Posted on January 5, 2017
The verdict: a decision to affect and disrupt a life. My choice to veer off the comfortable path, abandon the current state of happiness and venture into the unknown.
Why? To chase down a mysterious, obscure sensation I cannot explain.
Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in the fresh air flowing off Hood Canal and let the peacefulness of the surroundings make the decision for me.
The Olympic Mountain range is wrapped around by the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. Nestled in-between, a small cabin on the water rests within the gaze of Mt. Ellinor.
I’ve come to her to help reach this verdict.
Asia or Central Europe? Retreat to the familiarity bred from a commitment to Asia spanning decades or leap into the chaos of the unknown and invent a new life in Bohemia?
The creation of two different lives, a divergence of my universe the moment the decision is made.
In one universe, I sleep for a few more hours and then rise, make a pot of coffee and with mug in hand, walk down to the shore of Hood Canal and watch the sunrise.
In another universe, I look at the clock barely able to focus on the time of 2:30am and roll out of bed. Throw on some clothes; grab a mug of yesterday’s coffee, pick up my camera gear and head out to trek up to the top of Mt. Ellinor.
A trek in the dark to meet the rising sun. To meet a new tomorrow.
My brain whispers “sleep.” My heart screams “get out of bed.”
Quietly I lie, listening to the blood course through my veins. I feel myself fading toward the sound of laughter and I fall deep, searching for its origin. Thoughts and visions vivid enough to swallow me whole as I happily drift off to dream.
The silence pulses throughout my body; my senses heightened and a restless surge of energy melds my dream into reality. It pushes me out of bed, I go searching for its origin: I must see what lies out there…
A feeling of a divergence begins to form, and I open my eyes to the cold, quiet darkness around me. She whispers to me, her words soft, “Come join me in nirvana…” her sweet fragrance caressing me, and I close my eyes.
The cold, quiet darkness is calling out. An inviting whisper, “Join the beauty of my dreams, the silence of reaching the summit as the morning sun breaks.” My heart begins to beat rapidly, ahead lies a trek up the steep slopes.
Years ago, contemplating my future, I was asked a simple question, “When in Asia do I miss the USA?” My answer was quick, “Yes.” It was then followed by another question, “When I am in the USA, do I miss Asia?” and again I quickly answered, “Yes.”
Then came the advice I’ve followed ever since: “When the answer to either one of these questions change, you know what you should do…create something new.”
The beauty of silence.
The smell of fresh coffee soothes, and I look out at the changing sky. The glow of the morning sun breaks through enough to highlight an image of a fishing boat heading out to explore.
There is peace listening to the water, the sounds drifting away as I wake from my dream, enjoying the start of another day.
The beauty of silence.
Low-lying clouds shimmer around Mt. Rainier off in the distance. The morning sun breaks over the horizon and the electricity of possibilities fill the air. A brand new day arrives and a brave new world awaits.
How does one describe the fragrance of a sunrise?
With the verdict rendered, an old friend shows up. A welcome interruption to the sanctity of the morning, and she glances towards me as if to bid me farewell.
Posted on March 31, 2015
From the moment I awake, I lie silently and listen to the calling of the universe to determine the type of day ahead, because every day has its own personality. Some mornings are overwhelming, blasting with the sound of horns and a declaration of chaos. A day that can zap the life out of the soul, and the only bright spot is thinking of the good tomorrow may bring. Other mornings, the universe whispers and the day arrives quiet and serene. I am able to spend the day deep in thought, piecing together ideas and by night my life resembles some type of order. Then there are mornings like today, when the universe offers a connection that seems very personal. A feeling of confidence floating between secrets and knowledge: an invitation for adventure and a day to push the envelope. I roll out of bed as the sun breaks, brew a fresh pot of coffee and wander down to the water. Breathing in the morning air and looking up at the mountains, it is impossible not to wonder about Ellinor. There is nowhere else in the world my troubles melt away than here on Hood Canal and the Skokomish wilderness. It is here my consciousness pervades a deeper level of reality, a connectedness to nature. Many people have such a place ~ a place of solitude that brings out an instinctive feeling of inspiration. Perhaps it is love. A need for a deep association with the world etched into who we are as individuals. I cannot help but smile as I think back to a quote “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” – Carl Sagan (Cosmos) My smile turns into laughter, as Sagan’s words reaffirm the relationship I have with Ellinor. She belongs to me as I belong to her. At the quantum level we are one. Nature holds something true and intrinsic within our souls; a beauty that burns deep within our cells. Writers and poets have long written sonnets about their affairs with nature, and recently leading physicists have joined in with new theories and experiments to show we have relationships far beyond what our minds can fathom. At the quantum level we are made up of subatomic particles, and what a story these particles have to tell. Physicists are uncovering the magic of these subatomic particles and their incredible gift: their connectedness and ability to communicate with other particles instantaneously and over unimaginable distances (spanning our universe). This phenomenon, called quantum entanglement, is not new – but recent experiments and theories have cracked open this door even wider, which is as exciting as it is mysterious. Quantum entanglement quite possibly wraps all of us together where everything in the universe is connected to everything else. Scientists contemplating a spiritual side of nature, and theorists spinning their minds trying to comprehend what this all could mean.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” ― Carl Sagan
For me, I imagine within my heart is an electron connected to every Roosevelt Elk walking through the wilderness, every salmon swimming in the Skokomish River and every foothold leading up to the summit of Mt. Ellinor. So on this beautiful day, how can I possibly be thinking of quantum entanglement, especially while standing here on the shores of Hood Canal looking at Ellinor only thirty-miles away? I am here because I believe Ellinor has reached out to me to visit her once again. Once a year, I take a pilgrimage to her peaks to rejuvenate my soul and recharge my spirit. It sets my mind right; the rush of the climb, the beauty along every step is the easy answer why. I am aware of the Unrequited Love of Ellinor, which makes my return perhaps even more special. No expectations, no great planning, just a great hike that in the end leaves me speechless. I’ve been hiking Ellinor as far back as I can remember, summiting her and exploring the peaks of her neighbors. Each time, on my descent I felt both spiritually complete and physically spent. I must admit that even prior to my hike today the jealousy of never seeing a mountain goat, somewhat common around this part of the Skokomish wilderness, flickers in me every now and then, but my faith holds true. Ellinor will grant me this moment when the time is right. Standing here, three days into the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Goat, I have the idea that Ellinor has brought me to her to make this year special. The weather is perfect. The summit is easily accessible this early in the year due to light winter snowfall, and I am ready to strengthen my relationship with her and all that is around me. Waking this morning to Ellinor’s subsonic whispers of the day’s possibilities was perfect. I drink the last of my coffee and walk along the waters of Hood Canal, content in the solace she has offered. Being out in nature makes it easier for me to imagine we are all just bags of stardust, particles billions of years old cognizant of everything in the universe. The idea of these particles able to communicate over billions of miles instantaneously, though, is tough to grasp but fun to dream about.
Looking up, I see a familiar set of eyes for the first time. These incredible mountain goats seem surprised to have me hanging around the summit, but they share Ellinor with me. Feeling a rush of adrenaline amid the setting sun, I ponder at what the universe and Ellinor is teaching me. I suppose it is just the simple thought to enjoy life and keep listening to nature. Hear the words of the universe and begin to think of “we” instead of “I”. Everything is “we”. We are interconnected in a way that is obvious, made up of the same material: stardust. The difficulty of this connectedness lies in the depths of the links and attachments we have to the universe and to each other. It is a bit overwhelming. Jumping around the boulders, following these impressive mountain goats I am thrilled this day has finally come. A day I expected, and perhaps that is why it is here. Why I am here. The majestic confidence these goats have, somehow clinging onto the face of a cliff with their hooves when all looks lost is impressive. I feel a bit foolish thinking that finding these mountain goats on today’s climb within the first week of the Year of the Goat has some significance, but then who is to say it doesn’t. The universe works in mysterious ways, and as with the secrets of Ellinor, the secrets of quantum physics are many as well. It is exciting to hear of physicists discussing the results of the same particle, appearing in different places at the same time and opening the possibilities of the manipulation of space-time. The mysteries of quantum entanglement, these connections possibly holding information we can only dream to uncover. The déjà vu we feel, possibly a flash of past experience or emotion from the subatomic level. Perhaps most important to me as I put on my headlamp, pack up my gear and prepare to descend the mountain, is the idea that we never truly die. Pieces of me will carry over. The connectedness throughout the universe gives me confidence, and perhaps some state of consciousness imbedded in my subatomic particles will keep my spirit alive.
“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” ― Carl Sagan
Consciousness, I imagine, is a vital part of the universe. Perhaps not in the way we understand human consciousness today, but in a different form. I suppose when my time comes, I will find out. The world of physics is a world of magic with so much to learn. Accompanying physics is the magic of philosophy. One of the tenets of both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy is the idea that everything is energy, dancing in form ~ a dance with the continuous weaving of the form and the formless. Such a poetic description can double as a definition of quantum entanglement as well. A description physicists today are telling us very well may be reality. Until then, it is good to be with Ellinor. It is good to accept that we may all be a part of a scary-large family. Work hard, play hard and be good. And listen to what the universe has to say.
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
Posted on August 28, 2014
Sitting along the shore of Elliott Bay, I often wonder what it would have been like centuries ago when Native Americans spent the summertime in Seattle. The Seattle summer with its perfect weather is special, so I imagine it would have been heaven on earth to see the sun setting on this land so long ago when the wilderness ruled.
Back in those days, getting outside and involved was not much of a question as physical interaction with nature was a part of everyday life. A hard life no doubt, but I would bet more satisfying too as everything you owned likely came from the things around you: animals, earth and community.
Animals and earth to feed and clothe, and a community to share, love, explore and work the land.
Not quite the same scene we have today, where two minutes “on-line” results in the delivery of food, clothing and most importantly the latest tech-toy delivered right to the front door without having to leave the house.
Products produced by factories scattered all over the globe. A crazy concept even today, something unthinkable a couple hundred years ago. Most everything I own I have no real clue as to its true origin.
Still, amid all this technology and social media shrill that drowns our senses from the calls of the real world, there are always reminders that take us out of this artificial shell and plop us down in the middle of life. Something to makes us reassess our obsession with material possessions.
The nudge of a wet nose from Man’s Best Friend, or driving through a mountain pass with the sun dipping below the horizon is just what is needed for us to get back to the basics. Back to the feeling of living.
The past few weeks have had me traveling around the Pacific Northwest with work, and instead of flying I made a point to drive; taking the more scenic routes and allowing myself a few more days to take in the sights.
My mind spinning a bit as I would try to reconcile life today with how it was more than 100 years ago. Getting lost in how different things are today made me wonder what the next 100 years will bring…and how foreign our time today will appear to our future selves.
The message the sticker represented fascinated me, as I loved to wonder…in fact, I was more often in dream than I was running around nature. The message reminded me that dreaming and wondering is just part of the formula, and moving forward by doing and experiencing is how we complete the circle and find a happy life.
I still have this sticker and message, and more than ever realize how important this simple slogan is: to wonder, to dream and to go out and do. To create a unique path in life. For the most part, I imagine that people in history also followed this same simple line of reasoning.
A reminder that it is a never-ending process.
Wonder. Dream. Do. Happiness.
I suppose that the message on this sticker was a simple warning that if we spend too much of our time wondering what could have been? With the mind spinning to answer the unanswerable, “what if?” It is easy to get lost in the irrelevant past while new opportunities slip by.
Why sit wondering what it would be like, when adventures and experiences lie right outside the door?
It will be impossible to fully understand what Native Americans or frontiersmen of the past thought when they saw the dawn rise every day over Seattle hundreds of years ago, but I imagine it must have recharged them.
A perfect start to the day, a time to admire the land and contemplate what was to be explored and admired. With no TV or Internet to tempt and waste hours of a day, I would think it must have been exciting to be immersed in nature as a part of daily life. True, such a life would be hard, but in a sense also simple.
As this great summer winds down, I am left thinking that we will continue to push ourselves further away from this great land of ours, with the result of losing touch with the physical nature of living.
As we load ourselves up with processed foods and mass-produced ’emotions’ emitting from our screens, at some point we will begin wondering what could have been ~ what if we had moved forward and taken the advice from a 30-year-old sticker: Don’t Die Wondering.
Posted on May 19, 2014
On the Southeast corner of the Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington (USA), lies an area unmatched in its beauty and sense of freedom. A fierce wilderness, just tame enough to charm a simple tenderfoot like myself, but sharp enough to ensure that it will never come under the control of any man.
This relatively unknown land is not just an untamed wilderness but it holds a history that defines America and her natural lands. Throughout the 1800s, the lands of the USA were being destroyed by corporate greed aptly described by John Muir:“The great wilds of our country, once held to be boundless and inexhaustible, are being rapidly invaded and overrun… and everything destructible in them is being destroyed.”
In the early 1900s, timber companies had their axes aimed on the last stands of virgin rainforest in the USA…the Skokomish and Olympic Wilderness. The local Forest Service, serving as patsies to large timber companies, invited President Theodore Roosevelt out to the Pacific Northwest for a visit: a visit designed to secure his signature opening up the land for logging.
However, the plans of the timber companies crashed as Roosevelt viewed the wilderness and then a clear-cut section of forest and told his guide “I hope the son-of-a-bitch who is responsible for this is roasting in hell” not knowing at the time that the very person responsible was standing next to him.
Roosevelt had found in this area a place where any man, woman or child could not help but fall deep into the wilderness and a return to nature. A place that even in the late 1890s had already begun to disappeared around most of America. A place to find that lost sense of greatness and freedom; a spirit we spend too much of our lives searching for.
During Roosevelt’s stay, he visited Lake Cushman and the elegant Antlers Hotel, built for adventurers at the doorstep of a wilderness, and he fell in love with the land. He is quoted as saying: “There may be some place in the world equal to Puget Sound, but I do not know where it is…” and the impression the land made can be clearly understood today.
It was this visit to the Skokomish wilderness area that triggered Roosevelt to use the Antiquities Act to set aside the land as the Mt. Olympus National Monument (eventually with much of it becoming part of the Olympic National Forest). Preserving a part of life and land where the greed and manipulation of lesser men would be unable to invade and take root.
Is there not a better feeling than getting lost in the simple scenes of nature?
To listen to the incredible wisdom of a babbling brook, watching it grow in size to a gurgling creek and then stand proudly as it matures into an intense roaring river, unabashed with excitement during spring rains.
It is so simple. It is so beautiful.
There is nothing quite like a visit to the Skokomish Wilderness to invigorate the soul and lift off the chaotic gloom of winter. To see a land, while changed, still holding onto its primal instincts.
I often dream of writing about this area; the transformation from a home to the Native Americans, to a target of the timber industry and then its intriguing flirtation as an upscale tourist destination for the very wealthy of the world.
This flirtation began as timber interests dwindled and young adventurers known as “Remittance Men” (receiving allowances from their wealthy families on the East Coast) highlighted a run of upscale investments, with the goal of creating a great wilderness playground for the wealthy elite.
Crisscrossing the globe to get to Seattle, a berth on a steam ferry to Union City, a stagecoach to reach Hoodsport, and from there a horseback ride to bring them to the doorstep of the upscale, yet isolated, Antlers Hotel.
For those able to afford such a trip, they would be rewarded with a slice of heaven. Guests stayed on average for at least a month: to taste a life that had only been heard in stories, unsure whether the stories were actually true or merely tales of fantasy…
As fate would have it, the allure of this fantasy faded quickly as war and unfortunate timing stopped the flow of investment, and just like that, the Skokomish Wilderness faded from the minds of wealthy adventurers.
This amazing time period between 1880 and 1930 fascinates me. On several occasions, I have dreamt about staying at the Antlers Hotel.
The year is 1903, and my vivid imagination and memory has me waking up prior to dawn, with black coffee in hand I walk down to the shores of the lake.
I look up, and just make out the silhouette of Mt. Ellinor peering down on the lake and hotel, her peaks inviting me up for a climb and adventure. I can feel a smile forming on my face as I exhale at the beauty of all that is around me. Then this peaceful solitude is shattered…
A gruff voice with a twinge of admiration and respect breaks through my thoughts, and I hear the words as clearly today as I did a 100 years ago: “You have not truly lived, if you dare not go where dreams are created…”
And as I turn, President Roosevelt’s eyes flash a smile of a promise to protect these lands, and without another sound he continues his hike along the banks of the lake, fishing rod in hand…
I watch, and as if to show a sign of great respect, a Roosevelt elk walks along side him. An elk who bears his name in tribute and recognition of his efforts in protecting his kind and this land so many years ago.
We all need a place to find freedom for our spirit; to appreciate the beauty around us so we can take the responsibility and dare to dream for a tomorrow better than today.
For a few, such a place is the Skokomish Wilderness.
Posted on June 3, 2013
Through ‘bending of light’, an artist is able to create unique, emotional and stunning photographs. Unfortunately, light also is the most destructive force as well, as I have an endless supply of photographs with blown-out highlights or underexposed noise (aways sad news after a shoot, but good to learn from those mistakes). I have learned that while the scene may look beautiful, if the lighting is flat and harsh, it is more difficult (if not impossible) for the camera to capture all the beauty we see.
Light is the piece of magic that fuels photography, and there is no better time to ‘bend the light’ to your imagination than the bewitching hours of photography:
During these hours, the creativity of the artist is allowed to flourish as the lighting provides a window of opportunities…the artist is allowed to dream, and if everything flows together the results can be spectacular.
The blue hour is the topic today, mainly because I found out that historically the ‘blue hour’ meant the time between 3:00pm and 6:00pm where the pubs in England, Wales and Scotland by law had to close their doors. Very sad for photographers, as in the summer those are the hours when light is often at its worst (harsh and flat), and to enjoy some spirits during that time would help the creative process prior to the magical shooting hours…
Why I am attracted to ‘dawn and dusk’ is simple: great blue hour lighting is rarer than great golden hour lighting. The photographer needs to pay more attention to both exposure and the subject at this time, more than at any other time during the day. A great sunset alone is worth a photo without regard for any specific subject other than the light. However, once you get into the blue hour, having a nice subject to help accentuate the wonderful light is needed.
The above shot at MaWan is perhaps 15 minutes after the official ‘Blue Hour’ but the glow of dusk to the right made this an interesting shot, so sometimes it is worth while shooting deeper into twilight.
Another reason I enjoy the blue hour so much, is from an explanation I received about the electricity of dawn from a photographer in Hokkaido, Japan. She poetically said: “Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of all our dreams we had during the night are there for us to see, like frost resting on the trees along the Setsari River (Tsurui, Hokkaido). And it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside. This makes the moment before dawn so special.”
As a photographer, we have the opportunity to shoot and record such scenes…to keep the dreams alive. I also really liked her description, kind of a reminder that each day is a time to start anew, to look beyond at what the day can and will be. The above shot was taken in the fleeting moments of dawn with the sun ready to breakout in the bitterly cold, grey morning on the Setsari River with red-crowned cranes.
The blue “hour” is a bit of a myth, as the length of time varies greatly, but on average there is about 30+ minutes of great shooting. The website: http://www.bluehoursite.com is an excellent tool to use for planning your shoot. Once you have your time worked out, then choose an area that has interesting subjects: landscapes and cityscapes work well and also think creatively with some soft light for portraits shots; a bit more difficult due to slower shutter speeds but results can be interesting.
The fisherman shot above was f/4, and hand-held. Jacked up the ISO a bit and shot wide-open, but overall the results turned out OK.
Probably a good idea to also think ahead about “How to Shoot Blue Hour”, a worthwhile topic and I have been fortunate to shoot with other photographers who like to pass their wisdom on to others. The piece of advice I have always received: checkout the landscape, the time of year and weather because each day the available light will be different and so your exposures and shooting plans may change.
With limited lighting, it is important to determine how the slower shutter speed is going to affect the shot. Camera shake is the first issue, so a tripod is needed. If there is any motion in the scene, then take into account that there will be blurring and then try to make that an interesting part of the shot.
For the Blue Hour, generally I shoot at f/11 or higher as I want that great depth of field and detail, and by stopping down I am better able to achieve that ‘starburst’ quality with distant lights that can create just a little more intrigue within the shot. However, it can also be fun to shoot wide open, especially with great foreground activity, and being wide-open gives greater stability and allows you better opportunities to hand-hold your shots.
Getting the exposure correct during Blue Hour is a bit more complicated as well, so fire some quick shots and check your histogram. For Blue Hour, I use both spot and center-weight metering, depending on the shot, and will meter off the darkest point of my composition that I want to bring out. Checking the histogram (even if you bracket, which I often do), should result in technically better photos.
If I am shooting any landscape, I bracketed my shots (3-7 depending on lighting conditions), so I have the option of layering my photos in Adobe or run my files through the HDR program Photomatix, which captures the details of the shadows without blowing out those bright points of lights that make the scene so attractive.
For choice of lens, it is a personal preference but a fast wide-angle lens is one I use predominately, both to capture the “total essence and ambiance” of the scene…and when the camera is off my tripod, a quicker lens allows me to shoot crisper shots during the light-deprived Blue Hour, such as the above shot of a ferry, on a ferry heading to Hood Canal.
Blue Hour shooting is fantastic, as it also serves as a good warm up to shooting a sunrise and a warm down from shooting a sunset. Either way, you are going to learn a lot more about both photography and the area around you. Creative lighting situation always can be little challenging (I have walked away from many shoots with nothing to show), but there is always something new and interesting to gain.