As an amateur photographer, I originally started this blog with the intent of sharing pictures that I have taken, and perhaps share an occasional thought or two. It turns out I have quite a few things to say and in the process, I haven’t really posted a lot of pictures lately. So in lieu of the few hundred words I may otherwise write, here are some pictures taken at Meadowlark Gardens in Vienna, Virginia.
I wanted to go to the same place, on two consecutive days, at almost the same times, to see what kind of pictures are there for the taking. So off I went to Huntley Meadows last Saturday and Sunday. Yes, more bird pictures.
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.
Sometimes, you have to go out and smell (and take pictures of) the flowers.
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.
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.
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.
The herons were fishing. And I thought that maybe, just maybe, this heron’s appetite was a little bit too much.
And then an osprey flew by. And caught a fish. Not quite the magnificent catch I saw earlier.
There were herons aplenty. Herons grooming themselves in the “mirror.”
Herons with unexpected visitors, like this juvenile white ibis.
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.
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.
On Friday night, I made up my mind to wake up early and take a walk at Huntley Meadows. It’s been a while since I spent a few hours at Huntley. Spring went quickly and the summer heat is oppressive. The birds are most active in the early part of the day.
I’ve been using my Sony RX10IV for most of my photography lately. This is a great camera. It’s light enough to carry everywhere and it has an incredibly useful zoom range and good built in image stabilization. Where I used to carry a tripod and a long zoom into Huntley, I just carry the RX10IV and shoot away. It’s very liberating.
One thing about the setup that I find indispensable. Without the tripod, you try out different angles on the same subject. Not that you can’t do that with a tripod mounted camera, but it’s a much faster process when you use a handheld camera with a nice lens that you know can do what you want it to do.
What I really wanted to do is shoot bird pictures. Alas, although I got up before daybreak, I hesitated long enough (about going out in the heat) that by the time I did get to Huntley, the sun had been out for almost an hour and a half. Not great. And so, the birds that I hoped to see were not in view (they were probably there, I just could not find them). There were ospreys flying and diving, but they were never close enough to get good pictures of them diving. There were herons that stood on the water, but they were just lounging around. There were egrets, further still, also lounging around. A bluebird sang then went into its nest. Birds aplenty? Yes. The early bird gets the worm is a saying that applies to humans, especially bird photographers. The early guy with the camera gets the birds.
Still, there was a goose that wandered into close proximity. And with its partner, flew up into the sky in an opportune moment. I was tracking an osprey, but saw the two large birds in the periphery of the scene, turned around and pressed the shutter button. The RX10IV has a great AF system. It focuses quickly and tracks the subject quite well. Not quite as good as the top of the line Sony A9, but that’s a bigger camera and the lens I want to use with it won’t be out till next month. And if someone wants to give me that lens, well, I’d take a picture for you.
And that’s how I managed to get a decent goose in flight picture. Born of frustration, but given an opportunity to do something unplanned. Sometimes (actually, most of the time), opportunity knocks. You just need to listen for the sometime faint sound (or in this case, a momentary rush at the edge of the viewfinder). You never know what’s out there. And that’s a good thing.
And there were other things aside from birds. I almost got sunburned staying out too long. And didn’t bring enough water. Still, it was a nice morning to sweat. Take pictures. And be inspired.
So go out there. Take a walk. Be surprised. And let nature rejuvenate your mind and soul.
In the wee hours of the morning, after another restless and near sleepless evening, I started listening to music. The notes played on and then I suddenly realized that at that moment, I wasn’t really in the room. My mind had wandered back in time, remembering a time when family members who are but a memory were still breathing the same air that I breathed. And in that moment, I found myself wondering. What is really important in my life? And in nearly the same instant, I thought about the people who are forever part of me. I didn’t remember the clothes they wore. Or the places we have been. I thought about how much I was loved. And how this feeling that never goes away always brings balance back into my life.
I was taught so many things by a great many people. The most important lessons were not imparted with words, but through actions, through example. Kindness is not optional, even when it is difficult to give. Respect other people, even when you don’t agree with them. Be generous to others, for what you have, even if earned, is a gift given to you, not to be hoarded, but to be shared. Speak the truth always, but never harshly.
And then the present, or the near present, came back to me. Sometimes, just seeing and being with someone is enough. Your heart always finds a way to tell you what it feels. And in the music, joyful and hopeful as the dawning of a new day, I remembered the thing that gives life to a life. Love. A gift, a treasure. A memory? Sometimes. Transient? Not when it is true.
Last Saturday morning, I woke up shortly after the sun had awakened and Huntley Meadows, one of the local wildlife refuges, beckoned. There was only one thing that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I should stay in bed. The sky was overcast and the weather casters predicted about two inches of rain for the weekend. I was pretty sure I wanted to just go out, go for a short hike, and take some pictures. There was, however, something weighing on my mind. It was grey. It was dull. What pictures were there to take in such a day as this? In short, while I knew what I wanted to do, how will the reality of the on and off drizzle mesh with my idea of taking pictures of birds in spring? My heart said go ahead. My head asked why? How so?
Sometimes the head wins out. Sometimes the heart flutters too much and like the sweet smell of sampaguitas, the feeling envelops you, and the world feels new. Is new. The dawn of a new day. A little muted, perhaps, but alive with possibilities.
And so it was that three hours was spent walking around in the on and off sprinkles from the sky. And sometimes, the sun decided to tease a little warmth into the cool May morning. The heart may be a lonely hunter at times, but then again, it can only be so. For in the ups and downs and ups in life, we find our way to life lived, a life lived well.
How so? The answer is simple. Make it so. And here are the pictures to prove it.
Spring is tulip season in the mid Atlantic region. With days getting warmer, rainfall is also bountiful. Life giving water. It makes the grass green. The mood a little melancholy. The ground, saturated by the drops of rain falling from the skies, is a little soft. Maybe even muddy. Grey skies indeed. And in what can only be described as a pleasant contrast, shades of red, pink and yellow adorn countless gardens in all the neighborhoods. The colors, saturated by the clouds diffusing light as it falls from our star, are vibrant. Droplets of water cling to every flower. And through each miniature lens, beauty is magnified.
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.