Brrrr…..

After a slew of fairly warm days, I decided to take a walk at one of the local wildlife refuges in Northern Virginia.  Huntley Meadows is one of my favorite places to take walks (with a camera, of course).  There is a central wetland (fairly small) that hosts an abundant variety of birds (especially during the warm months of spring to fall).  In the midst of a relatively warm winter, there have been days that observers reported a wide variety of birds in the refuge.

Yesterday (Saturday) was not one of those days where birds were plentiful and easy to find.  I am sure that trained eyes would do better than I did, but it was barely above 20F when I left for the refuge (about ten miles away), after the sun had been up an hour.  Surprisingly, there were a fair number of people walking around the park.  And there were a fair number of disappointed photographers.

It was cold.  And for the day (at least in the morning), the birds were few in number.  Oh, there were ducks of several sorts and there was an osprey (or something like it) that flew over the boardwalk for a scant ten seconds.  Aside from that, nothing.  It was a cold day for this human.  I suppose the birds don’t really want to go out and about when the wind is brisk and the sun barely peeking out of the clouds.

Oh well.  There were still ducks.

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Meeting before Dawn

I totally forgot that the moon, Jupiter and Venus were going to be in conjunction in the waning days of January.  It was not until morning, near sunrise, as I was taking the trash out, that I looked up in the brightening sky and saw the moon and Venus.  It was seven degrees and I didn’t take many pictures in the crisp January air.  It was, as all astronomical events prove to be, interesting.  And beautiful to behold.

On a cold, cold, cold January Night

A Blood Wolf Super Moon was in view for vast swats of North America.  Did I mention that it was cold?  I wanted to set up the camera on a tripod but it was just a little bit too cold.

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It was quite an interesting site, even in the suburbs.  Fortunately, the moon was almost at its zenith, which made for obstruction free, frozen shooting.  I don’t think I want to be in the Discovery Channel show about living above the arctic circle.  Now, that antarctic winter adventure, however, that is still a dream (or nightmare).

The Inner Light

My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.”  Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human.  Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars.  And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience.  In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own.  Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying.  He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him.  Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known.  A love he had never known.  A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride.  All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all.  The ability to feel and to give love.

It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold.  Kamin was not rich by any means.  His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought.  Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship.  And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary.  He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.

We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after.  We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in.  We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken.  When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions.  Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring.  A fluttering butterfly.  A cool breeze on a warm day.  A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant.  So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life.  Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little.  Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?

It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above.  Green leaves on a pot.  These leaves have a secret.  They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom.  These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant.  Jasmine.  Beautiful and sweet.  A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility.  It is, in many ways, ethereal.

So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode.  And of a beautiful flower.  And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals.  It is within all of us.  And when you find it, share it.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  Be generous.  In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.

Ruminations at Christmastime

When I think about the things that happened this year, I want to go to a dark room and make everything go away.  And just like the college campuses around the United States that deem it necessary to isolate people supposedly investing their time to learn new things, experience a world outside of what they have known, and learn that life is full of the unexpected, it seems that the temptation to only feel, hear and see the good things in life is the answer to a life that doesn’t always have answers to questions that come about.  And yet, to shut the world out because it’s not what you want is to deny yourself the essence of what being human is all about.

Life is a series of events that in its eventuality is unstoppable, in its unpredictability predictable.  This year has seen the death of someone very dear, the death of others that have filled my head with ideas and my heart with love.  There was sadness all around.  For the realization that some voices will never be heard again.  Some smiles will never be seen again.  That a warm touch, that warm hug will never be felt again.  The mind senses that change has come.  The heart knows that change has come.  The spirit knows that while change has come, the world still beckons and that which are gone truly still live in our midst.

A Christian believes that the promise made by a loving Creator becomes manifest in the birth of a child.  Whether that child was born in squalor matters not.  What matters is that the God who created us all kept His promise to His people.  That love, true and unerring, triumphed over disappointment.  That forgiveness and mercy is more powerful than hate and betrayal.  That in giving His people His son, knowing that He in turn will be betrayed by His creation, God showed us the possibility of what we all can become.  If we let love reign in our hearts, we are capable of making the world we live in a world that all of us, whether we consider our self a child of Abraham,  whether we follow the precepts of Buddha, whether we find solace in the spirits of the forest – all of us the can transcend the limitations we place upon ourselves.   Respect one another.  Care for one another.  To see people not as impediments to our ambition but truly as a brother or a sister that we can nurture and love.

In the spirit of this season, we can find in the people around us, the world around us reason to be hopeful.  To be inspired by those who do small things and seeing countless small things bring joy to those who give so wholly of themselves.  I pray that today, we remember that salvation did not come with a proclamation of greatness.  It came from a Father that loved us all, from a couple who devoted themselves to the care of a child entrusted to their love, and eventually, the willingness of this child to give Himself wholly for the people He and His father loved.  In spite of the hatred and spitefulness heaped against Him, this Son of God and Son of Man gave Himself up to serve all of us.  To purchase, with His sacrifice, our salvation.

Love, freely given.  And today, we remember, if we so choose, that we are children of this same Father.  That like His son who died for us, we are tasked to take care of the world around us.  To be stewards of His creation.  To love all of His creation.  It is not always easy.  There are disappointments.  In the end, it is this selfless love that must inspire us to live a life of generosity.  Of giving.  Of sacrifice.  Forgiveness.  Charity.

Peace on Earth.  It starts with each one of us.  A small act of kindness, magnified a billion fold.  May each of us be a reflection of the love that made life possible.  And worth living.

Sometimes, it just withers away

I was looking at some of the pictures I took in the last year an a half and this one caught my eye.  Flowers, no matter how beautiful they are, always seem to have a lifespan.  Even as it fades, you can see the beauty that once was.  It didn’t wither because of lack of care.  The garden was the beneficiary of abundant rainfall.  The flowers were well taken care of.  In their time, their beauty was a reflection of the warm sun that nourished them.  And yet, as with all things, the flowers have an expiration date.

Each thing on earth has an appointed time.  In its time in the sun, each flower provides beauty and sustenance.  They may fade away, but each leaves a mark all its own.   And come next spring, another set of flowers will sprout and grow.  And like the flowers that came before them, they too dazzle the senses.

The circle of life.  Mysterious.  Essential.