A Vortex of Inspiration in the Depths of Winter

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There are those who wake up each morning bathed in a glorious sunrise…steam rising off the hot springs outside their door as they gaze across the sky, admiring a rising sun and the beauty of nature.  A beauty whose only rival is the one they have laying across their chest as they rest in bed.

If this is you, then this post will likely not be of interest…

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Instead, as the holiday season winds down and the bleak side of winter seeps in, this post is for those who feel the dark, deep cold of the season beginning to weigh on their spirit.

This post is for the person jogging down a mountain in twilight, hoping to make it to the car before the sky really opens up with snow and freezing rain…

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While luck is on their side, as they make it to the car right before the sky opens, it is a short-lived moment of elation as they find out that once again “someone” left the dome light on in the car prior to the hike… and the only thing colder than the car battery is their sinking heart looking forward to a cold night before help arrives.

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These are the moments that tend to define the depths of winter.  Early winter has the excitement of a change of seasons: the feeling of the first crisp chill in the air, the beauty of the first snowfall and perhaps a dark-haired girl in a sweater with eyes twinkling as she takes a sip of her coffee.

Yuanfen- Us Dancing

But then through the rush of the holiday season, reality begins to set in: the first snowfall is accompanied with closed roads and slush.  The crisp chill in the air is soon accompanied by a weekend cold, and the girl with the twinkling eyes…well, she keeps things fresh enough to make the winter blues worthwhile.

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To most, the dead of winter is defined by crappy weather and long periods of time stuck indoors.  And while we remain trapped inside our hellish cells of purgatory, just outside our doors the Whooper Swans are living it up.  Frolicking and almost taunting us as they swim, soar and romance as we lay tucked up inside our homes.

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Winter brings a strange mix.

While the winter landscape is incredible, the weather does not make it easy to jump out of bed and run around outside and enjoy the great scenes of sunshine and smiles.   Instead, we are faced with the joyless scene of the grey & blues of winter.

However, when inspiration strikes and we brave the wind and cold, we can shed the blues and get a spark of summer in the dead of winter.

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This spark of summer in the dead of winter is what we need to search for as February looms ahead.  As after the initial thrill of a new winter season wears off, we are tested.  The abundance of patience in which we start the season with vanishes quickly during the holiday season, leaving us with a sense of dread.

As we slowly drive each other crazy with our pacing and longing for warm, sunny days…ahead is the worst month of the year.

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We can either hide our heads and suffer, succumbing to the cold and curse it in our misery, or simply shake off the chills and celebrate winter.  A cup of Irish coffee, compatible friends and a great view from a frosted window looking out into the bleak, frozen glory of wintertime is a good start.

Somewhere there will be an opportunity to get out and enjoy what winter can offer.  With Chinese New Year just ahead and signaling a close to the holiday season, I look forward to venturing out and making a watery splash to the great Year of the Horse.

Cheers to all!

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NOTE: These photos were taken in Hokkaido, Japan between Lake Mashuko and Rausu.  As luck would have it, we had every type of weather making for a great shooting environment.  One of the best days was getting out to shoot in blizzard conditions as we were stranded with road closures (below photo is of John Shaw, one of the world’s best wildlife photographers).

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Spirit of Steller’s Sea Eagles of Hokkaido

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At some time or another, I think everyone has wondered what it would be like to fly…to soar above our world and look down upon the chaos below with detachment. Our natural senses exhilarated and overwhelmed as we glide on the breeze, stretching out for our destination horizon.

The pure pursuit of freedom on the winds.

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Perhaps an experience a bit like Jonathan Livingston Seagull…and as with Jonathan and the world in general, there would be avian politics to deal with, pressures of life perhaps no different from what we experience daily and hardships that create the challenges of life.

But just to be able to soar, to get a taste of that purity…I like the thought.

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Our natural senses exhilarated and overwhelmed…a bit like a good dose of the spirit of the holiday season.  Take away the commercialism, rush of shopping and mass of people, and what is left are people in a great state of happiness and joy.

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People feel better about life, about others.  There are sincere displays of gratitude and perhaps most importantly, compassion.  The holiday season, whether Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa or another, each contain the key component that makes a holiday special: compassion.

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Compassion can touch another soul like nothing else, it can be the greatest gift of all.  Malcolm Greenhill wrote a poignant post on his blog (Malcolm’s Corner)about this the other day, how a small gesture of compassion from one person can impact another greatly.

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A simple and powerful gift is compassion.  Easier to give this time of year because of our spirit, yet to make it a habit and show compassion throughout the year and it becomes easy to imagine that we will all be flying as high as these eagles.

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I wish to be more compassionate moving forward.  I have been touch by others, likely without their knowing the impact of their kindness.  How wonderful it would be for me to do the same for others, consistently, throughout the year.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Steller's Sea Eagle Gliding in Hokkaido

Note:  these photos were taken in a small coastal fishing town (pop. 6,200) of Rausu, the most northeasterly town in Japan, and gateway to the Shiretoko Peninsula. During the winter season, pack ice, which drifts down from the Sea of Okhotsk becomes the home to Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Sea Eagles who hunt for fish and put on a show.

Some of the best Japanese food I have ever tasted, fresh and crisp and where every night ends with a little sake and settling into one of the many natural hot springs in the area.  Hokkaido is definitely a winter-wonderland.

Steller's Sea Eagle Hokkaido

Steller's Sea Eagle Hokkaido

A Hong Kong Life To Be Thankful For…

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For me, it is the memory of crawling out of bed for the pre-dawn hunt, returning home to the aroma of love via my mom’s baking and preparation of a meal that could last a lifetime…  All together it makes Thanksgiving my favorite holiday of the year.

Strange thing is, I have not had such experiences in almost two decades as work and logistics never quite synchronized, thus keeping me in Asia.

Yet, sitting here in my Hong Kong flat once again reminiscing about the Thanksgiving holiday, I could not feel any better.

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The beginning of the holiday season is always accompanied with a feeling of wonder, reminding me we all have a lot to be thankful for: memories of the past, moments of the present and thoughts of the future.

While enjoying this holiday in Hong Kong, it is true that distance makes the heart grow fonder and the memories made, more sweet.  While the spirit of the holiday season will always rest in the ‘Pendleton dreams’ I have, there have been enough Thanksgivings out here in HK to have their own place in my memory.

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Looking around Hong Kong, I see how my years here have accumulated…and what this city means to me.

The first impressions of glistening skyscrapers, hustle and bustle of designer suits and beauty of the Hong Kong life is what initially captured my imagination.  It was invigorating and I vowed to “own part of this city”; to have it become part of me.

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The city did become a part of me, but not in the way I initially imagined.  The outlying islands, the peaceful nature of the water and the wonderful people I have met made it home, and make me thankful.

Watching pieces of Hong Kong history mingle with the modern society that engulfs life here in the Fragrant Harbor (香港) continues to fascinate me.

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The other day, I went down to the southern end of Hong Kong Island, to the Aberdeen district, a vibrant fishing village that in the 19th century was one of the pillars of the Hong Kong economy.  Today Aberdeen still holds around 600 junks and boats, many still acting as homes for families who have lived there for generations.

The life of a fisherman has always been romanticized for me, from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea to my adventures as a kid.  This makes the walk along the boardwalk and through the Aberdeen fish market a bit surreal…

While Aberdeen is more commercial than it has been in the past, there is no denying the strong spirit of this place: a holder of secrets of fishing life & lore of the city.

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While walking around, I met Mr. Lam who agreed to take me on his skiff out past the mouth of the Aberdeen Harbor so I could photograph the sunset.  During the ride out, he told me how his father & grandfather spent their lives fishing and living on their boat in Aberdeen Harbor.  He loves the place, and while he spent some time in this industry, he seldom goes out any more.

“In the past, my Grandparents would begin their day much earlier than we do…as we are spoiled by use of electricity and motorized boats.  They had it simple back then…but I guess simple also means more difficult if you think about it in today’s terms.”

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His discussion stretched over generations, and he was clearly proud of his parents and grandparents who created this iconic part of Hong Kong folklore.  Reflecting on his life during the drive out, he proudly spoke of his daughter, how she attends an international school and describing her as a bridge between the old of Hong Kong and the generation of her grandparents versus the new Hong Kong and limitless opportunities waiting ahead for her.

“She is going to look back at Aberdeen her whole life and remember where we came from, and she will be proud.”  He smiled.

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As we headed back to Aberdeen, we talked about how quickly Hong Kong changes, a perpetual cycle of adapting to the new and modern.  He added something that I think personifies the culture in large Chinese cities:

“It is a little strange, but my first real dream was to own a ‘beeper’ in the early 90’s…I figured that would mean I had made it.”  He laughed loudly at that thought, and added “of course by the time I had a beeper, everyone had a mobile phone…I guess I should have dreamed bigger, huh?”

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That is when I realized no matter where or who we are, people are always chasing a dream…and it isn’t the actual dream that matters, but the path taken from the moment the dream is dreamt until it is realized.

Through his words, it was clear that Mr. Lam was thankful of how his life has worked out:

  • Able to reflect a bit on the past, and be thankful.
  • Focus on the present, make due, and be thankful.
  • Then offer a bit of a dream for the future so those who follow will have greater opportunities than the generation before.

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While the modern skyscrapers and seductive beat of the city gives Hong Kong the aura it is famous for, it is only a slice of Hong Kong.  The food stalls, life on the water, the hills and sea are the pieces of the city that hold the true spirit and culture of the locals.  It has become a home.  A place where many answers lie…and for that I am thankful.

Hong Kong reminds me of Pendleton, which when considering my hometown’s population is only 16,000 (on a good day), it seems silly.  But in my mind it does.

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I think back to the words of the fisherman about his daughter: “She is going to look back at Aberdeen her whole life and remember where she came from, and she will be proud.”

For me, those simple words sum up Thanksgiving: to be thankful for what we have, and for what is possible and to all those who have helped along the way.

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The Hallelujah Mountains of Hunan

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Sitting in my comfortable chair with a nice cup of coffee in my hand, I can’t help but wonder “what lies around the corner?”

Curiosity cannot help but push us towards this unknown.  It may be a quick look or it may be the beginning of a long, new adventure…  The one thing I am sure of, we cannot help but take a look.  Humans by nature are curious creatures and the desire to learn and obtain wisdom in life lies deep within everyone’s heart.

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This desire to learn is a gift children have in abundance.  Differences (be it culture, language, food, religion, etc…) can be eerie for the young; frightening if not so compelling.  There are times when children cannot help but to stare at someone, often with mouth agape, as they try to register what it is they are now experiencing.

Often a turn towards their parents to understand how they should proceed follows.

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In my experiences, parents let children explore differences with “the mind of a child”, open and questioning.  When that something strange is someone, all it takes is a glint in the eye, break of a smile, warm laughter or something similarly simple to cross all boundaries and all cultures.  We are one.

The ability of children to focus on the newness that triggers questions is what fascinates.  A child’s mind pursues answers to understand how “differences” fits into their world, and they grow.

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Not a bad lesson to learn from little ones: never cease expanding the mind for if we do not grow with all the changes the world brings every day, we’ll be lost.

It is crazy to think of all the opportunities that lie around in today’s world.  Places to explore right around the corner: a neighbor, friends or a new restaurant with an exotic menu that opens an opportunity to jump into a new world.

What is most beautiful to see are parents who push their children forward with curiosity instead of pulling them back with fear.

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“Pushing forward with curiosity instead of pulling back with fear” 

It was this last sentence that caught my attention while staying in a small home on top of the Hallelujah Mountains in Hunan province, China.  Huddled around a small stove with a couple in their mid-30s from Beijing, they told me they grew up restricted by fear, in part due to the chaos of China in the 60s and 70s that lingered in the minds of the people through the 80s.

The couple contrasted those fears of the past with what has replaced it in today’s society: healthy curiosity.  Civilizations thrive when the people are pushing forward with confidence instead of pulling back in fear.  Chasing after the answer, pursuing curiosity, can lead to places that never before have been envisioned.      

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How we found ourselves together in this small cabin was a result of curiosity.  As the family whose house we were staying were members of the Tu-Jia minority (土家族), the couple from Beijing enjoyed Tujia food very much, and wanted to experience it on the mountain, while I came for the photography…a perfect match.

As our conversation ended, the lady from Beijing asked me to join her along with the old couple, to go out back to their smokehouse.  There I witnessed a 30-minute discussion over what piece of smoked meat would be used for our meal.

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It was amid questions, stories, more questions interspersed with laughter that “the best piece of meat” was found and preparation of a traditional Tu-Jia meal was confirmed.  We would have 土家腊肉 (Tujia Bacon with Wild Vegetables).

Wild vegetables, tofu, rice and A LOT of Hunan spices made for a great meal.  Standard for all such meals is a glass of their homemade ‘moonshine’ which after a long day of hiking went down smoothly.

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The experience of Hunan and Hallelujah Mountain was unforgettable.  The photography ended up being a bit of a disappointment, as the weather did not cooperate on top of the mountain… after one clear night, the cold rolled in along with a light rain, which meant a bland, grey fog blanketing the area.

I had hoped for heavy rain, followed by small weather breaks, which would have given perfect conditions to record the rare “peaks above a sea of clouds” scene, but instead Lady Fate gave me a another great reason to return here again and search for that elusive shot.

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Getting the urge to explore, to let the curiosity get the best of us is a good thing.  Whether it is taking a small trip, or listening to a story from someone next door that contains wisdom that people would normally have to travel around the globe to collect.

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Some of the best memories I have, are of growing up and learning about things: wheat, cattle, sports and nature from people around my home town.  Yet, I also learned about China, the Middle East and the world from those very same people…as I was curious and they were eager to tell me a story and share with me the mystery.

As an American, it excites me to see such diversity around the world and in our communities.  Opportunities right next door just waiting to be tapped for the wealth of experience and wisdom to be shared.

It impresses me to no end how easy it can be to invite yourself into a new culture, a new life just by following your curiosity and allowing yourself to be swept away into mystery.

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The Simple Things…

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The year was 1397AD, and Gao Rui-fu was walking through the streets of Xi’an, China.  Having just returned the day before from a long trek along the fabled Silk Road, he was in search of something in his hometown, yet unsure what this “something” was.

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He passed his favorite bookstore, pausing by the new titles, thinking perhaps it was opening the page of some long-lost novel he had read in the past that was leaving this emptiness in his soul…or perhaps a new book that would take him to unchartered lands.

But walking through the dusty shelves, he walked out empty…

What could it be?

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He walked pass the lively market where Sun Ling, his childhood sweetheart, worked thinking perhaps seeing his girl again would charge his spirit and bring him out of this funk.  But having seen her last night, he walked past knowing something still was just not quite right.

He ran along the mighty Xi’an Wall, in the hopes that perhaps it was the absence of seeing his city, his streets and the people who would fill this missing space.

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This city wall, a thousand years old with a new section just finished…his father the head foreman.  An impenetrable structure, 55 feet thick at the base, Rui-fu felt pride running his hands over the large stones that made up the wall.  Still after an hour of climbing and running, no reply to the ache he felt inside.

What was he missing?

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As he wandered along, thinking about his parents, siblings and friends he has visited since his return…the parks, streets and favorite hangouts, he still could not understand what was causing this strange void inside.

He had hoped settling into the ambiance & comfort of his favorite tea shop this morning would have resolved this question, sipping the fragrance of freshly picked tea leaves, yet all that did was make him go to the bathroom more often than he wished…

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With his mind distracted, he soon found himself outside of the city center, and nearing the slum area of town…and while most people would never dream of heading down to this area, Rui-fu savored such visits.

A nod of his head to old Mr. Li and his wife, who operated a tiny restaurant in this area, perfecting the art of the Chinese dumpling (饺子 pronounced ‘jiao-zi’) and as his smile broke, happiness ran through Rui-fu.

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Something so simple, but so perfect: comfort food.  The taste of home the body craves, especially after a long absence.  Outside this simple stall, Rui-fu smelled the simple flavors and tastes of the Chinese dumpling…  He was home.

There are many great dishes from around the world, on every street corner, and over 600 years ago, after a long trek, Rui-fu refueled his spirit with a simple meal of dumplings.

With me, it is the same.

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With my home being the USA, there are days in China when I miss a great number of things.  From bread I can buy from the local bakery to the meals I take for granted.  It is at these times in China, I go off to find the one comfort food I have: the Chinese dumpling.  饺子.

Almost without fail, my first meal is at this little shop around the corner called North-East Dumplings.  The restaurant consists of two small tables.  Every time I walk in, Mr. or Mrs. Qiu are at a small table filling & folding jiao-zi with their beautiful little daughter Xiao Qiu smiling and reaching for my i-Pad so she can play her games while I wait for my meal.

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One day, when I asked if I could photograph them making dumplings, they warmly agreed.  Xiao Qiu was excited to take me to the open market to buy ingredients for the next morning, a perfect way to start the day.

The ingredients of the dumplings we made varied greatly, from pork and chives to mushroom and vegetables.  The key to great dumplings is first to make them by hand, with the art of filling & folding:

Place a small amount of fill into the shell...

1.)  Place a small amount of fill into the shell…

2.  Artfully distribute the fill as you begin the process of pinching together the sides of the dumpling…

2.)  Artfully distribute the fill as you begin the process of pinching together the sides of the dumpling…

3.) Within that movement press and shape the jiao-zi...

3.) Within that movement press and shape the jiao-zi…

4.) Finally, use magic in the final press, to ensure closure and give shape & integrity to the wonderful 饺子…

4.) Finally, use magic in the final press, to ensure closure and give shape & integrity to the wonderful 饺子…

The art of producing a perfectly made dumpling is a gift not easily mastered…and with Xiao Qiu stating matter-of-factly: “Randy doesn’t really know how to make dumplings does he?!?”  Laughter filled the room, and I decided that it was perhaps best to focus on photography instead of dumplings.

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Perhaps the greatest reason I enjoy my dumplings, is that it is the closest things I have to comfort food in China.  Something simple, yet solid and brings a sense of peace as I sit down for a meal.

$1.75 for a plate of 15 dumplings (they usually give me a few more…), and a dish of vinegar and red peppers for additional flavor brings me back to the time in Xi’an when I first enjoyed Chinese dumplings more than 20 years ago.

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In 1991, sitting in the small dumpling shop in Xi’an, missing home tremendously but for the first time starting to feel comfortable in my new surroundings that began with the discovery of my new favorite food.

Seeing all this work that goes into producing the fill, preparation of the dough and then folding & handling all these dumplings…only to be gobbled up in seconds once prepared.

There are more to dumplings than just great flavor.

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As with anything in life, if you put your heart into something (work and play), it is impossible not to walk away without creating something special.  Homemade dumplings are made special because of the hands & hearts of those who make them so.

In many ways, cooking is similar to life.  As Julia Child once put it “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure.  In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

Pretty good advice for life as well…

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Sexy Mother Nature Shows-off Her Grand Tetons

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Mother Nature is proof that women rule the world.  Us men are mere toys: something to humor them when they are bored and someone to torment, yet love.  Every time I think I will be clever and try to outsmart the fairer sex…in the end I am humbled.

Understanding this is what made my late-summer plans ridiculous.

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I thought I would spend the time romancing the daughters of Mother Nature.  The plan was pretty simple: visit my steady girl Ellinor (of Olympic National Park fame), have a wonderful time together, and then later sneak off to Wyoming to visit her sisters Teton and Yellowstone, to see if their rumored natural beauty was true.

A quick trip, a simple glance and then I would head back to Seattle to be closer to my girl.

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Now, I like to think that I am a one-woman man and Ellinor is the girl for me.  I have the approval of Mother Nature, who after some initial concerns, seems to have approved of this relationship.

Despite this good fortune of having such a great lady, it is also impossible to ignore the wisps of allure from across the “room” that can spark a man’s interest: beautiful eyes and generous peaks inviting a lucky soul to walk on the wild side.

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Perhaps I mistook the twinkle of the stars in the night’s sky, for a twinkle in her eye, but before I could think, I was in my car speeding towards Wyoming, with a Johnny Cash CD blaring out the song “Jackson” and the infamous lyrics “I’m going to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around…”

Somewhere I’m sure I was thinking…“you’ve got it all with Ellinor and the Olympic National Park, can’t you be content?”  but Johnny pushed those thoughts into the back recesses of my mind.

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The description of Jackson, Wyoming has been simply stated as “an oasis nestled between the Tetons and heaven.”  While I’ve question the idea of love at first sight, I think I have been proven wrong.  Let’s just say, after my arrival in Jackson, my mind was swimming as I began looking at houses in the area, preparing for a life-changing move.  Teton was that beautiful.

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My flirtation with Teton was something I will never forget.  Sigh…  I could tell you story after story, but I know you would think it was something I stole out of Penthouse Letters so I will forego such details.

Perhaps the photographs of sunlight & reflections can paint a more accurate picture than my words ever could…

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Little did I know while hiking trails in Teton, riding on the winds out of the north, came a waft of perfume…no mistaking it came from the home of Yellowstone.  The scent of another woman, and it broke the spell that Teton had cast on me.

It was with a heavy heart, yet with a spring in my step, I snuck back to my car as dusk settled on the day and barreled out-of-town, heading into Yellowstone to camp on her doorstep for the night.

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Yellowstone.  Wow.  How could a man walk away from such a beauty without surrendering his soul?  As I heard thunder off in the distance…I realized that I had just been struck by a thunderbolt of beauty and passion.

Yellowstone, this could be a long and complicated relationship.

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As I dozed off to sleep, for a moment I felt as if I was floating in bliss with wet kisses of Yellowstone falling upon me.  With a shock, I woke within my sieve of a tent now acting as a small lake and the beating rain of Mother Nature’s fury ensuring me that my nightmare was just beginning.

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Lusting after three beautiful daughters of Mother Nature, not a situation I had expected.  Each enchanting me like no other…putting on their best face, and waking me each morning with a kiss of sunshine.  They have shown me things I had never before thought possible…and feeling a high I never thought achievable.

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It is often said you yearn more for what is unattainable, and this yearning clouds the mind.  I guess while I was singing along to “Jackson” on the way down, I missed the chorus of June Carter-Cash, “Yeah, go to Jackson, you big-talkin’ man…And I’ll be waiting in Jackson…”

With Mother Nature adding: “to hunt you down…”

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My quick escape to Jackson was made with clothing for temperatures in the 70s, so with unexpected wind and rain, I guess you could say I was caught with my pants down when Mother Nature turned the table on me.

  • The winds pierced.
  • The cold penetrated.
  • The lightening blinded.

Rain coming on quicker than I could retreat to shelter, and on one hike when I found the ‘magical’ shot I had been waiting for, down came the hail, hard and swift.  Stinging me with a vengeance as I missed the shot, and made a long run back to the shelter of my car.

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As the trip ended, I was heading home with my head down and tail between my legs.  Fooled and humbled, yet again.

My best lines and suave charm were powerless against these beauties (and for those who don’t know me, that is not saying too much).  I was nothing more than another disillusioned soul, captivated and toyed with the hope of eternal bliss with nature.

All the same, this dash of misery with cold and wet days was quickly forgotten, as my heart still pounded with blood warmed by my encounters.  I couldn’t help but smile.

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Sure, I may be walking away with something close to pneumonia, but it was worth it.  Mother Nature seemed satisfied with my discomfort, believing I had learned my lesson.

The ride home through Montana, Idaho and Washington was beautiful…and I already had a story concocted for Ellinor and the Olympics, and I think Mother Nature is cool with it.

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These beauties of nature, some may call them Sirens, mystical women who defeat and bring men to their knees.  Myself, I prefer to think of them as Muses providing inspiration to see what is possible and create bigger dreams to chase: reflecting what is hidden in our hearts, so we can recognize our good nature and bring the dreams to life.

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As for Mother Nature, she may feel a bit put off with the title of this post, but how could a woman not feel proud of the beauty of her daughters?

The only thing that concerns me, is that while in Jackson, I heard she has three other daughters: Bryce Canyon, Arches and the Grand Canyon in the neighborhood who are said to have beauty rarely seen.  Just my type…

Couldn’t hurt if I took the time one day to stroll down there for a look…could it?!?

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Take the Bull By the Horns…

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There have been countless moments in life where it feels as if I have just been through a 7.9 second thrashing of a Brahma bull ride: long enough to feel the thrill & pain of every jolt, yet failing at the end with a ‘no-score.’   That last 0.1 seconds an eternity away.

While I have never been on a bull (and never, ever plan too…), the idea of surviving those 8-seconds necessary to score an official ride works well as an analogy in business and life.

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“8.0 seconds of fury” is not a way many would like to spend life, but eventually, we will face such a ride.  As noted in an earlier post “Let’er Buck” there are courageous souls who tackle this role with wild abandon on the rodeo circuit, and how they handle those 8-seconds can teach us mortal folks about dealing with life.

It takes an artistic skill not only to survive for those 8-seconds, but to create a thing of beauty from such a violent ride.  To score the highest possible with the cards we are dealt.

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To score the highest, the cowboy must make the ride look effortless.  So amid the fury of the ride, arrives the concept of becoming one with the animal…to be one with nature, to allow a certain peace and quiet confidence to envelope the scene.

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Synchronicity, where everything around you works together.  A moment where it feels like you can achieve anything.  Your actions appear and feel effortless as if you are doing nothing, yet your focus and results prove otherwise.

It is taking the bull by the horns, becoming so focused and primed that you flow with the jolts and gyrations that may come your way.

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Whether riding a Brahma bull, bronc, or pouring over spreadsheets and business deals: when you are in a zone, life becomes effortless.  Answers arrive before questions are asked, work is completed as if it were play.  These are the moments to live for, when nothing seems to go wrong.

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Years ago, while at the Pendleton Round-Up, I was talking with a group of bareback bronc riders who were describing how they felt during competition.  Each one agreed that ‘there are days you feel as if you are one with the animal, and it is a beautiful effortless ride…” and behind that success are years of hard work, experience, and humility.

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The one thought I took away from that great conversation in the arena, was advice I still try to follow today: “The minute you start becoming cocky and disrespecting either the animals or those around you, it is lost…the focus is gone, and you are flying through air with a hard, hard ground below…”

Round-Up-37Humility is to understand that you can always learn something, often from people and places you least expect.  From what I have experienced and seen from cowboys over the years is that there is a consistent trait of confidence and a brazen sense of fearlessness with they way they live…yet even with this confidence, they are respectful and humble.

Respectful of those that came before them, and towards those who work the land making the USA and West they way it is today: a slice of heaven on Earth.

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Life throws a lot our way, and as the immortal cowboys teach us every rodeo season with their actions, tough days are inevitable and there will be strings of rides that result in eating dirt & grass.

Such times make us who we are, as we find the focus and passion that allows us to dust ourselves off and prepare for that next ride.  For it may be the next ride, that perfect ride, to put us back on top again.

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When the time comes where we have to face the ‘agony & ecstasy’ of that 8-second ride in life, keep focus on what is ahead and when problems arise: take the bull by the horns 

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Flow of Water ~ Flow of Life

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Years ago, my Dad and I were sitting in a duck blind in Eastern Oregon prior to dawn and I mentioned how much I wanted to live near the Oregon Coast.  The  gist of my reasoning was that the Oregon Coast is beautiful, and having water around was comforting.

There is nothing quite like the sight and sound of water; roar of an ocean or babble of brook.  The response from my Dad surprised me; he preferred the high desert and mountains…

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It was not the first time I have been surprised by such a response, as my ex- felt the same way, where I always envisioned a place on the water, she felt the opposite.

My dad laughed at my incredulous look, and said he loves being at the pond (one of his favorite places on earth), and it is made better because it is located in Eastern Oregon (which is why he chose Pendleton).  He also laughed at the situation with my ex-, saying that my Mom’s thought on the subject is also the opposite of his and, like me, she would rather live next to the ocean.

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Why I bring this up, is that there is a special connection to water that inspires me, calms me.  I will not think twice to pay more for a sea view room, while others cringe at the thought as they do not see the same value: some people can’t believe someone else would pay so much more for a house (or flat) with a water view, while others cannot comprehend why not.

The beauty of differences in human nature.

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Among us all, however, is a tremendous respect for water, and it is an inherent respect as we flowed like water from conception onwards.  Beyond the most obvious reason that the majority of our body is made up of the stuff,  it is the nature of water that intrigues.

Water is pure: two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.  It has no desire other than to be itself.

  • try to pick it up, control and squeeze it, and it will elude ~ as will a strong human spirit
  • if it remains still, it becomes stagnate ~ as will our body & mind without pursuing life
  • when it flows it becomes pure ~ as when we flow & move: life, love and our spirits tend to flourish

Natural properties that we should emulate.

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Water is resilient.  Soft yet incredibly strong.  An analogy which is often repeated, is how over time water can turn stone into sand with its relentless flow, creating such marvels as the Grand Canyon.  Water never ceases in its pursuit of life…it just keeps on flowing, bending when necessary, and without question follows its nature.

My favorite verse from the Dao de Jing is number eight which parallels water with human nature.  If I had to summarize the words of this verse it is: be true to who you are, keep it simple and kind, and flow with your work and in life, without expectations, and you will not be disappointed.

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Simple thoughts.  Whenever life throws something at me, a trip to the coast (or a creek) is all I need to gain perspective.

As with all words of Lao-zi, they are words of poetry…which makes translation by any non-native speaker close to impossible.  Below is the Chinese, and an old translation I made 15 years ago with a lot of help.

  • 上善若水。
  • 水善利万物而不争,处众人之所恶,故几于道。
  • 居善地,心善渊,与善仁,言善信,政善治,事善能,动善时。
  • 夫唯不争,故无尤。

The greatest good is like water.  Nourishing all in our world without effort, flowing to depths we ignore.  Water is therefore like the Dao.

In living, be close to the land

In thinking, be simple from the heart

In dealing with others, be kind with sincere words

In politics and business, do not manipulate

In life, be effective and completely present

When you are content being yourself, your flow gains the respect of those around you.

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I do remember when I was studying Chinese and the Dao de Jing, I asked many questions about this verse and finally the person I was studying with said the meaning of the verse “is just like a brook in the mountains: travels from high to low, nourishing, sincere, humble and true to itself…and most of all it sounds beautiful if you shut-up and take time to listen.”

Take the time to listen to what the water (and the world) is saying.

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Related Articles:

Let’er Buck!

Bareback Air

“Let’er Buck!”

These two words can awake and excite a soul like no other.  My thought of what I wanted to be when I grew up is forever linked with these two words: a cowboy who would win the All-Around Championship at the Pendleton Round-Up

Realistically, there was a better shot of me becoming the President of the USA, as the road of a Round-Up champion takes a special & courageous soul to travel.

Big dreams at the Pendleton Round-Up, a big stage for any cowboy: if you win here, you have made it on the rodeo circuit.  The Pendleton Round-Up is one of the oldest and most respected rodeos in the world.

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Dreams of Larry Mahan, Lane Frost, Mike Currin, Mike Beers, Ty Murray and Bobby DelVecchio, great cowboys who have electrified the rodeo world with their art, still churn in my head.  Such dreams find the minds of many young rodeo fans in Eastern Oregon, all in anticipation of one day riding in the world-famous Pendleton Round-Up.

Yet, it is not just the big names that kids dream about…it is the ranchers and farmers of the area that make this show (and dream) so close.  Heroes, who one day are working the fields of their farms and ranches, and the next day are dedicating their time both as participants and key figures in making the Round-Up successful.

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Favorite events of steer wrestling, saddle-bronc and bareback to the riding of the Brahma bulls will see local and international cowboys show-off their skill.  While they often end up with just a mouthful of dirt and grass to show for their efforts, they’re always buoyed by the applause and support of the crowd.

In someway, all of us in the crowd are on the field sharing our dreams with cowboys as they ride.

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Of course, dreams of young men are never complete without visions of a goddess or two to steal away his time, and the Round-Up has more than its share of such beauties.  While every rodeo has numerous ‘buckle-bunnies’ it takes a special woman to make it to the Round-Up, especially the role of Round-Up Queen and her Court of Princesses.

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The Queen and Her Court can take me away from whatever I am doing, and along with everyone else watch them glide into the arena, flying in on their steeds with a grace that would make Pegasus jealous.  There have been royalty a plenty over the years: Jody Gugin, Ellen Kilkenny, Sara Mautz and my all-time favorite Mary-Lou O’Rourke (Lazinka) back in the 1960s.

Mary Lou’s husband (Bob O’Rourke) taught me the joys of fishing and the spirit of living in the area…while her brother Bob Lazinka had land on Butter Creek and in the mountains outside Ukiah, an ideal place to spend a lot of time elk, Chukar and pheasant hunting with my Dad (a past Round-Up Director as well…very proud).

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The call of “Let’er Buck!” still echoes in my head, no matter where I am.  These simple words create a wonderful sense of emotion for any Pendletonian, anywhere in the world and at anytime of the year.

These are the words of freedom, of hard work, of taking risks and knowing you have a whole community of people with love behind you.  It is at the heart of what made the West a great part of US history.  The stuff little kids dream about…even kids in their 40s.

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The Round-Up is a conglomerate of the spirit of the surrounding communities of Eastern Oregon (Heppner, Helix, Pilot Rock, Athena, Hermiston, Enterprise, Baker…to name just a few).  An event created over 100 years ago to celebrate the life of the West and to commemorate the harvest season and communal support for the farmers and ranchers.  And, of course, to put on a show…

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Many people have asked me how & why I speak so often of my family, and the answer is simple: because I come from Pendleton.  Knowing that after 25 years of being out of contact, I can show up at the doorstep of any friend in Pendleton, and we can pick-up our conversation as if it was yesterday as they warmly take me in.

The spirit of the West and the spirit of the people of Pendleton are the backbone of the Round-Up.

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While I love my adopted cities of Hong Kong and Seattle…the roots of Pendleton taught me the essentials of life.  The phrase ‘salt of the earth’ is often thrown around, but come to Pendleton and you will see and experience this quality first hand.

~ The Westward Ho Parade ~ Unique in that there are no motorized vehicles allowed

~ The Westward Ho Parade ~
Unique in that there are no motorized vehicles allowed

The Round-Up is an annual calling around world.  Friends from all across the globe will come to this small town in Eastern Oregon and join the ‘wild & free’ spirit that makes the rodeo what it is today.  While it is an event that brings together a rich history of the life of cowboys and the West, it also strongly wraps itself up in the history & culture of the Native Americans who have always been at one with the land.

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As mentioned in my earlier post of the beauty of nature: no one owns the water, the sky or fresh air, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are reconnecting modern society back to the roots of nature. Chinook salmon have returned to the Umatilla River through the relentless work of the Confederated Tribes working with farmers and irrigators.  Working with Mother Earth is a way of life in this region.

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The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation host an amazing tribal village, with over 300 teepees consisting of Indians from around the Northwest.  Here they share their cultures with all travelers, and during the week tribes from the Pacific Northwest gather in the village to visit with friends and relatives.  One of the most mesmerizing and refreshing sights you will see at the Pendleton Round-Up.

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The days of dreaming of becoming a cowboy maybe out of reach for me these days, but then again, as I strap on my chaps, put on my Stetson and an old belt buckle from riding days past…it is a dream I get to relive every September at the Pendleton Round-Up…the grandest of all rodeos.

Let’er Buck!

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Related Articles:

http://projects.oregonlive.com/photos/2010/03/26/cowboys-in-eastern-oregon/

http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2010/03/oregon_cowboys_face_a_tough_ne.html

https://www.facebook.com/pendletonroundup

http://www.umatilla.nsn.us/index.html

The Beautiful Silence of a Seattle Sunset

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There is a special connection that exists between nature and man, and amid all the incessant din we create, stepping out along the shores of Elliott Bay in Seattle, Washington such a connection can be made.

There is an intricate dance between the Olympic National Forest and the Puget Sound waterway, a dance that makes the Pacific Northwest a little slice of heaven in the developed world.  

During the evening hours in summer, the Olympics and the Sound often produce one of the most incredible mosaics of color & life: a sunset over Seattle’s Elliott Bay and the Olympics.  

The above is the first time-lapse photography video I have put together, and was taken from Pier 70, outside my flat in Seattle.

Perhaps the best part of the peace and solitude of a Seattle sunset, is that it is meant to shared.  The beautiful silence of the colors seem to bring out the best in people.  If you walk along Pier 70 or along the shores of Elliott Bay park during the golden hour, the conversations with the people, seagulls and wind will all blend in with the natural silence of the sunset.  A rejuvenating moment.  

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In regards to the beauty of Seattle, an emphasis should be placed on summer nights. The grey of Seattle winters are not that desirable, and instead I suggest you come to Hong Kong and I’ll treat you to some great dim sum and sunny skies.

As this is my first foray into time-lapse photography, in this video there are some flickers and errors that should be corrected.  Theoretically, I can correct these errors in Photoshop and/or LRTimeLapse, I just do not have a clue how to make such precise adjustments right now…and unless my patience improves unlikely in the future as well, as my computer will lie in pieces on the street below 🙂

Enjoy the final days of summer.   

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