Standing Out

No, I don’t mean you or me, in the midst of a room or a gathering, being the center of attention.  I am taking about the quiet moments that we all spend by ourselves, thinking about the world going on around us.  Sometimes, I delay the introspection by watching a video on youtube.  Or catching another movie or show on Netflix or Amazon Prime.  And then another.  And then another.  As if delay leads to forgetting, to putting aside for another day.  Do we think so little of ourselves that we don’t want to spend the time understanding our thoughts, not listening to what our hearts and minds, in the silence of the moment, is trying to tell us?

A time out.  A time for contemplation, perhaps even a prayer.  Purposeful and deliberative pause and reflection.  Do we always want to live a life reacting to everyday events with nary a though to what we are doing?  Do we want to live a life planned out for us, by us?  Or do we want to look at ourselves, maybe even at stolen moments, and try to see, to feel, to understand what we are doing, who we are, what matters most in our lives?

When we look within ourselves, we may find that what stands out is not what we think is important, or what the world deems is important, or what we want to be important.  Take the time to stop and think.  To listen, in the silence of the moment, for a voice that is always there, guiding our lives.  Each of us, whatever the age, whatever faith we believe in, can take a moment to listen and to see what stands before us.

Broken or whole, we owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment.  To see that colored leaf that glows in the sun.  To find within ourselves the thing that stands out.  To find that even in the silence, we are not alone. That all that we are, all that we can be, is not just about you or me.  It is about us.  The moments of our lives that truly matter are not full of I’s.  It is in the we’s the we are made whole.

Before the Noon Rush

It’s been a while since my last post.  Between work, training, and the busy hum of life in suburbia, I haven’t had much of a chance to post something.  There’s also the problem with having a little bit of writers’ block.  Weekends are filled with picture taking and cleaning up the house, a little bit.  Why do I have all this stuff and what am I going to do with it?  Over the years, you buy a small thing here, a small thing there.  Cabinets, once empty, fill up.  The floor in my study is not quite as open as it once was.  A pile of papers here, a pile of papers there.  No, I am not going to go through the process of holding each time and trying to find out if this thing or that things gives me joy.  Truthfully, there’s just too many things to pick up that if you were to somehow divinate that this or that is giving me joy, I may end up with arms even more tired than they already are.  So I’ll just throw some things out, donate some things, and assume that what’s left is giving me joy.  Heck, how much joy can a guy take in one day?

Anyway, I took the day off to ruminate.  I went for a short walk at the Mosaic District, one of the mixed use neighborhoods that are popping up in Northern Virginia.  I love walking around here.  There’s a movie theater, a couple of shops and eateries to go to, space for people to walk around and just enjoy the day.  This morning, I stopped by the Praline Bakery, one of those nice places to grab a quick bite and just enjoy a few minutes of alone time (before the noon rush).  A crisp apple confection (I forgot what they call it) that’s just sweet enough without being overwhelming, with that slightly tart flavor that makes you savor it even more.  A nice cup of coffee, and no phone calls or web surfing.  Just some downtime.

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A place to relax, to think, to ruminate.  I picked up the fork, took a small slice out of the confection in front of me, and this feeling of joy was amazing.  The joy increased as the desert got ever smaller.  I don’t think this is what Marie Kondo had in mind when she said pick things up and see if it brings you joy, but I’ll take it.  And now that I know that picking up a fork, in a certain place, is sure to bring me joy, I believe a return trip in the very near future is a very real possibility.  Return trips, if I have to be honest.  In some things, a guy can’t have enough joy.

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And what a colorful selection of deserts (macaroons!).  I love the growing diversity in the population.  You used to choose from pistachio, vanilla, orange, chocolate, almond.  Now you can get mango flavored treats.  And passion fruit.  Joy, Joy, Joy!!!!

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And, there’s this beautiful wall mural outside of this little corner of the world.

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And a little dog park/patch right next to it (and I mean little, but it serves its function).  Oh, the artist left his calling card.

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Great comfort food, a nice day, beautiful wall art.  A joyful morning indeed.

Sunday

Twenty four hours later, I am back at Huntley Meadows.  And the place looked different, not only because the algae moved but because of the fundamental truth that lies beneath our existence.  Every moment is different, change is constant, so embrace the challenges that this brings.

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I think I am going to have to take pictures of other birds, whether at Huntley or elsewhere.  My heron and egret quota are full.  Now, if only I was better at spotting birds.

(Here’s the thing.  If you want to say that you’ve reached some sort of quota, then you are not living life to the fullest.  Familiarity does not need to lead to contempt.  It should lead to further exposition and deeper knowledge.)

Who Watches the Watchers

Years ago, in the third season of Star Trek the Next Generation, an episode with this strange title aired.  I had to look up the synopsis of the actual episode since I haven’t seen it in years.  Unlike my favorite Star Trek episode of all time, “The Inner Light”, I had only retained the most basic of remembrances of this particular episode.  And why bring this up now?

A few days ago, on an early Sunday morning, I took another early morning walk at Huntley Meadows.  There were quite a few photographers out there at half past six in the morning.  What were people taking pictures of?  Birds, birds, birds.  More specifically, egrets and herons.  I had the feeling that there would be quite a few people at the wildlife area.

The day before, I also took a morning walk at Huntley.  For a Saturday morning, there were more than a dozen photographers at the start of the day.  Normally, you see five or six photographers in the early morning but last Saturday was different.  Someone had taken a picture of a fox walking on a log to take a drink of water on the wetlands.  It probably happens quite a bit all over the world.  In suburban Virginia, fifteen miles from Washington, you don’t see that very often.  And someone posted the pictures in the Huntley Meadows Facebook page.  Needless to say, there were a lot of people looking for the fox.  Alas, we saw nothing that looked like a fox.  Saw quite a few birds, but the fox was AWOL.

Sunday came and I went back to Huntley to look for kingfishers.  The water is getting shallower as the rains have not come and the heat of the summer is taking its toll on the wetlands.  I heard the kingfisher’s call, but I could not find it.  There were, however, a lot of egrets and herons in the wetlands.  Like everyone else, I took a lot of pictures of a fairly large group of birds in the water.

About an hour and a half after I got to Huntley, I was looking at a group of photographers when one of them exclaimed “it got a fish!”  Instinctively, I walked over by the group of photographers and saw heron catching its morning meal (probably one of many).  A good picture taking opportunity, but the photographers were so engaged in photographing the bird that for five or so minutes, all we could look at is this heron with a fish.

The heron, with it’s catch.

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The fish was quite active and the heron wasn’t quite ready to eat its meal.  It lifted it up, as if to see if the fish was still actively moving.  It was.

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The heron turned around and started to brush the fish over the log.

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After a minute or so of this, the fish had “calmed” down and the heron was a happy fish eater.

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This was the first time I actually watched the whole sequence of “catch and eat.”  It was “fascinating.”

When There is Joy

Photography is not merely the process of capturing an image.  It’s not just looking at the world, looking at the things that are beautiful.  It’s not finding cruelty or kindness, nor is it just looking for excitement, nor is it documenting the commonplace and the mundane.  Photography is looking at the world and finding in it something that stirs your soul.  It is not always bright and cheerful.  It is not always gloomy and dark.  It is, if you are honest with yourself, a reflection of who you are at the moment.

And because who you are constantly changes, the images captured is never the same.  One can hope, however, that as in life, we can always find hope, even joy in all that we see.  In the depths of despair there is always the promise of a better tomorrow.  In the heights of happiness there is always a realization that moments like this are treasured, but not what we ultimately strive for.

Finding meaning in life, where you know yourself and understand that imperfection is not a curse but a blessing, when you see a world that is not closed but open to possibilities.  When you look back not to long for what is past, but to learn that failure is not permanent but is always necessary.  To know that success is not a singular achievement but a communal experience.  To know that at the center of it all, is not the selfish tyranny of pride and conceit, but that in spite of one’s frailties, generosity and love prevails.  That in every moment, great and small, the inner light illuminates the soul and that in all that we are, in all that we do, joy gives meaning to our existence.

And so it was yesterday afternoon, on a surprisingly cool day in July, I walked the grounds of Meadowlark Gardens.  Paths walked so many times before.  And yet, each step is always different, and so are the pictures.

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