“We must always bear in mind that we are not going to be free, but are free already.” ~~ Swami Vivekananda
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
~~ John Milton
With deep gratitude for the many epiphanies I encountered on this trip to Acadia.
I see these things with an intense joy,
and while I observe, there is no observer, only a beauty almost like love.
For an instant, I am absent, myself and my problems, my anxieties, my troubles,
nothing but the wonder exists.
This poem is a word-painting of how I felt in the dance of capturing this photograph at sunset on Schoodic Point at Maine’s Acadia National Park. It had been a long day of driving, hiking, scouting locations. My daughter Helena and I had been to this spot earlier that day, in harsh, bright light. Then, the pinks in the granite were hidden by the sun’s sharp glare. But we got back for sunset. As the sun was dropping below the horizon, the eastern sky charged up its soft pink glow, blushing these granite rocks, staggering a cracked rugged pathway to heaven before us.
For several minutes as the sun was setting I quickly jumped from spot to spot, setting my tripod, arranging compositions in my camera’s viewfinder. You’d have thought me a mad scientist or a skittish mountain goat. But I knew the light was changing quickly, that each minute brought new shapes and colors into presence for my wondrous black box to record for later viewing and digital development. And in all of this, I was an extension of the camera, or, it was an extension of me? Like a dancer given a wondrous symphony to move to, I was glad I had practiced my steps. I moved from composition to composition, arranging the shapes and lens zoom, adjusting focus and exposure by feel. My fingers had learned where to poke and push, and my ears had learned to listen for the peeps and pops, confirming the camera’s syncopation with my artistic vision.
For that instant, my worries and troubles drop away, replaced by the joy and love before me. My gratitude is unspeakable. My self dissolves at the wonder.
I was running out of inspiration in my photography. My last “photography trip” was way back in early March 2011, and the next one would not be for a year or more. No one was buying my photos, and no one was enrolling in my workshops. I was getting very few “Likes” on my posts. I was thinking why do this at all. Who cares about these images anyway? There are trillions of them on the internet, and why bother?
Yesterday when I was walking up my driveway after a day at the office, I heard the singing of a Cardinal up in the sky somewhere. I stopped and listened and looked until I saw him, sitting way up on my TV antenna. Then I smiled and whistled back. Was he singing for me?
Last Saturday I was at the Chicago Botanic Garden, to shoot some pictures of the flowers and plants there. Initially, I was walking around in the grip of the mind’s chatter — “Find pretty flowers … in soft light … with uncluttered backgrounds … and get their names … and won’t everybody just love it … and blah blah blah blah blah.”
But then, by walking around, by myself, just being still and letting the plants attract me (letting my heart attract them?), by just walking around and noticing my feelings, my mind’s focus was directed to a group of hostas perched quietly along a stairway under a canvas tent. Their stillness and apparent contentment with their position, leaf curling against leaf, created in me a feeling of appreciation that these flowing, unspectacularly green ripply plants had accepted their destiny to put on a display — today — now — just for me, because everyone else had passed them by.
So what is the purpose of a plant growing or a bird singing or a Harry making a picture? Is it to win awards, recognition, appreciation from other people? I think not.
I think, when we are still, we are all inspired to do what feels good to us, and I should not forget that for me it feels good to pour some of my life into creating a thing of beauty. Like the Cardinal singing his song. Like the hosta leaf growing and cuddling with her sisters.
I will remember to focus my mind on these things, before focusing my camera.
When before the beauty of a sunset or a mountain, you pause and exclaim, “Ah,” you are participating in divinity.— Joseph Campbell
I went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.— John Muir
Light is God’s way of saying “Hello!”— Harry Hitzeman
Around Christmastime we joke about the Seinfeld holiday of Festivus. “Christians have Christmas, Jews have Hanukkah, and then there’s Festivus for the rest of us.” There is a Festivus ceremony called “The Airing of Grievances.” I prefer to engage in the “Airing of my awstruckedness at the realization of my good fortune.” And these are — as related to my love of landscape photography — the following:
- Being alive in a time where I can fly to almost anywhere in the world, or just step out into my back yard.
- Being able to take as many pictures as I like with “free film” (digital files).
- Getting immediate feedback from my camera about the technical qualities of the image I just captured, and being able to see immediately the result on a LCD screen.
- Owning a computer and internet connection and image editing software so I can magically develop my photos in ways that even Ansel Adams could not do, and I can share my images with the world easily and quickly.
But most of all, having a really good Capricorn excuse for going outdoors (or into skinny slot canyons) and enjoying and appreciating the magnificent beauty all around us.