the art of doing meditative nature photography

Posts tagged ‘hiking’

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.

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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….