Updated: Nov 2, 2020
Where do you go to let yourself out of its cage, so that you can listen undisturbed and breathe freely? Where do you find peace and refreshment for your inner self?
I never asked myself these questions in my working life, so crowded as it was with the demands of living and of earning a living, just like everyone else's daily life. But these questions, even though I ignored them, are the important questions in a crowded life.
It was only after I retired and moved from New York State to west-central Florida that I seriously sought answers to these questions. And in Florida, my answers to these questions surrounded me. Everywhere I looked, I began to find mysteries of beauty and the power of nature and the interrelation between everything that exists.
After 7 years of watching and photographing some of these mysteries, I thought to initiate a website where likeminded folks could gather and exchange ideas. I am setting out to do this now.
This west-central area of Florida is a part of “the Great Florida Birding Trail.” In truth, most of the un-urbanized land in the state is part of the birding trail. But the title is a way of proclaiming to all that this state is filled with wildlife, from truly grizzly-looking reptiles to wading birds, so graceful in flight. It is so filled, in fact, that most people here take for granted the manifold life and beauty around them. Traffic roars past the unnoticed Broad-Winged Hawk atop a light pole, scanning the field before it for the slightest movement of the grass—and among these leaves of grass grow wildflowers of great elegance, as small as the head of a tack—flowers which perhaps most Floridians have never seen or paid attention to.
Most of us, most of the time, are self-centered people, each of us living in our own bubble. We know what we want, and we work to get what we want. For people like us, the world is our oyster-bed. We believe that we own it or perhaps, that it is ours by right, and we give ourselves permission to use it however we wish, in order to satisfy our desires.
Go on a nature-trail walk sometime in an urban park on some weekend. Listen to the sounds you hear. You won’t be able to hear the birds or the insects—not only because of the background traffic and aircraft noise, but also because of the sounds made by the people who have come to enjoy the park. The adolescents will be blaring their human-made music into the tree shadows. The children will be shouting with one another, and their parents will be shouting right along with them, as though they were in a stadium. Daddy will let Sonny and Sweetie ride their skateboards along the paved trails, and would never think to inhibit their boisterous “fun.”
That's the way we choose to live in our world at this time. But there is also another way to live not only in the world, but also with the world. It is the way of quiet peace. What would happen if Daddy, with his kids in the park, did inhibit his children's boisterous "fun"? What if he quieted them and taught them that the woods are a sacred place, full of wonders and of exotic creatures? Then, if the children were quiet enough not to frighten them, these creatures would make an appearance, going about their own lives in such a way as to cast a spell of amazement over the children.
It’s a sorrow to me that we believe as a people that we have to humanize nature—to “make nature ours.” It touches too close to that terrible earlier belief of Euro-Americans that they had to “civilize the savages” of the Americas, of Africa, of the Indian sub-continent, and of southeast Asia--people whose ways of life were finely adapted to their circumstances, and who had no need of Euro-American ways.
We know now—at least, some of us old ones do—that when we destroy some living thing, we are, in the end, witnesses to the disappearance of a thing we never took the time to understand, and which now, since it is gone, we never can understand. When our ancestors confronted the native peoples of the Americas, their very presence changed the behavior of the natives, for then the natives were self-conscious before their scrutinizers, and they were filled with mistrust of the invaders' motives, and they knew that they were being misunderstood because the conquerors did not have their hearts open to understanding.
We as a people are much the same among the trees of the woods and among the flowers of the grasses underfoot. We observe them, perhaps, but many of us do not recognize that seeing them and standing in their presence mean that we enter into relationship with them. We do not realize that whatever lives honors us and welcomes us into shared life with it. We do not realize this because we do not enter the woods humbly, but rather, as owners and users. That is why the animals flee from us, as if from predators. For predators and we have the same fundamental attitude: to consume whatever we want in our environment.
When we stand before a living thing, whether it be as small as a seed pod or as large as a panoramic mountain view, we and it are sharing the same space and the same time, together, as one admiring the other.
Though we may not recognize it, we are always in relationship with whatever else lives around us. Let me tell you a true experience. I was standing on a small observation dock which extended maybe 8 feet into the water of a park lake, which was surrounded by woods. I knew that an alligator was in the water beneath the dock because I had seen it probe out from under the dock beneath me, and then retreat. After a while, I wondered whether I could get some photos of it from above. So I leaned over the railing, holding my camera out in front of me, and shot blindly into the shadows beneath the dock. As I leaned over the water, I heard a noisy fuss coming from a pine tree on the bank to my right. It was the sound of blackbirds. At first, I thought that they were complaining, as they often do, because I was in their territory, moving around. But then, one blackbird launched from the pine tree and swooped over my head and alighted in a tree behind me. I understood clearly then that the blackbird was trying to warn me about the alligator-danger lurking in the water over which I was leaning.
I stood up straight, and turned, and thanked the bird. It had honored me by caring for me. It had shown itself to be my friend. And in my heart, I offered myself to it as its friend.
As I age, I have come to treat all of nature—the whole living environment—the compelling mystery of that which is beautiful—the profundity of what exists—with the same attitude. There is no place which is not sacred. There is no existing thing which is not sacred. There is no person who is not sacred.
Sacredness is a condition of heart. Sacredness is an experience of silent joy and wonder in the simple presence of another existing thing. In the experience of sacredness, I give myself over—with love—to the other existing thing and stand in its presence, interacting with it. It is simply itself, whether a field mouse or a starry sky, proclaiming its very existence silently, singing the song of itself. I honor this, and with the same dignity and worthiness, I stand in relationship with the other existing thing and honor it, and by my very existence, sing the song of my simple self.
I have found only one way to offer people a way out of self-centered acquisition. I know of only one way to offer people the chance to grasp the knowledge that everything which exists is in relationship with them, honors them, and waits for them to return the blessing--only one way for them to experience sacredness.
That way is to ask people to focus on another existing thing as an independent entity, with a dignity and beauty of its own. The only way is to crouch down with the person, and to point to the beautiful thing, and to whisper in their ears, “Look! Look quickly, because soon it will be gone—changed into something else. Don’t miss this, because it is beautiful.”
In the images here I offer you moments in which I have experienced sacredness. May you also find in them this living peace. These are not pictures or portraits, because such things are intended to be observational, or descriptive, or to elicit how things were then.
Images, on the other hand, are personal, interior recognitions of the thing as itself in a singular moment of its existence. In images, we breathe the air of wonder.
I offer you, humbly and respectfully, these images to uplift you. Some of them may inspire you with their clarity. In some you may immerse yourself in the play of light and color. You may find that some display the rhythms and harmonies of the natural world. Some may make you laugh, and others bring peace, and still others elicit in you joy.
All are intended to offer you the experience of the sacred.
Come with me, then, and look.