Tag Archives: thankfulness

Falling For Florida

 

There was a time when I was sort of a ‘mountain snob’. More specifically, a Northwest mountain snob.

I’ve been in love with mountains since I was kid, from the age of five living in Renton, WA where my mom would lift me up so I could glimpse distant Mount Rainier out the kitchen window, continuing through years of growing up near the Idaho Sawtooths, then the Oregon Cascades, and eventually back to Rainier and other snow-capped beauties in Washington State.

I thought our Northwest mountains were the best, and I often wondered what kind of people could tolerate living in a ‘bleak’ landscape devoid of stunning peaks launching vertically into the sky. In my limited thinking back then, people who chose to live in the dull landscape of the midwest were likely, well, dull people, lacking any aesthetic appreciation. I even recall stirring up the wrath of my sister-in-law Lori, an Ohio resident, when I arrogantly made disparaging comments about folks who lived in the ‘flatlands.’

And now, as of spring 2013, I am a resident of the great (and very flat) state of Florida.

 

A grove of trees in swampland captured during a heavy downpour at Myakka River State Park

A grove of trees in swampland captured during a heavy downpour at Myakka River State Park

 

The move away from the rugged topography of Washington to the vastly different views of Florida came about because of a great job transfer opportunity for my wife. And fortunately I was onboard with the move. Multiple vacations to Florida had given me a taste of what year-round sunshine would be like, and after too many dark dreary winters I was ready to see the light. And I was overjoyed for my wife to have a better work situation and to know the joy she felt going back to the state she was born in.

I figured our new home in Florida would be a great base of operations for my office work and for enjoying beach and Disney playtime on weekends with my bride, and when I was ready for ‘real’ photographic opportunities I could travel back to the west for my serious field work with a camera, back to the beloved mountains I so adore.

But a surprise was in store: slowly and softly, Florida began wooing me, calling me to engage her with camera in hand, and after a year filled with intense struggle adapting to this new home and landscape, a day came when I realized I had fallen head-over-heels in love with this mountainless place.

 

Dusk falls over the Gulf of Mexico at low tide near the coastal town of Dunedin, FL

Dusk falls over the Gulf of Mexico at low tide near the coastal town of Dunedin, FL

 

Looking through the biased lenses I arrived wearing, I was blind to the full beauty of this land. But as scales fell off my eyes I grew to see how utterly beguiling Florida can be – huge open skies dotted with fluffy white clouds, surf lapping at your toes along two coastlines, glorious little seashells that have turned me into an obsessive collector, ridiculously stunning sunsets, lush palms, tropical plants bursting with flowers even in winter, an incredible variety of bird life that makes you frequently reach for the Audubon guide, tranquil bays, crystal-clear rivers, beach towns that beg to be strolled through, historic places that take you back to a time when the West was yet to be settled.

 

An architectural gem in the historic town of St. Augustine is Memorial Presbyterian Church

An architectural gem in the historic town of St. Augustine is Memorial Presbyterian Church

 

I cannot fully express how thankful I am to now be bonding with this new-to-me land on the level of professional photographer, a kind of bonding that is vital to my deep-down happiness. And I am so thankful that the mountain snob, the frequently critical and judgmental man of small mind, is diminishing in negative influence more and more. I’m grateful that God has changed things up in a big way, and worked in me a heart that is learning to be grateful for whatever comes, to be thankful for the blessings and beauty that can be seen and savored no matter where I am, if I will but humble myself and open my eyes…


Every good present
and every perfect gift
comes from above,
from the Father
who made the sun, moon, and stars.  

(James 1:17a, GOD’S WORD® translation)

 

A sandhill crane chick takes refuge underneath momma's big wing

A sandhill crane chick takes refuge underneath momma’s big wing


Giving Thanks for Aspens, Alligators and All Things

 

The region surrounding Moab, Utah is a red rock playground. Two national parks – Arches and Canyonlands – provide endless views and explorations of magnificent canyons, arches, and all variety of fantastic rock formations. This is as good as it gets for many visitors to the famous American Southwest. But for me, what most calls my name in this area is the La Sal Mountains, a range of high peaks reaching 12,721 feet above sea level and towering over the red rock country of Moab.

 

The 12,721 ft. La Sal Mountains rise above the Colorado Plateau near Moab, UT

The 12,721 ft. La Sal Mountains rise above the Colorado Plateau near Moab, UT

 

The La Sal range is host to wonderful groves of aspens, perhaps my favorite of all trees. Last fall I explored for my first time the La Sal Loop Road that runs up and down these peaks and was delighted with the autumn color I encountered in 2013, but this October arriving quite late in the season I fully expected all the color to be long gone. But just as I mentioned in my last post about another mountain range in Utah providing surprise color a few days before reaching Moab, so again here in the La Sals I was treated to a late-season display of gorgeous golden aspen and hillsides of brush turned shades of yellow, orange, and red.

 

Slopes in the La Sale Mountains are a wash of autumn color in early October

Slopes in the La Sale Mountains are a wash of autumn color in early October

 

I was overflowing with thankfulness to God for the gift of being among these special trees in Utah. I love the earthy aroma of autumn aspens, the soothing sound of the little leaves fluttering in the breeze, the quiet intimacy of strolling through a grove, the contrast of white trunks against yellow fall color, the smooth solid feel of the trunk as I pat them like a cherished old friend. In such an inspiring location, thankfulness flows without effort.

 

A quiet aspen grove makes for a serene location in the La Sal range near Moab

A quiet aspen grove makes for a serene location in the La Sal range near Moab

 

But in all honesty, I must admit that being thankful has often not been my usual response to my world. I’ve been ‘blessed’ with the ability to find a flaw in most everything and everyone, to see the glass half empty, to wallow in discontent and voice endless complaints to the few people in my life who would tolerate my negativity. I don’t know at what age this kicked in, but I do know most of my adult life has not been consistently lived out in a state of thankfulness.

When I departed southern Utah – a place I have cherished deeply for many years as a landscape photographer – and arrived back home in Florida a couple weeks ago to end five grand months on the road creating images, I knew my tendency would be to focus on the sense of loss at leaving behind sublime autumn aspens and many other spectacular areas, and to sit in discontent over returning to a relatively mundane normal life in the flatlands and being cooped up in a home office. Intellectually I knew I had much to be thankful for that was awaiting me in Florida – a most amazing wife, a wonderful new church with new relationships ready to be cultivated, a comfortable home made more lively by our two cuddly cats, and lots of winter sunshine and warmth. But being bountifully blessed has historically never prevented the complainer from showing his ugly face around these parts 🙂

 

A grove of aspens explodes in bright yellow on a hillside covered in scrub oaks

A grove of aspens explodes in bright yellow on a hillside covered in scrub oaks

 

Now I am happy to report that the transition back to Florida has been much more positive than what I had feared. Much prayer, including from dear friends, paved the way, and the old grouchy critic in me has been kept at bay. During the first few days back home I took notice of the incredible lushness of the Florida landscape, from swaying palms to all manner of flowering shrubs and trees. My senses came alive when I dipped my toes in the Gulf coast again. Time reconnecting with my wife has been precious. And I experienced a renewed sense of awe at God’s creative artistry when I gawked at an extremely large alligator lounging in shallow water. Somehow, someway, an attitude of thankfulness had carried over from the aspens of Utah to the alligators of Florida.

The powerful grace of God at work in me despite my many flaws and weaknesses is the only explanation I have for a heart that continues to give thanks to him. And what a difference it makes to my soul, and to those around me! To find the beauty and blessing in all circumstances each day is powerful medicine, lifting the spirit and bringing joy both to self and to relationships. I’m humbled to know my natural tendency to grumble, and I pray by God’s continued grace I can cultivate consistency in living a life of intentionally “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20, English Standard Version)


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