I have written many times about all of the great friends I have made while out creating nature images. Some of those were through chance meetings and some were participants in my workshops. There exists even more people with whom my path has crossed just once. Everyone we meet touches us to some degree, but it just seems like when people are out in nature, they become introspective about their life’s journey. Many of the strangers that I have met on my path through nature, have cast a light upon the struggles that I faced, and through their wisdom have become a mentor, even if I never had the chance to let them know.
We are the sum total of those who have crossed our path.
I’ve written much about my list of favorite places. A spot that is beautiful and rich in wildlife is bound to be on my list. Such is the case with most of the Mississippi River. Still there are other things that affect the mood and atmosphere of a location. Sometimes I cannot explain why a place is important to me, but in the case of the Mississippi River, a lot of it is because of the lifestyle that longtime residents live. The only other place that I have found that carries as obvious of a lifestyle created mood, is high in the Rocky Mts.
I had just spent the sunrise making pictures in an Iowa state park, high above the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. It was decision time and I decided to move north along the river into Minnesota. There are small secluded alcoves all along the Mississippi River. There is an abundance of wildlife and scenic possibilities in these quiet little spots. I stopped at one such place and hiked along the edge of the river on the lookout for birds, turtles and insects, when a I found a very old man sitting on a log at river’s edge. He was very, very old. I worried he might die any moment. Without ever turning his head or averting his glance from the river, he said, hello young man. My first words were, how did you know I was young, and how did you know I was a man? He looked (finally) at me and explained that 90 years of life has taught him the sound of the male and female walk. He then explained that the quick positive movements of my legs were made by someone who felt no labor in movement. I spent almost an hour with Jasper, and I have never had an hour better spent. The deep lines in his face told of a man who had spent his life on “the river” First as a fisherman, then a tug boat pilot, and then finally once again as a fisherman. His scarred hands told of a time spent with fishing and tow lines. His permanently reddened skin reminded me of how brutal the weather can be out on “the river”. He slowly and clearly told me all that a life of 90 years could tell. These days it seems like remembering why I walked upstairs has become a challenge for me, still…I have never forgotten Jasper and that weathered old face. I will always remember that it is not how much money you make, or how famous you are, but how you choose to greet each and every day that makes you rich.
If you have ever heard me say… “notice the details, all great things are made up of a million little things”, that philosophy was borrowed from Jasper.
As I inched my way closer to the edge of the canyon, I anticipated a beautiful sunset. I last photographed a sunset at The Black Canyon of The Gunnison in Colorado, 21 years earlier. I had much on my mind, but I was slowly being enveloped within the atmosphere of my location. I was enjoying the solitude of the moment when to my dismay, two people were slowly making their way in my direction. My one on one relationship with “the canyon” was going to be interrupted. The woman had stopped about a hundred feet from my point, but the man kept coming. He appeared to be in his young thirties, and when he spoke, I recognized his accent as being from the Ozarks of either Arkansas or Missouri. He spoke slowly and asked if I would accept some company for the impending sunset. I said yes but meant no. I learned that he and his wife stopped at “the canyon” ten years earlier while on their honeymoon, and have returned for their anniversary every year since. I mentioned that Colorado and the American West had many more beautiful locations to visit. Then I realized that no place could ever be this special to these two people. He walked back to enjoy the sunset with his bride of ten years and I realized that there are a million reasons why a place can be special. My younger friend had shown one of the most important reasons. Sometimes its about who you share the moment with. Lesson earned. Everybody has something they can teach, and something they can learn.
I started up the arduous Trail Ridge Rd. in the darkness. My goal was to reach the high point in Rocky Mt. N.P. in time to catch the morning sun as it first hit those golden rocks to the west of the highway. I pulled up in time for the shot I envisioned. A short ways up the road there was a 20 something man alone and looking out over the Never Summer Range. I made my shots and moved on up the road, on the lookout for Yellow-bellied Marmots and Pikas. I was delighted to find my subjects only a half mile or so from where I was. I and my camera/tripod slowly worked my way our towards the original photography spot, and I once again saw the young man almost in a trance as he continued to gaze over the mountains. He was mesmerized. We finally conversed and I found out he was an “un-traveled” school teacher from Ohio. He was going to a conference in San Francisco and decided that rather than fly he would make the drive, stopping at interesting places along the way. He had arrived at RMNP the day before and what was to be a brief stop took up the entire day. Only darkness sent him back down the mountain to Estes Park. He would try again tomorrow (now today) to restart his journey to California. He simply could not stop looking at what surrounded him. He felt at the top of the world. This was likely my 20th + visit to RMNP. I felt the same none the less. He stayed with me as I spent a couple of hours with my Marmot friends and finally he said that he simply had to move on. He asked if anything else was going to cause him to pause on his trip to San Fran. I listed the places he should see, ending with a stop at Yosemite N.P. He thanked me for the information and told me that I inspired him to discover even more beauty in those mountains than he had found on his own. He described it as a glance “through the eyes” of the photographer. After he left I realized that the young teacher gave me more than I ever could have given him. He showed me how to always look at the world with wonder and as if it was fresh and new each and every day. I was happy that he was a teacher.
I will finish this post with the story of someone who I have never thanked and I surely should have. This is a break from my previous three stories as I went on to meet with this person on three occasions after our first meeting.
In Feb/March of 2006 I took another solitary photo trip starting with the Texas Gulf, then along the Rio Grande all the way to west Texas, and finally on to New Mexico for a visit with my old friends Bosque del Apache NWR, and White Sands National Monument. On my second day (first afternoon) at White Sands I made it a point stay out on the sand until sunset. As I found my way over the dunes to my car, I was surprised to find someone else also packing up their photo gear. I decided to sit atop a dune in the near darkness and absorb the unbelievable atmosphere that surrounded me. I could not help but notice as the other photographer climbed to the top of the next dune, like me, not willing to leave. As the last light disappeared I realized that this was Sarah, a photographer with a wonderful accent (Australian) that I had met and exchanged pleasantries with earlier in the afternoon. We talked for an hour next to our cars as I learned she has been in the U.S. (Taos, New Mexico) for two years and was a painter of everything in nature. Her photography was about capturing the essence of a place so she could paint at home. I gave her my business card and moved on. A month after my return home, an email arrived from Sarah. Her message and a subsequent face to face visit allowed me to learn more about the mindset of an artist than I ever knew before. I regaled her with stories of North America and she did the same with Australia. She stated that “art is life and life is art“. I thank you Sarah for helping me to see that.
I thank you for stopping by, and have a special day.
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