Category Archives: Florida

Chronicles of a Chronic Complainer

 

Evening sun highlights ridges and clouds at the Grand Canyon

Evening sun highlights ridges and clouds at the Grand Canyon

 

Yes, I’m a card-carying member of The Chronic Complainers Club.

Oh sure, I have had stretches of success in recent years at being mostly thankful, seeing my world for the blessings contained in it, growing in daily gratitude. And I’ve written much about these good things.

But I cannot deny that lately my inner curmudgeon has found me again. My focus has turned toward a few unpleasant circumstances that have been bringing me down. As I’ve fallen into the old trap of dwelling on these negative thoughts, I’ve lost a positive perspective and have become miserable and cranky.

Today I’ve been reminded that being a critic of daily circumstances profits nothing. It initiates a downward spiral of mood and energy, dragging with it not only my own soul but also the heart of anyone within reach of the poisonous negativity.

My dear wife has tried to warn me that Chronic Complainer had moved back in, but of course the Curmudgeon was in no mood to concede.

It took a few texts with a dear friend over the topic of local weather to fully open my eyes to the reality of the attitude I have been cultivating. My friend lives in a region of bountiful lush green forests and rivers…that exist because of bountiful fall, winter, and spring rains. While my friend craves sunshine, she maintains a patient and hopeful vigil for it, and when the clouds break for even a few minutes to reveal temporary rays of sun, or a delicious orange-creamsicle sunrise before a return to plodding rain, she celebrates those brief moments – tasting, savoring, joyfully thanking God for his goodness in creation.

 

Sunrise and sunset can be equally glorious in Everglades National Park

Sunrise and sunset can be equally glorious in Everglades National Park

 

What a stark contrast to the texts I had been writing her lately. I’d been focusing narrowly on my discomfort with humidity and heat, and my world had shrunk to consist of nothing but my own misery and an obsessive desperation to fix the problem.

But her refusal to play victim during her long dark rainy season suddenly shone like a beacon of light into my own discouragement. I felt hope awaken as I realized that complaining is a choice. I don’t have to be a slave to discouragement. I’ve been granted the power to choose what I focus on. My mindset is up to me.

Hmm, mindset.
Mind. Set.
To set the mind.

Suddenly I’m reminded of the wisdom of an ancient man, a follower of Jesus named Paul, who wanted to encourage a group of new Jesus followers in their attitudes and actions, and so he said,

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)

Paul wanted these young Christians to overflow with joy at the excellence and beauty that is their savior Jesus, and to be filled with thankfulness at all the incredible spiritual blessings that were now theirs because of the powerful grace and love of Christ. And he understood that it came about by setting their minds.

Set your mind. Be intentional. Take control of what’s coming into your brain, and focus it on the good.

 

The simple goodness of a flowering cherry tree branch against blue sky backdrop

The simple goodness of a flowering cherry tree branch against blue sky backdrop

 

In my next blog I’ll delve into a practical everyday way that I hope can effectively set my mind – a tool for enabling the hope-filled, joyful, positive life outlook that pushes the curmudgeon out the door.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my Chronic Complainers Club membership card tucked away in my wallet as a reminder, because I know full well that I’ll be needing to have this talk with myself again…


Considering Christ in Creation

 

Another year of traveling America searching for photographic art in creation has begun.

First stop on this road trip is the southernmost section of Everglades National Park, a place made visually famous by the work of a few gifted photographers who have spent an entire lifetime working the area to capture a handful of spectacular moments. But the problem for me is their portfolio images set a high bar of expectation for my eyeballs, so when I drove through the park for my first time last week and saw very ordinary views of flat grasslands and scrubby stunted trees, with precious little wildlife to be found, it was quite a letdown.

The first temptation was to ditch the place early, well before my week of campground reservations was up. Especially since the ‘greeting’ I received the first night at camp was twenty mosquito bites in five minutes and thirty of the bloodsuckers following me inside my trailer. But the strong inner drive to find and create compelling imagery thankfully surfaced as it usually does, and I determined to stick it out and see what work could be done here in this vast river of grass.

 

The pastel colors of dusk wash over a dwarf cypress forest

The pastel colors of dusk wash over a dwarf cypress forest

 

As I pushed through creative challenges of seeing beyond the seemingly ordinary surface of the place, and found some level of endurance for the accumulating mosquito bites now covering my entire body after several long days of scouting, some visual rewards were granted and I’m thankful to have a few pleasing compositions of flora & fauna to share in this blog space today.

 

A beautiful barred owl sitting quietly in a cypress tree was a great reward at day's end

A beautiful barred owl sitting quietly in a cypress tree was a great reward at day’s end

 

The flower of a lily pad opens up to the afternoon sun along the Anhinga Trail

The flower of a lily pad opens up to the afternoon sun along the Anhinga Trail

 

When my photographic work feels difficult like it has here in the ‘Glades, it can be easy for me to forget that my foundational purpose for being out in creation is to see & savor the glory of God, to effortlessly worship him as I take delight in the works of his hands. I realized today that amid the mosquitos and the mundane I needed to rely on not just the inspiration of the moment to lead my heart to a worshipful state, but I also needed to cultivate that heart of worship. To be intentional about making much of God no matter the conditions.

And so today as I sit down at my campsite in the Everglades to share photos and writing, I want to take a moment to intentionally exalt God’s work in creation, to point to his glory, but from a perspective that has not always been obvious to me – that is, the work of Christ in creation.

Most of us who are Christian refer to God the Father as creator, a fact that we easily understand and acknowledge in our faith. But there is a deeper level to this basic truth that drops the jaw of my heart in awe, and it is this: the Jesus I know as God’s Son, the gentle Lamb of God born as a baby in the Middle East, who walked this earth and laid down his life so that rebels like me could be forgiven and granted new spiritual life, this Savior who is my King and my Comforter and my Friend –  is also the Creator of all the beauty I behold in the natural world.

Christ is the Maker of it all!

The first chapter of John reveals this glory for us:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made. 
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

So much spectacular mystery and majesty here! The God who became man so he could rescue fallen creatures, this Jesus who has granted me freedom by his astounding grace and love, the one I worship as Savior and who gently shepherds my life, is the powerful and creative force behind these sublime landscapes and occasional wildlife I chase across the country.

Another layer of the onion is peeled as I peer more deeply into the person of Christ. And my worship is deepened.

 

Cypress trees silhouetted against a rich sunset sky in Everglades NP

Cypress trees silhouetted against a rich sunset sky in Everglades NP


Mystery is Spoiled by a Word

 

On this last day of 2015 I am reflecting on the images created since I began this blog. I’m filled with gratitude for the majesty of God I’ve been blessed to experience, and for the photographic work that resulted.

I leave you now with a gallery of my favorites from the first 18 months of blogging, trusting that the pictures will speak for themselves and reveal the fingerprint of the Divine…

 

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“Mystery is spoiled by a word.”

– Brennan Manning
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[PLEASE CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO BRING UP CAROUSEL VIEW]


Getting Your Feathers Ruffled

 

Like many folks, I am mesmerized by birds of prey. And perhaps the most common species most of us are able to enjoy regularly are hawks.

The fierce look, those piercing see-through-you eyes, the sharp weaponized beak, talons built for killing, the beautiful earth tone coloring in their wings, and the graceful effortless glide that suddenly turns into the swift dive-bomb of death for rats, lizards, frogs, and other edibles.

It’s not difficult to see the glory of this grand creature, and in that the excellence of the Creator.

 

 

Our back yard is often a convenient theater for viewing the hawk show. Frequently I’ll have my telephoto lens trained on one as he soars through the blue Florida sky, and simply watching him through binoculars as he’s perched atop a snag patiently looking for a meal brings me joy.

 

 

One day the show became quite lively as a resident mocking bird took offense at the hawk’s close presence to its nest. Tiny in comparison to the hawk’s big body, the mocking bird showed no fear or intimidation as it loudly complained in mid-air, swiping at the hawk again and again, often making direct hit with the hawk. The little bird would return to the bushes for a few seconds of rest, then soon he was back at it, helicoptoring right in the face of the spectacular raptor and actually looking quite fearsome in moments caught by the camera.

 

 

As startling as the territorial behavior of the mocking bird was to me, it was downright shocking to see the reaction of the formidable hawk: he did nothing.

I felt certain the hawk could crush the life out of the small bird should he choose, but he did not attack. Nor did he even defend. He sat stoically, unruffled, continuing his efforts to hunt from his high perch. And when the mockingbird’s fly-by hits became disturbing enough, the noble hawk did not retaliate, did not seek vengeance, but merely flew away to a quieter more distance tree where he could be at peace.

There’s a sizable chunk of wisdom to be gleaned in observing the behavior of these birds in their natural habitat. For weeks I have been pondering it. Sometimes in life I have been the mockingbird, so quick to react when I feel threatened by another person’s opinions or behavior or mere presence. And at other times I have been, like the hawk, the one being harassed, but unlike the hawk I did not remain calm and confident in the strength of who I truly am.

Thank you Maker, for the awesomeness of your natural world! And for granting me joy, learning, and growth through observing the works of your hands.

 

 

 


A Tale of Two Trails

 

The area I call home has a variety of paved trails where a bicyclist can spin car-free and carefree.

As I rode on my favorite of these trails recently my senses were alive to the incredible beauty of this route that meandered through lush groves of sub-tropical trees and alongside a gently flowing waterway. Gorgeous flowers were in bloom. All manner of birds swooped high and low, including the always-inspiring  osprey and swallow-tailed kite. Vibrant red cardinals flitted about the brush, and a variety of stately wading birds found meals along the water’s edge. Rabbits scurried on green grass, fish leaped out of the waterway, and warm Florida sunshine beamed down from a blue canopy decorated with white towers of cumulonimbus clouds. The eye candy of this trail was undeniable, and all of these small glories filled me up inside with a delicious joy.

This is the trail I would love to ride every single day!

 

 

 

A juvenile ibis hunts for some lunch along the Upper Tampa Bay Trail

A juvenile ibis hunts for some lunch along the Upper Tampa Bay Trail

 

But the particular bike trail I chose to ride on a different day was far from glorious: the sultry air carried a stomach-turning stench as it circled around a local landfill, and the swarm of large birds in the sky above were vultures. This trail also had a canal next to it, but the murky brown water was highly suspect with trash littered throughout. A large section of this route was built right next to a busy road, and the sight, sound, and smell of automobiles was far from appealing. No wildlife of any consequence was found, and no enthralling views were to be seen. A water treatment plant next to the trail was another of many blights. A couple of the underpasses revealed sketchy-looking characters sitting off to the dark sides and I was glad to be pedaling past quickly on a bike rather than nervously walking by them.

 

 

You might wonder why I would ever want to take that nasty trail again.

And yet the reality is that these two wildly different yet accurate descriptions are for the exact same bike trail.

What I see on any given ride along this path is what I choose to focus my attention on.

As I power along on my bike, will I train my senses to truly see all the everyday beauty surrounding me, crying out to be savored with a heart of thankfulness? Or will I set my sights on all the imperfections, all that displeases me, all that is wrong, leaving no room for grace and gratitude?

 

 

 

An anhinga drys off his wings in the abundant Florida sunshine

An anhinga drys off his wings in the abundant Florida sunshine

 

I choose the intentional practice of childlike wonder – eagerly anticipating the treats Creator-God has in store for me each new morning as he reveals his excellence, his beauty, and his love through the ordinary delights of life.

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“This is the day that the LORD has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it.”

(Psalm 118:24)
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The message on the bench that greets me at the trailhead serves as a great reminder

The message on the bench that greets me at the trailhead serves as a great reminder

 

[Note: for the photographically curious, images in this post were created with a Nikon D7100 DSLR w/Tamron 150-600mm, an iPhone 6 Plus, and Adobe Lightroom 5 processing software.]


Chasing A Flying Kite

 

In my previous post I shared images of the backyard beauty my wife and I have been blessed to see and photograph this year. Since then I’ve continued hanging out on that back patio in the mornings, big telephoto zoom in hand, waiting for more beautiful Florida birds to grace me with a flyover. I was not disappointed a few days ago when I caught a squadron of Roseate Spoonbills, one of my favorites creatures of the air, gracefully sailing through the blue sky.

 

The pink coloring of roseate spoonbills pops against a Florida blue sky

The pink coloring of roseate spoonbills pops against a Florida blue sky

 

And a great little adventure developed recently around the chase to capture (photographically) another variety of bird.

As I was pounding out some miles on my road bike along the Upper Tampa Bay Trail, I thought I heard someone call my name. Suddenly another cyclist was alongside me wearing a big grin, and I realized it was my friend Cody. He was on his bike commute home and was excitedly telling me about witnessing ahead on the trail a kite plunging into the canal to grab a fish. After a brief moment envisioning someone flying a kite and crashing it into the water, I realized this must be some sort of Florida bird I did not yet know about.

I finished my ride but did not spot the kite, and back at home I Googled for info about this mystery bird. When I saw the image search results on my computer screen I immediately recognized the distinctive profile as one I had seen a few years ago at Florida’s Sanibel Island and I recall at that time how I was completely fascinated by the forked tail silhouette in the sky. The full name of this bird of prey is a Swallow-tailed Kite, and it returns to Florida each spring to nest after spending winters in Brazil.

Now my obsession with this stunning raptor was sparked, and I was driven to find one and photograph it.

In the days that followed my wife & I would take off in the car when we had spare time and drive the neighborhood surrounding the nearby bike trail, scanning the sky with binoculars. We came up with nothing. On a couple of other days we took to the trail on our bikes with the heavy photo backpack along for the ride, and again came up empty handed. But then on a subsequent bike ride when I had no camera with me, there were not one but three kites circling high above the trail! Thrilled as I was to view them, I was disappointed from not bagging my trophy photo.

After returning home from that bike ride I noticed a shadow flicker briefly on the wall as something momentarily blocked the light of the evening sun out in the back yard. Walking to the doors and peering out the glass, there was a majestic Swallow-tailed Kite diving in and out of the greenspace just a few dozen yards from the back of our house!

 

The striking Swallow-tailed Kite is one of the most eye-catching birds of prey

The striking Swallow-tailed Kite is one of the most eye-catching birds of prey

 

That evening I snagged my first ever shot of this amazing raptor, and since then he’s visited my backyard a couple more times. On his last visit he took a spectacular dive straight down into the bushes, emerging with a loud cry and a frog in his talons for supper.

 

After diving-bombing into the bushes the kite emerges with a frog

After diving-bombing into the bushes the kite emerges with a frog

 

It’s certainly not difficult to see the glory of God displayed in the spectacular design of the Swallow-tailed Kite, and other fantastic birds we all are privileged to admire wherever we may live or travel.

And there is another aspect of God’s great glory that has come to mind as I’ve been delighted to watch and photograph these creatures – the fact that he soveriegnly rules over all his creation, and provides the food to sustain not only these big birds of prey but also the common little sparrows. If this Creator cares for the birds, must he not even more so care for us, who he made in his image? Jesus assured his disciples that indeed he does:

“What is the price of two sparrows–one copper coin?
But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.

And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.

So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

(Matthew 10:29-31, New Living Translation)

 

A Cattle Egret takes flight in the skies above my backyard

A Cattle Egret takes flight in the skies above my backyard

 

 

 

 


Basking in Backyard Beauty

 

A profusion of springtime flowers attract a butterfly to the greenspace behind our backyard

A profusion of springtime flowers attract a butterfly to the greenspace behind our backyard

 

My father-in-law Bob is not a big fan of change. Nor technology. So when he recently visited our Florida home with a new Samsung smart phone in his hand, I figured we were all in trouble 🙂

His wife Sheila had ‘strongly encouraged’ him to replace his decade-old flip phone and join the 2015 tech party. He had reluctantly given in, but after two weeks with the new ‘smart’ device he was ready to chuck it into the nearest lake. For the first few days of his visit we’d try not to start laughing in front of him as the cascade of cursewords would flow when the device rebelled against his every intention.

But eventually I noticed a change beginning.

Bob had taken to sitting outside in the early mornings on our small backyard patio, and one day when I joined him with my much-later-morning mug of coffee in hand, I witnessed something remarkable: he had outsmarted his smartphone all on his own with no input from any of us, and learned to use his new hi-tech device to call in a variety of birds within feet of our back door.

He needed no help in navigating the phone’s web browser, googling for Florida bird calls, and playing those audio clips to get the attention of a gorgeous red Northern Cardinal. Not only that, he had bird identification pictures pulled up on the phone’s sizable screen and was showing us what species of birds were flitting around the brush and trees in the greenspace just beyond our tiny yard. And there was no more cursing!

 

A stunning red male Northern Cardinal comes within feet of our back door

A stunning red male Northern Cardinal comes within feet of our back door

 

Soon this spunky 75-year-old was even texting like a pro (something he vowed never to do in this life). And I thought, wow, an old dog actually can learn new tricks 😉

But after some days had passed with me joining my father-in-law on our back patio each late morning for peaceful sessions of listening to the songs and calls of the birds, I suddenly realized that this old dog Bob was actually teaching me, a rapidly aging dog, a new trick. For I had not fully realized until then that my own humble backyard was a view to some amazing beauty and glory waiting to be photographed.

During Bob’s visit I began bringing the Nikon out with big telephoto attached, and experienced great delight in making images of some of the little birds he had called out. Then my wife Wendy joined the fun with her nice photographic capture of a turtle passing by. And after my father-in-law returned home to Oregon I continued spending time in the morning sitting on the patio with camera nearby, waiting for more opportunities to see, enjoy, and capture the majesty of birds in flight and any other critter that might happen across the backyard, including butterflies and lizards.

 

A turtle takes its sweet time   crawling across the grass of our backyard (photo by Wendy Martin)

A turtle takes its sweet time crawling across the grass of our backyard (photo by Wendy Martin)

 

An anole lizard lounging on our patio displays its eye-catching dewlap

An anole lizard lounging on our patio displays its eye-catching dewlap

 

Bob, if you’re reading this, I thank you for your persistence in pushing through the learning curve and finding a use for your new phone that brought us all a lot of pleasure, and for helping awaken me to backyard beauty I had taken for granted.

Sometimes I need to be reminded: slow down, look around, truly see, and savor the everyday glory of our Creator in everyday places…

 

A Limpkin takes flight off of a dead snag behind our backyard

A Limpkin takes flight off of a dead snag behind our backyard

 

[all photos in today’s post were taken with a Nikon D7100 DSLR and a Tamron 150-600mm lens]


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