Autumn Leaves

A warm autumn day.  A walk at Green Spring Gardens.  Leaves, different in shape, color, state of decay.  Still clinging, soon to fall.  Why not take a look.  Sometimes, very closely.

The most colorful time of the year is also the time of great changes.  Birds migrate to warmer climes.  Bears are busy foraging in preparation for their winter sleep.  The squirrels store their treasures and in the process dig up the yards and gardens of the suburban (and urban) dweller.  The leaves, once green and infused with chlorophyll, gain their yellow, red, orange, and brownish coloration.  The trees too, will slumber.  As the leaves decay, they fall into the ground, leaving trees threadbare, wintering in place, waiting for the warm spring sun to begin the cycle anew.  As the leaves fall to the ground, they perform one last function in the cycle of life.    As the leaves break down, what was of the earth becomes earthen once more.  And from the earth, life will begin anew, rising in triumph, death vanquished.

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Simply Beautiful

For millennia, as far back as the ancient Egyptians and perhaps beyond that, flowers have been part of the human experience.  What is the first gift that a child gives to his or her mother?  A flower, perhaps a rose, perhaps a dandelion.  Something from the garden or maybe the sidewalk.  A gift of beauty, an act of love.

Flowers of every shape and color stir our imagination.  From the simple drawings of a child, to the masterpieces of Monet, to the songs of Rogers and Hammerstein, to the photographs of Weston, to Mendel’s experiments in genetics – flowers have sparked the creativity of untold millions throughout human history.

Color, shape, dimension, form.   Family, Genus, Species.  We observe.  We study.  We categorize..  Everything is given an attribute.   Flowers are a complex thing, we say.  That may be, but we also know the immutable truth.  A flower, you see, is simply beautiful.

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Seven Yards, Seventy Degrees

In photography, you pre visualize the images that you want to take.  If a location is nearby and familiar to you, you have probably taken dozens of pictures, each one slightly different, each one a variation of an idea that you want to execute.  I was drinking my morning coffee and walking around the coffee shop, something that I have done a hundred times before.  The modern building across the shop is fairly colorful.  Yellow and red highlights against the brown brickwork and panels.  I brought my camera to take the picture that I envisioned.

DSC05025_sIt turns out, however, that a minute earlier, I took the picture of shadows falling on the walkway and the walls of the building.  A lady with a suitcase fortuitously walked into the scene.  It wasn’t the picture I was planning to take.  It was the picture that presented itself to me.  And, even with all the colorful trimming on the upper part of the building, this picture full of shadows and light looks better in black and white.

Seven yards and seventy degrees.  From one spot, to the other, with the lens pointing in a different angle.  What the GPS will hardly notice, your eye certainly will.  Photography, like life, thrives in the unexpected.

Freezing in Maui

When you think of Maui, you think of warm days at the beach.   The warm waters of the Pacific lapping gently over your feet while walking, unhurriedly, in the early hours of the day, eagerly watching the sun rise over an ocean as boundless as your dreams.  You think of the Polynesian food, so delicious, that any ideas of dieting seems like a silly concern.  You think of the hikes through the pristine forests, butterflies fluttering, birds singing with joy, happy to spend another day in paradise.  You hear the occasional rooster crowing, heralding the coming of a new day, even as the first hints of sunlight begin to bathe the land with its life giving warmth.

Beyond the beaches, on a winding road that zigs and zags its way to the peak of Haleakala, is a national park that simply takes your breathe away.  Probably because at its altitude, there is less oxygen going inside your lungs with each deep breathe that you take.  You wake up shortly after midnight and in the darkness drive for hours, in the quest to see the sun blaze through the clouds,  to marvel at a natural light show that no amount of fireworks can hope to match.  You look out towards the ocean and see eternity, bathed in light so sublime that in that joyous moment, heaven and earth are one.

On top of the summit, in the hours before daybreak, in the midst of August, I was reminded that altitude has an attitude.  A cold one.  It was freezing.  It was wonderful.

It snows in Haleakala.  The wind howls at Haleakala.  It gets dark in Haleakala.  So dark that some of the world’s great telescopes are on the summit of the great mountain, mirrors trained unflinchingly at the star strewn night sky, partaking in the greatest quest humanity has ever taken.  The exploration of our universe.  We who live near the great cities forget that above our heads, perpetually moving in the celestial sphere, are the stars that the sun calls its brothers and sisters, the collection of gases, condensed and yet to condense, the filaments of light that we collectively call the Milky Way.  And at Haleakala, when the sun hides in the other side of the world, you explore.  You wonder.  You dream.

And I almost forgot.  Haleakala is a volcano.  Dormant, beautiful, imposing, surprising.  The beaches may beckon, but at Haleakala, in the ethereal grandeur of cinder cones juxtaposed with grass covered slits of rock, you can imagine, with a sense of wonder, the alien worlds that awaits us as we explore the universe.  And marvel at the delicacy of the planet that we call our own.

In the cold morning air, with twilight still approaching, I gazed upwards upon countless points of light and smiled.  For at that moment, I have touched the sky.DSC02401_sDSC02410_sDSC02476a_s

Timeless Beauty

There is no place quite like Yosemite National Park.  It’s been a while since I visited the park – all my pictures were taken with my old Minolta film cameras.  I’ve been looking through my slide collection lately and after looking at these pictures for the first time in over twenty five years, it was time to “scan” some of the slides so that they can finally be a part of my digital collection.  Here are a few pictures from my last trip to Yosemite, taken in May 1994.  I need to go back and visit this wonderful place once again.  Of course, I can say the same thing about Bryce, Yellowstone, Arches, Acadia, the Tetons – the national parks are a true treasure that have endured for millennia.  Let us work together to ensure that these landmarks, centuries from now, are still a source of wonder and inspiration for those who come after us.  Assuming, of course, that Yellowstone doesn’t blow its top in the meantime.

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And then, Yosemite

When I was young, my parents used to take me along trips and vacations to see the wonderful places the world had to offer.  I remember driving to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park for the first time.  My father was ecstatic looking at the mountains and the seemingly endless views of the valley below.  My mother was busy posing for photographs.  I was unmoved.  A typical teenager, I just wanted to stay home and do my own thing.

A few years later, my grandparents were visiting us in Virginia and they decided to visit their friends in rural southeastern Virginia.  If the barely two hour drive to the Shenandoah was long, the drive to Richlands, Virginia seemed like an eternity.  Mountains, hills, valleys all melded into a mosaic of interstates and highways, rural roadways, the occasional town.  It was a happy time for all – friendships rekindled, beautiful mountain air – with the exception of the grumpy teenager who just wanted to stay home.  And of course, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was only a “short” distance away.  So what to do?  Drive through more mountain roads, look at never ending forests, gaze upwards to look  at yet another mountain peak, and meet native Americans for the first time.  That part of the trip was actually interesting.  Clean mountain air, the fog that covered the mountains that made for spectacular sunrise and sunsets, the breezes that made the hot summer days bearable – I didn’t breathe, see or feel any of that.  I chose to ignore the beauty that was around me.  I just wanted to be home.

When my father bought me my first real camera, I started taking pictures of my friends.  Eventually, I started taking pictures of the monuments and landmarks that were so close to me.  Visit to the woods and parklands soon became a favored diversion.  I started to read about the great places to visit in the United States.  Shenandoah National Park.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Yosemite National Park.

I visited family and friends in San Francisco and they offered to drive me to Yosemite.  I was unprepared for what I saw.  I knew that the place was beautiful – who hasn’t seen the pictures of Yosemite taken by Ansel Adams and other great photographers.  I envisioned cliffs, mountains, streams.  Instead, I was treated to one of nature’s great cathedrals.  Yes, El Capitan, with its granite face was a sight to behold.  Half Dome, Yosemite Falls – they were indeed impressive. Still, they are but backdrops to the true beauty of Yosemite.  The life sustaining valley nestled within the great peaks of the Sierras.  The stone monuments, beautiful as they are, are the supporting cast to this place that the trees and animals call home.  Yosemite.  A monument for the ages.  A cathedral for the living.  A gift of magnificent beauty for all.

Beauty in Everything

We are surrounded by beauty.  Often times, we look at everything at the most superficial level.  We see a pretty face, a pretty dress, a beautiful landscape, a stunning sunset.  We travel all over the world to see the Andean glaciers, the auroras in Iceland, the arches and hoodoos of the American southwest, the water wonderland that is Guilin.  We dream of going to far off places, depicted so beautifully by thousands of photographers and artists who share the same passion of seeing, drawing, photographing the places and things that have been universally deemed as beautiful.

We ignore the innate beauty around us.  From a child gazing longingly at the candy cane in the window, the grandmother being escorted by a loving grandchild as they cross a busy street, to a homeless man grateful for a cup of coffee that a stranger provides.  There is so much beauty in the world, if we could only look beyond our preconceptions and prejudices.  And wonder at the beauty that is everyday life.

The bluebird singing.  The stars in the night sky forming patterns that have guided mankind’s journey throughout the ages.  That feather in the grass. Pick it up and look closely.  You may be amazed at what you see.