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Tuesday, October 22, 2013


The beauty and complexity of the natural world is revealed through a lifetime of gazing through the camera lens

Labels: ColumnBasic Jones

The bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California have fascinated people since their discovery. These ancient, gnarled trees might be the oldest living things on Earth—their wizened structures belying their tenacious grasp on life.

Stop!" it shouted. I slammed on the brakes of the car. Who had called out so clearly as I motored down Highway 120 from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley? But I already knew the answer. I had caught a glimpse of the old tree just before I heard it call. The old tree?! Yes, I freely admit, sometimes trees do talk to me, and when it happens, I consider myself very lucky.

To refer to it as an old tree was a bit of a misnomer, however. Its top had long since gone missing, and half the giant stump that remained had been burned away by fire. Yet it was still powerful enough to hail me. I grabbed my cameras and, as if drawn by a giant magnet, trudged into the woods until I stood before it.

Sometimes there are no words. I don't think I could have spoken if I had wanted to. The tree was that powerful or, perhaps, I was just that open. I stood inside the enormity of what remained of this forest giant, lost in the intricacy of its charcoaled interior. It was stunningly beautiful. Still, it wasn't the beauty that silenced me, but the connection.

I reached out my hands til each touched one edge of the interior semicircle of the tree. In some simple, symbolic way, I made it whole again. Then, for a few precious moments, there was no barrier between us. No individuation. We weren't members of different kingdoms; we were just one, together, in and of nature.

I never know when or where this kind of connection will happen when I'm photographing. It's rare, but far less rare now that I'm open to it, and when it happens, it's thrilling.

In his book, The Emerald Mile (a must-read for anyone who loves the Grand Canyon), Kevin Fedarko speaks of the adventurer Bernard Moitessier, who spent 10 months alone at sea in a small sailboat. Eventually, Moitessier realizes that his real reason for going to sea wasn't to find adventure, but "to reach a point in space and consciousness that would enable him to bear witness to the beauty and complexity of the natural world—and to glimpse, however briefly, the sort of person he might become if he permitted himself to cross a kind of international dateline of the soul and merge with those things. In the end, he realized, the journey itself was the destination."

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