Quiet Moments

It has been a trying couple of weeks.  Long days teaching rambunctious inquisitive children  in the midst of abstaining from food and fluids leaves one completely spent by the end of the day. However the day does not end.  There is time for maybe a few minutes for a quick nap before the breakfast meal is prepared.  By the time the meal is over, the evening prayer has arrived and after that additional prayers and recitations of the melodic words of the Quran.

Right now, in the middle of the night, with tiredness pervading, are some of the first quiet moments I have had in these last two weeks.  I have taken the time to reflect and realized the month of Ramadan is already half past.  Days of Mercy behind us as we continue on to through the Days of Forgiveness before culminating in the Days of Freedom from the Fire.  I returned to the memories of the day before it all started and remembered its humble beginning.

Ramadan Sunset

Ramadan Sunset

As the sun sank that day I was captured by the grass.  At the time I was not sure what it was about the grass that appealed to me but now I think I understand. Grass covers about 40% of the surface of all land on Mother Earth.  We rarely think much of it and we never seem to care as we trample over it beneath our feet.  It covers the ground.  Of all life on the Earth, it clings to the ground and it never rises more than a few feet.  It holds the soil of the Earth together and prevents it from being washed away.  It provides a home for many a small creature and insects and blankets the ground.

After The Sun

After The Sun

The photos I made that evening two weeks ago depict a vivid atmosphere. However these photos are not of the setting sun or the ocean of fog rising up to engulf where I was standing or even of the stark and colorful sky.  These photos are of the simple, unassuming and humble grass that stands between looking on and quietly fulfilling it role in creation.  Come winter when the rains come, the seeds from the very stalks depicted in these photos will germinate and will bare witness to the re-birth of a “dead” land.    It is then that the greatness of what humility is will be revealed.

Ramadan Blues

Ramadan Blues

For now however, we just need to wait and continue along our path hopefully learning how to be as humble.  What we hope to reap from our humility on the Day when all Debts fall due, will be great.  As the great scholar, Abdul-Qadir Al-Gilani, of days past said in a book he wrote that I read years ago (I paraphrase) “I attempted to enter Paradise from all its gates, charity, prayer, fasting, and so on, only to find them all crowded  until I arrived at the gate of humility and found no one there and so I entered through it.”  That always amazed me.  We all try to rise up and stake our claim to something in this life.  It might be wealth or status or knowledge or any number of things that prove our unrelenting hubris.  And yet, what is asked of us by our Creator is nothing more than humble submission and obedience.  We have such a hard time doing and being something so simple.  Look at those photos again.  Do you see anything anymore besides the grass?  I thought not.

Thank you Grass for reminding me of my place.

Peace to you all.

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Reflections abound in our world. No matter where we look we see reflections. The light that that reaches our eyes is merely a reflection, in and of itself, of objects that exist in the world. In fact light, pure light, is invisible to our eyes. There is light streaming between you and the monitor right now as you read this that you cannot see. Light only becomes visible to our eyes after it has interacted with creation. In pure light we are blind and in the absence of light we are blind as well. That reflected light is really nothing more than shade – a mixture of pure light and darkness, and it is only in the shade that we can see. It is in these reflections that we can see all the various shades of color and luminosity. It is in the shade that we can start to understand the world we live in.

Reflections on Pebble Beach

Reflections on Pebble Beach


The sage Muhammad Ibn Al-Habib in his Diwan (a litany of poems sung to melodies) has a couplet in one of the poems that has a meaning translated as “Truly created things are meanings established as images.  Whoever understands this is among the people of discernment.”   For years I struggled with understanding why I would train my camera on a certain scene, why I found a particular arrangement of objects appealing, why sometimes things looked better than normal.  After coming across this couplet, I froze.  I finally understood that the images I captured had meaning in them, and I now had to reflect on those very ‘reflections’ to find out what they meant to me, and possibly what they might mean to anyone else who looked at them.  And while I am not sure yet as to what the photograph that graces this post means yet, I do know that the moments that occurred that evening when this photograph was made followed  a downpour that followed a clap of thunder that followed a brisk cold wind on a gray and dreary day.  And afterwards it was as calm as can be.  I have more reflecting to do.


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Winter’s Last

Strange that it has taken me nearly all spring to bring out a photo of the last sunset of winter.  Although not entirely true, as I posted a version of this sunset in The Last of Winter.  It is amazing to me how different a few minutes can make in a photograph not to mention the few months that have transpired since I made this photo. 

Winters Last

Winter's Last

Time has a way of sneaking past you very quickly.  From week to week as I moved from show to show, filling orders made for photos of moments long since past, I had little time to work on new material.  When I do get the chance and inspiration to sit down and seriously work on new material, It is like I am looking at the scene for the first time all over again.  And although I can remember all the feeleings of elation and joy that coursed through me at the time I made the photo, seeing it again and now intimately working with it for hours to bring out those feelings I once had makes me realize how important photography is.  Not only is it a record of time, but for the photographer it is also a record of the experience.  So here it is, a recount of my thoughts as they come back to me as I look at this last sunset of the winter of 2009.

Wow, everything is really green this year.  The hills are looking good, wildflowers might be aboundant here this year – its to early now, maybe in a month or so.  I’ll need to come back.  Let me go over to my butterfly hill and see if the wild cucumber is blooming.  Nothing yet, but the hills sure are green.  What about down in the hollow down there, I can check if I see any poppy plants waiting to bloom.  None yet, Hmm.  Lets go back up and around to the trillium patch, wow I need to hike more, I’m getting winded to easily.  Hey what’s that – that tree is just glowing.  That back lighting is unbelieveable!  I only have a few minutes.  I don’t know if I can pull this one off.  Ok quick unload.  Let’s see.  Maybe the 300, yeah the 300 will do fine.  Let me check quickly with the digital, yeah about 100 mm I think the 300 will do fine.  I’ll need the ND – work fast.  Take care, don’t drop anything, but got to work fast.  Ok spin it around, get the dark cloth, Ooh that is nice.  I need the loupe, focus, tilting won’t help so check how much depth will I need, where’s that card….. f32 should do.  Wait let me get this sunset on the digital and zoom in on the sun.  OK got it.  Meter quick, the light is going fast, aaah… the lower right for the foreground, now the the sky, wait hit memory, now the sky – keep it plus one, there, its five stops brighter, no six – five and half, ok one stop up I need 4 stops of ND, good.  That 2 stop filter is bad all scratched up I need to get a new one – like I have $100 right now anyway.  Get the 3 in there, the 1 stop, adjust, oh this is going to be hard to see and adjust that tree is too high in the frame – ….let me see.  To dark, open the apeture, its still hard to see, hurry up the light is going ok there, that is good I hope, I wish it was as easy as it was with 35mm argh.  Ok f32 on foreground gives 1 sec.  Set it, close shutter, test it – good.  Uh! film, hurry…. holder, put film in, load in camera, wait, make sure everything is tight, back, tripod head, swings, good, put film in, pull the slide, cock the shutter, ok go.  Got it! quick, one more, get the film in – careful don’t move the camera, pull slide, shutter, and go.  Got it.  What a day.  That sunset is just awesome.  Let me get this tree on digital.  Get this big guy off, Ok, meter darn the light is gone, its totally different now.  Get it any way.  wow look at those hills , this is really going to be a great photo, that mist is pinking up real nice, zoom in and get that.  Wow its so nice out here.  Amazing tomorrow is the equinox, this was the last sunset of winter.  Its so quiet, so calm.  I hope the 4×5’s come out.  Well keep one behind in case exposeure was off.  It nice out here, alright lets load up.

It all comes screaming back.  Photography – memories & life on a piece of celluloid – amazing.

Enjoy Summer!  Peace.

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Ramadan 1429 Begins

Today was the first day of fasting for the month of Ramadan this year.

Enjoying the afternoon

Enjoying the afternoon

I lead a trip up to the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve in the northern Santa Cruz mountians on Sunday after noon with about 20 people attending. We spent about two hours along one of the ridge trails in the preserve waiting for the sun to set so that we could start searching. We had a good time while we waited.

It was another perfect day for moonsighting. The sky was clear and visibility was excellent. Although it was clear and sunny we had mild temperatures in the upper 60’s.

As the sun began to set, we all anxiously waited to start searching. Although the sunset was quite impressive with its deep orange color, we had to really stop ourselves from looking to prevent the green spots from appearing in our eyes which would hamper seeing the delicate crescent moon.

Finally the sun had vanished below the horizon. It left us with sublte pastel colored skies.

However, try as we did, we could not see any sign of the new crescent moon. Even though is was a 30 hour old moon, its age determine from the moment it is in conjunction with the sun, it was low on the horizon, only about 3.5 degrees in altitude, and was only in the sky for 20 minutes after the sun set. Most 30 hour old crescents are easy to see in the sky after sunset, but this one was to low ont he horizon and set too soon after sunset.

In the end, no one in North America saw the crescent moon that evening. Making the month of Sha’ban a 30 day month and with Ramadan beginning on Tuesday September 2, 2008.

With one day now complete we look forward to a blessed month ahead of us.

Peace – Youssef

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