the art of doing meditative nature photography

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!


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…

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…

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….

Ugh. If it’s one of those days

Just try to keep your best side showing.

Oh, boy is it one of those days!

It’s official. I am blaming writer’s block, creativity block, and ability-to-write-worth-a-darn block on my allergies. Pollen has taken over my brain, and my thoughts are as congested as my nose.

And to think, spring is my “favorite season”. Hmm, I may re-think that and demote spring for its pollen-y rudeness.

It’s hard to chase rainbows when you’re sneezing. Yet that’s what I do every day! As a nature photographer and writer, doing daily nature photography is the air I breathe. My hiking adventures nourish me with the inspiration, purpose, and meaning I need to be happy. This past week, however, has been a bit of a foggy, sneezy blur.

So this week’s post based on the book is about keeping your best side showing. Although for me that’s a bit tough today, given that my nose looks a bit like Rudolph’s and my eyes look like they belong on a puffer fish.

No doubt today my best side is not quite as lovely as this little flower’s.

But that’s okay, for it’s our inner beauty that counts in life. It’s putting our best self forward that matters, regardless of the situation, be it red stuffy noses or a few embarrassingly missing petals. And though my brain is a bit befuddled with the wafting bud-dust of spring, I’m still giving my best effort, best side forward to the world.

My usual hike with my camera was cut short today, by chilly dropping temperatures and a mighty wind stirring up whole clouds of my pollen nemesis.

So it’s a bit of an “ugh” day for me.

I get the impression this little scrub jay knows what I mean. He looks befuddled, too.

But since I can’t breathe without a little joy from nature every day, I came home and made my own.

I am admittedly a little bit nuts about rainbows. Since I was a small child I have collected prisms of all shapes and sizes. I hang them in every south facing window and let them splash wiggling light splotches of joy all over my home. They look like flocks of crystal birds hanging delicately in the sun.

Today I was grateful for the miracle of just enough sunlight, peeking through the clouds of our approaching Colorado spring snowstorm, finding its way through my prisms’ glass bevels. My hike in nature may have been cut short, but I still chased my dreams… and I literally caught a rainbow today.

I just made the best of a kind of lousy circumstance!

My allergies won’t last forever, and this spring storm will pass. Maybe it will even create a nice rainbow as it drifts on by! One way or the other I’ll put on my best Rudolph the puffer fish face and head out on the trails again, looking for rainbows and glorious signs of spring. My nose may dislike spring, but my eyes know it to be a magnificent season of rebirth and beauty.

It’s a dazzling season to chase dreams in, full of the inspiration of buds, blooms, and bears bravely emerging from their winter slumber to live a new adventure.

So I’ll be brave, too, and keep hiking despite the pollen, and I’ll be sure to remember what I learned from the lovely red-and-yellow gaillardia flower- just keep your best side showing.

What is life telling you?

Are you even listening?

Have you ever noticed how often we find ourselves scrambling madly about, “looking” for answers to life’s biggest questions. We’re shouting at the wind, often loudly, all 7 billion of us. A confused and befuddled lot we are, creating a cacophonous roar of humanity, all screaming, “What am I supposed to do?!”

I hike in nature nearly every day. I see animals making decisions, encountering obstacles, dealing with predators, building nests and seeking out the nourishment they need to face another day. And while the occasional noisy uproar takes place, for the most part they‘re not a screaming bunch. If anything, they’re a pleasant, musical bunch, happily going about their business with tweets and chirps. They’re not generally freaking out or creating any sort of inharmonious hullabaloo.

How do they do it?

Why are these wild animals, out in the dangerous “wild” so generally at peace? What do these cute little critters know that we don’t?

They listen to the whispers of life. They’re quiet enough to hear them. These seemingly meek and simple creatures exist in a very natural state, uncluttered by the demands, the noise, the chaos of our modern human lives. They know when to shut up, be still, and tune in.

They do far more listening than chattering.

Even the much-maligned squirrel, the notorious “spaz” of the forest, actually spends a great deal of time just being still. Just, well, being. They spend hours lounging lazily on comfy bark-covered branches. And when they need information to help them make a decision, they don’t run around chirping and squeaking and chattering madly. They stop, hang from a tree, and just listen.

Human critters don’t spend enough time listening. The squirrel only chatters when it has to. When it’s figuring something out (including what the heck that clicking sound is coming from my camera), it is quiet. It tunes in. It listens and absorbs information instead of shouting at the wind that it doesn’t know what to do. I think we humans need to learn a little critter wisdom!

Today I got fabulous practice in the art of listening and lending an ear.

Ironically, in the middle of writing this, I spent two hours conversing with a dear friend in the throes of a mammoth life upheaval. Oh, boy, out came my human instinct to talk! But instead I listened. I stared at the draft of this post as we talked and made sure I really listened. And then she listened. I listened because she needed someone to hear her news, and she listened because there was information I had that she needed. In the stillness of the space we created, information could get through and understanding could be born. In that space we could hear answers, whispered softly across the ocean from one friend to the other. That’s how good communication works.

The answers are there for us, just as the animals know. Sometimes all we need is to quiet our minds and discover that the answers, really, are within us. We know what to do, if we just listen to ourselves, and listen for the cues the world offers to us. Stop shouting “What’s the answer?!” long enough to hear the reply.

Animals know that whatever information they seek is probably right in front of them. We humans may think we have the smartest brains, but wisdom lives in all kinds of beings. Pride won’t get in the way of me seeing that I could learn something from a stellar’s jay. Arrogance won’t blind me to the sage-like ways of the raven who stands confidently on the cliff’s edge, waiting, listening.  Humility moves in and tells me I’m the student of life, here.

I’ll gladly walk in the paws of the wise squirrel who hangs in the stillness, the attentive bunny who cocks her little head to hear more clearly, and in the feet of the astute chickadee who holds on tight and listens to life’s sweet whispers.

The things we dream of can seem so massive, so distant,

 So hopelessly far away and unreachable…

But on the grand scale of the whole universe?

Think about it…

They’re really right in front of us…

I’m a dreamer. I’m an overflowing current of creative energy that buzzes through life, coursing along the field lines of ideas and inspirations that carry me from one “dream” to the next.

I’ve dreamed of, and pursued, a dozen different things. I’ve dreamed of business ideas, academic degrees, hobbies, talents, and passions. And every single one of them seemed, at times, to be one of those nifty “impossible dreams”.  One of those “go chase a rainbow” dreams. One of those dreams you just swallow hard and keep to yourself.

We seem to fear telling people about our sweetest dreams as we would fear telling them that we’d like to raise pet unicorns or chase rainbows for a living.

We fear the chorus of voices taunting us with a reprimand of, “You silly! Don’t you know how far away and impossible dreams are?”

In a world seething with a high-stakes, high-achieving mentality and stories of outrageous entrepreneurs and daring extroverted superstars, it can be an easy trap to think, “Everyone’s right. I’ll give up. Dreams happen for other people. Those kinds of people.”

You know, the people who make it look so easy. Or the ones who seem so lucky. The ones who are so different from you, so unlike the humdrum of ordinary people. Yeah, dreams are for those people.

Or are they for all people?

I mean, this little flower dreamed of one day growing out from under the oppressive shade of this big overshadowing rock. Its dream became real.

Okay, I don’t know if flowers dream, but I do know this flower had a mighty spark of life in it to achieve such a thing.

Don’t we all have a spark in us? Aren’t we all capable of so much more than we tend to believe? What if creativity was let loose here on Earth, given a free rein to make this world into everything, all the best things it could be. What If we unleashed ourselves to going after the big, beautiful dreams that matter? Are we so afraid they won’t come true? Are we afraid they can’t come true?

I know some of our dreams seem massive. But it really makes me wonder. Why do we call them dreams, anyway? As though they were something so otherworldly, intangible, unobtainable and elusive as never to make an appearance here in the real world.

Well, I guess because for those of us who have dreams, words like ambitions, goals, objectives, and purpose just don’t cut it. They’re too concrete. Too linear. Too, well, dull. Aspirations is a little better. It at least tries to capture that ethereal, effervescent quality of creative longing.

But I wonder if part of the reason we call them dreams is that we are so utterly convinced that the things we dream of are so hopelessly far away and unreachable. Think of it this way. We would never dare to believe that our dreams we have at night are “real”! How silly would we be? But ouch. Wait. What does it mean, then, if the desires and aspirations we cherish most during our waking hours we habitually refer to as- gulp- dreams? Dreams? Those things that we know for sure aren’t “real”? Wow. What does that say about us?

I think it says that we’ve lost sight of the notion that although the things we dream of can seem so massive, so distant, so hopelessly far away and unreachable, on the grand scale of the whole universe they really are right in front of us.

After all, rainbows do appear here in the real world. Mountains do get climbed. We’ve sent spacecraft to the moon.

So maybe we just need some cosmic perspective, some epic viewpoint by which to judge these “crazy” dreams.

How about traveling to the Andromeda Galaxy? That’s a nifty dream! But yes, on the grand scale of the whole universe- for now, anyway- that one does seem hopelessly far away.

What about changing careers to something that truly excites your soul, ignites your passion, and makes the world a better place? By comparison, that’s not so hopelessly far away.

How about uprooting yourself and moving to a land that’s warmer, or prettier, or has fewer mosquitoes? By comparison, that’s not so massive! (After all, I did it, so it can’t be that unreachable!)

See, it’s all just a matter of that pesky perception.

And since I’ve seen my share of jaw-dropping, lusciously brilliant rainbows appear in the skies above me, I’m a believer. Yep, I’m in, I’ll dream.

You, too! Go dream! Go aspire! Good grief, just go DO.

And what the heck, go chase a rainbow just for the fun of it.

But I wouldn’t expect to find too many unicorns. I think that one’s still out of reach. 😉

Ah, flower buds.

Sweetly wrapped up bundles of loveliness.

As they sit waiting for the day their petals unfurl to reveal the glory within, do you think they enjoy the anticipation of what they are about to become?

Okay, I don’t really know what flower buds think. But when I follow a plant photographically from sprouting to budding to full bloom, the moment that seems to hang in the air with breathless anticipation is the bud on the verge of bloom.

It’s intoxicating. I know that feeling. I love that feeling.

Because anticipation is one of the sweetest sensations in life.

And it’s at least half the fun.  For those of us on the creative path in life, when we have dreams we’re chasing, the anticipation is what keeps us going. It’s the months of swooning daydreams you have leading up to glorious events, adventures, and joys in life. It’s what we feel when we have something to look forward to. And what is life if there’s nothing to look forward to?

It is the anticipation of the future that propels us forward, like a wind at our backs, or a rope pulling us in. We lean towards it. We feel that future just beyond our finger tips’ reach and…. keep reaching.

So when I’m lying in the dirt, macro lens at the ready, clicking away at the soft, new, baby-fine petals-to-be, I drift off into that goose-bumpy emotion. A bud has shared with me the gift of enjoying its anticipation.

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

Are we so unlike the flower? Just ponder, how many such blooming transitions do we have in our own lives? We have our own seasons of growth and rest, bursting forth and settling down. We experience cycles upon cycles of transformation.

Stirring within me in those moments, beyond empathizing with the transition of the bud, beyond soaking up the yummy feeling of anticipation, I also feel inspired. If this fragile, kind-of-helpless little plant can find the power, the gracefulness and the know-how to burst through cool spring soil to become this magnificent expression of beauty… then what am I capable of?

What are you capable of? More than you realize? More than you ever dreamed? Be the bud today. Enter a new transition. Dare to ask yourself, am I a magnificent expression of beauty in this world? Be with that question for a while. If the flower can do it, I’ll bet you can, too.

So maybe today begins a transition. Why not? Set some new sight, new expectation, new goal or dream to blossom in to. Commit to it with the strength of the sprout that emerges from the land. Go make it beautiful as the bud does. And enjoy the anticipation of what you are about to become.

Then smile today. After all, you just had inspiration from a flower bud… how fun is that?

We’re all here for you, in the field of wildflowers! Does anyone have a dream they’re willing to share? What are your buds going to become?

Inspiration doesn’t come by flapping madly about.

Meaning and purpose in our lives are revealed not by pressure, not by effort, not by a bossy, inner voice proclaiming shoulds and nagging us about what we ought to do.

It is only by soaring above the cacophonous voices of the world (and our own past) that we enter the calm air of tranquility where our own, authentic inner voice becomes clear. And our own vision becomes clear. See not from the ground, where the clutter of life interferes with our line of sight, but from above, where the panorama of the Big Picture can put it all in perspective.

Go on a hunt for meaning. Be the hawk. Find some stillness. Find some silence. Go ahead, it’s okay. Ride the wind till you catch an updraft that suspends you and holds you gently while you listen with keen ears and see with new eyes.  Stay aloft until you find what you seek. It’s there, from this view, standing out from the scenery below.

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

Life Is a balancing act… and nature understands

Some days upside-down and barley hanging on by our toes, other days perched way up high and on top of the world

Heck, not just some days! It’s true of ‘some years’, ‘some months’, ‘some projects’…

I was on top of the world at the beginning of last summer, reveling in sunny warm weather, daily hikes in nature with my camera, and progress on my book coming along beautifully. But by September I was barely hanging on by my toes. A crippling medical issue had brought my photography jaunts in nature to a grinding halt. I couldn’t bear the pain of sitting at the computer to write, either, and despair was wrapping its ugly arms around me in an unwelcomed grizzly hug.

This book began as a delightful exploration of finding our balance through time in nature. (See the post: Welcome to balance through the lens.) But in some grand karmic joke my life absolutely became a balancing act as I wrapped up the last few months of photography and editing. On one side of the cosmic balancing scales sat my happy desire to complete the project, my love of my daily photographic jaunts in nature, and a sweet anticipation of the satisfaction I would feel when it was finally done. Heaped on the other side of the scale like a pile of bricks was my old nemesis- an excruciating neuralgia (nerve pain) in my left cheek, left over from a not-so-fun adventure with shingles eight years prior.

It had been many years since the pain had flared up, but evidently the stress of- okay, I’ll admit it- somewhat obsessive photography, too little sleep, and my kids just starting middle and high school had pushed me over the edge. A month after the first twinge, I was also down with bronchitis, probably brought on by the constant worry of it all, my disappointment at (I thought) not being able to finish the book before year’s end, and the frustration of being denied my daily hike-n-shoot. My time in nature is the air I breathe. It gives me freshness, light, and joy.  It also gives me a few aches and pains. Let me explain…

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

 My husband is perpetually embarrassed when I’m doing nature photography. I once posted on Facebook that it was akin to engaging in contortionist yoga with a two pound camera in your hand! Well, that’s how you get fabulous pictures of bugs’ eyes and bunny faces. You bend over, twist around, lie in the dirt, wiggle through trees and bushes, and basically make and enthusiastic ass of yourself in public. My husband thinks I look like a dork. But people on the trails usually just smile and ask me what I’m taking a picture of. They think it’s cute and funny. He thinks it’s silly. But I don’t care. At times I can be a very shy person, but that just disappears when I’m chasing chickadees, gawking at fields of wildflowers, or whispering softly to deer, “It’s ok, I’m just here to take your picture! Want to pose for me?”  Well, the animals seem to think I’m pretty cool- they almost always hang around and pose for me. And the humans who think I’m a dork? Oh, well, I’m too happy to care, usually…

With the throbbing pain in my face spreading to my head, my neck, and my shoulder, and the bronchitis in my chest, I could no longer Gumby myself like a master Yogi to take pictures of tansy asters hiding under shady bushes. I couldn’t bend over to meet the bugs eye-to-eye. A good trot through the trees chasing scrub jays raised my blood pressure too much, and set the nerve to throbbing and my lungs whining. My days as some nature yoga diva were ground to a screeching halt. And wow was that depressing.

My sanity comes from my time in nature. It truly is meditation through the lens. It is balancing, restorative, relaxing and exhilarating all at once. Odd that writing a book about that threw me out of balance! But I think I needed to be reminded, viscerally, of what kinds of challenges we all really do face. Modern life is stressful, no doubt about it. And I’ve had my share of stress. Our family has had its share. I think that’s what drew me out on to the trails in the first place. Seeking my own balance as water seeks its own level. That’s why I wrote the book- and why I write this blog and post on Facebook- to bring others with me on the hiking path to the glorious land of equilibrium and sanity. This is a crazy world. And we need some un-crazy.

So I guess that in order to really mean what I was publishing, to really share some deep and profound truth, I had to really live the balancing act. So in the process of writing this book I got the full ride on the cosmic balancing scales. But if I’ve learned anything from my time in nature it is resilience. I write about it several times in the book. Something tries to cut you down to size? Brush it off and grow back even stronger than you were. Trip and fall right on your face? Hey, it happens to the best of us. Smile and keep going like nothing ever happened.

So along this book journey I made a conscious choice- to look to each new tomorrow with hope, joy, and love. What else could I do? I’d learned from the best, from those who don’t over-think it as we silly humans do, to just flow like the water, not underestimate myself, and keep my best side showing. I chose not to let anything fence me in and I never stopped reaching. I chose to believe the future could be as bright as I made it. In short, I took the advice that I’d perceived in nature and written in to the book. Life is truly a balancing act, and I’m glad nature understands.

I’m healthy and back on the trails, now, even in the cold of winter. Just the other day I spent time with the most raucous flock of American robins.  A feast of juniper berries had them flapping about by balanced rock in Garden of the Gods. They were so happy, in spite of the 22 degrees on the car thermometer, and sharing their morning with them, focusing through the lens on their joy, I was happy, too.

So I’m done hanging on by my toes- for today, anyway. And like my little robin friends, here, I’m perched way up high and on top of the world.