilled on achievement and accomplishment by a world that places demands on us regardless of the price we end up paying.

Some of us espouse that same chaos and stress into the lives of those around us, demanding that every waking moment be accounted for, with success as the only acceptable goal.

But to live life in that manner is to ignore the opportunity around us that allows us to savor these living moments rather than just acknowledge them.

I try hard to live on the one-life-to-live principle and the key word on that phrase is actually the “live”, not the “one”. Because to live the moment is to take what joy and peace we can from it, not just to get through it.

Some of my Dad’s and Mom’s ashes are in Lettuce Lake. It was a special place to them, through a direct visit and then living it vicariously through my lens in their final years.

Their journey through Lettuce Lake was always at a pace where they could breathe in the wonder and not just getting to the other end of the boardwalk.

And this morning, my walk was slow and deliberately so. Just breathing and soaking and occasionally pushing a shutter button on the camera so I could share some of it with you.

It isn’t a method with which you can live a whole life, as many of the issues and demands we face require serious and concerted attention.

But it is a method that we can use occasionally use that allows us to get away from the craziness and step into a world where “serenity now” is more than a mantra. Where it is an escape hatch for our souls.

… just a thought.

Kittens ‘n Chaos

What better way to follow up spiders ‘n snakes, than with kittens?

These images are from last week. I almost forgot I took them, actually.

I had wandered out of the office into the yard and on the roof of the old decrepit pump house, I caught sight of four of the babies lying out enjoying the quiet of the day.

One day I will fix the wood around the edge of the roof there, but for now, the rotted wood played perfectly for these pictures. Because as I watched them, one moved inside the house and played peekaboo through the hole in the front.

I was particularly pleased with the two peekaboo shots (pics 4 and 5). My focus was spot on where it needed to be, so I gave myself a firm pat on the back when I pulled them up on my screen later.

The kittens have been a wonderful addition to my life although in many instances, I feel completely overrun with all the taking-care-of tasks. There are now 7 kittens … the family of five readily adopted two poor little strays that came in from the yard and they are almost brothers and sisters now.

Daisy, the mommy cat, keeps them all in check and her conversations with them are definitely something to hear. She is an amazing mother and I can’t imagine where she gets her skills and patience from.

Coco and Lola, my two original Irish cats, who were essentially my office and outdoor cats, try their best to distance themselves from all the confusion. I don’t think they are amused.

And Marty, our indoor upstairs cat, would love to escape and fight all of them. So getting in and out the door upstairs is always a genuine challenge.

There are still three of the stripey kittens I have great difficulty telling apart, but all the others are easily identifiable to me. But when it comes to those three, I genuinely can’t tell who is who.

The black little guy in these pictures is Tetsuo and this morning when I came down to the office and opened the door, all kittens ran past me in a stampede except Tetsuo.

It was still dark but I could hear his soulful crying coming from somewhere inside the office. It took me a minute, but I figured out the crying was coming from one of my desk drawers. I opened the drawer and this poor little guy crawled out.

He was so happy to be rescued. He must have been there for most of the night. Unless Daisy has figured out how to open and close drawers as a punishment routine for wayward kitties, I am guessing that he crawled up from underneath the desk but then got stuck.

For about an hour afterwards, I was reaping all the kitten hugs and cuddle rewards from him as his savior. It was wonderful.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these pics from atop the old water shed.

So, the thought that accompanied these pics in my mind this morning was about how chaotic certain things are in our lives and how we handle them.

For me, these days, the start of each morning is unbridled chaos that in many cases is completely overwhelming.

I haven’t yet come up with a true effective method of starting all their days, but what I have now works in the short term until I find a real long-term approach.

I won’t go into all the ins and outs here, but suffice it to say that dealing with eleven cats before your have had your first cup of coffee in the morning is a genuine challenge for an old fogey like me.

In this instance, the chaos is solvable and I have no doubt that within a few weeks I will have it properly resolved.

But a lot of the chaos in our lives is unsolvable and arrives on our doorstep without invitation as a most unwelcome visitor.

There are people that handle such chaos well and others that fall apart under the weight of it.

I am inclined to think that dealing with chaos is a learned skill rather than a natural one. It comes from past experience of approaches that worked and those that didn’t.

In all of life’s challenges there are innumerous happenings that come across our paths.

Most of these require that they be dealt with, although some do genuinely resolve themselves. There are some people that rely heavily on the latter aspect and they happily stick their head in the sand hoping that all the issues resolve themselves.

But for the rest of us, the best approach is actually quite a simple one. It begins with sorting all the chaotic issues that are on us at any moment into two groups; those we can do something about and those we can’t.

Those that we can’t do anything about are generally in the hands of the gods, although there may be instances where outside help can take us to a resolution.

In any event, this side of the list should be put off to one side and, while not forgotten, be at least ignored.

The primary list is of the issues that we can do something about. These are the things that we at least believe we can have an effect on the outcome.

Our immediate task then is to prioritize that list and begin to tackle things from the top of the list only. It is important to remind ourselves that we don’t walk on water, nor do we have infinite resources.

So, spreading our resources across too many items at once is likely to get nothing done successfully.

The art of correct prioritization is not want-based. It is a function of importance and time and our ability to correctly prioritize is tied to our ability to be objective about our list and look at it from that perspective.

Once we begin to make progress on the top item on our list, we should recognize that. Recognition gives us a sense of accomplishment and peace and is an important part of the chaos handling skill-set.

While others around them are running in all directions like chickens with their heads cut off, the best handlers appear cool and focused … tackling things one at a time and ignoring the arrows that fly to their left and right.

In public life, these are generally the people that lead. In private life, they are generally the people that you count on. In truth, the one person you should be able to count on in the midst of chaos, is yourself.

… just a thought!

Spiders ‘n Snakes

As I drove to Jax’s house last night to meet Bungie, her newest little creature, the old Jim Stafford song Spiders ‘n Snakes played around inside my head.

Bungie is a female Regal Jumping Spider and while gorgeous in my eyes, is not for everyone.

It was a miserable grey rainy late-afternoon and so my excuse for not getting really great pics was already established before I even left my driveway.

Add to that fact, that Bungie was not prepared to sit still for me but wanted to explore her surrounds. So, trying to get good pics of a small moving target in imperfect light, meant that my efforts were most definitely handicapped.

Perhaps if I had picked a different lens and used zoom from a distance, they would have been more in focus, but at the end of the day, they are what they are. My own performance was definitely questionable but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

They are at the end of the blog but beware arachnophobes …. these images might not be for you!

It was a real thrill to meet her and she jumped several times, so I can see where she gets her name from. At one stage I had the pleasure of her walking up along my arm, wrestling with each hair as she moved from wrist to elbow.

Afterwards, Jax brought me around the back to show me the six black racer eggs that she is waiting to hatch. These are really fast snakes and I love watching them as they speed without effort across my yard occasionally.

I’ve even had the pleasure of a couple coming into my office through the open door and the joys of removing them before they or the cats got injured.

But these babies aren’t born yet, so I hope to return for some pics when they are hatching. Fingers crossed.

As I drove home, I smiled at how excited I was and yet how horrified Inna, Carrie, and Morgan were when I told them where I was going.

I only told three people and all three gave identical ewwwww type responses.

So, Jim Stafford’s line “I don’t like spiders ‘n snakes” kept repeating and left me musing over “why”?

Why is it that so many people have developed phobias or distaste, or even disgust, for certain types of creatures, while the ewws turn to oohs when a puppy enters the room?

That we so willingly vilify certain creatures is a sad reflection on our appreciation of the natural world.

Much of this comes from religious preachings … where the temptation and sin is represented by the snake in the bible, or the demons are banished into the unclean pigs, or the devil himself is portrayed as a goat type figure.

Other creatures are maligned in books and movies, such as the shark in Jaws, the bats as vampires, and jackals, well as jackals.

We assign hero status to dogs, wisdom to owls, and strength to lions.

All for what purpose?

Why do we demonize some and glorify others?

There seems to be a flawed logic among humans to perpetually want to place creatures into boxes. Particularly good and bad boxes.

We love to categorize. It keep things neatly organized in our little brains.

But it also allows us to discriminate.

It creates an us and them, black and white, type world, where we revere the good/white and mistreat the bad/black.

When it comes to discriminating between humans, people follow patterns of belief that are handed down from generation to generation. And frankly, I don’t ever see it changing. In most cases though, humans that are discriminated against will eventually rebel and their voices will be heard (such as Black Lives Matter).

But animals don’t have a voice. They will never be able to rebel to where they are witnessed as equal creatures on this planet.

So, we will continue to step on, shoot, abuse, deride …. whatever creature fits into our “bad” box.

There are so many examples of wanton cruelty by humans to animals, that I don’t even need to mention them here. We have all witnessed them.

And it saddens me greatly.

If our own evolution brought us to a stage where our feeling of superiority allows us to mistreat so-called lesser creatures, then that is not evolution in my opinion. But devolution.

So, we can be as proud as we want about how intelligent we are, how dominant we are, and how righteous we are.

But the truth is our effect on the planet and the creatures around us tells an entirely different story. Parasite might be a better word.

… just a thought.


When Cassandra and I had arranged to meet up to watch the sun go down at Picnic Island, we did so without any real knowledge on whether anything of substance might happen.

Furthermore, for me at least, it was following on the heels of three prior failures. So, other than good company for whatever the moment might bring, my expectations were nil.

We met down there last night and for the first half hour, there was truly little to forewarn us of the colors to which we were about to be treated.

In all honesty, it didn’t really matter to either of us as we were busy regaling each other with stories since we had last met. So rain or shine the evening was bound to be a good one.

I have long since noticed about cats that when you want them to do something specific, they go out of their way not to. And when you really aren’t bothered or paying attention, that’s when they do it.

So, I have arrived at the conclusion after last night, that Mother Nature is actually a cat. Because while I wasn’t so very bothered, she put on a wonderful show of reds, oranges, and yellows that lit up the evening sky across Tampa Bay.

While she wasn’t looking, I took a few shots and they are at the end of this blog … hope you enjoy.

Last night as I drove home, confident that the camera had captured much of the moment, I had a sense of happiness that was as much about having prevailed in bearing witness to a good sunset, as to the sunset itself.

The old adage of “never, never give up” rang around in my head and it is really that notion that I awoke with this morning as I assembled my blog thoughts.

There are many times that life finds a way to make our best efforts come up shy. At times it might feel that we have done everything right, followed all the signs, and still fail to hit whatever our objective was.

The story often told of Robert the Bruce (King of Scotland) gaining inspiration to try again against the English armies, hinged on the spider in the cave. She had failed six times to cast a thread of her web from one side to the other. But her seventh attempt succeeded and so he decided to once again rally his forces against England into what ultimately became a victorious battle.

There are countless indications all around us of multiple failures eventually being overcome by perseverance and determination. Rarely is success achieved in the first instance and while the weak give up and travel a different road, there are others who are willing to give it yet another try.

There is no magic number of attempts either that guarantees success. You can flip a coin a hundred times and there is still no guarantee that you will get a head.

So, determination to succeed must be matched by a willingness to experience multiple failures. Some failures we will learn from. Others are merely bruises that our ego will carry.

The most successful among us appear at the winning line battered and bruised.

When success comes easy, there is little really to be proud of. Real pride comes in having overcome difficulties or limitations and somehow persevered.

In fact, determination itself is a trait that comes from negative experiences. It forms around the skeleton of prior failures and equips us better to handle our next attempt.

So, not everyone has determination. The wealthy, the privileged … they tend to lack the trait as life’s doors repeatedly open for them.

But the rest of us have to open our own doors and it is most often determination that strengthens our grip on the handle.

So, I guess my message here is really quite simple … just keep on trying and take each failure as simply a statement of being one step closer to success.

… just a thought.