Who among us will pick up and carry forward the baton Mary Oliver passes to us?
Who will prompt us to stop and take notice of our “one wild and precious life?” Who will remind us to listen to our breath, to pay attention, to be astonished?
I’m not a poetry girl. I have trouble digesting metaphor rich poems that speak of one thing, yet mean another. My brain just doesn’t go there. But then... along comes Mary.
Mary Oliver’s poetry is accessible. She asks the tough questions in a straightforward and honest manner. She understands the importance of nature and solitude. We speak the same language.
As I sit alone on a beach, on a raw May morning in Provincetown, my mind can’t help but think of Mary. Her presence here is palpable. How can I walk across the dunes she loved so dearly and not think of her? This was her fertile ground. The ground in which some of her most recited poems came to life.
Mary awakens me to the magnificence of life by simply noticing. She teaches me that the act of observation quiets the infernal hum and refocuses my attention to the ever-present beauty that surrounds me.
She was an advocate of cultivating one’s observation skills to see at a deeper level. She wanted her readers to look beyond the “ho hum” ultimately to discover the “holy cow!”
I may not be as eloquent, or as wise, as Mary but because of her I will continue to notice, photograph and praise the beauty I find. Hail Mary!
Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell me about it.
Live in color,
The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.
Lunch break. While wandering through the Old Delhi market, our eyes met, and for a brief moment we had a connection.
When traveling, what do you focus your photographic attention on? Is it the natural beauty of a sweeping landscape or local monuments or other well-visited attractions? For me, it’s all about the people I encounter.
Beauty is not my focus, but more what resides behind the eyes, the soul.
Each of the following images has a story, a brief encounter and connection.
The Sikh gentleman manning one of the information booths at a Hindu temple in Delhi, a sage if ever I saw one.
The boy who begged to have his photo taken in the hectic market of Old Delhi.
The old man who waved to me and graciously posed in Dharamshala.
The young lovers. I was approached by this pretty girl at a Sikh temple. Without saying one word she made it perfectly clear she wanted a photo taken of her and her boyfriend. She gave me her email. I sent her the photo.
The woman at the same Sikh temple who gently touched my arm and stood in front of me and posed. After I took the photo I turned the camera around to show her and she waved, no. She wasn’t interested in seeing the image, only wished to be seen.
I smiled at this gal, she smiled back. I told her she was very pretty, she glowed and posed as her husband looked on, somewhat disapprovingly.
The woman in red, I had to stop when I saw this beauty lit by a shaft of light. I raised my camera and gave the thumbs up sign, she timidly nodded.
The future of Buddhism, but still babies, in a remote monastery in northern India.
The Hindu Sadhu, that has chosen a life of abstinence, leaving behind all material, family, social, and sensual attachments, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals.
A rich tapestry is woven by the many faces of India. Not all are pretty, but all are authentic and not shy of being seen for who they really are.
Is there a lesson here for us?
Live in color.
Sit back while I tell you the story of Devanajari (Deva), a street kid of Delhi.
Nepal, the home of soaring mountains, mystics and wandering yogis is where this saga begins.
Deva was one of three children living with his parents in their traditional Nepalese home, nestled in the rural lowlands. The backdrop to his mud brick dwelling was the soaring Himalayas.
The Himalayas make up 80% of the land mass of the country. Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is their crown jewel. Deva’s home was situated in the fertile valley, at the base of the southern Himalayas.
As with all typical Nepali households, everyone worked. Deva and his younger brother tended to their two goats and a handful of chickens, while his older sister helped with the cooking and cleaning. None of the siblings attended school. His father cultivated a small farm, while his mother worked in a rice paddy.
One typical morning, Deva and his brother were tending to the animals and his sister was preparing a meal in their makeshift kitchen. His father was already out in the fields, while Deva’s mother was outside collecting firewood. Unbeknownst to Deva, his life was about to be shattered by a blood curdling scream.
As his mother was gathering wood she was bitten by a venomous snake. The children ran to her side, helped her back to the house where they tried to make her comfortable as best they could. Not all snake bites, even from a venomous snake, are lethal, however this was not the case for Deva’s mother.
By nightfall she was dead.
The family was devastated by their loss, especially Deva’s father. He had no idea how to raise three children on his own. Upon hearing of his loss, Deva’s aunt sent a letter to her brother instructing him to move to Mumbai. She had moved to Mumbai three years earlier. She was willing to share her humble home and help raise the children, while he found work and a home of his own. Feeling he had no option, he uprooted his family from their Nepalese village, the only home they had ever known.
Mumbai was a stark contrast to the lush green valleys of Nepal. Deva’s first encounter with the big city was scary, yet somehow exhilarating. The now family of four, settled into the cramped quarters of his aunt’s home.
Deva’s father never recovered from the loss of his wife. Overwhelmed by city life and the struggle to find work, he began to drink.
Deva, now 9, was seduced by city life. While adjusting to his new life in Mumbai, he heard fantastic stories of the gleaming capital of India, Delhi. The tales of Delhi were wildly exaggerated, filled with adventure and endless opportunity.
Deva was headstrong and overly confident, a recipe for disaster for a 9 year old boy. He became frustrated with his father and their cramped living conditions. Growing restless with his situation, he became convinced he could do better on his own. Without any word to his family, he hopped a train illegally, to what he thought would be a promising new life in his nation’s capital.
With images of great riches dancing in his head, he arrived at the dank train station in Delhi. His plan? What plan?
There he sat alone and scared in a foul corner of the station. He watched throngs of people pass by, some with destinations, others, like him, aimless. He noticed bands of children, like ants, scurrying from one point to another. They seemed to have an objective. He was determined to find out what that was.
The children, he carefully studied, were a handful of the lost children of Delhi. On average, there are between 70 - 80 children that arrive daily in India’s capital. These children are runaways, all escaping difficult and dangerous situations, all in search of a better life. This band of lost children Deva watched were about to become his new family.
These runaways taught Deva how to survive on the street. He was first shown where to safely sleep. At night the children would huddle together on scraps of cardboard, in a quiet nook of the station. The next lesson he learned was plastic equaled money. 1 kilo of plastic = 22 rupees. This translates to approximately 2 pounds of plastic = 30 cents. He quickly mastered the art of plastic picking.
That money was usually spent on food, however not always. In place of food, at times money was spent on a movie ticket. In the dark recesses of a theater the children would sit quietly, undisturbed and sniff glue or white-out, to momentarily numb the pain of their ill-fated lives. Deva spiraled down that same hopeless path.
This was his life for almost two years.
Just as his life’s circumstance was quickly shattered the day his mother died, his current way of life was about to take another dramatic turn.
One day, during his normal scavenger routine, a man approached him. Deva was filthy and scrawny. The man asked where Deva’s family was. Deva starred blankly into his eyes.
The man then said, “Come with me.”
Frightened, yet hungry, Deva followed with great hesitation. He was brought to an office not far from the train terminal. It was located on the third floor, next to the police station. Upon his arrival, he was fed. Still distrustful, he was ready to bolt the moment he felt threatened.
His young body was fatigued and worn from living on the streets. Being fed and cared for felt luxurious, something he could get used to. He learned the man that picked him up at the station worked for an organization called Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) Salaam Baalak provides a safe environment for the children rescued from the streets. Since 1988 they offer quality education, nutrition and healthcare for the lost children of Delhi.
Deva needed time to develop trust for his rescuer and SBT, and eventually, that trust built. He began classes in the third floor walk up at SBT. Along with his daily studies he also learned about sanitation and nutrition. As time passed, he grew stronger, healthier and more interested in his studies. He slowly worked his way through SBT education program. He flourished while there, a striking difference from the disheveled eleven year old boy that was picked up at the rail station years earlier.
Today, as part of Salaam Baalak outreach program, guided city walks are provided. For a mere $5, a former street kid will escort anyone interested through the dingy back alleys of Delhi. The same streets that Deva once called home. The guide explains life on the streets for a child and the assistance Salaam Baalak provides.
I took one of SBT‘s city walks and Deva was my guide.
I am not telling you this story for you to support Salaam Baalak https://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/who-we-are.php. That’s up to you. However, I am telling you this story because life isn’t always what it may appear to be. Circumstances sometimes happen beyond anyone’s control, where you are delivered to a situation beyond comprehension.
There are many compelling stories of life on the street. All I ask of you is to hold a compassionate ear and an open heart to each and every one of those stories. Listen without judgement.
Salaam Baalak Trust rose out of the 1988 Indian movie, Salaam Bombay, chronicling the day to day life of children living in the slums of Bombay. The writer and director, Mira Nair, deeply moved by the lost children’s horrific story, started the organization. The movie Salaam Bombay was the precursor to the Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire.
Because of Mira Nair’s connection to the movie industry, a street-based Theatre Action Group was formed teaching the street children all aspects of the arts. Scholarships are awarded to a few graduates each year that have successfully completed the program. The success stories of these children are numerous. The professions of some graduates are impressive, ranging from photographers to engineers. Since 1988, SBT has cared for and protected more than 80,000 children. These children are lost no more.
Deva is now 19 years old. He sent for his brother in Mumbai, who now lives with him in Delhi. His sister is married and living in Mumbai. His father still struggles. Today, Deva escorts visitors on daily SBT city walks. He teaches his brother about life and is focused on getting a scholarship. Deva aspires to become an actor.
As in all good Bollywood movies, this is Deva’s happy ending...or is it just the beginning?
Live in color,
A personal story
Please allow me a few moments to share a story and to explain this photo.
I was living in New York when 911 occurred. Anyone who lived there at that time will remember the shock and numbness that descended on its residents. For months afterwards life in the city and surrounding counties was surreal. There was a choking heaviness, a mixture of fear and uncertainty.
As time passed, the holidays grew closer. I wondered how could I celebrate Christmas that year? Buying frivolous gifts seemed disrespectful and planning a sumptuous meal felt too extravagant. Even when it came down to a Christmas card I was stumped.
Through the years my go to Christmas card was a photo of my son and two Newfoundlands, however, this Christmas I thought the card needed to say something more. After much deliberation, I decided to make a macro image of my Newfie’s nose. Yes, just his nose. In all its glistening, wet glory, an image of a jet-black Newfoundland snout was my Christmas card. The message inside read: Enjoy the small things in life.
It didn’t take long for people to respond. The majority were, “Well, she’s finally lost it.”
In retrospect, it was in that moment that I finally found it.
The horror of 911 quickly put life into perspective. I realized in a flash what was important and what wasn’t. Suddenly my comfortable, suburban lifestyle felt unsettled. All the trappings of my provincial way of being left me hollow and unfulfilled.
Everyone experienced 911 in their own way. I experienced a shift. It was a shift inwards. My relentless outward search for happiness relaxed into an appreciation for what is right in front of me.
Now to the photo attached.
This morning I woke and followed my normal routine beginning by making coffee. Grind, measure, fill and flip on.
After breakfast, I cleaned up. I dumped the remainder of the coffee, opened the lid of the coffee maker to empty the grinds and there they were — a nest of coffee beans. Now I’m sure there is someone out there saying, “Big whoop”. But to me, it was a big whoop. How these four beans made it through the grinding process and how they settled, huddled together, in a seemingly safe and secure nest, put a huge smile on my face.
Each day unexpected visual gifts present themselves. These presents are everywhere, but only apparent to the perceptive observer. These visual surprises are life’s momentary expressions of its playful beauty and certain unpredictability.
Please allow this pithy post be a reminder that it is the little things that ensure a well-balanced, fragant and robust experience.
Live in color,
It happens every year about this time. March rolls in and I become constipated — creatively that is.
Living deep in the woods of Vermont, the solitude and beauty I find in the winter months is breathtaking. The fire and vitality of summer are silenced by a layer of fluffy frosting, revealing only stark contrasts. The March landscape in Vermont is brilliantly minimal.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, I’m a color gal. Just about this time every year my heart and creative pulse yearns for color.
I have enjoyed winter's living grayscale laying outside my window, exposing the whitest whites to the blackest blacks, however, I now pine for color. My monastic, midwinter, white-bread diet is yearning for a little spice. Color is that spice, the remedy I desperately need to stir my creative flow once again.
So until the first signs of spring appear, my eye wildly searches for color. Today’s color was found is a bouquet of orange roses on my kitchen counter.
I pulled one stem from the arrangement, brought it to my windowsill, gently placing it on its side, while admiring its beauty. I said to the rose, “Talk to me”.
Oh, what a conversation we had!
I inadvertently opened a flood gate of emotions for this single rose. Rose told me how misunderstood she was. She resented how she was looked upon as just a pretty little thing. Most never took the time to truly recognize her depth and sensitivity. She went on to explain she was so much more than a cluster of petals. She was life itself.
Rose then felt comfortable enough with me to expose her various sides. In an instant she became my model and muse, perched in front of me, the artist. Slowly she stripped away her layers, exposing her mystery, sensuality and her grandeur.
Just as an artist's brush attempts to capture the grace and emotion of that which lies before him, I tried to document the complexity of this rare beauty.
What would happen if you spent quality time, like this, with everything that crossed your path? How could you not feel the flush of awe and reverence for life itself.
Live in color,
The living room was saturated with the aroma of perfume and smoke, typical for a 1950’s Long Island cocktail party. I scanned the room of usual suspects, elegant women in their brocaded dresses, dapper men in business regalia. However, my attention was drawn to one person in the crowd, Father Kerwin, a Roman Catholic priest. Father Kerwin was a friend and confidant of my parents. He was a fixture at their parties.
Why should a 5-year old little girl be interested in a man of the cloth? I should have been captivated by the glamorous women dripping in shiny bits, precariously balanced on their stiletto heeled opera pumps, but no, it was a priest I found intriguing. A gentle man with a warm smile and an unwavering collected composure.
As a child, I hated church. I never felt the solace that so many experience, I only felt agita. I loathed Sunday services, the choking incense, the half-naked man hanging from a cross, the chanting in Latin and the choreographed movement sent me into a state of nausea, literally. Most Sundays my father had to escort me, mid-service, to the vestibule where he cracked the massive bronze doors open so I could get a breath of fresh air to keep me from fainting.
Needless to say, I was anything but religious. However, during that cocktail party I saw something in Father Kerwin that I never saw before. He stood in a crowd of people, yet somehow stood apart. He radiated an intoxicating aura, something I didn’t see in anyone else. He personified grace and ease. I remember looking at him through the legs of the guests at the gathering, saying to myself, “I want some of that.”
60+ years later, I’m still looking for some of that.
In 2016 my husband and I traveled to Dharamsala, India in search of an exotic adventure. Dharamsala has been the home of the Dali Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile since 1952. This hillside city, on the edge of the Himalayas, has become home to thousands of Tibetan refugees and the spiritual center of Tibetan Buddhism.
Our hotel was a stone’s throw away from the Dali Lama’s temple. Every day we would wander into the temple to listen to the monks’ chant, watch prostrations being preformed, candle lighting, horn blowing and the feeding of the hungry. The temple was welcoming, even for a tourist that had no idea what the heck was going on. I was met with warm smiles, approving nods and even an invitation to sit and join the chanting.
On the final day of our trip, we climbed the stairs to the temple, one last time, to bid our fond farewells. I stood in the back corner of the main hall, wedged between a room of flickering candles and an area filled with old Tibetan women clutching their prayer beads, rocking in unison on their woven floor mats. Within the confines of the temple there was no evidence of the frenetic pace that lay just outside the temple walls. Inside it felt safe, as if cloaked in a cape of serenity. I wanted to bottle what I felt and stuff it in my carry-on. After a short while my husband turned to me and said, “We have to go.” I responded, “I don’t want to.”
In a flash I was that 5-year old little girl who saw something special at my parents’ party. Again, I knew I was witnessing something significant, but didn’t know what it was.
These are just two examples, out of many, of how I have been drawn to a scene. The more important question is, why?
So what does a girl do when she’s looking for answers? Well, she could head to her local bookstore and find a book on New Age psychology, meet friends over cocktails and share her thoughts, or find a meditation cushion and just sit. Knowing I do nothing in a small way, I have chosen to go on a explorative journey, a mini pilgrimage of sorts.
Why a pilgrimage? There are many reasons one would set off on such a journey. Usually, someone is looking for an answer to a deeply personal question. For me, it’s about self-discovery, fueled by curiosity. Let me make it clear, I am not looking for religion, or some God or deity, nor am I looking for absolution for some indiscretion.
I am looking to better understand my role in the world I inhabit. Father Kerwin was such a random siting however, it must have held some significance if it has stayed with me all these years. Simply, and this is no simple order, I am looking for some rhyme or reason to why I see the things that I do. Why am I drawn to one subject over another? At times I feel I am being lured into a conversation with my subject, but to say what?
A pilgrimage is a solo journey. Personal time and space are needed to do the heavy lifting. So I am returning to Dharamsala on my own this April, in search of, I’m not sure what, but open to everything. The old adage still holds true: Sometimes you just need to get lost in order to find yourself.
In the past few years, I have learned to express myself through photography and writing, I have tried to highlight moments that catch my attention, moments of splendor that many may over-look. My journey is a deep dive into those attention-grabbing moments that I frame, illuminating them even further. Ah, maybe that’s it: I’m looking for illumination!
So, I head off to India with curiosity and a couple of power bars. Truly, what else does a girl need?
The setting seemed familiar. I knew I stood in this scene once before, however it was a different time, in a different place. Memories came flooding back. My dreamlike recall carried me to the marshlands of Scotland.
The year was 1855, outside the town of Sutherland, on the west coast of Scotland. I followed a footpath through the tall reeds in search of solitude. There I stood amongst the flaxen grasses, tangled brush and assorted wildlife. They welcomed me, I was home.
Photography can transport you.
On a recent Cape Cod photography workshop lead by John Barclay, https://johnbarclayphotography.com and Rad Drew, http://www.raddrewphotography.com, that is exactly what happened to me.
Our group consisted of our fearless leaders and 13 eager participants. Before the crack of dawn we arrived to a seaside site that offered a wide range of photographic opportunities. Forever in search of solitude, I broke away from the group. I followed a dirt path, in the dark, through the ensnared brush to a grand opening alive with waterfowl, enveloped by lush, windswept grasses. A sliver of golden light appeared on the horizon. With my camera down on my side, I watched the morning unfold. The first blush of light cast a sepia tone on the landscape. It was then I was transported.
Was I really the young girl I had imagined wandering alone in the marsh? As my 19th century sweeping epic, in glorious technicolor began to fade from memory, I slowly awakened to the present moment to find the marsh, the morning and little ole’ me.
Who needs movies and popcorn when you have an active imagination and camera at hand?
Live in color,
P.S. If you are looking for an excellent photo workshop please check out the links to John Barclay and Rad Drew. They are both passionate and gifted photographers, who effortlessly guide their students to a better understanding of both the technical and artistic sides of photography... and they're highly cool guys to boot!
Effortless beauty is grace in my eyes.
When I speak of grace I am not speaking in a religious context, but more of the harmonious alignment between something and it’s surroundings.
Recently I came upon a circular Koi pond in the center of a bustling hotel lobby. Flecks of golden light drew me in, however the grace of movement held me. The longer I looked at the Koi being Koi, the more I recognized how elegant these creatures truly are.
I remember as a child being captivated by a television star, Loretta Young. In my 6 year old mind, she epitomized grace and elegance. I remember nothing of her work, just her patented entrances. It was always the same, a door swung open, she crossed the threshold, twirled to close it, then glided across the stage in an elegant haute couture gown, never losing eye contact with the camera. WOW! Now I understand she had make-up on that was probably applied with a palette knife, layers of Aqua Net holding her do in place, and her torso painfully squeezed into a designer gown. Illusion or not, her movement appeared effortless.
So what is it about effortlessness that is attractive?
In each case there seems to be a lack of struggle. Being in harmony with their surroundings creates a dynamic equilibrium which in turn exudes grace.
There is grace in the fluid lines of the Koi, their elegant expression is mesmerizing.
Don't think of this a as fish tale, just a lesson in grace.
Live in color,
Life is in a constant state of flux and how I perceive situations is totally dependent on where I am in my own personal flux.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, German poet and scientist, understood nature as an assemblage of parts all interrelated. Even the observer becomes an integral part of this assemblage. Seeing in Goethe mind becomes more than a passive act, but an active way to connect to your subject.
This past week I had the opportunity to spend some time at the beach. I happily took one photo after another. While reviewing, they mostly left me flat. They were good enough, but something was missing. I struggled with the composition and tonality, but nothing seemed to feel right. I put the images away and began to read a homework assignment about the Goethian perspective. On page two there it was, I found what was missing: me. I didn’t take the time to connect to the beach, there was no conversation, I just clicked away.
As a photographer, I become as important as the subject I am capturing. Discovering the connections between me and my subject will reveal it even further. Applying a holistic approach to seeing will create a dynamic relationship with dynamic revelations.
After sharing my morning coffee with Goethe I asked myself again, why am I making photographs? I discovered I am looking for the poetic moments in nature. I want more than a pretty picture, I want to capture a sense of poetry.
Spending time on my own personal exploration and how best I can be in conversation with the world I see, will result in my unique perspective being exposed. I have a responsibility to be in constant inquiry and to always be in relationship with my subjects, only then can I make images that have the ability to touch another.
Live in color,
The metamorphosis begins ever so gradually. The morning air now has a nip, not quite enough to chill you, but enough to catch your attention.
The wild meadow grasses have begun to seed, revealing ribbons of cotton candy meandering through lush pastures. Fields of color give way to nature’s abstract expressionism and impressionism. I wasn’t alone standing in this sweeping field, Pollack and Monet were close by.
Before the kaleidoscope of autumnal colors takes hold, summer gently bids a fond farewell. With the brushstroke of a master, summer pays homage to form and color by painting an elegant swath of pastel hues on this late summer landscape.
What a way to go!
Live in color,
An image alone sometimes feels insufficient, that’s where Musings come in. A space where words and images come together to tell the story.
I promise not to sell, rent, or share your email address with anyone. Ever.