Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Finding Inspiration

I often post images of the scenes and creatures I encounter while walking along the paths of my local park. The pond within, offers a setting which is inviting to a wide variety of birds, but it also attracts animals of the human variety, including camera-toting bloggers.

This post is no exception. When you scroll down, you'll see some photos taken around the pathways near home, but my mind has wandered to a few of the regular characters I see during the course of my walks on any given day.

One evening, when Frank and I were out walking Benny, we noticed a youngish woman walking toward us from farther along the path. Another person, walking a medium-sized dog approached her from the same direction we were walking. There was nothing aggressive nor even curious about the dog as it neared the woman, but she forged a wide detour around him, which took her off of the path and onto the grassy area nearby. She resumed her pace on the pathway several meters behind him. It was obvious that she was afraid of dogs, and so we reeled Benny in to allay her concern, and to save her the extra steps. Frank tried to tell her that Benny was quite harmless. Her smile was sweet and apologetic, but her outstretched hands said "Keep away." We respected her fear, and speculated about what may have caused it.

I've seen her several times since that day. A few of those times I had Benny with me, and the woman always walked out of her way to avoid passing too closely to him, and always with that same shy, contrite smile. On the days that we've crossed paths without canine company, her smile was big, bright and relaxed. I feel bad that her life's experiences have molded her in such a way that she is fearful of what may lurk around the next corner, but I admire, and feel inspired by her ability to keep walking these paths despite her fears.

In the late afternoons, I'll often encounter another inspiring woman. She's in her late sixties or early seventies, and uses a walker to get around - the kind with four wheels, a flip-up seat and a frame that partially wraps around the body for support. The paths are hilly and steep enough to require moderate exertion when biking, so I am always quite impressed to see this woman travail as she takes in the sights, and exercise both her body and her will. Occasionally she'll stop, flip down the seat and have a rest, which is when we'll chat for a bit.

One day last week, I saw her resting on the dock, staring out onto the water. The late-day sun was glaring into my eyes, making the small silhouette which caught her attention difficult to see. I squinted more effectively, and focused on and snapped the photo of the fuzzy, yellow gosling shown in the previous post. She offered her theory as to why there was only one offspring. She believed that some other creature has been attacking the rest of the flock at night. She was probably right since I've not seen any sign of young water fowl after that day. I do hope to chat with her at length one day soon. Her spirit and strength is ennobling.

For the last several years, I occasionally encounter a tall, slender man who walks slowly - a large, impressive lens-laden camera hanging heavily from his neck. I would usually rush past him, iPod clipped to my waistband, keeping pace to the music that only I could hear. From time to time, I would catch a glimpse of him - his deliberate saunter drawing him to a bush or by the water, his eyes never losing their locked focus. He was busy observing. If he'd look up, we'd pass each other with a nod and a quiet hello. I was always curious about what he was photographing, but never wanted to intrude on his hunt.

It's no coincidence that his stance is rather birdlike in appearance. It turns out he is one of the best bird photographers I've ever seen. We finally began chatting last summer when I embarked on developing my own interest in photography. Mario is a soft-spoken, intelligent aerospace engineer who immigrated to Canada from his native Romania some years ago. His recently-discovered passion for photography has occupied much of his free time, and he can often be seen tentatively stepping toward the bushes and trees of parks and conservation areas in order to capture that perfect shot. And he always does.

When I don't know what species of bird I've just seen, I know I can find out in a hurry, as Mario would have already seen, photographed and provided information about it days earlier on his
site, or readily advise me in a quick exchange of email. He may not know it, but he has inspired me to work harder at attaining better shots by waiting, watching and mostly by learning which creatures can be found just steps away from home.

A few weeks ago, Frank and I were sitting at a picnic table which overlooks the pond, not far from the dock to our right. Coming from that direction, we could hear the distinct sound of a woman's voice singing a gospel song. Glancing toward the dock, we could see a middle-aged black woman, moving rhythmically to the music she created. She knew there were others in the park, but she danced as if she were alone on that dock. She wasn't. Nearby, a white teen-aged boy scurried awkwardly, back and forth between the rail at the edge of the dock, and the grassy area behind it where a tall weeping willow grows. We were drawn toward them.

A closer look told us that the boy was mentally handicapped. He was taking great joy in finding sticks beneath the tree, and running over to the water to toss them in as far as he could. His eyes beamed with pride as we applauded his efforts, and he immediately ran to repeat his ovation-worthy performance. The woman belonged to him - possibly his care-giver or his adoptive mother. Her beautiful smile told us that she too took pride in the applause and admiration that was shown for her impromptu song and dance. Perhaps she sang to help sooth and keep him grounded. Perhaps she sang to help sooth and keep herself grounded.

She explained that the boy could not speak. He could vocalize though, and his enthusiasm mounted with each splash he made in the water below. He'd then turn to us to await our appreciation and encouragement, which we happily delivered. After a short while, he enlisted my help by grabbing me by the hand and running with me to the waters edge to make sure I would see where his stick landed, and applaud the deed. I thoroughly enjoyed our wordless communication. After we said our good-byes, we walked home wondering about the relationship between woman and boy, and marveled at how inspiring it was that they each existed within their own space, doing what it took to keep afloat amid the sticks and debris that were tossed into their respective waters.

I'm looking forward to seeing and chatting with all these inspirational people again throughout the course of this summer.

Below are some photos taken during the past couple of weeks. Please remember to click on them to enlarge.

Before leaving my yard, I noticed this iris bud a day or two before it bloomed.

And these tulips in full bloom.

I'm not sure what this small flower is, but they're growing wild in the park. Water droplets accumulated on its petals shortly after a downpour.

I liked the little crinkle at the top of one of these heart-shaped petals.

This cute little guy looks like he's doing some sort of a Kung Fu-type pose, but the image was snapped the split-second before he turned and ran off.

This young robin was also keeping a watchful eye.

Stopping to enjoy the water fowl, I noticed this chalk drawing on the dock. As indicated, Tanaika is a 14 year old artist who obviously took a liking to one of the Mallards. I'm glad I was able to capture a shot of her art before the rain washed it away.

Generally, our lake is populated with Canada Geese and Mallards and other transient creatures. Occasionally we'll see a few different species of ducks stop by for a day or two, and then move on. This Wood Duck seems to have decided to make this place its home. It's been here since the winter.

This dead tree stands pretty tall and unobscured from view. Its bare branches allow a winter-like look at the birds which perch upon them. The tree came alive with dark silhouettes against the pre-dusk sky. These two appeared to be deep in conversation.

And this loner actually showed up the night before - when it was a little later and a little darker.

I live less than twenty minutes from Toronto's Pearson International Airport. Consequently, there are planes going by every couple of minutes. As this one cruised by overhead, I caught its reflection in the lake below.

And one last airplane (did you notice one in the small photo at the top of the page?), silhouetted against the setting sun, taking off for places unknown. Perhaps it's flying to where you live...


Phyllis E said...

Beautiful pictures and words, cuzzie, as always.

Frank Baron said...

Thoughtful post and great pics Hil. I think YOU'RE getting the hang of this! ;)

Daryl said...

Hilary ... you are getting SO good, the photos are truly top notch! And your prose ... I feel as if I can see those people.

Thank you for sharing your walks!


Pat - Arkansas said...

A wonderful post in every way!

steviewren said...

Your observations of the park and the people and wildlife that use it makes me feel as if I have just completed a walk through it myself. Nice pictures too.

Tink said...

If only those people knew how lucky they were to be described so beautifully...

RiverPoet said...

Beautifully written post! I love how you took us on an adventure through your neighborhood. What a wonderful post this was for me to read at the end of a stressful workday. It's like Calgon!

Peace - D

Kat said...

What fabulous stories. Thank you for sharing them.

I aspire to be as good a photographer as you. Your shots are amazing. As always!

the Bag Lady said...

Hilary - you never cease to amaze me! Your photos keep getting better and better, and you always have such wonderful and inspiring stories to share!
Was that plane heading west? You should hop the next one!! So many wonderful things to photograph out here!! (and the firepit awaits!!)

Hilary said...

• Thanks so much, cuzzie Phyl! Much appreciated. :)

• Thank you, Frank.. though that thought sounds very familiar. ;)

• Thanks muchly, Daryl. That means a lot to me. :)

• Thanks, Pat. I'm glad you stopped by. :)

• Thanks a lot, Steviewren. I'm glad you could join me on that walk. :)

• That's so sweet, Tink. Thanks :)

• Thanks, Momma. Like Calgon, eh? I"m glad I could "take you away!" ;)

• Thanks so much for the kind words Kathryn. Your haircut post was fantastic.. you take some wonderful shots. :)

• Thanks, Baggie but I think you have the calf market! The plane was heading east - all three of them in fact, though that last one (reflected) was landing here at Pearson. Save me a seat at the fire pit. One day... :)

Leah J. Utas said...

The iris bud photo was absolutely beautiful, Hilary. Gorgeously formed and very striking.

Jo said...

I can't decide what was more lovely...the photos you captured or the portraits you painted in words---in any case, both your heart & your eyes have a gift, Hil.

I have never seen tulips in that startling shade of fuschia, just wow.

david mcmahon said...

Hilary, this is a favourite stop for me and I always wonder what treats you have for us, your loyal readers. Crisp pictures. Crisp prose. Always a different point of view. More power to you and your creative spirit.

Have flown into Pearson Airport quite a few times - so of course my vote goes to the shot of the airliner reflected in the water.

Am I surprised by how creative you are, how willing you are to seize the moment? No, I am NOT surprised.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I love those silhouettes.

lime said...

first of all thanks so much for the words of encouragement at my place.

this is a terrific post. i love that you are taking time to notice the people, learn a little about them and be inspired by them. just like the marvelous photos of common things around you, these people are beautiful findings in your wanderings. just wonderful!

Dianne said...

I enjoyed reading about all your park encounters. As I read I felt so peaceful and realized I had been pulled into the scenes you created.

that's some word smith skills lady!

and the photos are stunning. love the airplane reflection. looks like a supernatural dolphin.

Suldog said...

This is just a marvelous post. Good little stories, sincerely deep thoughts, lovely photos. I enjoyed this a lot. Thanks!

Russell said...

I love the photo of the airplane's shadow on the water... I have not read the other comments but I am sure others mentioned this one, too. It is very excellent!

I found your narrative extremely well written. So descriptive. You have the ability to describe a scene so perfectly that the reader can easily see everything in the mind's eye. That is a gift.

I am not sure if you are a writer but, if not, you should consider doing some serious writing. Magazines are often looking for contributors.

In this day and age where it seems like everyone has a blog and everyone thinks he/she is the next great writer, it is refreshing to see one who truly is - you! Yet you are so modest...

Well, know that one person out here in middle America finds your writing to be extremely excellent!

Take care.

Hilary said...

• Thanks so much Leah. I'm glad you liked it. :)

• Thank you, Jo. You're too kind. :) Those two tulips were it for that colour. I had mostly reds and yellows, but these were my favourites.

• Thank you so much for your ultra kind words, David. That means so much to me coming from a creative person such as yourself. Being the world traveler that you are, I kind of thought you'd relate to that plane photo.. particularly because of Pearson. I'm glad you did. :)

• Thanks, Jenn. I kind of liked them too. :)

• Thanks very much, Lime. I'm glad you stopped by with your kind words. :)

• Thank you, Dianne. I'm glad you came along for the walks with me. A supernatural dolphin! I like that.. even though it wasn't on porpoise! ;)

• Thanks, Sully. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Your kind words mean a lot to me. :)

• Wow, Russell. Your incredibly generous words are overwhelming! No, I've never considered myself a "writer" though I do know one in real life! ;) I can't thank you enough for that ego boost.. truly you made my day. :)

I sure hope you aren't located anywhere near where that tragic tornado which struck Iowa yesterday.. so sad.

gary rith said...


Maggie May said...

That is a lovely collection of photos and I enjoyed the walk with you, meeting the people you bumped into!

CC said...

Hey, we live 20 minutes from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston! As such we get a lot of loud noises from planes passing over head. My kids and I like to watch and count them while floating on our backs in the neighborhood pool.

CC said...

I don't think I know people as observant as you. The people I know are really too busy to notice small details and appreciate other peoples quirks and idiosyncracies. Ummm, that would include me. :)

Frank Baron said...

I was remiss:

I forgot to mention how pleased I was to see you mention Mario and link to his pics. He's amazing.

Any patient, competent photographer with decent equipment can take a fine picture of a willing subject. Mario captures their essence - often by clicking the shutter the exact second they're doing what they do, eating, fishing, preening.

That slow walk you aptly described as a "deliberate saunter" is, for all intents and purposes, Mario "being" a bird. By moving as they do, he allays their trepidation at his approach.

And you wrote so well about the gospel singer and her charge that I won't have to.

Probably. ;)

Aside to Russell: (Thanks a LOT! Writing's already a crowded field. Like MORE competition is needed!) ;)

Hilary said...

• Thanks, GR!

• Thanks Maggie May. I'm glad you came along for the walk.

• Thanks muchly, EWBL. There aren't many who are quirkier than you!

• Frank, thanks for revisiting and adding your take on Mario. He is superior at what he does. And feel free to do the same about the gospel singer. You too are superior at what you do.

Daisy said...

I enjoy people-watching too ~ it's one of my favorite things.

Merisi said...

You encounter so many interesting people, amazing! Beautiful images too, my favorite's the Iris bud.

Chi said...

You write such sweet and kind prose. It's all very thoughtful(pretty much the exact opposite of the selfish and foul-mouthed Christopha!). And the pictures are beautiful.

The last pic is a Boeing 737, by the way. If you didn't know it, the fins on the ends of the wings are called winglets. Winglets sounds like a Hilary word.

Craver Vii said...

Your photos are always so sharp and beautiful. This time I was especially drawn to the plane reflection in the water.

Sandpiper (Lin) said...

A nice story and your pictures are beautiful. I came in from David's blog. I'm so glad I did.

Reb said...

Oh yeah, blogger wouldn't let me post yesterday.

Your prose is wonderful, I could actually see the people you were describing, hear the gospel singer and watch the sticks hitting the water.

Your photos get better and better all the time. I love the Iris bud and the squirrel is very cute. That last plane is going off to exotic places and we should all be on it!

Hilary said...

• Thanks for stopping by, DaisyJo. :)

• Thanks, Merisi! I feel the same way about visiting your blog. :)

• Christopha! You have me pegged. Winglet does indeed sound like a me-word. My kidlets would agree. ;) And I sure don't see your posts as opposites to mine - not the thoughtful part anyway. The potty-mouthed parts are just signature Christopha. Thanks for your kindness. :)

• Thanks so much Craver. I'm glad you liked it. :)

• I'm glad you did too, Sandpiper. Thanks for your kind words. :)

Thank you too, David for sending folks my way. :)

• Awww thanks Reb! I'm glad you got that much out of it and I so appreciate your saying so. :)

Heading off to some exotic destination sounds wonderful.. a blogging vacation for all. Pass the martinis.. ;)

Kappa no He said...

As always, gorgeous! Isn't spring wonderful? Mario sounds wonderful and I love his photos too.

One of my son's best friends has an older sister who has autism and I just love getting together with them and playing with her. When she is elated it is so contagious!

Cath said...

Oh wow Hilary, this is one of your best posts ever.

Not only is the photography stunning, but the writing is full of observation, care and affection for the world around us. You really DO take time to "stop and stare" and having captured on film and in your memories, thank you so much for sharing. It is wonderful.

Sandi McBride said...

What a beautiful post and I don't mean just the pictures. It's a lovely piece of writing.

Anonymous said...


Cath said...

Hilary - thanks. I have missed getting to read this blog and your company. I am just running in circles at the minute but hope to be more organised soon.
You're still in my thoughts. :0) xoxox

Tamie said...

It's good to get out and learn from other people, and I learn a lot from you as well about interacting with people, not only in the blogging world, but in the real world as well. You didn't have pictures to describe the human characters who you met in your journeys. You made us visualize them in our minds instead, giving us the descriptions to do it. Thats great writing.

And that was one of the most interesting shots of an airplane I've ever seen... as a reflection in the water.

Great stuff.

Indrani said...

Amazing post, wonderful text and pictures. Enjoyed the virtual walk very much thanks. Came via David's.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Isn't it amazing the beauty that nature provides. Beautiful photos, beautiful sentiment!

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Kappa. I'm glad you took a look at Mario's photography. He's great. And I know what you mean.. the joy certainly is contagious. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thank you so much, Cath. I appreciate your very kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and the photos. I'm always happy to see you show up with your comments. :)

• Thanks so much, Sandi. Much appreciated. :)

• Thanks for sighsing me up, Susan. ;)

• Thank you so much TKWI. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Your kind words mean a lot to me. :)

• Welcome and thank you, Indrani, and thanks for joining me on the walk. I hope you'll be back soon. :) (Thanks, David!)

• Thanks, MamaGeek. I agree - nature sure does provide the backdrop for a simple click of the camera. Nice to meet you and I hope you'll be back soon. :)