Writer, marketer, columnist, author, photographer, birder, walker, hiker, husband, father, grandfather, brother, son, township trustee, converted Anabaptist, community activist, my life is crammed with all things people and nature and wonder. My late father gave me this penchant for giving and getting the most out of life, my late mother the courtesy, kindness, and creativity to see the joy in life. They both taught me to cherish the people I am with. I try and fail and try again.
I had given up on this sunset. In fact, I was already heading back to my car from the dock when the sky suddenly changed. I hustled back onto the dock to get a few shots before the sky called it a night. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when an older man with a barking dog cruised into view in a dingy. Their presence added a human element to this painting-like scene.
Rather than wax poetic about all of the aspects and details of the photo, I’ll simply let you enjoy it from your own perspective.
I stood on the shoreline alone in joyous disbelief. This wasn’t supposed to be happening, and yet, it was, it did.
“This” was no ordinary sunrise. Our snowbird rental on the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, affords us striking views, especially at dawn.
The sea mirrored the sky as the celestial kaleidoscope slowly revolved from violets to pinks to oranges to gold to grays. I willingly allowed those siblings of earth and atmosphere to kidnap me.
My initial urge was to shout for joy, but that seemed irreverent, uncouth, and even sacrilegious. For once in my life, I stayed silent, sedated by the aura that engulfed me.
A renegade cumulonimbus cloud hovered miles offshore. Sheets of rain cascaded into the sea.
My eyes drew heavenward. The risen sun, hidden by clouds over the Gulf Stream, illuminated the universe, at least the part that I could see. It was heavenly, indeed.
With each degree that the sun rose into the clouds, the refracted rays altered the colors. As if someone had flipped a light switch, the violet hue transformed into orange, bathing everything it touched.
The scene was surreal. I felt like I had been pulled above the beach, the foamy waves no longer lapping at my feet.
It was then that I more fully appreciated the ocean’s contribution to this original, living painting. The gently swelling sea reflected both the water’s depth and the sky’s variable palate.
Dabs of puffy clouds scalloped the sky. The ocean’s choppy undulating created a more linear composition. It was cottony above, corduroy below.
Though the consistencies remained the same, the colors continued to change. The wind scurried the dazzling clouds east while the ocean rolled west.
An instantaneous golden glow ensued when the sun finally peeked through the distant clouds hanging above the horizon. Overhead, the rain clouds just as suddenly converted the gold to gray unapologetically.
With the sky now spritzing droplets, I turned to retreat to the condo. And then I stopped to behold another divine marvel.
A brilliant double rainbow arched above our suntanned building complex. Once again, I was awestruck. I motioned for my wife to go look at the rainbow. She only waved back from the balcony. Desperate, I pointed to the sky, mimed a bow with my right hand, and pointed up.
This time Neva understood and rushed to the back of the condo. She returned before I could even begin to clean the sand from my shoes. Her radiance from seeing the double promise equaled that of the sky, which made me even happier.
By the time I made it back to the condo, the sky had darkened, and the rain pelted down. The morning’s free art exhibit was now washed out.
Other than the rain, none of this was expected. The official forecast had called for precipitation to overrun the northern Florida east coast overnight. But with the rain’s delayed arrival, we were treated to this transformative experience.
This ecclesiastical event seemed to last an eternity. However, the timestamp on the scores of photographs that I took showed only 10 minutes had elapsed.
The magical scene had changed so rapidly that I couldn’t take in all of the finite details as they occurred. A review of my photos revealed the dramatic, atmospheric sequence of changes in that short window of opportunity.
Birding and photography go hand-in-hand. Binoculars and a camera are essential tools for me to hone my dual hobbies. I heard the Red-winged Blackbird singing before I spotted it in this dead tree with its tangle of branches. I have always considered the blackbird’s song a harbinger of springtime. To hear its melodious song in January was music to my ears. Of course, it was a warm afternoon in Florida, not Virginia or Ohio. A look through the bins confirmed the pair of Eastern Bluebirds that sat silently behind the blackbird.
I knew full well that the photo would produce only silhouettes since I was shooting into the southern sky with the sun an hour from setting. The crisscross of dead limbs immediately brought to mind the Walter Scott quote of “Oh what tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive.”
Well, there is no deceit on my part with this photograph. “A Tangled Web” is my Photo of the Week.
This time it wasn’t my fault. Every time I went to mulch the accumulation of leaves that covered much of our yard, something or someone else thwarted my good intentions. We all know where that road leads.
First of all, I wanted to wait until all of the red maple leaves in the backyard had fallen. For some reason, they clung like flies to flypaper. The leaves of the front yard red maple had all tumbled weeks earlier.
When the weather was sunny and warmish, which wasn’t that often in the late fall of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, we were gone. When we were home, it was too wet, or other commitments kept me from doing the job.
Even with a couple of gusty windstorms, the leaves clung fast to the tree. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood’s assortment of dead foliage swirled around and landed in our yard like it was a leaf magnet.
It was nearly Thanksgiving before the leaves finally succumbed. Even then, it took almost a week before most of them lay on the ground. The leafy blanket was so thick I could hardly see the grass in spots.
Finally, the timing and weather seemed just right. However, because of a heavy frost, I waited until after lunch to make my move. I shouldn’t have.
I had just started the leaf blower when our yardman arrived. Rain was forecast for the next day, and he wanted to get the year’s last organic fertilizer on the grass despite the carpet of leaves.
He assured me that the rain would wash the fertilizer off the leaves and into the ground. I yielded the yard to him. It rained for three days.
After the rain subsided, it turned cold, freezing the leaves in place. I continued to wait and watch the forecast. It was now early December.
A skiff of snow caused another delay. Most of it melted, except for the snow in the north-slanting shadows of our backyard neighbor’s evergreens and the front of our north-facing house.
A storm with freezing rains was approaching. It was now or never to mulch the leaves.
I set the mower to its highest level so that only the tallest growth of grass would be clipped. I donned my insulated coveralls, put on my waterproof shoes, and cranked up the mulching mower.
Around and round I went, reversing course with each completed trip of the yard’s parameter. The piles of dried leaves that I had blown out of the flowerbeds and shrubbery into the grass easily shredded to bits. The backyard leaves were a different story.
A messy mix of chewed up leaves and dirt began to stick to the wheels. The messiness increased when I hit the patches of thin snow. The pulverized blend of icy moisture and leaves turned to sludge. I stubbornly mulched on.
By the time I had finally finished, the poor mower looked like it had endured a motocross mud run. Brown muck covered much of the mower’s bright red body. The wheels were caked in a sticky mixture of chopped leaves and residue of red clay that poses as Virginia topsoil.
Shreds of green grass clippings topped off the muddy mess like colorful sprinkles on an ice cream cone. It was so sad and ugly that I couldn’t even take a picture of it.
But the mulching was done, and I was a happy man. The unusually difficult task of mowing my lawn had become an existential saga. And then the sun came out.
An important characteristic for any photographer is to be observant. By that, I mean to be aware of what is going on around you while you are actually focused on a different task. Doing so allows a photographer to capture that certain event when it occurs.
That was the case for me recently. I was reading on the balcony of our rented condo on the Atlantic Ocean when something caught my eye. An unusual collection of high clouds drifted across the late morning sun’s path. Because this was the day the sun was closest to the earth, the sun’s glare was extra harsh. However, I could see defused color in the mixture of clouds streaming in front of the blazing sun. It certainly wasn’t a rainbow, but the colors were similar only distributed randomly. They also occurred close to the sun.
The weather geek in me said that this was an iridescent cloud. I researched cloud types to confirm my conclusion. Sure enough, it indeed was an iridescent cloud, something not often seen because their appearance is usually short-lived.
Of course, the next duty of a photographer is to share what was captured. So I have. “Iridescent Cloud” is my Photo of the Week.
Growing up, 20/20 meant perfect vision. Later, it was the title of a television news show. Now it’s the year 2020.
At the start of a new year, it’s only natural to wonder what will happen. Will this year be better than last, however “better” is defined? Given that 2020 is a presidential election year, I’m not optimistic.
Recently a quote by Allen Lokos caught my attention: “We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but today is filled with potential.” I like that practical advice.
This year, I intend to apply it more personally. I better get busy helping today anyway I can. There may not be a tomorrow.
I don’t mean that to sound morbid. Instead, I take it as a personal challenge, a positive reminder that the present moment is the only one that matters. Regardless of our position, power, or influence in life, try as we might, we can’t control life’s events. For good or ill, things just happen.
Humans crave certainty, the idea of knowing exactly what will happen. That is not the way life works. Sureness is better viewed in the rearview mirror. We know what did happen. Even then, people can’t agree on the truth. Some persons still don’t believe we landed on the moon.
Another problem is that we too often apply certainty to the future. Life interjects options we just don’t expect, some positive, others not so much.
We want to control with certitude our lives and the lives of those for whom we care. In reality, that is impossible. We can plan our lives all we want, and still, things go askew.
When I was a building principal, I used three by five note cards to plan my day. I usually had a handful of items that I wanted to accomplish. By day’s end, my list had often grown into double figures, and the few things that had initially been listed never got checked off. With that personal history, I struggled with the conundrum of certainty and clarity.
Enter the three wise men. They saw a star with clarity and sought its origin. They left their kingdoms, uncertain as to what the celestial sign meant. Nevertheless, they followed the star’s clarion call, sensing its significance without knowing exactly where it would lead.
The three wise men wanted to be there, wherever there was. And when they finally arrived gift-laden for a new kind of king, they saw their Epiphany. January 6 annually marks that event.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to focus more on clarity than certainty. Clarity is the vision of where you want to go. Certainty is the route you took.
The bible puts it this way: “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Clarity is tantamount to faith, while sight equates with certainty.
I’ve never been a New Year’s resolution kind of guy. I do set expectations for myself, however. This year I’m going to focus all my being on the clarity of living. Much too often in our busy, technologically driven lives, we clamor for certainty.
We live in an uncertain world. We try to direct what we can to make it more precise. Sometimes, though, the more effort we put into controlling actions, the more they unravel.
If we are clear about what is essential in our lives, the little everyday details that we too often worry so much about will simply take care of themselves. In 2020, I’ll strive to depend on clarity to live my life.
I was fortunate to catch an amazing sunset the first evening of the New Year. Having a couple of boats motor by at its peak nicely improved the composition. The roosting brown pelicans provided character to the natural beauty.
The photo was taken at an old marina on the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, Florida.
“Capturing 2020’s first sunset” is my Photo of the Week.