So I realize I’ve been invisible lately and I wanted to catch up and tell you about it. We’ve been back in the house for just over a month and I’ve been going though a bout of weirdness. I mean, it’s good, but there is a process to moving back in, and it surprises me every year. It’s not like we’re moving back home. It’s more like we’re moving in to a place that hasn’t been home all summer and now we’re making it home again. It takes a while. There are questions under the surface, the answers being acted out as I slowly put my cupboards and drawers in order. How are things different this year? What have I learned? What is important this time?
We are not the first people to live a life entirely measured and changed with the seasons. This is one thing I like about it. It’s an old way, marked by big transitions. It creates many seasonal chances to choose and recreate a life.
Take photography, for example. If this year is like other years, putting a camera around my neck will soon will be as automatic as picking up my car keys. But in summer it’s different. It’s difficult to be out with all the people and the equipment and two dogs. Inertia carries me for a while, and then I just stop. And then I can forget that I ever took pictures.
I went out the other day. It was interesting to watch myself unpack the process, especially to watch the progressive removal of the obstacles I had constructed for myself. I gathered my equipment, convinced that it would be hard to get all the lenses and batteries and memory cards together. But it wasn’t hard.
Then I went out to the fish hatchery where I didn’t even want to go. I was sure that I had seen everything already, like heron. I thought, “Big deal. I’ve seen them hundreds of times.” But I began to notice the light. You know, it was a beautiful morning.
I didn’t want to bring different lenses because I didn’t want to carry my backpack, but I did carry my backpack. I didn’t want to change the lenses back and forth because that is such a pain. I said, “It won’t make that much difference.” But I did change them back and forth and it did make a difference.
And when I saw the seagulls dashing around, I initially dismissed them. I said, “I’ve taken so many seagull pictures that I can’t imagine getting new ones.” But then the light played on their wings. And the contrast with the dark forest made the white in their feathers shine so fine, and the gulls were feeding…wheeling and turning, their feathers splayed to show what I always hoped to show in feathers, everything wild and akimbo and spreading and flashing, and at the same time, so ordered and skillful, so effortless and perfect.
I thought I had seen it all with seagulls but I got to see something new. And it was good enough when I was out there taking the pictures, but this is the thing about photography. I got to take them home with me. I got to see them, really see them, see like people could never see before they had cameras, see the moment the seagull turns, or drops the fish, see the whirling motions stopped forever. See the gulls, see the look in their eyes, see their bodies dropping through the laser path cut with their eyes, see them enter the water and come up with a fish, see the water splashing, the fish twisting and dying, the light dancing.
When you do this for a while, it changes what you think about. It changes what you dwell in. It changes what you know. It changes how you feel about everything.
Last night, we sat on the floor with our grandson who will soon be one year old. He and his father fed the cat. I had forgotten how tricky it is to get kibble into a scoop and drop some of it onto the floor, then to carefully pick up the little bits, to have them stick to your fingers, inspect each one, and get them into a dish. I am so glad our son loves to be with Julian through all the time it takes to do this… that he never gets tired of being with Julian, seeing through Julian’s eyes.
This is what photography is for…to see like Kevin does with Julian…to have the wonder of seeing again.
My sister’s husband Paul is at his home with hospice care right now because of throat cancer. A few nights ago, he went out naked to see the stars. He didn’t care that he was naked. He didn’t even care that it was a cloudy night. He knew it was his life and he wanted the fullness of his moment outside and under the sky. This is also what photography is for.
Digital cameras can perform certain actions to reduce the size of the file, turning them into “.jpegs”. (This process reduces the file to 1/10th of its original size. It stands for “joint photographic experts group”.) But many cameras can also shoot “.raw”. Pictures taken this way are not compressed. No decisions have been automatically made about what’s important. Nothing has been filtered or removed. The files are large and unwieldy, but everything is there.
I think this is a good aspiration as I reconstruct my photographer self for this season. I would like to be raw…to be more transparent to the process, to forget what I think I’ve done before, to have fewer opinions, to make fewer snap decisions, to let more in.
I realized last night about Julian. He was all about feeding the cat. But he couldn’t see what we saw, that it was not about the cat at all, but about him, and what he is becoming through all the busy things in his day. And of course Bill and I see something else, how Kevin and Royah are working so hard, loving Julian every second. And how that love is getting into them, shaping their lives, forming them.
I do put up my own obstacles but every time, every single time I move around them, every time I inconvenience myself or believe my way past some doubt or objection, or every time I just keep moving, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if I don’t think it will work, it moves me by degrees. I know there are life circumstances to contend with, the way things are, and I often don’t know where things are going. Sometimes I know the next step I can take, but I don’t know the one that comes after. But I find that life is always there to meet me, returning every effort I make with something of its own. I think when I open up it’s a small thing, but when life opens up, I mean, when the whole thing opens up, then it’s really something. It’s so big. It gives a hundred or a thousand or a million times over. And then whatever defense, whatever protection I think I need, whatever I think I’m not good enough to hope for, whatever is left of the wall around my heart, starts to soften because the world is so beautiful. So I think I’ll work with that a little bit more.