A Return to Awareness

March 19, 2016

“There is a deeper thing to express–the return of humanity to some sort of balanced awareness of the natural things–some rocks and sky. We need a little earth to stand on and feel run through our fingers. Perhaps photography can do this. I am going to try anyhow.” -Ansel Adams

For those whose lives operate on an academic schedule, the week of spring break is a much anticipated time for catching up, or slowing down, or disconnecting altogether to reenergize and re-set ‘the game.’ With students and faculty doing their own version of the aforementioned, and a temporary cessation of work emails and problems to solve, I planned to take a long weekend to camp at nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park to finish work on my “West Texas by Night” time lapse project. I wanted to re-do some previous work that I wasn’t happy with, and perhaps find additional locations within the park to add to the film. Unfortunately for me, there was only one campsite left and only for one night. I took it without hesitation, and drove down the winding park road to the bottom of the canyon to set up camp and make dinner on the camp stove before dark. After dinner, Mani and I took a short hike on a nearby trail, and I made a mental list of locations on that trail that would make great time lapse compositions. As the sun went down, I hiked back to camp with the intent to organize camera gear, make a final physical list of ideas and locations, and head out to work. As I was going through gear, however, my internal speedometer started decelerating. I looked around at the Mesquite trees and red dirt and ancient layered rock and realized that it had been some time since I’d gone out into The Wild with the intent to merely ‘be’ and not to ‘do.’ I realized that I’d been busying myself with projects and ideas of projects and thinking about how to do more and better work to the point of taking myself away from the very experiences that have for so long been so powerful that I seek photographic expression of their beauty and spiritual resonance. I put the camera back in the bag, locked up the car, and headed to the tent with notepad and pencil. It was 9:30 p.m. The coyotes would be howling in thirty minutes. You can set your clock by it. I zipped the tent closed and sat listening, Mani laying next to me with sleepy eyes. It was decided then. This night was for ‘being’ and not ‘doing.’ 

Inside the tent, with a solar light dimly shining and a canine out cold on my legs, I began to write:

I pitch my tent on ancient rock and red dirt blowing

like ghosts of Comanche, through the canyon bottom.

I pitch my tent and crawl inside watching 

dark spiny shadows of Mesquite branches stretch 

across the wall like skeleton fingers pointing…      

          "This was our land.“

The wind howls as it cuts into the cliffs and swarms the canyon.

My tent pulls sharply to the left, then to the right.

10 p.m., the coyotes call. 

12 a.m., the coyotes call. 

3 a.m., the coyotes call.       

          “This is our land.” 

Ansel is right. My dad–and everything I learned from him about our connection to the land–is right. There is a deeper thing to express. It’s kind of The Whole Point. And if I’m too preoccupied with external bullshit to feel that thing, to hear it, to see it, and to experience it fully, then The Work becomes futile and I have lost My Way.  I hope to always remember this as I strive to do ‘more and better’ work. I need a little earth to stand on and run through my fingers. We all do. That’s why I do what I do.

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