RSWL: Camels

I have been traveling a fair bit in the Middle East, and though it may seem like a stereotype – I can honestly tell you that there are thousands of camels everywhere.  It doesn’t take long being around the creatures that you find you really start to like them.

They have been referred to as “ships of the desert” and have for thousands of years, performed a very important role in parts of the world that can be extremely inhospitable to life.  I have since learned that camels can live for more than 25 years and are very tolerant of heat (duh) but, can also function just fine in cold weather as well.

We were recently in Jordan in an area known as the Wadi Rum, a beautiful, vast desert area that is most known for its association with T.E. Lawrence, on whom the movie Lawrence of Arabia was based.  It was a cold morning just above freezing and we approached our camels bundled up and barely awake and they looked at us as if to say, “Great, more tourists…”

The three camels we rode on our two hour trip through the desert

The three camels we rode on our two hour trip through the desert.  Mine was the one in the back – not looking at the camera.

We had a two hour ride through the desert and it took me the first hour just to figure out how to get comfortable sitting up there.  Our guide, a man from Egypt who has been in the area for the past ten years, showed me how to sit with one leg crossed over the front of the saddle in front of you.  Once I did that and found a good balance, not only was it easier for me to take photos as I was not bouncing around so much, but my butt was happier as well.

I am clearly not the first person in history to develop an affinity for these funny looking creatures.  As evidence of that, on our ride that morning, our guide pointed out some petroglyphs carved into the rock face that showed many camels.  These were carved by the Nabateans, an ancient people who inhabited many parts of the Middle East from the B.C.s into the first century (in fact – they were responsible for creating Petra).  So there was proof, literally set in stone, that I was not the first!

Nabatean petroglyphs carved two thousand years ago into the desert rock

Nabatean camel petroglyphs carved two thousand years ago into the desert rock

So why have I come to like camels…?  Well, in no particular order, here are a few reasons:

1. They just have that laid-back attitude that seems to say, “Whatever…”

2. They look really funny

3.  The have an attitude that seems to say, “Fine, I’ll do it, not because you asked me to, but because I have nothing better to do”

4.  They have long necks, big humps, long legs and well… just look funny

5.  When you ride them they sway so much that you can’t help but have fun on them because you know you look so ridiculous

6.  Did I mention they are full of attitude…?

7. And… they look funny!  They just make you smile.  I guess because they are sort of the “ugly ducklings” of the quadruped world – they have to have an attitude! 

This camel was definitely ready for his close-up

This camel was definitely ready for his close-up.  Look at that attitude!

One of the events I went to while in the UAE was a festival during which there was a camel beauty pageant (I am not joking!)  During this event I saw many, many camels and while my eye was not trained to be able to make an aesthetic judgement, there were several locals who enthusiastically showed me what to look for.  I was also shocked to learn that the winner of the pageant can then often sell for somewhere between two to six million dollars!  Yes you read that right, millions of dollars!

I am not sure where my travels will take me next, and if I will ever spend so much time around camels as I have in the past six months, but when I see them in movies, photos, or on TV I will most certainly think back to a time in my life when I saw more camels than people and how those funny looking creatures just made me smile (the camels not the people…)!

A mother camel and her two young camels trailing behind.

A mother camel and her two young camels trailing behind.


Mine.  That’s how I started the day.  There were presents everywhere at our family Christmas party!  All. Mine.  They must be.  Lyla was certainly mistaken as she crawled over to one and began clawing at it with a mess of sticky fingers and drool.  It seemed perfectly natural to tackle her at this moment.  Perhaps it wasn’t the most thought out move in my life.  What followed was screaming, blinking, angry eyes, a boring story about being nice and sharing, and a few minutes to “think” and hit the “reset button”.   Reset button?  Seriously???   They think I fall for that. 

During my thoughtful minutes in exile, I started thinking about some life lessons and tricks I’ve learned.  So here’s my gift to you all:  a list.  (Momma would be so proud with the list thing!). 

Making lists...

Making lists…

  1.  Life is meant to be shared.  You should share all your stuff with me.
  2. The best way to get your point across is to suddenly act as though you have no bones.  Just fall to the ground.
  3. “Come here” means “Run the other way”…and most of the time “No” means “Yes- do it more”.
  4. If I didn’t think of it, it probably isn’t a good idea.
  5. People in the house smaller than you make the best toys.  And despite what I keep hearing…I’m pretty sure eyes do grow back.  
  6. All buttons on all things are meant to be pushed.  Repeatedly. 
  7. When you learn a new trick or new word, to avoid becoming a sideshow, promptly forget said knowledge when asked to perform.  Instead, blankly stare.  Better yet, drop to the floor and pretend to be a puppy. 
  8. The best time to talk is when Momma or Daddy begin talking.  Otherwise, wait.  When the angry eyes come out, put your pointer finger to your mouth and pretend to be thinking, as though saying, “hmmm…I wonder.”  
  9. There isn’t any worry that a love from Momma or Daddy can’t make better. 
  10. When you get caught doing something and are asked, “What are you doing???”… copy with the same question, “What are you doing???”  Throws them every time.  You’re mocking them, but they think you’re copying them, the highest form of flattery.  Follow with a devastatingly cute, toothy grin.  
  11. Watching the people you love smile because of something you do makes you feel like a superhero.  Wait.  It makes you a superhero. 

Merry Christmas everyone!   The next time I write it will be a new year, full of new adventures, new celebrations, new pictures and lots of love!   

RSWL: David Sedaris

“Certain small, ugly creatures are considered adorable and cute. Take, for example, the baby orangutan pictured on the poster that decorates the garage wall. Nothing about this animal is pretty to look at but he doesn’t seem to care one way or the other. When an orangutan catches his reflection in a pool of crystal-clear water he doesn’t take the time to get depressed about his looks. Instead he just goes about his business, eating leaves and examining the heads of his friends and family, searching for mouthwatering fleas. A creature is cute as long as it has mournful eyes and lives in the woods. An ugly person can’t be carefree like animals. From what I’ve seen on television, animals mate without regard to who has a glossier coat or the longest whiskers. I don’t get the idea that apes turn down dates. They might talk but I doubt anyone’s feelings get hurt in the process. I could be wrong because I am not a scientist.”

— David Sedaris, Barrel Fever

 One of the biggest surprises of the last decade for me was David Sedaris.  My brother, Tim, introduced me to this author over one of our annual visits.  I was surprised at just how much I liked him instantly (Sedaris, not my brother…although to be clear, I probably liked my brother instantly too).  I guess I should say I liked Sedaris’ work…I really didn’t meet him, nor do I know THAT much about him.

Perhaps you’ve read one of his books, or listened to him on NPR.  We listened to some of his readings on CD, and it was then that I learned, “Santa didn’t USED to do anything.”  I was hooked. 

“While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively dull. Santa lives with his wife in a remote village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you’re bad, he leaves you coal. If you’re good and live in America, he’ll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, “Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you into a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don’t know for sure, but we want you to be prepared.”

 This is the reward for living in the Netherlands. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution — so what’s not to love about being Dutch?

One doesn’t want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn’t used to do anything. He’s not retired and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. It’s too dangerous there, and the people wouldn’t appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. Though he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn’t have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit he’d most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn’t speak Spanish. “Hello. How are you? Can I get you some candy?” Fine. He knows enough to get by, but he’s not fluent and he certainly doesn’t eat tapas.”

—Excerpt from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Since that first encounter (thanks to my brother), I’ve  acquired all his books (I think), and have seen him read his essays and stories live a couple times.   Never a disappointment, Sedaris is the kind of writer who both amuses you and makes you think.  Some, if not most, of his stories make you laugh…and laugh.  And then, he sneaks in a few serious ones that make you contemplate society or choices.

I’d like to think his humor inspires me and the way I tell stories.  Maybe it’s the self-deprecating nature of his largely autobiographical writing.   Maybe it’s his timing.  Maybe it’s his mix of fascinating information with humor.  As long as he is writing, I’ll be reading his work, or listening to it.   Reading it is great, but if you get the chance, you really must listen to him read his own writing.  The delivery is amazing. 

Cheers to big surprises and ridiculously funny people.   


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TMG Philosophy: It Actually is a Small World (after all…)

Those of us that work here at the Transmogrifier tend to travel quite a bit.  It is vitally important of course for our ongoing goal of collecting photographs from all over the world.

If you have been a loyal reader of our blogs (thank you!) then you know that it is easy for us to get caught up in the work of looking for shots.  On an average trip to a location, we tend to take an average of 200 to 300 shots an hour!  At that rate, it is easy to get focused on the work and forget to stop and enjoy where we are.

Recently I was in the United Arab Emirates, in an area known as Liwa, at a camel beauty pageant (yes – you read that right!)  We were the only Westerners as far as we could see and in the midst of looking for good shots, I remarked to my wife that it would be nice to talk to someone who could explain what they look for in a camel beauty pageant.  Just about three minutes later, an Arabic man walked up, introduced himself as Jaber, and with very good English, began talking with us and answering our questions about the very large (and I have to admit – beautiful ) black camel in front of us.

After about 15 minutes he invited us to come to his tent and sit with them for some coffee and dates.  We agreed and we soon found ourselves being driven by 4×4 across the sand to a large tent on the top of a dune.  There were about 50 to 60 men there from several countries throughout the Middle East.  We were given a place to sit on low cushions and quickly served coffee and dates.  We spent an hour and a half or so talking with several of the men there some of whom spoke English and others who spoke through a translator.

At one point I had gotten up to take photos, at the friendly insistence of Ali, a young man who acted as our translator when necessary, when we stopped as a couple of older men made room for me on the cushions and asked me to sit and talk with them.  I sat for ten to fifteen minutes talking with them about all sorts of things, and asked about the thin canes that the men carry. Ali got up, walked across the tent, exchanged a few words with a man, and then came back to me, extended his hand and with a smile said “a gift for you.”   I felt a bit embarrassed to accept it, but knew there was no way to refuse.  I thanked him and the man you gave it up (which it turns out was Ali’s brother) and continued my talk (with the help of Ali’s translation) with the two men beside me, touched by their warmth and hospitality.

Me sitting in the tent with my two new friends.

Me sitting in the tent with my two new friends.

We were then invited to have lunch with them.  Jaber asked us if we would be more comfortable eating alone and we asked if there was a problem for us to eat with them, to which he smiled and replied “It’s no problem.”   We were taken into another tent where there were two large plastic runners laid out with trays of food and drinks spaced neatly around the perimeter.  Jaber took us to a place and asked us to sit.  The large tray in front of us contained rice, vegetables, and a meat that we were told was camel.  Flat bread, yogurt, soft-drinks and water completed the meal.

The lunch "table"

The lunch “table”

The food and company was excellent and as I sat there, cross-legged and eating with my hand, I took a moment to look around the room at the faces (many of whom smiled back at me when we made eye contact) that looked different from mine – but were enjoying a meal with me just the same.

When you travel and meet other people and make the effort to get to know them, you will find that a vast majority of the time – they are very much like you and that makes the world instantly smaller.

Since this will most likely be my last post for this year (I leave for a week in Jordan tomorrow) I will say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Middle East!

A very patient camel in the vast desert dunes known as the Empty Quarter wishes you all Merry Christmas!

A very patient camel in the vast desert dunes known as the Empty Quarter wishes you all Merry Christmas!



12/11- Nate’s Notes: Not As Easy As I Thought

Hi people.  Sorry it has been awhile.  Lyla, then Momma, then Daddy got sicko, so I had to take care of everyone.  But they are whining less and So remember that whole promotion thingy?  Where I take photos to help Momma now?  Well, it’s a lot of work!!  Apparently there aren’t that many acceptable ways to use a camera.  I’ve tried.  Upside down, sideways, running, using my teeth…all of which earned angry eyes from Momma or Daddy.   Momma keeps telling me I’m looking through the camera the wrong way.  She laughs (not AT me) and tells me I keep taking a lot of “selfies”…whatever that means.

You have to hold really still, like you are pretending sleep.  I tried this, but kept closing my eyes (because aren’t they supposed to be closed when you sleep?  I guess fishy sleep with their eyes open…but whatever).  It’s pretty hard to take a picture with your eyes closed.  I’ve tried.  A lot.

What I’m trying to say is that this is hard work!  The camera gets heavy, my legs get tired, and having to help push Lyla around gets even more tiring. And I don’t even have to do the editing and camera work.   Momma says hard work is a good thing.  Uh oh- that’s code for a soon-to-come-long-boring-story from her soon.  I’ll just “take a nap” then.  Oh well, gotta get back to work.   Practice practice practice.  Don’t forget to check out some of my photos online!

Apparently you can't run and take a picture. Trust me, this big rock is amazing!

Apparently you can’t run and take a picture. Trust me, this big rock is amazing!

TMG Philosophy: In The Moment

Be present.  Be here.  Variations of this have come out in past blog entries, but I have been ever mindful of this goal recently.   Watching my toddler son and infant daughter teaches me to live in the moment.  Truthfully, some of those moments (i.e. numerous nighttime awakenings and temper tantrums) I’d rather zoom through.  Even then, in the midst of those struggles, I close my eyes, and try to remember it is temporary; it is only a moment.

When I am present, I watch, I play, I enjoy, and I learn.  I watch my 2-year old skip from one minute to the next full of wonder and awe.  I watch him crying face down on the floor one minute, and belly laughing the next.  While I know he is still learning to control these emotions, it reminds me that he is purely in each moment.  He isn’t worrying about how much time he has before a nap.  He isn’t holding a grudge against me for taking away his books so he will eat.  He isn’t thinking about when he will have clean clothes or how much of a mess he has to clean in each room.   As I crawl around on the floor with him and his baby sister, pretending to be puppies, I feel his joy, his contentment.  It grounds me.  It calms me.  My moments with my babies, the crying ones, the laughing ones, the sleeping ones, the screaming ones, all teach me to be present and value what I have.  Those moments don’t come back.

We have all felt or experienced sudden loss, some more than others.  Whether it is a home, a job, a beloved family member or a treasured dog, those moments of loss can level us.  Those moments can imprison us.  But in processing that grief, in acknowledging that loss, I have learned about being present.  I have learned about being grateful for each moment I am in because I don’t know how many more I will have, and some of the sweetest moments of my life have passed.  I have learned to love all that is in front of me, right now, right here.

Being present means I delight in the details surrounding me right now, right here.  Actively photographing the world around me has disciplined me even more than I thought possible.  If I go out on a field adventure and I’m not present, I miss the hidden beauties around me.  I miss the opportunities to see what is in front of me.  I forget to consider different possibilities, different angles, different perspectives.   I have gotten to the point now, when I get back home and upload my photos, where I can tell if I was shooting the pictures in the moment, or just using the camera.  I’ve even gone back to the same place twice because I have been so disappointed in my work, in the details I missed.  I read myself this quote often before I head out for a field adventure-  Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.” — Alan Watts.

There will always be a time when we are worried about the future or thinking about the past, and forget to be in the moment.   Yet those times that we do find ourselves “lost in the moment”, carefree and surprised at how much time has passed…those moments should be celebrated.   I know I strive to be present as often as I can, even if it comes less frequently than I want.   I can hear my son calling me now to play with him.  My answer:  I’m here.  I’m present.  I’m not going to miss this moment.

Nate’s Notes: Gotta Listen. Gotta Work.

The other day we went on a field adventure to a place where people used to catch a lot of fishies and shrimpies.   Lyla was wearing Momma on her back while Daddy and I walked around a super neat place by the water.   It was some sort of park.  In a state.  There were boats, and sticks, rocks, hills and buildings.   It started out great!  I had my listening ears on, Momma and Daddy were smiling and taking pictures, Lyla was…well, doing what Lyla does- growling.  Daddy gave me his camera to practice shots.   After all, I gotta work with a camera now, not just write. The sun was just right, not too hot, not too cold.  I found this stuff on the ground under a tree, and decided it was a good place to take pictures.    “Pictoos? Pictoos of dat Dadda?”, I asked as he watched me.   Sure Mr. Man…I’ll help you, he answered back.

 Tree Skin. Gross.

Tree Skin. Gross.

I pointed and asked my favorite question, “Whhhaats dat?”  For the biggest effect, I like to ask this about eleventeen times in a row.  “That is…the skin of the tree.  It’s coming off the tree and landing here, Daddy answered.   That. Is. Just. Gross.  Worried, I looked at my own skin and then back at the tree, and then to the ground.

It’s possible this is what set me off, or maybe it was the salt air, but my listening ears kind of fell off, like the tree skin.  After finishing my pictures of the tree skin, I looked around and noticed Momma and Lyla ahead. Camera still in hand, I ran down the hill after them.  I could hear Daddy yelling in back of me, but somehow his “no’s and stop’s” sounded like, “run away faster”!   I was almost to them when I was lifted straight off the ground.  Daddy grabbed my overalls and hauled me into his arms. Uh-oh.  He had his angry eyes on.  I turned around to see Momma…yep, she had her angry eyes on too.

There was a big story about listening, not running away, being careful, not getting hurt, not having the camera alone, and some other stuff.  The story wasn’t as cool as Papa’s stories.   I heard some of it, but mostly just started hearing the birds tweeting, Lyla growling, and the songs in my head.  It would TOTALLY have been Daddy’s fault if I had dropped the camera.  I was just trying to work.  I gotta work!  After a little bit of silence and angry-eye blinking, I summarized for them.  “Not a good idea, Nate.”   

Because my listening ears fell off, I didn’t get to take more pictures on our field adventure, AND, had to wear Daddy in the front of my backpack.  Their loss.  I could have taken so many cool pictures.  I guess you’ll just have to settle for theirs. Maybe next time.  Gotta listen.  Gotta work.

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RSWL: Challenges

Challenges.  Okay, so I don’t mean the kind of life challenges that refine us and define our strength.  That’s another entry.  I mean those fun 30-day challenges (or whatever the length of time).  It could be anything from saying “hi” to a stranger every day, to running every day, to journaling every day, or cooking a new recipe every day.   Some of these can be quirky, some a lifestyle change, some a renewing experience.  Whatever the challenge, it is always rewarding to mix it up, set a goal, test our own integrity and stick-to-it-iveness, and come out of the time with new knowledge, new skills, or a new habit (hopefully a healthy one!).

I came across this fun 30-day photo challenge and want to invite you to join me.  Try it, share it, show it.

30-Day Photo Challenge

    1.  Tricky tricky                                         16. Glow
    2. Flatness                                               17. Smile
    3. Altitude                                                 18. Weather
    4. Green                                                   19. Broken
    5. Wet                                                       20. Patterns
    6. Light                                                      21. Perfection
    7. Landscape                                            22. Earth
    8. Rebirth                                                  23. Pastels
    9. Shadow                                                24. Reflection
    10. The good life                                         25. Panorama
    11. Brown                                                   26. Solitary
    12. Floral                                                    27. New beginnings
    13. Strength                                               28. Au naturale
    14. Help                                                      29. Lost and found
    15. Macro                                                   30. Headlight


Use your imagination; it’s a powerful thing!  Sometimes we just need a little “click” to tap into our creativity or renew our inspiration.  Maybe this challenge is just that…maybe not.  But we won’t know until we try.  Go ahead…I dare you.