Thursday, October 23, 2014
Graffiti Sunrise, Wilmington Beach, NC
It’s always a magical experience to be present for a morning’s sunrise and seeing that sunrise over the ocean simply adds to the experience. The ideal condition for me is to have a scattering of low level clouds on the eastern horizon to refract the long rays of the morning sunbeams.
This morning’s sunrise began like many others with one major exception. As I stood on the edge of the beach, my eye caught the beginning contrail of a jet plane sweeping directly over my sunrise canvas. The atmospheric conditions must have been just perfect to diffuse the vaporous exhaust into perfectly drawn graffiti lines expanding across my line of sight. And unlike the previous windy morning, the winds were perfectly still on this new day.
I’ve since learned that a condensation trail will form behind a jet as the exhaust gases cool and mix with the surrounding air if the humidity is high and the temperature is below minus forty degrees Fahrenheit. Under those conditions, water vapor from the jet’s engines and the atmosphere condenses into water droplets which then freeze into snowy particles that morph into a contrail. If the air is supersaturated, the ice particles remain for a much longer time before returning to water vapor and will actually feed off the surrounding water vapor to emulate those high flying wispy cirrus clouds. That was the phenomenon I was observing.
My initial reaction was disappointment in having such a perfect sunrise defaced right in front of my eyes. Then as more morning redeyes ascended into the heavens, a rather extraordinary image began to form with half a dozen brush strokes painted across the skies. Although every sunrise is a unique creation, this one developed into an image that I had never witnessed before this day. The origin of the wispy linear lines may have been man-made, but the final canvas was truly God breathed.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Sunrise Treasure Hunter, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Sunrise Treasure, Wrightsville Beach, NC
I awoke before sunrise this cool October day, pulled on my jeans and hoodie and made my way down to the lobby for a warm cup of complementary coffee. Sitting on a rocking chair on the main balcony with coffee firmly in hand, I watched the first light of dawn slowly radiate the early morning sky. The ocean’s relentless waves were crashing on shore as a distant hurricane overran the island of Bermuda, creating prime surfing waves and cautionary rip currents just offshore. As the sun’s light began to permeate the darkness, I caught sight of a lone figure slowly wandering down the shoreline. Focusing my telephoto lens, I observed that the man was operating a metal detector in search of valuable treasure buried just under the eroding sand.
Finishing my coffee, I made my way down to the beach. Fortunately the prime time to collect seashells is also the best time to photograph magical sunrises over the ocean. The early bird does indeed get the best seashells and photos. And the timing is even better at low tide and after a major storm, like the present offshore hurricane. I like to stroll near the water’s edge at the shoreline where exposed shells are deposited near the ocean wash. As the eastern skyline begins to glow with pink and blue pastels, the breaking day tests my patience while I await the arrival of the main attraction. That becomes an opportune time for shelling as the back wash recedes amid the bubbling sea foam. Small shore birds scurry along the foam lines efficiently harvesting the miniscule tidbits that were ordered for breakfast delivery.
Of course, it helps to be at the right place at the right time. As I glanced down at the beach drift at my feet, the golden glow of a sea shell that had just arrived on the last wave made its appearance. The marine mollusk had long ago succumbed to the starfish that had bored a fatal hole into its hard protective exoskeleton. The mollusk had secreted calcium carbonate in periodic layers as he aged, creating an expanding, protective outer shell. The mantel surface secreted the building materials both outward and on the edges over the inner surface leaving it sculpted by irregular folds and tubercles. The mollusk’s unique diet determined the varying pigments that created the one-of-a-kind color in the shell.
There’s no guarantee that a shell will still be there after the next advance of the final burst of energy from the onslaught of salt water. And the stranger with the treasure hunter’s metal detector had just passed this way ahead of me, but he was defining treasure differently than I this morning. So I bent over and gently scooped up the island treasure and placed it safely in my hoodie pocket.
It’s difficult to place a value on most things for individuals. Some folks consider an object worthless while others call it priceless. The value can be all about what fits your eye and what you individually treasure. The money cowry shell was widely used worldwide in trade networks and traders could realize gains of 500% when obtaining them from the source. Australian tribes each had their own shell money and considered the other tribe’s shells worthless. Jesus taught us to store our treasures in heaven and not place a lot of value on fleeting earthly stuff because where our treasure resides, there our heart will be also.
And you can always return from a good walk along the beach with the treasure of a revitalized spirit and a good suntan.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Beginnings & Endings, Wrightsville Beach, NC
I’ve observed that the timing for many endings in life is quite predictable. For instance, movies will generally end within two hours. Most timed sporting events will end within the specified time period unless there is a short overtime period which resolves the outcome. Elections are generally decided within hours after the polls close with the exception of those races that are too close to call. Weather forecasters are now very accurate in predicting the exact time that the sun goes down to end the day. The weekend will end on Sunday night most weeks with the exception of Monday holidays that extend our personal time off from two to three days.
But the timing for the ending of other events can be very unpredictable. Major events like a world war or our very lives do not have predictable endings. They may be short lived or go on for decades. Some activities can be an integral part of our normal lives such as driving our child to school or saying good bye to friends and loved ones as we part for the day. The three thousand souls who left for work on September 11, 2001 did not have a clue that all their lives would end that day. Neither did the people who wished them a good day. The thousands of people who arrive at work each day generally do not suspect that it may be their last day on the job where they have been working for decades. Parents who kiss their children good night or drop them off at school are one day confronted with the realization that they don’t do this anymore. The day may come when your spouse looks up and no longer smiles to acknowledge you after years of togetherness.
We can’t stop the earth from spinning or freeze time in place. We can’t put an end to endings. The destiny of all beginnings in this life is inextricably connected to endings. Actually, that’s not all bad, e.g., a trip to the dentist can’t end too soon. We just need to pause life occasionally and recognize that although an event has become a routine part of our existence, there will be an ending. And we need to appreciate and savor each experience as if it may be the ending this time, because we don’t always recognize that an event was the last one of its kind until much later when there are no more.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Lagoon Sunrise, Kiawah, SC
Osprey Nest, Kiawah, SC
I was returning from photographing the mystical moments of a colorful sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. As I crossed the beach access bridge, two women walking to the beach noticed the Nikon strapped around my neck. As they passed, one of them asked if I was going to photograph the singing Osprey across the way. That hadn’t been my original intent, but then, I was on beach time. I could faintly hear an unfamiliar bird song in the distance but didn’t recognize it. The call sounded like a frenzied “cheereek” and became more urgent as I followed the call over to another backwater lagoon.
Fortunately I found a wooden access bridge over the lagoon and was able to position myself so that I could focus my telephoto lens high overhead to the top of a dead tree. The forked branches were embracing a variety of driftwood, sticks and seaweed coated with a green algae. The immature osprey may have seemed to be singing to the women, but as I watched the young raptor, three black crows approached the nest and landed in the overarching bare branches. These same crows may have possibly taken the lives of the young osprey’s nest mates before they could defend themselves.
But now this masked sea hawk of the low country skies had outgrown the ominous, threatening crows that hovered overhead. The young sea hawk was making his presence known and finally putting these scavengers on notice that the tables were turned at last. The osprey had inherited the keen gift of a precision hunter. He was now able to spot fish from up to 100 feet with his golden eyes and dive headlong to the water’s surface. Only he and his cousin the owl have an outer toe that is reversible, allowing ospreys to grasp prey with two toes in front and behind. This is particularly helpful when they grab slippery fish which they will turn headfirst to reduce wind resistance in flight.
The osprey is considered the king of birds in Buddhism. A king in Greek mythology became an osprey so that he could harass his daughter when she fell in love with the king of Crete. And medieval folks believed that the masked osprey could so mesmerize fish that they would turn belly up in surrender when the winged hunter approached. Shakespeare noted this observation in Coriolanus when he wrote; “I think he’ll be to Rome as the osprey to the fish, who takes it by sovereignty of nature”.
I intently watched the drama of the black crows and the immature osprey play out as the sun began its daily march across the heavens. But then, much to my surprise, the gallant young warrior suddenly took wing and sailed out of sight, leaving the crows to ponder the role reversal and their new destiny.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Fifties Diner, Leawood, KS
The young professional couple sitting across from one another in the diner’s back booth had risen every day before sunrise that week. Their work lives were on a fast track containing employee management, deadlines, performance reviews, presentations to executives and customers at all levels, travel around the country, endless late afternoon meetings, meals on the run, technical computer analysis and research, etc. They had both worked late today and had coordinated via their smart phones to meet for a quick dinner before separately driving home to remotely wrap up their work week. Their order had just arrived at their table and they were silently consuming it so that they could move on to other more pressing priorities.
The nicely dressed older couple across the aisle at the diner was sitting together in their booth and moving in quite the opposite direction and at a far less frenetic pace. In fact they had arrived thirty minutes ago and were still far from finished with their meal. The husband liked to bring his wife to this fifties diner in hopes that the brightly lit juke box and black and white floor tiles would resurrect old memories of another time far, far away. He had been a successful businessman in the area for decades. But now he devoted his entire life to caring for his wife that had stood beside him for all those years before the Alzheimer’s diagnosis months earlier. Yes, he had the means to pay for full time care and he did have a housekeeper assist with their home maintenance. His one indulgence was a weekly tee time to play golf with his nephew and a couple of his friends who made certain that this break would be cathartic. They didn’t usually play from the senior tees, but that was understood when he joined their foursome.
The young couple happened to notice the patient, caring and loving way the older gentleman was assisting his wife with her dinner. Few words were spoken by them as well, but the “language of their lives” spoke volumes. It opened the eyes of their hearts to the reality of their relationship and the model they were observing. They paused their life and quietly discussed what they wanted for themselves as well. Then they exited the booth, settled up with the cashier and left the diner.
The senior couple also slowly exited their booth twenty minutes later and the husband asked their waitress for a check. The waitress then told him that a young couple had already paid it. When he incredulously asked why, the cashier said that they had observed the two of them having dinner together. They just wanted to pay it forward and let them know that their "sincere wish was to be blessed to have attained a similar relationship when they hopefully reached their age".
Post Script: A true story related in an e-mail by an old golfing friend who had invited me to join him and his uncle a few years ago for a friendly game of golf played from the senior tees. I filled in the blanks.
Sunday, September 21, 2014
After the Rain, Jamestown, NC
An early fall overnight rain renews the land that has been in full production throughout the summer. New life that has been struggling to gather strength is suddenly given a rush of energy and life giving fluids. Wilted leaves suddenly regain their vigor and form as all of nature rejoices in the reinforcement for one final act before withdrawing as the season transitions.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
I Am Sunrise, Kiawah Island, SC
In the third chapter of the book of Exodus, God captures Moses’ attention by speaking to him from a non-consuming burning bush. When he directs Moses to free the Israelites from their captors in Egypt, Moses wants to know the name of the god who is sending him, as the Egyptians had many gods by many names in those days. He responds by telling Moses that “I am who I am”, meaning that he is the one powerful, eternal and unchanging God.
It’s been stated that “I am” are two of the most powerful words in the human language. Our Creator used them to describe himself and whatever we choose to add after these two words becomes our reality. The first thing we usually ask when meeting someone is what’s your name and where do you live? Work in our society is central to our status, economic well-being and our identity. Consequently, we often respond to who we are by telling someone what we do for a living. That becomes problematic once we retire.
When I began contemplating retirement, I was given some good advice up front. I was reminded that many of us who have spent our entire careers in a particular profession and possibly a limited number of companies need to be aware of losing our identity. If we haven’t prepared to transition from a life of success into a life of significance and have already began the process to other volunteer and meaningful activities, we are flying headlong into an identity crisis. Today’s future professionals should have no problem with this as it’s been predicted that many of the jobs waiting for them haven’t even been created yet. And they will have multiple careers in their lifetime as the pace of change continues to accelerate.
God has never encountered such a crisis as He is timeless and unchanging. He is the great I Am. And His work to redeem the human race would seem to be secure.