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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mauna Loa View

“Presence” to the land goes far beyond a statement of location

As photographers, I think we reach others not just by building a sterile inventory of detail, but by seeking pristine and primal light and using it to the landscape’s advantage. We’re after something more than simple reality. We also want to help viewers connect with the spiritual essence of the natural world. To me, that comes down to one idea: the sacred.

My name is David Muench. I’ve been photographing the landscape for about 50 years. In my years of pilgrimage to the great places, I’ve sought the earth’s sacred spirit, whether after a long climb on foot to one of my favorite “top rock” mountain peaks or wandering down a pristine slot canyon, feeling the compressing sensuality of red rock sculpture all around me. Always, I’ve listened, with all my faculties, to the earth, to the sky, to become more attuned to the voice of our Earth Mother.

I consider myself a poet of the landscape. I’m an ancient child, returning to the Source whenever I can. I try not to rely on specific techniques or frivolous things to get there. I just arrive—and open up.

You could call it a spirit-to-spirit dialogue or eavesdropping on the eternal. It’s listening to a whisper of wind or hearing an inner voice that says, “Forget the next planned stop. Go up that ridge ahead; something’s there.”

I’ve had many such moments in the field over the years. They often have led to treasured photographs I never would have made—if I hadn’t learned how to be still inside, and listen.

Recently, I climbed Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. In sheer mass, it’s the world’s largest mountain if you start from its submerged base far beneath the Pacific.

I felt overwhelmed by the mountain’s perspective and dimension. It’s scary. It’s profoundly dramatic. I worked my way up the immense, seemingly infinite slope at the edge of darkness and predawn light.

After a while, I felt that I wasn’t just on another mountain, but on another planet. No matter where I looked, I saw slope, and sky. The volcanic incline just rises and rises. Climbing through the climate bands from the tropical up to the dry/cold/thin air at the nearly 14,000-foot summit, you can’t help but respond to its might. You’re suspended between earth and sky, an amazed witness to the changing of the guard at sunrise, at moonset, at sunset.


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