the art of doing meditative nature photography

Archive for April, 2012

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:

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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.