MY DAILY THOUGHT

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July 22, 2014 – Death Valley 

About three weeks ago, over the July 4th weekend, I decided to take a trip out to Death Valley, a place, according to Wikipedia, which holds the record for the highest “reliably reported” air temperature in the world which was 134 degrees. 

Given that it was the middle of summer, it is fair to say that a number of people questioned the sanity of my judgment to drive out to the desert and wondered why, if I had a free weekend, I wouldn’t have decided to stay home and enjoy the beach in Southern California. 

The truth is, I hadn’t been to Death Valley in over 23 years and thought it might be an interesting place to take my camera, my new light-weight carbon fiber tripod, and shoot some pictures of the desert during, what arguably might be, the hottest time of the year. 

I had originally planned to go by myself but at the last minute, a good friend decided to join me for the two-day journey despite knowing that I would be stopping constantly to try and capture something interesting with my camera. 

We got on the road at about 6am, taking the 14 freeway through Mojave and then headed up to the entrance to the park, taking the non-traditional route driving up through the Searles Valley which, in part, is filled with old towns that now show signs of virtually being ghost towns. 

We arrived at the Park and headed to the large sand dunes in the middle of the day where the temperature in the car showed that it was 117 degrees outside.  There was a light breeze blowing through the flats, which probably made the temperature feel a little closer to 125 degrees.  After taking a few photos in what was unbearable heat, we headed to Furnace Creek (an appropriate name) where we would spend the night.  On arriving at the hotel, we were shocked to learn that the hotel was running at 80% capacity and that by the end of the following week would be almost at full capacity.  Apparently this is a popular time of year for Europeans to come and visit the park. 

After a swim in the pool, where the water was surprisingly pleasant, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before heading out for some afternoon hiking.  From the time we decided to take a shower and head to the restaurant/bar at the hotel, a sandstorm started to blow creating extremely limited visibility, certainly not ideal for taking pictures and hiking.  The barman said that it was only the second time since he had been in Death Valley that he had seen a storm of this veracity. 

In the hope that the storm would blow through within a reasonably quick period of time, we headed in the direction of the storm deciding that this would be the area that would hopefully clear first and were pleasantly surprised after about 20 minutes that the sky did start to clear.  We were heading in the direction of “Badwater” which is the lowest point in North America, when a ranger forced us to pull off to the side of the road and tell us that we would have to get off the highway as there were flash flood warnings that could generate massive amount of rain and flooding in the space of an hour.

We did eventually get to see the lowest point, and an area called “Devils Golf Course” and hiked up the short path to Zabriskie Point which offers spectacular views of the desert especially late afternoon and first thing in the morning when, if you are lucky as a photographer, you can catch the “golden hour” of sunlight. 

The next morning we hiked below Zabriskie Point starting at around 7am and were confronted by two hikers who had just found a dead body on the trail.  It seemed that a hiker had passed out from heat exhaustion, possibly with a lack of water, and then never recovered.  Several days later, the papers reported that it had been one of the English actors from “Harry Potter”.  This tragedy made me reflect that I would have been foolish to have hiked or even travelled out into the desert alone.  Apart from the fact that in many places there is no cell phone coverage, if you are hiking and were to twist an ankle so that you couldn’t hike any further, it could be days before someone finds you with the outcome not particularly positive. 

When I first thought about shooting pictures of the desert, I wasn’t sure, given the hazy light conditions what I would find but if you are patient and look carefully, especially in the later afternoon or early morning when the sun can create some wonderful shadows, there is great beauty in the desert, even when the temperature is 117 degrees that is definitely worth seeing! 

(Photos taken in Death Valley – July 5 and 6, 2014)

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July 15, 2014 – Israel

As many of you know, I have spent much of the last week in Israel where I was invited to attend the Jerusalem International Film Festival.  It is fair to say that in the days leading up to my departure from the United States, there were a number of people, including family and friends, who questioned whether or not, given the current “situation” with Gaza whether I was still planning on going.

This is not the first time I have been in Israel when fighting has been going on within reasonable proximity of where I have been staying or visiting.  During one of my visits a number of years ago, I had been touring in the north of Israel near the Lebanese border hiking in one of the national parks only to return to Jerusalem to learn that fighting had begun with Lebanon less than 12 hours after I had left the region.

This was certainly the first occasion where I had been in a country where sirens are going off in different parts of the region all day and all night.  The first time this occurs, it is certainly a little unnerving, perhaps because of the uncertainty that exists as to what is going to happen next.   As someone who lives in Southern California and who is exposed to earthquakes, there are some similarities to what happens when a siren goes off.  Like in an earthquake, you are able to assess very quickly whether or not the earthquake is going to be a bad one where there is a real risk of significant destruction as was the case in 1994, the year in which my daughter was born.   Such is the case here in Israel as well.  Within 90 seconds of the sirens going off (less if you are unfortunate enough to be in the south of Israel right now where they are constantly being bombarded with rockets) you generally hear a large “boom” which is the sound of the Iron Dome (or “kippat barzel” in Hebrew, coming from the word “kippar” which is what Jewish men wear on the heads) intercepting and destroying the rocket, after which people resume their daily life in a way that almost ignored what happens moments before.  Of course, after an earthquake in California, local residents make comments such as “that was only a 4.5 earthquake”, making light of a situation where visitors to the area might not be as quite amused!

Whether you are on a street in front of a café, or in a neighborhood with apartments, when the sirens sound, people beckon you to come into their buildings for safety especially if there is no apparent “shelter” near by.

As a result of the “situation” that exists right now in Israel (I use this word as many Israelis do not regard themselves as yet being “at war” – a further acknowledgement of the day to day life that people in this part of the world must face on a constant basis) the opening of the Film Festival was cancelled.  It has typically been held at  “The Sultan’s Pool” which is a beautiful outdoor area below the Old City of Jerusalem but for safety reasons it was decided that there couldn’t be public gatherings of more than 200 people which is why perhaps the scheduled concert of Neil Young tomorrow night was also cancelled. 

Many friends then asked if the festival would be cancelled but in Israel, even at times of war, life continues on, in part, because this is the way it has to be, otherwise daily life would constantly be in a state of flux.

Despite times of uncertainty, over the course of the last few days, I have not underplayed the risk that exists in being here but I do have a new respect and appreciation of what people in this part of the world have to experience on a daily basis.  For those of us who live in the United States or Australia, or other countries that have largely been spared from this kind of lifestyle, we are fortunate.

For those people who live in this part of the world, and in other regions that are constantly subject to attack and outbreaks of violence, I pray for peace and that it come sooner rather than later. 

There is no doubt that peace in the Middle East is not something that is going to occur overnight. It is unlikely to occur any time in the next few years but one can only hope and pray that there will come a time soon when we at least start moving in the right direction.

(Photos taken in Israel – July 2014)

Filed under Israel Jerusalem Tel Aviv Peace daily life daily thought

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July 8, 2014 – A year of photos
Today is somewhat of a historic day for me.  Today’s post represents 365 consecutive days of me posting a picture or pictures together with “my thought of the day.”  During the last year I have posted over 950 images!

It is hard for me to believe that I have not missed a day in the last 12 months.  Certainly there have been times when it has been a struggle. There were a couple of nights where I finished work very late or got home after being out at a party in the early hours of the morning and the idea of sitting down for an hour and writing my daily thought was a little challenging.  There have been times when I have been on a plane travelling back home to Australia or on business to Europe, and there is a need to plan in advance so that something can get posted while I am in mid-air is taken care of.

When I started this process a year ago, it was largely as a result of a number of you, who are still daily subscribers,  who reached out to me and said that you would like me to post some of my pictures on the internet on a regular basis and so as a result of this, I spent a few weeks, trying to find the name for a website and then deciding to set it up on Tumblr with a lot of help from my son for which I am extremely grateful.

I can say in all honesty, that there has never been a time when posting each day has become a chore and something I have not wanted to do.  To the contrary.  With only a few exceptions, I almost never know what picture I am going to use or what I am going to write about until I sit down at the end of the day which usually takes place (as it is tonight) some time after 11:00 PM.  I have over 70,000 images stored on my computer (as well as nearly every negative I have shot since the age of 6) and so each night I find myself going back in time looking at images to see what inspires me. My photos are organized by date and subject matter and accordingly I will look at the various folders, see the description and then decide what might be interesting and so I open up the folder and look at all of the images. In doing so, I completely relive the moment in which that collection of images was taken and so for me the “trip down memory lane” is always an incredibly happy experience for me.

For each and every one of you who has followed me this past year or part of the year, I am extremely honored.  Over the course of the year, I have had my images looked at in more than 60 different countries around the world which I have to say is pretty darn cool!

I am sorry to have to say, that starting today, I will no longer be posting on a daily basis.  As much I love doing it, the hour a day that I have spent over the last year has meant that I have been going to bed a little too late and not having the energy to get up quite as early as I would like so I could do some exercise which if I am going to continue to take pictures for a long time, is something I need to do.   Accordingly, starting today, I will be posting once a week, although don’t be surprised if pictures and thoughts come up more often than that from time to time, especially when I am travelling.  I know the post is called “My Daily Thought” which will no longer be completely accurate but I will try and make sure that the posts I do put up on a weekly basis are a collection of images and hopefully something you will enjoy. I can assure you that if I didn’t have a real job (unrelated to photography) that pays me a salary that allows me to travel and buy the occasional piece of camera equipment, I would be more than happy to post on a daily basis.

As for today’s picture, it is an image of a young girl standing in the park in front of the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Interestingly enough, and I did not know this until a few minutes ago, the picture was taken on July 8, 2006, eight years ago to the day.

Given that at the time this is being posted I will be on a plane to Israel, it is also appropriate that this be today’s picture.  The young Arab girl in the photo has a truly beautiful face and smile.  She and her young friends were very happy to stand and let me take pictures of them.  But there is a hint of sadness in her eyes and her smile that suggests that even at her tender young age, when she should be doing nothing more than being carefree and having a great time as a child, she is aware of some of the problems and the conflict around her which means that she is being robbed of everything a childhood is supposed to be.  Given the current situation in the Middle East, with the loss of too many young children, it is sad to think that not enough progress towards peace has taken place over the last eight years.   All we can do is pray and hope that the people making decisions will do so rationally and quickly and try and put behind them old prejudices.

I hope that you if liked today’s post, you will still be around in the weeks to follow.

(Photo taken in the Old City of Jerusalem – July

July 8, 2014 – A year of photos

Today is somewhat of a historic day for me.  Today’s post represents 365 consecutive days of me posting a picture or pictures together with “my thought of the day.”  During the last year I have posted over 950 images!

It is hard for me to believe that I have not missed a day in the last 12 months.  Certainly there have been times when it has been a struggle. There were a couple of nights where I finished work very late or got home after being out at a party in the early hours of the morning and the idea of sitting down for an hour and writing my daily thought was a little challenging.  There have been times when I have been on a plane travelling back home to Australia or on business to Europe, and there is a need to plan in advance so that something can get posted while I am in mid-air is taken care of.

When I started this process a year ago, it was largely as a result of a number of you, who are still daily subscribers,  who reached out to me and said that you would like me to post some of my pictures on the internet on a regular basis and so as a result of this, I spent a few weeks, trying to find the name for a website and then deciding to set it up on Tumblr with a lot of help from my son for which I am extremely grateful.

I can say in all honesty, that there has never been a time when posting each day has become a chore and something I have not wanted to do.  To the contrary.  With only a few exceptions, I almost never know what picture I am going to use or what I am going to write about until I sit down at the end of the day which usually takes place (as it is tonight) some time after 11:00 PM.  I have over 70,000 images stored on my computer (as well as nearly every negative I have shot since the age of 6) and so each night I find myself going back in time looking at images to see what inspires me. My photos are organized by date and subject matter and accordingly I will look at the various folders, see the description and then decide what might be interesting and so I open up the folder and look at all of the images. In doing so, I completely relive the moment in which that collection of images was taken and so for me the “trip down memory lane” is always an incredibly happy experience for me.

For each and every one of you who has followed me this past year or part of the year, I am extremely honored.  Over the course of the year, I have had my images looked at in more than 60 different countries around the world which I have to say is pretty darn cool!

I am sorry to have to say, that starting today, I will no longer be posting on a daily basis.  As much I love doing it, the hour a day that I have spent over the last year has meant that I have been going to bed a little too late and not having the energy to get up quite as early as I would like so I could do some exercise which if I am going to continue to take pictures for a long time, is something I need to do.   Accordingly, starting today, I will be posting once a week, although don’t be surprised if pictures and thoughts come up more often than that from time to time, especially when I am travelling.  I know the post is called “My Daily Thought” which will no longer be completely accurate but I will try and make sure that the posts I do put up on a weekly basis are a collection of images and hopefully something you will enjoy. I can assure you that if I didn’t have a real job (unrelated to photography) that pays me a salary that allows me to travel and buy the occasional piece of camera equipment, I would be more than happy to post on a daily basis.

As for today’s picture, it is an image of a young girl standing in the park in front of the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Interestingly enough, and I did not know this until a few minutes ago, the picture was taken on July 8, 2006, eight years ago to the day.

Given that at the time this is being posted I will be on a plane to Israel, it is also appropriate that this be today’s picture.  The young Arab girl in the photo has a truly beautiful face and smile.  She and her young friends were very happy to stand and let me take pictures of them.  But there is a hint of sadness in her eyes and her smile that suggests that even at her tender young age, when she should be doing nothing more than being carefree and having a great time as a child, she is aware of some of the problems and the conflict around her which means that she is being robbed of everything a childhood is supposed to be.  Given the current situation in the Middle East, with the loss of too many young children, it is sad to think that not enough progress towards peace has taken place over the last eight years.   All we can do is pray and hope that the people making decisions will do so rationally and quickly and try and put behind them old prejudices.

I hope that you if liked today’s post, you will still be around in the weeks to follow.

(Photo taken in the Old City of Jerusalem – July

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July 7, 2014 – Death Valley

For most people, spending the July 4th weekend hanging out by the pool with friend and family, going to the beach, firing up the barbecue or perhaps going to visit distant family members or friends for a few days, seems like a good way to enjoy the weekend.

When I explained to my colleagues at work and told my family that I was proposing to go to Death Valley for the weekend, I got a variety of puzzled looks and certainly the same question from everyone, namely, why would someone want to drive to the lowest place in the Northern Hemisphere and one of the hottest places on the planet given the available options to do something else.

A legitimate question but given that I had not been to Death Valley in nearly 25 years and certainly never in the middle of the Summer, it seemed like an interesting time of year to take my camera and new tripod and take some pictures.

Although my original intention was to go by myself, one of my closest friends asked his wife if he could get away for a couple of days and so after watching fireworks and having a barbecue with them on Friday night, we got in the car and started driving towards the desert on Saturday morning at 6am wanting to make the most of the day given that we would have to return on Sunday.

The five-day weather forecast suggested that the temperature in Death Valley may drop from 116 degrees down to 112 and so we were hoping for the best.  Instead of taking the more traditional route which would be up Highway 395, we took the back way through the town of Trona (which will be the subject of another posting at some point) which was truly fascinating.  Certainly we were one of the only cars that seemed to be travelling along this route.

Other than a brief stop in Mojave for breakfast, we pretty much drove straight through to the entrance to Death Valley other than stopping every 20 or 30 minutes whenever I would see something that looked like it might be interesting to photograph.

Our first stop inside the Park was at the Mesquite Sand Dunes where the temperature was close to 117 degrees with the sun straight up in the sky.  Sadly the best time to photograph the dunes is at sunrise which was going to be at 5:30am the next morning although the blogs recommend that you get to the dunes 45 minutes beforehand so that you can hike out to a good spot. This would have meant getting up at around 4am which given the lack of sleep we had the night before was not a possibility.

From the Dunes, we headed to Furnace Creek (an appropriate name given the temperature of where we were staying). On checking in at the hotel front desk, we were told that there was no cold water available out of the taps and that to cool the water, we would need to put bottles in the fridge.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat with the intention of heading back out only to find that one of the worst sand storms to hit the area in some time had started blowing, making visibility incredibly challenging but nonetheless we figured we would head in the direction of where the wind was coming from hoping that the sky would clear.  After heading down the road for about 20 minutes, a ranger’s car approached us only to inform us that we would have to get off the road as a result of a flash flood warning and so we had to retrace our steps and find another part of the desert to photograph.

I was however lucky enough to captures some interesting shadows that came into view around sunset which is captured in the first photo.  The second photo is of a lone tree in the sand dunes I mentioned above. The third picture is of one of the many dried up riverbeds that now contains hardened salt deposits.

Despite some of the hiccups during our all too brief stay, we did have a great time and certainly ate some wonderful steaks in the evening that made the trip all worth while, to say nothing of the good company I had in the car with me who was incredibly patient with me stopping all the time and taking my tripod out and taking over 350 pictures!

(Photos taken in Death Valley – July 2014)

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July 6, 2014 – Miami Beach

When summer comes around, there is no doubt that one of my favorite things to do is head to the beach.   If you have followed my postings for a while, you know that I am not a big fan of overcrowded spaces so I tend to look for locations where you can still get a little bit of room between you and the next person on the beach.

Although the heat can be a little overwhelming in the summer, one of the best times to go to Miami is around May when the water in the ocean is still warm enough to swim in but the crowds have not yet taken over.

If you happen to go over Memorial Day weekend (as we did) you will find that it is also “Hip Hop” weekend when the entire town and South Beach gets taken over by lovers on Hip Hop.  Perhaps over the next few weeks or months, I may share some of photos from my stay during Hip Hop weekend. I have now found people so willing to be photographed as I did over that three-day weekend.  It is interesting to note that this is a weekend that many of the locals move out for the weekend and rent out their houses or apartments for decent amounts of money.  In the year that we were there, there were a number of shootings and fatalities that weekend so perhaps that is one of the reasons so many of the locals leave.

One of the nice things about the beach in Miami is that not only is the water pleasantly warm enough to swim in but if you don’t show up right in front of the main hotels, you can find plenty of wide open space to enjoy the wide sandy part of the beach and the rich turquoise blue ocean which is quite shallow for about 40 or 50 yards making it an ideal place to swim and not get too concerned about being caught up in rips over overpowering waves.

In the three days we were there, the weather was in the mid 80s during the day and would drop down to the high 60s low 70s in the evening.  What could be better than that?

The apartment we were staying in was about 20 stories up making it an ideal place to look down and take pictures of the beach in front of us and certainly a wonderful spot to photograph the sunset which was very reminiscent of the kinds of sunsets you get in Hawaii.

Well, that is about it for today.  Hope to see you all tomorrow.  Same “bat” channel!

“Almost everything strange washes up near Miami. ” 
― 
Rick Riordan

(Photos taken in Miami Beach – May 2011)

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July 5, 2014 – Sequoia National Park

For a lot of Americans, July 4th is a day to host a gathering of family and friends.  Some will spend the day at the beach.  Others will barbeque at home and knock down a few cold beers with the smell of hot dogs and burgers on the grill.

In many towns around the country, parades are held, fun runs bringing members of the community for a little healthy activity, and in the evenings, the day set aside to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (from the Brits) is often celebrated with elaborate fireworks displays.

In most states, it is illegal for fireworks to be lit by individuals and so people with gather around in parks or at designated locations where cities and communities put on displays for the local residents.

Like any good Australian, I will almost never say “no” to a day of swimming at the beach or a barbeque and beer with friends and the truth is, that most of the time, this is how I have spent a reasonable number of July 4ths but there have also been occasions where it is a great opportunity to get out of the city, and head up to the National Parks and enjoy some of the finest scenery the country has to offer.  Especially if you can turn the weekend into a four day break and you don’t mind backpacking away from the crowds, it is quite possible to find a little bit of heaven that you can enjoy all to yourself!

My kids have always enjoyed and loved the outdoors.  My son went camping for the first time when he was 6 months old at a family camping trip up at Grant Lake in the Sierra’s.  By the time he was 9, he was ready to carry his own backpack and so we head up to the mountains for a few days, carrying all of our supplies with us and sleeping out under the stars.   Three months before my daughter turned 9, she reminded me that as soon as was 9, it would be her turn to go backpacking up in the high country and so with a 4 day weekend available, we headed up to Sequoia National Park where we spent several nights by a stunningly beautiful lake about 11 thousand feet.  Not bad for a first outing for a 9 year old!

Today’s pictures are taken from the location where we based ourselves in the evening. In the second picture, you can see a man fishing by the side of the lake.  This was my daughter’s Uncle Ed who was always ready to catch some fresh fish (in this case lake trout), which was always pretty darn good to eat, especially when it had only been out of the water for a few hours.

Don’t get me wrong. I do love life in the city, but every once in a while, it is not a bad thing to clear the mind, and get of “Dodge” for a little fresh air and peace and quiet!

(Photos taken in Sequoia National Park – 2003)

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July 4, 2014 – Niagara Falls

The first time I went to see Niagara Falls I was caught completely off guard.  In the past, whenever I have visited National Parks or gone to admire amazing waterfalls, you generally drive through a park entrance, park the car and then hike some distance hearing the sound of roaring water in the background as you get closer to the bottom or top of the falls.

In the case of Niagara Falls, certainly if you drive from Toronto, you turn off the highway down a road in to the town of Niagara Falls, and before you know it, the falls are right in front of you as you are driving through the town.

If you are lucky, you can find a parking space, walk up to the side of the road, which has a fairly low fence separating you from the Niagara River, and from their you can look at the three major falls which are the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls.  The stretch of water between the falls is on the Canadian/US border.

The combination of the three falls creates the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet with the Horseshoe Falls being the most powerful waterfall in North America.

In 1829, Sam Patch, who’s nickname was “the Yankee Leapster”, jumped from a high tower into a gorge below the falls and survived.  Since then many people have performed various daredevil stunts at the falls including several people who have gone over the falls in barrels and managed to survive.  In 1960, a seven-year-old boy was swept over the Horseshoe Falls with only a life vest to protect himself and managed to survive with only minor injuries.

To get a real sense of the power of the falls, you can take a ride one of the of boats called “The Maid of the Mist” which takes passengers as close as a boat can get to where the falls land in the water before the power and force of the water pushes the boat back.  It is certainly a trip where you need to take wet weather gear, as you will get soaking wet otherwise.

The town of Niagara has, for years, been a popular place for Honeymooners to visit and stay in one of the many tacky hotels where you can get a heart shaped bed or a bed that for a quarter, will vibrate (perhaps now the cost has gone up!).

My first visit to the falls occurred quite by accident.  I was in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival.  A group of us had been to the premiere of a movie (“Hilary and Jackie” starring Rachel Griffith and Emily Watson) and at around midnight, we were all a little restless and were looking for something fun to do.  We had heard that there was a Casino by Niagara Falls which was less than a two-hour drive away.  And so, with the help of the concierge at the hotel, we ordered a limousine to take a group of us to the Casino where we played craps until sunrise, at which point we decided we should probably take a quick look at the falls and then about 15 minutes later, after drinking a hot cup of coffee and eating a maple glazed donut, we got back in the limousine, drove back to Toronto and spent another day watching movies.  This tradition of going to the Casino and playing craps and staying till sunrise continued for a couple of years and then for some reason stopped.  Perhaps this year at the festival, it may be time for the tradition to be reactivated at least one more time!

(Photos taken at Niagara Falls, Ontario – September 2000)

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July 3, 2014  - Questioning Faith

Today is my 360th consecutive posting on the Internet.  It is hard to imagine that I have been doing this every day for nearly a year.  There have certainly been days when it has been harder than others and today just happens to be one of those.

It is after midnight.  Has been a tough few days.  I am feeling a little tired and in a few hours I have to get up, put my two dogs in the back of my car and drive them up to the breeder where I bought the dogs nearly 10 years ago.  I am heading off to the Middle East for a week and always prefer taking the dogs to a place where I know they will be looked after while I am away.

You have probably looked at the photos today and are asking, “What the hell is today’s post all about?”  Well the truth is there have been just too many negative things going on around me, some of which impact all of us, that it is hard not to take a step back and question the issue of faith.

I spent a large part of the day at a funeral of a close friend who I have known for more than 30 years.  He was in his early 70s and had been battling cancer for the last 12 months and his body finally gave in.  He left behind four daughters, grandchildren and a woman who loved him dearly.  He was a young 70 and someone so full of life up until the time he got sick.

A couple of days ago, the bodies of three innocent Israeli boys were found after they had been kidnapped over three weeks ago.  They did nothing to provoke their death except be a victim of terror.

Today I read the story of a young 14 year old girl who had spent most of her life in a very well funded private school in Pennsylvania and after it was discovered that she was showing signs of depression, she was ordered to take leave and spend time in a facility to address her illness.  After being discharged from the facility several days prior to the middle school’s graduation, the parents of the child were told that their daughter could not attend the ceremony and even sit in the audience nor would she be allowed to attend a party that was to be held afterwards as a celebration for the graduating class.  Two days later, the girl’s grandfather found her dead in her bedroom after she had hung herself in the bedroom closet.

Earlier this year, 529 people were sentenced to death in Cairo largely because their non-aggressive political views were not reflective of the state’s wishes.  The majority of these people did not even get to attend their own trial, and those that did saw justice served in apparently less than 20 minutes!

Just once, it would be nice to wake up in the morning and find that nothing particularly bad had taken place around the world. Perhaps instead there would be an abundance of happy and uplifting articles appearing in the newspapers or online!

There are times when we just need to see a glimmer of hope that there is the real possibility of things getting better. 

What I have discovered when I find myself in such a place, is that you have to look carefully at what is going on around you as often there is something positive in what you perceive to be a purely negative and senseless event.  When you look at the first two pictures your initial reaction is that they are images of an angry sky but if you look carefully there is some beauty in the force of nature that created such imagery.

When people get sick or die, it can sometimes have the impact of bringing people together who have drifted apart which may even include members of a family.  Not that we wouldn’t prefer that the illness or death had not taken place.

It is easy to be inspired and have faith when you stare at a majestic sunset or are hypnotized by the beauty of a flickering fire.  It’s when those things aren’t immediately in front of you that it becomes a little more challenging.

The good news is that tomorrow will be another day which will bring new opportunities and have the possibility of renewing my faith.  Until then, I will be happy to finally crawl into bed, and put this day behind me!

(Photos taken in Algonquin National Park in Ontario Canada – July 2002)

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July 2, 2014 – Rain Forests

There is a haunting beauty that can sometimes be found in nature, especially in the middle of a tropical rain forest.  In such a location, you can often find interesting shadows, unusual looking colors on trees and in flowers, and miles of intricately woven spider webs.

If you let your mind wander just a little, especially in the silence of the forest and in the dark shadows, you can imagine all kinds of unlikely things hiding behind trees and bushes or waiting patiently for you in the tree branches above.

Your feet create loud sounds as the weight of your shoes break apart the dry leaves beneath you.  Insects of all kinds seem to buzz around your face and every once in a while you start to scratch your arms and legs realizing that a mosquito or some other inspect has bitten you.

There is something almost prehistoric in some of the trees and their root systems.  If you didn’t know better, you would swear that the purple color on the green tree trunk in the first picture which is highlighted by the small amount of light that is let through from the thick growth above, has been painted on.

The root system in the second picture almost looks like an oversized pretzel that has been twisted together by hand and you wonder how those roots came to wrap around each other in this pattern.

In the third picture, the growth coming out of what looks like a tree upside down almost resembling a kitchen broom with a fluorescent green color.

The relatively narrow tree trunk in the fourth picture looks a little bit like a rusty pipe rising up out of the ground.  The systematically placed rings at regular intervals almost suggest a series of pieces fitting into each other.

And in the final picture, the intertwining branches look like they could hold an animal tightly in place, if one were to get caught within it.

All of these images are taken in the National Park in Noosa Heads in Queensland Australia.  Settlers first set aside this protected land aside in the 1870s.  On the outskirts of the forest are some of the most beautiful beaches in the region.  As a result of the diverse landscape inside the park, this location has become the most popular national park in the country hosting more than one million visitors each year.

Despite the level of tourist activity, it is still possible to enjoy the serenity of the park, even in the middle of summer, without treading all over other visitors which makes the experience of being there that much more pleasurable.

If you happen to be there at the right time of year, it is a perfect location to watch the migration of humpback whales.

I do worry that one day, these truly remarkable parts of the world will be destroyed by the desire of mankind to build luxury hotels so that only the wealthy can enjoy the unique environment where these places are located or that someone will decide to chop down the trees and sell the wood to furniture designers who’s profits will not remotely offset the loss that will be suffered by the wildlife and vegetation in the area.

Thank God there are a growing number of organizations that are making it their mission to ensure that there is still something special for our great grandchildren to see and enjoy.

Wildness and silence disappeared from the countryside, sweetness fell from the air, not because anyone wished them to vanish or fall but because throughways had to floor the meadows with cement to carry the automobiles which advancing technology produced. Tropical beaches turned into high-priced slums where thousand-room hotels elbowed each other for glimpses of once-famous surf not because those who loved the beaches wanted them there but because enormous jets could bring a million tourists every year — and therefore did.

Archibald MacLeish

(Photos taken in the Noosa Heads National Park, Queensland Australia – December 2008)

Filed under rain forest trees tree trunks daily thought Noosa Heads National Park

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July 1, 2014 – The Loss of Three Good Souls

Today we mourn the loss of life of three young boys who were on their way home from school, doing nothing more than doing the same thing they had done every day.  The pictures of these three boys, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frankel and Eyal Yifrach, show them with smiles on their faces and are essentially no different than many of our own children except that in this case, they happen to be living in a Jewish community in the West Bank of Israel and were kidnapped by terrorists.  Yesterday their dead bodies were found after a nationwide search for two weeks and today around the world we mourn.

These boys had done nothing wrong.  They were just teenagers. They were victims of terrorism whose lives were robbed from them and their families.    Like our own children, they had the same likes as most young kids.    In an article on the CNN website, it described that:

-  One of the boys liked to play basketball and was a talented musician who played a “mean” guitar.

-  One of them liked to bake cakes for his five younger sisters and take jars of cookies to share with the children in his class.

Today, the three children whose lives have been taken happen to be Jewish children living in Israel.  Tomorrow the loss of life may be the two young children in the second picture taken in front of the Pyramids in Giza in Egypt.  Or perhaps they will be a young child in a market in Tijuana as shown in the third picture.    Or perhaps a young boy standing in Trafalgar Square as shown in the 4th picture.  Maybe it will be a young boy sitting in the Arab Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem as shown in the 5th picture.  It could be the young boy with the rich dark eyes standing on a balcony in his apartment in the old city of Cairo shown in the 6th picture or the young boy walking past guards in the streets of Cairo in the 7th picture who might be unlucky enough to get caught in cross fire.  Perhaps the smiling face of the young girl on the street in the 8th picture may have her young life cut short for no apparent reason.  It may also be the lives of the two children shown in the first picture where two young Jewish boys are working to repair a bicycle.

At the end of the day, the loss of a life is the loss of a soul.  When that loss happens to be a young child or children regardless of where they live or what their family’s religious beliefs are, they are almost always the victims and never the perpetrators and so isn’t their loss the same to the family and friends of the victims whose bodies were found yesterday?

When will this senseless killing stop?  What does it achieve?  It certainly does not bring us any closer to finding peace.  If anything, the actions make people cry out for the need for retaliation and retribution.

In a week’s time, I will still board the plane on my scheduled trip to visit Israel.  I will not let the actions of terrorists dictate my life anymore than I would expect a person in another country to do any differently.    We seem to take one step forward in the movement towards peace and then somehow we find ourselves taking two steps backwards.  It’s time we figure out a way to solve some of these issues.

Today the victims are not related to me or perhaps to any one reading this blog.  But tomorrow, the chances are increased that one of us will be more closely related to the loss of a good soul that should have had the chance to enjoy a full life.

Today we all mourn.  Let’s pray that tomorrow is not the same as today.

(Photos taken in Israel, Egypt, Mexico and England)

Filed under young children loss of innocent life mourning daily thought Israel Cairo