Regions

1nature photosT. S. Eliot tells us in “The Wasteland” that April is the cruelest month, but for many in the Pacific Northwest the cruelest are the bleak days of January and February when rain has rusted the fence, when clouds hang too low, and when time seems to pass in slow motion. What has fascinated me this winter season is how nature’s spaces—large and small—open best in hibernation. I have looked at the world from the vantage point of a withered twig and the ground, the tree pocket and evergreen beyond it, geometric shapes that form when stalks are stripped bare.  John Keats’ words of stars “cold about the sky” may not relate to my clouded Oregon universe, but he describes what we can see when foliage does not obstruct the view.

2berryThe other morning I tried to capture a bit of nature’s empty rooms. The hued space between the leaves and berries caught my eye. What rooms arise in the places between red orbs and angled twigs? I cannot explain that mystery, but I did see the air blush and (maybe) shame the nearby brick.

3tree with skyAnd, oh, so much sky to see through bare branches. If the ground were not a soggy mess, I would lie on my back and contemplate nature’s etchings. Maybe not “bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air,” but at the top of the photo a woman’s profile, complete with pointed nose, double chin, and hair in a bun. Just to the left of center, the bird would be safely hidden, but his black head and beak give him away, and that figure in the lower right-hand-corner? The man in flowing cape and gaucho hat could be Zorro without his mask.

Winter is not a time to mourn, but a time to rest and dream, to let sleep come early and stay late, to discover the soul’s inner regions that let me play “Where’s Waldo” with bare branches. If I choose, I have dormant days of imagination swinging me past rusted diamond enclosures, and up, up, through those burdened clouds—all the way to the wide open sky.

2020

As the trolley rattled to a halt outside the Portland Museum, an elderly woman vied with a young man, burdened with grocery bags, to climb aboard. The woman made it through ahead of him and he said loudly, “I hate old people.” As part of that vilified demographic, I wondered what about us incurs such wrath. Is it our slow driving on the freeway or our guaranteed monthly social security? Could it be our assumption, that because we have put in hourglass time, we’ve earned a certain deference? I claimed my senior citizen seat but asked myself, do I deserve a place of rest more than the pregnant lady with a three-year-old in tow?

serviceReuben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group, recently wrote an article on eliminating elitism in whatever form it takes. The disease strikes not only politicians or the one percent, but is written into our history books, caught in the throes of our legislative process, and part of our human nature. It’s an affliction of both condescension and disdain. Elitism is envisioning myself as better than other people, when I am not.

So, still in the birthday mode of my 75th year, and far from the packed trolley, I reflect on how I want to see.

monkeyEven though this five-inch wonder with huge gremlin-like eyes can see even in the faintest light, that is not who I want to be. I want to be the photographer who waits, as a stranger and alien, to snap this creature’s twitching ears; to see the one-inch pebble toad (who cannot hop) stiffen its tendons, and catapult down the mountain to safety; to film the pufferfish creating a landscape design on the ocean floor.

As photographer of the soul, imagine what I would possess: the artist’s creative vision, the eye behind a camera, the clarity of patience that expects little, yet, when the editing is done, produces the miraculous. So, one more birthday wish: as the sand flows through that hourglass, may my inner eye gain focus.