Nature and the Soul, Explored Through Photography

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My Sister’s Eyes

When my sister Theresa was a pre-teen, a ravaging disease stole her eyes.  Eighty-five percent of her vision was lost before she had a chance to look out on much of the intricate diversity and insane beauty of this planet.  She’s “legally blind,” and yet in ways an optometrist hasn’t the tools to measure, she’s one of the most “sighted souls” I’ve ever met… living always “in the moment,” fully present and acutely aware.  She accomplishes more in a day than I do in a week, and does so with verve.

I empathize with Theresa regarding her visual limitations, which is not to say that I feel sorry for her.  In fact, I aspire to “see” as well as my sister sees, to have those eyes — the ones that assemble a clear mental picture of any creature based not only upon limited visual information,  but upon intangibles:  insight, intuition, keen awareness of tone, inflection, body language (she can see basic shape and posture) and myriad other clues lost to those of us who operate from only a fraction of the resources available to us.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because when I come home from the woods or fields lugging my camera bag full of maxed-out S.D. cards, feeling like I should be looking over my shoulder for thieves, so weighty is the value of my “treasure,” I can guarantee I’ve had Theresa on my mind.

My hyper-awareness in nature is due in large part to the fact that since my sister lost her sight, I can no longer take one fascinating detail – not an ant’s fuzzy thorax or the alien eyes of a fly or the powdery curve of a butterfly’s wings — for granted, not one breath-stealing scene can fly by me without praise.  I can see!  I CAN see!  I can SEE!

And so I will.  I choose to pay attention.  So if I go missing, find me — I’ll likely be sitting, blissed out beside an ant hill or beneath a cedar on my back in order to see what a waxwing looks like from the underside.  You might have to pull my head by my hair out of the creek where I’ve plunged to get an eyeful of what a crayfish looks like in his own world, but wherever I am, you can bet your last dollar I’m looking, and looking hard….with mine and my sister’s eyes.

The Flower Kissers

That’s what the Portuguese call them: Beija-Flor, “flower kisser.”  They’re hummingbirds, and I’ve been having a grand time photographing them lately.  Okay, well – grand and frustrating time, considering their average flight speed is 25-30 mph and they can do a nose-dive at 60!  I’ve been nearly impaled by one a couple of times this past week – they’re oblivious to me once engaged in defending their territory, and they’re ALWAYS defending their territory!  Little ruffians, these guys.  I had known that hummingbirds eat gnats for protein, but was surprised to witness one eating a spider, so I researched it when I got home, and yes, hummers not only eat spiders, but being opportunists, will eat all the insects caught within the web!

Another interesting behavior noted was what a friend calls “rain bathing.”  I’m not a naturalist or ornithologist, so I was puzzled when I saw a female ruby-throat sliding across wet leaves…I thought she was trying to perch on one, and was losing her grip.  Julie Zickefoose (who IS an expert – as well as a talented watercolorist) remarked that she was merely washing her feathers in the drops of water saturating the leaves.

Remember blowing bubbles as a child?  (or, if like me, as an adult?)  The color we see on hummers is like the color we see on those soap bubbles…not from pigment, but iridiscent, flashing on and off depending upon your angle when viewing them, and where the light source is. Their forked tongues absorb nectar like a paper towel absorbs water – through tiny capillaries.  And their small hearts can beat at an amazing 1200 beats per minute or more!  Those that migrate between Canada and Panama travel a distance, roughly, of 2000 miles, which includes a 500 mile journey over the Gulf of Mexico, in non-stop flight.  Small and Mighty they are, not at all the fragile things that their appearance presumes.

In flight, they are marvels of engineering.  The wings beat in a figure 8 while hovering, and when flying they can move backwards, forwards, up, down, sideways, or even briefly upside-down! I still long to catch some of that bottoms-up action on camera, but haven’t yet been quick enough.

Field Notes

St. Francis said it first, and best:

“Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.”

That’s what this blog is all about:  the light-wringing I do when I get home from the fields with my camera full of recorded moments and my mind still saturated in Nature-Love… and not just for the obviously beautiful parts of nature, but the terrifying, the savage, the predatory, since without the “dark,” the “light” has no definition.  All is part of the fullness, the sphere, the web of what we call The Universe, necessary and beneficial.  I appreciate it all, and count it a privelege to witness and record it.

Like the poet Mary Oliver, I believe that “My work is loving the world.”  In part of her poem “Messenger,” she reminds herself to:

“…keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still

and learning to be astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a heart and a mind

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.” *

If we spend much time in the fields, in the mountains, in the forests or by the seas, we soon comprehend the interconnectedness of all living things.  We start to walk more softly… we start to accept, even appreciate, the polarity inherent in all beings, including those of the human kind. We cultivate more joy.  Worry less.  Re-learn how to play and pray.  Nature has a way of softening us, out here in the “Light Fields.”

This blog, then, is my invitation to you.  JOIN ME.  Let’s explore nature together with the wide-eyed curiosity and open heart of a little child.  Ready?  Yes?  Well then, as Rumi said,

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing or right-doing, there is a field…..I’ll meet you there.”


* Source:  Poem “Messenger,” from the book Thirst by Pulitzer Prize-winner Mary Oliver, 2006 Beacon Press