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!

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“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.   

The Unconditional Love of Family

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~  The Oregon Coast at Lincoln City  ~

Among the different definitions of love (puppy, unrequited, conditional, to name a few), unconditional love stands uncontested as the most reliable and harmonious to our hearts.

Sure, folks may question whether any love is unconditional, but I am willing to bet that in the eyes of a child and mother together in laughter, you will find nothing but the purest form of this love.

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“People like to say love is unconditional, but it’s not, and even if it was unconditional, it’s still never free. There’s always an expectation attached…. I just don’t want that responsibility.”  (from the book The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay)

Responsibility is never easy.  To throw out a cliché: the hardest thing to do is often the correct thing to do.  Being responsible in love takes effort.  If you see unconditional love for its purity, respect and admiration for another, then the responsibility of this love becomes second nature.

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Yes, there are times when people do not want to take responsibility in their lives…we have all experienced this, but when it comes to love ‘taking responsibility’ is necessary.

Love is not always a beautiful sonnet.  Anger, passionate frustrations and questioning life are all apart of love.  Fortunately, unconditional love will never go away.  It will be there when you least expect it and need it most.

Steel and glass, tempered amid flames, becomes stronger.  Love, tempered over time, will become unbreakable.

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Every time I return to the States, I am buoyed by the incredible spirit and strength of unconditional love.  Not a day goes by without giving thanks for such wonderful magic in my life.

This trip back to the States, I visited the Oregon Coast to see my sister Julie, her husband Greg and their kids Taylor and Riley.  An added bonus was to have another sister and her husband (Sandi & Russ) as well as my niece Lauren (from my twin sister Kim and her husband Steve) join us for the weekend as well.

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We stayed in their house on Devil’s Lake in Lincoln City, and it was one of those vacations that will always be remembered because of the simple, honest love within my family.  While missing my parents, Kim, Steve and niece Ellie and nephew Lane, their spirits were with us on the Oregon Coast.

The main goal for the weekend was to enjoy and celebrate life: to be with each other and take full advantage of our time together.  We succeeded in achieving these goals.

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  • Greg took me to the beach to shoot the sunset…and with my getting carried away in the magnificent sunset, we missed dinner.  Of course this upset the sisters a bit…but in their hearts they’re happy knowing we enjoyed our time.

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  • The kids (Taylor, Riley and Lauren) enjoyed the Oregon Coast – and learned more about photography.

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  • Riley continued his mastery of water-skiing.

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  • Taylor kayaked, took care of us and also showed us the proper way to ride the tube.

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  • Lauren showed us her expert wake-boarding skills (no photos of her crashes…).

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  • Sandi showed off her amazing skiing skills, after not being on skis in roughly a decade…the magic was still there.

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  • Russ fished for trout…and had success after success (after my mom, maybe the best fisherman in the family).  Smoked trout is on the menu next week.

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  • Julie & Greg were the perfect hosts.  Greg in the boat and Julie on the kayak.

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While I never planned to write such a personal post on my blog, the unconditional love with my family inspires me.  It is from my dad I became intrigued by photography, and something we all share (both Sandi and Lauren providing most of the shots in this post).  The philosophy side has been built up with my mom, through our many talks over the decades.

Unconditional love is about sharing, not a better method to learn.

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It is unconditional love that allows the mind to focus on the bigger picture of life.  Personally, it has allowed me to take chances in life and pursue opportunities that I otherwise may not have attempted.

I have forged a different path in life, a large part because I viewed risk differently.  I knew if I failed I’d have the unconditional love of my family to fall back upon, so I was encouraged to push the envelope.

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The expectations of my family have largely made me who I am…provided support to strive for success in my career and fulfillment in life.  There is much yet to do, and ahead is a jungle and a long path to forge as I continue in life, but my family & friends and the unconditional love I find there is the pillow where I lay my head every night.

This love allows me to recover and wake at dawn with energy, love and conviction to create a day like no other.

Without them, without this unconditional love, I do not know…

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The Unrequited Love of Ellinor

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Dear Ellinor,

Never do I feel more alive, than when I am with you.  You take me from the mundane and offer me a simple taste of glory.  Our affair spans more than a decade, but each time with you feels like we have just met.

Knowing that I am one of many does not change my feeling, for what we have is special.

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Every time I come back to the Olympic National Forest, my mind goes back to the first time we met: I stood breathless, in awe of your beauty.  When I tackled your slopes, you offered me views that I could never imagine.

While you belong to Mother Earth, I will always consider you mine.

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It is with my hat in hand, that I come again to share time with you…to find peace in the solace of nature.

It is with this same hat I give a tip to the men and women who make you accessible.  Building up the trails, making what would be an extremely difficult climb into something less strenuous, giving me more time to rest in your brilliance.

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The workers of the US National Forest Service (and Mt. Rose Volunteer Trail Crew), give their working life to you, so you can give yourself to me.

You give yourself to all, but forever you will remain free.

A dash of folklore has it that Chief Seattle wrote a letter to the President of the USA, in reply to the government’s offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands.  Within the letter are some of the wisest words ever written:

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“The President in Washington sends word that

He wishes to buy our land.

But how can you buy or sell the sky?   The land?

The idea is strange to us.

 If we do not own the freshness of the air and the

Sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…”

Respect the wilderness and Mother Nature will in turn respect us.

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Ellinor, looking back on our time together, whether under the heat of the sun or huddled in the icy & snowy depths of winter, every time we part I leave a better man.

When the chaos of this international zoo begins to spin out of control, no matter how long we’ve been apart, inevitably I come crawling back and you always take me in.

I am grateful for your unconditional support of this restless wanderer.  Your gift of courage to take that extra step into the unknown.  To achieve greater heights.

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Above: Mt. Rainier in the distance.  Below: Descending in the Dark

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My knees ache more today than they did when we first met decades ago, and there will inevitably come a day when all I can do is stare up at your grand magnificence.

Jealousy may arouse in my heart while I watch younger generations march proudly up your slopes, but it will be in the guise of pride.  While impossible, I will always consider you mine.

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I will shed a tear when this day comes, not in sadness or envy of those you welcome to your peaks, but a tear of grace for the time we spent together.  I love you and your brothers and sisters who surround you.

The Skokomish Wilderness and Puget Sound that form your front door, will always be there to welcome.

I simply love the life we have shared together.

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You share.  You support.  You inspire.  But you do not love.

Unrequited love.  Such love holds no significance to me, for if I love you, I am happy.  With this I am secure.

It is true that you are difficult, cold, and as moody as the unpredictable weather, but when you shine you are the essence of life.  Mt. Ellinor, there are so many incredible places in the world but only in your house do I feel I am home.

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On the topic of ‘unrequited love’ the philosopher Nietzsche had this to say: “indispensable…to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference.”

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A Path of Adventure in Guilin, China

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“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

This ancient wisdom by Lao-zi is one of the most famous pieces of advice from the Dao de Jing.  No matter where you are in life or what difficulties you face, the philosophy is simple: begin resolving the issue by taking that first step.

The smallest of efforts, if consistently taken over time, can have unimaginable results, just as a tiny seed of rice can one day become a great field of grain able to feed a village.

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As someone who would rather stay at home and read a good book versus going out to a club or party, I could easily spend my days sitting back over a cup of coffee to contemplate and dream.

Taking that first ‘single step’ is easy in dreams.  To actually make an effort is another story.  It is easier to keep the dreams internalized, until one day they vanish and are replaced by regret.  That is the danger.

Not fun.  I’m guessing everyone has experienced such moments to some extent.

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Prior to my first trip to China, I received a journal from my sister that had a quote from Joseph Campbell:

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.

You are not on your own path.

If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” 

Words that are a perfect complement to Lao-zi’s advice at the beginning of this post.

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Forging your way through a dense, dark forest has many similarities with forging your way through life: bugs and mosquitoes buzzing around all the time, the occasional leech taking more than they give, but the reward of the adventure is the discovery of beauties that unfold and make life shine.

Creating a path will bring fear and uncertainty, but without those spices of life, is life really worth living?

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These quotes of Lao-zi and Campbell rang true during my continued travel in Guilin, where I met people who lived life through those very words.

The previous days along the Li River, reliving the past with the mystical ‘Chinese Fisherman of Folklore’ had me in a reflective mood of the past and the present.  Entering the Li River valley and agricultural lands, I began to see people who looked as though they were simply making it day-by-day.

Part of the population left behind during China’s rapid ascension to modernity and wealth.  Hearing their stories was the highlight of the trip.

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The stories all involved some description of their hardships in one manner or another and all ended with some variation of “we all must keep moving forward – each day, life’s journey begins with the first step.”

While I enjoyed these discussions, as with most older Chinese, it was impossible not to see in their eyes something they were holding back: dark times of the Cultural Revolution.  Times I have never heard discussed.

Today is where they are, and in their control.

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One strength of people I admire, is the ability to react and thrive in a crisis.  No false bravado or panic, but their ability to find the opportunity imbedded in the crisis and move forward.

When John F. Kennedy was asked about his heroism in World War II, he simply said: “It was involuntary, they sank my boat.”  He had to find a way to save both himself and his crew; to understand the crisis and take the necessary action to achieve the best resolution possible.

Every crisis brings stress and danger and, while cliché,  it also provides opportunity.

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The Chinese character for crisis is 危机 (Wei-Ji).  It is made up of two characters: ‘wei’ (危) which means danger and ‘ji’ (机) which makes up the word for opportunity.

As my friends have told me, focus only on ‘wei’ (危), and you will miss the ‘ji’ (机), and the crisis can begin a downward spiral.

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The people I met in the Guilin countryside seem to understand this concept of crisis quite well, and adhere to its philosophy.  They can control “the now”, and therefore shut-off the worry of what has happened so they can take that fresh first step in their journey through life.

Often it is fear of this first step that is hardest to conquer.  To forge ahead knowing you are facing the unknown.  Much like finding a place in the forest, where it is most mysterious and dark, but the perfect spot to forge your own path.

There will be danger, yet take that first step and find the opportunities.

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Ancient Fisherman of Folklore

Fisherman of Chinese Folklore

Silence.

Prior to the break of dawn, there is the pure ‘silence of nature’ as a man begins his day.  There are no beeping alarm clocks, no blare of traffic and it is the noticeable absence of the incessant sounds of technology ~ a staple of our every day existence ~ that creates greater peace to this calm.

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The silence of nature, with only faint sounds of the water lapping along the skiff and soft squawks of cormorants as the fisherman prepares himself for the day.  Such scenes were common centuries ago, but today are just rare hints of a glorious past.

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Nothing captures my interest more than mystical stories of the past.  Stories of folklore that can provide an adventurous path to archaic ideas and faraway cultures: sanctuaries to contemplate what was, what is and what could be.

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Tales from the past, part myth and part tradition, containing so much excitement that we are never sure “what to and not to believe.”  So we take it all in and churn these ideas around in our heads.  Folklore, a hint of our creative past pushing to remind us not to take our present so seriously.

When a piece of folklore shows itself in modern times, it draws out the calm and romantic emotions of days gone by.

Amid the talk of terabytes and the latest sound bites from twitter, a piece of folklore can instantly transport us back centuries and silence the screams of modernity.

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Today, when met with such folkloric sights as Cormorant fishing, it is hard not to believe it is authentic…as it is all based on cultural traditions.

The fishermen on the picturesque Li River in Southern China still exist, but not as their forefathers would have envisioned.  Like their kin, their livelihood and to some extent their culture dictates them to carry-on with their ancient traditions, but instead of fishing as a craft, they fish to exploit their craft for tourism, strongly supported by the local government .

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Does this act take away from the magic of viewing these last practitioners of ancient cormorant fishing?  At some level yes, as it is impossible to see it for anything but what it is today…however, inside it does strike a chord as it takes little imagination to see such a scene unfold as it took place centuries ago.

That is the beauty.

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The magic of photography can pull these mystical, ancient stories out from the attic and bring them to life today.  Is it necessary to describe the modern scene of today’s logic?  Or just let the imagination flow and take us back…to feel the romance of history and culture, to dream of a time where mortals and gods mingled daily.  Stories of folklore make this possible.

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Ancient cultures are vanishing as societies modernize.  While globalization brings people closer, there is no doubt that it also distills and homogenizes cultures.

The romantics of the world will always long for the ideals and spirit of the past, be it the Cowboys of the American West or Ancient Fishermen of Folklore in China.

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Often, the enemy is the incessant din of technology, and the narcissistic pursuit to be heard (ahem, this blog for instance).  The hum of computers and ring-tones of cell phones all which drive a wedge between ancient folklore and modern reality.

Yet, tech can be the savior as well.  Our job, as either artists or as those who appreciate great art, is to educate and pass-on the folklore to the next generation.  To ensure the spirit never dies.  Whether in stories, poetry, paintings or photography to name a few mediums, it is the respect and preservation of the past that helps fulfill the dreams of tomorrow.

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Farewell to Korea ~ 평양 감사합니다

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -3

So back to my original question about the DPRK: What lies beyond the fog?

After one week it is impossible to have any definitive answer, as the government works very hard to keep things shrouded in mystery.  This realization, while not surprising, is still disappointing.  The game of politics is in full gear.

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However, the ‘embrace’ from the local people, muted compared to the West, was a thrill.  Especially the rare moments when we could glimpse into their lives.  Such moments were brief, yet very welcomed as the trip seemed overshadowed by the government’s attempt to control all aspects of society (and our travel).

Big Brother was disheartening.  The country, in many ways, has become a tragic comedy.

The comedy being that the DPRK is viewed internationally as the Hermit Kingdom and the butt of many jokes, which ends up masking the great tragedy of the people: the people who endure and sacrifice in propping up this malignant government at the expense of their dreams.

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The population lives on a lot of hope amid great despair.  Hope in that Kim Jong-un will act on youthful idealism, and do what is right for his people.  Despair in the military rulers, who have been so deeply corrupted by power that any transition may be impossible.

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While many questions are unanswerable, as my past posts have shown, the DPRK is filled with a population of great people.  While they are somewhat skeptical and stoic in public, beneath that veneer shines curiosity and warmth.

It starkly contrasts the oppression of the government.

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The last night in Korea was spent at the Pyongyang Fun Fair (a carnival that is open to the public), and I marveled at the ease in which we were able to mesh with the locals.  While the trip as a whole allowed us a very narrow view of the society, it was still enough to open eyes.

The country has been stagnant for decades, but the changing dynamics of the world and flow of information has already triggered the inevitable transition of the DPRK into the 21st century.

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There are heroes in the DPRK, but they are not the ones immortalized in bronze statues or paintings.  Rather, they are the ones who flash genuine smiles and, when possible, ask probing questions about the world.

They are the ones who see that ‘living in a system’ is not an ideal way to live; unrealized dreams will eventually catch up and take over a life.  They are the ones who see difficulties for future generations, and that triggers the desire for change.

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Desire, when strong enough, can be the impetus for change.  It is this desire that surprised me during my final week in the DPRK.  It was in the background of every defining moment I had in Pyongyang and Kaesong: desire for connection fueled by curiosity of the world.

If you would have asked me two weeks ago, I could have confidently stated the DPRK was a nation without any understanding of the outside world.  Today, it is much more of an enigma.

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As I head out to the train station to say good-bye to the Europeans and Canadians I have met during my time here, I see groups of young Koreans getting ready to board a train into China.

There has been 50 years where creative minds have remained idle here in the DPRK, and I believe those days are gone.  “Change is a comin’…” is what the youth of Korea are now shouting.

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Will the transition of change be peaceful?  The world sure hopes so, but change will be on the terms of the Korean people.

As I watch the train pull out (being an American, I am banned from any train travel…), my mind reflects on the past week.

We have this short period of time on Earth to enjoy life.  To enjoy the different people and cultures of the world before we make that final walk towards the end.

Wouldn’t that final walk be great if we all walked through together, in peace?

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