A bird and a snail

Picky, picky, picky.

There is a message here, I think. You must try, even if you don’t succeed. You may even find out that what seems enticing really isn’t for you. Not every effort results in a desired outcome, but effort always imparts experience. Which, in the end, is the key to success. And finding out what you are about.

Fall is Here

Can it be? It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere? Where did summer go? Heck, where did the year go? It has been a rather challenging year for almost everyone. With a scant three months before the page turns and 2020 becomes a memory, it is probably a good time to remember that the hardships and challenges we have endured are what life is about. It is not about jetting to some far off destination. Experiencing the delight of other places or tasting yet another new dish. Life is about living each day the best we can. To be kind and respectful. To watch and listen and learn. We don’t have to agree with what everyone says. Or what everyone does. We must do our part to not harm others. And this means respecting each other as if we are all borne of the same Father. That we are brothers and sisters in the most basic thing that defines each of us. Our DNA says so. Our RNA says so. Does our heart tell the same tale, or do we insist that enlightenment is only for the few? I tend to think it’s for the few. Oh. Check that. That kind of thinking, of allowing ourselves to think that we are better than the other only brings ruin to a community. If this pandemic wracked world has something left to teach us, let it be a simple reminder. A smile, even beneath a mask, still radiates warmth within. We cannot love everyone, but we can respect everyone. And in doing so, perhaps, that respect will become something greater. Something better. Perhaps.

The Spider and the Fly

With summer drawing to a close, these insects should be less troublesome while walking through Huntley Meadows. Of course, the birds will start their fall migration soon (some have already migrated).

Channeling Renoir (and Manet)

One can keep going to the garden and take the same kind of pictures. Overviews of flowerbeds with a wide angle lens. Macro photographs of bees. And you can come up with some incredible pictures. Here’s the deal, whatever you do. The most important thing that you can do to make a good picture is understand light. That’s it. Photography, after all, captures light reflected from objects. Or light emanating from light sources. Direct lighting. Diffused lighting. Specular lighting. Harsh. Soft. Color temperature. The angle of light in the scene. Background, side, foreground lighting. Light is always there, in every picture that you take. You might as well learn to work with it.

What does this little blurb have to do with these pictures? Well, you can use a combination of diffused lighting and strong back lighting to create pictures that evoke the feel of an impressionist painting. Are these pictures the next van Gogh, Renoir or Manet painting that takes the world by storm. No. Though when I look at them, I feel the beauty that they saw, and know there is still much to be learned. About flowers. About light. About art. About life.

And what lens did I use for these photographs? Not a macro lens. Not a wide angle lens. I was looking for birds, you see, and I saw flowers instead. Yes, that incredible Sony 200-600mm lens.

Thank You, Brandon Sanderson!

For giving us such great books to fill our minds (and hearts) with wonder. For the words that provide inspiration every day:

“The most important words a man can say are, “I will do better.” These are not the most important words any man can say. I am a man, and they are what I needed to say.

The ancient code of the Knights Radiant says “journey before destination.” Some may call it a simple platitude, but it is far more. A journey will have pain and failure. It is not only the steps forward that we must accept. It is the stumbles. The trials. The knowledge that we will fail. That we will hurt those around us.

But if we stop, if we accept the person we are when we fall, the journey ends. That failure becomes our destination. To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.

The Color Yellow

In the Empire of the Sun, the Emperor Long Xi made it known that the color yellow offended him and decreed that everything in his empire that contained the color yellow was offensive and was to be removed and banished forever. Sire, a cowering servant told him, the light of the sun contains the color yellow. So the emperor proclaimed that everyone must live without the light of the sun and ordered all citizens of the empire to live in caves, for the color yellow is never to be seen again. And so, the people lived underground, never to see the sun again.

In the Republic of the Enlightened, a man shouted that the color yellow made him sad. A great many people heard him shout how yellow made him sad. They all said, yellow makes that man sad, we should let everyone know that yellow makes people sad. And so the word spread that yellow makes everyone sad. And someone said, if yellow makes people sad, we should remove everything that contains yellow. And the word spread that anything that contained yellow should be removed from their midst. And so, the Republic removed everything with the color yellow from their midst.

Some time later, one of their scientist took a piece of glass, pointed it towards the sun and saw the color yellow. The scientist cowered in fear, knowing that he had seen the color yellow, something they all agreed made people sad. He tried to stay silent, but someone saw him hold the piece of glass upon the sky. This man shouted out to the Republic that the scientist had seen the color yellow. The scientist, fearing for his life, told the people that no, he didn’t really see the color yellow coming from his piece of glass. The people did not care. And the scientist was banished from their midst.

Then someone said, what if what the scientist said was true? The light of the sun contains the color yellow! And this thought was shared throughout the republic. And then someone said – “The light of the sun contains the color yellow. It will make us sad.” And the people cried out, the sun makes us all sad. And then someone said, there is no sun in the caves, let us go into the caves. And the word spread and the people of the republic moved into the caves.

In other parts of the world, people wondered. Why do those people live in caves? They didn’t know that the color yellow was deemed unacceptable by the empire and by the republic. And so life went on. They often disagreed amongst themselves. They talked about a great many things and the things that caused harm to some were eventually relegated to the caves. They knew that sometimes, someone brought the things out of the caves. They understood that they cannot control the lives and actions of everyone, but they knew that as a community, they were better off living in a world where they can talk to one other without fear of being struck down. And they knew that as a community, they must always make sure that everyone is respected, and they knew that though they didn’t always agree, a true community cannot survive if they live in fear of each another.

The things that came out of the caves went back to the caves. Sometimes, though, they discovered that the things in the caves were not harmful after all. And so those things from the caves remained in the light, freed from darkness. And the people thrived.

Transcendence

I have been a fan of musical theater for decades now. I have seen shows in my hometown, in New York, in the movies and in television. The last five years gave the world at least two truly great musicals – Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. In the tumult of today, I often sit back and just listen to these shows. And many others.

I didn’t really listen to the whole Hamilton soundtrack until the show started streaming in Disney Plus. The first act was great. The acting, the songs, the story was just a treat. The second act, though, was incredible. And then there was this song, this moment in the show that made me realize that this is a show that all of us needs to see. Not just for the incredible cast, the incredible songs, the incredible performances. For me, this song is transcendent.

The beauty of this song is not just the melody or the voices that sing it. We all make mistakes and we all have regrets. And yet, in the midst of the sadness there was no recrimination. Instead, it talks about the loss, sacrifice, forgiveness and love. A beautiful tune and in the sadness of it all, hope and love.

Thank you Renee Elise Goldsberry. Thank you Philippa Soo. Thank you, Hamilton cast and singers. And thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. Truly amazing.

The Forgotten Virtue

We are living in interesting times. Uncertain times. Volatile times. I read the stories about protests, destruction, the lack of leadership, the blame shifting, the marginalization of people that someone does not agree with, the marginalization of people because they look different than the familiar. Unsettling, convulsive, stressful. Words that we choose not to use somehow are words that we must use. What is happening? Why is this happening? What can we do to make our world the world that we like to live in, the one we are comfortable in?

The answers may not always be pleasant, and no one person, not one group, not one party, not one nation has all the answers to the questions that we ask. And yet, there are so many of us who want to tell others that our solution is THE solution. Shout down the words and ideas of those that I feel are unimportant. What matters most is what I believe, what I feel, what I see. There are great injustices in the world that must be corrected. This time, it is my time, our time to change the world for the better. To the world that I see. To the world as it should be. History has shown us that men are evil, that nations were built with pillars of hatred and oppression.

In many ways, there is a lot of truth to what is now being said. For too long, people refused to acknowledge that our world has not been fair, that justice has not always been just, that even a society that longed for freedom, that a nation established in search of freedom was not always free. At least not for a great many of its people. From the men and women who roamed freely for thousands of years, suddenly torn from their lands, pushed westward, herded into spaces that offered nothing but a bleak future. For those who survived. The cries of the wolf, of the bear, the cayote, the buffalo, mixed with cries indistinguishable from our own. If people would only listen.

I cannot imagine what life was like for those who marched the trail of tears. I cannot imagine what life was like for a man or woman, torn away from one continent, to arrive at another and live a life of destitution, helplessness, treated as yet another item in one man’s inventory, to be used, to be abused. Somehow, people allowed their worse instincts to guide their life. Even people with noble ideals became a prisoner of their own sense of righteousness, forgetting that all men and women are intrinsically part of the same human family. Greed, hatred, a myriad of reasons assured a life of suffering for too many Americans.

And so, with all the things in the past, we must be ready to break with all the things the past represented. Some say that ideals tainted by human frailty are not ideals at all. All the accomplishments of flawed men and women are worthless and should be relegated to the dustbins of history. We will not tolerate those transgressions. We live, after all, in a different time, a more enlightened time, a time with possibilities that allow us to remove the vestiges of everything that offends us. We are their betters. We demand justice. We demand so many things. Hatred must be a thing of the past. No one from the past is worthy. The sins of one, the sins of many are the sins of all. Recrimination abounds. The mantra of the emboldened rule the airwaves, if not our lives. We can make this a better world. We will make a world in the image that we see fit. Those who do not agree, well, they are throwbacks to that evil past. They are to be ostracized, criticized, demonized. A new collective has risen, with all the answers. There is only one truth and those who disagree will be shamed to submission. It is the price that people must pay for a the new world order. Where freedom is extended to all who believe. And woe to those who dare think to be different. There is only one truth, and it is our truth. Oppose us and you will be deemed an enemy of modernity, of truth, justice, and the new world that is being created.

Sometimes, I look at the world and I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I didn’t pay much attention to my high school reading back then, but it seems to me that The Scarlet Letter can still teach us something today. Lessons about our humanity and our impulses. Hester Prynne was shamed for having an affair. Instead of withering in the midst of universal condemnation, Hester lived a life that refused to bend to the societal pressures imposed upon her. Her quiet dignity in the face of attacks from the self righteous allowed her to grow, to find her self worth, to understand that her weaknesses and failures did not define her. It was this ability to learn, to seek improvement, on her own terms, that gave her life meaning. Centuries ago, Hawthorne gave a lesson that many seem to have forgotten. A life lived with a sense of right and wrong is better than a life of self righteousness.

We as a society seem more than happy to be the tools for creating a new gulag. We happily parrot the ideas and beliefs of those who want to think for us, who thrust their ideas upon the world as if their ideas alone are right. That their solutions are the only solutions. That being part of a whole, unwavering in commitment, unquestioning in demeanor, is the only way to live one’s life. I am reminded of some of the ideas put forth by Raymond Kurzweil a few years ago. The singularity is here. Common thought for a common action. Individuality is not needed in the collective. We are part of the greater whole, a world where man and machine become one, where an individual’s contribution to society becomes nothing more than a machine assigned chore. Today’s apparatchik are precursors to tomorrow’s hive mind. While today the self righteous leaders insist in homogeneity of thought and intent, tomorrow’s cybernetic overlord will be no less benign and just as sinister. A single orthodoxy, created by a new breed of enlightened men and women, is here to save the world. Embrace it. Or else.

We need to acknowledge that diversity is what gives humanity its strength. Different abilities, different interest, different ideas, different beliefs. All grounded by a virtue that seems to be forgotten. The virtue of humility. If you believe that you are unworthy and not important, then your desire to subjugate others will probably not be very strong. Without the desire to impose your will or your ideas on others, you may find merit in something that someone else believes in. Or at least have an idea why that person believes in it. If you open your mind to the infinity of ideas that people can share with each other, you can begin to understand that we are a global community of individuals capable of doing things with a sense of selflessness. When no one man or woman is important, we understand that we are all important.

With humility, you can temper hate. With humility, you begin to understand that the differences among us can be enlightening. The humble does not seek to dominate but to serve. If each of us serves the other, which of us is the slave, which of us is the master? We can learn so much from one another. We humans are imperfect and will always be. And yet, we must not allow the imperfections to justify cruelty, intransigence, hatred.

Nelson Mandela allowed his sense of self to be subsumed by humility. In so doing, he helped begin the healing of a nation. In his quiet dignity, we saw what true strength really is. Humility. Forgiveness. And love.