Cycle of Seasons

On Friday morning, the alarm woke me at 5:15AM, reminding me that on Friday, I start my day with yoga class at 6:30AM.  By 6:00AM, I was out in the park walking the dog, staring up, open-mouthed at a preternatural sky.  Surprisingly dark and yet brilliantly lit with a crescent moon hovering in the middle of a brilliant cluster of stars.

With the dawn coming noticeably later each morning, I find myself having a harder and harder time getting into first gear each morning.  I wonder if our ancestors noticed the difference.  Did they just get up with the sun and go to bed with the sun and not really notice if the days were longer or shorter?  One thing’s for sure–they didn’t wake up to the mamba as recreated by the iPhone.

As the days shorten, my desire to get out of bed shrinks proportionally.  Am I pulled by the forces of thousands of years before me when people didn’t set alarm clocks?  Or am I just over-worked and under-rested and more resentful of my alarm because the dark sky reminds me that I’ve spent far too few hours in bed?

As Tisen and I make our way around the star-lit park, leaves rustle above our heads and below our feet.  The young sycamores planted in the park have already given up on photosynthesis.  Their leaves have dried and shrunk into brown cocoons hanging precariously from branches or littering the sidewalk below.  The leaves on the sidewalk will be meticulously blown away by the park maintenance crew by the time we take our afternoon walk.  The effort of an entire growing season whisked away, leaving the trees nothing to show for their pain and preventing the nutrients locked in the web of leaves from returning to the soil.  A cycle broken.

Fall has always been my favorite season.  As cool winds become prevalent, humidity drops, and blindingly blue skies become common, I find it hard to resist crunching through leaves and looking for birds, many exposed for the first time since spring on bare branches offering little camouflage.

But on Friday morning, as I turned my face skyward and bathed in the feeble light from the stars, moon, and street lamps, melancholy swept over me.  It was a brief, passing moment.  The moment of realization that things are coming to an end, although I couldn’t name what those things were.

By Friday afternoon, when I stepped out with Tisen in overpowering sunshine with a crisp wind reminding me that 80 degrees doesn’t always feel warm, I felt hopeful again.  Heat and humidity are coming to an end.  The summer breeding season for the birds is coming to an end.  And this opens the door for new possibilities.  I felt myself welcoming the change in the weather.  The change in the birds.  The change in me.  A cycle working.

Chasing the Moon

I find myself on a vengeful quest to conquer my own personal Moby Dick.  In my case, it is not a whale, but the moon.  While my motives are more innocent and less violent than Ahab’s, a desire to vindicate myself drives me to follow the moon with a modern version of intensity that involves many goggle searches.

I think back to the day, now more than two years ago, when this quest began.  I had the idea of getting a shot of the full moon rising behind the Walnut Street bridge.

I had purchased my 100-400mm lens a few months earlier–far enough ahead to have learned my inexpensive tripod wouldn’t support the weight of the lens.  I took my monopod with me, hoping it would offer enough stability to get a good shot.  As I stood on the bridge in the dark watching the moon rise perfectly behind the bridge with people walking by in front of it, I was buffeted about by the wind.  My monopod was useless–my images were completely blurred.

Yet, I went home elated that this idea would work.  I sent my blurry photos to a photographer friend who said, prophetically, “You wasted some good moonlight.”  Naive in the nature of the moon, I thought, “well, there’s always next month.”

Over a period of weeks, I researched tripods and finally made an investment in one I expect to last the rest of my life.  Finally ready, I headed out the next full moon only to discover there was too much cloud cover for the moon to be visible.  The next month I learned that the moon was no longer rising behind the Walnut Street Bridge.  It would be another 8 months before I would have another opportunity.

In the meantime, I practiced shooting the moonrise.  In those months I learned just how fickle the moon can be.  The obstacles are many:  obscured visibility, daylight moonrises, my schedule, the speed of the moonrise, the unpredictability of the appearance of the moon, and focusing in the dark, to name a few.

At long last, the moon began rising behind the bridge again.  The first two months, haze prevented it from being visible until it was far above the people on the bridge.  On the one evening I had my chance, I arrived too late and missed the moment.  Next month, it will no longer be behind the bridge.

I will bide my time.  I will persist.  The moment will never return exactly as it was that night.  That is one thing I know with certainty–each moment is uniquely its own.  But chasing the moon has its own merit.  There is something to be said for tenacity.  While there is a time and place to let go and move on, having a goal that requires planning, making time, learning, and adjusting seems like an important lesson in life.

Many Views

A common expression in corporate conversations is “taking a 30,000 foot view” or some such derivation that might also be expressed as “looking at the forest instead of the trees.”  Often, the follow up comments include something along the lines of, “but the devil is always in the details.”

When you look at a map, you can lay out a course that takes you in the most direct line to where you want to go.  But when you get on the road, street signs are missing or roads are closed and sometimes you find yourself well off-course in spite of your plan.  Even with technology, sometimes the GPS thinks a private road is a public one and advises me to drive through locked gates.  As it turns out, the most direct route is often not the easiest.

On my recent trip to Portland, we went on a little venture to the Washington coast and Astoria, Oregon.  We stopped at overlooks, visited lighthouses, and went up to the Astoria Tower.  Each of these vantage points provides a different view.  The ocean forms waves that slide smoothly up onto the beach while they batter and splash against craggy coastline cliffs only a hundred yards away.  From our thousand foot view (give or take), neither looks particularly harrowing or dangerous, but because we’ve been up close to both situations, we can readily guess which one would be the best place to, say, try to land a boat.

I am reminded of a presenter who once talked about the tendency to rely on historical information when deciding what to do next.  He said, “you can’t drive while you’re looking in your rearview mirror.”  I’d like to think we all check our mirrors every once in a while.  Without metaphorically checking our rearview mirror, we might think we could land safely amongst the rocks.  And without a map, we might not know if we went 100 yards further, we could land smoothly in the sand.

As we stood on the grounds of the Astoria Tower, I imagined Lewis and Clark for a second time that day.  I imagined being the creator of the map for previously uncharted lands.  I imagined explorers standing and staring at the river below as it makes its final turn before colliding with the Pacific Ocean.  I wondered if they were able to predict how long it would take to get from where they stood to the river shore.  I wondered how many surprises they encountered once underway.

I suppose life has not changed much if you look at it from 100,000 feet.  In spite of the myriad of gadgets that make navigation easier, we still must each create our own map for our lives.  The endless number of choices we now face can overwhelm even the most intrepid explorer.  When you come down to the 100 foot level or so, the main difference between then and now is probably that we do far more exploring from a seated position.

Dismal Nitch

This week has been another vacation week (I got a bit behind on using my vacation days this year).  This time, I left Pat and Tisen at home and travelled out to visit family in Portland, Oregon.  Portland is one of my favorite parts of the US–this is a trip I look forward to every year.

While visiting the Oregon coast, we stopped at Dismal Nitch across from Astoria, Oregon.  Dismal Nitch is an easy rest stop to access these days–a long, long bridge from Astoria to Washington makes it a really interesting drive with fantastic views.

But, when it was named by the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was no picnic.  Traveling by boat, the craggy harbor became a dangerous place for the explorers and their team.  They were stuck out in the rain for 6 days, waiting for the weather to clear so they could safely navigate the rocks and other hazards that have made this area among the most dangerous waters in the country.

I pause as we stand along the fence at the rest area, looking out at the Cormorants, Seagulls, and Pelicans.  The face of a seal suddenly pops through the surface of the water.  I stand there wishing I had my 100-400mm lens.

And then, it occurs to me, I feel mired.  I think about Lewis and Clark sitting in that same spot, cold, wet, and probably hungry.  I think about them bobbing about on rough seas and waiting out the stormy weather.  I wonder if they felt it was hopeless.  I wonder how long they were prepared to wait before making their move.  I wonder if they saw seals and pelicans and thought of them as signs of hope.  All of this flashes through my mind as I realize the difference between me and people like Lewis and Clark is that they took the safest course for the duration of a storm and then moved on.  I seem to confuse safety with long-term direction.

I took some photos of the dismal nitch.  The clouds gray and swirling above relatively still water created a nearly monochromatic scene.  I stared out over the waters, hiding the dangers of shoals and debris that had sunk more than its share of ships.  It looked so peaceful.  Tranquil.  A cormorant stood on the stump of what might once have been a pier, spreading its wings and flapping them.  He couldn’t wait for them to dry so he might fly again.

Perhaps we are all like the cormorant.  We dive in, get wet, and then have to hang out and dry out before we can jump back in.  Perhaps some of us have to hang out longer than others before we’re willing to take the next plunge.  I metaphorically flap my wings and wonder just what kind of drying time to expect.  By my count, they’ve been drying for at least 8 years.  I find myself wondering if the Cormorant ever forget how to swim.

Will Should

It’s amazing how quickly small things get in the way of achieving a relatively simple goal.  My goal has been to make time for the things that make me happy first thing in the morning.  Riding, rowing, yoga.  Seems simple enough.

But then there’s the rush of deadlines that keeps me up late or the early-morning or late-night conference calls with colleagues in far-off time zones.  Suddenly, what I need more than a ride is sleep.  The alarm gets set for 7AM instead of 5AM.

I remember reading once (or twice) that it takes a month to establish a new habit.  I think about the times I have succeeded in creating habits.

There is a mindset that snaps into place.  It’s a mindset that says, “you will do this, no matter what.”  It’s the mindset that drags my weary rear-end out of bed long before dawn even if I’ve only had a few hours of sleep.  Making myself get up forces me to go to bed earlier.  Making the priority to get out of bed is painful for a week or two until I find I can no longer keep my eyes open after 10PM.  But where is the switch that turns, “I should” into “I will”?

I learned a long time ago that the conditional tense is a misleading and manipulative beast that carries with it guilt and shame as poor motivators.  “Should?” my inner self retorts, “You can’t tell me what to do!”

Will changes everything.  The power of grammar is contained in this simple word.  To have the will.  To will.  Both a noun and a verb, will combusts into action.  To say “I will” creates promise and commitment.  To will is to embrace, to drive.  I do not take the word lightly.

Should, however, reeks of meek compliance.  Agreement to a statement that belongs to someone else.  “Yes, I should get up at 5AM.”  The word “should” implies “but I won’t” at the end of the sentence.  That single, irritating word contains the admission of not living up to someone’s standard.  Of agreeing that whatever the task at hand might be, it is worthwhile and good, but not within your reach.  It represents an admission that you are not making good on something you should be doing.

I listen for “shoulds” when I’m talking to others.  In my career, I have learned that “should” means, “yes, that’s a good idea, but I’m not doing it.”  In volunteer organizations, I learned to shudder at the words, “someone should,” although at least it is a more straightforward admission.

Sometimes when will has left me, I have to step back and reassess.  Is there a point in time coming up that will allow me to shift to will?  Is there a project that will be finished?  A commitment completed?  Some other break in time that can get me to will?  I still haven’t found the switch, but I will.