Delaware Sunrise

I was driving to northern New Jersey for a Christening.  I figured, what the heck, wake up early, try to get to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge by sunrise, and watch the sun rise.  The sun and the clouds and the sky cooperated.

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I came for the birds, and ended up with the sun.

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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.

DSC05251_sStill, a little cold weather did not deter this man, nor did the weather deter his drinking companions.

DSC05255_sBut on this cold January day, the first day of the year, the afternoon light made this short trip to the Mall worthwhile.

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Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Even on a cloudy, drizzly, cold, windy, autumn day, Cape Breton Highlands National Park is a revelation.  Cape Breton is an island off Nova Scotia.  Buffeted by the winds of the Atlantic Ocean, the rugged beauty of the island is a sight to behold.  As you drive through the Cabot Trail along the coast, you will pass through this incredible natural wonder.

Driving through Nova Scotia, the seaside towns, the rugged coastlines, the friendly people already provided enough memories to last a lifetime.  And as we drove to Cape Breton, I had expected to see more of the same.  Well, yes and no.  The people were friendly, but the island is more exposed to the winds and tantrums of the Atlantic.  And as we drove through the coasts, the road winding through the mountains on one side and the Atlantic on the other, I could not help but think that I was the luckiest man on the planet.  I know countless people have witnessed the beauty of Cape Breton.  Yet to see it for the first time, to feel the cold crisp wind in your face as you stop and marvel at each curve in the trail, to experience the raw power of nature and the raw beauty that it has to offer – there are few places in the planet that elicit such awe.

I didn’t spend enough time at the park.  That much is certain.  A few hours hiking barely gave enough time to grasp the true beauty of everything that was around me.  Here, at least, are some images from this incredible spot on an incredibly beautiful island known as Cape Breton.

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SONY DSCSONY DSCThis was proving to be a wonderful hike through the highlands.  And then, the forest gave way to the coasts.  What a sight to behold.  I ran into these two women who bicycled their way across Canada.  From Vancouver, to the Canadian Rockies, to Cape Breton – they must have seen so much of what I still long to see.  Probably not on a bicycle, but someday – there are still so many places left to explore.

SONY DSCThe winding roads, the clouds over the ocean, the wind, the trail went on towards vistas that boggle the mind.

SONY DSCSONY DSCAnd then, the sun peeked through.  Just a smidge of sun, a few ticks of the clock – it was enough.

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Sometimes, when a place is really special, even a moment is enough to capture a memory.  And strangely enough, all the time in the world is never enough time to spend in that same place.  Cape Breton and Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  I hear the siren call.

The Window to Miracles

New Mexico was, to me, one of those states on the southern border, somewhere between Texas and California.  At least until a chance visit to Santa Fe.  The air fare was low and the accomodations was free, so what the heck, why not.  When I got there, I could not believe how beautiful the city was.  And the Tex Mex or Mexican or whatever food that was there was incredible (except for the Chinese food, but even that may have improved by now).  One of the greatest surprises in all my travels.  Even now, I can see myself living in this town, semi arid, nestled in the mountains.  The people are friendly.  The arts are alive.  And Santa Fe is just plain old beautiful.

And yet, the trip to New Mexico will be remembered for an even more unexpected interlude.  A visit to the town of Chimayo.  It is one of the few towns that dot the road from Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico.  At least that’s what it was on the map.  And so, before driving to Taos, I did a little research on the High Road to Taos.  I read some mention of a church in a small town that people from all over the world visited, in search of miraculous cures to all sorts of afflictions.  Curious, I decided to drop by and visit the church.  At the very least, it is an old, historic church in the mountains.  It was a good photographic opportunity.

I ran into a man who was friendly and was more than happy to tell me about this special place.  His name has been forgotten now, but his story is still in my head.  It turns out he is a four time cancer survivor.  When he first got cancer, his chances for survival was not good.  Guided by faith, he went to Chimayo, took some of the soil from a room in the church (it is freely given to all who visit), and took it home with him to Chicago.  He applied the soil like a balm over the afflicted area.  And miracle of miracles, or so he told me, his cancer was cured.  His cancer would recur three more times, in different parts of his body.  Each time, he went back to Chimayo, took some soil, and each time he was cured.  I asked him if he was there seeking another cure.  No, he said.  He was just there to give thanks for the gifts that were given him.  A life to be lead, a life that he was able to use for some good, and the grace to be healed of his afflictions.

I was dumbfounded.  I always associated miracles with Fatima.  Or Medjugorje.  Or Lourdes.  Chimayo is a beautiful but unassuming town nestled in the mountains, on a road between two major tourist destinations in New Mexico.  And yet, it is this town that I always think of when I think of New Mexico.  There is something there, a feeling there, that I can’t explain.  It’s not something metaphysical.  It is this feeling of peace and joy that emanates from this small church.   People may visit Chimayo in hopes of a miraculous cure to some sort of physical ailment.  To me, though, it gave something else.

When I entered the church in the middle of mass, it was mostly locals attending the mass.  After the mass, someone told me something that has stayed with me forever.  It was a message that was surprising and uplifting.  Even now, I recall the events of those few minutes spent in that church in Chimayo, of that quiet conversation.  Grace can come in many ways.  You don’t have to ask.  Somehow,  it just comes to you.

There are special places that leave you with an inner peace.  A feeling that stays with you for your entire life.  To me, one of those places is this church in the New Mexico mountains, in the town of Chimayo.  The window pictured above is in the room that contains the miraculous soil.  I can only say that what I remember most from that visit is not the window, not the church, not the town, not the mountains.  It was that quiet conversation, wholly unexpected.  In that moment, I felt forever blessed.

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