the art of doing meditative nature photography

Posts tagged ‘wildlife’

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… 😉

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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!

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….

Lean In and Listen to Life’s Sweet Whispers

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.

Calmly Soaring on the Hunt for What We Want in Life

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)