As the day winds down, I turn the TV on and sit transfixed. Mesmerized by the colors and the beauty of the latest Pixar movie – Soul. What can I say. This is another masterpiece from the geniuses at Pixar. This film has so many levels that I think it will take dozens of viewings before I even begin to digest the messages that the movie has to say. The most important thing that it brings to my mind, however, is that we as people waste so much time thinking that things can be so much better that we forget how to live life. It isn’t the glories, the heights of fame and success that defines a person. It’s how we live with our family, how we live in our community. How we touch the ones we love and the people around us. We live a life and we forget that every moment is special. I needed this reminder today. I need to remember this message every day. We obsess and work hard to get somewhere and then when we get there, it often feels like a disappointment. There is an emptiness, a feeling that we must have missed something. What we miss is the part of life that makes it worth living. Being alive means looking around, taking a breath, and watching the world around us. Whether it is in the company of others or in our quiet corner of the house, life is around us. In the warmth of the early morning sun. In the cold stare of Orion as he marches in the winter sky. Life is everywhere. Each step forward, backward, sideways takes us somewhere new. Each step is an opportunity to give meaning to the lives of others. And in so doing, give meaning to our own lives.
A mountain park an hour away from northern Virginia. Shenandoah National Park is a very busy place in mid to late October. A similar view of trees (without the vistas that you see in Shenandoah) can make for a relaxing few hours enjoying the beauty of fall.
A misty morning at Huntley Meadows. A long telephoto zoom. It can be beautiful.
Inspired by Van Gogh, not Handel. Fall colors reflected in the wavy wetlands of Huntley Meadows.
Life is a series of pictures. Not everything is clear. Even the things that seem to move too fast can be beautiful. A moment in time. A moment in one’s life. Savor it.
One of my favorite movies is the GREAT animated film, “Princess Mononoke” by the acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Hand drawn animation at its finest, with a story for the ages (the environment, personal responsibility) – it is a masterwork that is not to be missed. The film features a fantastic soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi. The tune “Ashitaka and San” is peerless. And here is the music, acting as the accompaniment to a short vacation video I made almost eight years ago.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
You never get tired of looking towards the city.
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.