Perspective is an important element in photography. When I turned around to check on my fellow walkers, I snapped this shot. The side rails on the former railroad bridge provided an excellent example of perspective. Having my wife and friends in the shot also added the perspective of size. The perspective of depth is also demonstrated. The eye goes beyond the walkers far down the bicycle and walking trail.
The photo was taken on High Bridge, the centerpiece of High Bridge State Park, Farmville, Virginia.
Whenever I hear those old sleigh bells, I know it’s officially the holiday season.
It’s not hyperbole in describing those silver bells as old either. My wife’s grandfather used them on his horse-drawn sleigh. Their pleasing tinkle, tinkle, tinkle conjures up all that’s good and joyous about Christmastime. Visions of Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer team pulling jolly Old Saint Nick in his gift-laden sleigh danced in my head.
That enchanting tinkling sound returns every year as Neva gets the urge to decorate the house inside and out for the holidays. That usually happens on a whim, based on our busy schedules and the weather forecast. This year it was a few days before Thanksgiving.
The jingling of the bells is her unintentional announcement that the holiday display initiative has begun. Neva often completes the jolly decorating on her own, whether I’m home or not.
The sound of the bells, however, drew me away from a writing malaise to join in the fun. With the late November weather sunny and warmish, Neva already had the exterior decorating underway.
We had earlier agreed to simplify both the outdoor and indoor displays. Even then, our previous ones were modest by comparison.
Out came holiday quilted wall hangings, seasonal books, and Christmas candles. Up went the artificial holly wreaths and our late friend Helen’s ceramic Christmas tree upon her antique oak end table. The tree’s red lights stay continuously lit against its shiny green bows all tipped with white for snow.
With each completed display, the memories flowed. Barn wood-framed antique Christmas postcards hang near the front door, welcoming all for the holidays. My late father made the frame years ago.
No room goes untouched with Neva’s artistry. A rustic steel nativity scene adorns her grandmother’s china closet.
Dashes of snipped holly and boxwood grace the front porch and family room. A garland of shiny red beads and artificial greenery accompany the sleigh bells that surround the table lamp in the front window. It’s only appropriate that that string of bells take center stage.
Holiday candles and soap caddies gussied up the bathrooms. In the dining area, Christmas tree knickknacks serve as bookends to the candy dish, where red and white peppermint candies tempt me from atop the antique dry sink.
Salt and pepper shakers disguised as Mr. and Mrs. Snowman oversee the kitchen. Holly stenciled water glasses, festively decorated serving bowls, and platters all wait their turn in the cupboards to serve their cheerful purposes.
Neva already had completed most of this by the time the sleigh bells rang. I arrived in time to decorate the tall and skinny artificial Charlie Brown Christmas tree sequestered in the corner of the open spaced living area.
I enjoyed hanging an assortment of ornaments that represent nearly every year of our togetherness. Neva completed the adorning with thin, red-striped candy canes, also an annual tradition.
Next to the tree, strings of little white lights tactfully wind through stacked books resting on the wooden bench a friend had restored. Strings of green garland and white lights and Christmas tchotchke brightened both the back porch and the utility room.
I can’t overlook the subtle but most prominent and meaningful holiday symbol of all. By night, little battery-powered candles flicker from the windowsills. Their glow is small, but mighty, brightening the darkest December nights and the starriest.
That evening I took my tea in an oversized holiday mug. It’s hand-painted smiling snowman enjoyed every sip right along with me.
When it comes to Christmas, our welcome sign is out. My wife always makes sure of that.
Thanksgiving is a time set aside to recognize, remember, and celebrate our blessings. It is an official civil holiday with spiritual implications.
Many Americans will gather with family and friends around a table laden with roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, grandma’s stuffing, cranberry sauce, and homemade pumpkin pies. Think Norman Rockwell’s famous “Freedom from Want” painting. Only replace those famous, happy faces with those who will grace your own banquet.
Gathering for this glorious day is a blessing unto itself. We shouldn’t take that privilege for granted. Many don’t have that esteemed opportunity for a variety of reasons. Still, they celebrate, each in their own ways and traditions.
Some will fill their plates with the traditional carved turkey and all the trimmings, or perhaps a succulent ham. Others will choose a different course. Chinese carryout, homemade lasagna, or pork and sauerkraut are all viable options. It’s not the menu, but the meaning, the moment, and the memories we make that matters.
My heart swells when I recall all those long-ago Thanksgivings with our mother’s mother. Grandma’s three daughters, their spouses, and 17 grandchildren elbowed around a food-filled table to scrumptiously dine and enthusiastically express our appreciation for life itself.
At that point in our lives, none of the three families could claim to be wealthy. But clamoring around that long table with people we loved, and with those mouth-watering aromas wafting in the air, we were rich indeed.
With children in diapers to pimple-faced teens, it was a calamitous scene to be sure. The biggest fuss, if I recall correctly, was over who got to break the wishbone. We probably were all too young to comprehend the real reason and blessings being bestowed on us in those treasured moments.
As youngsters will do, we were too anxious to taste the turkey, enjoy the stuffing, and devour the pies. After that, it was a game of touch football, or we played hide and seek. Grass stains on blue jeans put a temporary damper on the festivities.
What sticks in my mind after all those years gone by is the joy of just being together. We were truly blessed but too young and excitable to know it. Now, I am sincerely grateful for those gatherings and those heart-warming memories.
We were only a decade or two removed from World War II. The Cold War was just heating up. We practiced air raid drills at school as often as fire drills. Thanksgiving Day was precious, and we gathered and played in honor of the day and despite the day’s disturbing news.
Though today’s headlines are just as conflicted and disconcerting, we seem to be living in a different world. Families are often too geographically scattered to celebrate together. They rely on technology to connect them, even if it is only for a few minutes of video conversation.
Others celebrate Thanksgiving in multiple gatherings, visiting one side of the family, and then going to the other. If that happens on the same day, please don’t bring out the scales.
I don’t mean to overstate the obvious. Given the frenzy of commercial clamor this time of year, let’s make sure gratitude is the centerpiece of each and every thanksgiving table regardless of what food is served.
It’s been my experience that when gratefulness prevails, more blessings will flow all around. If we all express our profound gratitude, Thanksgiving will be pretty tasty, no matter what’s on the menu.
Food, family, friends, gratitude. That’s a recipe that will guarantee a memorable Thanksgiving.
I have lived long enough to know that photography is as much about timing as it is photographic skills. Had I not looked out the window at precisely the right time, I never would have seen this male northern cardinal feeding alongside this lone red maple leaf. The yellow of the scattered corn that attracted the bird served as a lovely, contrasting background for the shot.
During my morning devotions, I try to include a brief time of meditation. A recent theme focused on observing rather than reacting with anger, fear, or judgment to human interactions.
Little did I know then that before the day would end, I would personally apply that lesson.
The day was foggy in the Shenandoah Valley. Random openings in the haze allowed the morning sunshine to poke through. The Blue Ridge Mountains, however, were socked in. I wanted to go there for one last chance to capture the beauty of a Shenandoah fall.
With the hope that the sun would eventually burn off the overcast, I headed to Shenandoah National Park. By the time I arrived shortly after noontime, that is precisely what happened.
Driving along the park’s extolled Skyline Drive is a joy at any time of the year. It is an absolute privilege to experience the fantastic colors of the fall foliage.
The park burst with scarlet, red, yellow, orange, amber, russet, brown, and crimson. Each hue complemented the others. I drove in the fresh, moist mountain air with the moon roof open and the windows partially down, taking in the autumn’s sights, sounds, and pungent fragrances.
I made several stops to photograph the scenery and finally recognized my fatigue at Big Meadows, where I stopped for lunch. The combination of my emotional exhilaration and the numerous times of exiting and reentering my vehicle had tired me. It was a reminder that my leg still had healing to do.
I retraced my route. Fog still rolled up out of the hollows and dissipated before my eyes. I continued to pull into nearly every overlook to capture the gorgeous splendor.
At my last stop, I reached for my camera, but it wasn’t there. I quickly searched in the vehicle, but the camera was gone. I must have left it on a stone wall at the last overlook where I had paused for an afternoon snack.
In the five-mile backtrack, my thoughts ticked off the options. It could still be there. Someone may have turned the camera in, or it was gone.
For most of my life, I have been my own worst critic. I berate myself when I err or let my emotions control my mood because of a negative situation. Not this time.
Remembering the morning’s meditation, I mentally weighed the consequences of my lapse of concentration by leaving the camera. I also accepted the situation without self-judgment.
I had captured dozens of photos of the incredible scenery. Now, they could be lost. I still had the day’s experience, however. That would be serenity enough, camera or no camera.
When I arrived at the overlook, the camera was nowhere to be found. I used my best option. I returned to the Big Meadows visitors’ center and reported my camera missing.
I headed south again, making a couple of more stops before I arrived at the Swift Run entrance station, where I access the park. I asked the ranger if anyone had turned in a camera. To my amazement, she said a young woman had given her a camera only 30 minutes ago. It was mine!
Of course, I was ecstatic to have the camera back, but not as delighted as I was with my self-control. No anger, no negative thoughts, no self-blame had arisen.