Overcoming Produces Beauty

I’ve said it before about how much I love twisted and crooked, gnarly trees. The curls sweeps of the wood speak of challenges that were overcome to survive. I’m not sure what caused the arabesque in the trunk of this one but the moment I saw the double curve I fell in love with the tree. No doubt that it had to have carried the weight of at least one or maybe two larger trees as it grew. I also have no doubt that it’s unique shape prevented it from being harvested at some point in its history.

Sometimes God allows us to go through struggles that we don’t understand. We might wonder how much longer a situation will last. We might think that the burden we carry will pull us down. But if we just keep going and we don’t give up we can make it. Sure, there’s going to be scars and we may not stand as tall as some of our contemporaries. But, that doesn’t make us any less beautiful. It makes us overcomers and it makes us unique.

As I looked around at the surrounding forest there were hundreds of trees that were straight and tall. Some of trunks were so thick that you and your best friend couldn’t reach all the way around them by joining hands. But they all faded into the background. The only one that stood out and begged to be photographed was the one who was unique. One day this tree will fall just like the rest of them. As a woodworker I can imagine some bent wood furniture being made from crooked trunk. If it ever happens it will be a centerpiece in someone’s home where the others couldn’t compete with the graceful curves produced by overcoming the struggle. Don’t ever give up. Bend and adapt to overcome and you’ll grow into something special.

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What Was The Question?

Tonight’s image is an old mile marker that’s found along an abandoned road near the Meadow River in West Virginia. Apparently it marks mile number 42.

Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Universe have already begun to snicker. For the rest of the world here’s why. In the book and subsequent movies a large supercomputer named Deep Thought was built to answer the ultimate question of “What is the meaning of life, God, the universe and everything?” After billions of years Deep Thought came up with the answer 42. The irony was that the people who built the computer were long dead and by the time the answer came nobody could remember the question or why it was asked. Now, to be honest I have never read the book and was only present while the movie was playing. As such, I’m only familiar with the trivia. But when I heard the story I began to appreciate implication.

We as humans seem to be hardwired to want to skip learning experience and go straight to mastery of just about everything. We want the “cheat codes”. So much so that we often put more efforts into gaining the cheat than we do experiencing the win. In the Hitchhiker’s Guide the scientists and priests who spent all that time looking for the meaning of life did so at the expense of living life to its fullest. This is the folly of trying to win at all costs. It’s the struggle that makes the victory sweet. If you skip the struggle then the victory is hollow and you never really get to experience it fully. What’s more is that you tend to be so focused on the goal that the importance of the original purpose is lost.

Maybe I’m making that very mistake myself in trying to make my point. Let me close by simply saying that life is an adventure. One that you’ll miss if you try to skip ahead.

Oh and the answer to the question asked by Douglas Adams? Well, I have an opinion of course. The meaning of life, God, the universe and everything is that we were created by God to know the love of our creator. That’s it. It’s that simple. No need for advanced AI or billions of years waiting for an answer that’s as vague as the question. Just talk to him and listen for answers.

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Remembering The Country Store

I remember the country store. We still have a few country stores in the world but not many. There was one gas pump (Petrol for my international friends), a variety of canned goods, perishables such as fresh vegetables and hardware. There was no vending machine. Instead a large chest near the counter kept eight ounce glass bottles of soft drinks on one side and beer on the other side. In the back of the store you could find a small selection of sporting goods. All of fishing tackle, shotgun shells and 22 caliber rifle rounds were common as was traps for fur trappers. But the most sought after resource to be found in the country store was the counter itself. Not a counter that’s crammed to brim with cheap impulse buys but a spacious wooden counter that worn down from being well used. It’s stained with coffee and soft drinks and scratched from hardware or change being tossed down at checkout. A properly equipped counter in a country store comes with a smiling face and plenty of conversation. In the days before Facebook we made a public post by mentioning something to clerk ( Who was usually the owner/operator). The clerk would then leak the news to the next customer during his checkout. ( yup, back then gossip was done without any social media). There was a bit of an art to being a clerk in the country store. Just the right amount of conversation and gossip would keep the customer in the building long enough to encourage a subsequent purchase but not so much that they felt trapped. The clerk knew everyone in the community and what gossip to keep to himself. ( A built-in spam filter!) Well, most of the time anyway.

Today mostly what you find is the convenience store. The best way to tell the difference between a country store and a convenience store is the atmosphere. A country store is welcoming and inviting where a convenience store is focused on bulk processing of sales. The later type is usually clean and neat with no coffee stained counters and very little in the way of a relationship with the customers. Just pay and get out. With the onset of automation the friendly clerk will be replaced by computer and a scanner.

My friend Sophia and I was commenting about how something made by human hands was more valuable than something stamped out by a machine. As we move forward into the brave new world of robots and app purchases consider the value of the people who are out there building their business based on a relationship with the community rather than just bulk processing of sales. ( And do stop by Sophia’s blog. She covers a broad range of things from an intelligent and interesting angle in the UK. )

Men, Machines And The Changes To Come

Today we have machinery that does most of the work. But there was a time when each spike was driven by hands of a worker. Each beam was placed on a platform that was also laid down by human hands. The heavy iron rails had to be moved into place and precisely positioned. The land wasn’t joined by steel as much as it was the blood, sweat and tears of men who placed it there. Today, I was reminded of one such person who’s very name brings to mind myth and legend. The real John Henry. I understand that some of my international friends may not be familiar with the story of John Henry, so here are the basics. John Henry was a railroad worker and possibly a former slave who was working on the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia. At the time when the industrial revolution was bringing about new technologies. Namely, the steam hammer. A machine that drives steel without rest. A machine that threatened the livelihood of every worker building the rail system. In an effort to save the jobs of himself and his coworkers John Henry challenged the steam hammer to a race and he won! The power and strength of a man who could out work a machine must have been an awesome sight. However, the story ends in tragedy. John Henry dies of exhaustion that very night. The steam hammer gets the contract to complete the railroad. Why would I write about such a sad story on my normally upbeat blog? Because, it’s happening again. Our world is changing. More and more I see and hear about automation. Robot cars are replacing Uber drivers, self checkout is replacing cashiers and software applications are set to take over other jobs. This not a race people can win by brute force. This is a thinking game. ( using the word game metaphorically). At the time of the steam hammer a man of John Henry’s strength and power could have done very well by shoveling coal that powered the machine instead of trying to out work it. He could have adapted to work with the technology and become an invaluable part of that team. As we move into the future of automaton I want to encourage you to think differently about how to adapt to the new work environments. The robot car can never be as romantic as a horse and buggy ride in the country. There will be those older folks who would rather pay someone to do their shopping for them rather than face the self check out. Jobs won’t go away completely. Instead, new niches will form and with them will be new opportunities.

I see the railway in the feature image and I see a man, a machine and the new opportunities that lay unseen just beyond the next bend in the tracks.

Happy Independence Day!

The 4th of July is American Independence Day. It’s not just a celebration of history. It’s a celebration of the right to self governance. The right to make wrong choices and be responsible for the outcome. Our government is not the giver of rights. They are human rights that exists because people exist. Our “leaders” are our servants not our superiors. (In theory anyway.) Of course once politcs becomes involved things get muddled. Our nation was born in debate and has continued to be in debate ever since. The idea was that our government is the result of a contract between the citizens and as such has no power or authority of its own. But I digress and it’s not my intention to debate political stuff on my blog.

So, it’s time to get to point. Independence Day. We’re often guilty of the idea that it’s only about independence from mother Europe (and by extension the other places where our ancestors originated) but that’s an age old error. The most important thing the independence of the individual. I blog a lot about peaceful moments and personal growth. That’s only possible through personal independence. Personal independence is right and like all rights comes with personal responsibility. Again leaving politics aside , we often find ourselves in times of personal desperation. For some of us it’s social anxiety, for some of us it’s financial crisis and yet for some it’s something else. There’s as many reasons for “personal oppression” as there are individuals on earth. For many of us, we have forged our own chains. They’re made from self doubt and poorly made choices. Let me share something with you. You hold the keys to your own chains. The moment you decide to remove them is your first taste of freedom. It isn’t going to be easy. You’ll be at war with yourself and it will definitely take more than one battle to be completely free. But, if you’re committed to personal independence then it’s a fight worth fighting. I haven’t completely freed myself yet. But every day I gain ground. Every picture I take, every thought I share with you and every dream I have is another volley in my war for personal independence. I know that you can have this too as long as you don’t give up. Whatever chains that are binding you to today let me encourage you to begin to grind them away. Don’t give up. Keep up with it and soon they will be broken. As I celebrate American Independence Day today let me also wish you a happy Personal independence Day! I’m looking forward to seeing your fireworks soon.

The Best Laid Plans

Patiently she sat in the meadow waiting for her turn. She dreamed of the day that her opportunity would come. She made lists and organized. Everything was ready. She only needed a chance. She wrote herself letters and kept them in a journal. Each on starting with the words “To my future self…” She kept all her plans stacked neatly in a box so that everything would be perfect once her opportunity arrived. She never got stressed out by the wait. She kept faith. Each morning she walked to the little meadow by the road and waited. She was there as sun rose and when the sun set on the opposite horizon. Sometimes the wind would come and she had to hold on so tightly to her little box of plans that her knuckles would turn white but she was fierce and prevailed against the wind. Other days the rain fell so hard that the meadow seemed to become a lake but still she would not be defeated. She held her little box of plans high above her head so they would not be washed away. When the snow and ice came the fire in her heart blazed brightly and once more her little box of plans remained secure. Nothing could rob her of her dreams. She was strong and beautiful and determined. She only lacked one crucial element. The opportunity she waited on never came to this meadow. And she waits there still.

We can have the best laid plans.

We can have the heart of a lion.

We can have all the faith in world.

And, we can have too much patience when waiting for an opportunity instead of traveling beyond our comfort zone and creating the opportunity ourselves.

Living is an action word. It might be difficult to know which action is the right one but inaction is the wrong state of being. Sure, timing is important. But time is also fleeting. Don’t wait too long. Do something every day to achieve at least a little piece of your goal. That’s how progress is made.

The Outsider

“I wanna play too.” The young boy mumbled in a hushed voice as he pressed his little head against the locked gate. He had watched the older boys out on field catching fly balls and running the bases. He just knew in his heart that he could impress them if they would just give him a chance. All he needed was for someone to unlock the gate.

At some point we’ve all been the outsider. The one who just needed a chance. It’s the loneliest feeling in world to think that you’re unwanted and underappreciated. But it’s not always a lock and chain that keeps us out. More often than not it’s our own anxiety. It’s the fence that we put around ourselves and a chain forged from our own fears. When we do this it’s like we give the key to someone else and wait to see if they open the lock. Tonight as I look at the locked gate in my photo I wonder how many times I’ve fenced myself out and given the key to someone who had a gate of their own and was too preoccupied with their own lock to notice that I wanted them to open mine? Well then. If that’s the case then maybe it’s time to unlock the gate ourselves and march out onto the field and swing for the bleachers. Who knows, we might even score a home run.