it is funny sometimes how you can have a thought at one moment that only has genuine relevance in a past sense. But then life circles back around and bites you in the ass with a more current relevance.

That’s exactly what happened to me this morning. Let me explain.

I was out of bed early enough that by the time all kitty chores were done, I had a real choice in where I might go to watch the sunrise.

I went back and forth in my head for a bit and decided on St Pete, looking back over the bay from the north shoreline.

Getting out of bed at 4:30 has its benefits, I guess, and with so much time on my hands, I dawdled a little at home and even had some cereal before I took my coffee on the road with me.

So by the time I was on the interstate and ran a real ETA calculation, it came up with a tighter (but still ok) arrival. I was slightly annoyed at myself and processed the times again in my head, because originally I imagined I would get there in gallons of time.

However I originally figured it out was clearly wrong as all the slop time I thought I had was gone and there was no way I took that long eating a bowl of cereal.

Clearly something was wrong with my original calculations. So much for being smart … not as smart as I thought I was, I guess.

So while I was driving over, I pondered over the whole miscalculation thing and while I admonished myself for being so wasteful, I arrived at the consoling “we are all human” answer. I was still going to make it on time. So, I needed to stop beating myself up.

I did get there just in time and got some neat images that I have attached at the end of the blog. Hope you like them.

Where the whole miscalculation thing came back to haunt me was a point where I moved from the sandy beach onto a little concrete pier. You can see the pier in pic 5 below.

Anyway, as I moved the tripod onto the concrete at the pier, I didn’t check properly that I still had the tripod base fully extended. And a strong gust of wind coming in from the bay, blew it all over and my new camera went crashing to the ground.

Cameras don’t do well in drop tests onto concrete from heights of about 4 feet, so I’m afraid this new A7 is pretty unrepairable. Apart from broken glass, rubber and plastic, the frame itself is cracked and that is a showstopper.

It was one of those moments where you look at your self and realize how stupid you can be at times. I am not an idiot (well, most of the time, anyway) but a dog with a mallet up his ass could have calculated that the base of the tripod wasn’t set right. Not to mention that I was already aware that there was a seriously strong breeze coming in from the bay that minutes earlier had been howling around my ears.

So, while I am upset and disappointed at the fluky nature of what happened and how it was the only time I was actually on concrete, it was completely my own fault. A simple and stupid miscalculation.

As I drove home in annoyance, I recalled other miscalculations of mine in recent times. Most notably there was the broken wrist incident at Ballast Point the day after Christmas. That one smashed up a camera and lens too albeit a not so expensive one. In retrospect the decision to walk across the slimy rocks at low tide in the dark, wasn’t the most solid calculation ever made by mankind.

One small step for mankind, one huge slip for Neville Ronan.

And then for whatever reason, my brain decided that it had had enough of my feeling sorry for myself and how all these decisions seemed to be coming home to roost in damage or injury to me. I recalled many years ago when I lived in Ireland, I was driving in on a two lane highway from Shannon Airport one evening.

I was in a rush and there were two farmers (well they probably weren’t real farmers, but I imagined they were) occupying both lanes and driving at 50 mph without anyone overtaking anyone.

However long it played out, it played out long enough to irritate a younger, more impulsive, Neville.

I was driving a very speedy Fiat 124 spider that had a remarkable acceleration right about that same speed. While these two farmers were parallel, I calculated that the gap between them was wide enough for me to get through, if I did it quick enough.

So I hit the gas and zipped through, leaving them both in my wake.

It was a moment of pure insanity and in today’s rear vision, I shake my head at the pure lunacy that made me even think of doing it.

So, yes, it was a calculation that I got away with but it was nonetheless a genuine miscalculation from a common sense perspective.

We perform calculations and commit miscalculations at surprisingly regular times in our lives. Much of our decision making process involved some kind of calculation as part of arriving at our next step.

In some cases we are right and others we are wrong. And some times when we are wrong, we get away with it.

But getting away with it is not the same as it being a good calculation.

It just means that in that instance, we were lucky.

Sometimes, because we get away with something we don’t even acknowledge the luckiness of the result.

But we should.

Because if we acknowledge the luck, then we admit to a bad decision and we can learn from it. We won’t always have luck on our side.

Each decision we make requires us to process whatever information is available in order to come up with our best step forward. Part of the information we use is always historical to us. Something from our past that was either a success or a fail.

The fails are easy to recall for most of us. They often carry scars into our memories to where they are easily recalled.

But any success that we use in our process should be asked if it was because of something we did correctly or did we just succeed despite ourselves.

I am not the most intelligent person on the planet (that’s my Victoria) but I am no fool. But, you don’t have to be a fool in order to make mistakes in calculating your next move.

And if we assume that we can’t fail just because of how smart we think we are, then we expect lady luck to fill in where our lack of smarts leaves a void.

While there have been times when she has stepped into my life and bailed me out of some stupid scenarios like that drive from Shannon Airport, most of the time she leaves me sink or swim on my own.

And that’s OK, because at the end of the day relying on being lucky is no way to plan out your life.

… just a thought.

Nature Break

I wandered through my own back yard
among the fallen trees,
I came across some innocents
that brought me to my knees.
I wasn’t bending down in prayer
or feeling sad or broken
But closing in to get a view
Of nature’s little tokens.
For there among the wild debris
soft beauties did abound.
And even Coco stopped to see
the magic that I found.
Sometimes that’s all we need to do
when looking for escape
Is take a look at close-to-home
to get a nature break.

… hope you like this little collection from yesterday.

and here are a few more from today.

Paradise Lost

With a weekend upon us, I had everyone fed upstairs and fed and released downstairs by 5 or so. So, I looked at myself and asked what did I want to do.

At that time in the morning I could drive almost anywhere and still be in time for a sunrise. It hasn’t been a great week, so I was a little emotionally low and physically a bit sore, so it would have been an easier choice to stay at home and get back to my book.

But it was obviously a clear sky overhead (I could see some stars up there), and even though we get a lot of those in Florida, I didn’t feel comfortable wasting one.

So, I guess it was fair to say I pushed myself out the door, cup of coffee in hand and decided to head off to Ballast Point on the south side of Tampa Bay.

Ever since I broke the wrist down there the day after Christmas, I feel it owes me one. So, maybe today would be the day to collect.

It was quite dark when I got there, but there was still a surprising number of cars in the parking lot. it wasn’t quite six and an hour before sunrise and the parking lot was half full.

The bigger surprise was that I was the only one with a camera at that time, so the others must have been there for a different reason than I.

Later on there must have been a half-dozen of us camera people and then twice as many using their phones for the same purpose. But, for now at least, I was on my own and I enjoyed the unobstructed views and the silence afforded by my subject.

It was a beautiful twilight and sunrise and I have put a number of the images at the end of the blog for you to check out.

Hope you enjoy.

While photographically it was a very joy filled start to the day, emotionally it wasn’t quite. I had been low already so it was easy for the day to pull me into sad mode.

And the very first action of the morning pulled hardest.

Like I said, the parking lot was half full but there was an empty spot facing the water about half way in, so that is where I parked. I realized I was parking next to someone who was sleeping in their car.

I soon became aware based on all the stuff in there with them, that they were actually living in their car. And from the back seat, a sad little cat face was looking out at me.

I could hear my soul cry a little and I was struck by the contrast between the beautiful place I was in, surrounded by some of the most expensive of homes in Tampa, and the poor soul that was reduced to this as their life.

The cat’s eyes followed me as I walked past, camera in hand, and I felt a lump in my throat as I could make out a shape sleeping across the front seats.

By the time I got to where I took the first pics, I passed by three of that exact same scenario (minus the cat) and I was genuinely so sad.

Whatever it is that causes a person to fall so, it is a sad reflection on us as a rich society that we can’t catch them.

I tried not to dwell on it as I got into my shoot mode, but I don’t think it really left my thoughts.

As I settled into the final viewpoint that I took the last eight of those shots from, I found myself a few feet away from a young lady with her dog by her side. You’ll see her in some of the last shots.

She and I engaged in conversation and she shared with me that her dog was 15 and had lost all hearing and almost all his sight. She likes to bring him to the same spot that they have been coming to for much of his life, as she feels perhaps the smells will help remind him of a time he could see.

It was a lovely thought of hers and he seemed genuinely peaceful. I rubbed him behind the ears (even though I am not a dog person) and he seemed happy with the contact.

This is where the term “Paradise Lost” came into my head, which I will talk about in a moment. But as much as the beauty here was heavenly, it was indeed mostly lost to him.

As I went to get back in the car, I saw that my neighbor was awake and sitting up in the driver seat. He was an old man, my own age, and somehow that struck home even moreso.

The cat was watching me with interest as I threw my stuff into the car. And before I got in, I tapped on the window and gave the man a can of Fancy Feast for his best friend behind him.

By the way, I always carry a can of cat food with me these days in case I see a stray that is in need. There is a lovely little guy in the Walmart parking lot that I have fed a couple of times with one, so I try not to miss those moments.

Anyway, as I drove away, my mind went back to the dog and that poem Paradise Lost and I extended the thought to the people sleeping in their cars, the poor little cat in the back seat and the cat(s) that sleeps rough at my local Walmart.

When John Milton wrote the poem 350 years ago (it was the first epic poem every written in English), he had lost his sight. And in his mind he found an equivalence in the loss that the fallen angels must have experienced as they lost the war with god and took up their place in hell.

Before you ask … no I don’t believe any of that stuff but it is still a good story.

Anyway, the point he was really making, I believe, is that while heaven exists for some, it does not for all and therefore the magnitude of the loss is huge.

He lived the last 20 years of his life as a blind man and I think we all understand that to have had sight and lose it, is likely much worse than never having had sight.

Hence, Patton (that was the dog’s name) is brought to the same place and lives as much of the same life as he can, but without either sight or sound. The loss must be greater than a loss of any heaven.

And I think it is fair to assume that this man and his cat once had a place to live but now find themselves in a parking lot in a crowded car. At some stage he must have had a family, even if it was just a parent or two. But whether through his own device or fate now is alone.

This story no doubt repeats everywhere … every city and in every country. So, I am not trying to pretend anything here is remarkable or unusual.

And maybe that makes the point I am trying to make even worse.

There is a paradise here. There is a life that plays out every moment of every day.

There is beauty everywhere and there is peace and fun and laughter.

But the problem is, not everyone has access to paradise. Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths and want for nothing until they die of extended old age. Some cats are born into a Fancy Feast home and showered with love and care until their days finally come to a soft ending.

But some people and some creatures live awful lives, struggling from birth to an abject and unnoticed death.

We humans, as supposed guardians of the planet, live in a world where disparities exist all around us and we are ok with that. We are ok with excesses for some while others have nothing.

We accept disparity as being life.

We don’t even look to add balance. If someone proposes anything that tends for the poor, the indigent, the hungry, at the expense of the rich, they are labeled a socialist as if that is actually an insult.

There will indeed always be some imbalance in life. Some creatures will always have a rough one.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to mitigate that with kindness.

Life is not a good thing for most people or most creatures. It may encompass some happy moments along the way, but life is generally a struggle that eventually results in death.

I look at people and creatures for whom life is a struggle and I try to help make it less so, even if just in a tiny way.

If I were a god, I could make some grand changes that gave sight to blind dogs, but in the absence of being able to fashion a paradise for anyone at least I keep a cat of cat food near by.

Kindness … costs so little and could mean to much.

… just a thought.

See what I see

Last night, the sun had gone down and the night sky was taking shape.

There was no lightning in the area but just in case all the weather maps were wrong, I hopped in the car and drove the short ride to the ball fields.

I set up the camera and pointed it at the only part of the sky that there might possibly be some action and waited.

There were a couple of teenie flashes 30 to 40 miles away but nothing I could catch. All was quiet where I was.

Typical. The one time I want the weather app to be wrong and they’re right.

I stood there for a while and the only thing I was getting was getting bitten by mosquitoes. I had sprayed myself on face, head and arms but their nasty little selves decided to bite me on the back through my shirt.

Anyway I wasn’t far away from calling it a night when I noticed that the practice field in the distance still had its lights on and presented a cool contrast to the darkness around it.

Right above it, the moon was trying to find a way through some random clouds.

I took three pics and added them below this little blog. The first is very close to what my eyes were seeing. The second was just me playing with some manual settings like exposure time and aperture and the third was the same but using a very high ISO setting.

I hope you enjoy!

Anyway, the thought that came to me after I saw the differences was how the very same scene can be perceived in dramatically different ways just by a few small changes on a camera.

But when I stand there and look at something and you stand beside me, do we see the same thing?

What if your eye settings are slightly different to mind. What if your perception of blue is my perception of violet? I mean they don’t have to be startlingly different, just enough to make our experience not quite the same.

That thought has plagued my mind ever since I first picked up a camera and I have extended the thought beyond us humans to where I wonder if a bird sees the sky as blue or a frog see the lily pad as green.

Everything we see is defined by shape and color. But if our perception of color is slightly off or just different from others, are we really seeing what we are seeing?

Bees for example see in a lower and more narrow spectrum to ours, so while they are impervious to reds, they can see UV light that is entirely beyond our ability to see.

And spiders don’t just see better than us in high definition, they too can see UV light we can’t.

And what about my beloved cats? Their vision may be a little blurrier than ours and not able to focus on things that are beyond 20 feet, but they have a wider view in peripheral vision than we do and of course they have receptors that allow them to see in the dark.

Even our perception of shape differs. Not so much between humans but between humans and other creatures. The obvious one that we all know is the fish-eye view. Where the lens in the eye is so wide that it distorts a straight line into a curve. Or are we distorting a curve into a straight line?

So lets return to the bees. They have five eyes and form shapes based on an input that is far different to the stereo view we get.

Not to mention spiders who typically have eight but some have as many as twelve eyes. Imagine how their composite view of something differs from ours.

So the very things we see and define by color and shape are actually so subjective to us because we only have two eyes and only see in a set range of colors.

That makes the “I saw it with my own eyes” statement far less factual than you might imagine.

Because even back in the land of us humans, our perspective is likely different enough to where you can have two people see the same thing and describe it differently. Try getting five people to agree with an exact definition of who they saw running away from a crime scene.

And even if we were to agree physically with what we have seen, our interpretation can be wildly different. Try getting a republican and a democrat to listen to the same incitement speech and come back with explanations that match.

Yet still somehow, us humans seek to define things in absolute terms. Battles rage between good and evil, black and white, right and wrong.

We look to define where the act of definition itself is a flawed concept.

We write laws as if each situation or each person is living the same life and should behave in the same way.

We make statements and give commands as if an instruction can be absolute and agreed upon. Does the person on the other end hear and understand the command exactly as it formed in your mind when you issued it? Highly unlikely.

Try asking your kid to take out the trash only to find several hours later that it still wasn’t taken out. “I was just about to”

You forgot to say the word now.

“Take out the trash now” and ten minutes later it still isn’t. “i was just finishing the end of this movie. It’s almost over.”

Even when we try to narrow the possible ways a command can be interpreted, it is received through their filter, not yours.

The word “now” may mean one thing to you but I can guarantee you it means something entirely different to a sixteen year old boy watching a movie on his laptop.

Just this past week I asked a friend a specific question about whether we were meeting or not, what time, and where. Her response in text was “Let me think, Give me a few”

The following day I still didn’t have an answer so when I heard “few” I assumed minutes but maybe in her mind it was days.

Anyway, the point to all this ramble is that though we can try as much as we want to define life in narrow and absolute ways, it cannot be so defined.

Life is not black and white. It isn’t even shades of grey. It is a broad spectrum of colors, some of which we can’t even see.

So when we hear a viewpoint that is not our own, we need to hear it. We don’t necessarily need to agree with it, but we need to at least understand that it is based on a perspective that is real to the person offering it.

… just a thought!

Our Special Place

It feels like a while since I went to watch a sunrise. A lot had been going on in my life for the past number of weeks, so I had allowed myself to drift away from those early morning events unintentionally.

That thought just occurred to me as I fell out of bed this morning around 4:45 and began my morning routine just a little early. With the indoor kitties fed and then the office crew below released and fed, my first cup of coffee was brewing and it was only 5:30.

Sunrise was to be just before seven, so I had time to go somewhere if I wanted. With the gurgling sound of the Keurig taking its minute or so to fill my mug with the black stuff, my mind kicked into gear and I decided on Lake Parker.

It wasn’t likely to be anything spectacular (and it turned out not to be), but there was a comfort in my head for taking the short drive and standing on the boat jetty absorbing my first caffeine injection.

So, I found myself at the boat dock before six and the coffee took care of the final cobwebs still occluding my thoughts. I was a little pissed at the smoke pouring from the power plant on the other shoreline, but hey there was nothing I could do about that now.

I took some shots anyway and spoke to a couple of the guys launching boats as they began their own adventures for the day. To each of us on our own journey, the day held its own promise. And for just that one moment our adventures intersected as the skies began to brighten.

Between the smoke opposite me and the commotions beside me, I decided to head away and we bid each other a good day.

I drove down to the half way point on the western shore of the lake to see if perhaps the view from there might have less intrusion from the smokestack. And to a certain extent it did.

There was just the one guy there, legs hanging over the concrete edge to the water, fishing line before him, and a cigarette in his mouth.

We spoke for a few and I rattled off a few more images as the imminent sun cast some red glare across the clouds far away.

We spoke for a few and he explained how he loves to come to this spot. How it is his special place. He had been working a lot recently and he needed to find himself and that is how he ended up here this morning.

I went back to my picture taking and he went back to his silence. After taking a few more shots I drove away again. Nothing spectacular but I hope you enjoy the little selection at the end of the blog.

Driving away, his words about this being his special place ran around in my head and I thought “What is my special place or do I even have one any more?”

I am not sure I do. But I should.

Special places can be a physical place or a place we go to in our minds. A place that gives us serenity and the chance to regroup and plan our next forward move.

With some of the people that I have lost over the past few years, I think that the appearances of grief has robbed many of my hideaways and turned them into something else.

Don’t get me wrong; there are still special places that I go to. Places that have a lot of meaning and places that are in many ways go-to places for certain functionality.

For example, if I need a sunrise or a sunset, I have a list. If I need people or action, I have a list. If I need beauty or creatures, I have a list.

But that is not what I am talking about in this instance.

There are too many sad memories associated with so many of the physical places in my life, that I doubt if I have a special place in any of them.

But most younger folk than me tend to have physical places where memories haven’t yet followed you.

There is a trick I learned only after mine were gone and it is quite simple: Never bring anyone with you to your physical place. Never celebrate or mourn your physical place. Keep that place just for you.

If you can do that, then it will be there waiting for you …. waiting without any heartbreak and happy to hear your thoughts.

When you run out of physical places, it is important to at least come up with a mental place.

Some people find their mental place through meditation. Some people find it through a song. Or a poem. Or even just a singular thought. An outlook on something that is simply yours.

I have lost mine for the moment but I fully expect to find another soon. That’s the wonderful things about mental places. Because they are a place you conjure up in order to be alone, the power to do so lies totally within you.

And if like me, you periodically lose your place, just hang in there. You can find a new one … perhaps a new melody or a scent that takes to where you can be alone. The vehicle itself isn’t particularly important as long as it carries you away from real life every now an then.

Being alone with the world temporarily shut out can be a true source of peace and one that can restore some balance in the midst of the most unbalanced of times.

The power of peace lies within us.

… just a thought.

Fragile, handle with care.

It was late morning and I was in my daily routine of gathering the bowls from the prior night’s Raccoon and Possum buffet.

It is an act I don’t even think about any more. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t doing this. I know it has only been a few years but it feels like forever.

So much of life just passes us by when we operate in routine mode, but out of the corner of my eye, as I approached the main feeding area near the big oak tree, I spotted a couple of tiny pleated parasol mushrooms as they broke through the canopy of the green ground-cover.

I have seen these little guys a few times before but they are so fragile and fleeting, I think it behooves us to pause and pay respects to something so temporary, yet so beautiful.

Their life cycle is less than 24 hours and they reach wonderful peak about 8 hours into their life.

At that moment, they have fully spread their pleats and stand proudly and pristine above whatever lies around them.

Their stalk is as fragile as their parasol and picking them (for whatever obscure reason you might have) is pointless. So, the right course of action is to simply stop and admire.

I took a few shots to help these little guys achieve some measure of immortality if only in this silly little blog. They are at the end of the blog and I hope you get the chance to enjoy.

Four or five hours later, as I went back out to place the newly filled bowls near the base of the tree, they were gone.

Not gone as in someone took them, but all that remained were two tiny little shriveled threads that were almost impossible to tell from their surrounds any more.

Though I fully expected, even knew this would happen, it still saddened me.

Only I, perhaps a cat or two, and maybe a bird that passed overhead … only us even knew that such wondrous beauty had once existed.

To all else, there was no clue. No knowledge that once a loving pair had once existed.

I have added the “loving pair” comment to my thoughts, because in a life so brief, I hope each was somehow aware that they were not alone. I hope that as they gazed out over the green surrounds that they saw each other and maybe even smiled.

The short cycle they went through made me pause and think of our own lives and our time here on earth.

We think of 80 or 90 years as a really long period of time and we imagine our story is somehow known and maybe even told to others when we are gone.

But our time is also so brief when held in comparison to the millions of years that this planet has acted as our garden. And it will still be here (in some form) after all of us are gone. In fact, the arrival and duration of mankind’s presence on the planet is barely a blip on the timeline of eternity.

Which in turn makes our own life cycle little more than a micro-blip.

Our importance is only a sense we give ourselves and in the grand scheme of things is quite laughable.

When Patty Pleat looked out yesterday and saw that she was the tallest pleated parasol for as far as the eyes could see, did she give herself a sense of importance commensurate with her discovery.

Did she lord it over Polly Parasol, the one nearby soul she saw a few inches away? Did she think she was so much better than all those green ground cover creatures beneath her?

In the time they were here, did they write a good book that commanded how they should behave and promise eternal life in return for compliance?

Did they struggle, argue or even fight over whose version of their creator was the more correct?

Did they dedicate their hours of life to an obsession with the eternity that would follow in the arms of their one true god?

Did they deride other mushrooms that were a different color or seek to destroy any creatures that were not as elevated as they?

Walk with me today through the overgrown ground cover that I call a yard. Look for a single trace, if you wish, that these wondrous little lives were ever here.

“What the fuck, Neville. They are only mushrooms”, I can hear you say.

“But feed us enough shit to grow up on to where we elevate our own level of importance, and I’m sorry … but so too are we.

… just a thought.


Walker Road Park is just two minutes away from me and a cool little spot to make any last-minute decisions to shoot at.

In the event of a lightning storm, its openness gives me the chance to shoot in any direction. It allows me to capture sunrises with a decent easterly view. And just occasionally it gives me a view of a sunset.

I say “occasionally” because the west horizon is mostly obscured with closer trees and buildings. So unless there is a smattering of cloud at a certain height above the horizon, I won’t get anything.

It was lightning I was after the other night. I thought I heard some thunder rumbles happening when I was home and was not yet in a shoes-off mode.

But it must have been the cats upstairs, because when I got there, there was absolutely nothing happening in the sky. I guess the kitties have figured out how to get me out of the house.

I had only brought the one lens (the 11 mm super wide one) so I just set the camera up on the tripod and leaned back against the car.

When my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, I could see that there was an abundance of thick clouds overhead to where even if there was lightning, I wasn’t going to see it.

Sometimes clouds really add to a sky and sometimes they mute it too much, The only thinning or gap this time seemed to be right where the sun had gone down.

I checked the local radar and there wasn’t any lightning happening from what I could tell for at least 30 miles.

Then I noticed the first tinge of red on the clouds near the gap and began shooting the pics that ended up in this blog.

A nearby pond gave me some reflections to work with in some of the pics and a distant bat graced one of them too.

All told, I really enjoyed the brief color splashes that went on and I was glad I got the chance to witness it directly.

I had nearly packed up just before the colors started so I was glad that I didn’t.

I hope you enjoy the small selection below. Nothing prize worthy but nonetheless pretty.

When I got home I was thinking about clouds and their role as impediments this evening. And how eventually they became the subject after initially blocking one.

And it made me think about impediments in general.

We all find them periodically and sometime we find more than others.

When we are in a rut, they seem to get in the way of almost everything we try to do. At other times they are merely a nuisance.

Most impediments in life are temporary and persistence or patience eventually wins the day as they eventually dissipate and we can move forward.

Yes there are those that have a more permanent nature and these require us to figure a work-around or even an abandonment of whatever we were trying to do.

We often can’t tell which is temporary in nature and which is permanent and so we need to make several attempts or wait a certain length of time before their true nature appears.

Giving up should always be the last resort. Yes, it is always an option but it is rarely the right one.

Society doesn’t like quitters (or so I am told) but more importantly, repeatedly quitting alters our own character and our resolve and it can become our normal reaction to encountering any difficulty.

So, we therefore owe it to ourselves to hang in there and keep trying for at least a while.

And what do I mean by “a while”?

Well, this entirely depends on how important the end goal is for us and how determined we see the impediment to be.

For example if the impediment is merely a small rain cloud, then wait it out. But if the skies around you are engulfed in thick black carpets of cloud, then find something else to do.

Or if the end goal is life-defining (like a marriage you are in) then show patience and work through whatever is happening. Whereas if the end goal was trivial like listening to a song on the radio, then change the channel and find something else when the ads come on.

All obstacles that we meet in our path require some resolve to get past them. And the greater the obstacle that we have gotten past, the greater the character building that we have just performed.

And character is what makes us the person we are. Or the person we end up as.

Without impediments to our aims, we develop no character.

If you win everything you ever play or achieve everything you ever try, then you learn nothing in the process. Learning comes through loss and loss is a function of the obstacle to our success and how we handled it.

I am not saying we go out and seek path with impediments. Character building should be a by-product of our endeavors not a main goal.

And too many difficulties in life can wear us down. They can change who we are and make us less willing to take on new challenges in the first place.

So, like most things in life, it is about finding a balance. Not always looking for a challenge and not always looking for an easy way out.

But my main message here is that when we do find ourselves confronted with an unexpected obstacle, take the time to assess its size, weigh in the importance of your end goal and make a decision of how best to proceed.

It’s a simple 1-2-3 that can really help in defining who we are.

… just a thought.

Free as a Bird

We had wrapped up Saturday’s mermaid shoot and after Kari was back in her skivvies we noticed a flock of seagulls had been hanging around nearby taking everything in.

And she ran…

(if you don’t get the significance of that, just look up their biggest hit)

… right at them.

Her sudden movement towards their serene little observation point, caused the air to be filled with the sound of wings, beating through the early morning air.

I had positioned myself at the opposite side of the flock so they essentially took off between us. At least initially it seemed that way, but there were so many of them that they flew in front and behind both of us and made for some pretty awesome shots.

The flock was actually a good mixture of terns and black skimmers, so the colors, sizes and shapes made for a wonderful sight.

And the feeling of being in their midst was sensational. There never seemed to be a Hitchcockian threat, only the sense of being in the middle of organized chaos.

I’ve included some of the images at the end of the blog … hope you enjoy!

The expression “Free as Bird” ran around inside my head as I drove home and from an initial wonderment about why we choose freedom as being the domain of a bird to what does freedom even mean anyway?

You see, in one sense, birds are no freer than most creatures on the planet. They are subject to all the same restraints and dangers as any other wild creature. They have a daily search for food and they are subject to predators and thanks to us, they have a shrinking environment in which to live.

So, I mused that perhaps it is the notion that they can just take off and that their movement has a third dimension that ours doesn’t naturally have.

All creatures move in x-y directions along a surface plane, whereas the birds have a z component that allows them to also travel vertically.

That makes complete sense until all of a sudden the brain goes “Hang on. What about fish?” They have a z component also. They can swim in a z axis, just as much as an x and a y. And no one ever says As Free as a Fish.

Humankind is essentially an envious creature. We continually try to compare ourselves to each other, looking for dominance where we can. I guess that reassures a sense of worth in the minds of those that crave it.

If put to it, humans can dive and swim to an extent so perhaps there wasn’t enough to envy in fish capabilities. Also we tend to dismiss fish while elevating birds. The largest and most powerful of fish are vilified and happily hunted. While we elevate birds like the eagle to national and political status.

Could it be as simple as when we look down we see fish and when we look up we see birds?

We are so discriminatory, that the fish are therefore labeled as beneath us?

Think about it. Heaven is always up and hell is always down.

The more I thought about it, the less I could come up with a good argument as to why Free as a Bird is even a remotely valid argument.

Yet, as expressions go, it is a good one. It is full of positivity and is always used to describe a good and healthy situation.

It was a long drive home, so after my brain had run the gamut on the expression relevance, I turned my attention to the single word “free” and I began to process what we mean when we say that word and how it becomes a false sentiment that justifies the most heinous of actions.

Here in America, we like to call ourselves the Land of the Free and every time we send our troops to war, we tell everyone how they are fighting for freedom or protecting freedom.

It is difficult to imagine how that is ever a valid argument unless of course some tyrannical force is trying to take over the US, but that is never the case. Our troops fight for freedom overseas apparently in places like Afghanistan or Iraq or Vietnam. And no doubt if we ever do go to battle with Iran, it will be because we again want to be seen as the defenders of freedom.

I can’t tell you how many red-folk have repeated the viewpoint that all these people hate us because of our freedom. Being blue, I find that argument completely ridiculous and a real insult to the lives that end up being lost because of it.

But just how free, are we here in America?

That question took a lot of thought from me on the drive home and must have consumed 20 to 30 miles alone.

I began with what things can I say or day here that I can’t elsewhere and a few things bubbled quickly to the surface.

The first amendment protects our speech in many ways but the instances it doesn’t are actually interesting. For example, go ahead and post on Facebook or Twitter about how someone should assassinate the president. Be sure to recite your first amendment as they stuff you head first in handcuffs into the back of a black SUV.

Or voice your interest in having sex with a minor. That’s always a good one for getting arrested.

I had to look it up when I got home but there are around 10 or 11 categories of speech not protected by that amendment. These include: Obscenity, Fighting words, Defamation, Child Pornography, Perjury, Blackmail, Incitement to lawless action, Threats, Solicitation to commit crimes, and Treason.

It’s an interesting collection and while I don’t disagree with hardly any of it (except Obscenities, of course), it was also interesting to read that in most of the above, there is an exemption for political speeches. I guess this is why a certain dotard’s legal position is that they were making a political speech when they incited lawless action, thereby committing treason.

If you and I sat in our living room and said the exact same things to a half a dozen people that then immediately went and attacked a government building, they would be able to take us away. This is why we all need to buy podiums for our living rooms. So we can stand up and dictate our treason in a political framework.

Anyway, I digress. Sorry.

But beyond the mere legal interpretations of freedom here, I began to think about our sense of freedom here and what it is based on.

There is an unbelievably disproportionate spreading of freedom in the US than I wave witnessed in most western societies.

For example, apparently when Lincoln freed the black folk, he didn’t make sure that their freedom was the exact same as us white folk. For example, just last week in Michigan, a black realtor and his two black clients were taken at gunpoint out of a home that the realtor was showing and handcuffed. All because a neighbor reported that there was something suspicious in these folk entering a vacant home.

How free do you think those folk felt?

How free do you think a black male feels when he is pulled over in a car with his kids in the back, because he matches a description of a recent criminal in the area. Yeah … we’ve all read that description before … it’s called “black male”.

I won’t go on about how women are not free here to do with their own body what they see fit, because I don’t want to cause a continental divide over abortion issues.

Nor will I talk about how black communities are free to stand in a line for six or seven hours come voting time, while white suburbans can get in and out of their polling stations in twenty minutes.

And I certainly won’t mention how the US has 2.2. million people in prison, which as a percentage of our population is five times more than the rest of the world’s percentages. Don’t get me started on the percentage of those that are black, either. Damn black realtors clogging up our prison system!

No, the list is too long and hopefully I have made my point already about how the notion of American freedom is overstated.

So, I looked up the UN data and related sources to try to understand what the free-est nations in the world were and I found lists. Apparentlypeople other than me are interested in this stuff. Because the list is published every year.

America comes fifteenth.

There, I took away all the excitement and anticipation with three little words. Sad, huh?

I’ve reviewed several lists and they each do their best to categorize based on personal freedom, economic freedom, and political freedom. And America moves a bit between 15th and 20th across these lists.

Many Americans will decry the lists because they buy into the whole America Number One belief system, but then again these are the same folk who think the World Series is actually between the top two baseball teams in the world. In case you didn’t know, it’s name is actually a sponsorship name from The World newspaper which sponsored the first meeting of the best teams in two american leagues (1880’s I believe).

It is all well and good to be proud of America and even to want it to be number one. But when you put your blinkers on and dismiss any statements that you are not number one … well, that’s how society’s crumble.

Beyond the society we live in, it is important to ask ourselves on an individual level, how free are we?

I mean individually.

Are you tied into a job you don’t want. A marriage you hate. A life you regret.

Things like this form the basis of our individual happiness and I guess that is where I ended up, by the time I got home.

You see, changing society is a good thing but the real change that’s important in our lives is the change we make within our own.

We should look at our waking ours and ask ourselves what are we doing with our time from the “want to” perspective than the “have to” perspective. The latter needs to be as small a percentage as possible. The former is where our own freedom really lies.

If the only freedom we experience is in our dreams, then I’m sorry. That’s for the birds.

… just a thought!

Dead Fish

Not the most glamorous of titles that I have ever used for a blog, I’m afraid. But sometimes words need to be succinct and to the point.

You see, Saturday morning was a very early start. A 90 minute drive to Lido Beach in Sarasota was on the cards. I was meeting with Kari and Brian and their friend Denise so that we could try to pull off a specific photograph at first sign of dawn.

Kari had raised the issue to me a week ago and given that I had already experienced it several times on Florida’s west coast, I didn’t need any convincing.

So I left home around 4:45 and with nobody on the road, I managed to shave ten minutes off the ride and pulled in to the little car park just off Lido Beach just after six.

I was quite a bit away from sunrise and about half an hour ahead of our meeting time, so I sat there for a moment thinking about what had brought me here, this time of day.

Dead fish.

See I told you that title was to the point.

I needed to take shots of the dead fish that are regularly washing up on the shore along a huge stretch of the gulf coastline. And one dead fish, in particular.

If you haven’t experienced what is commonly known here as the red tide, then you likely have no idea where I am going with this. But I will explain in a few.

The result of the red tide is a regular holocaust of marine species and a near toxic level of fumes that make breathing while on the beach, a bit of a novelty.

I first experienced this down in Englewood the year before last at Vel’s beach house. I had driven down to hang out with him and have a beer on the beach and then spend the night just catching up back at the house. I only lasted about three minutes on the beach that evening as it felt like I had been a victim of mustard gas. I couldn’t inhale fully, nor stop coughing, and my nose was running incessantly.

Interestingly enough, there was no physical smell. Nothing smelled bad or sweet or anything. It was just that the air was unbreathable.

That’s when I first learned about red tide and while the lack of quality air eventually made it impossible for me to sleep at the house, I then read about the disastrous effect it has on marine life.

Disastrous to the point that every morning the beaches were adorned with the dead bodies of every kind of fish you can think of.

Now if this was a lone or rare incident, you would understand Florida’s reaction to the problem. But the frequency and the intensity has been increasing for years now.

Given that Florida’s beach communities are a rather important part of the tourist industry here, wouldn’t you imagine that some money grabbing politicians would get to the bottom of this and find a fix?

I have given up on these red-state morons taking any action to protect the environment or the creatures that we share it with. But surely, the folks that line their pockets must be making some noise about what is happening?

When I applied that logic at first, I arrived at the conclusion that it must be a natural phenomenon that they can’t do anything about. How else could it possibly go untackled?

I don’t feel awfully bad for the tourists when this happens although I can imagine it makes for some pretty miserable Florida visits. I do feel bad for the small businesses that are negatively affected by a drop in revenue when these tourists go inland to the theme parks instead of hanging out in bars, restaurants, and bistros at the beach.

But mostly I feel sorry for the poor creatures. Those without a vote or even a voice. Those who suffer and die in their millions.

So that got me reading more about what causes red tide and when I read just a little about it, I saw that it was algae that grows out of whack periodically and when it gets to a certain level, the water blooms red … hence the name.

An apparently it has been happening forever. It is a natural phenomenon.

Or is it? Well, yes the actual phenomenon is, but the frequency of and intensity of what is happening is not. Turns out that is a human-caused issue, specifically tied to the run off of fertilizer from intense farming into the rivers and lakes that eventually feed the gulf.

And pride of place as chief culprit is the run off from Lake Okeechobee which is not just the biggest lake in the state but resides right in the middle of intense citrus and sugar farming country. Red states are notoriously farm-friendly and very loose in terms of government control of silly little things like pollutants.

I might be stating the obvious here, but I suspect there is a sizable lobby lining the pockets of elected officials from these activities. Making matters worse is that whatever noise the small communities make about loss of business is not only drowned out by these fertilizer run-off kings, … well, frankly the theme parks have a big lobby too and they get fatter with every disillusioned beach goer.

There is a hell of a lot more money to be made at a theme park from these damn Yankees, than there is letting them lollygag on our white sand beaches for free.

Unwilling to treat the problem on a state level, local governments along the coastline areas came up with an easy answer to the symptom.

Or at least one of them. See, we can’t fix the air, And we can’t stop the algae from killing these creatures, so Florida being Florida, we send out the tractors and the clean-up crews first thing each morning to scoop up all the dead bodies that the night tides have brought in.

Hence the reason why I needed to arrive at Lido Beach early enough to beat the clean-up crew.

How pathetic is that?

The only analogy that springs to mind is where, imagine if you were eating something that was causing you to soil yourself twice a day every day. But instead of changing your eating habits, your decision is to simply always carry a couple of garment changes with you and hope that nobody notices the smell that follows you around.

Welcome to Florida. Apparently that’s our master plan of dealing with serious issues.

Of course it begs the question, how bad can it all get, even if we keep hiding the bodies and pretend the air is breathable. Does anyone really believe that it won’t get worse?

And how much worse does it have to get before these fat politicians stop counting the dollars going into their re-election funds and start counting the bodies that are needlessly being created by these symptom-treating remedies.

So, this morning, as daylight broke and I began shooting a very special shoot to highlight the problem, I looked around me. Fish carcass after fish carcass, as far as the eyes could see in both directions. There wasn’t an eye left in a socket hardly, as the only beneficiaries seemed to be the terns, gulls, and other birds that were gathered in their hundreds.

I say “seemed to be” because the toxins that kill these fish eventually damage and kills the birds also. But they don’t know. They think they have been served up an all you eat buffet of enormous proportions.

Other than ourselves, is there any creature we care about to effect a change?

If the victims were dogs, you can bet your bottom dollar, a fix would be in the works. Imagine hitting the beach every morning where dead dogs lined the shoreline as far at the eyes could see.

America loves its dogs. Wildlife? Who gives a shit.

Am I the only fool that thinks that is incredibly sad?

So this morning, we shot a mermaid. She lay there among the dead fish and we mourned her passing and the needless death that it all seemed to be.

There was a time when we pumped raw sewage into our streams and rivers, lakes, and seas. It killed untold quantities of creatures but the reason we eventually started treating it was that we couldn’t live with the smell.

We have a history of only making changes when they are for our benefit.

I paused here while writing this for a moment, trying to think of positive changes we made in the world for the betterment of creatures other than humans. Can you think of some? I am damned if I can.

So, I guess what I have arrived at is that our selfishness and disregard for any creature not human means that nothing is going to change here in the foreseeable future.

If we could just convince people that mermaids are real, therefore recognizing our harm to part-human creatures, maybe we have a chance.

But it’s only children that still care for mermaids and unicorns. And by the time they become good citizens that cast votes, they will have long forgotten such creatures and will disregard all others. Except dogs, of course.

And just in case you are wondering … each year the state drains off over 200 billion gallons of fertilizer-polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee river, which in turn runs into the gulf near Fort Myers.

Every time a news story begins with “today in Florida..” you know they are about to point out some dumb shit that happened. The parallel between fertilizer and shit is not lost on me.

… just a thought.

Here is the shot we set out to create and beneath it are others that I thought worth sharing from my morning.

Footnote: The Army Corps of Engineers is about to release its plans for the next ten years, tomorrow, regarding the deliberate run offs from Lake Okeechobee. At the current levels they will plan to release over two trillion gallons of heavily fertilizer-polluted water into the gulf. The person with whom the buck stops is Colonel Andrew Kelly. Here is his email address, should you wish to share your thoughts with him. andrew.d.kelly@usace.army.mil

I have shared mine. So, I will possibly mysteriously disappear soon.

Enjoy(?) the pics.

The song within

Today was the last day of visit from Erin, Victoria and Joe and we decided a few days ago that the visit would end with a trail adventure over at Circle B.

Erin had her own camera so the idea was to take a leisurely morning through Alligator Alley as it ran alongside Lake Hancock.

What we didn’t plan on was that today decided to be grey and rainy so the expectation of bright images with blue skies in the background, had to be postponed until another visit.

But determined to make the best of a bad lot, we donned jackets and headed off to the trail regardless.

Yes, our feet got wet as we tried to dodge the overly muddy sections with standing water. And yes, some of the expected subjects for our photo adventure were taking cover somewhere. And yes, the duller than normal light meant that our images wouldn’t be as crisp.

But we still had a wonderful time. We saw wild pigs, alligators, osprey and hawks. We saw a myriad of herons, egrets, and anhinga. Not to mention some amazing butterflies.

But the truth is, none of those made the time wonderful.

It was made wonderful by the company we each traveled with and particular one little seven-year-old girl who ignored the wetness under her feet and the extra layer of clothing in the Florida heat. Her focus was on the search for creatures, the sounds coming from the trees and water around us, and her unbridled sense of adventure as to what her camera might capture for her memory bank.

She is still learning her camera and undoubtedly has a number of blurry shots in the process. But didn’t we all, when we first picked up a camera and tried to figure out what we were doing. Some of us still do …. that’s what makes the delete button on our PC such an important photography accessory!

But whatever struggles she may have had, they left her completely undaunted and happy to stay the path and keep trying.

It is impossible to be in the company of such brightness and still stay in the dark. And my own adventure was heightened as I fed off her energy and enthusiasm.

I have posted a little selection of images from today at the end of the blog and I hope you enjoy. See if you can spot the jumping fish in the background of one of the shots.

But anyway, the idea for today’s blog thought has nothing to do with the images I got. Only the company that I kept.

The thought that emerged after all the goodbyes and the parting tears, was how the experience today was totally fashioned by virtue of the positive energy of the youngest member of the expedition.

It was an energy that some people might call an aura or spiritual emanation.

But I like to think of it as a song. A melody. Something that plays out within our soul and other souls nearby can hear it. Like a dog whistle, our normal senses can’t but we feel the positivity and it engages us.

When we walk our journey in the company of someone with a loud and positive song, then we find ourselves humming along, walking in step to it, and eventually it energizes our own melody within us.

I remember a Fraggle Rock episode about how each Fraggle had their song and how important it was to have one. And I believe that.

We have to have an inner melody that gives our steps through life a pace to travel to. Otherwise we will wander aimlessly and easily lose our way.

When our melody is in tune with what our life goals are, then we are best likely to live a happy and rewarding life. And the energy of a nearby song can help us remember our own when we begin to lose our way.

Sometimes we allow negative tunes from others around us to fashion what our song becomes. They drown out our own positivity and silence our happy song.

This is why when we travel in the company of others in life, it is important to shield ourselves from negative people or negative influences. If we can’t lift them with our own song, then we need to put our headphones on, drown out their beat, and keep marching forward to the rhythm of our own drum.

Negative influences are the single most reasons for people losing their way in life. Oftentimes people don’t even know they are marching to the wrong tune until they are so far down life’s journey, they can’t even remember their own.

People can confuse loudness and popularity with an acceptance of the tune being good. Only to find out later that the tune is full of hate, lies, and misdirection. And by then the soul is so confused with the loud screech of insanities that they no longer know what truth is, and they march ever closer to the cliff of stupidity.

And if you think for a moment that your soul is going to be saved by the song of someone you are traveling to that cliff with, then think again. Their song is every bit as stupid as the one your soul is singing.

So, how do we decide in the first place, whether we are listening to a good song or a bad one?

There is no simple litmus test but if a song is about to alter your life journey, it needs to be adding a harmony of more love, respect, tolerance, caring, decency, and truth to the melody you already have.

I’m sure there are other positive aspects than my little list above. It wasn’t meant to be exhaustive. But if the new song has less of any of those than your current one, then beware.

And if the new song encourages hatred, racism, disregard, demonization, and lies, then get those headphones on and keep walking.

… just a thought.