the art of doing meditative nature photography

Posts tagged ‘balance’

We all shed tears after any tragedy, hurt, or loss. (In memory of Grandpa)

In memory of Otis Persons

1929-2012

Today my husband’s Grandfather passed away.

To relieve our sadness the kids and I went for a hike, and found this this tree that was badly burned in the Waldo Canyon Fire last month.

It seemed to be weeping along with us, and I felt the connectedness, resilience, fragility, and specialness of life.

We love you grandpa…

Be One Who Climbs Above the Ordinary Dirt and Discovers Wonder and Beauty

Be one

Who climbs above the ordinary dirt

 And discovers wonder and beauty

(click for a larger image)

Getting Lost Through the Lens: Like Hitting a “Reset Button” in the Thinking Mind

It can be soothing and humbling to change our perspective.

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few weeks, busy beyond busy with end-of-school-year hustle and bustle. Yesterday was the first chance I’ve had to get out in nature and do some photography. I truly hadn’t realized how much I’d missed it.

I’ve been feeling a bit off. Life has been a tad overwhelming of late- busy, hectic, intense. Sometimes I thrive on squirrelly intensity, but the past few weeks have worn me out. My daily meditation hasn’t been the same since it hasn’t been through the lens. So I was quite happy yesterday to “refocus” myself out in nature, camera at the ready.

I didn’t have to look far for a new perspective. As I opened my car door once I arrived at my wild spot, I immediately noticed a sprinkling of dainty purple flowers blooming haphazardly among some grass by the roadside.

They were immensely small- graceful, petite splashes of soft lavender that seemed dwarfed by a simple blade of grass. From a standing position, they were barely noticeable at all. But my photographer’s eye noticed the subtle, shadowy green and purple world hiding beneath a newly leafed young Gambel Oak.

As I stooped down to peek at this miniature ecosystem I was astonished by the change in my perspective. I was in Garden of the Gods Park, known for its massive, towering sandstone formations. Tourists surrounded me, snapping pictures of the mammoth stones and gasping at the fantastic landscape before them. But me, I was stooped down next to my car, observing a tiny realm of diminutive flowers, grass blades with fuzz, and puffs of dandelion all smothered in dancing sunlight filtered theatrically through the soft, new Gambel Oak leaves. My perspective, especially through my macro lens, was that of an ant!

And what a world the ant sees! Does the ant even notice the great stones above? I don’t know, but honestly, the ant wouldn’t need to see them in order to find beauty in its world. For the world of fuzzy grass and purple flowers by the road has a gorgeousness all its own, rivaling any towering things.

So yesterday I spent about twenty minutes crouched on the ground looking at delicate lavender I-don’t-know-what’s. I stared at dandelion puffs, dainty ferns, and the occasional ant, home to this emerald paradise by the roadside.

For twenty minutes I got lost through the macro lens, reveling in sheer delight, in the interplay of color between lavender and green, between sunlight and shadow. My artist’s eye caught the different beauties that lay in the straight, smooth grass and the curvy petals and jagged ferns.

The dandelion puff seemed a complete cosmos unto itself, floating through its own space and time.

Getting lost in these tiny realms is like hitting a “reset button” in my thinking mind. I’m restored and rested. The sensation is much like waking up after a night of intense dreaming. “Real life” then seems somewhat surreal, as the aftertaste of the dream lingers in your consciousness like a powerful flavor.

When you’ve taken a small trip of sorts to another way of seeing and experiencing, your passion for your normal everyday existence takes on a new feel. Upon coming home from a long or faraway vacation, our home often feels a bit foreign at first, as we readjust and regain our bearings.

But what a wonderful feeling it is! Leaving and returning is a refreshing sensation, as it refreshes our perspective, our sense of place, and our sense of being. We fit in in a slightly new way, now. Our experience elsewhere has changed us ever so slightly, and we return to the everyday with fresh eyes and new subtleties of our spirit.

For me, escapes into tiny worlds with a camera are the same.

Oh, how much most of us miss, though! Small islands of wonder right at our feet go unnoticed. The stars in the heavens above us go unnoticed. Our perspective stay so much… the same, most of the time. We take the wonder all around us for granted, and perhaps don’t give it the honor and respect it deserves.

Like my emerald green oasis of purple flowers. Alas, the only other someone who apparently noticed this spot of ground was someone’s dog… who, well, did what dogs do. I wish that instead of seeing this small patch of Earth as a potty, the dog owner had seen what I saw- an oasis of blooming, leafing life- tiny, delicate, shade-draped and serene.

We could all use a reminder now and again of how special each corner of our Earth can be, even a seemingly insignificant, scraggy spot on the side of the road. It has its own special beauty, if you just get down to see it. If the dog owner had noticed the pretty purple petals, perhaps they’d have found another spot for Fido to poop. The bare ground or plain grass would’ve been less disturbed than the fragile flowers!

Popping Up to Say Hello, but Knowing When to Rest: A Life Lesson From Illness and Chickadees

I was on quite a roll for a while, blogging consistently, doing my meditative nature photography and sharing it with whomever was willing to listen. Spring break came along and I took a week off from writing and photography to spend quality time with my kids. I’d just gotten back into the swing of things when life threw a new curve ball at me.

I’ve been proverbially upside-down and hanging by my toes.

(Click on any of my photographs to see an enlarged image.)

Back in February, the first post I’d written based on my book was “Some days upside-down and barely hanging on by our toes, other days perched way up high and on top of the world”. The pictures were of chickadees exemplifying those experiences rather nicely. In that post I recounted how I’d both used meditative nature photography to face a medical issue, and how my daily nature photography finally had been ground to a halt by the illness.

Well, after a nice little run of “on top of the world”, I’ve found myself hanging by my toes again. I’ve done very little photography lately- the pollen count of 11.5 was making that a miserable experience, and too much time braving the wafting particulate monsters apparently lowered my resistance, resulting in me becoming rather ill.

One of the hardest things for me to do since my kids have been born (and they’re now 12 and 15!) has been to allow myself time to rest. They’ve been fairly high maintenance little people (both with truly significant health needs of their own) and there’s never been much time to take any “me time” whatsoever. Moms don’t often get the luxury of “time off” when sick or exhausted. We just work through it. Motherhood doesn’t stop and wait for us. With my kids that was absolutely the case. And I in no way mean that in the whiny tone of a martyr. I adore my kids and being a mom! But I won’t deny that at times it’s been hard.

So now that my kids are older and in better health, I’m having to completely re-learn how to take care of me. I’m re-learning how to slow down, listen to my body and soul, and just take time off. When this illness hit me, I was annoyed. How dare some little germs interfere with my time in nature, my photography, my sheer joy and “me time”? Hmf!

Well, as reality would have it, germs really don’t care if you “hmf” at them. Sick is sick and recovery time is recovery time. No amount of running the trails or photographing gorgeous spring blossoms can make you well when you’re really not.

I realize that my frustration with getting sick is because I had so little time off when my kids were younger. So now that I do have time for me, I relish it. I revel in it. On my daily nature hikes I’m like a kid in a candy store. Everything excites me; I can’t take it all in fast enough. I indulge myself in this self-pampering. I soak it all in with a zest for life and a passion for experience. I’m kind of unstoppable.

After all, I have years to make up for! Years when the kids who needed me came first. There was no “nature hiking for fun” then. So now that my life has the space for that, the sacred me time for that, I don’t surrender it easily. I’ll push through the offensive pollen, cold weather, even falling snow to get my outdoor communion with the deer and flowers and chickadees. This is my time, dang it, and I cling to it unyieldingly.

So this past ten days or so I’ve been fighting the need to rest. I started out pushing myself, then slowed down, then just collapsed in exhausted surrender.

And then today I remembered the last group of pictures I took as I slowed down- it was these chickadees, just like from the February post. Oh, the juicy ironies of life.

So here I blog about hanging by my toes again, poring through a folder of photographs of chickadees, giggling at the synchronicity, but interestingly, noticing that in most of the pictures the chickadees are simply being still.

Sigh. Nature delivers yet another life lesson to me. Time to stop and listen to her wise whispers.

It’s just that, well, I’ve been resisting her message.

I have a few friends here on wordpress who deal with chronic illness and pain, and who use nature photography as a healing tool as well. (An excellent blog is throughthehealinglens!)

One of the ironies I’m learning to navigate in my life is that the thing that is most healing to me- my time in nature, especially with a camera, can be thwarted all too easily by health issues. The irony is tough. What heals me, centers me, allows me the space to be healthy, well, sane, happy, and fit can also be the hardest for me to accomplish when I’m not feeling well.

But if I just stop and listen to all of the lessons nature has taught me, all of the hints on how to live well, I see clearly that nature knows when it is time to rest. In the fall, the trees don’t make a fuss about resting for the winter. They just do it. When my chickadee friends, here, had done enough flitting about, they rested. And they didn’t look annoyed about it. So I need to stop being depressed about not running the trails lately. I need to stop being frustrated by my lack of chickadee time. I need to get over missing a few of the flowers blooming this year.

But that’s the great thing about nature photography. I have pictures from all these years of meditating through the lens to pore through and look at. Nature is there for me, in photographic form, day or night, good weather or bad, sick or well.

So today I’ll peruse my folders of photos and enjoy all the nature I’ve had the joy and privilege of experiencing over the years. I’ll let myself get lost in nature’s images; I’ll let nature’s lessons come to me. I’ll be grateful for the wonderful technology that is digital photography, the marvel that allows me to re-live memories in vivid and colorful detail.

So I’m popping my head up to say hello to my blogosphere buddies. I’m not sure if I’ll be back full-time right away. This time I intend to rest as long as I actually need to! I hear the chickadees calling me to come play, but I’ll wait ’till mother nature lets me know that I’m truly up for it.

So see you soon, my cute little nature friends, I’ll be back for your doses of wisdom soon enough.

Until then… Today’s Life Lesson from Nature:

Butterflies, Bees and Blossoms… Who Hears the Buzz? A Lesson in Using All Our Senses

(Click on any of my photographs to see an enlarged image)

It’s good to be back from Spring Break!

I took last week off from blogging to spend that time relaxing with my two beloved kids. That was sheer bliss!

On one lovely day last week I became highly aware of my senses. As a nature photographer, you might think that I rely mostly on my sense of sight. I’ll admit, it’s rather obviously primary, but I couldn’t do what I do without all of my other senses.

Out on my nature hike one morning I came upon a flowering tree at the bottom of a hill. A fellow hiker had seen me taking macro shots of budding chokecherry bush leaves and suggested I continue down the hill if I wanted to see some cottontails frolicking along the fence. I thanked him and trotted down the hill, stopping to capture some nice shots of a pair of magpies who were building their nest and flapping about rather noisily.

As I came to the bottom of the hill the path rounded a corner. The bunnies hopped away from the trail just as I arrived, escaping from some barking dogs and noisy people. I stopped and watched the rabbits while I let the people and their dogs pass by. And as they walked hurriedly on, chatting and barking away, I watched several groups of people move past me, some jogging to tunes on their ipods, some running the trails, some chasing after unruly children. Finally, they all moved on, and I was left alone with the bunnies. They hid under shady tree and sat down to recoup from their dog encounter. I just smiled. I took a deep breath, thankful that it was finally quiet and calm.

But then, almost instantly, I turned my head. I caught the sound of… hmm… what was that? Buzzing! The sound of an entire chorus of bees filled my awareness and turned me around. The cacophonous noise grew louder as I turned to face it. Before me was a large tree exploding with beautiful spring blossoms.

As my eyes focused, the tree seemed to move with the motion of the bees swarming it. In graceful peacefulness they went about their busy bee jobs.

I stepped closer to take it all in and suddenly something popped out in front of me. A painted lady butterfly landed on a blossom, I pulled my camera up and began shooting.

Oblivious to the mass of striped stinging machines all around me, I leaned in and snapped, snapped, snapped away. Not a single bug bothered me. It was remarkable to be so close to them and stay so calm. But I felt comfortable. What I was feeling towards them was appreciation- for their beauty, for their pollinating services, for the privilege of being able to zoom in on their graceful activities.

I stood there for twenty minutes taking pictures, but what was sad to me was that no passer-by ever stopped. They were too busy chatting or wrangling their kids or looking at the larger landscape scenery. I felt sad for what they missed.

They missed the harmonious synchronicity of the bees dancing through the trees. They missed the humorous ballet that bees and butterflies do when jostling for blossom positions. They missed the sticky sweet fragrance of spring intoxicating them with aliveness. They missed a smorgasbord for the senses, a buffet for the eyes, nose, and ears. They missed pink and white buds, golden orange bees and butterflies, and the bluest of skies blending perfectly with fragrance and buzz.

Two days later, I was at the park hiking and doing photography with my twelve year old son. We went to a different flowering tree down on the south end of Garden of the Gods by Balanced Rock.

I was snapping pictures of the painted ladies, this time on bright pink blossoms, when three other photographers saw me, asked what I was doing and excitedly joined in. A couple of kids were running about making noise as we all “oohed” and “ahhed” at the flittering, lovely butterflies. Out of the blue my son announced, “Hey wait, there’s a lizard here!” I asked, “Where?” and looked around. He said, “I don’t know, but I hear it scurrying in the leaves!”

Yep, there in the leaves was a little prairie lizard under the tree full of butterflies. The out-of-town tourist kids squealed when they saw it, prompting the scaly critter to run up the tree and hang inconspicuously from the bark.

Good listening, son! Now the photographers had two target subjects and the kids from out of town got to see their first wild lizard.

With these experiences I became acutely aware of why I ditch my ipod when I’m doing meditative nature photography. I want to take it all in, and feel the melodious blend of experience that all my senses together creates. Nature isn’t the same in one dimension or two. It takes all our senses to really get a feel for a place, to get the full richness of any experience. It still amazes me that on that first day, no one else noticed that the tree was smothered in bees and butterflies. They never stopped to smell the luscious aroma, never spotted a painted lady.

Poor people missed out. Because no one heard the buzz.

Life Lessons from the Bighorn Sheep “Stay Present in the Moment”

(click on any of my photographs to see an enlarged image)

Life is full of unexpected moments, and I had one yesterday morning. One of those moments that catches you completely off guard and that you’re totally unprepared for. You know, the surprise party moments that knock you off your step. Yesterday was a happy nature-and-photography surprise that caught me completely unsuspecting and utterly ill-equipped.

Alas, I hadn’t packed the telephoto lens. Sigh. Well, that’s how life happens, I guess. Sometimes we just have to make do, and make the best of the situation! And that’s just what I did.

Five months ago I was blessed to have been at Garden of the Gods when the bighorn sheep came down into the park. It’s a very rare sight. While they’re known to stand on the rocky hillside that borders the park to the north, they never jump the fence and enter the central garden of towering stones. That October day, they did. It was spectacular, wonderful, and amazing. You know you’re witnessing the unusual when even the park ranger is aghast!

So when I pulled up yesterday and the bighorns were way up on the hill, I got out to snap some shots- minus the zoom lens, but hey, sometimes the point is just to remember the experience, not get the shot that’s worthy of a magazine cover.

While I got some fairly nice shots (for having no zoom), the best part for me was sharing the experience with a complete stranger, a kind, friendly, charming man named Ron. For the longest time, we were the only two on the trail by the fence. The very few other onlookers were back by the road, so it was just me and this delightful soul sharing the bighorns up close. His equipment was fabulous, and he truly got some terrific shots. The sheep were putting on quite a show for us, seeming to pose and prance just for our entertainment.

Here we were, two stunned and surprised amateur photographers, smiling nonstop, letting out “ooh” after “ah” after “wow”. It was such delicious fun. He was as giddy as I, completely absorbed in the experience of seeing these great beasts up so very close, naturally, in the wild.

As we watched them lazily grazing on the hill and skillfully climbing about the rugged boulders, we decided to shift down the path along the fence so the sun would be at our backs and off of our lenses.

I’ll never know if our moving out of the way had anything to do with their decision, but much to our mutual surprise, the bighorns came down, down, down the hill… and jumped the fence.

The poor ranger wasn’t too pleased, but we photographers were pretty darn happy. We backed up to give them their space (they are large, powerful mammals) and eventually half the herd crossed our path and settled in to graze.

For the next hour or so we stood mesmerized as the sheep munched by the road and raced back and forth over the fence a few times (cars and dogs are rather scary, after all!). We pointed things out to one another and probably looked like two kids in a candy store.

Just to be in their magnificent presence was sheer joy. They move like a school of fish when startled, with remarkable gracefulness and synchronicity for such bulky creatures. When they look you in the eye you can’t help but feel mesmerized.

Ron got the treat of a lifetime at Garden of the Gods yesterday. He got to see the bighorn sheep up close. But I think more than that he had a great time. We both commented that it was so nice to have someone to “ooh” and “ah” with, to say “wow look what that one just did!” to, and to just share the moment.

As I write this the next day, I realize that that’s also why I blog. It’s to share what I see, to say, “Does anyone else see how cool that is?!” I blog to share the meaning and beauty I perceive, because it’s in the sharing that the experience takes on a new richness, fullness, and power. The life lessons I learn in nature mean all the more to me when they’ve meant something to someone else, too.

So the sheep taught me a lesson yesterday. They taught me to just enjoy the moment, to enjoy connecting with people more than trying to get the great shots. The sheep seemed to say just be here with us and take it all in. Put the camera down and just look at us. So I did. As much as I believe, wholeheartedly, in the power of focusing our lives meditatively through the lens, in those moments when you are already so focused on the moment, so present and aware, it’s okay to stop clicking and simply be present in the moment.

While I took a lot of photographs yesterday, I also had the presence of mind to ground myself in the present, to let time feel suspended and hang like a clock with stopped hands. I took in time with the sheep.

But you know I’ll be packing the telephoto from now on… just in case… ;)

Learning Patience from Flower Petals

My long wait is- finally- almost over.

I’ve struggled with patience my whole life. When I was in my twenties, my motto was “patience is a waste of time”. No kidding! My family is convinced that I’m part squirrel, and to be honest, I think they’re right. Hyperactive and impatient, yep, that’s me.

Luckily, I’ve found that I can learn just about anything from nature. I can pick up bits of wisdom, new coping strategies, fresh ways to look at life, and I can even discover new things about myself. Yes, nature is a fountain overflowing with inspiration, beauty, awe, wonder, and, apparently, life lessons. Which brings us back to patience. It’s another life lesson nature is drilling in to me.

While I think winter is beautiful and I love igloo building and a good sledding adventure as much as the next person, I long for warm weather. It has flowers bursting with a rainbow of colors and tender green leaves waving in warm breezes. It has soothing sunshine and soft rains (unless, of course, it’s monsoon season here in Colorado, in which case scratch that and change to “rain-and-large-hail-deluges”).

Winter comes and there’s not much I can do about it. It is grey and brown and pale, and compared to summer, rather dull. Nothing is growing and bursting forth new expressions of itself. Even the bears are sleeping. There are no cute baby bunnies to brighten my day, and so many of my delightful, chipper bird buddies have taken off for warmer climes. So each year as the cycle of seasons rolls on, as each winter approaches, I know the flowers will fade for a few months. The blue-grey gnatcatchers and the lesser goldfinches will fly south, and I will wait “patiently” for their collective return.

The seasons may be the circle of life, but I always end up feeling like a hamster in a wheel, thinking if I could only run fast enough along the circle, I’ll get there sooner. Yeah, I hear nature laughing at me, too, hoping someday, after all these years of “seasons of waiting”, I’ll finally get it. For having been such a good student, I sure can be a slow learner.

Alas, I don’t live in the tropics, so winter is an inevitable reality. Life has its lessons and its seasons, and though my allergies are making me miserable, the warmer air, budding trees, nesting birds and longer days are making me happy. So I’ll wait- hmmm- sort of patiently- for the flowers and leaves and my friends the lesser goldfinches. I’ll wait for baby bunnies to be born and black bears to re-emerge. And one of these days I’ll get this “patience’ thing. Yep, one of these days…

Though at least I know I’m not the only one looking forward to new green sprouts!

It Takes Courage to Open Yourself Up in an Uncertain World

Even though it takes courage to open yourself up in an uncertain world

Do it anyway

I love to take my inspiration from nature, from the natural wisdom that all sorts of funky little living things seem to have. They just live their lives, with a natural ease that lets them go for it. In the countless flowers I’ve photographed I’ve never seen a blossom seem to hesitate, second guess itself, or stay closed forever for fear of the big bad world.

Instead, they gently, confidently unfurl themselves for all to behold. No fears, just an air of poise and coolness, like they know that this is what they’re supposed to do.

I blogged the other day about the sweet sensation of anticipation in buds, and in writing this I guess I’m continuing that train of thought to the courage of flowers.

This blog is a new act of courage for me.

I’m learning the ropes and putting my feelers out. I’m offering my tidbits of insight and beauty I see in nature. I’m offering up my heart.

In life it can be so easy for us to feel like we want to stay closed up. “Playing it safe” is a game that’s addictively popular in our culture. Times get tough, sometimes we get burned, we know what it feels like to lose or get hurt, and before you know it, we’ve closed up.

The funny thing is, that’s what makes this little amethyst-colored gem of beauty my perfect analogy for this post. The pasque flower opens in shady conditions but closes up tight in bright sunlight. It seems to share that fear of the spotlight that many of us have- that fear of opening ourselves up to being vulnerable.

Now I suppose I could look at this lovely lavender life-form and think to myself, see, even in nature there are shy things that keep themselves hidden from the world.

But I think there’s another, wiser way to look at our little purple friend, here. The pasque flower knows how to be true to itself. It opens itself right up in subtle daylight, but feels no need for the glaring spotlight; it knows itself well enough to say, “I’m a little more introverted than that!”

Yes, I know flowers can’t talk, but nonetheless I can relate to this fuzzy beauty. Being something of an introvert myself, the pasque flower feels like a kindred spirit.

That’s one of the great things about nature. We can always find something out there that we can relate to. There’s a “muse” out there for everyone. (One of these days I’ll be blogging about all the ways I am like a squirrel- watch for it- it should be pretty darn funny!)

It does take courage to open up, and it also takes timing. It’s not the timing you set by some rigid schedule that you demand. For the pasque flower cannot demand when the sun rises and sets, nor can it demand the clouds come because it feels like being open. No, it’s at the whim and mercy of Mother Nature like the rest of us.

So here I blog, sharing words and pictures when the timing is right, and when I’m being true to myself.

After all, I can’t go through life thinking I have less courage than a flower. I couldn’t walk down the trails and face them anymore! I don’t want to ever look down at the courageous, naturally easy flowers and say, “Yes, I know you opened up, but I just couldn’t do it.”

So as spring blossoms over the coming weeks I’m going to proudly tell the flowers I meet, “Hey, guys! I did it! Thanks for the inspiration!”  All right, I know, people are going to look at me a little strangely, but hey, opening yourself up in an uncertain world takes courage, whether you talk to the flowers or not…

Why I Love My Hiking Boots (Why My Office Hours are Chickadee to Full Moon!)

I love my hiking boots.

My hiking boots remind me that my office hours are “first morning chickadee chirp” to “wow look at that midnight Moon”.

Hmm… I guess that means I work all day, but hey, such is the life of the work-at-home-writer/ work-in-the-wild photographer.

These boots are the physical representation of my life on the trails. As I see them sitting next to my desk, they’re looking somewhat like a dog staring longingly at a leash, begging to be walked. My boots are waiting patiently to be taken out on a hike. I swear my dog gets jealous of my boots on the days it’s too cold or wet for him to come along!

These well-worn pieces of footwear describe me.

My hiking boots mean that my “research” for my writing gets to be trotting along looking at grand vistas.

My hiking boots say that I’m adventurous, even when the terrain is filled with boulders and prickly beings ready to poke me if I dare to bump in to them!

My hiking boots give me traction. I don’t always have the best traction out on the trails. I’m often caught in spots where the footing isn’t so great. Well, isn’t the same sometimes true in life?

I often feel like I can’t find my traction, like I’m slipping, sliding, or stuck. I feel it on the trails and in moving through this world. Even in writing this blog and my books I feel it! Some days the traction is there, and I’m on a metaphorical run down the dusty, winding path. Other days, I’m lost for words, lost in the trees, lost in a fog, or just plain, well, lost

As the boots give traction on the trail, my hikes in nature give traction in my life. My boots anchor me steadily to the ground beneath my feet. Hiking anchors me in this world. It gives me perspective, a grounding point from which all other things are measured. It is my sanity, my balance, my joy. I can handle what life throws at me when I know the mountains will be there for me, whether I need the trees to whisper softly to me or the birds to sing my blues away.

My boots give me support. They wrap my feet up and keep my arches from pancaking. Trotting on trails and hiking to new heights can be stressful on the tootsies. It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Well, those rugged roads we travel chasing our dreams are craggy and uneven, challenging us at every twist and turn. We fight to keep our fragile footing and not lose our balance or our way. Sounds like quite the trek. Better have supportive footwear.

My boots protect me. They are my armor against the twigs, boulders, bee stings and prickly pear cacti out to maul my toes. Hiking in nature protects me. It is like getting the clearcoat protectant at the carwash. Time in the outdoors braces me against the harshness of modern life. Wandering in the wilderness gives me both a gentle eye for beauty and a toughness that only the rugged outdoors brings out in us. Nature forces me to handle it all- the wind, the cold, the snow, the rain, the relentless sun, the bugs, the aches, and the pains. Nature makes me sturdy.

My hiking boots get me up the hill to where these flowers wait for spring to arrive, to bloom again and let the sun kiss their leaves and petals. My time in nature gets me up the hills in life. Wandering the forests on lush mountain trails inspires me to create my own internal spring. It brings out my own desires to bloom, to grow, to be more than I am and keep reaching for who I could be.

My hiking boots whisper to me… “Let’s go to the trails!”

They take me along the path, and help me find new friends.

They tell me, “Remember, your office hours are from ‘first chickadee chirp at sunrise’ to ‘full moon lighting your late-night trail’….”

I do love my hiking boots.

And don’t even get me started on how much I love my camera…

The Healing Surprise of Sweet Deer on the Trail

I blogged last week about the sweet anticipation of flower buds hanging on the edge of blooming.

Anticipation is one of my favorite sensations in life, but another feeling caught me today and set my soul beaming with joy- “happy surprise”.

This morning was far too cold to stay out hiking for very long. I stopped at my usual morning “meet the animals” spots to say hello, see who was up to what, and see if any critters wanted to pose for my camera today. But apparently all the critters at Garden of the Gods thought it was too cold to play, too.

For two weeks, now, I’ve been watching a pair of magpies build a nest, but they weren’t in a building mood today. No, today they were just shivering on a branch. The mountain cottontails that hop about playing “chase” games this time of year were off hiding under the bushes.

The spunky family of fox squirrels I love to hang out with were nowhere to be found, and the landscape in this very early part of spring still has a bland look to it. That meant even the mountains and great stones of Garden of the Gods weren’t all that exciting this morning.

So I decided to spare my fingertips the agony of frozen nature photography. No, I decided. Go home and catch up on some house cleaning today.

And with that, I set off for home.

But on the way out of the park after leaving the magpie homestead there’s one more turn in the road I had to pass. This stretch of road runs alongside the stunning, towering rock formation known as “Cathedral Rock” (left in the top picture, blocking Pikes Peak), and as I approached it in the morning sun, I saw I was not alone.

My dear friends, the deer, a small herd of does and fawns that roam the park, were doing their happy morning munching on the hill in front of the south face of the great stone. Some had crossed the road; others to the west seemed to be thinking about it.

I parked and jogged up the hill, just in time for a mother and her babies to cross right in front of me on the trail, between me and the great stone Cathedral Rock.

I couldn’t have timed it any better had I actually tried.

Once they had all crossed the road and settled in on the hill in front of me, I couldn’t help but stand there in awe and reflect on the graceful timing of our encounter. Five minutes earlier, my cute deer buddies would have still been deeper in the park, out of sight. Ten minutes later, they would have been all the way over the ridge they were climbing.

So what are the chances that I would happen upon them, at just this magnificent moment, to cross the very path I was walking? How did I get so blessed as to spend the morning with these placid sweeties, when my mind had been in such a funk and on such a mundane mission: to go clean the house?

I have long told friends who were facing indecision, an unclear or boring path, or who are in crisis to stop trying to figure things out. So often in life, the answer, the solution, the inspiration that leads to the change we need comes not from thinking our way through something. It often does not come from reasoning, plotting, planning, strategizing or analyzing (shocking advice from me, a trained philosopher!). It comes, all on its own, when we just relax, and let life unfold, naturally.

Today I tried to plan my morning, in a nice, responsible, practical way. Looking back my thoughts amuse me. Yes, Suze, spare your hands the cold today. Yes, yes, go home and do the dishes and vacuum, that’s a much more reasonable use of this time.

Ha! Inspiration knows nothing of reason, and I have made a choice in life to follow the inspired path, to trek the tantalizing trail, to flow like water and see where the muse of nature takes me.

That’s when the inspiring things happen. That’s when the clouds part and the angels sing and the herd of deer crosses in front of the great stone at just the moment I happened to go by. Ah, that’s the path I’m taking.

What will heal a problem is so often something you cannot foresee. What will thrill you is often something you cannot foresee, either.

I’ve had some emotional pain to deal with this week, and the disorientation of a hectic, out-of-sorts, busy schedule. I had no idea how much I needed some down time to just let my soul do some healing. I had no idea how much I needed a little thrill.

When we’re stressed there’s nothing quite like having an experience where time suspends, emotions soften, thinking quiets, and all becomes still and wonderful. In those moments, when we’re truly in the present- not in the past, not in the future, not in worry or tension or pressure- we can heal. Answers come, smiles appear, paths seem clearer, and life takes on a new lightness.

So after I’d taken enough pictures to exhaust my poor camera (I do work the poor thing hard!), I sat down in the dirt. The one momma doe looked a little quizzically at me at first, but then decided to ignore me and give her baby a bath.

These deer have seen me and my annoying clicking machine before. Perhaps she remembered that, and knew I was okay to hang out with this morning. So I stayed with the little herd. They munched and played, groomed and bathed. And I sat a few feet away, enjoying their gentle sweet presence, their relaxed, quiet ways, their big brown eyes and the crunching of twigs.

I had a morning full of bliss. Not the morning I’d “planned”. No, this was way better than that….

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