Tag Archives: nature

My Secret Garden

In addition to turning wood, I have been doing a lot of painting lately. The process of painting is also a very meditative and healing experience for me. I become lost in the colors, the brush strokes, the layers.

The original painting in these photos is of an encaustic-inspired mixed media piece I finished recently. I called it “My Secret Garden.” I created layers upon layers with a base of alcohol inks and acrylic paints. Each layer is covered with a mixture of Golden Heavy Gel Matte and Regular Gel Gloss plus a dash of water. This creates a wax-like finish without all the mess (and expense) of a traditional bees-wax encaustic medium.

Each layer contains a variety of items including gold leaf, wire mesh, buttons, copper wire, beads, dried flowers, feathers, and etc.

My inspiration came from spending time in nature and my garden. It is taking the time to slow down, breathe, and open your eyes to all the hidden treasures in life. It’s about searching through all the layers to find that one thing that touches our souls.

To see more photos or to purchase this piece, visit me Etsy shop here.


Finding My Zen

In the midst of all the hate-filled rhetoric and fear going on right now in this country I have found a greater need to spend time out in nature in order to ground myself and find peace.

My goal is to share the beauty of nature with others so that they too might find that same peace and be encouraged get out and commute with nature themselves.

So, here are a few of my favorite Zen moments from my journeys.

All photographs ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.


Fall Colors

It has been quite some time since I have posted on my blog. I have been very busy teaching and exploring. I decided it was past time and wanted to share some of the beautiful fall colors I found while on a hike in the Sierras the other day.




Little Cabin in the Woods

  
At the outer edges of my noisy world exists a little cabin in the woods. A place where my soul can go to rest and reconnect with Nature and all of its beautiful gifts. 

 Whenever I go there it’s as if my soul does a giant exhale. A spewing out of all the damaging stress to make room for peace and healing.

   

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

   

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~ John Muir

  

  
 

“All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.” ~ William Shakespeare

 

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

     “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson

  
 

**All photographs and videos were taken on my iPhone. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.**

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Purchase a copy of “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” here.

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The Faerie Garden

  ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

Spring is when I spend a lot of time in the garden kneeling down at eye level with all the flowers that seem to pop up and bloom overnight. I try to take some time daily to search for all the small details that are missed when caught up in our busy world. When you stop and look closely, it’s as if an entire parallel universe exists between the petals and stamen, the soil and grass. Sometimes while lost in a patch of Poppies I imagine a tiny world of faeries that flit about on lacy wings as they tend to the garden. If you look closely, you too might find them.

I shot these photos on my iPhone and edited them on my iPad with the PicFX and Procreate apps.

  

©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

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Pick up a copy of Zen in the Garden or send it to someone you lve as a gift: http://amzn.com/B00TN2GQHM 


Ode to Spring

  

“Ode to Spring” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2016. All rights reserved.

March is a time for renewal, when the first buds of early Spring begin to push their way towards the surface. The days become a bit longer, less dark and bleak. Flocks of birds begin to fly overhead and make their way north after a long winter layover. Their excited squacks and cackles instill a sense of hope in my soul, but also a feeling of sadness that I never took the time to visit them while they were at rest here in our valley. My soul was tucked away in front of the warm fire, wrapped in reflection, which is where winter often sends me.

I stand in my backyard as a family of Sandhill Cranes ride a thermal right above me. Their giant wings glide in circles as their gutteral call rolls from their beaks in an ecstatic chorus. They circle and glide, resting for the long trip ahead, a momentary pause in their journey as if saying goodbye. A tear escapes my eye as I look up and wish them a safe flight.

The sun sneaks out between big white clouds and leftover raindrops that have settled on the new blooms begin to shimmer. My focus shifts from the vast expanse of the sky above back to the tiny things below me. The longer I stare, the more amazed I become. This micro world of color and light comes alive as if the entire universe exists in this few inches of earth within my vision. Life and death begin and end there. Spring approaches to remind us it is our job to live, to let go of the darkness, emerge from our coccoons and acknowledge the beauty in all that we have been given.

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Pick up a copy of “Zen in the Garden” here. 


Timber Men

  
The Timber Men. The burly men. The axe and chainsaw wielding men. The arbiters of a healthy forest.They prune and lift and fell when needed, like surgeons with their trusty tools.

  

  

  
  
At times they climb trees like Spiderman with their lengthy webs of rope. Just a little bit slower, and a lot more cautious. they face danger without much pause. 

 

  
Determined, they continue their dance towards the top.

  
  
Like Goliath, they possess a super human strength…

  
Whatever is taken, is given back , in order to enrich the cycle of life…

  
The Timber Men. The burly men. The axe and chainsaw wielding men. The super heroes of a sustainable forest.

   

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Pick up a copy of Zen in the Garden here:  


Thanks – You Are Steller!

  
Just a quick post to say thank you all for your support for my recent post about my favorite mobile storytelling app Steller. My Steller story “Pow Wow” has received over 24k page views and yesterday it reached the #2 position of Most Viewed on Steller.

Now let’s see if it’s possible to double that! https://steller.co/s/5EeDxX32fH6

If you have already had the chance to view “Pow Wow,” here is a link to check out my latest, “Timber Men.” https://steller.co/s/5FwPcK3KhyH

 


Favorite Mobile Photo Apps – Camera+ for Macro Shots

I love macro photography. It forces me to slow down and find the astounding beauty in the small things. Details and activity that aren’t always apparent to the naked eye become revealed when shooting macro. 

In the past, the majority of my macro photographs have been taken with my DSLR and a special 90mm macro lens. This setup requires patience and a good tripod to capture the images I desire since the camera and lens combination are heavy and a bit bulky. 

On my most recent sojourn into the woods, I decided to forego my DSLR and shoot exclusively with my iPhone6. I had planned to focus on landscapes, wildlife, and documentary work at a Pow Wow I would attend. This was a partial experiment in minimizing as well as a true test of the capabilities of my iPhone.

While wandering the property one day and shooting landscapes I noticed a beautiful Dragonfly sitting on a leaf. I wished at that moment that I had my DSLR macro setup with me. I played with one of my go-to camera apps and zoomed in on the insect but the quality of a straight zoom wasn’t as sharp nor as close as I desired for the beautiful detail of the Dragonfly. Then I remembered a recent post someone made on Facebook about the Camera+ app and its macro option. I opened the app, chose the macro option and was immediately amazed at how close I was able to zoom in on the bug and the sharpness of detail it provided. Additionally, there was great DOF and even some Bokeh or lens flare effect in certain lighting conditions.

The downfall of using an app for macro with the iPhone and no lens attachment is the lack of extreme sharpness. The fact you are using digital zoom causes the focus to fall off a bit and throws in some pixelation. Printing out macro photos in large scale with this technique would not provide you with the best quality. However, smaller prints and posting digital images can offer some very compelling imagery.

Below are a few screenshots of the app and its macro mode followed by a series of images I shot at the cabin.

**This screenshot is of an Iris through the Normal mode of Camera+. Even in this straight shot there is some nice depth of field and Bokeh in the background.**

  
**When you click on the “+” symbol to the right of the shutter buttonthe menu including the mode buttons appear.**

  
**When you click on the Macro button, the app zooms in on your subject. Note the “Stabilizer” button. I played around with this feature but do not recommend using it in Macro mode especially if you are trying to capture something that may move out of your frame quickly like an insect. When you have the Stabilizer on it won’t allow you to take a shot until the camera is very still (the shutter button turns red when not stable, yellow when you are getting closer, and green when stable and you can take the shot). This would be a great feature when you have your iPhone secured to a tripod and are shooting something that won’t fly away from you like a flower, but I found it frustrating to use when stabilizing by hand and attempting to get off a quick shot before my subject buzzed away into the sunset.

  
**Once you take your first shot in Macro mode, a zoom slider appears to your right which will allow you to get even closer to your subject. The photo below is of the Iris in Macro mode with 3x magnification. What appeared with my naked eye to be a discolored spot on the drying flower petal turned out to be revealed as an interesting little striped bug when I shot in Macro mode. (These screenshots are not the sharpest of images because it is pretty difficult to hold the phone steady when trying to simultaneously click the power button and the shutter to capture the image on screen, but you get the idea, right?)

  
Below are several of the macro shots I captured with this app while at the little cabin in the woods.

  A bee collects pollen on a wildflower. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. 

 Tiny Spiky Galls created by Wasps surround the stem of a Wild Rose. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

 A Dragonfly suns itself on a Thimbleberry leaf. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved.

Overall I believe the Camera+ Macro feature is a great one especially for the photographer who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money and time on expensive cameras and macro lense setups. The downside is the falloff you receive when using digital zoom as opposed to shooting with a sharp add on lens with optical zoom. Rumors have it that the next iteration of the iPhone (iPhone 6S) will have a dual lens array which means it will have optical zoom built-in. Now that will be a killer combination with any macro app.

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


The Lure of Minimizing and Living Off-Grid

  ** Pole Barn. North Idaho. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

I have always felt I would make the perfect Hermit. I love spending time alone and one of my favorite places to spend that time is lost somewhere in the forest. The noise and activity of the city excites me for short spells but grates on my nerves and makes me long for a quiet space after a day or so. 

As a child I grew up in a small community surrounded by beautiful and dramatic mountain ranges. The outdoor life was all I knew. I spent my summers hiking, climbing and backpacking through forests on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada and my winters snowshoeing, ice skating and skiing in the backcountry. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t dream of someday living in a log cabin surrounded by pines and wildlife. My interaction with nature was the best part of my childhood and became my savior during moments of stress.

  
Oft-times childhood dreams are cast aside for adult realities. I grew up, went away to college, and landed out in the “big world” far away from my small town hamlet. Over time I took on my big city persona and began to lose touch with nature. While swept up in that grown up life of making lots of money in order to buy lots of unnecessary “things,” I was haunted by an empty feeling deep inside my gut. Everything I was doing, every hat I wore, every role I played, felt wrong. All I could think about was sitting on the porch of that log cabin somewhere in the woods where I could breathe the earth back into my soul. 

  
I am not the only one who has felt this way. More people have begun to heed the lure of homesteading or living off-grid and have made the bold decision to quit their corporate jobs, sell most of their belongings, and move their families onto their little patch of paradise far from the noise of the city life. I can’t think of a healthier way to exist than that of the Homesteader. To reconnect with nature, grow your own organic food, and live off the land is to me the ultimate existance. And this is exactly what we are going to do in the not too distant future. 

  
The wheels were set in motion when we recently purchased a small log cabin on ten beautiful timbered acres in North Idaho. Over the next several years we will work to downsize or minimize our belongings; in other words let go of the “things” that don’t bring us joy in life. We will spend most of our upcoming vacation time enjoying and preparing the cabin for our eventual move. The cabin is not completely off-grid in the sense it is connected to the power grid, however it sits two miles from the nearest paved road, draws water from a well with a spring as a secondary source, and can only be accessed by skis, snowshoes, or a snowmobile in the thick of Winter and a 4-wheel-drive Quad or knee-high mud boots during the sloppy Spring thaw.

  
What was once a dream has now become a tangible reality and it brings such peace and joy to my heart to know it is there waiting for our ultimate arrival. We leave a week from today to pay our little piece of paradise a sixteen day visit. I can’t wait to sit on the porch swing and breathe in the beauty of the woods while dreaming of the day I will never have to leave there.

  


Birch Bark – The Gifts of a Fallen Tree

  
I adore Birch trees. The light coloring of the Western Paper Birch with its unique peeling bark and lenticels catch my eye immediately when wandering the forest. Their foliage turns a brilliant yellow during the Fall and the leaves make a beautiful rustling sound in the wind. These trees can grow up to 70 feet tall and 1-2 feet in diameter over 80+ years. 

The Native Americans utilized the Birch tree for a number of things. They used the outer bark for the skin of their canoes and to cover their wigwams. They made bark containers for collection and storage of food as well as for cooking. The wood of the Birch was used to make musical instruments, toys for children, and hunting and fishing gear. The bark was also woven into baskets and incorporated into their beadwork. 

  
Birch bark can be used for tinder to start a fire (even when it’s wet), as paper to write on, and can be woven into a hat or a pair of shoes if you find yourself lost in the forest. The sap from the Birch tree can be made into wine or beer and the leaves and inner bark can be turned into a detoxing tea or medicinal cream for issues with the skin.

It is never a good idea to peel the bark from a live, standing Birch. It can leave the tree vulnerable and sometimes it will die, especially if some of the protective inner bark is cut and removed during the process. It is best to remove bark from a fallen tree. Where there are Birch trees there are usually several that have fallen due to disease, high winds, or snow load. Occassionally a larger Birch may become a hazard tree and segments begin breaking off of the top and falling onto whatever is below. If the hazard tree is near a home or building or in an area with a frequently travelled trail, then it should be removed. 

While on our recent trip to North Idaho, a large Birch needed to be felled since it was close to a cabin and had lost several feet from its top, most likely due to disease.

  
As much as I do not like to see trees cut down for the purpose of encroaching on the forest for development, I do understand certain trees need to be removed when they become a hazard to people and other things in their surroundings. 

Although no longer standing, this lovely tree still had many gifts to give. We decided to collect the bark to use it for jewelry and other crafts. The trunk will be cut into slices to create beautiful side tables for the cabin and the main log will be milled into lumber for later use. Some of the smaller sections will be used to heat the cabin and the rest will decay over time on the forest floor to provide shelter to small animals and insects and nutrition for new seedlings to grow.

Below is a series of photographs illustrating the process we used for the Birch bark removal. You can use a carpet knife to score the section of bark you want to remove then use the same knife to carefully pull away the edges from the inner bark. Once the outer bark begins to release, slowly peel the sheet from the log. Store the sheets flat or use water and a heat gun later to flatten any curled pieces. And of course remember to thank the tree for its beautiful gifts :).

   
               

Here are two examples of pieces of jewelry I have made from this bark over the past few days.

The first is a necklace where I used pieces of bark that had lichen growing on them and incorporated it with earth-toned beads and silver wire.

  
The second is a pair of earrings I am still designing that mixes bark with metal and alcohol inks.

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Lost in the Woods

  

I just spent ten glorious days “lost” in the woods of North Idaho. This was my first vacation in over two years since dealing with West Nile Virus and then treatment for skin cancer. It felt so good to get far away from the house that had become my hermit’s cave and sanctuary during my illness and treatment. The beauty that surrounded me in Idaho seemed magnified tenfold and I couldn’t stop exclaiming “It’s so pretty here!” As those who have read my book “Zen in the Garden” know, I have always found peace and healing through nature. Following my recent struggles, that desire to reconnect with the earth for a bit of healing has been foremost on my mind.

  

It was so nice to sit in a quiet place void of the noise pollution of an urban environment for hours at a time. The sound of birdsong and of the wind as it rustled through the pines created the perfect symphony for my tired soul. Each day I could feel my body relax even more than the day before as the stressors of everyday life became nothing more than a fading shadow inside my reawakened mind. I felt present. Mindful. Embraced by what truly matters in this life. I felt alive and happy as I touched the earth and opened my eyes to its simple yet elegant gifts.

  

As we wandered the woods that surrounded our little log cabin I knew without a doubt that this was where I belonged. It all seemed so familiar to me. It was as if a piece of myself had spent my entire life wandering under that beautiful, peaceful canopy while the other parts had struggled to exist in the chaos of a world quite foreign to my soul. My childhood was spent in an environment similar to this place but I chose to leave it at the age of 18 to pursue a college degree and make my way out in the “real” world. That world has proven to be both rewarding and cruel. I have often felt myself struggle to fit in when my heart keeps telling me to run back into the woods where I belong.

  

This trip into the woods healed me in more ways than I can explain with words. It brought me peace and it brought me hope. It provided me with a renewed sense of motivation. The wheels are now in motion to make my way back into the woods for good where I can embrace nature for the remainder of my life. No matter how long it takes to reach that goal, I now know it is going to happen. I can’t wait…

  

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** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 4 – The Wisdom of Trees

  

I have been a tree lover since I was a child. During summer vacations we spent hours building tree forts in the field behind our housing tract with scavanged boards and nails from a construction site. The trees were a combination of old gnarly Oaks and towering Cottonwoods that offered much needed shade to a herd of cattle and a few horses that grazed in the field.

The tree fort was my favorite place to sit and daydream. It also served as my escape from a not so pretty home life. I remember the feeling of freedom it gave me to sit up high, lost in the cover of this massive tree. I felt safe and protected by its branches. If I sat still long enough I could hear what sounded like a chorus of ancient voices drifting through the leaves as they rustled in the wind. 

Trees are truly amazing gifts of nature. I have often pondered the thought of their longevity and wished they could tell us the stories of all they have seen over time. Some have been silent witnesses to centuries of history. Others, like the Ancient Bristlecones, have been on this earth for more than 5,000 years. Oh the tales they could tell.

Trees provide shelter and shade for birds and mammals. They help to cool the earth, remove particulates, and provide oxygen for us to breathe. Studies show that hospital patients who are in rooms with a view of trees heal faster than patients who don’t. Also, communities that lack trees have a higher crime rate than those that have them.

I proudly consider myself a “tree hugger” yet I do have a balanced understanding of the need for a percentage of trees to be cut and utilized for human needs. But I become saddened at the thought of our rainforests being decimated with abandon and cringe when I hear about large trees being removed for a development in my city.

If only the trees could impart on us the wisdom they have absorbed over time. Maybe we would understand the need to treat nature and other human beings with more kindness.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 3 – Connecting With the Gifts That Nature Gives Us

  

** Raccoon wading through the wetlands, Yolo Wildlife Area, Davis, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

“When you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.” – Lao Tzu

I am constantly surprised by nature’s little gifts. A few days ago I went on a walk at the Yolo Wildlife Area and chose to head up the gravel road I have walked dozens of times. There are wetlands that hug each side of this road and it provides a great view of a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.

It was a typical Spring morning where I spotted and photographed Egrets, Blue Heron, American Coot, Mallards, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shovelers, Ibis, Stilts, and Avocets. I walked and stopped every now and then to capture another photo and marveled at the chorus of birdsong and the beauty of this oasis so close to the city where I live. I felt grounded and thankful that I was able to begin my day in such a wonderful way. 

While lost in the moment, I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned towards a tall Thistle plant on the edge of the water and was amazed to see a Raccoon slip into the water and begin to wade towards a small island of reeds. In all my trips out there I have never come across a Raccoon, especially not in daylight since they are nocturnal creatures by nature. 

I stood there amazed at the scene as it unfolded before me. The Raccoon was equally amazed to see me standing there and for a moment we held a silent vigil as our eyes locked on to the other. I raised my camera slowly and took a few photographs and video of this amazing creature and tried to reassure it through my relaxed demeanor that I meant it no harm.

My original intent that morning was to get some exercise in with a nice brisk walk, alas, the Universe had a different plan for me. This unexpected gift found me standing there for a good hour just watching and waiting as the Raccoon waded from island to island and searched the reeds for Crawdads to eat. Every time it would finish its search it would peek out at me from between the reeds then enter the water and make its way towards the next island.

The entire time I stood there watching I felt a smile spread wide across my face. There was nothing else but me, the Raccoon, a Hallelujah chorus of birdsong, and my giant smile. Any stress I felt at the start of that morning was dissipated. It was exactly how nature intended it to be. The two of us, lost in the moment of our surprising communion as we danced our pas de deux to the music of this magical Universe.

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Zen Moment 2 – Go With the Flow

  

 

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free.” – Chuang Tzu

I have always been drawn to water. Whether the reflection of the clouds in a calm lake, the peaceful sound of a trickling brook, the hypnotic repetition of waves hitting the shoreline, or the breathtaking sight of a waterfall as it cascades down the face of a mountain, water relaxes me and clears my mind of all the clutter.

Water cools, refreshes, both gives and sustains life. The human body is more than 60% water. Without it we would die. For many, water symbolizes emotional energy, the subconscious, growth, and creative potential. For me it represents the rhythm of life. Water ebbs, it flows, it sits calmly, it roars, it carves canyons out of solid rock, it falls gently from the sky and touches the petals of a rose. 

Whenever I have the chance I make my way towards a body of water and I watch and I listen. The song is never the same. The message always different. At times it feels as if it passes right through me, renews me, saturates the parts of me that had dried out from neglect. 

If water were to serve as a metaphor for anything in my own life it would be one of change and growth. My most life-changing decisions and moments of growth have occurred when a body of water was present. Whatever water may mean to you, I hope you make the choice to incorporate it into your life on occasion. Walk along the beach and watch the ocean stretch out before you. Put your bare feet in a cool creek and feel it run over and through your toes. Listen to the magnificence as it roars down the side of a mountain. And more than anything let it set your mind free.

** Follow the “Zen in the Garden” YouTube Channel for more “Zen Moments” here. **

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Embracing Those Zen Moments

  

Sunday morning I went to church. But this was not your typical preacher at the pulpit, dressed in our Sunday finest, we seek forgiveness for our multitude of sins, here’s five percent of my paycheck, followed by breakfast at Denny’s type of church. It was instead my personal choice of places to go when seeking communion with the Divine. My church of choice is Nature.

I grew up in those traditional houses of worship, but as an adult I find them uncomfortable and often filled with hypocrisy. Please don’t get me wrong, I do not harbor disdain for those who choose a traditional church as their place of worship, but I personally have been unable to find my own peace there. 

When I walk in nature with my feet planted firmly against the earth, embraced by the breeze and serenaded by bird song, I become instantly relaxed and at peace. In those moments I feel closer to a God than any other time in my life. Everything makes sense to me as I walk along and see the beauty before my eyes.

Yesterday I had one of those little “Zen Moments” where I felt connected to everything and found beauty in the simple things. My hope for each of you this week is you will find your own Zen moments as you navigate this noisy life.

** Follow the “Zen in the Garden” YouTube Channel for more “Zen Moments” here. **

** Click to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


Equilibrium





** “Tango.” ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

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noun equi·lib·ri·um \ˌē-kwə-ˈli-brē-əm, ˌe-\

: a state in which opposing forces or actions are balanced so that one is not stronger or greater than the other

: a state of emotional balance or calmness

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I have been thinking a lot lately about equilibrium. As humans we are in a constant struggle to reach it, some of us more so than others. 

A few days ago I was feeling stressed so I made it a priority to drive out to the local wildlife area and take myself on a walk. As I walked, I found myself involved in a battle to clear my mind. I was trying very hard to let go of the noisy, jumbled list of to-do’s that was being broadcast on one side of my brain while attempting to hush the nagging voice of worry and doubt that was trying to take over my internal dialogue from the opposite side. At the same time my whole mind was working overtime to oppose my spirit. The spirit that desired nothing less than to embrace peace. 

As hard as I tried, peace would not be mine that morning. I drove home feeling defeated.

Sometimes life brings you gifts when you least expect them but are most in need of receiving them. One of those gifts arrived that morning as I turned onto my street and pulled into the driveway. I noticed a police car parked in front of our neighbor’s house. As I opened the door and set my keys down, two more police officers arrived. I could hear our neighbor Jenny inside her house yelling and wailing. 

Jenny suffers from Bipolar Disorder. She struggles constantly with maintaining a balance. Her equilibrium is off more times than it is on. Even with the help of medication she struggles. 

I stood on the porch and observed as the three police officers and Jenny came out of the house. She was highly agitated and began to walk fast circles in her driveway. The police officers were wonderful with her. Their voices were soft, encouraging, and kind. One of them gave her a gentle bear hug when she asked for one. I heard him say “we all need a hug every now and then.” 

Jenny continued her fast dizzying circles as she threw her hands in the air and began to preach about God and Heaven and how much she needed to go back to the hospital. The officers redirected her whenever she headed towards the street. Her circles became larger the more manic she became then she would pause for a moment to look up towards the heavens as if waiting for an answer or some sort of relief from her mind’s frenzied state.

I felt my heart break for her and tears began to roll down my cheeks. 

I watched Jenny continue to struggle as if lost in some parallel universe where she could not find the doorway to come back home. Then she saw them. A row of beautiful flowers planted against the front of her house. She ran to the flowers and said, “this is exactly what I need to do!” She began to pull the flowers up by the handful to form a bouquet in her hands. Nature in all its beautiful glory was able to catch her attention and provide some semblance of peace for her shattered mind.

As the ambulance rolled away with Jenny and her bouquet, I realized I had found my own equilibrium in the scene that had unfolded before me. I was reminded of the fact we all struggle at times but even when we feel the furthest from peace, our spirits crave it, and seek it out, and eventually find it. My peace came that morning when I witnessed Jenny’s connection to the flowers. The flowers that were right there in front of me the whole time but I failed to notice them until Jenny pointed them out.



** Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon. **


For Every Ending There is a Beginning



** A Dandelion flower in the fall as it begins to dry out and die. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014-2015. All rights reserved. **

I have been thinking a lot lately of endings and beginnings. I suppose my reflection is motivated by several events that have occurred in my life. My age for one. The older I get the more contemplative I become as I slither towards that inevitable ending with this dance on earth. Yet I do realize life can become extinguished at a moment’s notice and not necessarily at the point when one is old and wrinkled and worn out. 

The second motivator has been my health challenges over the past two years. First it was West Nile Virus followed a year later by treatment for skin cancer. Both were stressful physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Illness brings you face to face with your own mortality and changes you in ways you could never imagine while in good health.

When friends die or face serious illness or debilitating accidents, especially when they are younger than myself, it causes me to pause and take a good hard look at how I am currently living my life. Over the past month one of my friends and former Aikido Sensei’s, Denise, died from a sudden illness. She was eleven years younger than me. This was followed by the news of my friend Julie’s accident that has left her locked in a coma. Two very valid reasons why thoughts of the precarious balance between life and death have been brought to the forefront of my mind.

Nature is the perfect reflection of endings and beginnings. Within it there are many. It is the place to come to an understanding of the fluid nature of life. When you take a walk in the forest evidence of the cycle of life is everywhere. Out of the decomposing duff created by a fallen tree, wildflower and tree seedlings spring forth. The end of one thing makes possible the other. And on and on it goes.

Spring approaches quickly and the evidence is mounting. That which has passed before has allowed new life to arise. People die and babies are born. A flower wilts and another opens its petals to the sun. One door closes and another one opens. Life continues and ends right in front of us every single day. Whether or not we live the moments we are given fully, is our own decision. Whatever our choice, there will continue to be endings that turn into beginnings and beginnings that come to an end.



** Lupine growing near Bassi Falls, Eldorado National Forest, California. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

Click here to purchase Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature on Amazon.


A Dance in the Spring Rain



This morning I woke up to a cleansing Spring rain. Unlike the east coast, things have been extremely dry here in California so any bit of moisture that falls from the heavens is welcomed with open arms. 

So in the spirit of my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature,” I decided to start my morning off by donning my rain boots and doing a little puddle dance. It was so refreshing to stand in the rain and feel the drops fall on my face. I immediately felt more alive, awake, and cleansed.



For me the rain makes a perfect backdrop to focus on my writing. The remainder of my day will be spent working on one of several companion books to “Zen in the Garden.” The first one I am writing is about growing and harvesting herbs and spices for health and healing.

I will of course take many breaks throughout the day to stand in the rain, take photos of the new blooms in the garden, Look for the rainbow, and refresh my soul. My hope is each one of you will find a bit of time for yourselves today to sit quietly somewhere in nature and renew your souls.


Reflections – Finding Beauty in the Small Things



** Snowy Egret, Petaluma Wetlands, Petaluma, CA. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2015. All rights reserved. **

There are days when I find it difficult to concentrate. My mind feels pulled in a million directions and I become frustrated with my inability to accomplish the things I need to get accomplished. This is simply part of being human in this day and age of overstimulation. Too much information coming at us from too many sources. It becomes difficult to filter and discern what is important and what needs to be discarded.

When I feel overwhelmed I know it’s past time for me to get out into nature. One of my favorite places to go is a local wildlife area that sits on the Pacific Flyway. Migratory birds of every flavor take refuge there. Some of these birds fly thousands of miles to reach their Winter or Spring destinations. They amaze me. Flocks of Snow Geese, Swans, and Sandhill Cranes fly right over our house this time of year while headed north to their Spring breeding grounds. Some nights I hear groups of Swans in the distance and if I am not too tired I stand in the darkness of our backyard and wait for their glowing white v-shape to appear over the rooftops. They fly So low you can sometimes hear the whooshing sound of their long wings as they pass overhead.

The Cranes fly by during the day and on several occasions I have watched them catch a rest on a thermal. Their distinct sound becomes more animated as they coast on these circular winds. At times they use them to wait for a few straggling family members to catch up to the group. Their cries become louder as the stragglers catch up. It’s as if they are overjoyed to be together again.

What amazes me the most is I can stand in the middle of this city and be touched by nature as long as I am open and willing to find it. It makes me wonder how many times in my life I have failed to see its beauty or hear it call out to me when I am lost in some shallow reaction to the self imposed stressors of my life. I can choose to be present each day while I am on this earth and embrace all the wonders that bring my soul peace. Or I can remain locked in a fruitless battle with the things that bring me angst and frustration.

As I sit here and reflect in the quiet of the night I realize how lucky I am. My life has not been one of ease. Like many, I have weathered my fair share of trials and tribulations and learned more lessons than I care to share. Yet I am thankful I can stand in awe of nature’s wonders and still find beauty in the small things.


Walking in the Forest With My Eyes Closed



Have you ever stood still in the forest for a moment to listen to the whisperings of all that surrounds you? Have you ever closed your eyes while walking on a trail for a few steps then opened them to see something new you had failed to see just moments before? If you haven’t, I suggest you try it. If you have, then I think you will agree it is a great way to “see” and experience things differently.

Our days are filled with noise pollution and visual stimuli that tends to overwhelm our senses and shut us down to what surrounds us. A self-preservation mechanism that can backfire by blinding us to the beauty that also exists in our everyday environments. In our busy world most of us have lost touch with ourselves and the connection we each had to the earth when we were children.

The simple joy we felt as children has been replaced by mounting stress. The willingness to explore our natural environment with inquisitiveness and a feeling of wonder has diminished over time and been replaced by the shallow demands of life. How sad that we become so lost as adults we forget about the beauty that exists right in front of us.

Life should be about living. Life should be about happiness and joy. When we take a few moments each day to discover and reconnect with the beauty that is in nature we can begin to change our perspective. We can find balance and a renewed sence of peace. It can really be as simple as walking out your door and smelling the flowers for a few minutes before you climb into your car to head off to work. Take a short walk at lunchtime and make a point of finding one beautiful thing in nature that you haven’t noticed before. You don’t have to be in the middle of a forest to find it. You can even find it in the middle of a busy city. Feel the cool breeze on your face, smile at a puffy white cloud in the sky, breathe in the fragrant smell of a flower bed, be inspired by the flowering weed that has pushed its way up through a crack in the sidewalk. It is all around us every minute of the day. So go on. Enjoy!



This is the last day to download the Kindle version of my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing in Nature” on Amazon. You can download it here: http://amzn.com/B00TN2GQHM

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Breathing My Way Into Spring



This morning I decided to heed my words from my little book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.” Being self-employed, tax season is always a stressor. Add to that the demands of work I perform for clients and my attempt to self-promote the launch of my new book and you have the perfect recipe for a potential meltdown.

But if I have learned anything on this journey it is the importance of placing a damper on stress, or at least the way my body reacts to it, before it has a chance to impact my life and most importantly my health. Today I woke up with a long list of to-do’s in my head. Not a good way to start the morning. I didn’t even take a moment to say “Hello world!” My first mistake. But since I have a forgiving heart, I gave myself a hug and decided to go out on a walk at a local nature trail for a quick attitude adjustment.

“Ahhhhh…” 

The minute I stepped out of my car and placed a foot onto the trail I felt relief spill over me. I could breathe again. There was a cool breeze that placed a kiss on both cheeks and the morning sun warmed the top of my big floppy hat. Whatever stress I carried when I left my house was instantly replaced with a calm peace as I began to notice the beautiful Spring blossoms that had begun to grace the trees. I felt a smile begin to creep across my face. This is how life is supposed to be. We are meant to be happy and to experience the joy And beauty of simple things.

As my day continues forward I carry that peace I found this morning and feel a renewed sense of groundedness and the ability to focus on my tasks. Do yourself a favor. When you begin to feel stress creep in take yourself out on a walk and find at least one thing you think is beautiful along the way. Take a mental picture, or if you have a camera take a photo and revisit that image throughout your day.

You can still download “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” for free on Amazon through tomorrow.


FREE Kindle Book Download – Zen in the Garden



This morning I woke up to find my little motivational book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” had moved back into the top 100 in three categories on Amazon. It had reached #6 in Spiritual Healing, #9 in Self-Help, and #25 in Short Reads Self-Help. This amazes me and makes me feel very thankful. I wrote this book after my experience with cancer treatment and my hope is it will prove helpful to others who may be experiencing stressors in their own lives.



** You can download the Kindle version for FREE until March 4th here: Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature. Please feel free to share this with your friends or anyone else you think might benefit from this little book.


Book in the Hand



Most of us grew up reading newspapers, magazines, and books that were printed on paper. The feel of a book in hand is so natural and comforting to me. Every word that jumps from the printed page seems more tangible when the book they are printed on rests in my palm. Maybe it’s the leftover energy of the trees that make it seem so different. Whatever it is, it took me quite some time to take the leap to read books on a digital device. I mean the personal computer had not even been invented when I was a kid.

No, I won’t bore you with stories of walking five miles in the snow to get to school, even if it is true :). But what I will say is the weight of our school bags was definitely heavier in my day, filled full with textbooks and notepads, library books, and magazines. I guess we were lucky we did not grow up in the age when text was carved into stone. I realize we are doing a good thing nowadays by cutting back on the amount of trees we harvest for paper, but physical books will always have a special place in my heart.



Yesterday I received a copy of the softcover version of my little motivational book “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.” It felt great to hold it in my hands and hear the pages turn. Though I am fairly confident paper books will likely become obsolete one day and be viewed as vintage collector’s items similar to vinyl records, 8-track tapes, and cassettes, I can’t help but feel satisfied that my words have made it into this more tangible realm and are not viewed exclusively through some magical electronic cyberspace delivery system.



If you would like to hold the printed version of this book in your hands you can do so by ordering it on Amazon where both the print and Kindle versions are now available: Order Zen in the Garden here.


Writing is Good for the Soul



From an early age books swept me away to better places where magical things happened to innocent children. Where mean giants were slain, frogs turned into princes, and even a poisonous apple was not enough to keep love from prevailing over evil. 

I learned to read books about “Green Eggs and Ham” and as a four-year-old pondered the question “Are You My Mother?” Later in my pre-adolescence Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Little Women, and Watership Down became my goto books for validation of a better life outside my mini-Universe.

These books stirred something deep inside my soul that felt like a perfect fit. I secretly longed to be a writer that would make a difference in someone’s life. For years I wrote in the confines of my private space, rarely sharing my words with others. These words were an integral part of me and who I am. I was terrified at the thought of releasing them for others to read. The idea left me feeling vulnerable. In ways it was as if I was offering up my soul on a platter to sacrifice for anyone who dared.

Jump forward to three years ago when I was handed an opportunity to contribute a piece to an anthology that was going to be published by Seal Press. I was asked by one of the Editors, Hollye Dexter, who had become aware of my writing through my blog, through the writing community of She Writes, and a few other places where I had become brave enough to post. I was humbled and blown away to be asked. The topic of the anthology was shame. God knows I have had plenty of that in my life. Haven’t we all?



The book “Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small” was published by Seal Press in 2012. My piece shares the pages with some extraordinary women. 0Being a part of that book has lead to some amazing opportunities for me like becoming a member of the faculty and speaking on the “Women Write Their Lives” speakers panel at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in 2013. But the best thing to occur was my newfound sense of confidence in my ability to write.



** From left to right: Samantha Dunn, Brooke Axtell, Sarah Stonich, Laura Davis, Amy Ferris, Hollye Dexter, Suzanne Braun Levine, Tracy J Thomas, Brooke Warner. “Women Write Their Lives” speakers panel, San Miguel International Writers Conference, 2013. Photo by Jon Ware. **

I definitely don’t strive to be the next literary genius nor to make it onto the New York Times Bestsellers list with anything I write. Those amazing writers are few and far between. My only hope is to entertain and help others through my words. That alone is my greatest reward. Although of course I would be happy with any royalties that roll in so I can continue to pay my bills :).

I was thrilled this morning to find my little motivational Kindle ebook, “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature” had moved up into the top 100 in the Kindle paid store for three categories on Amazon. It was perched at #32 in “Spiritual Healing,” #68 in Short Reads “self-Help,” and #78 in overall “Self-Help.” I am fully aware these rankings are precarious and go up and down on an hourly basis but am still giddy with excitement every time I see these numbers.



Whoever said “writing is good for the soul” was correct. Whenever I write I am immediately transported to my happy place and my soul feels renewed and quite often vindicated when I give it a platform on which to speak. My photography is on an even plane with my writing in regards to the cleansing of soul. Whenever I have the opportunity to combine the two I reach that elusive state of Nirvana. 

If you would like to download “Zen in the Garden” you can do so here: Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.

I welcome any reviews and would also love it if you would gift it forward if you feel so moved.


Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature

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So I wrote and published a short little Kindle e-book called “Zen in the Garden: Finding Peace and Healing Through Nature.” I wrote it after my recent journey with skin cancer, surgeries, and chemotherapy. It is meant to provide inspiration and motivation through a combination of written words and my photographs. It also contains some gardening tips and nature challenges.

It was published on Valentine’s Day and has already reached the top 100 Amazon Best Sellers Rank in the category of “Spiritual Healing.” All I can say is “wow!” I am humbled and happy and hope this little book can touch the lives of those who are open to its message.

Here is where it ranked last night. It was at #43 in Spiritual Healing:

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If you would like to read a copy it is currently only $2.99 and can be purchased here on Amazon: Zen in the Garden. If you do purchase it I would love it if you will take a moment to give it a review. Even better, if you can think of someone in your life who might benefit from its message please gift it forward. You can do this by choosing “Give as a Gift” on the Amazon book page. Or simply share this post with your friends if you feel moved to do so :).

You can also view my Amazon author page here: Tracy J Thomas.

Here is an example of one of my photos that appear in this book combined with a snippet of my writing.

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Respite in Yosemite

El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Last week I was “kidnapped” by my lovely partner and held hostage in a Yurt for three days right outside the entrance to Yosemite National Park. It was a much-needed respite in nature as my surgery dates approach.

The Yurt. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The Yurt. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I grew up near Yosemite on the Eastern side of the Sierras so I have been there many times. I never get tired of the beauty and majesty that this park bestows. I am always in awe and am often brought to tears by its magnificence.

A very dry Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A very dry Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Our days were spent hiking and taking photos. I felt completely energized and renewed while there and wanted to continue hiking and climbing even when I was at my most depleted state due to the higher elevation and lack of oxygen.

It was a wonderful escape from reality as well as an opportunity to reflect on the beauty in life.

The view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from on top of Glacier Point. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from on top of Glacier Point. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This morning I am feeling tense again so I decided to look through my photos in order to go back to my “happy place” and ground myself a bit. That is a big part of photography for me. The ability to relive those moments captured in perpetuity. When I view them I can feel the wind on my face, the smell of the pines, the warmth of the sun (protected by SPF 50 of course), and am embraced once again by a feeling of reverence and an overwhelming silence.

"The Fallen." - Jeffrey Pine on top of Sentinel Dome with a view of El Capitan and Cathedral Spires in the background. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Fallen.” – Jeffrey Pine on top of Sentinel Dome with a view of El Capitan and Cathedral Spires in the background. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Tomorrow it all begins with my back surgery followed 10 days later with the Mohs surgery on my face. I expect tomorrow to be pretty straight forward with an excision and stitches followed by the waiting game for the pathology report. The Mohs surgery on the 8th is a different story. Too many unknowns for my taste. But I will try to stay focused on the beauty of nature and look forward to more trips to Yosemite in the future.

A Mule Deer in the forest. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A Mule Deer in the forest. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The majestic face of El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The majestic face of El Capitan. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Bridge over the Tuolumne River. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Bridge over the Tuolumne River. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Granite and trees near lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Granite and trees near lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.


A multitude of rock cairns below Half Dome near Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

A multitude of rock cairns below Half Dome near Mirror Lake. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Sentinel Dome from below. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Sentinel Dome from below. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hiking down from the top of Sentinel Dome with Half Dome as the backdrop. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Hiking down from the top of Sentinel Dome with Half Dome as the backdrop. Yosemite National Park. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Yep, that's a selfie on top of Sentinel Dome. Yosemite National Park.

Yep, that’s a selfie on top of Sentinel Dome. Yosemite National Park.


Finding My Center

"Qi" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Qi” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This past week I have been embroiled in a feeble attempt to find my center. There are moments when I feel like a derailed train that continues to move forward without a clear vision of my destination. There have been a whole lot of unknowns that surround my day-to-day. I float somewhere in this middle ground that follows diagnosis but comes before surgery and treatment.

I don’t do well with unknowns. What I do know is the cancer is still growing while I wait to have it removed from my body.

So, I spend an inordinate amount of time doing research on anything related to skin cancer, Mohs surgery and Efudex treatment. I have always been the curious sort with a need to know, oft-times to my own detriment. But I would much rather be educated than blind to the facts and possibilities before me. I suppose it provides me with some semblance of control in the midst of feeling out of control over the current circumstances during my body’s rebellion against the sun.

"Gazania 2" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 2” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

When you stop and read the statistics on skin cancer it is a bit astounding. One in five people will have some form of skin cancer in their life time. One in five. Yet we continue to have this sordid love affair with tanning booths and the sun.

Skin cancer is not just a simple trip to the Dermatologist to have a couple of bad cells scraped off or frozen away. It can be that for a few, but it also has the potential to be extremely disfiguring. And it can kill you.

We have been taught to shrug our shoulders and say “at least it’s just skin cancer.” In my mind this is nothing more than a statement of denial since we tend to place bronzed skin and vanity on a pedestal far above common sense. Skin cancer of any type can metastasize and spread to the organs if left untreated. I challenge anyone who thinks that skin cancer is “no big deal” to Google it and read the blogs and stories of people who have or are now going through it. It’s not pretty.

Black Beauty

Although I do feel lucky to so far avoided the diagnosis of the creeping black spider that is Melanoma, this in no way diminishes for me the seriousness of my own diagnosis. The fact I have any type of skin cancer at all increases the probability that I will have more in the future. All those days in my past spent carelessly soaking up the sun for the sake of vanity altered my DNA and have finally culminated in something not so pretty.

"Gazania 3" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Gazania 3” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

On Monday I meet with the Opthamologist/Oculoplastics surgeon for the pre-op appointment prior to the Mohs surgery on my face. Since this lesion is close to my eye and my eyelid it is considered high risk. I will need reconstruction surgery and most likely a skin graft following the removal of the cancer by the Mohs surgeon. I should know shortly after this appointment the date of my first surgery.

So, for now as I continue to ride the roller-coaster of stress and emotion and fumble for my center, I take trips out into the garden and attempt to focus on the beauty I see through my lens. When I do this I feel my whole body exhale. I feel my feet grounded on the soil below me. I begin to find my center. I forget, if only for a moment, about the ugly and garner hope for a future filled with the magnificence of the small things we are often too blind to see in this life.

"Emanating" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Emanating” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

You can now purchase any of the photographs from my “Zen in the Garden” series on my Etsy shop here.


Floating Weightless In-Between

"Winged Beauty" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Winged Beauty” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I am the strong silent type. An observer from day one, I have always preferred to sit back and watch the world. To the dismay of the people closest to me, I crawl into my cocoon of thought and don’t emerge until I feel ready to talk about the things that have impacted my life.

"The Retreat" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Retreat” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Since my last post “A Million Angel Kisses,” I have been doing a whole lot of digesting. At this point I am floating weightless in-between. This is the waiting game before the surgery dates are finalized and the biopsy sites and Cryosurgery areas heal. I have traveled from the warp-speed moment of hearing the news to this point that feels as if I am stuck in some relentless traffic jam. I just want everything to be over so I can move on with my life.

"Hopper" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Little Hopper” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I am not one who likes to have my body poked and prodded. Who does? I feel grief for the loss of control over what is happening to my body. Pieces of me are being removed and examined under a microscope. I don’t like that kind of attention. This makes me feel angry, then sad. Frustrated, then relieved that the prognosis for the type of cancer I have is very good. But there is still this underlying fear of an increased likelihood that more will pop up over time. And that “more” might just be the “bad” kind.

In the midst of my angst and fear I have blamed myself for all those times I basked too long in the sun for the sake of vanity. I suddenly felt guilt for the times I allowed those I love to do the same.

"Carnivale" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Carnivale” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I am aware all of this is part of the process of reaching acceptance for the cards I have been dealt. This isn’t the first time I have felt this way. I have been through other struggles in life and was quite happy to morph beyond the ugly and back out into the light. Struggle has definitely made me a much stronger human being.

"Baby Snaps" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Baby Snaps” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

So, I continue to find my way back into the garden to clear my mind and find some semblance of peace. Little did I know when I bought my new macro lens and made my first “Zen in the Garden” post a month ago how healing that simple act would continue to be for me.

"Walking the Line" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Walking the Line” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

This past weekend we made a trip to the Sierra’s where I took a long walk in the woods and found plenty of beautiful things to photograph. I of course was slathered with sunscreen, wore my big sexy hat and spent most of the day in the shade, but it was just what I needed to rid myself of the angst I felt the week before. I still have moments of fear, especially during the quiet times at night.

There is still a bumpy little road that I need to travel over the next several months, but I will try to remain focused on the beauty that resides on the other side.


More Zen in the Garden

"Twirling" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Twirling” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The pain and limitations of my torn Rotator Cuff have caused me to slow down a lot when it comes to my photography. I can still use my iPhone with relative ease but my DSLR is a different story altogether, especially when I use my heavier lenses such as the 300mm zoom or FD macro lens. This past week I have learned to embrace my tripod all over again.

"Sleeping Beauty" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Sleeping Beauty” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Although a tripod increases your odds of taking a sharper image, I have always loved the freedom of shooting without one. Many years ago I spent a lot of time at several of our local wildlife areas shooting with a 50-500mm zoom. I learned to steady the lens with my elbows tucked tightly into my ribcage or resting it on a beanbag on the edge of my car window or hood. The types of shots I was after simply did not warrant the time involved to set up a tripod and get the camera tethered and setup properly. By the time the setup was complete, the bird or animal I wanted to capture was long gone or had stopped the behavior I wanted to catch. I tried to use a monopod but still found it to be restrictive in a number of ways. Eventually I sunk some money into a shoulder rig but still only used it on occasion because again, it still restricted my ability to react quickly when the need arose.

"Katydid Nymph" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Katydid Nymph” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Slowing down with macro photography in my garden has been good for me. I find I am searching and shooting with more deliberation and spending more time being focused on “seeing” the things before me. I now wander the garden with my big floppy UV protective hat and sunglasses like some crazy old lady on a make-believe safari in search of my next trophy. Crazy old lady or not, the act of wandering the garden has been very healing for the soul in the midst of the cancer diagnosis. When I have a bad day due to pain in my shoulder or when pondering the possible biopsy outcome of additional spots on my skin, I grab my camera, tripod and hat and am instantly transported to another place.

"Spring Showers" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Spring Showers” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Macro photography requires a large amount of patience and mental focus. When I am bent over my camera positioning the lens to obtain the desired focus and depth of field, I find myself taking several long, slow, deep breaths in order to release any tension and zero in on the subject at hand. It may sound funny to say it, but I find myself becoming one with the insect or the flower in front of me. The minute detail of these tiny subjects through my powerful lens astounds me. I find myself gasping on occasion at the beautiful colors and interesting physical structures that are hidden to the naked eye.

"The Pollen Gatherer" - "Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Pollen Gatherer” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

All fearful thoughts or feelings of frustration are cast away on the breeze as I study the subjects in front of my lens. I feel a sense of amazement and a joy for life as I continue to wander.

"Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled" - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Remnants of Wishes Unfulfilled” – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.


Zen in the Garden

Pirouette - A California Poppy bloom. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Pirouette – A California Poppy bloom. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I have always been enamored with macro photography. Especially the up close and personal photos of insects with magnified detail that we don’t often see with our eyes alone. It’s the type of photography that requires great patience along with great breath control, a steady tripod, and the ability to twist and contort your body into positions that place you eye to eye with the most minute of subjects. It is also a great practice for slowing down and becoming more aware of the hidden things in one’s universe. Your whole garden becomes narrowed down to a little dewdrop on a tiny flower petal or a minute mushroom wedged between two blades of grass. For that moment, nothing else seems as important as capturing that scene with your camera.

Honey Bee on Salvia - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Honey Bee on Salvia – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Because we tend to run through life at breakneck speed for most of our adult years, a macro photograph can elicit endless “ooooohhhh’s” and “ahhhhhhhh’s.” We often fail to recognize the minute details and small things that make up the world around us. There is a very magical quality to macro photos that tends to put a smile on our faces. Maybe it’s because they remind us for a moment of our childhood days when everything was a fairytale. The times we spent all day crawling around on our bellies in the grass in order to explore the microcosm with which we felt so connected. Maybe it’s because as adults those images remind us to slow down a bit and realize it shouldn’t always be so much about the larger world around us. It’s a sudden realization that it might just be about the 12 square inches of earth that we are standing on in this very moment.

The Spider and the Fly - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The Spider and the Fly – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I have begun to spend a few hours of every day out in the garden in search of those tiny treasures. It has helped me to empty my mind of all the clutter and to refocus my energies on what is truly important in life. These have become my Zen moments. My way to connect with nature while living in the midst of the city. It calms me, inspires me, and opens my eyes once again to all the wonder I have at times failed to remember.

Japanese Maple Seeds - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Japanese Maple Seeds – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I feel like a kid again. The one who ran freely through the fields with a jar and a butterfly net. The one who spent hours having a stare down with a Wolf Spider waiting for the babies to crawl off of her back.

The Poppy and the Beetle - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved

The Poppy and the Beetle – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved

This practice of wandering the garden in search of tiny-legged creatures or pausing in awe of a flower petal as it is kissed by a ray of light, has become the ultimate of therapies for me. It is a meditation of sorts that reminds me that life is as beautiful and as awe-inspiring as we allow it to be.

The Unfolding  - ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

The Unfolding – ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.


Spring Has Sprung!

California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

I am finally crawling out from under the pile of projects I have been focused on and have actually been shooting with my DSLR over the past few weeks. For the past two years I have taken a hiatus of sorts following the presentation of my Master’s Thesis in Documentary Photography and have focused entirely on creating fine art photographs taken and edited on my iPhone. It was a much-needed break from the heavy and oft-times soul crushing subject of my thesis project. That time spent with my iPhone also helped me to overcome a bit of burnout in regards to the arduous and time-consuming task of shooting and editing ginormous RAW files shot with my DSLR.

So, when Spring finally arrived in my part of the world I found myself pulled once again towards my dusty DSLR. I have recently noticed myself shooting more and more straight images on my iPhone and only using basic edits more inline with my street and documentary work form before. The sound of the Amtrak train whistle in the distance began to tug at me again and got me thinking about hopping the train to continue to build on the project that granted me my degree. Because of that pull I decided to start shooting with my Canon again just to get all the bugs out and I have been having a great time taking photos in our garden.

Butterfly Iris. California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Butterfly Iris. California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

It took a few days but I soon found myself melded with the larger and definitely more powerful piece of photographic machinery. I realized after pulling up the first few photos in Lightroom how much I have missed the quality of photographs taken with a DSLR. Trust me, I am still a firm believer in shooting with an iPhone. My iPhone has awakened a creative side I didn’t know I had before I bought that piece of metal, plastic and glass. My two years spent shooting almost exclusively with my iPhone has actually changed the way I shoot with my DSLR. I now see things differently when I put the Canon viewfinder up to my eye. I feel more grounded and aware than I ever did before I shot with an iPhone. I am seeing patterns of light, shape, line, and form in a completely different way than I had before.

California Poppies. California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

California Poppies. California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

So along with welcoming Spring I am celebrating new beginnings in my journey of photography. I look forward to where this all will lead me over the next few months. I even bought a “new” used FD 100mm macro lens with a converter and extension tube. Time to get up close and personal with some bugs in the garden :-).

Honey Bee. California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

Honey Bee. California Poppy. ©Tracy J Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.


Breathing in the Landscape

Happy New Year!

I love spending time in nature. It always grounds me and helps me to remember the important things in life. During the last two months of the year I was able to refuel my soul with a visit to some beautiful places. Of course I am never without a camera, so here are a few of my favorite landscapes that came out of those journeys. All four of these photos were shot and edited on an iPhone 5.

"Tidal Plane Sunset" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013-2014. All rights reserved.

“Ebb Tide at Sunset” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

"New Melones Sunset" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013-2014. All rights reserved.

“New Melones Sunset” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

"Lonesome Oak" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“Lonesome Oak” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

"The Fallen" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

“The Fallen” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2014. All rights reserved.

As a New Year’s gift to all my followers, here is a 40% discount code that you can use through April 30th to purchase my work. Just enter AUARGP in the “Discount Code” area at checkout. Here is the link to my store: http://tracy-thomas.artistwebsites.com/. These are direct ship prints so if you would prefer a signed and/or limited edition print, instead of purchasing through my store you can email me through the contact form on my website and we can work out the details. (http://www.tjthomas-iphoneart.com/#!contact/c175r)

Here’s to a beautiful new year!


Frozen – Macro Photography and the Ice Age

Since a recent deep freeze has engulfed much of the U.S. over the past week, I decided to take a series of abstract macros of the icy conditions with my iPhone and a Olloclip macro lens. During these severe weather changes a lot of us tend to focus on the negative impacts and inconveniences while few of us pause to consider the beauty that Mother Nature gifts us with in those fleeting moments. So here’s a slideshow of some of the smaller frozen moments that caught my eye, set to my favorite piece of classical music, Debussy’s Claire de Lune.


Fall Colors

I began my career in photography as a nature and wildlife photographer.  Over the years my work has morphed and touched just about every genre imaginable in the craft.  Lately I have found myself drawn back into nature, focused primarily on landscape photos.   In the past I shot most of my landscapes with my DSLR, creating moody High Dynamic Range images.  This time around I have been shooting exclusively with my iPhone and feel drawn to a combination of apps that create a more painterly effect on the final image.

Here are some of the recent landscapes I have shot during the Fall color change in the Sierra’s.

"Nature's Symphony" - Fall colors at Independence Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Nature’s Symphony” – Fall colors at Independence Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"The Change" - Fall colors at Independence Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“The Change” – Fall colors at Independence Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Into the Woods" - Fall colors on a grove of Aspens, Independence Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Into the Woods” – Fall colors on a grove of Aspens, Independence Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

Below is a photo I shot last year that was recently part of “Creatives Rising” and was projected onto the 42-story Linc LIC building in New York City as well as part of the See Me exhibition on Long Island.

"Soliloquy 9" - Fall colors in the Sierra Nevada, CA. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012-2013. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 9” – Fall colors in the Sierra Nevada, CA. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012-2013. All rights reserved.

 

 


Healing in Nature – Independence Lake

photo(2)

“On the Mend” – Independence Lake, Tahoe National Forest, CA

I am still on the mend from this not so fun illness.  The mysterious polka dots still remains in smaller patches on my legs and arms but are fading daily.  The only symptoms that persist besides the rash is fatigue and a few achy joints.  I felt well enough this past weekend to escape to the Tahoe National Forest for a night of camping in “Lucy,” our vintage 1956 canned ham trailer.

We decided to check out Independence Lake, a pristine alpine lake that sits at around 7,200 feet in elevation.  The lake and surrounding acreage was purchased several years ago by the Nature Conservancy and is cooperatively managed by a number of agencies with the goal of preserving the area and protecting one of the last populations of native Lahontan Cutthroat Trout that live in the lake.

Our vintage 1956 Canned Ham trailer.

“Lucy”- our vintage 1956 Canned Ham trailer.

There is currently no camping adjacent to the lake so we chose the Little Lower Truckee River campground located off of Hwy 89 and within 10 miles of Independence Lake.

The five miles of road that lead to Independence is a rough and rocky ride that requires a high clearance vehicle.  The surrounding scenery was absolutely stunning with thick forests of pine that would occasionally open up into wildflower spotted alpine meadows and groves of aspen.

Here’s a very condensed version of the trip up to the lake:

In order to protect the lake from invasive species, no outside boats are allowed.  The Nature Conservancy provides the free use of a fleet of kayaks, fly fishing pontoons, and motor boats for anyone who would rather spend time out on the water than along the shore.

Following are a few of the photos I took while there.  I am experimenting once again with a variety of apps so each one is a bit different in look and feel.

Several of the free-for-use kayaks line the shore of Independence Lake.

Several of the free-for-use kayaks line the shore of Independence Lake.

"The Paddler" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“The Paddler” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Just Fishin'" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“Just Fishin'” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

“The Shoreline” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

It was so nice to spend some time outside of the house and out in nature again.  I look forward to our next trip to Independence Lake when I am feeling myself again and will definitely grab one of the kayaks and paddle around the lake and take a lot of photos!

**All photos shot and edited with an iPhone 5**


Spring Hath Sprung

"Fire Poppy 2" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Fire Poppy 2” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

Ah Spring.  The beautiful awakening of flowers, pollen and the honey bees that still remain.  The the time of year I love to roam the garden and take photographs of all the pretty blooms that appear after a Winter’s rest.

This year we have Icelandic Poppies that we planted in the Fall and they seem to be very happy to be here.  So here are a few of my favorite shots for you.  The piece above “Fire Poppy 2” made its way onto the “Pixels: The Art of the iPhone” gallery website today (you can view it along with all the other wonderful art here).

"Fire Poppy" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Fire Poppy” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Poppies in a Row" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Poppies in a Row” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Spring Hath Sprung" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Spring Hath Sprung” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Spring Equinox 1" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Spring Equinox 1” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.

"Spring Equinox 2" - ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Spring Equinox 2” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2013. All rights reserved.


Photowalk: Jenkinson Lake

Yesterday was another nature day. It has been warm and wonderful here this past week, actually climbing into the 60’s by midday. Warmer days means snow melt in the Sierras, that in turn opens up access to some of the recreational areas normally covered in the cold white stuff this time of year.

I spent the day wandering around Jenkinson Lake near Pollock Pines, a short 45 minute drive up Highway 50. The lake was created in 1955 when a dam was built to harness Sly Park Creek, a tributary in the Cosumnes River watershed. The dam formed a 650-acre reservoir called Jenkinson Lake. It was constructed primarily to provide irrigation water to a portion of El Dorado County.

I’ve spent a lot of time around this little lake, hiking on the trails and kayaking in its pristine waters. I always see something new when I go there that I didn’t see before.

Yesterday’s photowalk was all about capturing the familiar vistas as well as the smaller intricacies of nature that we often fail to notice while becoming smitten by her grandeur.

A duck flies across Jenkinson Lake near the marina and boat launch.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

A duck flies across Jenkinson Lake near the marina and boat launch. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

A paddle boarder makes his way across Jenkinson Lake. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

A paddle boarder makes his way across Jenkinson Lake. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Detail in rock found next to the lake.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Detail in rock found next to the lake. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Rocks along the shoreline.  This one reminded me of a horse head.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Rocks along the shoreline. This one reminded me of a horse head. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

A piece of driftwood surrounded by colorful rocks at the edge of the shoreline.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

A piece of driftwood surrounded by colorful rocks at the edge of the shoreline. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Leaves and colorful shale.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

Leaves and colorful shale. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

One of the finger inlets that feed the resevoir.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

One of the finger inlets that feed the lake. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

The sky was on fire on the way home.  A dramatic ending to a perfect day.  ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

The sky was on fire on the way home. A dramatic ending to a perfect day. ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

[All photos were shot and edited on my iPhone4.]

**Back to iPinion Syndicate**


Soliloquy Continued…

so·lil·o·quy noun \sə-ˈli-lə-kwē\: a dramatic monologue that represents a series of unspoken reflections.

It is in nature where I cleanse myself from the constant drone of the city and absorb the quiet beauty all around me. A deep breath of fresh air and my lungs open to capacity, free from the exhaust and toxins spewed out hourly by the bane of a “civilized” society. My feet do a happy dance as they touch the raw earth beneath them. It is much more forgiving than the asphalt and concrete of everyday life. I feel connected to the core.

Surrounded by an infinite wisdom that transcends the exterior casing that houses my soul, I walk. I listen. I see. I discover. A swarm of white gnats gathers next to my cheek. I am amazed by an almost silent, collective “whoosh” created by their tiny wings. They move in unity with barely a space in between. Somehow they know to move left or right or up or down as one, without impeding the flight of another.

I continue my walk and contemplate. Hours go by and I feel refreshed, renewed, ready to move forward through life. The fall air lays its final kiss across my skin and once again the evening comes to slowly bid adieu…

“Soliloquy 9” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 10” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 11” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 12” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

More Soliloquy here.


Soliloquy

so·lil·o·quy noun \sə-ˈli-lə-kwē\: a dramatic monologue that represents a series of unspoken reflections.

Nature has always been my savior. No matter how dark, cloudy or confusing my life circumstances become, I can always turn to the outdoors to calm my nerves and regain perspective.

Nature helps me to breathe a little more deeply and to strike up an internal conversation with self. That internal monologue can be dramatic and filled with expression in order to release frustration and solve all of life’s dilemmas or it can be quiet, centered and reassuring.

I will forever embrace it as the grounding mechanism for my soul. My safe place. My source of replenishment. My healing balm. The inspiration for self-dialogue. My soliloquy…

“Soliloquy 1” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 2” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 3” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 4” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 5” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 6” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 7” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.

“Soliloquy 8” – ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2012. All rights reserved.


Nature’s Raw Honesty

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo:  Moss covered pines in Plumas National Forest, CA.

There is no hypocrisy in nature.  All that exists within it is raw and honest, primal and instinctual.  Everything there has a purpose, a reason for being.  It is the great circle where one lives and one gives for the other.  An intertwining balance of life and death.  Survival of the fittest, sacrifice by the weakest.  Uncomplicated.  It simply is what it is.  We as humans complicate nature when we interfere with and attempt to control and tame its wildness.  If we could refrain for a bit from our greedy rape of its resources and just sit and listen, we would surely find many valuable lessons in the silence.  Lessons that have to do with our survival as a species.  Lessons that teach us how fragile, precarious, dependent and intertwined we are with the natural environment that surrounds us.

The one positive thing that came out of my caustic childhood was the opportunity to grow up in a small town surrounded by the beautiful granite peaks of the Sierras, pristine glacial fed lakes and endless open space.  I believe strongly that nature is what kept me grounded and provided me the strength to endure the Hell I faced on a daily basis.  I still turn to it often to this day as a sanity check and pressure valve release from the noise and ugliness that I find in the City and at times in humankind.  It brings me back to the basics, the important intricacies and realities of our existence here on earth.  It balances my need for silence, fresh air and contemplation of soul.  Without the ability to be held on occasion within its embrace, I fear I may end up as one of those vacant old women who pushes a shopping cart stuffed full with my belongings down an alleyway with no particular destination in mind.  Another human lost to this polluted cesspool we call civilization.  Though necessary for one’s financial security, there are times I would much rather flee the insanity and live with my dog and my hand axe in a little cabin in the woods.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

We recently took a week-long camping trip into the Plumas National Forest.  The place we camp is considered a “rough camp” with just 5 sites, no water or electricity hook-ups or other man-made amenities with the exception of a small outhouse.  It is a beautiful, raw area where few people choose to journey.  We own a small tent trailer that provides us with a bit of comfort one step up from sleeping in a tent on the ground.  It has a small kitchen area that runs on propane and we use a small solar panel to recharge the 12 volt battery that provides us with light.  Days there are filled with visual magnificence.  Everywhere you turn are wildflowers, evergreens that reach towards the heavens and a brilliant blue sky full of clean, breathable air.

Sunset brings with it a tangible transition.  The air begins to chill, the birds and chipmunks hurry about to get in their last meal before dark and the shadows from the trees become long and mixed in with the last bit of filtered sunlight.  When the sun begins its descent all sounds become strangely amplified.  A branch broken by a grazing deer echoes through the forest in decibel of 10.  A slight breeze blowing through the treetops sounds often like a hurricane.  Small movements in the shadows loom larger than life.  The smell of a campfire wafts on the breeze from somewhere high up on the mountain.  In this place without noise pollution the senses are on alert and suddenly alive.  There are no noisy cars, loud music, clattering trains, screaming people, or wailing sirens to drown out that which is.  Suddenly displaced from the noise of the world that

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

masks even the beating of one’s own heart, we come face to face with our own raw truth.  We can actually begin to hear the thoughts inside our minds.

As the sky turns to black, the heavens above become dotted with millions of stars which reveal how small we truly are in comparison to the rest of our vast universe.  Darkness begins its chill and we turn into our tent trailer for the night.  Thin canvas walls and zero degree sleeping bags are the only things that separate us from the impending cold and creatures that will prowl the night.  Curled snugly into our bags we begin our descent into sleep.  And then it happens.  Nature’s chorus of reality penetrates the air.  The sound of that great circle of life breaks the dark silence; the distressed cries of one animal being sacrificed so that the other might live.  It’s pain-filled cry speaks at first of terror then gives way to a defeated whimper and secedes back into peaceful silence.

The first few nights those cries stir in us a strange sadness and place a bit of fear into our hearts.  By the third we begin to relax into acceptance and understanding and transition into a marginal space of peace.  Nature has revealed itself to us in a pure sense, without hypocrisy.  We have been given the gift of nature’s raw honesty.  The tables have been turned.  We do not control that which surrounds us.  We are merely guests in her presence, mere plebes at her mercy.  If she wanted to she could in an instant chew us up and spit us out into unrecognizable pieces of our former human shells.  For this we gain a deep respect.  She has once again leveled the playing field and reminded us that our city selves, lost in the noisy sea of self-centered humanity, are but a ploy.  Our true selves, the souls that stand in amazement at the natural wonders of our world, have the power to stand up and preserve her beauty for our children to enjoy.

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

On our last day we leave her presence as if we leave a new-found lover.  We are renewed yet we long for more.  Saddened to point our car down the mountain towards the crowded streets of our reality we are left with one certainty.  We will soon return to her embrace, to breathe her clean air, bask in her silence, listen to the beating of our own hearts and stay alert as eager students for the lessons she has yet to teach us.


For the Love of Birds

Snowy Egret

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo: Snowy Egret, Petaluma Wetlands, CA.

There’s just something about birds.  It doesn’t matter where I am, when a bird flies overhead I have to stop in my tracks and observe it.  Living on the Pacific Flyway, I am especially drawn to the migratory birds that move steadily across the skies during both the Spring and Fall.  Just the thought of their arduous journey, some flying thousands of miles to their final destination, leaves me in awe.  I admire their stamina, their focus, their strength.  They do constant battle with the elements and yet they keep going.  Some would call it instinct, but I believe there is much more to it than some blind response to embedded DNA as they journey towards their final goal.  If you stop and listen for awhile, really listen, you can hear the excitement in their calls as they begin to head north towards their breeding grounds.  You can see the determination in their wings as they fight against strong headwinds and rally for position in their “V”.  I can only imagine what it would feel like to have the ability to fly.  To me it speaks of freedom.  To me it speaks of joy.  It is the ability to journey wherever you choose high above this cluttered earth.  The ability to ride the spiraling currents and observe life from a safe altitude; all the things that I desire for myself.  Perhaps that is why I photograph birds.  By capturing their essence in photos I can study them and begin to dream.  I can move beyond the confines of this human vessel and begin to soar.

To see more bird photographs visit: www.tracyjthomasphotography.com


In Search of Open Spaces

Arches National Park

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo: Lots of open space in Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

There are times when I simply ache inside for open spaces.  The quiet, peaceful, desolate, expansive, breathtaking places void of human inhabitants.  No cars, no smog, no noise pollution.  Just the earth, the sky, the sun, the stars and of course my thoughts.  Not empty…not lonely…A place where the healing warmth of a sun exposed boulder works its way deep inside your tired bones as you stretch across it to watch the sky.  Where that same sky appears endless and as blue as the deepest ocean could ever be.  Where the only sounds are those of wild bird songs and your rhythmic breathing as it begins to move you into a mild, meditative state.  Arches National Park just outside of Moab, Utah is one of those places.  Filled with amazing sandstone formations spread out over 119 miles of open space, I felt as if I had stepped onto another planet.  Pure raw beauty that appealed to the deepest part of my soul.  As I stood silently below these massive rocks, I could make out the faint whispers of the ancients as the wind blew across the sandstone.  It is a place that reminded me of the beauty that exists on our planet.  It is a place that brought me back home to what matters most about life.

You can purchase this photo here.


Lonesome Oak

Lone Oak

©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo: A lone oak outside Plymouth, CA. 2010

There are times when something catches my eye in a certain moment in time when I know that I just have to shoot it. The oak tree in this photo was one of those moments.  We were driving through the gold country shooting pioneer cemeteries for an upcoming book project when our sunny day turned with an approaching storm.  We passed hundreds of wild oaks on our way to Fiddletown and suddenly I saw this lone oak atop a hill that had this amazing essence about it and knew we would have to stop on our way back after shooting Fiddletown when the light was better.  We finally reached the tree around 4:00pm when the sun was lower on the horizon and a wonderful cloud cover had formed in the background.  I decided to take multiple exposures of this scene and later merged them all into an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo to enhance the amazing light and shadows that existed in reality.

You can purchase this photo here.