flamingos teach us the art of cooperation and coexistence

Flamingos march in Walvis Bay, Namibia

Flamingos march in salt water lagoon near Walvis Bay, Namibia

I’d like to confess to a bit of wickedness I pulled off as a 10 year old.  On a balmy summer day in upstate New York I noticed that our neighbors were away on vacation.  I sauntered onto their front lawn, checked the street for potential witnesses and then did the deed:  I rearranged their tacky yard ornaments.  Those 7 plastic pink flamingos, which they considered precious art objects, had enjoyed a prominent place in their flower beds far too long.  At my command they lined up like lady soldiers at the end of their driveway.

flamingo-feeding-cTruth be told, I really admired those particular polyethylene flamingos even though they were readily available at the local five and dime.  For a buck you could come home with a piece of flaming pink tropical elegance that would transform your otherwise humdrum house.  Obviously, these were still the pre-Woodstock days before the twenty-somethings began to appreciate and romanticize nature and scorn all things plastics and mass-produced.

These fake birds are natives, not of Florida, but of Leominster, Massachusetts, which bills itself as the Plastics Capital of the World. Sculptor Don Featherstone was hired in 1957 by the Union Products plastics company, where his second assignment was to sculpt a pink flamingo. Since no live models were available, he copied a National Geographic photo.

flam-baths-copyThese famous pink birds, the live ones, can be found in warm, watery regions on many continents. They favor environments like estuaries and saline or alkaline lakes. Considering their appearance, flamingos are surprisingly apt swimmers, but their main habitat is on the mud flats where they breed and feed.

Much to my delight, I saw a colony of some thousand-plus flamingos while traveling in Namibia, at Walvis Bay.   Because we had a tight schedule, we could only take a few minutes to photograph the flamingos from the roadside.  Perhaps remembering my childhood, I wanted to run among them and regroup them into new patterns, or at least steal a brief eye-to-eye encounter.

10 day old chick, San Francisco Zoo

10 day old chick, San Francisco Zoo

I love the flamingos’ long, lean, curved necks and black-tipped bills with their distinctive downward bend.  These bills allow them to feed on small organisms—plankton, tiny fish, fly larvae, and the like in mud flats or shallow water.  They use their long legs and webbed feet to stir up the bottom, exposing their prey.

Often the flamingos bury their bills, or even their entire heads, and suck up both mud and water to access the tasty morsels within. A flamingo’s beak has a filter-like structure to remove food from the water before the liquid is expelled. Since shrimp-like crustaceans are responsible for the flamingos’ pink color, the birds grow pale in captivity unless their diet is supplemented.

This week I visited the San Francisco Zoo to see “our” nesting flamingos. A mated pair will bear only one chalky white egg each year, so I was fortunate to count five eggs and two chicks. American flamingos are monogamous birds and communal nesters, and it is not uncommon to have nests from different pairs only a few feet apart. The male and female take turns incubating the nest for 28-32 days.  The parents keep the chick under them and feed it there for 3-12 days until it joins a group of other recently hatched chicks for communal care.

Each time I see these beautiful birds, I can’t help but ask the question, Will we human beings ever learn from the flamingos the art of cooperation and coexistence?

Lagoon slat waters among dunes in Walvis Bay, Namibia

14 Lesser Flamingos among 14,000 in lagoons at Sandwich Harbor south of Walvis Bay, Namibia

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Namibia #5 – its vastness leaves you feeling alone…

dunes-edge-001-copyThe Desert, for me, is a vast, barren land where the extremes of nature are found.  As the wind blows, one can quickly be lost in wilderness wanderings, hopefully to emerge with new insights and dreams.

One of the largest Namibian dune areas is called Sossusvlei. It is characterized by enormous sand dunes of vivid pink-to-orange color, an indication of a high concentration of oxidized iron in the sand.  The oldest dunes are more intensely reddish and are among the highest in the world, most above 200 meters.  The tallest, about 380 meters high, is nicknamed Big Daddy.  Although the dune area is a major tourist attraction, its vastness leaves you feeling alone in a formidable land – that is, until you reach “Big Daddy” and “Great Mama” with their  international hordes of youth and hikers making their way up the steep sand mountains.

dunes-dunes-2-copySossusvlei is actually a salt and clay pan surrounded by hundreds of connected sand dunes in the southern part of the Namib Desert. “Vlei” is the Afrikaans word for “marsh”, while “sossus” is Nama for “no return” or “dead end”.  This area was once a drainage basin for the Tsauchab River.

Notice helicopter in center at top edge!

Notice helicopter in center at top edge!

When we helicoptered over this wilderness, the notion of being lost and wandering in the desert for 40 years became plausible.  Drop me down there and I would, shy of divine intervention, never find my way out!

The highest and more stable dunes are partially covered with vegetation, watered not only by underground rivers that occasionally flood the pans, but also by the daily morning fog that enters the desert from the Atlantic Ocean. When dry, these pans with their high concentration of salt look almost white in color.  The dunes, however, when bathed in the golden light at the edges of day and night, turn bright orange with the shadowed side turning nearly jet black.

Oryx last for weeks without water.

Oryx last for weeks without water.

Animal and insect life in the Sossusvlei area is relatively abundant. It is mostly comprised of small creatures that can survive with little water, including a number of arthropods, small reptiles and petite mammals such as rodents or jackals; bigger animals include oryxes, springboks and ostriches. Strangely, “fog beetles” have developed a technique for collecting water from early morning fogs through the bumps in their back.

At the base of “Big Daddy” and “Great Mama” one finds Deadvlei, a white clay pan that used to be an oasis hosting several varieties of acacia trees. Centuries ago, when the climate changed and drought hit the area, sand dunes encroached on the pan, blocking the river that watered the oasis.  The trees died, leaving the white salty floor of the pan punctuated by the blackened, dead acacia trees.

dunes-deadvlei-copyThe remaining skeletons of the trees, which are believed to have died between 1340- 1430 CE, are now black because the intense light and heat of the sun has scorched them.  Strangely enough, these blackened trees are not petrified, for the wood is so dry it does not decompose. The white pan, the blackened trees, and the intense orange of the surrounding dunes create a particularly fascinating and surrealistic landscape that appears in innumerable pictures and has been used as a setting for films and videos.

Eager to add these recognizable shots to our stock portfolios, we hiked in before sunrise to see the first light illuminate the dunes, but the whole area was socked in with heavy fog.  We had no idea that there were even sand dunes surrounding the eerie waterless lake.  The mist was mystical, but eventually it gave way to the sun that was by then already fairly high in the sky.  Not only were there huge dunes surrounding us, but dozens of people hiking on their berms!

White Lady Spider lives under the sand

White Lady Spider lives under the sand

I saw no burning bush but still felt the presence of the Divine One, whispering with the blowing red sands, “I shall be who I shall be.”  The Namib Desert has been dancing for over 43 million years, and, although we didn’t do our desert wandering for 40 years or even 40 days, my 40 hours in that environment was still, for me, a vision-filled healing quest from which I emerged into a “promised land.”  Don’t skip over your desert journeys, they eventually bring great blessings!

Deadvlei after the fog lifted.

Deadvlei after the fog lifted.

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Namibia #4 – drinking from the waterholes of life!

namib-a-giraffe-copyIt’s almost miraculous that so many African animals manage to eke out an existence in the arid, desert-like environment of Namibia — elephants, lions, cheetah, rhinos, oryx and wild horses to name a few. We can be sincerely thankful that Namibia’s progressive, community-based approach to conservation protects so much wildlife by providing hundreds of square miles of sanctuary and poaching-free zones.

In the vast flagship of the Namibian park system, Etosha National Park, you will find an out-and-out profusion of wildlife around the numerous waterholes. Here the magic happens, whether it’s a herd of elephants filling their trunks with water, a rhino reflected in the water by the light of a full moon, or a giraffe reaching down for a drink with its legs splayed like a circus performer.

namib-a-elephants-copyEtosha National Park is one of the world’s premier wildlife reserves.  The size of Switzerland, Etosha is a semi-arid savannah, with grassland and thorn scrub surrounding a flat saline desert pan, a calcium-rich, impermeable earthen crust.  The name Etosha is variously translated ‘Place of Mirages’, ‘Land of Dry Water’ or ‘Great White Place’.

namib-a-zebra-water-copyAlthough dry and dusty, Etosha Park is a haven for 114 kinds of mammals and 340 bird species. Some of the stars of Etosha are its endemic black-faced impala and elephants. These elephants are huge, the tallest in Africa, measuring up to 14 feet at the shoulder; they are awe-inspiring to see even though mineral deficiencies and their habit of digging for water result in short tusks. The resident giraffe belong to a subspecies found only in the park and in north-western Namibia.

To give a sense of just how easy it to escape from “the world” in Namibia, compare it with Germany, its former colonial ruler. Namibia is twice the size of Germany, but, while Germany has a total population in excess of 80 million, Namibia’s human population is just a tad over two million.

namib-a-rhino-night-copyOkaukuejo, the first tourist camp inside Etosha Park, was built beside a well-established waterhole, now the main feature of the camp.  All day and into the flood-lit early hours of the night, an orderly parade of animals come to the waterhole. Visitors can sit in comfort inside the camp with only a low wall between them and herds of elephants, rhinos and even a pride or two of  lions gulping the thirst-slaking liquid.

Shortly after dusk on our first evening we witnessed 10 elephants slowly marching toward the waterhole.  In the distance, other animals stood still and watched the elephants slurp and splash in the pool’s water for about 10 minutes before they finally sauntered off in the opposite direction.  Then, group by group, the other animals would take their turn, drinking only after spying out the horizon to check for possible danger.  It was like a slow-motion video – the zebras went to the water’s edge, then the giraffes followed by the rhinos.  Awesome!

namib-a-cheetah-and-cub-copyIt was as if I were standing some 50 feet away from a menagerie-carousel come alive, each row of animals slowly sliding off the revolving floor and finding its way to this pool of water, so unique and precious in the otherwise dry and rocky terrain.  No calliope was playing; there was only the sound of swooping birds, a few jackal grunts and the scuffling of soft-padded feet, but it was more magical and lovely than any orchestra could play, music of the night.

namib-a-lion-copyThe large mammals in Etosha National Park include lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, giraffe, wildebeest, cheetah, hyena, mountain and plains zebra, springbok, impala, kudu, oryx and eland. Among the smaller species one can find the dik-dik, black-back jackal, bat-eared fox, warthog, honey badger and ground squirrel.  Except for the leopard, hyena and honey badger, we saw all these and, of course, dozens of different birds.

If one needs concrete proof that human beings are not the center of the universe, a few days in Etosha will put things in perspective.  We need to learn from our fellow-inhabitants on this planet.  The straight and twisted antlers of the many “antelopes,” for instance, reach sun-ward and point our gaze in new directions!  The animals at the edge of the “Great White Place” grace us with a greater attitude of reverence and appreciation for all creatures large and small. (Image: Oryx calf tries out new legs)

namib-a-b-zebra-heads-copyWhat a life-enhancing delight it was to ride the carousel of creation in Namibia!


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Namibia #3 – Finding other kinds of memory gems!

A biting wind greeted us on our arrival at Kolmanskop.  No more than 45 degrees outside, the swirling fog couldn’t temper the chill even as the barely visible shape of the sun began brightening the gray morning sky. You would think I was describing a typical summer day in San Francisco, but no, this was late July, a winter morning in southeast Namibia.

Kolmans 5 copyThe weather’s initial cool, dark welcome added to the sense of abandonment and eeriness that seemed to be wandering like a ghost through the collapsing buildings of this once-luxurious town. The sands of immense dunes now make their way through the open doors and broken windows, recapturing their original footholds and burying the evidence of the short-lived glory days.

Kolmans 9 copyKolmanskop was built when diamonds were discovered there in 1908. It became home to hundreds of German miners desperately seeking their fortune in the Namibian desert. The shells of the once-active town businesses, hospital, school, gymnasium, and theater, as well as huge individual houses for engineers, doctors, and architects have all fallen silent. The family flats, each room painted a different pastel color with decorative borders, are now swathed in sand.

By the 1950s the diamond mine began to show signs that the gems hidden in its soil had all been removed, and the town’s people departed, leaving their stories and even many of their possessions behind.

Kolmans 6 copyToward the end of the 20th century some buildings such as the casino, skittle alley and retail shop were restored.  One can only enter the town with a permit — our permit was good from sunrise to sunset and, except for a few small groups in the morning, this ghost town was all ours.

You might think a full day among abandoned buildings would be over-kill.  But, with the changing of light from overcast to sun to fog again, there were many creative possibilities.  I even had time to take a series of self-portraits in an old bath tub – fully clothed, of course.  Once there was money in the pockets of everyone in Kolmanskop and laughter on each stairway; now, desolate and forlorn, only the footprints of beetles and a few humans provide pathways to buildings stripped of their grandeur.

Kolmans 2 copy“Surrender to the desert” is the chant of the winds and the echo of the drifting sands.  I wonder if this will be the same song in 20 years at Oranjemund, the still-active diamond mine located in the southern part of the country near the South African border.  Namdeb Diamond Corporation operates the huge alluvial workings; it is so successful, it has made Namibia the world’s fifth-largest diamond supplier.

Much to my dismay, I did not find a single diamond in the desert; in fact, people are not permitted in the areas where a diamond or two might be found, areas called the “forbidden lands.”  So I think I will remain satisfied with these images and the other kinds of memory gems which, for me, far outshine the diamonds.

Kolmans 3 copy2My next blog will include some of my favorite Namibian treasures: photos of the wild animals. Oryx, Springbok, Giraffe and others will probably make the lineup.

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Namibia – entering a Himba village – I am a better person!

2 Woman WEBI could not live like the Himba people.  Their small, clan-based villages dot the harsh and barren lands of north western Namibia. For thousands of years they have been carrying on the same routine. In the morning the cows are milked, and then the men, goats and cattle go off to find grazing lands. Nomadic people, they sometimes occupy 10 different village sites in one year. As harsh as their lifestyle is and as unaffected by modern ideologies, they seem to be extremely peaceful and happy.

Taz, our expert on all things Namibian and the driver of our touring van, was able to navigate our 18 foot aging safari vehicle off-road, through dusty, rocky no-pathed lands to a Himba village. (In fact, the majority of roads we traveled in Namibia would be considered by most of us to be off-road – dirt, at least when dry, wash-boardy, sometimes very curvy with drop-off edges and at other times miles and miles of desert flat-lands interrupted by swift moving dust devils.)

2 Hair Detail WEBMost Himba villages are small and made up of extended family units. When visiting such a village one must ask permission from the chief, but our afternoon visit found no chief on site so his three wives welcomed us.

This was a real pleasure. We conversed through an interpreter we brought from the local town. The three women sat on the ground adorned in beautiful jewelry they had made.  Their hair was in traditional format: covered with red dirt mixed with animal fats. This is the same mixture they use to bathe since the majority of time they have no access to water.

2 Elder Womah WEBThe Himba women were very concerned for us because we were mostly a party of women without spouses or children. They wondered how we could possibly survive without these helpers to take care of the daily tasks.  After additional conversation they seemed more pleased than perplexed with our life choices.

The day for women begins when they cover themselves with a mixture of red rock called ochre and butterfat from the animals. This makes their skin a deep red color. They put the same mixture on their hair, clothes and jewelry. The women are very proud of their traditional dress. It can take five or six hours to get the mud and adornments on their heads just right, so they sleep with their heads on a neck rest to make sure that all the work that they have done to beautify themselves does not get disheveled while sleeping.

2 Perfuminmg WEBIn one large round hut we witnessed how the women perfume themselves with bellowing incense. They explained who lives in the hut and how the family units worked. At age of three the children leave the parent’s hut to live with all the village children where they grow up playing and caring for one another. The children are raised by everyone in the village. Their hairstyles give away whether the child is a boy or girl – two braids down the front of the face indicate a girl.

Himba villages are hubs of socialization since they love to talk and laugh. The women work together, but the pace of life is slow and easy, giving everyone time for conversation with one another and the occasional visitors. Before sundown the last of the chores is completed, the wood is collected for the fire.

2 Himba Baby WEBThe head of the village is the oldest male member of the family groups. He is responsible for the religious organization of the village, the sacred acts, solving problems, overseeing life and the dispensing of justice.

Because of their geographic isolation they have been unhindered by the influences of other civilizations.  Though their traditions are under scrutiny and they feel the pressure of modernizing ideas and practices, they continue to live their nomadic existence, moving with their goats and cattle to places where they can find water and adequate grazing.

One wonders what will become of Himba ways with climate changes and the influence of travelers and developers. Ancient traditional earth-based medicines have kept them healthy for centuries but now they are being impacted by diseases (i.e. AIDS) that were never part of their history, requiring different kinds of medications. One hopes that it is the Himba themselves who will be able to choose how their culture goes forward, what can be the same or what they desire to change.

2 Himba Child G WEBI don’t usually photograph people, but I love to take people-shots when I’m traveling, especially in places where I cannot speak the native language.  My camera becomes a vehicle of communication.  Photographing others is almost like a dance that we enter into – smiling and looking at one another and making gestures. With the group of Himba children I realized that not all hand signals are interpreted in the same way. I was trying to get them to look in a certain direction. I put my hand above my head hoping their eyes would go there, but instead they kept waving back at me.

When permission is granted, and if it is done with respect and reverence, image-making is a way of honoring the other. I believe the world can be a better place when we learn to honor one another whether through the camera or in conversation. In so doing I know I am a better person.

2 Women Walkin WEB

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Namibia – a spiritual and humbling journey.

sossus DunesWEBOn the west coast of southern Africa, the country of Namibia is vast and mostly desolate. Bisected by the Tropic of Capricorn (we stopped at the sign), its western border is the icy Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it is bordered by the Kalahari Desert. Yet it is a land of magnificent beauty — towering sand dunes, jagged mountains, geological wonders (including diamond mines), wild animals, ancient tribes and botanical marvels.

Some days it was rather cold, especially when we were outside at night photographing the Milky Way in a Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop (the farthest point south on our journey), and, though right now it is the Namibian winter, we experienced days in the desert sun that reached into the 90s.

Milky Way over Quiver Trees

Milky Way over Quiver Trees

The Quiver Tree (Kokerboom in Afrikaans) is not really a tree, but a plant in the Aloe family. The “trees” are most often seen standing singly in very arid and rocky areas. They can grow to between 200 and 300 years old and reach about 30 feet in height.  From a distance they look like huge lollipops on the horizon as Dr. Seuss might draw them.

The trunk of the Quiver Tree is tapered and covered with a rich brown yellow-patterned bark that flakes off leaving a scaly effect on the trunk. The edges of these scales can be quite sharp. I know, because I ran my hand over one and walked away with several small nicks in my fingers. The core of the trunk is mainly fibrous which allows for water storage.

Older trees bristle with a profusion of branches that are silver in appearance. The tree branches exude fine droplets of a liquid that, when dried, leaves behind a silver talcum-like powder that helps reflect the bright light, acting like a natural sun-screen keeping the trees cool.

Cheetah WEB

Cheetah in morning light.

My images were captured on a 2,500 mile expedition over mostly bumpy and dusty dirt roads, and thus it will take a long time before I am finished with the necessary sorting and editing.  In the meantime I will be sharing some of my favorites with a few comments in successive posts.

For the creatures and the peoples that live in Namibia (lots of Lutherans) it is paradise (if you can live with very little water!). The gingerbread-looking Christ Church Lutheran in the capital city of Windhoek was built in 1907 and still has worship services in German.  But my favorite choruses came at night when I heard the sounds of singing and drums in the distance and the gentle lapping of water by giraffes and rhinos in the Okaukuejo waterhole at Etosha National Park.

The journey to this strange and remote land was spiritual and humbling.  It is said we are all children of Mother Africa, Lizard WEBand I have come to believe this after laughing with women in a Himba village and doing my own dance in the desert dunes trying to shake off a lizard that had crawled up my pant leg.  (pictured here). I survived that episode, but the sights and experience of Namibia as a whole will be with me forever.

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Yosemite – where you receive abundant natural blessings.

Yosemite Falls from Valley floor.

Yosemite Falls from Valley floor.

A few weeks ago I wanted to get out of the office and do some camping, but all my favorite coastal sites were full.  So, for the fun of it, I looked online at campgrounds in other locations to see what might be available.  I couldn’t believe it when, on a Friday, I checked Yosemite and, lo and behold, the valley’s Upper Pines Campground had a vacancy for the next Monday and Tuesday.

Knowing that summer brings crowds, that the temperatures were predicted to be near 90, and that we were still in the grip of our California drought, I imagined that the waterfalls were likely to be barely trickling.  Nonetheless, I booked the site.  At best, I hoped a few wildflowers might be lingering in the higher elevations and perhaps, in the valley, I could spot a mule deer or two nibbling through the early morning grasses.

Pond near Tuolumne Meadows  reflects tree-lined shore.

Pond near Tuolumne Meadows reflects tree-lined shore.

I discovered from the little research I was able to do that even the casual visitor could experience some of the solitude of Yosemite without getting outfitted for a backpack expedition.  On the negative side, I read that Yosemite Falls usually stops flowing in August and that last year’s drought left the falls dry all summer. The cascade that makes up the waterfall is fed solely by snow-melt, so, in normal years, the peak flow is in late May when the sun warms the winter’s white blanket high in the mountains.  But, thanks to a storm in the high Sierras the night before my arrival, the waterfalls were gushing when I arrived.

Snow plant bloom under pine trees

Snow plant bloom under pine trees.

It is said that Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places on the planet   This national park is roughly the size of Rhode Island and is a United Nations World Heritage Site.  Although the valley proper is a little less than 200 miles from my front door I hadn’t spent any time there with my camera.  Perhaps this is because it is such an iconic location and one would find it a real challenge to capture stunning images that would even come close to those I had already admired in magazines.

Winter is the ideal season for photographers.  You probably have seen some of the images of the golden afternoon light on Half-Dome as it is reflected in the calm, mirror-like center of the Merced River.  Other photos emblazoned on my mind — the first light on El Capitan framed from the valley by snow-laden branches, or the snow-laden pines and great sequoias viewed from the tunnel vista.

Half-Dome bathed in last light.

Half-Dome bathed in last light.

Towering more than 350 stories above Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is the largest exposed granite monolith in the world.  “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir, whose crusading led to the creation of the park.  Captivated by his words and the exquisite photographs of Ansel Adams and others like him, any summer’s day can find about 14,000 people in Yosemite Village, the hub of the valley.

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls

What I had forgotten is that even “pedestrian” photos of Yosemite are phenomenal.

Indeed, though I did not experience snow and ice, flaming sunsets or long journeys into the wilderness, I felt I came home with a few nice images.

Since this is the 100th anniversary of the National Park System perhaps it is time to visit more of them, and to do it with gratitude for those who had the foresight to set aside public lands for us all to honor, enjoy and receive abundant natural blessings.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks.”   – John Muir

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July – The grace and beauty of Swan wisdom – take the ride!

July 1 - PalaceFA copySan Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts is a stunning historic landmark.  Modeled after classic Greco-Roman architecture, the palace was built as a temporary structure for the 1915 Pan-American Exhibition.  It stood for decades until it was reconstructed with more permanent materials in 1967.  In addition, the landscape around it is breathtaking in its beauty, showcasing a wonderful variety of plant and animal life.  I am especially moved by the gorgeous swans that make the palace pond their home.

Blanche and her mate, Blue Boy, are bouncing back after a string of tragic events over the past several years. In mid-May they had four chicks.  I visited the swimming fur-balls within days of their hatching, but, even by then, there were only three.  Most likely the first “swanling” (cygnet) to go missing was the victim of other animals.  Swan caretakers say that the tiny creature may have become a meal for a snapping turtle, big-mouth bass or owl.

July 1 - swan chick copyLast week just one swanling, now a hardy juvenile, was still swimming with its parents.  Volunteers on the palace grounds say that, while the disappearance of the chicks was sad, the young ones would probably have been killed by their father come mating time.  Despite all this drama, the beauty and lure of the swans are still very empowering.

Swans represent grace and beauty on many levels. They are associated with love, poetry and music. In Roman mythology swans are sacred to Venus, the love goddess; in the Greek tradition they are often pictured singing to the accompaniment of a lyre.  For the Celtic people, the swan represented the soul, our eternal essence.

Swan’s Wisdom includes awakening the power of self, balance, grace, and creative inner beauty.  She offers this wisdom to us all!

Taking a ride on mama-swan!

Taking a ride on mama-swan!

The Ugly Duckling is a widely-known children’s story about an obviously odd little duckling. This “ugly duckling” doesn’t look like her brothers and sisters and is rejected and labeled a misfit. In the end, however, all are surprised when she grows into being the most elegant of birds, the swan. The story reminds us that true beauty grows from within, that each of us has inner grace and beauty, and that awareness of our inner beauty nurtures our self-esteem.  Further, as we come to appreciate our own true beauty, we gain confidence to venture into new realms and tap into new inner powers.

Juvenile Swan in pond reflecting Palace of Fine Arts

Juvenile Swan in pond reflecting colors from the Palace of Fine Arts

Swans show us how to be confident in our intrinsic power and beauty. When we appropriate this grace, we are able to see and nurture the inner beauty in others. The grace of Swan-Wisdom helps us live a balanced life and enables us to be at home on many planes of reality, to see that we each are more than we appear to be – we are equally physical and spiritual beings. Both are sacred and interdependent.

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June – walking down a path…into the light!

Many guided meditations ask us to visualize ourselves walking down a path. Like roads, paths are meant to lead us to a particular destination, but they are very different. Paths keep us close to the environment we are walking through and invite us to engage with the trees and the earth, the sky, sea and the meadow wildflowers.

June 1 - Haris Beach 2a WEB

Pathway that ends at sunset – Harris Beach, OR

Perhaps you choose in your meditation a pathway which leads into the forest. The forest is a common symbol for a place of mystery or challenge or the unknown. It can also be one of those thin places where the curtain to the divine opens and invites us in.

The “Enchanted Forest” is often where we are lured by Sophia to places we would rather not go. Among the trees we are challenged to confront our fears as well as our hopes. The forest pathway leads us to new discoveries about ourselves.

June 1-TressLightRays 1 WEB

Land’s End above Sutro Baths – San Francisco, CA

Although I live in the city, many parks and coastal pathways provide opportunities to venture into wooded areas. When the morning fog is swirling around the trees and the sun is coming up in the east, I see wonderful rays of light shining through the branches of Monterey Pine, Cypress and Eucalyptus trees. I used to refer to these shafts of light as God Rays but I now call them either the breath of the goddess or her light beams. (The metaphors are basically the same, but the paradigms they represent are diametrically different.)

Whether we see these light rays as symbols, signs, mystical moments or simply the results of specific weather conditions, they are a source of beauty and blessing. May the light enter directly into our hearts and souls while leading us down the pathways to new revelations and wholeness.

June 1 -LightRays 2 WEB

Strawberry Hill at Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park

Luminous Light,

leading us from wisdom to Wisdom,

may we be drawn into the comfort of your presence.

Make the gloomy night of our souls

beautiful and bright.

Enlighten the fragile fabric of our beings.

Ever transformed by the light of Sophia-love

we become light rays revealing

pathways to peace and joy.

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May – Quietness to honking laughter!

May 1 - Snow Geese Mass 2 copyIf I had been near a volcano, I would have been convinced that the white shapes ascending into the sky were the prelude of a large scale eruption. But I was in the middle of flat, uncultivated farmland. My first sighting was from a distance, and I could not identify what was happening. It was late afternoon, and the light was coming from a low side angle.  Then, all of a sudden, I heard the honking and saw the movement. I could tell it was flapping wings by the thousands.

Usually, when I’m photographing in a new location, I do a little research ahead of time so I know what is happening in the landscape – among the wildlife as well as in the farmland plantings. But I had gone for just one subject, and this was not it. It was already spring, so I had expected the wintering flocks and fly-by migrations to be over. But, much to my surprise, the Snow Geese had not yet headed north for their Arctic Ocean nesting grounds.

May 1 - Two Snow Geese copyNorth American first nation peoples had long observed the migration patterns of the Snow Geese. They gave them the name Chen Hyperboreus which means “from beyond the north.” They are breathtaking, pure-white birds with black wingtips. During the winter, when they feed in the fields north of Seattle, they take in a lot of iron, so you will find rust colors in the feathers on their heads. This coloration, while beautiful in itself, is just temporary.

The geese fly over and around the gorgeously-planted tulip farms of Skagit County, WA, where some fields are deliberately flooded for the wintering Snow Geese. At night they rest in the waters of Skagit Bay. Although you might not see them at dusk or after dark, you will hear them from a distance. They sound like they are having a party.

May 1 - Snow Geese Mass copyAs is often the case, I hum or sing Goddess chants to complement what I am photographing. Majik-Norma Joyce’s chant recorded by Libana began to run through my head and across my lips – “We’re a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings.” This chant beautifully captures the essence of sisterhood and the momentum of the women’s spirituality movement. When I saw those thousands of birds I knew there was hope for the realignment of the world as women likewise fly together working for peace and justice.

In another field, a stone’s throw away from this particular flock, sat a rusting 1940’s Chevy. As I circled the vehicle each small patch of rust and peeling paint gave way to abstract images that mimicked the colors and dance of the Snow Geese (at least in my seeing). For me these details (see below) also evoked the essence of the movement from one season to another: winter to spring, sleepiness to a highly awakened state, rest to restlessness, quietness to honking laughter! The next celebration begins.

May 1 - Rusting Chevy copy

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