I was walking with Wilson and Molly, my golden retrievers. I started at Andy’s Way and since it was low tide I was able to get through the inner ponds and all the way around to Bean Point. I went out in the wind and freezing rain because I had seen swans flying and I wanted to see if they would fly by again the next day.
Wilson started to limp. He sat down and didn’t want to take another step. I knew I couldn’t carry him. I was trying to rig a harness, first using my orange hunting vest and then my coat and my camera strap but then what would I do with my camera? Then I thought if we went together through the water maybe that would hold him up but my boots were leaking and I thought a long walk through water that cold would be unwise.
My cell phone rang. I had taken my gloves off to rig the harness. My hands were frozen and I couldn’t get to the phone in time. It was my mother. I called back and the line was busy. I put it in my pocket and it rang again. I missed it. I called and the line was busy again. I called. I called again. She picked up. I said, “What!?” My mother is hard of hearing. She said, “What?” I said, “WHAT!!” She said, “I was coughing all day when I went to play bridge. Do you think I’m contagious?” I said, “I can’t talk now.”
Molly wanted to play with Wilson. She kept dodging in, nipping at his legs. I said, “No!” And she kept on until I really yelled at her. Then she went off at a distance, throwing pieces of ice in the air and playing with those instead. And I slowly got Wilson back, bending to support him, my big camera knocking against him, coaxing him and fending off Molly. When I got to the jeep it was so cold that the hatch wouldn’t stay open and I braced it with my back while I put my camera away, carefully brushing off the sand it had acquired when I was stooping for Wilson. Then I boosted Molly and lifted Wilson into the car. And then I turned the heater on. Ahh. I called my mother who had been worrying. I apologized to Mom and to Molly. I talked to my sister who was still with Mom in Florida and leaving the next day to go back to Colorado.
I have written that every time I exert myself the world comes to meet me with so many wonderful pictures. Well. I would like to amend that statement, as follows: Sometimes the pictures don’t come out the way I want. Sometimes I don’t know what to do. It was like that all through the fall.
So many things were happening to people we loved. My sister’s husband died. There were other big medical events in the family and with friends, and then there were other issues. I felt like Bill and I were at the center of a storm where everything was whirling around and I was leaving the island because of something huge and then returning to place for a moment of unnatural calm, and then leaving again for something else.
Some of what was happening touched events from the past. In some ways, I was reliving those times, so whenever I sat down to write, the only things I could think of were things that I wouldn’t say because of the impact that might have on others. And if I wouldn’t say what was most true for me, what I felt and was living most deeply, then I found I couldn’t say anything. Even more than that, when I went out with my camera, which has never failed to produce more pictures than I could count, I was suddenly finding nothing. I was used to going out, and finding eagles fighting with osprey, turtles mating in the pond, waves crashing, birds flashing and weaving in the brilliant, sparkling light. Now there was nothing. Nothing at the fish hatchery. Nothing on Block Island. There was nothing for me to notice, nothing I was drawn to, nothing in me and nothing out there either.
I thought that was amazing. Folks who read my blog kindly wrote to find out if I was still alive, and I kept saying I thought I would write again soon, but weeks went by. Other than that, I knew that something was going on. I knew that photography had helped me heal from the very things I was reliving. I knew it brought me to beauty and abundance and connection when I had needed it the most. I knew it helped me to my own separate life and to my voice and to my sight and to my own center. I knew that was enough. I knew that everything I loved about photography was in there somewhere. I knew it was reorganizing itself inside of me. And I knew I was tired. I didn’t even want to fight with it and everything in the writing and the photography went inward and quiet and down.
For a month or so, I had a passionate desire to build a camper trailer. It was a relentless pursuit, not unlike the great snowy owl obsession of 2014. After that I sanded the boat. After that I cleaned closets and organized our papers and started early (this is not like me), to work on taxes. In between, I ran to my family. And of course there were always meals and the house and our other work. So it’s not like I had nothing to do. And meantime, I had questions. Like, once you know something, like all the knobs and fiddles and fine tunings involved in taking pictures, and once you live in a place and take pictures of the same things over and over again for years, what is left to find?
I know about surfers in Hawaii who decided the waves were getting too big and that it was time to go to shore. Even as they had made up their minds about it, they found that their bodies had decided to go in the opposite direction. They found themselves paddling out to sea with all their might. There wasn’t a reason. They didn’t know anything that would make them do this, but they found it was not in their control. And then they saw on the horizon, a dim line that clarified the closer it came, until it revealed itself as a monster wave, and two more came, even bigger than that. They barely made it over the curling crests of those waves. If they had been closer to shore they would have been killed in the impact zone.
I have always loved that story, because I think it’s about how we just know things sometimes, how it’s important to follow instinct. Photography and writing have been very helpful to me that way – to go out to take pictures not knowing, or to start with a blank page and start to try to say something, like I’m doing right now, and watching the words slowly work themselves out onto the page, or even as an act of faith, when an instinct says it’s time to stop doing so much, to let things float, to wait.
I talked with friends and family about it. Everyone was patient and kind. I finally wrote what I wouldn't write in public and read it to my cousin Liz, and we both cried, God bless her. Then I talked to my friend Karen, who said the wisest things about how things morph and change and then she said that after many years of her own journey, she was taking up her painting again. Then I talked to my friend Lisa who said she would like me to print for her, one of her river pictures. I said, "I want you to have it really big. I want you to know how that feels. It will be good for your development." And so I did that and in the process, I duplicated the edges of the image to make a canvas "gallery wrap". That's where you make a mirror image so that you have something to roll around the stretcher bars. I saw what happened when I did that and then I called Lisa, completely beside myself.
I cropped and played with it all day, and printed it on three kinds of paper. It made me happy in every possible way. I knew what the river meant to Lisa and what it meant when she discovered the integrity of vision in her photography. I was so happy to have something that was partly me and partly my friend, and to see it was like the thread of conversations with Lisa and with others, that have woven through many years when we have been helps and mirrors for each other. I knew that this picture came in part out of nature, where it was just itself with nothing extra, and that part was contrived by yours truly, where I made patterns and meanings out of patterns, which is what people do. I love this thing, what happens when people meet nature, when we take something given and make something human. I love how that can happen in photography.
I feel right now I’ve had my rest and that it’s time to start moving again. I know the only way to know is to do it, to take myself outside again with my camera. It’s time to take myself to all the same places, and maybe to some new places as well. (I think that was what the camper trailer was about, which I didn’t build (yet), by the way). I want to let my feet go where they want to go and to trust, because my feet have always wandered and blundered me into the most amazing places.
That’s been my way of picture taking, anyway, to go around, and follow what I find. It’s trickier now that I know more about it, because it’s easy to go out with a recipe and do what I already know, and get I’ve already gotten a thousand times. If I want to follow a formula I might as well stay home and finish our taxes. And I know that wonder could be out there waiting. And I would rather have that.
I don’t know what will happen but I know what I want to do now. I want to put on some clothes that are very warm and very dry. I want to go outside and remain in a place and let time go by. I want Wilson and Molly to stay with me, and watch their noses lift together as they smell the wind. I want to remember that that’s their way of knowing the world, like photography has been mine. I want to be like them in the way they are so mesmerized, in the way that they give themselves to it and love it so much, in the way that for them, the wind is always new. I want to see light inside the water, but I also want to look at the places in darkness where astounding colors come through. I want to see patterns, and when I take my pictures home I want to play with them and see what might be hidden. I want to tell myself that the connection is more important than the picture; that I just want to be out there in it.
I want to print the same pictures over and over on all kinds of paper and see how big a difference little changes can make. (And this is thanks to my friend Marybeth, who is wonderful photographer and a great lover of photographic paper.) I want to go back through my thousands of pictures and see what I’ve forgotten. I have recently discovered that the size of a picture is very important. Sometimes I want to make small pictures that are like icons, like words you can own and hold in your hands. And sometimes I want them to be very big, so big for example, that when I spread one big canvas wave picture out on a bed, my little nephew joyfully tried to jump inside it.
I want to experiment because I know the power of sight to call directly to instinct. I want to spend more time with each picture, learning what it has to tell me. I want to go down and get closer to what I know is running underneath in nature, in my friends and in me; something yearning forward, rich and intimate, complex, unpredictable, perfect, unnamable, difficult, unbreakable, unstoppable and alive.