The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting
for our senses to grow sharper. ~William Butler Yeats.
Tag Archives: wonder
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting
Philosophy begins in wonder ~ Plato
Sponges grow in the ocean. That just kills me. I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be if that didn’t happen. ~ Steven Wright
It was still dark outside when my alarm sounded this morning. Usually, when on vacation, I don’t use the alarm unless I have a plane to catch. Today, though, I wanted to catch the full moon setting, the low tide, and sunrise, just before 7 am.
The sky was just beginning to lighten when I walked out on the beach, wondering if my fleece jacket would be warm enough. The moon was glowing in the northwestern sky, looking like a giant Japanese lantern hanging over Sanibel. In Colonial America, the January moon was called the Winter Moon; the Cherokees called it the Cold Moon; the Celts, the Quiet Moon; and the English referred to it as the Wolf Moon. On a subtropical beach, just before a warm winter day, only the Celts seemed to have captured this particular January moon.
I turned towards the south and headed towards the shoreline. The tide would still be moving out for another 20 minutes. The shorebirds had positioned themselves at the very edge of the water; the little squeaky sandpipers running when a wave reached back towards the sand; the larger terns merely lifting one webbed foot as if they couldn’t be bothered. Some of the more industrious birds bobbed for fish or cracked open shells. The less energetic ones merely lowered their heads into the surf, as if they had already had their fill at the morning tidepool buffet.
As I walked gently through the blubbery sand, I looked at all of the creatures left behind by the retreating waves. I don’t know how they survive, or even if. Are the ones that are exposed by the tide the ones who are living their last moments? Or will they be rescued when the tide pushes back towards the beach, the water trying to reclaim its rightful inheritance and dominion over the planet? I am witness to the struggle near my feet: a starfish has left tracks in the sand; a whelk seems destined for someone’s shell collection — why I think would anyone want one of these? how out-of-place would it be sitting on a shelf or in a basket, bereft of sand and salt and the smell of the sea? — when the shell’s inhabitant extends itself out. A quiet wave washes in and removes more sand from beneath the shell. The mollusk continues to show itself. Suddenly I realize that it is righting itself, repositioning in order to burrow further down into the wet sand. I turn it over with my foot to look at it once again, but immediately feel guilty for doing so. I pick it up and loft it towards the sea. You’ll live to swim another day I think, and then wonder, noticing that the beach is beginning to be populated with walkers and bikers, if I said the words aloud. Later, when reading about the sea creatures I photographed, I learned that the word whelk may have come from the Proto-Indo-European root for “turn or revolve”. It is as fitting, I decide, as calling them gastropods, the larger classification of this sea snail. I wonder about that word too, and the very idea of a “stomach-foot”: is it the ultimate in efficient design to have one appendix to capture your prey, to eat and to move?
I didn’t wander too far down the beach before the sun started to rise. I now had more light to shoot, but the bright, rising sun, still low on the horizon brings other photographic challenges. I turned to head the other direction. Although I knew the time of moonset, it surprised me that the moon had retreated so quickly. I see a few more interesting creatures, mostly sea anemones and heart cockles. I click away, happy that the sun is bouncing off of the pearly nacre, in awe of what marvelous mysteries the sea has deposited at my feet this morning.
Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. ~Annie Leibovitz
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. ~ William Shakespeare
About a year ago, after random sightings of unusual things on my way to work — a flock of turkeys in a suburban front yard, for instance — I began to think that there should be some blog/twitter feed/tumblr-like thing similar to “The S*** So & So Says”, except for spottings of wonderous things. I know how to be snarky — I used to take pride in being able to have the most succinct cutting retort — but at this point in my life, I prefer to NOT be that way; it takes too much energy. Instead, why not focus on those odd things that are probably right in front of your eyes all the time, but only on occasion truly seen for the amazing creations that they are. Besides, experiencing something of beauty is so much more fun that dishing out snark.
That was before I started blogging again. I had thought about calling it “By The Side of the Road”. But, I never did anything about that. What I did do, though, was to try to be more aware of things that I passed everyday — while still keeping my eyes on traffic if driving! And, the rewards have been great, even if only measured by number of smiles.
The more I photograph, the more I think I’m becoming attuned to finding the unusual. Maybe it has nothing to do with the camera but has every thing to do with being open to finding something that will amaze and delight you. Today, when I was on a walk — without my camera — I came across the most remarkable thing: I’m not sure what it is — a seed pod of some sort? I’ve walked this part of the greenway for 4 out of the last 5 days, but never noticed this. This morning, the deep maroon color jumped out at me from about 10 feet away, contrasting with the light wheat-colored grasses, the dark brown trunks of the ash trees, and the beige, green and white bark of the birches. I immediately left the trail to investigate.
This shot was taken with my just-a-step-beyond-rotary-dial camera phone. It isn’t obvious from this photo, but this purple pod was in the middle of a thorny stem. It is as is a stem grew upward, developed a seed pod, then continued growing out the other side and down towards the ground. I will have to walk back this with with a camera in the future.
What have you seen today that amazed, delighted, caused wonderment, made you smile?
May you have a wonderful 2012 and find wonder in all that surrounds you.
I thought of two things that teachers — one high school, one college — said to me years ago while I was taking pictures.
1). High School Art Class. We were making (egads! how 70’s; how embarrassing) yarn wall hangings. I designed something that would compliment my mother’s newly decorated powder room, which was wallpapered in a pink and apple green plain. (As I said: it was the 70’s.) He said that he understood my desired to make something that matched, but that I would never understand color if I thought those two ugly colors ever co-existing naturally.
2). College photo-journalism class. Instructor insisted that if anything was worth one shot, it was worth an entire roll of film. He didn’t have an answer when questioned if that meant 12, 24, or 36 frames. If you had a roll of 36, and you only shot 12, your grade would still be reduced. As a poor student who could barely afford film, much less photographic paper, I had a difficult time following this rule.
I never disagreed with my art teacher about the aesthetic value of pink and bright green. In fact, I don’t really like either color that much and together I think it is a rather putrid combination. Yet, I thought that if what he had expounded ad nauseum about the color wheel was right, if I had understood anything that he had lectured about, those two colors did sort of “go together”.
As for the “shoot an entire role” theory, I think that is what kept me from experimenting much with my 35mm SLR film camera. For years I thought that I couldn’t afford photography because I could never “waste” an entire role on one subject. While film was expensive, and Henri Cartier-Bresson famously stated that “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” and that We seldom take great pictures. You have to milk the cow a lot and get lots of milk to make a little piece of cheese, I could have benefited from multiple chances to explore photographing one object in several ways. Now, with a digital camera, I’ve been able to shoot multiple shots — in differing angles, in different light, at different distances, with different camera settings — badly photographed photos are only a second away from the delete key.
As for the pink and green: see for yourself. They do co-exist. How about that!
Been thinking a lot about the value of not grumbling about things that we must do. Attitude makes a difference.
Not grumbling about it, didn’t mean that I didn’t put it off. But, when I finally dragged myself outdoors with the leaf blower today to tackle the last of the beautiful autumn leaves, I was determined to do two things: 1) complete the entire task and 2) take notice.
Take notice I did and in doing so found a simple peace in what had been a daunting task. It was fun, a bit of harmonizing with nature, to take notice of the various leaves. They weren’t all “just brown”, but various shades of brown. I checked an online thesaurus that listed 27 different words for various shades of brown: amber, auburn, bay, beige, bister, brick, bronze, buff, burnt sienna, chestnut, chocolate, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, copper, drab, dust, ecru, fawn, ginger, hazel, henna, khaki, mahogany, nut, ochre, puce, russet, rust, sepia, snuff-colored, sorrel, tan, tawny, terra-cotta, toast, umber. I think each of those shades could have been found in the leaves on the driveway. Noticing the colors meant I didn’t notice how many times I walked up and down the hill, nor how my back ached, or worrying (aka “grumbling”) about how my arms would later hurt from trying to blow the large wet fallen leaves into one pile at the bottom of the steep drive.
Afterwards, I went back into the house to get my camera to capture some of the little, usually unnoticed things, in a large pile of brown leaves.
This is beautiful. That it can be described my mathematics is mind-boggling. To witness it must be awe-inspiring. To be sitting under it? Probably a bit creepy.
Read about the science & mathematics used to describe the synchronized movements of starling flocks in flight here.
You know that scene in Jaws, where the captain says that he needs a bigger boat? That was the first thing that I thought of when I arrived at the sandhill crane viewing tower at Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area, at sunrise this morning. Except, instead of a bigger boat, I needed a longer lens.
I first heard about the Sandhill Crane migration about 15 years ago. At that time my son, then about 9 years old, and I went up there, not having a very good map, and not enough information. Having miscalculated how long it would take me to get there, we arrived at sundown. We couldn’t see any of the birds, but we heard their low, lonesome honking in the cold gloaming. Since we were out in the middle of nowhere, it seemed a bit spooky.
Since then, I’ve thought several times about making the trip again, but it’s never happened. This year, I decided that I was going to cross this off my list once and for all. Now, aided by the internet and gps mapping, I knew exactly how to get there. I did my research and learned that the viewing towers face west, so for photographic purposes, it is better at sunrise than at sunset. And — thank you interwebs! — I knew the times for civil twilight and sunrise.
So, this 5:15 this morning, armed with a full cup of coffee, sweatshirts, flashlight, camera equipment and gloves, my husband and I headed north for about 100 miles — for the birds.
I had borrowed a 300mm lens and a tripod from a friend. Somewhere I had read that 300mm was recommended. I dragged along his beast of a tripod. Meant for video equipment, it was heavier than needed for my camera and the lens. Fully extended, it was also too tall for little old me.
As I arrived, just as the sky was starting to lighten, I heard the mournful sound of the cranes. One honk: the male. Two honks in reply: the female. And they all sounded their arrival.
Immediately upon arriving at the viewing platform, I knew that I didn’t have a long enough lens. And did I ever have lens envy of the photographers who were there and seemed better prepared than I. Hell, better prepared doesn’t even begin to express it! They seemed to know what they were doing and if they didn’t, they’ve invested a lot of money in optics for appearances’ sake.
The birds were simply too far out in the pasture to take good photographs. That’s okay, though. I enjoyed looking at them, arriving in groups of three, four, five; each group circling to pick out their landing spaces before setting down into the wet marsh. Nearby were several deer. The deer and the birds seemed to not pay much attention to each other. I know that I jumped, more startled than they were, when there was gunfire in the distance. Jasper-Pulaski is a fish & wildlife area, funded, in part, by hunting and gaming fees. The hunters were a way off, but the retort of their rifles in the early morning air startled me nevertheless. The cranes seemed safe and secure. I wonder if the deer hang out in the same pasture because they know it is safe from hunters.
I stayed for about an hour, until I got too cold to feel my toes. I took several pictures, but I was correct that I wouldn’t be happy with most of them. As I left the DNR site, I turned a corner and saw a newly plowed cornfield with several of the cranes grazing. I stopped the car and grabbed the camera. I didn’t want to go too far into the muddy field and startle the birds, but I did get closer than I had been able to at the viewing tower.
Still, my best photos of the day were of plants.
Usually, this time of year, I’m vacationing in Southwest Florida. I love going to the gulf during October. It is still warm, but usually not too hot. The beaches aren’t crowded, and you miss the winter traffic. In fact, it’s a bit early for the snowbirds, so many places are like ghost towns. And, if you’re there Oct 15 or later, it’s Stone Crab Claw season.
For several reasons, we didn’t go this year. I thought that I’d really miss going. But, I realized the other day, that I typically remark, upon my return from the airport, driving up the leaf-covered driveway, that I feel like I’ve missed something with the turning of the leaves.
As I’m discovering this week — a glorious week weather-wise in the Midwest — the leaf-turning does happen quickly. Trees fully covered in the morning can be bare-boned by sunset. It’s been in the 70’s this week, above the average temperature, but since it was colder at night last week, the trees have received the message to stop photosynthesizing, revealing the magnificent colors that were in the leaves all along, hidden by the chlorophyll.
I remember years ago my former husband, who had grown up in high mountain desert, comment that he thought the landscape in the Midwest was boring, because everything was green. To me, that is like saying that the sky is the same color as the ocean. Yes, the leaves are green, but the maples differ from the oaks from the hickories from the firs, each reflecting light a bit differently. Perhaps it is their underlying colors, the ones you see only in Autumn, that vary the green. Doesn’t matter, though, how the color wheel of nature combines it all; it is beautiful.
As I sat this morning at my desk, reading, I found myself straying a few times away from the words on the page to the sounds of life around me. It is a cool day, much too cool for this early in September; much too cool to say that the feel of autumn is in the air: it is the air, today.
I have the windows open and there is a continual rustling of the trees from a slight, steady breeze. Acorns are dropping, leaving gentle pings and pits as they hit the roof, driveway, and ground beneath the trees. There are already enough leaves and tree detritus — twigs, seeds, pieces of bark — on the drive that it crunches when a car pulls up. The buckeyes and black walnuts are falling too, bombarding the ground and, more often, the roof with the ferocity of a rebel lobbing grenades.
The hummingbirds are still here, but I think they must surely be wondering why it is so cool, as if they’re internal alarm systems failed to tell them to fly south a few days ago, confused that there are still flowers with sweet nectar. Are they worried that they have yet to fill themselves in preparation for their long migratory journey to Mexico? They seem to be chirping more today, and when hovering, their wings buzz at a different vibration, as if both to ward off the chill as well as because of it.
When I stepped outside, I witnessed something that I’ve never seen before: a squirrel falling from a tree branch high above the ground. I was watching two squirrels, squawking at each other, one giving the other chase, wanting the large nut the other held in his jowls. Suddenly, on a branch too slim to support him in a heavier wind, he lost his footing and fell to the ground with a thud. The tree was too far into the woods for me to see the ground where the squirrel lay. I can only assume that a small creature could not survive the impact of a 60 -70 foot freefall at a velocity so quick that he didn’t have time to screech. The other squirrel stopped. For a moment there was no movement in the trees. The second squirrel tracked back a few feet, stood for a moment, then squeaking in a quieter register, turned and continued across several trees, jumping assuredly from branch to branch as he worked his way up & down the treetops, across half the small woods, nut still firmly in his grip, and disappeared from my sight as he continued on towards his drey.
I have no idea how animals feel or cope with death. I don’t think that we can impart any kind of knowledge or emotion to them; we simply cannot know their universe. We can only surmise what they might think or feel, and, falling short of the mark, assign them attributes based on our own experience. But, I think that all of nature, even the trees, is sentient, each in his own way. It was over 100 a few days ago; today only 60. Somehow — but probably not because of the unusually cool temperature — the squirrels and hummingbirds and acorns all know that soon the season will change. Life changes before us. I regret that some days I do not notice it at all.