Wait…I’m not Ready

     If you have ever planned a photo shoot or spent time waiting for the absolute right time to press the shutter, then what I am about to say should not come as a surprise. It is inevitable that you will miss a shot, forget to change an f-stop or have something go wrong during a photo shoot. For the photographer that could mean re-planning the shoot or waiting until the moment presents it self again. Yet, it may mean simply giving up and trying again another day hoping that you learned from your mistake and vowing not to make the same mistake again. Planning for and being prepared for any eventuality is just part of the job description for anyone wanting to make photographs for a living.
     Recently I was out making photographs in Orlando WetlandsPark, a tranquil piece of Florida nestled in the town of Christmasabout 35 minutes east of Orlandoand I was spending a lot of time “shooting” this Red Shouldered Hawk Juvenile. Those Hawks tend to hang out in the same spot in the Wetlands and I was fortunate to having him “hanging out” while I was there that early in the morning. Light was perfect, the sun had just risen and the warm orange light bathed this Hawks perch perfectly. He was doing all the right things; he looked from side to side, he scratched his head, he puffed up his feathers and he let out his piercing cry seemed to go on forever letting the residents that he was awake and looking for breakfast. (I imagine most of the furry little creatures were not as excited as I was!) I knew that at any moment he would spring off of his perch in search of some unsuspecting little varmint to devour and I wanted to be ready!
     Funny thing about the Wetlands, there is always something interesting to look at. It could be a flock of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, or the resident American Bald Eagle as it buzzes the water looking for fish, or an American Alligator strolling across the gravel roadway in search of better waters. When you are a wildlife photographer something will always be lurking in the shadows, so to speak, that tempts you to take your eye off the mark… and I let myself get sidetracked. I was getting impatient and I let my gaze wander; and when I did turn my focus back to the Hawk I had lost track on what he was doing. It was then that he signaled that he was ready to go, a quick turn of his head and he leapt into the cool crisp morning air, off to parts unknown. My finger was not ready on the shutter button and I missed the shot I had been waiting for. Now I have taken hundreds of photographs of that exact same take off with great success but that is not the point. At that moment I wasn’t ready and I allowed myself to get distracted. Fortunately my morning’s shoot wasn’t ruined and I went on to make some great photographs of that glorious park.
     In the Gospel of Luke Chapter 12, verse’s 39-40 we read, “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Jesus doesn’t tell us when He will come back or for that matter when our days are over. We could die when we least expect it and pass into an eternity without God because we were not ready. God has made a provision for us, 1 Peter, chapter 3, verse 18 says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. He did this because there is nothing that we can do to earn God’s favor. We are a sinful people and deserve God’s wrath, but that wrath was poured out on His Son so that you and I could be forgiven.
     You see,  all the planning in the world won’t save you from the inevitable and unlike photography, there are no re-takes at judgment. Confess and forsake your sins, and embrace Jesus by faith, who alone is the way to God, (the Gospel of John, Chapter 14, verse 6). Sometimes, God uses the little things around us to teach us great truths that otherwise might be lost and it has always been my wish that my photography would be used by God, in some tiny way, to draw us all into His presence so that we can learn from this marvelous ‘Canvas’ that He has created for us.

Lessons

Lessons
Many of you know that I have been photographing Eagles for some time now. In fact I have come to know this pair as “Archie” and “Edith” and for the past several years I have captured them building and re-building the nest, raising young and defending their home from predators. Yet though it all they do not deviate from the daily tasks that they are instinctively programmed to do.
SpottedHave you ever come to a place in your life where all you do is question why you are doing whatever it is that you do? Whether it is a job, hobby or some other passion, you simply get fed up and look for something else to replace it; hoping that the change will bring back the fire that you reckon is missing from your life. I imagine that we’ve all gone through that emotion at one time or another. Question is…what do you do about it? Do you throw in the towel vowing that you will never allow yourself to fall into that dilemma again, do you crawl into your shell hoping to hide from the demons that constantly seem to be at your back. Or, you seek God and all of His wisdom entreating Him for an answer as to which direction is the right one.
In the Book of Proverbs, Chapter 3 it says that we are instructed to, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” That seems like fairly straight forward advice doesn’t it? Our God is a Sovereign God and He knows exactly what His plans are with respect to our lives. When times get hard, do we quit or do we thank Him for his Presence. Do we question whether or not we are in the will of God, hoping to justify a change in direction from the one that He has put into place, or do we simply rest in His arms knowing that He is in control and nothing happens in our lives without Him knowing it. (Psalms 139)
Now, living life as a human being and living life as an eagle are two different things, we are of a higher order than birds, aren’t we? People plan out there lives, they find solutions to everyday roadblocks, they seek wisdom from books, they…they pray and ask God for help, don’t they? In the Book of Matthew Jesus was teaching His disciples not to worry, He said “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matt 6:24-26) That is an interesting question, isn’t it? Gladly the answer is demonstrated for us every day if you just take a moment and look around.

So, Archie and Edith may just be doing what comes natural but they have one thing figured out…that God is in control and He will take care of His creation; both the feathered and the not so feathered kind. Consequently, as I wonder whatever antics Archie and Edith will show me today, I am reminded of this fact… that wherever they do it is done under the watchful eye of their Creator.

Let’s Go Camping!

     As a kid I relished in the idea of camping trips, usually with my Boy Scout Troop or Explorer Post. Memories of sleeping under the stars and campfire smoke permeate my psyche even to this day. So for me to suggest a family camping trip seemed like a great idea. After all Peggy and I have been camping before with the Church so this trip should be nothing different. Right?!
     It started off like any other family outing, we hustled around the house grabbing gear and checking Peggy’s list as we loaded the new popup camper that we had just purchased earlier in the week. Everyone was excited including Aaron our youngest who only vaguely remembered the last campout we had so many years ago. We thought of everything, books to read, board games to play, movies to watch after long lazy days outside with the hope of reconnecting because of my busy schedule. We brought plenty of food (albeit diet food as Peggy’s and my South Beach diet is still in force), and of course the essentials like a coffee maker and porta-potty just in case. I also packed my camera gear hoping to score some great nature shots for my portfolio and hone my shooting skills. Probably the only family member that really didn’t have a clue was the family dog, Jack, who by default had to stay at the house due to the Park restrictions. Being satisfied that everything was accounted for we went into the glorious unknown, breaching never before trails as a family unit.
     I had decided to take surface roads rather than the toll roads only because I was still getting used to pulling a trailer. So I expected the trip would take a bit longer to get to our destination verses the toll roads; besides we had to make one final stop at a Publix Supermarket to pick up some final odds and ends anyway. Halfway to our camping location I started to see small intermittent raindrops appear on the windshield. I expected some rain as the weather gurus predicted a 40% chance of rain in the afternoon; otherwise the forecast called for sunny skies and warm temperatures.  I quickly dismissed these raindrops as a minor inconvenience and pressed on. I saw the shopping center in the distance and pulled into the parking area and expertly slipped our truck and trailer into a few open parking spaces and went inside. Immediately I went into focus mode knowing what I needed to get I got in, got out and headed back to the truck. Alright then here we go nothing to stop us now…next stop the campsite, or so I thought.
     As I nosed the truck out of the parking area, making sure that I had enough clearence to make the turn, Peggy screamed at the top of her lungs…Holy Crap! Now this statement alone brings fear and trembling to most people signifying that something has gone terribly wrong, not to mention that “crap” is never holy, not in the least. I quickly freaked out systematically checking mirrors and hoping that I didn’t crash this 2000lb rectangular box into someone’s BMW or something! Peggy stammered “We forgot something!” “What”? How could that be after all our checklists were checked, ‘T’s crossed and ‘I’s dotted. There was no way we could have missed something!? Could we? What did we forget I quizzically asked? “Pillows…we forgot Pillows”! My mind started racing going through options so I didn’t have to drive all the way back to the house to collect our much need bags of wonderful softness of which Peggy need two. Needing this trip to go perfectly, my only option was to drive several miles back to the nearest shopping center to buy new “camping” pillows. Reluctantly I reversed direction and made our way to the community Wal-Mart although ‘community’ seems to be an improbable odd word to describe a Wal-Mart; after all they seem to popup everywhere these days…any way I digress. We arrived and made our way into the store and snatched up our pillows and made haste to pay for them. It’s funny… have you ever noticed that once inside a Wal-Mart your mind gets lost in a shopping haze, constantly being bombarded with things you never think you need until your there. Fighting the urge to look for the preverbal sale we got out of there as fast as we could hiding away the internal shopping list to fill another day. Ok, with no more deviations to hinder us, off we went back on our merry way…Wow, would you look at that I exclaimed! First thinking it was rain we experienced earlier I was relieved that it was only dust stirred up from a cement mixing facility around the corner by a burst of wind. Little did I know of the storm that was brewing to the west of us.
     Moss Park had been the logical choice by many of Orange Countyresidents for years. It offered lake swimming (if you can get past the color of the water), hiking trails and back woods seclusion. I had been there many times before including taking my older son, Brandon, on Cub Scout camping trips some 20 years ago. Those campouts created many dear memories for me and I hoped for more of the same on this trip. Entrance into the park was quick as we checked in with the park ranger. I stopped to ask if we could add an extra day onto our reservation. Sure, came the anticipated reply but our decision didn’t have to be made at that very moment. We could simply come to the ranger station and pay for the extra time on the day needed. So, with campsite ticket in hand and the obligatory “do you know where to go” question, we made our way toward the site to finally begin our much anticipated time off in the woods. We selected our spot and began to open up the popup camper recording a personal best for setup time in the process, although the refrigerator was not working. It was then that the rains came…and came it did!
     Peggy blew past me, as I frantically tried to fix the campers refrigerator, screaming to me to get the water out of the truck and bring it inside the camper. At once I caught, out of the corner of my eye, little Aaron frantically chasing down the lid to the Styrofoam ice chest that the wind had scooped up and was holding hostage. I started to head toward Aaron to lend a hand, after all a dollar’s worth of Styrofoam had to be saved…didn’t it? Aaron rescued the lid from its tormentor and dashed for the camper. Rain and wind whipped at me from all directions sufficiently soaking me head to toe as I managed to grab only a few bottles and sprinted for the camper door right behind Aaron only to find out later that I left the truck’s door open to the torrent of rain and wind that furiously danced around our little campsite. Once inside I surveyed the drowned specters of my family as the rain had taken its toll. Wet clothes, soaked socks and frizzed hair best described us all as the storm raged outside. I opened up my ipad that I promised my boss I would bring to check important emails, and navigated to the weather app I had purchased during hurricane season. What I read brought chills to my body as I read the alert…Tornado warning!!! Thunder clapped and wind pelted our little camper as the sound of the rain became louder and louder…just then the lights flickered…and went out.Weather
     What I had dreaded had come true. My plan for a much needed get away was ruined, trashed like the tree limbs that fought against the unmerciful wind outside. There was no way that Peggy or Aaron would want to try this again. But, that would not be the case. Instead of complaining laughter and jokes started to flow from all of us. Smiles abounded! Aaron and Peggy giggled uncontrollably as I quipped sarcastically, “Let’s go camping!” and “Are we having fun yet!” Mar242013_6365 It was then that I knew that this situation would be the catalyst for fond memories in the future. Our storm pasted after about an hour and a half and we spilled out of the camper and out into the wind strewn campsite. Wind debris was strewn all over the campsite as we made our way around surveying the damage. We had faired well not taking on any major damage to us or our trailer. Other campers were making their way out of their shelters and life continued on. A new arrival, who had pulled in across from us during the storm, began their set up and we made preparations for dinner. For now the happenings of our first day were tucked away in our minds to be relived at some time in the distant future and we made plans for the next days events knowing that this be a  trip worth remembering. Mar242013_6383Mar242013_6370