Sunday, September 26, 2010


Some day, in the years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now… Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by steady, long continued process.------Phillips Brooks

Friday morning, around 7AM. I had set the alarm to go to my parent’s house, with my son, to pull the cover over the pool. It’s that time of year. I got ready about ten minutes quicker than Robbie, and I stood looking out the side glass on our front door. A spider had set up camp outside the glass on the right side, and an energetic mosquito had become snared in its web. I don’t remember ever seeing such a fight for survival.

I stood and watched for nearly ten minutes as the desperate catch flew in all directions, then began flying up and down, as hard as he could, back and forth when he reached the limits of his new territory. He slammed violently at the upper limit of the web, then the same at the bottom. Up and down, side to side. The whole web shimmied as the mosquito, knowing instinctively that time was running out, let it all loose in an attempt to survive.

I snapped a photo of the struggle through the glass, then we left.

Later I thought about how the spider was strangely absent during all of this. Wouldn’t it be simple for the spider to move it with the mosquito firmly ensnared and finish him off? That, however, is not how our struggles work a good portion of the time. I can just imagine the spider sitting back, watching the fight for survival, with a wisp of satisfaction, knowing full well what the outcome will be. For a high percentage of people, the struggle, whether brief or extended, has the same result- in the end, there you are, battered and bruised, ready to throw in the towel because it’s too painful, way too much work and struggle. All the spider had to do was sit back and wait, and if his web has a good enough snare, his meal would be waiting on him after hopelessness set in.

When we quit too soon we are giving someone else our good fortune. Savvy investors know to move in and take over an uncomfortable situation, therefore reaping our rewards that we worked so hard for, yet never claimed as ours.

Ever spent loads of money on a car, then practically gave it away when that “last straw” was reached? Might have been a bad battery. How many times has the buyer gotten an inexpensive vehicle that ran problem free from then on? Just look at what you’ve already swapped out; what else can break?

Or how about the idea that you walk around with in your head, unfinished. I mentioned to my wife a number of years back an idea I had that I figured would make good money in retail. Every so often I would mention it again, but nothing was ever done. It simply did not fit high enough on my priority ladder to get serious consideration. Good idea, poor execution. About six months ago I was in a chain clothing store and saw my idea for sale at all the registers. Looked like sales were pretty good, considering the half empty boxes on the counters. I wonder if the other hundreds of locations carry my invention as well?

Success in any endeavor means holding on when others are letting go. Without struggle nothing worthwhile will be achieved, so the saying goes. The struggle makes something of you that will ultimately give you the tools for success.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Walking Through Illusion---by Betsy Otter Thompson

For every emotional action taken, an emotional mirror returned.

Book review-

Walking Through Illusion----by Betsy Otter Thompson

Ms. Thompson’s unique insights using characters familiar to many is both bold and effective.

Beginning with the book’s title, illusion clouds many aspects of our lives, and this point is considered extensively throughout the chapters of “Walking Through Illusion.”

Each chapter delves into a unique subject that causes the reader to examine his/hers own relationship with oneself, and how to overcome the challenges and shortcomings that we all battle. Twenty three chapters cover a range from morality, beliefs, approval, truth, complaints, betrayal, death, and time. Biblical characters are used throughout, through their conversations with Jesus.

Paul tested unsuccessfully until reaching a place of giving suitably; you gave superficially and received superficially; you gave sacrificially and received superficially; to receive suitably you have to give suitably. (page 47)
Mark was instructed that If you think up an idea it exists. If you live an idea, it’s yours. (page74)

A common theme throughout the book, and one well woven in throughout, is that mirrors reflect our views and actions, and what we offer to others is reciprocated. The “mirror of the moment.” For some it takes much trial and error to figure this out, as she describes so well.

The “Personal Insights” at the end of each chapter are powerful, showing Ms. Thompson’s real life struggles and the learning process she has gone through. This section is a must read. It’s easy to understand, but very thought provoking. An example- I find it hard to trust advice. Not because it isn’t sound, but because it’s often generic. What is helpful to another might not be helpful to me. I trust an inner voice that I refer to as my instincts. (page 122) and What is a meaningful legacy? (page 153)
Another common thread in all the stories is this: we can often find the answers to our struggles within ourselves.

Insightful and full of thoughts that will both inspire and provoke, “Walking Through Illusion” is worthy of its place on your reading list, whether it’s the first time or a follow up. It’s sure to inspire.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Big Haynes Creek Hiking_Labor Day 2010

Keep your sense of proportion by regularly, preferably daily,
visiting the natural world. - Catlin Matthews

Labor Day, 2010. This morning started of pretty cool, especially with the top down at 9AM. Temps in the low 60’s, clear skies with the beautiful morning glow sidelighting everything it touched. My wife had something to do for a few hours, so I dropped her off and went looking for a photo op or two, with a little walking mixed in.

First stop was Costley Mill; I have wanted to try to photograph the site for a while. The closed gate and sign that read “No trespassing, violators will be prosecuted” enticed me to look elsewhere.

With no time for driving around, I decided on the Big Haynes Creek Nature Preserve in Conyers, Ga. I have been there before, and I see something different every time it seems. Canoeing is allowed at the site, but no motorized boats or inflatable rafts, and no fishing, swimming, or wading. Probably due to the close proximity to the water treatment facility.

I have walked the trails here several times, and I find a new path on every trip. Today I chose the line that ran along the lake, staying within water’s sight most of the way.

This time the trails, although well traveled, were tight with greenery in places, especially when I got off the beaten path looking for photo ops. Might be worth considering if you go there this time of year in shorts or a skirt. Poison Ivy alert…….

My first stop, as usual, was the two docks overlooking the lake, just beyond the parking area.

The view here is always pretty, whether blue skies like today or drenched in fog for a surreal gothic scene, or shrouded in white during a snowstorm. I have seen them all. Today I saw lots of dragonflies
and some butterflies,

a couple of frogs leaping in and out of the water, and a few large birds, similar to a pelican. Lots of noise; nature in its pristine form. I saw a few other visitors; two couples that spoke, and a group of horseback riders on the trail I walked through the wooded area.

Leaving the lake and heading towards the myriad of trails, I noticed the variety of traffic that enjoys the trails. Shoe prints, dog tracks, and horseshoe marks dotted the trail, especially in the few muddy areas I came across (usually at a crossover of a small stream.) Interesting things to photograph were everywhere, and I have included some of the images I took today.

The trails are clearly marked,

although I suppose one could get turned around on the trails. I like getting off the trails a little ways, but I did fine. I saw one mountain bike rider on today’s hike, but I have seen more in the past.
Today I stayed along side the lake, but on my last visit, with my daughter Marissa, we walked a different trail and came to a section that was granite. It reminded me of a small Stone Mountain. This was the location of the ’96 olympic summer games mountain biking competition. We had to watch our steps and move to the side a couple of times; the bikers were flying down the steep, unforgiving terrain.
Elevation changes reminded me of the hills of Tennessee. You can pick strenuous or flat, it’s your choice. Just watch for the bikes and horses.
Here’s a link for more info.

A new dock, a part of the never ending expansion and improvements, stood incomplete and blocked off. More reason to believe I’ll keep finding something new and inspiring every time I visit.

A few photos and comments from my last couple of visits, one during the January 2010 snowstorm and the March visit with my daughter-

The scene during the snow was surreal. First, I have never seen snowflakes that thick in Georgia.

As I stood at the canoe launch with my son Robbie, the leather hat I wore, primarily to protect my camera, started collecting snow.

This is probably laughable to those of you that live further north, but it’s unusual in Georgia, where schools and businesses shut down at the first rumor of a snowflake. I was amazed at the sight, but we wisely headed back home soon after arriving, because snow plows are non existent here, and the road became impassible before long.
When Marissa and I visited, we came across what appears to be the remnants of a horse show location, or something related to horses. This was close to Costley Mill Road. My apologies if we ventured off the nature preserve; trail markings were close by, so I don’t think we did.

I received a call from my wife saying she was ready to be picked up, and I told her I was a twenty minute walk from the car.

Really, I was a little optimistic in this, especially since photos kept jumping out at me on the walk back.
I finally slung the camera over my shoulder and watched the trail, mindful of the time. When I arrived near the parking area, my wife and her sister were on the trail, talking to someone they had just met, walking her dog.

The hot Atlanta temps had begun to set in, but despite the tired legs and sweat, it was quite enjoyable. I look forward to the next visit, maybe in the Fall after the leaves have begun changing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Trying to Find Something Good

Try to find something good you can pull from each experience……

Several weeks back I made an expensive mistake with my primary drive, a ’01 Eclipse Spyder. Say what you want about my mechanical inability, but the bottom line is this: I did not pay close attention to the maintenance schedule or I would have noticed the line about replacing the timing belt at 60K miles. I haven’t driven a car with that requirement in a while, and this happens to be a non clearance engine. That means bent valves, all twenty four of them. It happened two hours from my house, so I chose to have it towed (before I knew the extent of the damage) to a local shop near the Georgia/North Carolina border.

It took several weeks for the repairs to be completed, mostly due to a two week backup at the local machine shop where the head was taken for resurfacing. My son accompanied me on the two hour drive to pick it up, soaking up the mountain views as we approached the garage, plus enjoying the 61 degree mountain air. Afterwards he joined me for breakfast at a local diner before driving back.

If you can find out where the locals eat you’re always in line for a good meal.

When the car had broken weeks before, my two daughters were in the car with me, and sat for an hour at a pull off where the belt broke. We ended up talking to three different locals that stopped to help, all very eccentric, each one of them worth writing about. One man was trying to sell painted mailboxes after telling me all that is wrong with the world, another had pulled in to roll his tobacco and didn’t even know we were there (his words, not mine,) and the other guy just wanted to see what was going on. It will worry me when my girls are both driving by themselves after seeing who stopped to help. They deserve a thanks for their concern , but still, I will be worried.

After the car was towed a few miles back stream, the garage desk operator suggested we walk down to the breakfast house while we waited for our ride to arrive, about a 10 minute walk. We did, and after the girls jumped mud puddles, complained about the high grass and chiggers, and we made the treacherous run across the four lane highway, we made it.

Nothing but locals. Plus this guy (me) with his two daughters, both of whom were texting and talking nonstop. No one seemed too concerned about us, and we enjoyed a nice lunch, plus some unexpected time spent talking and cutting up.

A sign was mounted on the wall, behind the counter where the bill was to be paid. It read “We cook food to order. It takes time. If you want fast food, there is a McDonald’s in town.”

So my son and I made the return trip to eat, this time driving from the garage to the diner. Too much traffic to cross the road on foot anyway.

I decided on pancakes. The menu gave a choice of 1, 2, or 3 big pancakes. Now I’ve seen some slightly exaggerated product descriptions in my time, so I went with the three, figuring they weren’t as big as the menu claimed. Good thing my son was there to help with a portion after he finished his meal. I would say the three pancakes were the size of 6 to 8 normal servings that my wife makes at home.

I went up front to pay, and I asked for a to-go coffee. The lady running the register, the same one who took the order, brought out the food, and refilled drinks, was very friendly. I suspect she is owner or co-owner. I saw her go to a table and sit for a moment to talk to the guests, and she knew them, I could tell. She seemed to be a kind, gentle soul.

As I was paying, I mentioned how much I liked the two black and white studio portraits framed and mounted on the wall, standing out from the myriad of other photos on the same wall. At least they stood out to me, since I am a portrait photographer. Both featured a baby, and one photo had the dad, one had the mom. Very sweet poses, and a loving expression from both parents. The photographer captured the moment well.

The lady behind the counter’s eyes lit up, and she told me about the photographer taking these at a local event, and how she loved them as well. She said, “I have something else you would probably enjoy, even though it isn’t a photograph. It’s a painting.”

After the transaction was complete, she took me through a closed door into a secondary dining area, one that must be reserved for peak times. Maybe Friday and Saturday nights. She switched on the overhead fluorescent lights and pointed to a rather large painting on the outside wall, mounted between two windows. The painting was huge, I’m guessing four feet high. It showed two boys dressed in overalls, sitting on hay bales, with a pig in the foreground. Looked like a country fair scene. She told me these were her two grandsons, and the painting was made from a photograph taken of them recently. The photo was nice, but the story behind it made it more special.

The artist, a friend of the lady I spoke to, suffered a stroke before painting the work of art. She had to hold her hand on the arm she painted with the keep it steady, and despite her limitations, the work is beautiful and full of life. This was after learning to paint initially without the disability, so she had to relearn, and figure out how to overcome the obstacles to keep doing what she loved. She probably had to go through a painful relearning process for things we take for granted. Don’t you love it when someone pushed barriers out of the way and does something he/she has a passion for?

As we left the room and she turned the lights back off, she made this statement: “Wish I could paint like that. I can’t even draw a straight line. Guess I’m just here to takes money and wait tables.”

I told her kind words can touch people and you may never know what you’ve done for the other person.

She agreed, and said “We all have a purpose, I guess.”

She talked about the painting, saying when she looked at the older boy, probably around eight or nine years old, she saw everything about him. The personality just jumped off the canvas. She pointed to the eyes, and said they were captured just right. It seemed the artist was looking straight into his heart and mind and pulled everything out, through those beautiful eyes.

It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. I’ve found in portrait photography the eyes can be what makes or breaks a good image. I always look for a good catchlight to reflect in the eyes to show some life. The light is easy to see, and it’s also easy to see when it’s missing. Have you ever seen someone smile with their mouth, big and wide, but the eyes are full of daggers? It’s often times easy to pick up on a kind spirit, even if you are meeting someone for the first time. Some can fake it, but not for long. The other extreme stands out as well. We can see life or a lack of life in someone’s eyes.

About the car; it runs smoother with less engine noise than before the breakdown (noisy valves or was it the water pump that was replaced?) And the owner/mechanic told me about a class action deal that will help me get a rebate for a new paint job on the car. His daughter has an identical hardtop version and he shared the rebate info with me.

There is usually a silver lining hiding somewhere. I will admit sometimes it takes years to figure out what it is.