A number of years ago I had a blog that was dedicated to photography and I participated with some folks overseas on posting a photo every day based on a prompt. I didn’t miss posting for two years and loved the practice. I thought I would add my Notice the Little Things type photographic posts here now.
“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”
Maya Angelou’s final tweet 11:43 am on May 23, 2014.
Photo by Michelle Fairchild ~ Sunset over Sacramento River taken from Diestlehorst Bridge in Redding, CA on 12.29.18.
What people have forgotten
is what every salmon knows.
~ Robert Clark
This past week I used a vacation day so that I could be a parent chaperone for a field trip for my twin daughters 3rd grade class. It turned out to be a rainy day, but seeing as how we desperately need the rain here in California there weren’t too many grumblings. Instead we wore hats, jackets and carried umbrellas. The first portion of our outing was to the Coleman National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery was established in 1942 to help curb the loss of natural salmon. Our guide was soft spoken Jack Blanke who had many interesting facts and figures to share with us during our tour through the hatchery and the two mile nature hike that followed along Battle Creek.
We observed the Chinook Salmon, as well as Steelhead Trout in the various holding tanks. The fish start out as tiny eggs and are fed and cared for until they are released. While they are young they have their adipose fin clipped and a wire clip is embedded into their nose. When such fish return to the hatchery years later they can be identified and it will provide biologists with useful information.
An unexpected part of the tour for myself and my daughters was the spawning room. Male and female salmon die naturally after they lay their eggs. The fish actually quit eating during their journey to the spawning pools and their bodies absorb their own intestines to survive. At the hatchery they speed up and mechanize the fertilization process. The process begins with an elevator full of water and fish rising up so that staff can more easily grab them. One of the workers then jams the fishes heads into a box with an automated hammer, that is intended to kill them quickly. A number of the fish do not die from the hammer and instead are beaten over the head with a club. All of this took place while we watched. It was after they were “dead” that a pair of workers would pick up both a female and a male fish and essentially force out the females eggs and the males milt. One worker injects the female fish with a device that blows air into her, forcing her eggs to come flowing out, while the another worker presses on the male to eject his milt. The eggs and milt mix in a basin. The dead fish were then dropped down chutes, and then routed to a refrigerated trailer sitting outside the building, which would later be transported to a processing plant. The meat is primarily distributed to food banks and prisons. Local Native American tribes in the area also have rights to put in requests to transport whole fish from the hatchery free of cost.
I personally was relieved to leave the spawning room. As a person who gave up eating meat and adopted a vegan diet six years ago, seeing animals, even fish killed, was not a pleasant experience. My daughter Maya was especially sensitive to it too and her teacher tried to explain that the fish would have died anyways. That sound reasonable, though iI kept thinking about the difference between laying ones eggs and dying peacefully in a river or being killed by a slam to the head with a hammer or a club. I tried to make some peace with it by looking at the bigger picture and how the hatchery is responsible for hatching over 13 million fish, and in doing so helps to ensure the populations of salmon and steelhead continue to thrive.
If I haven’t bored you to tears with the account of the salmon tour and you are still bravely reading on I want to share with you an essay from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. Not having read from this book in awhile I opened it and flipped to the latter dates of October. I have to wonder if it is synchronicity or coincidence that is just so happens his essay for October 30th called The Art of Facing Things is about salmon. Maybe this particular essay wouldn’t have caught my attention if not for the recent outing, but I decided there might be a message in it that I should take note of more closely and I wanted to share it with you.
“Salmon have much to teach us about the art of facing things. In swimming up waterfalls, these remarkable creatures seem to defy gravity. It is an amazing thing to behold. A closer look reveals a wisdom for all beings who want to thrive.
What the salmon somehow know is how to turn their underside–from center to tail–into the powerful current coming at them, which hits them squarely, and the impact then launches them out and further up the waterfall; to which their reaction is, again, to turn their underside back into the powerful current that, of course, again hits them squarely; and this successive impact launches them further out and up the waterfall. Their leaning into what they face bounces them further and further along their unlikely journey.
From a distance, it seems magical, as if these might fish are flying, conquering their element. In actuality, they are deeply at one with their element, vibrantly and thoroughly engaged in a compelling dance of turning-toward-and-being-hit-squarely that moves them through water and air to the very source of their nature.
In terms useful to the life of the spirit, the salmon are constantly faithful in exposing their underside to the current coming at them. Mysteriously, it is the physics of this courage that enable them to move through life as they know it so directly. We can learn from this very active paradox; for we, too, must be as faithful to living in the open if we are to stay real in the face of our daily experience. In order not to be swept away by what the days bring, we, too, must find a way to lean into the forces that hit us so squarely.
The salmon offer us a way to face truth without shutting down. They show us how leaning into our experience, though we don’t like the hit, moves us on. Time and again, though we’d rather turn away, it is the impact of being revealed, through our willingness to be vulnerable, that enable us to experience both mystery and grace.”
- Sit quietly and meditate on the last time you opened yourself to the life coming at you.
- In recalling this, try to focus on three things; the way that opening yourself caused you to unfold, they way that being hit squarely changed your life position, and where leaping like a salmon landed you.
- Breathe steadily, and invite the lessons of opening, being changes, and landing into your heart.
- Breathe slowly, and realize that you are in this process now.
- Relax and turn the belly of your heart toward the day.
Here is a brief video of the salmon attempting to jump and vault a controlled waterfall. You can excitedly hear children cheering on the salmon as the launch themselves. We kept hoping one would make it. What we finally learned is that at this time of year the volume of water is increased to such a level that the salmon will never make it to the upper level. This forces them to look for an alternate route, which happens to be a man-made fish ladder that directs them into the hatchery pools. During the non-spawning season the water flow is reduced and fish can then naturally swim up and down stream.
I also ponder some additional questions and ask them of you too.
Is there anything that you are avoiding or not willing to face?
When things are difficult and challenging how do you handle them?
Do you think your methods and ways of dealing (or not dealing)
with challenges are healthy for you
or could you benefit from learning some new coping skills?
Suggested reading – Ten Things to Do When Your Life Falls Apart
There is something about this time of year that encourages many adults, even those who no longer believe in magic, to suspend that rational way of thinking. The holiday season is a time of Santa, elves, flying reindeer, and speed traveling around the world in one night. It is a time of encouraging the young ones to continue to believe in wonder, mystery and magic.
In one of my all-time favorite books The Book of Awakening, author Mark Nepo writes about the topic of believing. It is one of the shorter essays in the book, but is nonetheless a deeply contemplative sharing. It begins with this quote: “Believing is all a child does for a living.” ~ Kurtis Lamkin.
Here is how it continues:
“Picasso once said that artists are those of us who still see with the eyes of children. Somehow, as we journey into the world, more and more gets in the way, and we stop questioning things in order to move deeper into them and start questioning as a way to challenge things we fear are false.
As a child I used to talk to things — birds that flew overhead, trees that swayed slowly in the night, even stones drying in the sun. For years, though, I stopped doing this freely because of what others might think, and then I stopped altogether. Now I learn that Native Americans do this all the time, that many original peoples believe with their childlike eyes right into the center of things.
Now, almost fifty, I am humbled to recover the wisdom that believing is not a conclusion, but a way into the vitality that waits in everything.”
* When you can, talk with a child about how they see the world.
I am so moved by this short essay by Mark Nepo. Is there anything particular about this passage that resonates with you?
As a child did magic and creativity play a big role in your life? Was it encouraged or discouraged?
Imagine you have a magical pair of glasses that can allow you to return and look at the world through the eyes of your former child self.
What do you see when you look around yourself right now?
What do you see when you walk outside and look around?
Try communicating with any animals you see – cat, dog, squirrel, birds, or maybe even wild turkeys perhaps? What do you want to tell them? What do you think they want to tell you?
Now try communicating to the trees, bushes, flowers, and grass your thoughts and feelings. Now share a message with the sky, the dirt, the rocks and water if there is any nearby. If it isn’t too cold out take off your shoes and stand on the ground in your bare feet. What does communing with our earth mama feel like? Do you hear any messages in return?
Considering how we are also about to end one calendar year and begin another one anew, is there anything that you want to believe as you enter into a new cycle? Are there some beliefs in magic and wonder that you want to recover and feel deep in your soul?
Art is a personal act of courage,
something one human does
that creates change in another.
– Seth Godin –
In the past couple of days there were two stories I came across that are completely unrelated, except for an invisible red thread that I saw connecting them. I recognized in both stories some common messages about the power of art. Both are also stories about courage and how art can save lives and transform challenge and hardship into beauty and creativity.
Let me introduce you first to Alice Herz Sommer, who just turned 110 years old in November and is the world’s oldest pianist and holocaust survivor. In July 1943, Alice, her husband, and their six-year-old son Raphael were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Theresienstadt was originally designated as a model community for middle-class Jews from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. Many educated Jews were inmates of Theresienstadt. In a propaganda effort designed to fool the Western allies, the Nazis publicized the camp for its rich cultural life. Alice played more than 100 concerts in the camp along with other musicians. Her young son Raphael remained in the camp with her, performing in a children’s chorus at the camp. Unfortunately her husband, Leopold Sommer, was later sent to Auschwitz and although he survived the camp, he died at Dachau in 1944.
As a child in Prague, Alice spent weekends and holidays in the company of Uncle Franz (Franz Kafka) and other notable figures like Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke who were friendly with her mother. When Alice moved to Israel after the war, Golda Meir attended her house concerts, as did Arthur Rubinstein, Leonard Bernstein, and Isaac Stern. Today Alice lives in London, where she still practices piano for hours every day. Alice has been victorious in her ability to live a life without bitterness and she credits music as the key to her survival, as well as her ability to acknowledge the humanity in each person. Here is a short featurette from a documentary made about Alice called The Lady In Number 6.
The next story is about Camille Seaman who is currently a 2013 TED Senior Fellow and a Stanford Knight Fellow. I was introduced to Camille by a wonderful syndicated interview by Richard Whittaker called Camille Seaman: We All Belong to Earth. Camille has many artistic talents, but she has become most well known as a photographer.
Let me share with you first Camille shares about being introduced to photography as a teenager in the interview:
So in high school they recognized that I was at risk of getting into trouble, ending up pregnant, on drugs or whatever. So they put me in this after school program and they gave me a Nikkormat film camera. They took away the manual and said I’d have to figure out how to use it. They taught me how to bulk load black and white film. They taught me how to develop using an enlarger and chemicals, all that. Then they said go out and photograph your experience. I didn’t realize it, but that probably saved my life because I was given something creative in my hands, so I could express whatever anger, frustration or emotions I was feeling as this teenager. So I did. I photographed everything; all my friends, all of our adventures. I realized having that camera in my hands gave me excuses to be somewhere in a positive way.
Later on in the interview Camille shares about her experience with facing fear while she learns to surf. Let me share an excerpt with you.
I was like, okay. I started to try to paddle out and my balance was terrible. It felt really awkward. The water was so dark, cold and murky. This was at Bolinas and the Farallons were 29 miles away. And there were all of these great white sharks out there, which meant they could possibly be here. That was all I could think about and I freaked out. I turned to him and was like, “Oliver, I’m scared.” He turned and looked at me and then he paddled away. And I was so mad. I was so angry. I was like, “Oh my god! He was my friend since we were like 16 years old and he just abandoned me.”
I tried for a while and then it was like, forget this. I got out of the water and just waited for him. I was like you’ve got to get out sometime. And when he came out and I asked, “How could you? I told you I was afraid and you just left me.” And he said something that really resonated. It was really a great truth. He said, “No one can teach you to manage your fears, but you.” And he was right.
From that day on, I would go out and I would sit on the board. I got a little better at paddling. I got a little better with the balance. And I still sometimes would freak out. Then I would be like, okay, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, a shark could bite you and kill you. Well, is that happening now? No. Okay. You know, you kind of just work through it. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, I can drown. Is that happening now? No. So I surfed for over a year every day. And then I was hooked.
Camille’s courage, love of adventure and travel and a free plane ticket later lead her to fly to the Arctic Circle. There is a point where she is fives mile away from the nearest town and all she can see in all directions is just white and she has an epiphany.
On this extreme part of our planet I was realizing that I was a creature of this planet, that I was literally made of the material of this planet—that we all are. And in those moments, I realized the absurdity of tribe, of border, of culture, of language—because at the bottom of it all, we are all made of this material. We are all earthlings. There is no separation. There is no distinction. None of us were born in outer space. We will all return to the material of this earth.
What was so clear was that I was standing on my rock in space. I understood the immensity, and also the minuscule nature of that. I understood that I meant nothing in the scale of time and space and history of this planet. That it would blow over my cold dead bones without a thought. But the fact that I could stand there on the ice and actually ponder such things was a miracle. That was a self-realization at its finest. It made me realize what my grandfather was trying to show me.
I started to think about that; if my sweat becomes the rain, whose sweat is this ice? How many ancestors ago, what creatures created this? They’re all my relations, all my relatives. And in that, I understood the integral nature of this planet—that we truly are a web of life.
Here are two of her amazing photos.
Here is a TED talk given by Camille about her iceberg photography experiences.
The experiences of these two women inspired me. What are your thoughts?
Creativity and art (music and photography) play significant roles in Alice and Camille’s lives. What forms of creativity and art play a role in your life?
This post began with a quote by Seth Godin that reads: Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another. Do you agree with this quote? Have you ever felt changed by an experience with art?
“Embrace your ordinary life, whatever its wrapping,
for in the embrace you will hear the whisper of Gratitude.
Listen for her in the ordinary activities of your day,
in the ordinary encounters with loved ones,
and in the ordinary challenges that greet you each morning.
She speaks from the depths of you, in the voice of your ordinary life.”
~ Patricia Lynn Reilly
Yesterday my husband and I hosted a Gratitude Gathering at our home with some dear friends. We all prepared delicious vegetarian or vegan dishes for a pot luck. (I sensed that the wild turkeys that wander our neighborhood were saying their own words of gratitude for us non-meat eating folks yesterday.) There were fun stories and plenty of laughter around the table. Our 7 year old twin daughters Aubrey and Maya also made their first sweet potato pie all by themselves for the occasion, though they were quite thrilled when our friend Patty showed up with a vegan pumpkin pie, their favorite.
I was so incredibly grateful that everyone, save for our friend Sandy, who had to work, was able to attend. A few of our friends live up in the mountains and if the weather had been snowy they might have had to cancel. It ended up being a stunning clear day, nearing a high of about 69 degrees. Following our meal we played for a bit in the backyard with our Frisbee chasing dog Shanti and then we all went on a little walk to a nearby river trail.
In fact one of the things I am feeling so incredibly grateful for right now is having discovered that a river trail was re-vamped just a block from our home. The trail in the short time we have begun using it has come to feel a bit like it is our own private sanctuary. It was wonderful to share it with our friends and we all oohed and ahhed at the stunning views. While sharing in a rose petal and lavender ceremony of gratitude a large gaggle of geese flew overhead in their traditional “V” formation.
Here is a short little slideshow to share some of the beauty of the day:
Right now I am so incredibly Grateful for family, friendships, fur-kids, bountiful food shared with love, the beauty of nature and living so immersed in it, our comfy home and our spacious yards, including our big mama oak tree and majestic redwood.
What are you grateful for at this point in time?
In what ways might you honor or celebrate your thankfulness this week?
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.
It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing,
and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past,
brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
~ Melodie Beattie