Andy's Hope

Andy's Hope

There is a particular thing that can happen with people and pictures, and I’ve seen it enough that I have learned that when it happens, it is always important to follow it down. Every so often someone will see a picture, and it will mean something to him, something he feels deeply. This happened last week with my cousin’s husband Andy.

I showed him a series of pictures, so many of my tried and true pictures that had been in shows and where I had already done large commissions, and then almost offhandedly, I showed him another series.  I only thought of them because they came from Barn Island, which is in Pawcatuck, Connecticut, not far from Andy’s home.  He went right to one picture.  He said, “That’s the one I want.  It gives me hope and transcendence.”  So I was like, ”Well, if it does that for you, then you’ve got to have it.”

So I set out to make a large print for him.  And you might like to know, that with pictures like that on the equipment I use it’s not the same as going to CVS and having some snapshots printed.  It takes a lot of time.  I used special watercolor paper, which meant I needed special procedures.  Then I made a series of small trial images.  Then when I thought I had it right, I printed a big one.  I have to say that doing this is very stressful and also very fine.  I have a printer the size of a piano, and it’s got many colors of ink that run through little clear tubes and the print head swishes back and forth and there is a vacuum that holds the paper to the roller and the whole thing is very high tech and when it gets running I feel like a nerdy master of the universe.  And then I wait to see it printing, which is kind of thrilling but also I’m never quite sure that it’s perfectly right, so then I poke my nose up where the print comes out to watch it coming inch by inch while I wait and inspect and suffer.  And then I see the whole thing and I’m still not sure I think I should try it again with slightly different settings.  And so I do that.  And then in this case I call my cousin (Andy’s wife) and I study and ponder and I am torn between what I feel about the picture and what I think Andy might like and then I think and think and finally decide to try what I should have tried to begin with, because I really should know this by now.  And that is to trust my own instincts.  And then I finally decide to print it one more time.  And then I let the pictures dry, in this case with this paper it takes 24 hours, and then I visited the pictures several times in different light and then I called my cousin Liz again. 

 

Then I had my own clarity about how the picture was supposed to be which was that it should be as true as possible to how it actually was that morning, and also balanced, very balanced.  Because it turned out that the best thing about this picture was if I wanted to look at the drama of the morning sun and the shadows in the clouds I could do that.

And if I wanted to look at the subtle rosy mists and wisps of fog, I could do that too. 

I mean, it could be my choice.  Because this picture had pictures inside of pictures.  There were sparkles on the water or the little bits of seaweed.  There were fine lacy branches that blurred into the fog.  And colors in the sunrise that were deeper in the water than they were in the sky.  There was something everywhere. 

The picture wouldn’t tell me where to look, I could decide.  It was my point of view that showed me the picture, and my point of view could be different every day.  No matter what was happening I could always have something to find in the picture.  That was the surprise and the learning of that picture and I finally saw it, that this picture was like it is in photography or in life in general.  I mean, we’re always out there choosing from all there is to see - the light and the dark, the detail and the drama.  That’s when I became satisfied that the picture was finished and when I felt that it was ready for Andy. 

If it wasn’t for Andy and his affinity for this picture, I never would have picked it out for a large commission, I never would have struggled with it, never would have learned these things.  And I was so glad I had my cousin Liz, so that as we have done since childhood, we could go through another something together.  The picture now hangs in Andy’s office.  It will remain as a point of connection or meaning or beauty or hope, something he notices on some days more than others, something that Andy wanted, something that is different for Andy than it is for me, and that is just how it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capturing Moments

 
 

We went up to the Albany area to visit our family for Bill’s birthday.  Long story short, Bill got pneumonia and instead of having a party, we wound up in the emergency room at the hospital.

They gave us a bed in a cubby right away, but it we didn’t get up on a regular floor until two o’clock in the morning.  The curtains were drawn while we waited, but we could still hear all the people around us. First, there was a baby crying.  Then someone was asking an elderly woman if there was anyone at home who could help her.  Then a young man had been wrestling with his friends and had dislocated his shoulder. 

I found that young man to be kind of wonderful because his friends came with him, one on each side, helping him balance and holding his arm and his shoulder at an angle.  And because he had the luxury of doing ridiculous things to his body.  And because he was so cheerful about it... because it was just another adventure in a world where he could still imagine that he would always be strong and healthy.

I like to remember these people.  I bring them to mind in fading snips and fragments. I think of the baby and hope that she is better.  And I hope the old lady’s sister or someone has come down from Schenectady or somewhere.  And I hope that the young man’s shoulder has improved and that he and his friends are cheerfully, blithely out and about, getting themselves into trouble.

I think that my pictures are kind of like it was that night, kind of like listening in.  I like to think that every picture I've taken is part of a bigger story, one that expands in every direction, and one that still continues.  I mean for example, that the little bird at the top of this blog post is still out there somewhere.  I hope so.

And the swans in this picture are still in Sachem Pond, except as I write it's very cold and I know they are hunkered down, conserving their strength and facing into the wind. 

 

And this boat is still swinging on its mooring. 
 

And the winter night that was so still and silent is beginning to turn into spring.

And this dock still stands while the tide keeps rising and falling.

And we’re home again and Bill is better, and we're very happy to be here.  And I keep taking pictures, which help me to notice and remember, imagine and hope. 

As a story unfolds in the vast space that holds everything.

 

 

Being Fine

So I took Molly to the vet because she had a little limp.  The vet, a very experienced and wonderful guy by the way, did not want to do a biopsy, so as not to disturb what was likely to be a tumor, but we made a date to have it removed and biopsied at that time.  When he started the surgery, the whole thing went sideways, as the tumor began to explosively bleed.  They had a hard time stabilizing Molly so that I could drive her to a bigger, emergency veterinary place.  Then we had to choose, and this was very dicey, protracted and unclear as we went through it at the time, whether to put her down or take off her leg.  

We took off her leg.  Meantime, Bill was sick at home and also my knee went out, ironically, in the corresponding place to Molly’s problems, so that gave me the opportunity to sit around, worry about Molly, listen to Bill have trouble breathing, look up stuff about the election on the internet and think about death.

After a few days of this I began to realize that this was possibly not the most helpful approach to our situation. So I hopped around and put up some Christmas ornaments.  I also began to explore what I have begun to explore a lot lately, which is the answer to this question:  What does it for me?  I mean, what really works, and I’m sorry but there is no other way to put this, when things start to suck the way they have been sucking lately?

I realized I had to accept the worst thing that could happen to Molly, and I began to do that.  And then I worked on my pictures a little.  And this is the thing I want to say.  It is not the pictures themselves that help me the most, but it is what they imply.  They point to completeness and coherence in nature and to completeness and coherence in life in general.  There’s a way I get to feel it, a way it lives in my body.  Then I can know some light or joy or energy in being, not because of anything that is happening or not happening at the moment, just in being itself.  That’s what helps me sometimes, and even when it doesn’t help, I mean, even when I can’t feel it, I can still remember.

The biopsy results came back and it turns out the decision to take Molly’s leg was a good one.  It is the only thing that could possibly prevent the recurrence of the cancer and she has a reasonable chance.  And she is doing well.  She has a new red sweater to keep her warm where they shaved her for the operation.  Her beautiful eyes are clear and bright. The other day, she chased after another dog, actually ran, forgetting about her missing leg until she suddenly tipped over, but yesterday when she did the same thing again, she stayed upright.  She is getting homemade, organic, grass-fed, high-protein food, with special supplements, and why not?  And Bill is better and I am better.  And Molly loves to rest her head on Bill’s shoulder and gaze into his eyes.  So my dog and my husband are having an affair, and this is alright with me.  And our friend Rich and Kevin and Emily and their families are coming for the holidays. 

So my heart is sending this wish to your heart.  May you feel some energy and wholeness of being through the holidays and in the coming year, and may this carry you and give you some joy.

 

 

 

Wings

Our good friend Rich Field runs all over the world doing legal work.  He is also a fine performer and appreciator of many kinds of art.  After my last post, he wrote to say that my birds reminded him of a dance performance he had seen a few years ago.  This performance included the poem, "Wings", by Susan Stewart.  I love this poem very much and I wrote to Susan who kindly gave me permission to share it with you.  So I set myself to take some bird pictures in which I could show that flying is like dancing.  And this morning, while walking with my husband, we saw this great blue heron against a cloudy sky.  So this post is given to you with appreciation for our friend Rich, for Susan and her wonderful poem, for this bird, and for all the ways that so many human and other beings express their courage and beauty in the world.

So Much Better

There is so much to say that I don’t know how to tell you, so I thought I might start and see how this goes.  I want to say that Bill’s experience is his own and I want to acknowledge all that he has done to heal for his own sake and for ours because he has worked very hard and made many changes, and has gotten through difficult things, as he always does, with gentleness, dignity and persistence.  Now I will speak from my experience as the partner of a person who has had cancer. 

I have lived with illness before but I didn’t know about the particular ways that cancer would mess with my head.  There is a “what’s behind door number one?” aspect to it, an uncertainty where everything that matters is waiting on just a few moments when you find out about the tests.  I have always been a person who likes to think of all the possible solutions, but how do you solve problems when you don’t know what they will be?  We were in a new country, with a new language, many procedures, and new rules.  There was so much at stake but we didn’t know what was reasonable, we didn’t know what to expect.  It was hard to find our bearings.   A doctor would throw out, sometimes almost at random, a little morsel of news like, “A few weeks won’t make any difference.” and we wouldn’t know what it meant.  Of course we talked to everyone, researched everything, and made the best decisions we could make as we slowly gained information.  But I felt like a squirrel, crossing a road in traffic.  “Should we keep going?  No.  Go back.  Get another opinion?  Find a cancer center?  Not yet.  Keep going.  Wait.”   

We were off-island a lot… this is a particular thing about where we live because ferries don’t run very often in winter.  And it’s a thing about cancer in general, because there are so many parts of the body that need to be poked at and measured by various specialists… urologists, nephrologists, oncologists, anesthesiologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, vascular surgeons, and so on.  It only took a few appointments for us to be away from home for a week and a half.  So that happened several times and ferries cancelled and there were snowstorms and the power went out and Bill lost 12 pounds in January alone.  And that was before any procedures.  Then some medicine caused thrush and more weight loss and there were other issues.  Our personal favorite was that Bill had a stent running from his kidney to his bladder.  If you read about these online you will find out that they “occasionally cause some discomfort”.  What that actually meant was that Bill’s bladder was more intolerant of outsiders than Japan in the 19th century; that it freaked out, cramped up and constantly tried to dislodge whatever did not belong there.  What this meant was pain greater than that associated with childbirth and it did not respond, not even to morphine.  And Bill lost more weight.  And we finally got it under control with muscle relaxants and bladder analgesics, but it still woke Bill up every 15 minutes all night long for weeks.

And this, I have to tell you, is what can be described in the world of cancer, as a fairly easy time.  It was all in the context of what finally came to be a very good prognosis.  We could feel that we only had to keep going for a little while longer and that Bill would be fine.  We would be fine.

We learned which doctors and practitioners we could trust, and we learned how important it was to have people we could believe in.  And we had friends and family, some were in the medical profession and some had been through this journey themselves. They helped us again and again, answering questions, doing research, responding when Bill was in pain.

Bill’s children and their partners took time off from work.  They called.  They travelled long distances, sent cards and emails and videos of our grandchildren.  Bill’s son stayed by his side in the SCU for two nights in a row.  They loved.  They worried. They asked careful questions.  They offered to talk.  They faced it. 

I thought about so many friends who have carried their loved ones, stayed with them through every moment of a truly indescribable process.  I realize now, that there is a confederation of people who immediately know, who offer recognition and understanding.  I learned that there are people who will do almost anything for another cancer family.   These are the people who disagreed when I said that I felt crazy.  They said I wasn’t crazy.  They said they had felt the same way too.  They said I was taking good care of my husband.   They said to rest.  They said I could call any time.  This is what I lived on. 

I didn’t write and I only took a few pictures.  I had no big insights.  No doves flew down from heaven.  There was one time however, at about 2 in the morning, when I woke up with a very strong feeling about beauty.  I thought, “What if no one had ever been here to see it?”  It made me so sad just to think of it, a vast unconscious universe filled with lonely beauty.  And then I thought, “That has to be impossible.  There has to be a reason.”  I thought, “I want to see the beauty that I usually forget to notice.”  “And the beauty in hidden places.”  “And the beauty far away.”  And I set myself to feel my way into all that beauty.  What about that clear, deep methane ocean, for example, on that especially calm night, on that moon where the rings of Saturn splay across the sky?  With that the softest distant light, reaching down into that ocean, fading into depths and darkness?   I thought, “Why is everything so beautiful?” and then I fell asleep.  

Bill is so much better.  His stent came out last week and each night he’s gotten a little more rest.  We’re home and he’s eating and he’s gained a couple of pounds.  He’s off almost all of his medications.  Bill has always been a very smart man who has lived in a thought bubble over his head.  Well, now his body has got his attention.  He’s becoming that good habits guy, that water-drinking guy, that vegetable loving guy and pretty soon he’ll be that guy who exercises every day.  I’ve done our taxes, started getting the house ready to rent and the boat ready and I’ve started going for walks and carrying my camera and my backpack.  There are physical sensations - my camera harness across by shoulders, my backpack on my back.  It’s like putting on a favorite jacket, resuming a well-loved life.  

But I do feel a little bit changed.  I recently read an anthology of the writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel.  He was born in Warsaw, studied and wrote poetry in Vilna and had begun to write books in Berlin in the 1920’s, when he had to flee through Poland, to England, and finally to the United States.  His life declared the sensitivity, rigor and richness of his Hasidic lineage, and his words reflected both the depth of his Jewish identity and his secular study in Vilna and Berlin.  He said a wonderful thing.  He said that people could let their souls and the sky be silent together. 

Let our souls and the sky be silent together.  Isn’t that perfect?   I mean, the silence part is excellent.  But what I like most at this particular time is the part about being together.  So that’s how I want to take pictures, to understand that what ever it is I’m taking, that we are actually together.  Me and the sky, me and the river, me and the ocean, me and the stones, me and the trees and the birds and the rain on the window and the new spring buds and grasses.  

When I put my mind on something, I turn it in every direction, live inside it, gnaw at it.  I seldom put it down.  I’ve been putting my mind on cancer.  It will be good for me to think about beauty for a while. 

Do you know what I think right now about beauty?  I give myself to beauty and it gives itself to me.  Everything feels intimate when I’m in my beauty.  And where ever I go, I know that beauty will always be there.  It’s a call notice, a call to come closer.  It’s the opposite of thinking that I could ever be alone.  Beauty is here already.  It’s mine whenever I open my eyes, or even when I imagine.  But the way I craft my life from the beauty I’ve been given - that is up to me.  Here is another good quote from Rabbi Heschel, “Remember…that there is meaning beyond absurdity.  Know that every deed counts.  Every word is power… Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art…” (1) 

I want to thank you for reading my blog, for taking time out of your life to do so.  I don’t know if I could form my thoughts if you weren’t there to read them.  I have deep respect and good wishes for you.  May we all claim our freedom.  May we all know our beauty.  May we so build our lives. 

PS.  I want to explain to you about these pictures.  I took out a picture from the last blog and I worked on it in Photoshop so that it was half way between a photograph and something I could imagine.  And then I picked out certain sections to show you.  It helps me to do this sometimes, because it removes the fog of what I take for granted... there is underlying structure, the way that light touches everything, the way it all fits together.  And looking more closely helps me see the beauty I missed before.  I've been looking at these pictures all morning, and it's like I've fallen into them, looking at all their little secrets.  It has started to make me happy.  If I had to put words, I would say something like, "I see you.  I see you."  

I'm pretty good at soldiering on, and the harder things become in my life, the less I directly feel about them.  But when I'm returning to this kind of beauty, my heart begins to get lighter.  I can rest from all that we've been through in a context that I trust, where I have learned again and again that there is more to beauty than I think, that it points to even more beauty and even perhaps to ultimate safety beyond what I can perceive.

(1)  This quote is from the book, "I Asked for Wonder, A Spiritual Anthology, Abraham Joshua Heschel".  It was edited by Samuel H. Dresner.   The publisher is The Crossroad Publishing Company, 370 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY, 10017.  The quote is on page ix.   I happen to have an older version of the book but it's still in print and you can get it on Amazon or probably some other bookseller.

Beauty Now

I haven’t been writing because something has come up and I wasn’t sure when to tell you, but I want you to know that my husband Bill was diagnosed in January with cancer.  

It’s been quite the clarifying process as I’m sure you can imagine, and I am going to try to limit myself to saying just a few things about it, with special respect for people who have been through something like this themselves, and who already know everything that I could possibly say about it.

It’s like someone said, “In three weeks, we’re going to give you both a million dollars or else we’re going to blow your heads off.  We haven’t decided.  And in any case we lost your file (because that actually happened).  But, oh wait.  We changed our minds.  In five weeks, or maybe in seven weeks we’ll tell you - a few weeks won’t make any difference.” 

So what could we do with news like that?  What could we do after we had done everything we could do to affect where that most important ball in that giant pinball machine might fall?   After there was nothing left inside of me, sometimes, except for silence?  Well then, I listened to that silence - that is all that I could do, all I wanted to do.

I don’t think that ever in my life before, when faced with anything, I have ever said, in quite this way, “I really can’t do this.”   Well, I can’t do this.  But I have found that there are people who have gathered, weaving themselves into a net.  And some have been through things like this themselves and they are wise and very strong.  It makes me proud, Donald Trump notwithstanding, to be a human being.  Because I see how this is an instinct, how people want to be there for us, how they feel with us, how they actually need to help.  It gives me hope for all of us.

I look at my life and my marriage with Bill and I realize that someday, one of us will bury the other.  And this might be trite, but you know all that stuff that I thought was important?  It’s not important.  Then other stuff is very important, like the ways in which we protect and carry each other, how we both have needed that in very different and specific ways, and how we fit together like pieces in a puzzle. I think we have been gifts for each other, and we have both become more ourselves in the years we have been together. 

And I like to remember that everything that has ever happened between us, everything that’s happening now will always be true forever.

I go around like everything is fine, even when there is a lot to deal with, especially when there is a lot to deal with.  But I was at the fish hatchery and for some reason I just felt like I wanted to see the river, even though I really didn’t have the time.  So I thought, “OK, just for a minute,” and I went down.  And as soon as I saw the river, I started to cry.  Because there it was.  And I was so glad for the many times I have gone to take its picture because I realized that we have gotten to know each other, and that it has become my friend.  And I set an intention right then for taking my pictures.  I said I would never think that anything was an object to be taken, even to show its beauty.  I said that pictures are a way to be in a relationship.  I said that nature deserves this and that a picture taken any other way, at least for me, is porn.

While we were at my mother’s house in Moosup, we had a blizzard and the power went out.  It was getting cold in the house and I had to get Bill to some place warm.  So our niece came to get us with her four-wheel drive just as the snow was ending and we were getting into her car.  And I saw the sun break through and I asked if they minded if I ran and got my camera.  And so I took some pictures of the trees in our yard.  You know, they are just trees.   They aren’t in Block Island where everything is widely known to be gorgeous.   But I used to climb one particular tree when I was a child.  I used to sit on one particular branch and lean my head and feel the rough bark and see the green leaves and I just loved to sit there because it was my place and my refuge.  I realized it had been so long, almost 50 years, since I had spent any time with that tree.  But I saw that the tree was still there and that I still had a chance to thank it and love it properly. 

And when I got into the car I was worried that I had taken too long but both Bill and our niece said, “Oh, we didn’t mind.  We didn’t mind at all.  Aren’t they beautiful?”  And they were, and especially so because they had put on their diamonds for us.  Then I thought how I never have to be in an officially beautiful place to take a beautiful picture, because the beauty is everywhere and it is also inside of us because that’s how we are able to see it. 



Good Ones

Sometimes I think about the fact that I’ve been taking wave pictures, primarily here on Block Island, for more than 10 years.  I go out a lot and on any given day I’ll take somewhere between 400 and 1000 pictures.  I go out when ever I am able.  That’s a lot of wave pictures. 

I ask myself whether I will get sick of them, or whether it would be more fun to take pictures in Hawaii for example, or in the Bahamas.  I’m certainly up for that, but I want to tell you what it’s like, time after time.  Here, in this place.  I go out and it's hot or cold or in between.   The waves are enormous with an impact so deep and powerful I feel it in the ground and against my whole body.  Or not.  They are blowing back.  Or not.  They are coming in orderly rolls, or thrashing around like soapy water in a washing machine.  Their color is grey or black or green or blue or purple or silver or red or golden.  The wind is blasting with sand or it’s lightly brushing my skin and bringing the scent of roses.  Their crests are like soft cotton or they are carrying diamonds. 

I would say that even after all the years, there are times when I get to see waves like I’ve never, ever seen them before.  But that’s not the most important thing… I mean, that’s pretty interesting but that’s not the reason I love them. 

I know there have been a lot of changes lately.  A lot of us have lost things that we dearly love.  I have come to feel that when that happens, when we lose something big, we actually have to disintegrate inside for a little while.  It’s as if we have to reshape our lives, make our lives over again.  I think that grieving is physical.  It’s a time for resting, and for going down as deep as you can and knowing what you love.  You know, it’s like that butterfly thing… the caterpillar actually liquefies inside.  All its organs turn into mush in order to reorganize. 

I think that loss is part of what makes us beautiful and wonderful, makes us true human beings.   It takes time, but I think that life is built for that, we are built for that, and healing forces come.   Sometimes it helps me to be transparent, I mean, to just let the energies of life keep moving in me, as unobstructedly as possible.  Like water.  Like waves in the water.

There is nothing better for me than to see the ocean crashing around, or more to feel it - to let that power and energy get a hold of my body.  It comes to me, it blows right into me and through me.  It gives me something I need.

These are some good waves taken at the end of October, just after a storm passed by.

Great White Egret

We've brought the boat back from the island to the mainland for the winter.  I decided to stay here with Molly for the rest of the week so that we could get used to our new lives together, so that I could give her some time. 

It's quieter now that the season is winding down.  We are in a slip at the dock and that's easier than out on a mooring.  There are certain conveniences, like abundant electricity (!) and running water (!) and heat (!) whenever we want it.  We can look out and see the water and the sky and the boats moving along in the channel.  It's night right now.  There are lights on the docks and those reflect on the water so that everything is softly illuminated.  It's very quiet and I love that very much, but the best thing is there are Great White Egrets that come to fish in the morning.  They come before the sun breaks over the village of Noank, so the rocks are still in shadow, and the egrets, because they're so white, seem to glow on their own, a little. 

An egret can wait for hours without moving but in the first few pictures this one was fishing and moving around.  It's hard to see but there is a fish in her beak in the third picture down from here.  Then she settled down and was preparing to wait, and I was preparing to wait with her.  Then a cat made its way down the rocks, just out of the frame of the pictures.   I realized it would make her fly.  That was handy for me because I wanted to catch her wings open, but I have a general policy of not disturbing wildlife.  If the cat did it, however, who was I to complain?

I pretend sometimes.  It's a game I play with myself when I'm taking pictures, especially with someone like this bird, to see how far I can go in feeling her life... until I can stand on my own long legs, can wait and wait with my yellow eyes watching, can suddenly stab my whole head into that cold water, can feel that fish wriggling as it slips down my throat, can have my strong breasts, can wrap myself up in the cloak of my great wings, can lift them and can fly.  I can imagine myself with her mind, a mind made only to know her things.  I can do all of that just a little bit.  I like to do that very much, to feel and know that there are so many ways of being in the world.  It opens up my way.

I see how much I like the layers of convenience that I as a human being, have built all around myself.  But the egret's body is her only safety and almost all of her shelter.  I see how she's reflected on the surface of the water.  I wonder if she sees herself, and if she knows that she is beautiful.

Because she is so beautiful.  That's the main thing I love to know about her.

60

I thought this might be interesting for you, just for something different.  You'll see a picture of grasses below.  This picture is the same one, only with just the heads of the grasses picked out.  I like the purple color of the grasses that I might not have noticed in the mix with everything else.  I like it that such small things can be as elegant and beautiful as anything else.  I love it that nature doesn't measure out its bounty.  It doesn't look for anyone to notice.  It makes the beauty anyway.

We moved out of the house on my 60th birthday.  I had tried to plan so it would not be a heavy move-out day but there is a law of nature that applies especially to summer rental.  It takes exactly as much time as you have. 

When people asked me what I did for my birthday and I said we moved out of the house, they said, “You must be pretty good at it by now.”  Well, that’s true, more or less.  We’ve been doing this for 17 years.  We now have a whole system of boxes that go into the basement, out to the studio and onto the boat.  The dogs have learned that the most important things in our lives are boxes.  They know that we love and follow our boxes.  They have learned this so well that they plant themselves in the car as soon as the boxes come out because they know that big things are happening and they don’t want to be left behind.  They actually refuse to go back into the house until they see the boxes come with us.   

Our lives have a seasonal and nomadic quality, which takes planning and energy.  I keep trying to learn how to do it better.  I have developed a habit of watching how people work.  We have a friend named Larry, and he is without exception, the most productive person I have ever seen.  One time, I asked him to build a little display table for me for the Gallery.  I came back 15 minutes later, and he had materialized a beautiful little pedestal table, with beveled edges and finely fitted pieces of wood.  Judging from that, I’d say he could build a kitchen full of custom cabinets in about a day and a half.  The thing about Larry, and this is what amazes me, is that he never appears to be trying. I think he has worked so long and hard that he carries his knowledge in his whole body.  He doesn’t push himself.  He never hurries.  He doesn’t waste a motion.  The energy seems to well up in him, matched to whatever he is doing.  He organizes everything, down to the way he keeps his van, the way he eats, the way he packs his clothes.  He just turns on his music and off he goes. He rests well, at the beginning and middle and end of each day. He doesn’t get side tracked.  He paces himself.  He does only so much, which is plenty.  I asked Larry to tell me how he works and he doesn’t have a philosophy about it.  He said he used to run around like a crazy person.  He said he never got much done and he never made any money.  He said one day he just decided to make things as easy for himself as possible.

Larry’s work is always fine and clean and beautiful and it’s beautiful to watch him.  I’ve learned from him, the way I’ve learned from photography, that the greatest gift is the ability to pay attention. I think that skill and balance and order and energy and integration and beauty are connected to paying attention; that if I pay attention, all of these things can follow. 

After we finished moving out, we went to the mainland and stayed with my mother and brother.  My mom loves to watch “Fox News”.  I also read a book called “Zen at War”, about Zen’s ideological participation in World War II, including that of esteemed patriarchs in many of the major Zen lineages that have now come to this country.

I thought a lot about whether the role of these teachers made any difference, whether they were leading or following the charge.  They were in a military dictatorship after all, and the emperor was absolute Lord.  There were some Zen folks who opposed the war and they were imprisoned, beaten and killed.  But both the Japan story and Fox News got me all worked up about how ideology and power can work together to create such spectacular suffering, about how it can happen in any culture, about how it distorts the best things, about how it takes so much from people and always betrays them in the end.  It didn't make me feel any better when I learned that the people in Japan starved for another four years after the war was over, primarily because of corruption. 

I thought of a time about 16 years ago.  I was working in Japan, and I took some time to visit and stay at a number of Zen monasteries, including Eihieji, Hoshinji and Myoshinji, some of the founding monasteries in the Soto and Renzi traditions.  I also stayed at one small monastery, a wonderful place that was also a sort of youth hostel.  One day, the head monk had us all dress up in monk’s clothes and go into town for a traditional Japanese begging excursion.  I had been specifically instructed not to say anything, especially not to say “Domo arrigato goziamus”, one of the few Japanese phrases I used all the time, which means, “Thank you very much, indeed.”  But an old woman came out from behind her house to give much more than the small change that people normally gave.  She was sobbing.  All I could do was thank her and imagine her life, imagine what had happened to her in the war, imagine what it meant for her to give so much to an American Zen student.

So after I worried and pondered and enlightened my husband about all of this I went out to the fish hatchery to take a few pictures.  I told myself this was not the time to analyze the problems of the human race.  I told myself to slow down.  I said it was time to rest.  I said I was going out, not to hunt for pictures but to gather them to me, not to spend energy but to restore it and take it in.

Here's the whole picture.

Here are new leaves reaching.

I liked the morning.  I liked the cool, dewy light.  I liked to see the shoots curling and reaching, the tiny leaves unfurling. I liked that all the green still looked as new and fresh to me as it did at the beginning of spring.  I went back to see where the river had been boiling out from under a log the last time and I knew it would still be boiling.  I took its picture five different ways to see if I could match the speed of the camera to the speed of my sight.  I liked what was happening in nature. I liked what would burst out in big and small ways in every possible direction.  I liked how it was closer to the truth of everything.

And the same stretch of river that I put in the blog this spring.  This time, the leaves have filled in and the river is reflecting more green.  This picture was taken at 1/1250th of a second.

Here is another picture of the same river, except this one is taken at 1/10th of a second.  This is more accurate to the way my eyes know the fast moving river... a little more blurred together.

A blue heron in flight at the fish hatchery.  I usually feel fine about taking pictures of these heron because all the fish at the hatchery keep them happy and fed all the time.  Also, there are so many people that come to the hatchery, fishing or walking through, often with their dogs, so I assume they are used to us.  But I've been worried about the heron and their diminishing numbers.  I've wondered if they've had to defend themselves against the Eagles or the Osprey.  This is the first time I've seen a heron with so many missing feathers - the signs perhaps, of a fight.  When I saw that, I stopped taking pictures.  I stopped walking toward the trees where they were resting.  I wanted to leave them in peace.   (As an aside, that blurry smudge at the end of the heron's wing is a swallow, out of focus in the distance.)

I need my times when I can dwell in all the beauty, to see it again and again until I finally decide to trust it.  This is how I rest.  It’s better for me than anything else I do.

I like that it doesn’t belong to any institution, but that it does belong to me and to everyone else, equally and without qualification.  I’m 60 years old now.  I’ve have studied a lot of things and lived a lot of lives.  No one can tell me that I haven’t meditated long enough or that I don’t believe the right things.  No one can tell me that I’m not saved or enlightened or good enough or ready or that I don’t have the right politics or the privilege of knowing what I  know or feel or need.  I know enough about things that can’t be twisted or betrayed or broken.  I know that I belong on this earth and that my life and life itself are the same thing.  I know that life will always care for itself, yearn for itself and make itself into beauty.

Early evening and light fog in Rodman's Hollow.

The Hollow and the dimming light beginning to glow in the fog.  Wilson and Molly need this too.

The Hollow that night.



 


A Place to Stand

What if nature makes no judgments, has no worries, carries no regrets?  What if everywhere, in everything, all the energy from the sky and earth goes into making life happen?   I look out my window at the shad and the blackberries and at all of the scrubs and vines that densely intertwine in our maritime climate.  Where they were bare and frozen just over a month ago, their shoots are suddenly shining through all the tangles and prickles in all of their new, green glory.  That’s where the energy is going.

I, on the other hand, forget this.  I habitually put my energy into forming extraneous concerns.

For example,  I mailed the big lens back to Canon a week ago, this past Monday.  That is, the $11,000 lens I had borrowed under the Canon Professional Services Program with the promise to get it back to them on time.  I used priority, registered mail.  So the lens got to Boston (it was going to Virginia) and sat there for a day and a half.  I went on line and tracked it, sometimes every five minutes.   I called the US Postal Service customer “help line.”  I encountered one of those automated phone systems carefully designed to be a blank wall.  I got mad.  I called again.  Called again.  Called again, until the system finally hung up on me.  I drew conclusions about the entire federal government and the direction of everything in general.   I voiced my opinions to my husband, painting a picture of a future where everything will exist at the pleasure of an infinitely obstructive and impersonal machine.  I considered moving to Alaska and living off the grid. 

The lens was still in Boston on the day that it was due. I called our postmaster who carefully explained that registered mail is secure enough to carry gold bullion; that each package is handled like a precious child of the universe and kept under lock and key; that the 2 – 3 day promise in this context or should we say, "estimate," means… (she said this more professionally but this was the gist of it)… nothing.  Our postmaster went out of her way to care about my problem, even to the extent of researching and calling me back with more information, but could not do anything about it.   I finally called Canon.  I explained the situation and they understood.  In fact, they were extremely nice about it.  They looked at the tracking number and said that it was clear I had mailed the lens in plenty of time.  They said not to worry.  They said (exact words), “no harm, no foul.”  They gave me an extension.  

Problem?  Solution.  I could have skipped all those hours, all that head banging, all that smoke and steam in between.

So I set an intention to preserve and protect my precious state of mind.  I thought of the pure life energy pouring and running through everything.  I said, “It is there for me as much as it’s there for the blackberry bushes in my yard.”  I said, “As vast as it is, it’s completely generative and completely intimate and personal, exactly the opposite of the electronic call-in system of the US Postal Service.”  I said, “I will be calm.  I will skip all the fretting and stewing.  I will match the world.  I will put my energy completely into life-affirming action.”

So do you know what happened next?  I got back to my car with my dogs, in the rain, and could not find my car keys.  I reminded myself that my life was not at stake but I got upset anyway.  I cleaned the car, combed the brush and grasses around the car, re-hiked the entire hike I had just finished.  I finally found them in a strange spot where I think Molly, my golden retriever, had put them.  I also got upset about something with the summer rental of our house.  Then got upset because a good friend is sick.  Then my cousin was upset so I got upset for her sake.  Then I got upset, just because I was so upset about so many things at once. 

Then I worked on my pictures.

I saw how this blue heron let the wind pass through and ruffle her feathers to slow her down for landing.

And how she landed in between the branches without poking her eyes out or skewering her wings.

And how she flew through the shadows with the open field and the luminous leaves in the distance behind her.  And I thought that seasons have always changed like this, that light has always shown through new green shoots, and that birds have always flown like this, since primordial days.

And that is how I calmed down. 

I know it is one thing to aspire to a state of mind and another to achieve it.  I'm glad to have found this practical, physical thing I can do that works for me, this thing that brings me to such peace and wonder.  This doesn't change my circumstances, I mean, we all have things to be upset about, but it does give me a foundation of trust in the natural world, and that gives me a place to stand. 

PS.  These pictures were taken with my regular equipment because the extra special super amazing lens was already glacially working its way back to Canon.  I had been to this same place with that lens the week before and the heron were nowhere to be found. 

I don't want to talk about it.

 

 

 

Perfect

I went to the inner ponds of Great Salt Pond and a Great White Egret had come.  I watched as she stood waiting in the grasses, and then stretched, and stabbed, and got her long narrow fish for breakfast.  Every time.  She never failed.

When I watch the birds, I see how perfect they are for all that they have to do.  Their eyes, their beaks, their legs, and of course every feather. They open their wings and the feathers just follow, perfectly formed and fit and open and working together.  They know what to do, simply by being in their bodies.  Should they fish for a living or take up photography?  They don’t ask those kinds of questions. 

It’s different for us humans.  What if a long time ago, someone just built us and dropped us off and said, “We’ll leave you all here on this winter day.  All the other animals will have bodies suited to their survival.  They will have claws, and strength and speed and teeth and wings.  That will be enough for them, but not for you.  If you go out in this weather you’ll be dead in no time.  So you’ll have to figure it out.  Have a nice day, and I’ll be watching to see how you make out.  It should be quite a show.” 

And it was.  It is.

This was taken this past January, at dawn, from Corn Neck Road, looking toward the breakwater in Old Harbor.  With the windchill, it was 35 degrees below zero.  I had trouble getting out of the car long enough to take the picture, but if you look closely, you will see birds flying above the breakwater.

Or maybe we emerged, step by step, changing or being changed in imperceptible ways that added together to make big ways, just like any creative project.  Something moved us, chipped away at us, placed us in a merciless world and then worked out in us, a way to survive.  We became exactly as smart as our physical weakness required us to be.  And as a result, we have options.  The egret had her fish but I had my camera and I could get into my car and go home.  I could cook my dinner with fresh produce from California. 

Whenever I see the birds, I put more faith in my body.  I see I must be perfectly built for something.  So I ask myself:  “What is inherently human?  What is mine to do?”  And then I make lists.  Short list:  “To stay alive.”  Long list:  “To see, to feel, to walk, to speak, to think, to seek and wonder, to love, to learn, to rest and to build.” 

So I try to do that, and sometimes I’m surprised.  I take pictures I didn’t expect to take.  I watch thoughts I never had before make their way onto the page. Things fit together and organize themselves into concepts and patterns, as they just did right here in this unexpected sentence.  They unfold like feathers when a bird reaches out with her wings. 

Perhaps the same principle that operates in nature also operates in me.  Like, nature creates itself in birds by making beaks and feathers; in me through what happens with my hands or in my mind.  The egret is so good at getting those fishes.  I’d be good at it too if that was all I could do.  I think we make a lot more mistakes than birds, because we’re in a different experiment, pushing forward into things that haven’t been done a million times before.  If the world changes, it will take my beautiful egret a long time to make a new beak, but all I have to do is make a new idea.  This egret can stay in a certain habitat, and only at certain times of year, but I’m so flexible, so generic, I can go anywhere.  I’m free as a human, you know?

At some point, and a long time ago, someone took a saw and cut this tree down.  And the spring floods came, I'm guessing, to the Connecticut River, and this tree trunk floated on the currents and tides across Long Island and Block Island Sounds.  All those forces, all that time, and the random chance that it landed on this island.  But here is something unmistakable.  There is nothing like it... the mark of a human hand.

It makes me happy to make things.  Sometimes it feels like, “This is me.  Everything I’ve ever learned is here in this creation.”  And it might not be the best thing, but it’s true in the sense that it’s authentically from me.  Well, it’s from me and from whatever-it-is-that-moves-and-breathes-me.  It’s what we have invented in our making dance together.  Maybe it won’t be a Thing That Changes Everything, but at least it can join in the vast project of making a world that is constantly being born because everyone and everything is making that happen every minute all day long.

I know we have problems, and it’s hard to imagine what the solutions will be, but I think it is very human to solve problems, and we’re not alone in this, not alone at all, and the best solutions seem to come out of nowhere, and necessity calls them out, and I think that all of nature is behind us in this, being perfect like she always is, and because there is such need, specifically because of that need, there is no telling what will happen now.

Little Things

A new leaf.

Rodman’s Hollow was formed 22,000 years ago when melt water from the last glacier came through.  The deep hollow itself was likely formed by a giant ice chunk so big, it cut through layers of sedimentary clay, exposing a layer of sand below.  (That allowed the water to drain away and is why Rodman's Hollow is a deep, cup-shaped valley rather than a deep, cup-shaped pond.) 

I went there a few evenings ago.  I was tired.  You already know this because I’ve been going on and on in every post about how we are moving out of our house at the end of this week.

I went down into the Hollow. The sky was soft.  The light was soft.  The air was soft and down I went and I was the only person and the paths wound around and down over stones and branches, turning but always down.  And I began to look for pictures.  First I saw green leaves.  The new leaves above looked like they were coming out in order to fly away. 

And then I saw the shad buds opening…

This is shad.  Very famous on Block Island.  It fills Rodman's Hollow.  In a little while there will be so much shad in bloom that the Hollow will look like it's covered in snow.

There were layers of green… tangles leading to thickets, all in different early stages of blooming. 

These vines are dry remnants from last year’s growth, draping or falling down like hair or like a waterfall.

Here in the Hollow, I felt like a creature in my own place.  And my mind left that other world of cleaning and closets and cupboards and lists of things to do.  I didn’t hurry in this place.  I didn’t have to organize anything.  I only had the chance to notice the order that was already there. 

And of course I had Wilson and Molly with me.  Here is Molly being a good girl and coming when she is called.

I can’t tell you how much I liked this…how happy it made me, how it softly soothed and harmonized the frayed ends of my mind.  I just looked for light and focus and the path brought me deeper and deeper down.

Here is Wilson, thinking about it.  I wanted you to see the layers and layers of green in the Hollow.

There are many dramatic places on Block Island…big places to see long vistas and the ocean crashing and sparkling.  But sometimes it’s good to go where small things are happening, small leaves and blossoms in their millions and millions, coming out quietly and (almost) unnoticed in the perfection of their new green beauty.

Another new leaf.

More shad.

A stand of wind-shaped trees in the Hollow.

Looking Beyond My Agenda

This is one of my favorite birds... a Mourning Dove, also called a Rain Dove. 

I want to tell you about the equipment I borrowed through Canon Professional Services.  If I were to buy this equipment, the Canon EF 600 mm / 4.0L I.S. II USM lens would cost almost $13,000 and the Canon Digital EOS 1DX camera, would cost almost $7,000.  They were due back in Virginia this past Monday.  Canon is not kidding about this deadline because they often have other people waiting. 

The problem was we were having a blizzard.  The boats were cancelled for most of Thursday and Friday and there was no FedEx service on the weekend.  I called and was graciously given a two-day extension. On Monday, I woke in the wee hours, listening to the unexpected wind.  I was sure the boat would cancel again.  At that point, I would have done an over-night shipment, to the tune of $500, or I would have gotten in the car as soon as the boats were running, and driven to Virginia myself.  

Mercifully, the wind was from the south, which gave some shelter in the lee of the island, and the boat was able to run.   I tell you this so that you will know that having this equipment was both wondrous and terrifying. 

The camera and lens were due today.  I have been tracking them all morning.  They were delivered five minutes ago.  Phew.

Just a little fellow, pecking for seeds.  Note the narrow depth of field.  That's because this is such a huge telephoto lens and I'm taking the pictures at close range.

Having gone all around the Island with Josh and Emily and having gotten many seal pictures, I was ready for phase two.  I set up a bird blind in my kitchen, opened the window, shielded it with pillows and black plastic and set myself to the task of taking pictures of songbirds.

 

I especially wanted to catch birds in flight but they move very fast and very unexpectedly.  A bigger bird like an egret or a heron will think about it.  You’ll see a subtle motion.  They’ll stretch or fidget, make a start, and then fly.   Not these little creatures.  They are here and if you blink, they’re gone.   

 

 I took scores of pictures, waiting for this cardinal to fly.

I took scores of pictures, waiting for this cardinal to fly.

So I picked a bird and starting shooting continuously, hoping to already be in process of taking a picture when he made his move.  I sat there for two days like an addict at a slot machine, feeding in quarters, or in this case hitting the shutter button, hoping for a lucky strike.

I took two thousand pictures. That is a testament to the endless opportunity afforded in a digital environment, to the obstinate side of my personality, and also to the fact that I knew I would not have the chance to use this equipment again, any time soon. 

 

 

 

 

And he did!

Here is a series on a female cardinal, leaping before she opens her wings.

My friend Marybeth Jarrosak came over yesterday.  I showed her my pictures.  She said, “What would happen if you zoomed in on your pictures… looked a little closer?”  We did, and this is what we saw.

Just when you think you know what to expect with photography, something new can come.  It's fine to have an agenda but it's also good to look beyond it.  In this case, I was so committed to birds in flight that I didn’t see the thing right under my nose - the capacity the big lens afforded to get in close and record the details on these birds. 


2014Jan05_2930 2 blog wm.jpg

It was a good thing I had Marybeth to keep me from locking in too soon.  If she had not come over yesterday, I might have gone to my grave with the pictures already in front of me, but never looking as closely, never knowing how cool it is to see the detail and color on a female cardinal's chest, or the small grey ferns under her beak, or her very nice hairdo, or her tiny tongue. 

(I want you to see Marybeth’s websites. She has an affinity and care for every living thing.   I have seen bees and dogs and gardens relax and flourish the minute she comes into their neighborhood.  She is a wonderful photographer.  You can see her images here (at http://marybethjarrosak.wordpress.com) and can see and read more about her gardens and many other things here (at http://hammerandhoe.wordpress.com)).

Photography has enabled me to look in a lot of places and see in a lot of ways.  It has enabled me to look in a sense, at how the world is constructed. 

There has never been a single thing where I've said, "God, that's surprisingly ugly."  It has always been the other way around.  Most things have been more beautiful than I could have imagined.  There have also been things that were difficult to see, but they have had their beauty also.  I mean, because they mattered.  That's how I feel. 

In Close

My stepdaughter and her friend came to the island for the holidays.  We went out as often as we could to take pictures.  I made arrangements to borrow a special lens for a few days… a 600 mm lens that could be used with an extender, making our effective reach 1200 mm.  That’s powerful enough to make out the houses on the mainland, 13 miles away.  It allowed us to take pictures of wildlife in a resolution that I have rarely had a chance to experience.

Emily took this picture from very far away.  (By the way, when photographers hang out together, they refer to camera lenses as "glass".  As in, "What kind of glass were you using?"  If you are a member of Canon Professional Services, you can, amazingly, borrow this lens.  Then you can casually say, "Oh, it was just the Canon EF 600 mm f/4L IS II lens."  You can be humble about it.  It's like if you said, "I was just putting my groceries into my Jaguar.  You know, the back seat is so small."

 Josh and Emily and I were taking turns using the camera.  I don't know which of us took the picture.

Josh and Emily and I were taking turns using the camera.  I don't know which of us took the picture.

I have said that every lens is like a language.  It is also like seeing with new eyes.  This is one of the things I love the most about photography.  It's great enough to have vision, but I am used to that.  Seeing through different lenses allows me to see things as if for the first time.  Maybe, in that sense, it brings me closer to seeing with the eyes of a child.  With this lens, we could get in closer, especially with wildlife, see their natural behavior without affecting them with our presence.  A high powered lens like this takes practice.  It was quite a trick to see something so far away and locate it in the viewfinder, as Emily did for the deer.  

The seals are still arriving.  We counted eight or nine near Old Harbor Point on the 31st of December and twenty-five on New Year’s Day.  They’ve come from Maine and Nova Scotia to the relative warmth, here in balmy southern Rhode Island.  I debated about using this picture of the seal with the injured face.  It's not pretty but it's true to the reality of their lives.  I remember when this first happened, years ago.  I'm glad to see this seal's resilience... it keeps coming back.  I wait for it.  They say adult seals are solitary creatures.  When I look at them fanning out like a basketball team, evenly spaced to control their territory, or resting together like this, I'm not so sure.

It's good to see them back again, to see them lounging after their travels.  I hope their smiles mean the same thing on their faces as they do on ours.  I think we'd have to have a biologist weigh in here, but I'll just say I've seen them angry and I've seen them alarmed, and their faces seem to match those emotions in a way that I can understand.  I've also seen them blissed out and napping on these cozy rocks.  They look pretty happy to me. 

 Here is a little one, able and independent after just a short time.

We went to North Light and the Coast Guard Station and Cormorant Cove and Rodman's Hollow, and to Southwest Point and Old Harbor Point.  We took pictures of deer and seals, and chickens and peacocks and turkeys.  We saw them in close because of our super cool equipment.  We did this together. 

How did I ever get so lucky?

Resolution

Namibian Desert.  The dry river bed of the Tsauchab River shows as blue and white.  The bright white areas are salt.

I found a website published by the European Space Agency.   Among many excellent things, it has a gallery of images of earth, taken from space.   (All of the images  in this post are downloaded from that site with their permission.)  Links are provided toward the end of this post. 

I love the patterns in these pictures.  They show me that nature builds patterns upon patterns in the biggest and smallest ways.  It seems…well… kind of perfect.

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Central Australia. 

You know how Steve Jobs told Apple to make circuit boards that were beautiful, even if no one was looking inside the computers?  Well, nature is like that also.  I love it that such beauty has been out there for billions of years when no one could even see it.  I love it that the beauty we now can see from way up there has the same patterns as the beauty we have always been able to see down here. 

Before there was life, there was beauty.  I have this fantasy that beauty called to consciousness…”I’m here.  Come see me.”  That’s a creation story for you.  At least it was like this:  When the first breath was taken, beauty was already here to call to our senses.  Just like the wind made seed pods and wings… it helped to make us who we are.

 

Flander's Range, Australia

Great Britain and Ireland

I know I said this in an earlier post but there is a book called “Deep Survival”.   It studies the question of why some people survive when others do not.  Let’s say someone gets caught in a rock slide.  He amputates his leg with his pocketknife and hops 15 miles down a glacier at 10 degrees below zero to safety.  How is this person different from someone who has ample water, and food and fuel, and who has survival training, and two good legs, and help nearby, who decides to sit down and die?  Here’s one difference.  According to the book, every survivor says the same thing.  “I saw moments of incredible beauty.”

Iceland

That same book said that a child under the age of seven is more likely to survive alone in the woods than an older child.  Because of instinct.  Little ones feel what they feel…. hungry…scared…cold… but they don’t abstract from there to the concepts that arise in an older person.  So when they take action, it’s directed to the fact of the matter and not to an idea about it.  They don’t over-think and complicate.  They don’t waffle. They don’t waste precious energy or time or motion.  When they are tired they sleep.  When they are cold, they crawl into a hollow spot.

North American Snowstorm.  (You can see Block Island in this picture.  Look to the east of the tip of Long Island for a tiny dot shaped like a pork chop.  It's south and slightly west of the break in the Rhode Island coast that is Narraganset Bay.  Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket are to the north and east of Block Island. This picture was taken in January, 2011.  Look very carefully for a woman with two golden retrievers.  I was probably out there taking pictures after the storm!)

I think beauty is a call to instinct…to the things we all know without knowing why.  It helps in a deep and wordless way.  It is one of the ways to nourish our souls, to give us hope and energy, to guide our direction, to keep us from giving up.  It moves us out of our heads and into the complete and integrated equipment that we all receive when we get a body… and that equipment is very fine… our minds, eyes, hearts, senses, guts, breath… all honed through millennia, all in one body… all in one life.  I would say we are perfect, also.

It's almost the New Year, and time for resolutions.  A resolution means a lot of things:  a decree, a promise, a resolve, a solution, or the power with which something can be seen.

Southern Central Romania

I’ve been thinking that this will be my resolution.  I’ll practice seeing in all the ways that humans are able to see… like for hunting, shopping, working, loving, resting, drinking in.  Seeing with my whole body.  Seeing for a short moment.  Seeing and breathing together.  Seeing right now.

Sometimes I’ll see beauty.

Algerian Sahara

I know there is more beauty in the height and depth of the universe than I will ever see, and everything large and small is made with beauty.  I trust all the things working together to make beauty without my even knowing about it. 

I can spend some time each day, let the sand blow without interference… just observe and let things happen…let nature work her patterns in my life.

 

The Palouse Region, Washington State

Golden Curves, North Central Iran's Salt Desert, Dasht-e Kavir

Kagerdlugssuaq Glacier, Greenland

Tibesti Mountains, Chad

Siberia

Nejd, Central Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula

Iceberg Alley, Labrador

The European Space Agency is generous to allow use of many of their images for noncommercial purposes.   All of the images in this post came from their site.

To go to their "Earth from Space" gallery, go to:  http://spaceinimages.esa.int/content/search?SearchText=IOW&img=1 or click here.

To go to their home page, go to:  http://www.esa.int/ESA, or click here.

Here are more pictures.  Excuse me for getting carried away.  There are so many good ones, I couldn't choose.

Rainforest and River, Brazil

Dasht-e Lut Salt Desert, Iran

Russian Far East

Heart Photography

A beautiful wave on Block Island.

 

Before I lived on Block Island, I visited for a week or two every year.  I remember the feeling of release from my home obligations and the beauty that astonished me at every turn.  But when I moved to the island, I took those obligations with me.  I found it was possible for the beauty of the island to recede into the background.  When that happened, I lost the point of being here… without the beauty, Block Island is just a place where you can’t buy gasoline after 2 in the afternoon.

The same thing happened with photography… what was utterly beautiful, surprising and new to me the first year became “same old same old” five years later.  So I began to see the different ways I could go out to take my pictures.  I could go out as a hunter, as the language used in photography suggests.  I could "shoot" or "capture" or "take" my pictures.  I could go out as a shopper, with my recipes and my list, and gather them for a specific purpose.  I could go out open, ready to discover, ready to be surprised by something new.   All these ways were available to me and all created a different experience, a different way of seeing, a different focus, and even with the same subject matter, a different picture. 

A closer view.

There is a saying, "Keep your mind where your body is."    And taking pictures from a place of being in a relationship with the landscape helps me do that.   It helps me to come out of my head and out of my agenda and into my heart.  And then, to use the old language from the poem, "The Love of Tristan and Isolde", instead of using my eyes to capture or shoot a picture, my eyes can "go reconnoitering" for my heart.  When I see in this way, I can see the same things again and again, and they're always new and I am always part of it.  The island has become more beautiful to me, more intimate, and more nourishing.  I can find my place in the landscape, not as its owner or master, but perhaps as its guest, or in a certain way, as its child.  Then I feel that I belong on the earth. 

 

 

The Love of Tristan and Isolde

 

"So through the eyes love attains the heart:

For the eyes are scouts of the heart,

And the eyes go reconnoitering

For what it would please the heart to possess.

And when they are in full accord

And firm, all three, in the one resolve,

At that time, perfect love is born

From what the eyes have made welcome to the heart.

For as all true lovers

Know, love is perfect kindness,

Which is born – there is no doubt – from the heart and the eyes."

Guiraut de Bornelh (ca. 1138 – 1215); (From Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”)

 

 

 

 

About Beauty

Beautiful Dancers, Great Salt Pond, Block Island. 

 

People take 83% of their information in through their eyes.  And if you and I became blind, our brains would rewire to reorganize our other perceptions through our visual processing centers.  No other creature sees the way we do... in our range of light, with our focus on day time rather than night time seeing.   Do you know we've been seeing this way for at least 200,000 years?   Did you know that beauty is so important that a defining characteristic of people who have survived catastrophic events is they were able to notice beauty? 

Why is beauty so important?  We can explain the evolutionary advantage:  "We have beauty so we can find colorful things and eat them."  Or, break it into little parts:  “It is line and form and proportion, and pattern, and perspective, and color, and light."  But that says nothing about what it really means in our lives.  

What is it in beauty that satisfies and nourishes, what calms and centers and answers my questions before I can even name them, that directs my actions before even realize what I'm doing?   I cannot say, but when I am looking for faith I find it here, in a world of superfluous beauty.  The world does not have to be this beautiful.  It could look like the inside of a machine.  I know physicists are looking for a unified theory of everything.  Whatever the theory turns out to be, I know it will be beautiful.

I don't see beauty the way I want to.  I make myself too busy.    Another sunset splashes colors through the sky...another moon throws diamonds on the ocean... and I forget to notice.  Then the beauty in the world calls out to me, reminds me like I need it to:  "It's all here and everywhere.  You are more than your activity.  Stop and look."    

Then I tell myself I’ve got nothing to do but notice, and I know I belong in the world as one of its creatures.  My old habits assert themselves:  "I should take the pictures here and run and take some more over there.  What if I’m missing something?"  So I tell myself it is enough right now.  The beauty here is as awesome as the beauty over there.  This is how I am learning, by degrees, to know the fullness and depth of seeing (as only a human being can see) the beauty in the world."