Camino de Santiago

To Hear Someone

listeningThe Hebrew word for “Hear”, is “Shema”, it means something different than our English translation of the word. In Hebrew the word, “Hear”, it means something more like “doing”. It is a more active than to just hear someone. Hearing means doing.

This I found interesting and lead me to think how often I really don’t “hear” well. I am not very good at really “hearing someone”. You see by the Hebrew translation, it is something more active. It is doing.

To be a good listener is really does take action/doing something. It is not just hearing words but it is putting oneself into a doing/action position. First, I think it is important to take the effort to look at the person that it is talking to you. To turn and look them in the eye. To put down what you looking at and actually turn look at someone directly.

The next part of being a good listener is really hard, it is another action/doing step, it is setting aside my agenda or formulating my response as I am listening. It is a focusing action. To  focus on the person. To just simply, listen without judgemental thoughts. This is really quite difficult if we already have found that this person is someone we are in disagreement with.

The other important part of being a good listener is be actively involved and curious to understand each person’s situation. The action of being a curious listener, actively interested in trying to understand the other person, takes real effort.

I have been thinking about the issue of being a good listener. As a nation, I think we could do a lot better than we are doing right now. One way for us to draw closer together as a nation I believe is for us to begin to practice being better listeners. To actively try “to hear” each other.

One of the things that walking the  Camino did was it really “level set” us all to a similar situation. We were all doing the same routine each day, day after day. We could easily relate to each other’s situation. It was easier to relate and to “hear” each other.

I am working hard these days to be a better listener, to really hear someone. I dare say it is something we all could do better.

Blessings and all good,


Photograph of the Week

Stilly Winter Landscape

I posted this image this past week on my Blue Skies Facebook page but thought it would be good for others that are not on Facebook to see it as well.

I love the Stillaguamish River and this winter I have had several opportunities to see in many different winter conditions. To make this final image I chose to use a number of creative techniques in the post processing but I think it really works well for this image.



The Music Of Heaven


“There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing” (St. Hildegard of Bingen)

As many of you may know, I have been singing in our Church choir now for a number of years. I love to sing, even though truth be told, I am not a very strong singer (I need lots of help around me to help me stay on tune). One thing I have learned about singing is how it makes me feel. I lifts me up and my soul seems to take flight. I have discovered that, if I only just read the words of the songs we sing at Church, it would not be nearly as powerful and life giving as when we sing them as a choir together. The music is what lifts and makes those words soar in my heart and lifts me to places I could never go without it.

This quote also got me thinking how this also applies as well to the “Music of Heaven” seen all around us in nature. I realized that how if one only spent their time looking at photographs of nature, there would be a very limited understanding of nature. I try very hard in my photography to convey the amazing beauty of nature to the reader of my photographs. I know that they do help bring folks closer to seeing the beauty of what I have seen but there really is no substitute than to actually personally experience that amazing sunrise or sunset. To be present in nature to its raw beauty is to “sing” out its beauty. It lifts you up and you feel it’s real raw power to heal us and renew us.

Recently I have taken to taking video of the scenes of nature, in addition to the photographs. It seems to me that the videos are getting one a tiny bit closer to the experience of immersion in nature but still there is really no substitute for being there. If we really want to our spirits to soar, we need to “sing” out the beauty of nature by being present with all our senses to its amazing beauty.

As I write the blog today, it has been snowing and there is a fair amount of snow now across the city, covering everything in a beautiful white coat. No need to get in a car and drive to the mountains today to “sing” out the music of heaven. It is right outside our doors. Go and immerse yourselves its beauty! Sing out!

Blessings and all good,


Photograph of the Week

Well, I decided to depart this week from a photograph only and will offer to you something that might be closer to “singing out” natures song. Here are a few videos I have taken this year from different trips to the mountains to experience the frozen beauty of the waterfalls of our region as well as a special winter getaway trip to warm and sunny Santa Barbara. I have added music that our Holy Rosary Edmonds Catholic Church choir sang back in June 2016 to this as well.

Enjoy and immerse yourselves!

Sing Out Nature’s Beauty


Get Some Distance


20160628-st-helens-john-and-st-helensOur little granddaughter Kay, like so many children these days, is in love with the Disney movie, “Frozen”. She loves hearing the song, “Let It Go”. The following lyrics in this song caused me to think about how true it is that getting some distance can be a healthy medicine for us:

“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all” (lyrics from “Let it Go” by Idina Menzel)

Walking the Camino, Terri and I experienced the value of distance from our everyday life because it was a true breakaway experience. You get a new perspective when you separate yourself away. It is a healthy thing for us to do this, I believe. The distance gives us perspective for some reason. In this long walk I was able to see more clearly my life as a retired Boeing engineer. My 40 years of working at Boeing began to been seen from a distance. My fears of what a retired life was going be like, began to fade as I became more excited about being retired.

I know that for some folks there is a lot of fear and anxiety about what is going to happen next,  now that we have a new President in office. My recommendation for you is to put  “some distance” on it. How do you do that? How about spending some time away from your daily routine and turn off the news. If possible get out into nature and into some winter silence. I think it helps to get up high in the mountains, so you can look back down and see how things look different. Not sure why this all helps but my experience is that it does.

I will end this little blog today with a quote from Frank Borman of the Apollo 8 mission;

“The view of the Earth from the Moon fascinated me — a small disk, 240,000 miles away. It was hard to think that that little thing held so many problems, so many frustrations. Raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilence don’t show from that distance.”



Photograph of the Week

Eagle Guardians of the Skagit

I posted this image I created from a photograph of three eagles sitting high in a tree near the town of Bow, in the Skagit Valley. I posted it on my Blue Skies Photography Facebook page but wanted to share if with those who did not see it there. It is one of my favorite images I created recently.



When It’s All Been Said And Done


During our Camino walk and our recent trip to Scotland and Ireland, we visited a number of very old graveyards (The image above was created a photograph I captured from the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland). Maybe it was the combined effect of visiting of these ancient grave sites and a song I was listening to recently called “When It’s All Been Said And Done” that got me to a reflective mood about my own death. I was thinking on the importance of never taking any of our moments we have here for granted. We really do not have the much time here on earth.

“When it’s all been said and done, all my treasures will mean nothing” goes one of the verses of the song. The expression “there are U-Haul’s behind hearses” comes to mind for me. Here is a good reminder for me as I pile up more stuff and those things I think I can not live without. When it’s all been said and done, will they say I loved my family more than my stuff? Will they say I was a faithful and true husband, father, grandfather and friend? What will be remembered of me ,when all’s said and done?

This year I became aware of an international speaker, author and business consultant named Matthew Kelly from Sydney, Australia. He has dedicated his life to helping people and organizations “to become the best versions of themselves“.

This is what I want to strive for in 2017 and they years I have left. To become the best version of myself so when it’s all been said and done, I will have no regrets and my Savior will say, “Well done, John!”.



Photograph of the Week

Ancient Celtic Stones

The image was created from a photograph taken in the Glencolmcille region of Ireland (Northwest coast). The are a number of these very old marker stones in this area of Ireland. Glencolmcille has a very ancient past with farmers settling in this valley as far back as 3000BC.

Words Matter

20140924-horn-castro-26-finalAs many of you know, I am fond of using quotes at the start of my blog articles. This time I am going to start with my own quote that came to me today.

“Words Matter. In fact, it is possible to sometimes renew or redeem our marriages and relationships with the words we use.”

Terri and I recently have been mentoring a newly engaged couple that are going to be married this Spring. In our first session, we talked about the importance of consistent and sincere affirmations and how they can lift us up and help us feel better about ourselves.

Some of the material we used said some real truths about how we can renew and redeem our relationships.

“Looking for and affirming the goodness in the other lifts our spirits and cultivates an attitude of gratitude and generosity in us.  Conversely, criticism damages the sense of worthiness in the partner…When we criticize the other, we also damage our own spirit; instead of focusing our blessings, we see only his or her inadequacies. Criticism saps the enjoyment out of our life and is like a poison to a marriage.”

When Terri and I walked the Camino, we were at some very low points both physically and emotionally along the way. There is a tendency when we are very tired to sometimes criticize and it is hard to find ways to affirm the other. Yet at our low points is exactly when we need to be reaffirming each other.

I read recently that one of the best indicators of success in marriage, is a ratio of positive to negative interactions of 5:1. When I read that ratio, it felt right to me. It seems to me that positive affirmations in our relationships are like putting oil or grease on gears. If we leave the grease or oil out eventually those gears are going to grind down and fail.

Words matter. We need to be consistent and sincere with our affirmations of each other. Let’s keep the gears of our marriages and relationships running smooth.

Blessings and Merry Christmas to all!


Photograph of the Week

Ancient Skellig Michael Island

This photograph was taken on our fantastic voyage and journey to Skellig Michael Island off the west coast of Ireland. The island was made famous by the movie, “The Force Awakens”. This photo is of the very last set of very steep stairs leading to top of Michael Skellig Island.

Stay Awake – Be Present



” Our real worry should not be that the world might suddenly end or that we might unexpectedly die, but that we might live and then die, asleep, that is, without really loving, without properly expressing our love, and without tasting deeply the real joy of living because we are so consumed by the business and busy pressures of living that we never quite get around to fully living.” Fr Ron Rolheiser

I like this quote because it speaks the truth that we all need to be reminded of continually. We need to stay awake and present in the middle of the busy pressures of our lives. It is so easy to let the combination of  pressure, anxiety, laziness, depression, tension and weariness break us down so we “fall asleep” and are less vigilant to all around us. We miss living life fully. We are not present to the people, situations and beauty that surrounds us all. We “sleep walk” right on by these precious moments.

In photography, being vigilant, being present and alive is one of the keys to good photography. It is something that my hiking friend, Bob Maier, and I share together. We both are very present and alive to throughout the our day of hiking. We are both very spontaneous and alive to capture the beauty of nature as we hike.

The same should be true for all aspects of our lives if we want to be fully living our lives.

So as we approach one of the busiest seasons of the year, let’s all try and be more vigilant and awake and present to all!



Photograph of the Week

The Wild Atlantic Way

I fell in love with the West Coast of Ireland. It is referred to as the Wild Atlantic Way and it is truly one of the most scenic coastlines anywhere in the world.



Receptive Listening and Storytelling



“Receptive Listening and Storytelling, are unvalued and under practiced skills in society.” Merna Ann Hecht

I read this quote in a Seattle Times newspaper article that was on how to survive the “stress trigger” of the most recent Presidential Election. The woman quoted is a storyteller, poet, author and teaching artist who works with children who have suffered loss.

The words that stuck with me was storytelling and receptive listening. I started thinking how good am I at these important skills that as a society we seem to undervalue. Since reading that article it seems that I have had a number of occasions where these two themes seem to be coming up again and again.

Our two and half year old grand daughter, Kay, has become quite the “storyteller” these days and I have found myself enchanted with her “tall tales” she weaves. I listen as she take us through an imaginative journey through all those people, animals and things within the house or yard or even some place like the zoo that she has visited. (see example below)

This started me thinking that if we have this great imagination and gift of storytelling when we are young what happens to us as we get older? What is there to learn here?

Receptive listening and storytelling were a big part of our 6 week journey through Scotland and Ireland. Both Terri and I especially loved the storytelling of our Scotland guide, Robin MacGregor. As we looked back, we realized it was the great stories Robin told of the people, history, culture and landscapes, that was often very personal, that really gave us our new insights and appreciation of Scotland.

Terri and I were fortunate to be able to be in attendance this past week for a full day of listening  TEDx talk speakers at the Edmonds Center for the Arts. We were totally captivated by many of the speakers but the ones that really hit home the  most are the ones that told their personal stories that drove home their a few critical insights that really stuck with you and you took home with you.

Storytelling and reflective listening. I really want to learn how to get better at these important life skills! I hope I might have inspired you as well.




If your are interested here is a video of Kay that I got about midway through a long story on penguins (they were in the Splat the Cat book we read just before we sat down to eat lunch). Kay our little storyteller.

I will also give you a link to the TEDx talk speaker, Bridget Foley, who is an author, actor and screenwriter. She told a story on breast cancer that is totally captivating and gets you right in the heart.

2016 Sno-Isle Libraries TEDx Talks – You will need to select the second video post. Bridget Foley’s story begins about 1 hr 40 mins into the video (so you can select this point in the video and got straight there).

Photograph of the Week

Mt Baring Stands Tall

Talk about a “tall tale” this photograph was made on a recent hike to Barclay Lake on near the town of Baring on Hwy 2. The north face of Mt Baring is only 500 ft shorter than El Capitan in Yosemite and most folks never see it since you don’t see that side of the mountain from Hwy 2. You can access the view of the north face of Mt Baring by taking a short 2 mile walk to Barclay Lake. Well worth a visit!

Making More Interesting Photographs


“How do I make more interesting photographs? Become a more interesting person” Jay Maisel

One thing about travel is has the potential to change you. I believe you become a more interesting person when you step outside your comfort zone. It draws you out of your normal routines. You have the opportunity to learn and grow as you travel to see new people, lands and cultures. There are less distractions of the daily life and more time to focus on those around you and the beauty of the lands. This opens you up I believe to makes you a better person, a more interesting person and maybe even a little better photographer.

I think another aspect of making more interesting photographs is imagination. Our two and half year old grand daughter, Kay, has recently got me thinking of the importance of imagination. After reading a “Splat the Cat’ book to her, during lunch as she was talking about the story, she spent the next several minutes spinning a new tale involving the penguins that were a part of the book ending and wove them into the surroundings of the house (the space she knows well). It reminded me again how powerful our imagination can be in creating things anew. Taking ordinary places of daily life and making them extraordinary. One of the keys to making more interesting photographs is our imagination. To see the ordinary of life anew with our imaginations.



Photograph of the Week

The Burren Is Alive

The Burren is very desolate but there are also amazing pockets of life growing all through it.  I chose to use the combined B&W and color composite technique to visually accent this story.

Myth and Mystery



“Mystery is the essential element to every work of art”  by Luis Bunuel

One of the more important insights from our trip to Scotland and Ireland that I came away with is how special the elements of myth, mystery and folklore are in the culture of Scotland and Ireland. The ancient Celtic culture is filled with myth and mystery and the great stories that were orally passed down from generation to generation. The folklore of Scotland and Ireland is very rich and has a long history. The photo at the top of this blog is of a water spirit called a Kelpie. The Kelpie is a powerful and beautiful black horse inhabiting the deep pools of rivers and streams of Scotland, preying on any humans it encounters. Stories of malevolent water spirits served the practical purpose of keeping children away from perilous areas of water. These 30 metre-high horse-head sculptures were in Falkirk, Scotland on the Forth and Clyde canal (a 35 mile canal crossing Scotland).

It is my believe that in America we suffer from the lack of mystery and myth. We don’t have this long history like they do in these Celtic countries (although the Native American tribes certainly had the long heritage of myth, folklore and mystery). In the United States, we mostly have a “scientific method” mindset. We have the belief that there is an answer to every question or problem (even if we don’t know right now what it is we believe science will discover it someday). There is no such thing as a mystery. I think we are missing something even though I am not sure I can put my finger on it.

Maybe it has something to do with the quote that I included at the top of this blog. It is making the linkage between a work of art and mystery. That work of art is really something that comes out of someone and in many cases the artist doesn’t even know how it works. It just comes out. There is no scientific answer to how this works. I love that. It inspires me in some way. I guess I really do embrace mystery and maybe that is why I love the creative and artsy photography that I have been drawn to lately. Not sure.



Photograph of the Week

Mystery is in the Air

I loved the wonderful skies of Ireland and Scotland. They were endlessly changing and were so dynamic and breathtaking. This “work of art” was created from a very dynamic sky above the treeline in the distance. The pattern of the trees seemed to be repeated by the sky. I love how the sky made me feel.I hope you also can feel the mystery of it.

A Deeper Reading

160927-mohr-burren-82-finalI have a favorite photographer (David Du Chemin) that I like to follow and I have read most of his e-books as well. He wrote a book called the “A Deeper Frame, Creating Deeper Photographs & More Engaging Experiences” a few years ago that I was recently re-reading. He draws a distinction between what he refers to as “readers” and “viewers” of photographs. He sees “viewing”of something as a passive activity, the opposite of participation or interaction. David feels that when we are a “reader” of something when we are more engaged or a participant in it. He (and I) hope that our photographs engage people, draw them in, make them more than viewers but readers, instead.

I certainly have noticed the difference between the readers and the viewers of my photography. During the Art Festivals I have done over the years, I have seen folks come into my booth and spend time really looking at each image and reading the labels about the image. They take their time and you can see they are getting enjoyment from the experience. I love it when I see that behavior. It means I have told a good story and they are enjoying reading it.

Now that we have been home now for several days from our long journey to Scotland and Ireland, I have had some time to reflect a bit more on our trip. It came to me that we definitely were not “viewers” but were went deeper and were true “readers” of our Scotland and Ireland experience.

The length of our trip was close to six weeks in length and we used a combination of guided tours (Road Scholar) and independent time on our own exploring. We really got a deeper reading of Scotland and Ireland. It as awesome learning experience and we both now have a much better understanding of the people, the culture, the history, the archeology and landscapes of these most amazing people and lands.

All travel is good for us as it breaks down myths and builds up understanding. It is even better if you can have a “deeper reading” during your travels rather than the brief “viewer” experience. We are more likely to be lastingly affected.



P.S. The photograph above is from the area of Ireland called “The Burren”. This image is a good one, I think, of what is meant by a “deeper frame” image. I draws you in and you are left with a little mystery as the landscape is strange and different you wonder that the story is about it.