Meal Preparation

After eating breakfast, something in the garden caught my eye.

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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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The (Water) Birds were there

Another Saturday, a very warm one, has come and gone.  In the early morning hours, before the first sip of coffee was even in a cup, I took my RX10IV and headed for Dunkin Donuts.  The one that’s two miles away from Huntley Meadows.  The sun had just broken through the horizon, and I needed the sun to go up just a little higher to clear the tree line at Huntley.  And I needed a little jolt to wake me up so to speak.

It was near 80F at six in the morning.  The day had barely started and the humidity was already beginning to make things a little uncomfortable.  Oh well, I was already at the parking lot, so I might as well take a walk through the woods and then into the wetlands.  As I crossed into the boardwalk, the moon was still visible in the sky.

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And the white flowers were there, just like they were the week before.  The air was heavy with heat and humidity.  As I walked further towards the wetlands, the flowers, with dew clinging to the leaves and petals, were backlit by the rising sun.  It was quite a thing to behold.  Hundreds, maybe even a thousand or so flowers, glistening in the early morning light.

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Sometimes, you need to stop and admire the things around you.  And enjoy the unexpected.  It warm.  It was humid.  The sun was up.  I was going to just quickly walk through and look for birds.  And yet.  In the heat of the rising sun, nature reminded me yet again to slow down and enjoy life.  Take the whole thing in.  The story is not just what we want it to be.  It is an entirety waiting for us, to discover, to find new things, to explore.  It is not always what we envision, but if we keep our eyes open, it can and is often better than what we imagine.

The red algae was blooming in the main wetland area.  Water was evaporating, as it always does.  The water level drops down as summer progresses.  With little rain to naturally replenish the wetland, the water was shallower, murkier.  I walked towards the observation tower, where I spied the egrets and herons wading in the shallow water.

I was amazed.  Huntley was alive this particular Saturday morning.  Two kingfishers were flying about.  Just a little bit to far to take pictures of, but you knew they were there.  A deer was foraging by some bushes.  The herons were in the water.  They were in the air.

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The herons were fishing.  And I thought that maybe, just maybe, this heron’s appetite was a little bit too much.

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And then an osprey flew by.  And caught a fish.  Not quite the magnificent catch I saw earlier.

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There were herons aplenty.  Herons grooming themselves in the “mirror.”

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Herons with unexpected visitors, like this juvenile white ibis.

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And suddenly, a flock of egrets flew by.  Land, I said to myself.  And land they did.  By the red algae bloom of the Huntley wetlands.

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It was hot.  It was humid.  That was to be expected.  The egrets in the wetland.  One or two, maybe.  A flock stopping by to rest, perhaps to cool down just a bit.  That was most unusual.  And on this summer day in July, it was most welcome.