Sometimes we need to trust ourselves. Sometimes we need to shut out what everyone else tells us and follow our own hearts. But other times, we have to accept that maybe our perception is dead wrong.

This is pretty terrifying really.

It’s hard to buck the system and decide no matter what anyone else says, you’re going to do the thing that makes you happy. For example, why do people who supposedly love us tell us not to follow our passion? I think it’s because they’re scared. Scared as much for themselves as for us.

Here’s an analogy: during my first marriage, my ex and I hadn’t been romantically involved for several months. I saw a romantic movie and when the couple started kissing passionately, I burst into tears. It was the pain of being reminded of what I was missing that made me cry. Having it thrown in my face broke the dam I’d built to keep all of that pain in check. Sometimes we’d rather believe something isn’t possible than to see someone else doing what we’ve dreamt of.

On the flip side, sometimes our perceptions are just wrong. Let’s take a wedding where we stress over details that no one else will notice or care about. Leading up to a wedding, many a bride (sorry to be sexist, but I have yet to meet a groom who felt similar stress about his wedding) will freak out about any one of a million minute details that no guest will ever notice.

The importance of details like how party favors are presented on the tables, the font of the invitation, or the subtle shade of blue that doesn’t quite match between the cake frosting and the napkins grow vastly out of proportion.

Yet, if you’re getting married, no one–NO ONE–cares if the blues are slightly different shades. What does matter is that you’re happy you’re getting married. That’s really the only detail you need to worry about: are you happy you’re getting married?

When we get into a state where things like matching shades of blue seem like life and death situations, we need to let go and trust in someone else’s judgment. But how do we tell the difference between when our own compass has been dropped vs when someone else’s advice is coming from their own fears?

Sometimes this is relatively easy. If we take a few deep breaths, there’s a place in most of our stomachs that will tell us that our best friend is right that the shades of blue are fine. Other times, it’s tough. Sometimes it takes a lot of soul searching to distinguish between whether what we believe is right or whether maybe, just maybe, we should accept someone else’s opinion.

Sometimes the opinions we hold with the most certainty are exactly where we need to listen to someone else. If only there were a simple test to determine when we’re off base.


Is it Sunday?

I am suffering from an interesting phenomenon. I don’t know if it has a name. It’s the inability to keep track of the days of the week. This has led to a second phenomenon: posting my Sunday blog posts late.

Seeking to get myself back on a slightly more planned schedule, I spent some time contemplating why keeping track of the days seems so difficult. Let’s review . . .

Until 3 months ago, I was working long weeks for a large corporation. Monday-Friday, my alarm went off, I picked up my iPhone and checked my email and calendar. I answered any urgent emails from parts of the world that would be leaving work soon and then checked my calendar again to see 1) what time I needed to be ready for my first conference call, and 2) if I had any open time during the day to get anything done or if there were any conference calls I could skip to make time. Then I got ready to start my day.

Saturday and Sunday were days I didn’t set my alarm, didn’t have any conference calls (usually), and could catch up a bit on work I didn’t have time to do during the week as well as fit in some fun time.

That has a pretty definitive rhythm. It forces you to know what day of the week it is because you’re always working against deadlines and constantly looking at your calendar trying to find time to work and/or meet with people.

In comparison, I have not been setting my alarm most days unless I really think I’m going to oversleep. Generally, I wake up an hour earlier than I would set my alarm for anyway, so it hasn’t been an issue.

I have started trying to use my calendar because I do have appointments from time to time–or at least social engagements. But rather than actually looking at my calendar and figuring out what my day looks like, I am ignoring my calendar until a notification pops up reminding me that I have to do something. This does not require knowing what day it is.

There is little motivation to actually know what day it is. First, the only time it’s inconvenient is if you, for example, go to a store on a Sunday that isn’t open on Sundays. This hasn’t happened to me yet. Second, it’s depressing to realize x more days have gone by and you still haven’t gotten the things done you meant to get done, so why remind yourself by constantly knowing what day of the week it is? Finally, knowing what day of the week it is would mean having no excuse for the appointments I have missed when I didn’t get them added to my calendar.

Not knowing what day it is has not deterred my photography any, either. In fact, it may contribute to me shooting more because I am more apt to lose track of time altogether.

Getting Out

With my husband out of town for the week, I was left to my own devices.  I took the opportunity to get out and shoot a bit further from home than usual.

First there was a road trip to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, tucked in the Cherokee National Forest. To get there, I had to first see to the completion of the repair of our second car, which was in the shop after not having been driven for over a year.

I quickly realized how spoiled I am–my husband normally attends to car maintenance and repair. First I had to arrange with the shop for them to pick me up when the car was “done.” Then I had to take the car to another shop to get the battery replaced, which undid all the settings, including the computer that controls the idle speed, which resulted in the car revving the engine every time I stopped. I’m surprised no one attempted to race me off the starting line at traffic lights!

Then there was the little complication that the fan wasn’t running and I was advised not to go less than 35 mph to avoid overheating. I had visions of driving on sidewalks to avoid red lights. That took a second trip to the shop when the part arrived so I could drive to the mountains without having to take the sidewalks.

By the time I got out of the shop Saturday afternoon and drove to Joyce Kilmer, which turned out to be a 3 hour drive, I had only a half an hour to battle the mosquitos and grab a few shots before Tisen and I had to get back on the road to head home.

On Monday I pulled out my bicycle and stopped at Amnicola Marsh to discover what might have been a Great Egret. Of course, I did not have my camera with me, so back I went the next morning, when, of course, the bird did not appear.

Since the car’s idle speed didn’t reset over the weekend, I returned to the mechanic on Monday. Fortunately, they were able to greatly improve things.

Next I made the drive to the Blythe Ferry Osprey nest with a couple from the photography club who allowed me to drive, in spite of Tisen crowding the lucky passenger who got to sit in back with him. But on the way home, the coolant light came on and we discovered I was losing coolant. Fortunately, we made it home without a problem, but that put an end to my driving career (at least for a few days).

I stuck to my bicycle and made one more trip to Amnicola and Curtain Pole Road Marshes. No Great Egret, but I did meet another photographer and stayed far longer than I intended shooting at Curtain Pole–it’s amazing how much more you see when there are two of you looking.

All in all, I’d say I’m pretty good at entertaining myself.


I have been thinking a lot about attitude lately. Merriam-Webster defines attitude as:

          1: the way you think and feel about someone or something
2: a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior

3: a way of thinking and behaving that people regard as unfriendly, rude, etc.

I don’t think the first and second definitions should be separate. The way we think and feel about someone or something necessarily affects the way we behave.

For example, if we are having a really bad day and are at our absolute worst and then run into an acquaintance at the grocery store, if we have not established trust with that person, we are likely to behave politely and pleasantly in spite of how we feel. Conversely, when we get home, because we trust those whom we love to forgive us, we may unleash a torrent of unpleasantness on them.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. It was told by Maya Angelou as something her grandmother once said to her: “If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.”

It begs the question: Why do we save our best behavior for people we don’t know?

Showing the worst of ourselves requires vulnerability. Being willing to be vulnerable comes from trust and intimacy. When we are intimate with someone, we show all of ourselves to them, for better or worse. We trust them to take us as we are. Or, to put it less positively: we believe we can get away with it.

But perhaps the damage we inflict on them and our relationship really isn’t worth the relief of not having to hold in all our anger and frustration?

When I was a child, my mother brought home a book called “TA for Tots”–a popular book in the 70’s. It talks about things like “warm fuzzies” and “cold pricklies” as a way of helping children and parents identify feelings and behaviors and make better choices. Essentially, giving us a way to choose our attitude.

As a teenager, my mother’s touchy-feely parenting became regarded as “uncool.” Later, as a woman in a male-dominated industry, I believed the worst thing anyone could say about me was that I was “emotional.” To talk about feelings became taboo.

Yet, the heart of our attitude, our behaviors, and, ultimately, all of our relationships and all that we accomplish comes down to our feelings.

If instead of snapping at my husband I could simply say, “Hi. I’m glad you’re here. I’ve had a really crappy day and need a hug,” wouldn’t that go a lot further a lot faster to restoring me to my better self? And wouldn’t it make my husband feel wonderful that he could be there to give me what I need? Once again, I should have listened to my mother.

Private Moments and a Merlin

My first Green Heron of the season--usually, I see them daily at the park, but not during the birdathon

My first Green Heron of the season–usually, I see them daily at the park, but not during the birdathon

Continuing our excursion through the VW wetland, we made our way around to the far side of the wetland from our entry point.  This side was on the VW plant side.  They were doing a lot of construction between the wetland and the plant, but they had installed a protective barrier between the construction zone and the wetland to keep runoff from the construction from upsetting the balance of the ecosystem.

Because water does need to run from the construction area to the wetland, they installed a large pipe between the two that went under the barrier.  At the end of the pipe leading to the wetland, they installed what might have looked like a giant balloon waiting to be inflated and twisted into a life-sized balloon horse except that it was a dull, opaque black color.  It laid on the ground piled on itself looking lifeless and discarded.  Our guide told us it was a silt bag used to collect all the dirt and silt in the construction runoff.  When water is running through quickly, it does indeed inflate.  However, no one has yet tried to twist it into a life-sized balloon horse.

A tree full of Great Blue Heron on the far side of the wetland

A tree full of Great Blue Heron on the far side of the wetland

As we made our way around the end of the wetland, we got closer to the array of solar panels.  It was pretty darn impressive to see the field of panels growing electricity.  Our guide told us that over 20% of the power consumed by the plant comes from the solar panels outside the wetland.  This is an impressive amount of electricity when one considers how much power a manufacturing facility like that uses.  The Eastern Meadowlark definitely thought it was worth singing about–he perched on the edge of the panels and sung his heart out for us.

Spotting the Merlin at the end of a very thin-looking tree branch

Spotting the Merlin at the end of a very thin-looking tree branch

This was also about the time that everyone’s last cup of coffee kicked in.  First one person disappeared into a wooded area.  Next, another one started wandering towards the woods.  When we started following her, she stopped, turned and said, “I need a private moment.”  We all laughed at ourselves for blindly following her.  Next it was my turn.

This is one of those occasions when being able to spot poison ivy makes the difference between life and painful suffering.  I am skilled at spotting poison ivy at any stage of development–young poison ivy vines before the leaves sprout, fresh purple leaves dripping with toxic oils when they first burst forth, ancient hairy vines twisted around the trunk of a tree.  Unfortunately, I know all this because I’ve gotten it so many ways over the decade I’ve been allergic to it.

The Merlin seems to be testing the wind as he twists about, thinking about flying

The Merlin seems to be testing the wind as he twists about, thinking about flying

After I rejoined the group, I discovered they were all looking at a Merlin.  It graciously  remained in full view, perched long enough for me to get quite a few shots, although being about 100 yards closer would have yielded some really amazing images.  This was a life-list bird for me–I’ve never seen one before.  What a great day.

Off goes the Merlin

Off goes the Merlin

Wild Ride

Having gotten a decent shot of a red-shouldered hawk at Audubon Acres yesterday, I have the itch to practice wildlife photography today.  I also have the itch to ride my bike.

I slather on several layers of 50 SPF and head off.  It’s about 2PM in the afternoon–not exactly prime time for either wildlife or light.

I cruise casually along the Tennessee Riverpark–the 94 degree heat dissipates as I coast down hills and suffocates me when I go uphill.  At least riding generates a breeze.

I continue on to the Amnicola Marsh.  I find a shady spot to set up and I wait.  This is where I start to question just how much desire I have to be a wildlife photographer.  It’s ridiculously hot for early May.  I feel the heat pounding at me the way I feel the beat of a bass drum at a high-powered rock concert.

Then, the bugs find me.  I am the incarnation of Pig Pen–I have my own cloud.

Sweaty, bitten, itchy, and aching from my heavy pack, I have a hard time being patient.  I have been in the field 5 minutes.

Then, low-and-behold, two green herons fly in and land in a dead tree.  The lighting is horrible, and I’ve arrived without my polarizer, but I do my best to get a decent shot.

I am too far away.  I decide I should try to get closer.  I carefully creep through the scratchy weeds, leaving my bike behind, but hoisting my pack back onto my sore shoulders.  I pick my way around thorns, through spiderwebs, and avoid poison ivy until I am all of 10 feet closer to the tree in question.

I consider moving further in, but the underbrush looks a little thick, I won’t be able to keep an eye on my bike from there, and, well, it looks like my feet might get wet.  I decide to shoot from where I am.

I see a flash of white in my peripheral vision and I swing the lens around to find a snowy egret landing among the lily pads.  Then, it disappears so completely that I believe I’ve imagined it.  The lily pads blow in the breeze and flash white glare back at me, fooling me into thinking there was never a snowy egret at all.

A belted kingfisher makes an appearance.  Although the light is pretty hopeless, I fire off a few shots anyway.  Then, the green heron starts to make his way from a low perch to a high one, catching my attention once more.

Eventually, I head on home. Tisen, having spent 2 whole hours at home alone, had foraged through my not-yet-unpacked suitcase and found the squeaky balls I brought back from Columbus.  I’m happy he entertained himself.  I’m even happier when I see my photos on the big screen and realize there really was a snowy egret!

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The Reflection Riding


Today, we want to go hiking, but we need to drop off our recycling and we get a late start, so we want a destination that is less than a 20-minute drive.  After a quick Google, the Reflection Riding jumps out as a place to explore.  I’m not sure how it got it’s name–I don’t know what a riding is exactly, but I imagine it has to do with horses.  Both a Nature Center and an Arboretum have found their homes there.  The Nature Center participates in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan and breeds them in captivity.  Unfortunately, we arrived at noon and the Red Wolves were secluded in a shaded den where we didn’t get to see them.  We talk to the wildlife curator when we arrive and she recommends an easy hike for a hot day.

We start out on the gravel road that can also be driven.  We are not more than 5 minutes into our hike when a wild turkey appears in the woods.  I drop everything to pull out my big lens and set up for a shot.  Unfortunately, by the time I get my lens out, the turkey has disappeared into the brush.  We walk a ways looking for it, but no luck.  I give up before I get my gear set up completely and we keep walking.  Of course, we spot 2 does and a fawn minutes later, but by the time I get my monopod attached to the lens, they too have gone the way of the turkey.  I curse myself for missing a shot 2X in less than 5 minutes due to lack of preparedness–why would I take 20 pounds of gear on a hike and not be ready for wildlife to appear at any moment?

We walk on to a gazebo by a small pond and sit in the shade for a bit.  Pat spots a turtle poking its beak through the surface of the pond who immediately disappears when I set up my camera.  I spot a bird that I don’t recognize, excited that it might be a bird I’ve never seen before.  I dig the binoculars out of Pat’s day pack and wait for the bird to reappear.  When it finally does, it’s a Mourning Dove.  I am sorely disappointed.  I think I see another interesting bird by the far edge of the pond, but I can’t find it with the binoculars.  Several minutes later, it flies away and I realize it was a Green Heron–another shot missed.  At this point, I’m wishing I’d left all my camera gear at home!

We walk on, avoiding the poison ivy that grows abundantly by the side of the road, discovering a vegetable garden and grape arbor.  The tomatoes are small and green.  The grapes the same.  I am reminded of friends who have been complaining about a lack of tomatoes back in Columbus and wonder if the summer was just too hot for a productive garden?

Further down the road, we find a patch of bamboo.  I’m a bit shocked that an arboretum and nature center would have bamboo growing where it clearly doesn’t belong.  The bamboo surrounds one remaining native evergreen, crushing it with shade and crowding it for space; I feel like I’m witnessing a still-life of war.  We walk through the bamboo and experience the deep shade it provides.  I like bamboo, but having spent a lot of time removing invasive species in the Walhalla Ravine, I wonder if it’s a good idea to introduce plants that don’t belong here.

We wander on, back in the sun, with the heat growing more intense.  Small flying insects insist they must fly into my eyes.  I am reminded of horses at pasture wearing eye covers and wondering if they make such a thing for humans?  We reach the furthest point in the loop road and find a meadow with yellow wildflowers I don’t recognize.  The sky is intensely blue.  I switch lens and take a few shots even though the light is harsh, creating strong shadows and sharp contrasts.  We take a footpath back to another gazebo.  Pat finds shade on a rock wall while I climb some steps to sit in deeper shade and discover another wildflower I don’t recognize.  I switch lenses again and attempt to shoot the flower while it sways in the breeze, enjoying the cooler air, but wishing the flower would hold still.  I spot a Hairy Woodpecker (or maybe it’s a Downey–I can never tell how big a bird is unless I see it in comparison to another bird).  Secluded in the shadows, I am unable to get a shot.  Another bird sneaks behind a tree and I wonder what it could be.  I wait patiently for it to expose itself, but it’s well covered behind brush and shadows.  Eventually it perches in the open and I realize I’ve been tracking a robin.  The Carolina Chickadees and Wrens compete vocally for my attention.  They sing constantly, but I never seen a-one.

We walk on up the trail, climbing up the side of Lookout Mountain a bit.  The shade grows deeper–a welcome relief.  I make a mental note not to start a hike at noon in August in Chattanooga as we find some relief in the cooler shade only to be attacked by more eye-obsessed insects.  The forest floor is covered with myrtle or vinca (I never could tell them apart) in parts, but the poison ivy is so prevalent that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to undertake removing the invasive ground cover.  It’s beautiful none-the-less.  The advantage of being out on a hot afternoon is that no one else is there.  The birdsongs are disrupted only by the sounds of trains passing through the valley.  We hear rustling in the leaves and look around, me immediately getting my camera ready this time.  Eventually spotting the source of the noise, we are just in time to spot a gray squirrel jumping from the ground to the back of a tree, hidden from view.  I wonder again why I am carrying 20 pounds of equipment.  Then I remind myself that Pat is now carrying at least 10 of those pounds and probably wondering the same thing; I decide not to complain.

As we walk along, I suddenly experience a sharp, inexplicable pain in my big toe.  Having landed badly on my first hill flight at hang gliding school the week before, I’m worried that I’ve re-injured myself.  I stop, pull off my shoe, rub my toe trying to determine what’s wrong.  After a few minutes, I give up discovering the source of pain, put my shoe back on and we continue on our way, my toe feeling just fine.  I’m relieved but puzzled.  A short distance later, we approach a clearing that gives us a view of the foothills in the distance.  In the clearer part of the path, thick plants grow along the way.  When I shuffle my feet, one of the plants wedges its way between two of my toes (in my fivefingers shoes) and I experience the same pain I had in my big toe.  Mystery solved, I remove the debris, take a few shots of the scene, including a log cabin tucked between the trees below, and we move on.

We work our way further up the hill, the woods deepening and getting more quiet.  I wish that we would have chosen a higher route–the shade and solitude are more enjoyable than the hot hike along the road.  As we relax into the cooler, quieter setting, I experience a growing sense of peacefulness that reminds me why I hike and erases the irritations of heat and bugs.  However, it turns out that we are nearing the end of our hike.  The path turns downhill and we see the loop road ahead.  Just then, we spot three wild turkeys.  This time, I am ready.  I set up my camera and start shooting.  One of the turkeys seems curious about the sound of my camera.  It pauses behind thin cover and plays peek-a-boo as if it thinks it’s well hidden.  I congratulate myself for bringing my telephoto lens, thinking the weight was well worth it.

We return to our apartment hot and tired.  I ask Pat what stood out for him from our hike.  He says, “I don’t know . . . I just walked.  It was hot.  I walked and I sweated.”  But  I reflect upon the riding (yes, it’s a pun) and am glad that we went.  While our first experience may not have been under optimal conditions, I know we will return there.  But next time, we’ll pick a ridge trail.  There is something about the woods that draws me in.  Deep in the woods surrounded by the sounds of birdsongs and footsteps, the voice in my head goes silent.  The experience of inner silence brings me back to the woods time and time again–after all, not even I want to listen to me all the time.