Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life

A series of four paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  A beautiful, inspirational set of paintings that depict the stages of life – from infancy to old age

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A Trip to the National Gallery of Art

There are two exhibits at the National Gallery of Art that I wanted to see.  “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting” was an interesting and eye opening display of the willingness of great painters to borrow ideas from one another.  The “Posing for the Camera” exhibit allowed me to see for myself some notable prints by great photographers.  Of course, everyone was intently looking at the great masterpieces.

Images from “Posing for the Camera”

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Paintings from the “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting” exhibit

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And the painting by the stairwell, Salvador Dali’s “The Last Supper.”

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Outside the museum, proof that red is a beautiful color.

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The Beauty Inside

Years ago, while vacationing in Cabo, I decided to drive to La Paz, Mexico.  I didn’t have a GPS and I was adventurous enough to attempt to go across Baja California with a rudimentary map that I printed from the internet.  I wanted to see the clear waters of Balandra Beach.  So off I went, on my small rental car, driving between fast moving, close passing cars and trucks that seemingly were only a second or so away from colliding with me.  When everything seems like a close call, you just learn to go with the flow.  A few hours later, I was in La Paz.

After a quick lunch and a visit to the beach, it was time to go back to Cabo.  There was only one problem.  I only mapped out the path going eastward.  I had no idea how to get back to Cabo.  I was driving around in circles.  Every once in a while, I’d ask somebody for directions on how to get back to the highway that would take me back west.  There were so many helpful people, but it was readily apparent that my inability to speak or understand Spanish was a major liability.  People tried to help me by drawing pictures of the roads that I needed to drive to.  That only lead me to different circular paths.  Flustered, I stopped by a gas station to try to get directions.

Once again, I didn’t have much luck getting directions to Cabo.  I was panicked.  And then, something miraculous happened.  There was a beat up car parked in the gas station.  A man came up to me and told me that he can show me the way back to Cabo.  Follow him, he said.  He will take me to the highway to Cabo.  I did as he said.  I started my car and followed him as he drove through streets that were unfamiliar to me.  We reached a highway and he pointed to a certain direction, a sign telling me that I have finally found the road home.  I waved at him to thank him.  He smiled and in what seemed like an instant, he was gone.

I sped through the highway, heading westward.  A few hours later, I was back at Cabo.  Relieved.  Thankful.

The thing is, there are many beautiful things to see and experience in Cabo and La Paz.  Great food, great beaches.  And yet.  The thing that I remember the most is the kindness of a total stranger.  I was lost; somehow, this stranger found me, and set me back to the right path.  I could think of a lot of religious allegories, but I really want to say something about how many of us, including me, lead our lives.

All of us, in a multitude of ways, are attracted to beautiful things.  A beautiful person, a beautiful car, a beautiful whatever.  How many times do we ignore the things that seem common, the things we deem unexceptional.  We look up and see the bright lights.  And we gravitate towards the brightest of these lights.  We forget (truthfully, we neglect)  the other lights in the world.  Why is it that we choose to ignore so many things that can bring us so much happiness, so much joy?   I can’t even fathom how much I have missed in life by not paying attention to the things that really should matter the most.

We can spend endless amounts of money trying to stay young, to become more presentable, in the hopes of being likable enough for people to pay attention to us.  We surround ourselves with things to make us look comfortable, as if the look of success is somehow enough to impress everyone that we seek.  Somehow, we have allowed the constant bombardment of messages extolling wealth and beauty to distract us, to make us  forget what is really important in our lives.

I am so glad that I got lost in La Paz.  This unfortunate happenstance lead to one of most life affirming lessons that I have experienced.  In the midst of nowhere, a man in a rusty old car extended the hand of friendship to someone he didn’t know.  He didn’t ask for any compensation.  It was enough for him to give help when help was needed.  He didn’t ask me who I was.  He didn’t care that I didn’t speak his language.  He just helped.

I need to remind myself of this lesson every day.  Beauty comes from the heart.  Love freely given, without any expectation of getting anything in return, is the most beautiful thing of all.  Remember to be kind.  Remember to listen.  Be of service to others.  Expect nothing and in so doing, gain everything.

A Beautiful Flower

A beautiful flower is a wondrous thing.  Such beauty did not come about by accident.  It is a product of careful nurturing, sprouting from roots lovingly cared for by someone who truly loved what they were doing.  And when it finally emerges, it is stunning to behold.  Those who truly appreciate its beauty know the love that is in full display.  When you find that special flower, it will be something that you will always treasure.  A lifetime is never enough.

Wondrous Wyoming

The boat across Jenny Lake at Grand Teton National Park afforded us an incredible view of the Tetons.  Upon reaching the shore, the mountainside trails beckoned.  Up we went, some slower than the others.  In due time, the spectacular waterfall that would be one of the hallmarks of this trip came into view.  The Teton peaks may give Grand Teton National Park its name, but the lakes, the waterfalls, the flowers of spring, the clean air, the beautiful mountainside hikes, and so much more make this park better than grand.  Eloquently beautiful, sublimely inspirational, incredibly inspiring – no superlatives can truly describe this jewel of the national park system.

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Cold is a relative thing

It is cold outside.  Heck, it is cold inside.  The first few days of 2018 has been some of the coldest days we have experienced in the D.C. area in quite some time.  Yesterday, I went for a short hike in the park.  After thirty minutes, I was back in my car.  I wasn’t tired.  My hands, however, were aching from being exposed to the cold air.  One of the things that I need to buy are thermal protection gloves that will allow me to take pictures in cold weather.  As it was, I had to take my gloves off every time I wanted to take a picture.

Not that there were a lot of pictures to be found.  It is important, however, to persevere and keep looking for something that may prove interesting.  Practice is important.  In any discipline.  And in photography, you need to constantly look at the world and see what pictures you see.  I must admit, the cold temperatures dulled my desire to look at every angle, at every corner, at every tree or leaf and find a different picture.  I just wanted to walk a little bit and still have fingers that I can move at the end of the day.

So here are two pictures.  Perhaps not spectacular.  Totally reflective of my mood and sentiments on the fifth day of the first month in 2018.  I’ll look at these pictures again, perhaps in the far off future.  And remember that it was cold.

And yet.  I just finished talking with my cousin in Calgary.  She said it was -22F in Calgary over the holidays.  Cold is a relative thing.  In her mind, we are probably enjoying near tropical weather.  Sixteen degrees Fahrenheit?  You think that’s cold?  I imagine that’s what she was thinking when I was complaining about the temperature.

There are things in life that are relative.  And there are things in life  that are absolutes.  It is absolutely cold.  The degree of coldness, however, is all relative.

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Frozen

With most of the United States in deep freeze, why not venture out on the first day of the year and feel that cold, crisp air?  Why not.  Unfortunately, my favorite museum was closed for the day.

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