A Bear Story

I did something I’ve never done before: I went hiking alone in Grizzly country.

I took my camera and, with no other hikers pushing me onward, my hike was pretty much doomed. Rather than hiking the 5 miles I’d planned, I spent about 3 hours loosing myself to photography without covering much ground.

At one point, I found myself panning with a flower that was whipping around in the wind, shooting a fly acting shockingly like a bee. I suddenly realized I’d been sitting there for more than 45 minutes.

That’s when I decided I needed to make some tracks. No sooner than I’d gotten some momentum going, I ran into a man hiking the opposite direction who told me he’d seen a grizzly about 10 minutes back on the trail (or 2 hours in photographer time).

I was both excited and worried. I was alone and had no bear spray. Neither condition is recommended in grizzly country. But, the man said the bear was far from the trail and distracted by the huckleberries that were in peak season.

I went on. Minutes later, I encountered a couple singing loudly. A sure sign of a bear sighting! Sure enough, they too had seen a grizzly a few minutes back. The moment they shared this information, I looked up and said, “Oh, look, there’s one now!” A grizzly had just crested the ridge above us and was headed in our general direction, although still 200 yards away.

I immediately did what any photographer does and grabbed the camera with my longest lens on it and started firing. Except, I was so excited I failed to read my meter and had to readjust and shoot again. As I fired off 3 more shots at good exposure (but with a heck of a lot more motion shake than usual), the bear started running towards us.
“And now he’s running towards us,” I said to the couple. The woman immediately asked her husband if the safety was off their bear spray can. I suggested we start backing up slowly.

The bear was closing the distance at a pace fast enough to scare the life out of anyone experiencing a grizzly running towards them for the first time.

We moved slowly for a few steps, and then more quickly, soon walking at a fast clip while glancing over our shoulders and talking loudly. When we passed trees that were between us and him, we lost sight of him (which was almost scarier).

We never saw him again. I suspect he was running towards a huckleberry bush that happened to be in our direction. However, it was scary enough that I decided to hike out with the couple and call it a day.

It took us 20 minutes to cover the distance that took me 3 hours on the way in.

My only regret is that I didn’t stay long enough to get a better shot.

Being Golden


Growing up, I was taught to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It seems simple enough. However, this rule can quickly turn an attempt at thoughtfulness into an act of egocentric selfishness.

For example, my aunt was compulsively punctual. Because she was also exceptionally nervous, continually worried about abandonment, and a complete freak to deal with when she was upset, my family went to great lengths never to be late picking her up under any circumstances.

In my aunt’s mind, making us wait even a second would be inconsiderate. At the same time, if she waited more than a few minutes, she would begin to think she was confused about what time we were picking her up and chaos would ensue. “On time” to my aunt meant about 10 minutes early. There was a 4-minute window in which you could safely arrive and retrieve my aunt without panic, chaos, guilt, or retribution: arriving 5-9 minutes early meant you had not waited on her and you were early enough to avoid triggering her panic. This resulted in many dangerous acts of driving.

All in the name of thoughtfulness.

From her I learned to watch myself. To watch when “doing unto others” takes that dangerous turn into “assuming others want what I want.” The hardest acts of thoughtfulness are when what feels thoughtful to someone else is completely different than what we would want. Removing ourselves from the equation and truly making it about the other person is actually quite a challenge.

I think of my grandfather who never wanted gifts and my mother’s desire to give a gift he would like. Every Christmas, she would give him something more and more practical trying to align her gift giving with what she thought he would enjoy. Every year she was disappointed by his reaction. In reality, what he wanted was no gifts but my mother couldn’t give up on her belief that the perfect gift would result in him expressing genuine gratitude.

As selfless and thoughtful as my mother was, here she wasn’t really being thoughtful–it was her own need for her father’s approval that drove her compulsion to find him the perfect gift rather than any need of his.

And this, in a nutshell, is the problem with the Golden Rule. If we apply it from the perspective of our own neurotic need for approval, appreciation, or even just confirmation of what we believe about ourselves (we’re giving, thoughtful people), we usually don’t really apply it at all.

In the end, we don’t want people to do unto us exactly the way they would want us to do unto them. Rather, we want people to know us, see us, understand us, and, as a way of acknowledging that they accept us as we are, do unto us as we would have them do unto us. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” really should come with many footnotes.

The Small Things

Thursday night, I stayed up late getting my gear together for an early morning shoot. I hoped to sleep in until 6AM. But this was a shoot different from my normal fare. And when I’m shooting something new, I dream about it all night and, inevitably, wake up around 4AM. Half excited and half anxious–much like Christmas in childhood: the impatient anticipation of something new and the simultaneous fear of disappointment.

I eventually gave up on going back to sleep and got ready to go at a leisurely pace–after all, everything I needed was packed and ready to go.

Then, it was time to leave. Time to get there early and check out the place in person before anyone else arrived. Time to see if Google Earth was enough of a preview to make choosing a location from the internet possible. And then, it happened. The thing I am unable to learn. The thing I fail at nearly every single day and then turn around and fail at it once again, often even the same day.

My car key was no where to be found.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time reading research on memory, working on improving memory, and observing people losing their memory (and I am not only referring to myself here). What I believe about memory is that:

  1. we are more likely to remember something when we are internally motivated to remember it.
  2. we remember repetitive things better than net-new things. For example, if I put my car key in a certain place every day for months and then stop remembering to put them there and put them in different places every day for a few days, I am going to remember the place I was putting them over and over again first. I will have to reconstruct history from other memories to get to where the latest place is I’ve left it.
  3. remembering to put something in a specific place when I’m done with it is more difficult than remembering where I left it. This is likely a difference in motivation. When I come home, I have no immediate need to use the car key, I just want it out of my pocket. When I am leaving home, I must find the car key or I will be searching for my bike lock key instead.

All of this leads me to question if perhaps I am agoraphobic at some deep, unconscious level. As soon as I get home, I forget that I will have the need to leave again. I misplace the means by which I can access transportation. Is the problem that I (someone who believes I love to travel, go out, socialize, be in the woods) deep down underneath my extroverted shell am terrified to step outside my home? This could put a major damper on going nomad in the future!

I did find my key and make it to the shoot, but I’m not ready to share any of those shots yet. Instead, I’ve shared a few shots of “small things” from an earlier shoot.

Equinox

I wrote a really long, rambling post of over 800 words and decided it would be easier to just start over.
Here are the pertinent points: my staycation is ending. My 6-month leave is starting. So is my new role of working on my husband’s business and balancing that with my other pursuits like photography and getting myself from adequately healthy to ridiculously healthy.

I immediately feel the need to go on a rant about how long I’ve had a job, been self-supporting, yada yada yada. Basically, the need to justify slowing down, even if only temporarily, as if I have to prove I am deserving of this time.

I have suggested to friends that we should all stop cleaning our houses when we’re visiting each other. Then, we would all just be accepted as we are, clean house or dirty, and we wouldn’t drive each other to keep wasting time pretending that we’re neat nuts for people who are supposed to care more about us than about the cleanliness of our homes.

I suggest we do the same when it comes to using over-work as a way of saying we’re important. Let’s just drop the judgmental tones and patronizing comments about people doing things for fun. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s plenty of research that suggests people who play more are also more creative problem solvers and more effective and efficient at work (and healthier). So, let’s start bragging about making play a priority instead.

The next time someone says, “Oh, I don’t have time to do x,” let’s remind one another that we all have time to do what we choose. Sometimes we’re willing to make the choices to prioritize that time and sometimes we’re not.

In the end, we only get one lifetime (at least in this form, depending on what you believe) to create meaning. A universal truth I keep reminding myself of is that people never regret not spending more time at work at the end of their lives. People regret not laughing more, crying more, playing more, connecting with loved ones more.

So, here I go into the next stage of my journey. Perfectly timed with the spring equinox. What better metaphor than spring to begin anew? I might have liked having 13 weeks of winter to rest and recuperate from the past 30 years, but I suspect not. After all, it can be hard work getting rest.

Staycation

Week one of rest and recovery is already behind me. It’s an interesting thing to tell yourself you have two weeks to do only what you feel like doing. There’s a certain restlessness that ensues. Voices in my head tell me I’m supposed to be doing something productive. This has led to signing up for a couple of online classes–one for my future work and the other for enjoying life.

But which class have I spent time on? Well, it’s not the one on enjoyment. Ironically, the topic I’ve been procrastinating is separating self-worth from exhaustion and productivity.

I suspect the idea of not exhausting myself through productivity is scary.

After all, what’s one of the first questions we ask one another when we meet in a social setting? “What do you do?” How many times have we asked that question? How many times have we answered it? How often do we answer with our jobs?

“What do you do?” has all kinds of implications. We don’t ask “What’s important to you?” or “What do you like the most about yourself?’ or “What do you most want to be remembered for?” Can you imagine someone asking you something like that upon first meeting? It would feel far too personal. Instead, we ease our way into finding out what really matters to a person by asking them about their career.

Yet, what do we actually learn about a person by asking about what they do? I think about the mothers and fathers I’ve known who have chosen to stay home with their children in favor of a paid career and their discomfort with this question. Whenever I have blundered into asking a stay-a-home parent what they do, they have usually answered with a self-conscious, “Well, I don’t work. I stay home with the kids.” To which I have inevitably replied, “Well that’s certainly work! There’s nothing easy about your job,” in my attempt to make them feel valued.

Yet even this response points to our cultural expectation that hard work is what makes a person valuable. Acknowledging that parenting is hard work may be accurate, but it still values work first. Imagine if someone said, “I try to do very little. I spend most of my day just being.” Wouldn’t we immediately want to know how to “do” being? What does that even look like?

I have spent the past week spending more time relaxing, but this tends to mean a combination of being more active and then vegetating. I’ve ridden my bike more, walked more, hiked more, done more yoga, done more shooting, and laid on the couch more. I’ve also played a lot of euchre (it’s a card game) on my iPad and napped.

The paradox of letting go of my career identity seems to be that I find other things to do instead. Is this progress? Or am I just distracting myself from deeper truths that can only be revealed in stillness?

Orientation

We are conducting an interesting experiment.  It started unintentionally with the sudden demise of our usual elevator.  The elevator is not dead, but it needed a day or two off.  Tisen, it turns out, is a man of routine.

We turn left out of the door.  He gets on the elevator, he gets off the elevator.  We turn left leaving the elevator to go outside.  On the return, we turn right off the elevator and our door is on the right.

Our condo is situated between two elevators.  It’s not really a big deal for us to have to walk a new direction.  But it sure was a big deal to Tisen.  He wanted to turn left when we needed to turn right.  He wanted to turn right when we needed to go left.  Then, when we returned home, he did the opposite.

The funniest part was when he walked up to the door across the hall from us and acted like it was only a matter of time before we opened the door–it’s like the whole world had flipped in his head.

This reminds me of an experiment I once read about where people were asked to wear glasses that inverted what they saw.  After 2 weeks, their brains were re-flipping the images so that what they thought they saw was right-side-up.  Then, when they stopped wearing the glasses, they started seeing everything upside down again.  It took a couple of weeks for them to begin seeing the world right-side-up.

We will see how long it takes for Tisen’s internal map to right itself once the elevator is fixed.

In the meantime, I posted some more of the macro shots of the flowers I took following a rainstorm the other night.  Everything was so dewy.  All I needed was a ray of sunshine to make the reflections in the raindrops really pop.

 

Surprises

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I am not an expert in flowers.  I know the occasional flower, but am often stumped by what a particular flower might be called.  I envy people who can pull out that information on a dime.  I can do that with a lot of birds, but in spite of how immobile plants are, they seem to fly right out of my brain.

But these flowers didn’t just stump me, I couldn’t remember having ever seen one before.  Perhaps I walked by too quickly and didn’t notice that it wasn’t just another Queen Anne’s lace.  But as I looked at these images more and more, I couldn’t come up with any memory of one.

Besides being surprised by the new flower in my life, I was also surprised when I went a little nuts playing with adjustments and pulled the curves feature in a direction that created much of the effect in this image.

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This is a “normally” post-processed version of the same image:

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As you can see, I was playing again.

Perhaps the biggest surprise today was when I was working away at my desk and a man hanging from a rock climbing rope appeared outside my 7th floor window.  I’d forgotten that the building’s windows were being cleaned until I was in the middle of a conference call and suddenly joined by this mysterious window ninja (that’s the name of the window cleaning company).

Had I not been in the middle of a conference call, I might have had the where-with-all to snap a quick shot of this guy hanging outside my window with my iPhone.  It didn’t occur to me to do anything but pretend the guy wasn’t there (once I got over my initial shock).

Tisen’s girlfriend is visiting for a few days.  She noticed the window ninja about 2 minutes after he appeared.  She immediately jumped up and started barking.  I’m confident Tisen would never have noticed him had it not been for this alarm–he’s so oblivious it’s almost funny.  However, he joined in the barking and I had a difficult time explaining to the folks on my call that I had a man hanging outside my window.  Fortunately, it was an informal and internal call with colleagues I know well.

It wasn’t the most exciting day, but there were quite a few surprises.

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