An Unexpected Photography Lesson

I’m hiking in snow in the middle of June.

It’s actually not even that cold (as you can see from our shorts).

The landscape presents an unexpected photography challenge for me.  Normally, I focus on the very small when I take photos.  But not today.  The view nearly overwhelms me, and I have no choice but to change the settings on my camera and try to capture it all in my lens.

I snap the photos, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying for some reason.  It is beautiful and majestic, but something is missing.  Then I notice this:  While all the adults gaze at the mountains, the children turn their attention to the chipmunks on the trail.  Every child screams in delight at these little creatures running around our feet. 

Why do children find the small thing to delight in?  I follow their lead and search the ground for beauty.  I discover mountain wildflowers growing in places where the snow had melted.  The flower, held up against the majesty of the mountains, contains equal beauty–equal awe–for me. 

I remember not to limit awe to those things large in scope and grand in appearance.  I will have to come down from this mountaintop and live in the valley.  But I will not leave my wonder and awe up there.

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Journal:  What small thing created awe in me today?

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Snowflake Photography

Early this morning, the children race around the house to announce the news:  Snow!  Just flurries, but still the excitement mounts as the sun rises on our town.

I grab my camera and go outside on this blustery morning.  I’m in thin pajamas–no hat, no gloves, not even my coat–and it’s amazing how I don’t notice the cold.

First Snow on a Berry

It’s because I see something so magnificent it diminishes me for once.  I’m not even aware of my own frozen fingers. 

Snowflake on Concrete

Is it true that each one is different?  And why does this design delight? 

 
Snowflake on a Stone

Close up, I see something so wonderful, so miniature in its grandeur.  

Snowflake on a Log

The beauty of these tiny designs keeps me outside too long.  But I don’t notice what comes against me; I don’t notice myself at all.  That’s what beauty–real beauty–does to a soul.

You get caught up in the awe of it, and even in the cold gray of a winter morning, you are set free from yourself.

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A Real Message in a Bottle

Yesterday, a message in a bottle arrived in my mailbox (complete with postage, sand and shells from the beach, and a scroll).  Apparently, you can send anything in the mail.  

I have the world’s greatest sister.  Every year, her family sends us a “message in a bottle” (in a recycled plastic bottle!) from their beach vacation spot.  Her boys fill the bottle with tiny shells, warm sand, and a handwritten note from the sea.  When my girls pull it from the mailbox, you would think they’d just struck gold. 

This morning, my daughters fought over toys, begged to play a computer game, and cried at least twice each over some wrong done to them.  In desperation, I ushered everybody into the kitchen and dumped the message in a bottle out onto the counter.  I didn’t speak.  They didn’t speak.  They slowly picked up the tiny shells, began to inspect each one, and suddenly, peace like the ocean at dawn settled over the home.

Then, the questions come:  

“How do they get this way, all different and perfect?”
“Where has this shell been?”
“What lived inside of it?”
“What causes the different sizes and colors?”
“Why didn’t it break when the waves crashed?” 

I suppose I learned (again) that toys and computer games that don’t allow for this kind of questioning, this kind of wonder, aren’t helping my children much.  It’s the same story I’ve read all summer:  I have to get us all to places and objects that generate mystery, beauty, and awe.  That’s the way to live with flair for our whole lives.  No greed, no conflict, no suffering in the presence of something small and beautiful that we can observe with wonder.

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