Friday, June 6, 2008


Looking at this photo takes me away to my first real photography adventure with a man who would soon become a good friend and an inspiration for a new life.

I have been interested in art and photography since I was a child. I learned quickly how to express myself with photography when I "borrowed" my folks' 35mm film camera at age 15 or so. I did little more than capture the images that meant the most to me, mostly sunsets, the family pets, and zoo animals. Though I enjoyed it, I found little support for my art among my family and friends. Combining that disinterest with my own apathy and lack of self worth, as I grew into the responsibilities of adulthood, I began to neglect the artist and photographer within in favor of the pragmatic and mundane spittle of survival. That limited comprehension of self was a short path to insanity and neurosis.
I was rescued from this atrophy by a few good friends and the encouragement of my wife. I began hiking and bird-watching and was quickly reminded of my deeper loves. Photography was a natural companion to these activities and I quickly took up the hobby again as I recorded the sights around me.
In March of 2007 I had the pleasure of accompanying our flight crew on a mission in Sedona, AZ. I was assisting project manager and was recruited to supervise the flight and airborne GPS operations for the project. Due to the weather and the nature of the project we were forced to stay a bit of extra time there until the mission was complete. During our down time, we planned a hike through the West Fork of Oak Creek Canyon. I had hiked in that area before, and swam and fished in the creek there. I was familiar with its seasons and I looked forward to seeing it through the eyes of a photographer.
My companion was an accolmplished outdoorsman and master photographer and I would have been even more intimidated than I was had I not been to West Fork before. It helped a bit that he had never seen the canyon and I felt a bit like a guide through this scenic miracle of nature. As we left the parking lot, I showed my nervousness in my awkward listing of my past experiences in the canyon, my old self abasement leering at me from within. I heard in my companion's polite silence an eager anticipation of the wonders to be discovered between the sandstone walls that steered the creek all those countless centuries. As we left behind the company of other hikers and began to experience the real wilderness of that world within the sandstone sanctuary, a calm came over us and a casual and mutual expression of wonder enchanted or minds. We found ourselves empowered with the privilege of entering this exotic, living place with its own stories to tell from its guarded history. I quickly abandoned my zoom lense along with the idea of capturing any shots of unsuspecting birds. I attached my wide angle lense and began my attempts to express my feelings toward the landscape, the creek, the boulders, the towering canyon walls. I happily shed the trail guide persona and took up the apprenticeship at hand as the master photographer went to work.
I followed eagerly as the formidable figure of my accomplished hiking partner led us forward into discovery of wild mysteries. His eyes were alive with anticipation and his brow furrowed in determination to draw breath after deep, full breath of the fierce and graceful spirit of the West Fork. As we lingered between the sheer walls of living stone we were blessed with the song of the ancient creek alive with the waters of distant snowmelt. The compressed and petrified sand of milenia past soared stories above us and gave shelter among its shelves and crevices to the plants, trees, and creatures who had the pleasure of making that place home. We were witness to the ominous signs of creation and destruction of life between the walls. There were boreal giants with broad feet on the floor and heads reaching for the top of the canyon walls for light, and varied herbs and grasses clinging gleefully to the waters' edge to endulge endless thirst. There were trees perched atop the overhanging ledges over a thousand feet above us and others, no less grand, blissfully content to live out their histories beneath the overhangs on shelves enriched with the detritus of years past. We saw boulders, enormous and broad as buildings, laying ominously far below their former homes among the cliffs before us. The sounds that must have come from the falling of these giants would surely strike deaf the ears of any creatures nearby. The myriad of shapes and colors among the rocks and pebbles at our feet and lining the bottom of the creek told of forces beyond our comprehension working each century to build and carve the secret garden through which we trod. All of these images were welcomed into our souls as we walked, awestruck by things older, wiser, and bigger than we mere men. We, at last made our way to the expected impass, a narrowing of the canyon to such a degree that it can only be traversed by swimming. We passed our time on that spot with a few morsels of food from our packs as we drank in the kingly beauty and halting hand of the canyon before us. We collected a few last images of the forbidden fortress before turning our backs in satisfaction and heading homeward.
As we ended our escape into the wild and approached civilization once more, We knew we were deeply changed by that place. We were witness to an enchanted crack in the earth into which man and beast could walk and hear on the wind, whispers of a time when the planet was young and untamed. It was there that I began a new life of self expression, or rather co-creation, with the natural world. I am ever thankful for my adventures within such a timeless and legendary figure of the earth, and I am thankful for the friendship that was born that day.

1 comment:

Michele said...

I find myself wondering if experiences such as these are available to all, or if certain souls communicate with the earth in a special way. Though I have no such experiences of my own, I am grateful that you do. I am also blessed by the sharing; not only experiencing what you experienced, but "experiencing what you experienced".