Photography can be a very revealing part of who a person is. Over the years of teaching workshops, I have asked folks what their favorite subjects are or... what type of photographs do they enjoy most. Many say they just like nature in general, but once they examine their photographs over a period of time, they discover that there were certain things that they were drawn to whether it be barns, bears, or moods of changing weather. There is some evidence of who we are in what motivates us to try and capture what we see. A desire to share what we see can be motivated by ego, emotion, enthusiasm... even a deeper interest in sharing something that has impacted the one who "pushed the button."
In taking that thought to my own photos over the past few months, I find myself beside (sometimes within) all sizes of streams and rivers. Recently I stood in the overflow of a deep, beautiful pool of water fed by a steady stream from a pure waterfall. The past few months of my life have been about "being poured into," being "pooled up," and being called to share the "overflow." Age doesn't necessarily change our hearts but standing in the "deep waters" and being fed by the "pure stream" sure prompts the heart to want to share the experience.
I'm not trying to "drown" anyone in deep subjects, but every picture does tell a story and that's what I want to be about.
Quite often as the day ends I go to one of several places here in the Smokies where I can get quiet and gather my thoughts as the last light fades through the trees. This was the case this past Saturday evening as I drove a familiar road and walked down along the river for a ways. I sat on a favorite rock and the cool air off the water was a type of therapy after a very full and warm day.
As I thought and prayed for several friends going through some difficult seasons in their lives, it became very dark and I knew I should start back... but I lingered.
In just a few minutes a single burst of light filled an opening in the trees and the light sent rays of color across the river and to the rock I was propped on. The light became brighter and formed a starburst of gold and orange, and I quickly set up my camera and tried to record the scene as it appeared.
After a couple of attempts I sat back down and thought about what had just happened. Ultimately, I was reassured that there exists no darkness that His "Light" cannot dispel. Possibly the "Light" was a "punctuation mark" on my prayers. When David was thanking God for carrying him through a most difficult time, he said, "For Thou art my lamp, O Lord; And the Lord illumines my darkness." 2 SAM 22:29
There are times in life when you stand on the mountain and can't relate to what is going on in the valley. And... there are times that it is so dark in the valley that you can't remember what it was like on the mountain top. My best experiences have been to enjoy the mountain in the morning because the valley is always a reality and the place where I learn and grow and live. The great thing about "going up the mountain" in the morning is that the "light" follows you back to the valley in the afternoon. I hope that your valleys are getting brighter because you spend time on the mountain in the morning.
Many parts of the country are snow-covered during this wintery season of the year. It is especially rewarding to walk in the outdoors in winter. Life is more difficult for all the creatures that remain active and their characteristics are more easily seen. Everything has a purpose and seems to “be on a mission”. There is no waste of time in the natural world. The mode is to survive, but the effort seems to suggest that most every creature thrives on surviving.
In a few weeks, the presents we struggled to find for friends and family will have been enjoyed and the “new” will begin to fade. I recall my grandmother’s great example of living with the basics…never wanting or asking for things, and always giving of her gifts of sewing and cooking. She didn’t miss what she didn’t have and once told me that everything we acquire has a “string attached to it”.
One of my favorite examples of simplicity and unselfishness is the tiny chickadee. I have watched them for many years and whether it be the Carolina Chickadee in the Smoky Mountains or the more abundant Black-Capped Chickadee across the country or the seldom seen Boreal Chickadee of the North Woods, every chickadee exhibits this same unique behavior.
When a chickadee discovers a source of food, he never immediately dives in and partakes… nor does he begin to store that food away from other birds and animals. He seems to recognize that the newfound source is vital to all so he will light on a perch near that source of life and begin to announce to the world that he has found what all must have and suggest that all must hear and respond to his invitation.
Birds from near and far begin to respond to the joyful “deedeedee” of this messenger of good news. Some seem to celebrate with the chickadee as they come to partake in a lean time of their lives.
Other birds have been beaten down in the storms and are weak and need the encouragement of what is essential to sustain them. So the tiny chickadee persists in his tireless efforts to announce that he has found what will satisfy every creature’s hunger if only they will join him in the midst of a cold and weary world.
What a great message from a simple, unselfish creature that seems to be so common and without a great purpose!
A few years ago I was staying in the Yosemite Valley when a front moved in and through the night a cold rain turned to ice that glazed and accumulated on the sheer granite walls above the valley. Later in the night the sleet turned to snow and several inches coated every tree and cliff surrounding my cabin.
I woke up well before daylight and walked to the open meadows to be in place for first light in such a quiet and peaceful setting. It was very dark and nothing seemed to be moving as the first beams of light struck the upper reaches of peaks with well-known names like El Capitan and Half Dome. In a matter of seconds the warmth of the light caused massive sheets of ice to release from the granite walls and they carried panes of ice along with mounds of snow crashing on lower cliffs and eventually to the valley floor. The first sounds were deafening as I tried to frame a photograph of this amazing phenomenon.
As I focused on a few pine trees on a ledge, the panels of ice fell at first horizontally, then vertically, and the result in my eyes was the coming of Light into a dark and unsuspecting world. Many had heard the sound but few had seen the Light.
At this amazing time of the year, there has been so much noise that we may have been so distracted by the sounds that we missed the Light, but it shines in a dark and lonely world and to those who are beaten up in the storm or weakened from the journey, I would like to be a “chickadee” today to announce that the Light is with us to change darkness into hope and hope into eternity.
Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” JN 8:12
Since this is my first attempt at “blogging”, I thought it would be appropriate to feature a lesson from the subject that began my photography career. Nearly thirty years ago, I wrote a little book titled, “A Walk with the Smoky Mountain Bears”. It featured about fifty bear photos and several pages of personal observations from days watching black bears do what they do naturally. The little book sold 7500 copies in less than a year and the encouragement prompted me to continue to publish books, posters, note cards, and a variety of things on outdoor subjects. As the saying goes, “The rest is history.”
After all those years and tens of thousands of folks that have walked in the gallery with their personal bear photos and stories, I still can say that I am most fascinated with the black bear and spend periods of time watching bears every year. There are many amazing characteristics about the bear but since this blog is called, “Lessons from the Wild”, I would like to begin by emphasizing a trait that I find incredible and worth drawing a parallel to where we should be as humans. So “bear” with me.
Mike Pelton studied the black bear for 32 years in the Great Smoky Mountains and that study remains the longest continuous study of any bear species in the world. Mike is a friend and in my early years encouraged me greatly by allowing me to go along on den site studies. I was like a sponge in those days as I watched, listened, and gained new respect for bears on every occasion.
On more than one occasion when an orphaned cub was found, Dr. Pelton and his graduate students took that cub to a den where they had located a mother bear with her own cubs and, after listening to her activities as she nursed her newborn cubs, they would place the orphaned fellow in the den with the sleepy mother and her young. On returning days later, and on every occasion that I observed, she had adopted that new cub as her own while we listened to the contented hum of a welcomed, nursing, new addition to the family.
When you think about it…that seems unusual for a large mammal that is very protective of her young and very resentful of any disturbance when those cubs are most fragile and in a vulnerable position to accept such a huge “inconvenience” in her life..
The Oxford dictionary defines “orphan” in a particular description as “one deprived of previous protection, support, and advantages”.
If the largest, most powerful creature in the forest can exhibit such seemingly compassionate, inclusive nurturing for its own kind, can we learn from this animal to embrace those that seem a little different or may not fit what we think of as normal?
We “roam our own woodlands” among a multitude of “orphans” crying out for someone to help them find the way. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” JN 13:34. He also said, “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in.” Then he said, “Even as you do unto the least of these, you did it to Me.” MT 25:35 & 40.
Everything that was made has a plan and a purpose. I hope this isn’t just another “bear story” but a lesson from the wild that we can build our lives around…beginning with me.
Ronald Reagan once said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
Ask God to show you an “orphan” today. He or she may be only a few steps away. See you down the trail!