I left the house at 5:30 to photograph the United States Hot Air Balloon Team in Bird-in-Hand. It was a beautiful, calm morning and I had an extra battery, a tripod and high hopes.
The balloon went from trailer to air in twenty five minutes and floated off into the sunrise. I took 50 photos that I knew I wouldn’t keep because I’ve seen it so many times before. Here in Lancaster, watching a hot air balloon is an ordinary thing, and even at dawn it seemed like nothing special.
I went home and as I walked towards my front door I noticed some tulips in the garden, took a few quick shots, then downloaded and deleted everything because they weren’t perfect. But I went back to look at the flowers, and this time I really looked (and photographed).
The photo isn’t perfect but the tulip definitely is. It opened within the last hour, will close at night, and by the end of the month it will be gone. I was looking for something amazing and walked right by it.
In her book Nothing Special, Charlotte Joko Beck talks about awareness. “We don’t have to try to develop awareness; we simply need to notice how we block awareness, with our thoughts, our fantasies, our opinions, and our judgments.”
I was looking for something special, something awe inspiring, and these flowers are as close to a miracle as I was going to find. You don’t have to go far to be inspired, you just have to be aware of the things that are right in front of you all the time.
In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes: “In our scripture it is said that there are four kinds of horses. The best horse will run before it sees the shadow of the whip. That is the best one.
The second one will run just before the whip reaches his skin. The third one will run when it feels pain on his body. The fourth one will run after the pain penetrates into the marrow of his bone. That is the worst one.
When we hear this story, perhaps everyone wants to be a good horse-the best horse. Those who find a great difficulty in practice of Zen will find more meaning of Zen. So sometimes I think the best horse is the worst horse and the worst horse is the best one.”
In this case, the best horse took a break from eating his lunch to let me take his photo.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist best known for creating his hierarchy of needs. Of the five needs, the first four are referred to as deficiency needs, and are said to motivate people when they are unmet.
One day I was passing through Bird In Hand, and saw one of the hot air balloons filling up as they do most summer afternoons. I decided that I needed a great photograph of it and I was motivated. The light was good, it was warm, and they were launching three at the same time. I was as excited as a donkey on Donkey Derby Day (it’s an Irish thing).
There was plenty of time so I took a few test shots, checked the exposure and the camera suddenly died. Not having the extra battery with me, I stayed to watch for a while, pretending that it was enough just to see three balloons floating into the gorgeous blue sky, but it wasn’t, my needs were unmet.
The fifth need is self-actualization, and he estimated that only two percent of people would ever reach that state.
He is also known for Maslow’s hammer, popularly phrased as “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Or in my case, if all you have is a dead camera, go home, eat dinner and try again another time.