Letters Best Left Unsent

Too many choices will be my undoing

I had to shut the voices out.  In my pursuit of photography I have found that it to be too easy to get caught up thinking too much about each scene and each image. Economists often talk about the about the “paradox of choice.” How we can lose appreciation for what we have, because we get caught in the trap of decision making.  Part way into my road trip in June I found that I was getting greedy, I couldn’t take enough pictures.  Without realizing it I’d placed myself squarely in this paradox.  I started chasing scenes and sites and images that I physically did not have the time to capture. The trap that I’d placed myself in made it difficult to be satisfied with process I was just learning to enjoy, but also, the literal journey that was in front of me. I had to shut the voices out. The problem was, I didn’t understand their source.

The West Coast trip had started out as sort of a “great escape.”  Getting on the motorcycle for a week or so, just to get out of my routine; to see some new parts of the west, and to revisit others.  I wanted to take time to appreciate and view these sites with my new “photographer” perspective, trying to emphasize the art in the photograph instead of simply documenting what I encountered.  With the school year coming to a close and with a new relationship forming, excitement for this trip was making me giddy, even if a bit reckless.  I can now admit when looking back, I have chased too many distractions in the past few years.  I haven’t been content to “sit” physically or emotionally. Relationships and experiences have been distractions because I’ve been scared of being alone.  I’m not sure this is a fear I’ve completely conquered, but I’m much more aware of its power and its draw. Unfortunately I was placing too much emphasis ON the connection of this new relationship, but not fully understanding WHAT the connection was. Had I fallen in this trap again, of simply being distracted?

Planning evolved from a solo motorcycle journey, with an emphasis on riding, to a trip that would include a partner for a part of the time.  This meant ditching the motorcycle in favor of four wheeled comfort, and it also meant that “more stuff” would be going along.  The destinations were easy to choose; Grand Canyon, Yosemite, San Francisco, the coast of Oregon, Portland, and Crater Lake.  Some things old, somethings new, it felt like a nice balance of “adventure” and places where a couple could enjoy being a couple.  

The trip started in Moab, accidentally. Moab is special in it’s own right, and deserves to be visited and explored.  I’ve become reacquainted with Moab the past five years, after not visiting it since my 20s.  It is a spiritual place, it’s a rugged place, it’s barren, yet so full of life.  “Desert Solitaire” opened my eyes to the Southwest. Edward Abbey’s words are so rich, his tone so stark; he perfectly describes this land, and laid out the treatise as to why stewardship and not exploitation is needed here. I was very comfortable with my own solitude at this point in the trip.  This first couple of days unfolded as I had imagined they would.  I was camping and sleeping in the back of my car, taking trails and paths that meandered and had not real pattern, other than I was “heading out.

I’d been envisioning a sunrise photo in Moab for a couple of months.  The sunrise at Mesa Arch, in Canyonlands, is both a popular and magical experience.  The light begins to edge up and around the mesa to the east, flooding into the valley silhouetting the sandstone spires below.  Mesa Arch sits higher than the eastern flank of the mesa, so when the sun finally crests the mesa, the arch creates a stunning frame with the flood of light pouring in on the valley below.

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I missed many sites this trip, but this sunrise was special, and one I’ve been wanting to capture for awhile. I  decided to step to the right, for a slightly different perspective, I’m very happy with this result.

 

Again, I was completely content with the way the trip was unfolding.  I knew my second stop would be the Horseshoe Bend, and I had plenty of time to get there the evening after my morning in Moab.  I had no anxiety, no pangs, no illusions of what could or should be different, I was out on my journey.

Had the original plans for damming the Colorado River gone through, this site would be filled with water, just like Glen Canyon is now covered by Lake Powell.  I had the chance to explore and enjoy Lake Powell when I first moved to the west, but I am grateful now that only Lake Powell, Lake Mead and Lake Havasu stem the flow of the Colorado River.

Horseshoe Bend is another of the popular and well photographed sites in the Southwest.  Regardless, I knew I wanted my own image of it.  The crowd that I waded into that afternoon was more comforting than intrusive.  The anonymity had a true appeal. Everyone was there for their own experience as well, and the throngs of with selfie-sticks and the packs of girlfriends tirelessly throwing the perfect pose for camera wielding boyfriends added a layer of insulation to the cocoon I’d been building. 

I found what I felt was a balanced spot on the bend of the river, set up the camera and tripod, and waited for the sun, the sky, the water and sandstone to make their magic.  Crowds rustled around and banter came and went.  Stillness filled the spaces when voices trailed off, and the sun set.  And the camera “clicked.” I changed settings, I added filters, I reset the tripod, and the camera still “clicked.”  It was well after dark before I stood up to gather my belongings.  I felt so content in that moment.  Time had stopped, worries and fears and grief of years seemed to wash away sitting on that edge.  I was happy with the journey, I was happy to explore, I was happy with this new “alone.”

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I didn’t feel the pressure of the crowd while sitting on the edge. In fact the crowd was insulating, if not liberating; I could just disappear in it and enjoy the anonymity. 

But, it didn’t last.  I needed a place to stay that night. I had a campground reservation for the Grand Canyon TOMORROW night, but didn’t have a place for tonight.  North of Page and the Horseshoe is National Forest and other Federal land.  These pockets usually offer dispersed camping and I just needed to find a place to park the 4Runner so that I could climb in back and fall to sleep.  This was actually part of my plan for this trip.  Find state land, park, fall asleep.  Easy.  But tonight, after the bliss of sunset wore off, a restlessness settled in.  I found the land I was looking for, but I couldn’t find THE spot.  I parked, and accessed, I moved.  I did this more times than I want to admit, each move seemingly important, but really only a slight change.  

I don’t know where this indecision comes from, especially in situations like this.  Things had been so peaceful and calm, then the chaos erupted, and I don’t honestly know why.  Again, looking back, it is a genuine pattern for much of my life, and it has become pervasive the past few years.

 

Morning arrived, I shock off the previous night’s anxiousness and started thinking about the Grand Canyon. This was to be my second trip to the Grand Canyon, and I can now say that I’m going to commit to returning as often as I possibly can.  It is only a day’s drive from Denver, and once you’re there the transit system will move you freely and easily about.  My first trip was on overnight, returning to Colorado after a week in Southern California.  I’d set my camp up quickly, then headed to the park to view the sunset.  Breathtaking to say the least.  With only an iPhone at that time, the images I took then were a huge inspiration to return.

This trip was to be two nights, which again, admittedly isn’t nearly enough.  I had a better plan of what I wanted to see, but was really feeling rushed to make it all happen. To go back again,  I want to hike to the canyon floor; I’d love to stay overnight at Phantom Canyon Ranch.  The next trip will be four nights, staying in the park, it’s just too beautiful to miss.

Not only is the scale of the Grand Canyon difficult to manage and put in perspective, but so is the light.  I walked around like a tourist during my two days this trip.  I wanted to see as much as I possibly could, which is really difficult, even with a well made plan.  I’d forgotten about conserving images, I’d forgotten about the light.  As obvious as it sounds, light is everything in a good picture.  Light in fact is the difference, between a picture, and a really good picture.  What is the light shining on?  Is it illuminating the subject or is it drowning it?  How have you framed your subject with the light?  Not enough, or too much?  It’s all about the light; the “right” light.  In my mind, the “right” light would be at sunrise and at sunset.  The problem was, I only had vague ideas of WHERE to find this right light.  I decided to follow the crowds my first night, but my first morning, I ditched the crowds and sought my own space.  Unwittingly, ditching the crowd complicated my morning.  Something about “setting off on my own” left me questioning my choices, but I really wasn’t aware of how this theme was building.

 

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Again, it’s about slowing down.  This is one of the few midday images that actually worked.  It’s a huge image, overwhelming to some extent, but I really love the variety of colors.

After a day spent traversing the South Rim from one end to the other, I finally sat myself on a rock at Yavapai Point to watch the sun change from glaring, to illuminating, to vibrant and frantic, then finally softening.  There were four distinct and unique sunsets that night, it was a joy to see all of it transpire. This”blue” was the beginning of the night…

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Two of my favorite images so far this year are blue.  This sunset, and a sunset on New Year’s Day over Lake Vallecito in Southern Colorado.  Both of them are warm to me.  As heavy as they appear both are very “light” in my mind, both very calm.

 

At this point, I have another 10,000 words to share about this trip.  I hope to have more to you sooner, rather than later.

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6 thoughts on “Letters Best Left Unsent

  1. I absolutely was engrossed in your photos and especially your very thoughtful words. You are so incredibly talented and I feel blessed that you share your talent with us. I’m looking so forward to your pictures and sentiments in the future. XOXO

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  2. Very striking photos. Dramatic composition. It is difficult for you to make decisions because they are all notable in their own way. No wrong choice. This as opposed to my being stymied in decision making. I have ADHD so making choices is painful and consuming.

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    1. I see that paralysis in my students, it’s so painful to watch. And, after 23 years I still struggle with the right actions to help them move through it. Just being patient is the one thing I can consistently do. I do understand where you are with this.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog Matt, especially the way you described your transition of viewing scenes with a photographer’s perspective! My favorite shot is the over the canyon with the fading light giving the appearance of “layered canyons.”

    Liked by 1 person

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