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 …

Ugly Bug Ball

it was still dark. Somewhere around 5:45 this morning and after throwing some cold water on my face, I knew it was time to let the kitties out from their overnight prison.

Typical cats, they behave as if they have been locked up for years; screaming in anticipation as I struggle with the keys to the office door. And barely sixty seconds later, they are back inside again screaming at me for being a little late this morning.

I exaggerate slightly, but it’s a morning routine that I love and I get some lovely cuddles and scent-rubs as I clean out their food dishes and fill them with some breakfast fare.

Now that Daisy has her five kittens in the studio part of my office, my access to water for cleaning the dishes is really courtesy of an outside hose.

And as I stumbled through the darkness, this morning, I noticed a “shape” on top of one of the tires on my car. I genuinely had no idea what it was until I grabbed the camera and took a couple of quick pics.

Flashing on a night creature must be dreadfully scary to them so I didn’t want to take more than two or three shots. So, forgive the fact that the two shots at the end of this blog are far from perfect. After the first one, I could see he was a bug but I didn’t want to flash directly in his face as it wouldn’t be fair. So, I got what I got, ladies and gentlemen.

When dawn had finally broken, he was long gone. So, I looked closely at the pics that I got and marveled at this amazing little creature. I can see his pupil in one of the pictures looking at me and so it is fair to surmise that he was more than aware of my presence.

Not everybody is going to have a wondrous response to such a creature, I know and some run screaming into the brightness at the first sign of a creature with an exoskeleton. So, if you are one of those people, don’t bother checking out the images at the end of this.

For those who don’t know, he/she is a Cicada and their family is responsible for many of the sounds of summer that we in the southern climes experience as we walk among the trees.

At the first mention of “bug” a very dear friend of mine breaks into song, with refrains of “the ugly bug ball” quickly overtaking our conversation. It was a song from a Disney movie in 1963 and really harped on the notion that a bug might feel as ugly as we see them to be. In fact, Walt Disney didn’t want to include it in the movie until it was explained to him that “bugs don’t know they are ugly”.

And that my friends, is what started my mind today down the corridor of ugliness.

Ugly is a human concept. Of that I have no doubt. We behave as if our definition of beauty is the gold standard by which all else can be measured.

It is a truly conceited notion that allows us to rate each other out of ten and to describe some creatures as being so ugly that we have to recoil.

I reject the concept of ugliness. At least on the level of what we see when we look at something or someone. The old adage of judging a book by its cover comes to mind when we make instant decisions on those around us (human or not).

Furthermore it is a mechanism by which many people assess and judge. It can even be a critical element of determination of hire/don’t hire, love/don’t love, listen to/ignore.

It can even be a determination of let live or kill as we step on a cockroach but cradle a butterfly.

I for one, see beauty in every creature. There may be some that scare me, but that doesn’t make them less beautiful. Just makes me less understanding. There are definitely those that I have difficulty in holding in my hand, but again that is a reflection on my squeamishness and not their beauty.

There is a wonderful moment before Burl Ives begins to sing that song to a little eight-year old kid. The kid says “but he has such an ugly face” to which the Burl Ives character replies “he might be thinking the same about you”.

It is very much a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

So, yes, on one level I have real difficulty accepting that any creature is ugly.

Ugliness is a concept that humans created and while it was originally intended as a means to demean or degrade the physicality of those we encounter along life’s path, the real ugliness in humans is far from obvious.

We all know by now that beauty at best is skin deep and therefore quite frivolous. Ugliness on the other hand is truthfully more related to character and therefore of much more significant substance.

I know some truly beautiful people. I have been truly blessed in life with some of the most remarkable souls on the planet. Their beauty shines out in how they treat others, how they treat creatures, and how they treat the planet.

I have learned so much from them that my life has warmed while basking in their light.

Ugly people that I have crossed paths with are filled with hate, disdain for the less fortunate, disregard for those in need, and eternally self-focused.

Some of those that I have encountered have been very pleasing to the eye and to all intents and purposes seen as living “the beautiful life”. Some have even been wildly successful, at least in riches and career.

Outside our circles, we can more easily spot ugliness. Narcissistic rich that grow richer off the backs of the working poor. Leaders that sow hate and division in order to play to their racist base. Child molesters, Spouse abusers. Prolific cheaters.

The list is long.

This is where true ugliness resides in life.

And we are absolutely right to recoil from it. Ugliness like that should cause a revulsion within our souls that makes us want to have no part of such a person. There must be a gag-reflex that makes us want to vomit when we encounter hate, cruelty, narcissism, or whichever brand of ugliness we encounter.

When we tolerate or enable such behavior, we too become ugly.

When it comes to hate and racism, there are not “good people on both sides”. There is only good and bad. Beauty and ugliness.

There is no excuse for ugliness. It is a failing and unlike the poor cockroach, it most definitely needs to be stepped on.

Just a thought …

Lemonade

For months now, life has been throwing lemons at us.

Politics of hate, pandemic like none of us have ever seen before, racial disharmony, social dissolution, and a crumbling economy. And those are just the top five in a long list of maladies that came in with 2020.

Whatever we each have been dealing with individually, these are the additional levels of destruction that have made many of us wince at the start of each new day.

Optimism seems difficult to embrace and the horizon seems smothered in dark clouds.

So this morning, when I found myself on a property in Bradenton, trudging in tiredness across endless asphalt, taking picture after picture, the last thing on my mind was finding something of beauty or intrigue.

If truth be told, the weight of the camera was almost overbearing in the early morning Florida heat and there was little reason to think kindly of the instrument that normally brings such joy my way.

And then, from nowhere, my eyes caught a shape that was largely silhouetted against the low rising sun. I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of Bird of Paradise flowers and their sudden appearance transformed the morning into one of awe.

When my Mom and Dad visited Tampa around ten years ago, they embraced this flower and marveled openly on its audacious style and colors. They had only seen them in photographs or on TV as Ireland’s climate wasn’t really conducive to such a loud burst of beauty.

And for a moment my mind found a home in 2010 and I relived the memories brought on by this early morning bird.

I took some shots and have attached my favorite at the end of this blog, along with one that had a stylish collection of shadows, shapes, and reflections from lakeside at the back of the property.

I hope you enjoy them!

Anyway, as I stepped away from the treasure and my eyes returned to focus on the more mundane aspect of the property I was there to photograph, there was a distinct pep in my step and the horizon began to take shape in my heart.

A few minutes later around the back of the building, I caught myself singing, subconsciously I might add. The only reason I even noticed that I was making a noise was because it disturbed a gathering of Ibis and Wood Cranes at the water’s edge and they moved quickly to put distance between them and this strange humming creature.

I apologized to them of course and spoke soothingly to them and they settled down to a level where they tolerated my uninvited disturbance.

Yes, I did take pics of them but it was the wrong type of lens for decent pictures of creatures, so I decided against sharing here. I also came across three rabbits that were chomping on the recently cut grasses near the water’s edge, but for much the same reason, their images don’t appear here.

They too allowed me to engage in quiet conversation with them and they saw no reason to move away from me while I continued my perimeter walk.

It was just after that, I seem to recall, that I realized how my mood had changed distinctly from when I had set out on foot originally.

That first glimpse of paradise saved my heart from a wretched day and my soul took flight as life’s lemons began to taste quite palatable. In many ways it felt like my parents had joined me on the journey and pointed out all the wonderful sights and sounds around me.

I think it’s important to recognize that we ourselves shape how we receive the world around us. If we want to get depressed by all the shit, then we will. And by the same account, if we want to acknowledge the lemons but make something better out of it, then we get out the juicer and some fresh water and sugar.

There is sweet f#*$all we can do about the amount of negative stuff happening all around us. Maybe even TO us. But what we can do, is decide how we deal with it.

Do we lick our wounds and moan about the loss of happiness, or do we actively seek out happiness wherever we find it. Clearly, the latter is the better option.

And I am not naive enough to think that we won’t occasionally buckle under the weight of negativity. We all experience that. But the key word in that sentence was “buckle” not break.

Lemonade is a wonderfully refreshing drink. It isn’t something you want to be drinking every day, but when you do drink it, it can revitalize your body and refresh your soul.

… brought to you, by the folks at Minute Maid.

Thoughtless

Selfish. Uncaring. Easily amused.

These are just some of the words that occurred to me as a few hours ago the afternoon descended to a base level of humanity that is frankly, embarrassing.

Even though it was still bright daylight, some of the less-patient folk found that they couldn’t wait any more and so random explosions began to fill the late afternoon air as flame hit fuse.

The Chinese have a lot to answer for and while some of the red sheep instantly think of “kung flu” as the dotard-in-chief called it, I am actually referring to fireworks.

As the first explosions began to go off, Marty came slinking into the living room with tail to the ground and as low a crouch he could get into, while still making forward progress.

By the time eight o’clock had happened, he was huddled frightened in a little ball, under a sofa.

So, I went outside with the camera and visited the locations where I had placed the food (as I do every day) for wild creatures to enjoy and these pics (at the end of this blog) are what I got.

Most of the food was uneaten. Trees were empty of the normal singing birds and squirrels, and even the bread pieces which I had scattered across the back yard were only attracting attention from the ants.

Now, to put this into context, normal evenings by six or seven, all the dishes are emptied. Raccoons, Possums, and Squirrels will have filled their little bellies on an assortment of healthy foods and sweet and savory treats.

Cardinals and Blue Jays, who normally appear as I throw the bread across the yard, will have polished off all they see and what they don’t see is carried off into the trees and eaten on high by happy squirrels.

But twice a year, the yokels discover fire and proceed to terrorize creatures all over the country. In the name of what?

Independence from britain or the arrival of a new year.

Really??? These ridiculous events are worth terrorizing countless numbers of little creatures, who have no fucking idea what is going on and flee for their lives from the torture that goes on for 5 or 6 hours.

They don’t know why it is happening. They don’t know when it will end.

But do the morons care? Not a bit.

They selfishly and without concern light fuse after fuse and gape in awe as if they have never seen a fucking firework before.

I mean surely by now every person on the planet has already witnessed every possible combination of colors and shape that the buy-one-get-one-free brigade in tents have to sell.

As in almost all other holidays, commercialization has long since taken over what the holiday was actually about, but presents under a tree or chocolate eggs with pastel colored wrappers, don’t normally cause widespread panic in the wild world.

Our reckless abandon of everything decent in how we deal with the non-human creatures on this planet is simply stunning.

They don’t have voices for their injury. They can’t hold protest marches. They can’t elect animal-friendly governments.

No, they require that humans have some sense of decency and responsibility for the creatures that share the planet with us. And unfortunately for creatures, human decency has long since left the building.

I am not railing against community or nationally organized events that are generally conducted in safe centralized areas, where consideration to wildlife and the environment has been carefully considered.

But I am against the reckless and overpowering back-yard explosions that only cease once the children’s allowance has been blown. As long as it doesn’t interfere with their beer money, more fuses keep getting lit.

Terrorizing wildlife twice a year is by no means the worse things that humans do to animals every year. Atrocities abound daily and typically reside under the radar. Only when something mind-numbingly awful is done, does it even make the news pages.

Interestingly enough, there are 10,000 emergency department injuries to humans every year from July 4 fireworks. That doesn’t even make the news either.

With their own association and lobby group protecting an annual sales number of almost $1.5 Billion, is there any wonder that animal interests, or human injuries (often to young children) don’t even figure in the equation?

And with 98% of all fireworks sold in the US being made in China, is it any wonder that tariffs mysteriously missed the fireworks coming in after $1.5 million in fireworks were donated to the dotard’s fireworks extravaganza last year?

Yes, it’s a big business. And like all big businesses in America, they manage to shape the rules in their favor.

And while you could argue that the human casualties (the 10,000 ER victims) are somewhat self-inflicted casualties, the millions of creature-victims are purely innocent collateral damage.

So pardon me, big industry. And pardon me boozy yokels. But for god’s sake haven’t we done enough damage to wildlife already?

Can we not just show a little compassion to the poor little souls that unfortunately have to share their planet with us?

Redemption

It was 7 o’clock on a Monday evening and like every good worker bee I was sitting on the sofa at the end of my day’s work.

I might well have stayed sitting there for the evening before climbing off to bed but at the very end of the show I was watching, one character asked the other if they believed in redemption.

Now, that was enough to stop me in my tracks and I turned off the TV and just sat there for a while; not moving, just lost in thought. And so after a little while, I decided to head off to Lake Mirror to release the bad thoughts into the night sky and find some peace of mind.

So, I grabbed the camera (as always), along with the little glass globe that Morgan got me and a few wall tiles and headed off to see what I might be able to conjure up in the process.

At the end of this blog are a few pictures. The first two have been turned upside down, because with the globe acting like a lens, the image ends up upside down in the first place. The third one is as-shot and then the fourth shows my set up for the shot.

I was very pleased with the end results and while there isn’t really much variety to show off, I was really just looking for a single shot.

Hope you enjoy!

Anyway, back to the point of today’s blog. Redemption.

In a true religious sense, the concept of redemption is very much aligned to atonement for prior sins. It is the belief that a person who has committed some grave sins can actually find forgiveness in future acts.

On a wider level, redemption applies to any past errors that we have made and the belief that we can return from even the most serious of errors through determination and positive acts that restore our former position.

Like most of us, I have made errors, wronged people, broken promises, and hurt loves. It is humbling to see that in yourself but I suspect if you live long enough, then you get to witness your own failings on a giant screen in Technicolor.

Unless life cuts a person short though, we all get a chance to recover from our past and build a better version of ourselves that moves forward.

There may be those that don’t even recognize or acknowledge their past failings and I genuinely feel sorry for them. Because there is a wonderful sense of freedom that comes with seeing yourself as an imperfect soul.

Yes, it can be a source of self-pain and self-disdain. But once you have recognized the imperfections, it gives you a chance to redirect yourself and strive to be that better person.

Whatever the “sin” there is forgiveness. But in the first instance, you have forgive yourself. If you don’t forgive yourself, then how do you reasonably expect those you have wronged to do so?

And in truth, self-forgiveness should be earned. Not easily given. It should only come on the back of constructive changes that take you away from your errors. You have to be able to objectively step back a distance, point a finger at yourself and say “I am not that same person”.

If you can do that, then your life ahead becomes one of redemption.

In watching the sun go down last night, I resolved to move forward on a couple of things that inaction risked losing myself to. So I used the setting of the sun as a symbolic way of drawing a line in the sand and closing our the past.

Sunsets have that wonderful ability to bring closure to your day. And then if you are lucky (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t), the following sunrise gives you a chance to start all over again.

Yes, they are only symbols of closure and new starts, but most of what actually goes on in our minds are symbolic. We look for guides and reasons, signs and indications. This is how we plan our forward life.

Our past life, no matter how bad it played out, is our past life. Other than it got us to the point we are at today, it plays no part in how we move forward.

Troubled souls seek redemption in their future. Imperfect souls that accept the imperfection, find it.

Silhouettes

Brittany visited yesterday evening, so even though there was heavy cloud dominating the evening sky, we still grabbed the camera and hoop and headed off for Lake Parker to watch the sun go down.

In truth, the sun fizzled out of view long before it hit the horizon and if I hadn’t been in such good company, there might have been an air of disappointment in the evening.

But instead, I just watched her hooping to the sounds of her music and focused more on her shape and moves than what the surrounding light was doing.

At the start of the evening there were a couple of people nearby so she hooped with a facemask, which is very much a sign of the times these days. But when they were gone the mask came off, the music from her phone mixed into the balmy breeze, and her dance seemed at one with the calm of the evening.

There are a few pics at the end of the blog and forgive my messing with some of them. I just chose to filter the sky in a couple of different ways to make up for its own lack of color.

In any event, as I sorted through the images this morning, the whole aspect of silhouette began to play out in my head.

In a photographic sense, the use of silhouette like in these shots allows us to focus on the shape and movement of the subject of the image, rather than the subject themselves.

I’ve noticed that when you choose to silhouette a person in a shoot, the person is best suited to be thin and wearing tight fitting clothing. Brittany is an excellent candidate for such shots and I am fortunate that she doesn’t mind the incessant shutter-clicks while she is losing herself in her own moment.

But, beyond photography, there is also a real value in silhouetting the subject of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

What I mean here is removing the actual person from the thought being processed and only focusing on their actions and behavior.

So much pre-judgment and profiling occurs when we witness a situation with a person we love or hate, a person who is the same color as us or a different color, a person who has our politics or the opposite.

And this profiling alters how we see what we see.

For example, most thinking people of my politics see the dotard as a pussy-grabbing, lying, racist and so every movement or tweet he makes is viewed from that perspective. Others see him as a man of the people who always says things in jest.

And some people see a black male, in ghetto-clothing walking towards them and they get nervous. Others see just a man walking towards them and they pass each other by with acknowledgement.

Sometimes we encounter a disagreement between those we love and someone we don’t and we find ourselves drifting to the the view point of the former, even though the latter may be more correct.

Some of us watch the same game of soccer as everyone else but we see all the unseen fouls committed on our players, while the opposition gets all the calls in their favor.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that when we create a silhouette of a person (or persons), it allows us to remove our bias from the equation and look more objectively as to how it has played out.

The benefit is not just the reduced polarization that we feel on an issue, but also it allows us to see the other side of the situation as being “people” too.

Reducing the feeling of us and them is a very important part of building a more harmonious world. People who choose to divide and incite hatred always use an “us vs them” scenario… never affording the opposition the status of being people also.

It is a mechanism that has traveled the ages in all four corners of the world, enabling wars against the “enemy”, and allowing us to shoot or bomb them without consideration that they are just people too. People like us.

Silhouetting allows us to extract our animus feelings of a person or people and look only at their actions and the impact of such. It allows us to establish bridges over a subject when we find a common ground even with people we are normally averse to.

And common ground always exists … both sides of any situation are people. They live and breathe like us, have families like us, dreams and hopes like us, and they bleed like us.

We just have to open our minds to the possibility that they may have more in common with us than we are predisposed to think.

Have a wonderful week!

Immersion

It was a somber week. Work was decent but losing a dear friend took the wind out of my sails and I found it hard to elevate my thoughts away from sadness.

So, yesterday afternoon I decided to treat myself to a trail and I broke away from the computer and headed off to Circle B for a while. It was late afternoon and it broke all my rules of early morning trails, but I needed the escape.

Nature trails have the wonderful ability to recharge our batteries at the toughest of times and yesterday was no exception. They had a couple of trails closed off for alligator nesting season so it kind of forced my hand with the path I ended up taking.

But my whole time there I only saw three other people and that was a fleeting moment. For almost the entire journey it was just me and my thoughts and the wonderful natural world around me.

All five senses had their moment yesterday. The smells after prior rains were so wonderful, there was no mistaking that I was away from the human world.

And the humidity carried a taste with it that I happily gorged myself in.

Visually, there were creatures and plants and water everywhere and I was saturated in them.

I stopped along the way and touched the softness of a seeding little plant and it was so soft, you could just about feel the edges. (it’s in one of the photos).

But it was the sound that created most memories for me yesterday. A couple of moments along narrow paths, I was surrounded by the incessant growling of hidden alligators. It was all around me … left and right, in front and behind and it was wonderful.

I have experienced it at times before and so it didn’t scare me because I knew it was territorial rather than aggression. But its effect was to remind me that I was in their world and not mine. And I was alone.

It is a very humbling experience. And if photographs could capture it, this blog would be full of them. But instead you will have to settle for a little variety of birds and butterflies (including a wonderful snake who was crossing the path right in front of me). I hope you enjoy.

Anyway, the whole experience was truly one of being immersed in a world that was happy to swallow me up. The lack of humans meant there was no distraction from the natural world around me and by the time I was finished, the losses of the week were no longer relevant and life seemed balanced.

I wish I could fully explain the growls because for those of you that have never heard alligator growls, they are so base that you can feel them in the pit of your stomach.

I suspect we humans feel them in this way because it is meant to evoke a flight or fight response. If so, the flood of adrenalin I experienced only served to increase my happiness with the moment and not run from it.

And the fact that these creatures were all hidden from view heightened the experience even further. As I stepped slightly off the trail to get that butterfly shot, a growl suddenly stopped and I became aware that its owner could probably see me now so better to just step back on the trail and keep moving.

Sometimes recognition that the world does not revolve around us is an important aspect of being able to deal with grief. It helps put things into perspective.

Life and death existed in every inch of those trails yesterday. We humans focus heavily on the social relationships within life and when we lose someone we mourn. It is in our nature. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Perhaps if I had lost my life to an alligator yesterday, there would be those who mourn me today. But as the sun arose over a new day on those trails today, I can pretty much guarantee that there is very little mourning going on for all the other creatures that never made it to see this day.

Instead, I strongly suspect that the natural world is more about a celebration of life. A happiness to be here and a contentment in being able to live out the day.

As humans we place heavy emphasis on the social experience of life; the joy of sharing it with those around us. And when we love someone the joy increases. And we are right to do that. Because it is part of the human experience of life.

Unfortunately we have evolved to focus too much on the death portion of life and because it represents an unknown to us we then attach fear and loss to death that really is more damaging than anything else.

Religions tend to focus on life after death and creates a perception that we will see anyone we lose here again sometime up in the clouds. It soothes some people to think that way and that is fine. I call it the placebo effect of religion. It does no harm.

Perhaps if we disarm the fear of death and could learn to embrace it as a more natural part of the life experience, then the feeling of loss would be lessened and allow us to focus on the time we have here together.

Life can be a celebration if we focus on the here and now and those that we are fortunate enough to have in our lives. Sharing time, experiences, and love with whoever we value is a true medicine for all concerned.

I am not saying for a moment that the feeling of loss isn’t real. I am only saying that once we have experienced it, we need to stop, lick our wounds and move forward. And celebrating their lives with us is much more natural than mourning their loss.

Those we love, live in our world and share our experience. Those we have loved, live in our hearts and share our memories.

Ashlee

I was in the middle of watching a number of back-to-back Weird Al music videos last night and my mood was in a definite happy-go-lucky place.

Then, out of the blue, Ashlee’s Dad reach out to me and told me that she was dead and in a moment, the world suddenly stopped turning.

Ashlee was a dear friend who lived with me for a month or so a while back and to lose her so suddenly in a tragic road incident was mind-numbing.

Her Dad and I spoke for a few minutes and when I hung up, I just sat there alone in silence and so many thoughts rushed through my head.

Ashlee and me at Picnic Island

A huge storm blew in out of nowhere and the whole house was engulfed in darkness and torrential rain that lasted about a half hour and, as Morgan pointed out, it totally suited the mood.

Happiness can be a fleeting emotion and nothing steals it away like the loss of someone special.

And Ashlee was very special. She had a lovely soft side with a big heart and an even bigger smile. She will be greatly missed.

it is difficult to come to grips with any sudden loss and it always leaves so many questions unanswered. Her parents are wonderful people and my heart goes out to them at this moment.

Short blog, this one. But I just wanted to point out why the world is slightly less whole today.

R.I.P. Ashlee

Solstice

Summer solstice is in many ways my favorite day of the year.

I am not a night creature and daylight is very much my friend. So, arriving at the longest day of the year is always a special and fulfilling moment.

Beyond it, the year regresses toward darkness until winter solstice again marks the turnaround.

So when yesterday evening came around, I fought off a feeling of loneliness and decided to recognize that special time of year by taking a stroll around Lake Mirror in Lakeland.

It’s a good lake for a stroll but not so great for photographs because it is just a few blocks from city center and therefore impossible to escape the buildings on each horizon.

So, waiting until that moment where the buildings become silhouetted is about the only time I ever enjoy taking pictures down there.

It was a mostly clear sky in the west so sunset failed to deliver that magical plethora of colors that we sometimes see here in the Tampa Bay area. But a few jet trails in the skies and some feathered friends taking off to wherever managed to add enough character to make the imagery interesting.

I hope you enjoy the little collection at the end of this blog.

But solstice is more than just a physical moment in our year when the northern hemisphere is tilted more towards the sun that at any other time. It is also a reminder of the ebb and flow in our lives.

We experience life through a series of moments that flow from good to average to bad and it is important to recognize that none of it is constant. Life takes us on a ride that reaches many lows but then inescapably returns to highs when it is ready to do so.

There are moments when we feel stuck in a rut of low moments and we wonder if we will ever get out of it. But then, we always do. People who give up during that downward swing do themselves an injustice in having a lack of appreciation of the bigger picture of life.

The bigger picture takes into account our seasons and can console us, during the bad times, that better times are just around the corner. And it also cautions us not to take for granted our good moments as they will inevitable disappear on us.

Our lives can definitely become moment-focused. Even the best of us get drawn in to having to deal with a tragedy. But dealing with it, doesn’t mean getting lost in it. We should always remind ourselves that “this too shall pass”. This is an old Persian saying that tried to describe the fluctuations that life puts in our path.

It’s why casinos will readily allow winners to keep rolling the dice, safe in the knowledge that winning eventually stops. And it is why patrons keep rolling the dice even though they are thousands of dollars down.

Understanding and accepting this aspect of life (it is called ephemerality, by the way) is a key ingredient towards finding inner peace. It is a soothing balm in bad times and a calm reminder in good.

So whenever I hit a low, I stop and lick my wounds for a moment. But then I put on a band-aid and move forward because there will come a day when I probably don’t even fully remember that hurt. I have confidence in that truth.

My Mom referred to me as her “cockeyed optimist”, largely for my reactions to bad times. But it is hardly real optimism when you KNOW that times will get better. I would define it as realism.

So keep things real, folks. When good times happen don’t get too high. And when bad times happen, don’t get too low.

This is just life reminding us that try as we might, we are not in control of it. Hell, some of us can’t even control our hair. I am not sure why I said “us” there … I meant you folks with hair.

Have a peaceful week, everyone!