People and Patterns

I visited several National Parks over the summer, along with millions of other people. Wherever I went, I heard about the crowds. I got there early, for the most part. But still, people were everywhere. Here in Utah, at The Arches, I decided to put people in the landscape. We are so used to taking our surroundings for granted, that when we are in these magical places, what we see takes us out of ourselves.

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Person in arch small

The Hopi Indians considered these arches to be sacred, portals to spiritual dimensions. Something of that lingers for the tourist.

In these awesome patterns of the earth, we see something … something for which there are no words. … something vital to our spirit. Putting humans into a landscape that’s 150 million years old provides perspective.

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Adding an observer makes it a moment.

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A moment we can understand. 150 million years, not so much.



Craters of the Moon

The first sign is a change in temperature. Everything gets cooler. The sun is still too bright to actually see any change. Then the lava fields fell into shade. I came to this place because I imagined an eerie scene … a magical assortment of light seen only once in a lifetime. In my mind, I saw threads of sunlight winding their way around the moon and tumbling softly onto cinder-strewn, frozen lava, sparking majestic features into an unearthly light.

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Shatter Cones

Instead it just got dark.

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Lost in the landscape

Something subtle, deep and primitive in me rejoiced to see the light return. The embrace of the sun, once again warming up the earth, was a gentle contrast to the raw power of the earth that burst these burnt fields into being.

I was struck by my reaction. As a photographer, approaching this eclipse, I was all about the light. However, my first sense of the event was a chill. The light seemed the same but the world grew colder. As the moon blocked more of the sun, the change in temperature became vital. It couldn’t stay that way. The world had become unsustainable.

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Path through the lava fields

Almost as quickly, the sunlight began to return … warming my chilling bones and reassuring my subconscious self. I could distinguish shapes in the landscape again. The world was coming back.

I can imagine Egyptian Priests, back in the day, used such occasions to instill the fear of God. Would have worked on me. These days, it’s a subtle reminder. This universe is a system. Everything depends on everything else. It’s far too easy to take sunlight for granted.

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Random Thoughts

Glacier Park is a brutal landscape. The force required to scrape out those canyons through solid rock almost can’t be imagined. But there it is. Raw power. Changing the shape of the planet. Extending the scale of things.

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In my imagination, I try to see all this sedimentary rock being compressed under a vast ocean, as it was for millions of years. I am more than 6600 feet up. I can’t do it. My mind won’t bend that far.

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This is the dimension of the formation of planets, of stars bursting and galaxies being formed. On this scale, I am beyond microscopic. From this dimension, I am just an idea.

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Wildfires have draped a veil of smoke over the Northwest. Going-to-the-Sun Highway has become Going-to-the-Haze Highway. Fortunately, I did find some sun, but the sky was never the deep blue one looks for up here. Shit happens. These random factors – fire, floods and earthquakes – force Nature to adapt. Evolution depends on it.

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And there’s water everywhere. Walls along the highway appear to be weeping. Falling down the mountain, water chatters and gurgles down the path of least resistance, pulling life to the path it wears away. Friendly. But it was mile-wide glaciers that carved out the valleys for the lakes at either end of Going-to-the-Sun road, across continental divide.

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Going to the Sun Highway

It was frozen water that tore off the sides of some of these mountains, exposing millions of years of history. On earth, water eventually wins.

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In an odd way, I feel like I belong out here. I am a part of something larger. I don’t feel that way in the city. The contours of the city, the concrete and steel, don’t flow through my senses like life up here does. Here my mind flows. In the city, my mind gets bashed, from one corner to the next.

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St. Mary Falls

There is a time for mind-bashing. One has to take care of business. But out here is where we belong … in a landscape that calls to the minerals in our bodies … where every breath feels precious and every day is different.

Coming and Going

I like arriving. And I like leaving. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter what I do in-between. An end and a beginning. Enjoy something … and let it go.

It has taken me a life-time to understand this. One needs that long to truly see that nothing stays the same. To me, this is why some of us feel more in accord with nature when we’re on the road. It’s not any particular place. It’s the process.

This is why I like the beach. It is in motion. Constantly.

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Ocean Shores

And why I like mountain lakes. They are the opposite of that.

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Picture Lake and Mt. Shuksan

I have spent almost a year now, hanging around with fellow travelers. We all agree that having a destination in mind is important. Once one has a goal, pieces fall into place around it.  We also, as a group, have learned that being too attached to that goal can lead to missing out on the serendipity … unexpected experiences along the way.

On the road, I have become more familiar with these larger rhythms. I am more in touch with nature. I can recognize patterns in the sky. I can feel the wind rising in the trees. I can tell when rain is in the way. And I feel more in touch with people, now that I don’t have to be around them all the time.

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Horseshoe Bay

I just finished my first big wave – a trip to the Northwest and British Columbia. Did not take as long as I thought it would. Gas is expensive in B.C. and my free pass was to National parks, not Provincial parks … where most of the action is. I am back in Washington, I still have half the summer, so what to do next?

I have decided to head for the going-to-the-sky highway in Glacier National park. RV’s are not allowed on it, but I’ll figure something out. There is a shuttle. Then I will head south, through Wyoming to Colorado. Ian Muir (he will fly out from England) and I plan to photograph the 50th Aspen Ruggerfest.

Currently, this is the future I imagine. It will organize my next couple of months. There is a little fear and a little joy in knowing that it won’t go exactly that way.

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I am back in the USA after two weeks on the road in British Columbia. I spent a week winding between intimidating mountains and savage ravines on the mainland and feeling small. Coquihalla RiverA part of the landscape. Nothing more. Bigger things have been going on here. Summer sunlight shoots across the forests, lighting up the green and blue in the rushing rivers. It all says, “Was here before you, puny human. Will be here long after you’re gone.”Bridal Veil Falls

The second week, I went with my friend Glen and his wife Cheryl to Bamfield, on the western side of Vancouver Island. There, at Harbourside Lodge, we hooked up with Jonathan, resident guide to the Pacific Reserve. Dawn trollingI have known Glen since high school. He is also a fishing guide, as well as a professional gambler. He makes a living playing tournament Texas Hold’em. Fishing is not really my thing but I caught a couple of king salmon. Glen and Jon caught a couple of 50-pound halibut. I spent most of the time looking for photos.Out on the water

We were out on the water, about 50 yards off the shore of one of the islands, when Jon reached over the side facing away from the shore to release a small pink salmon. Immediately, an eagle overflew us, having spied the fish from the shore. Amazing. So the guys threw out a couple of fish and I managed to get a picture.Eagle fishing

With time to reflect, out on the water, it struck me that fishing and gambling are similar. Expertise makes a big difference, but there are no assurances. In both cases, the player tries to get on the right side of the odds. In both cases, the thrill would be gone if the win were a certainty. The experience of beating the odds can be addicting for people who like that sort of thing.  Most of us are content to ‘take a flyer’ only once in a while. Lurking in the background is the unconscious knowledge that’s reality is all about probability.

Photography, for me, can be like that. I walk for miles along a beach or on a forest trail. I do what I can to improve the odds – location, time of day, the right lens, but ultimately it’s not all up to me. The universe has to cooperate.Dawn Water Skier

We human beings don’t really want the future to be certain. Somehow we feel that would be leaving something out. Something that could have been, something we haven’t seen or thought of yet. Intuitively, we are aware that the future is an open question. We want to keep the world the same and we don’t.Cultus Lake

We need to experience the wilderness. It is a re-set. We need to be reminded that the world we carry in our heads is no more than that. There is a bigger picture.

Blog from the Bardo

I am lying on my bed, wrapped up in a multi-colored Indian blanket I had before my kids were born and a blue blanket with a big ‘C’ given to me by UCLA 50 years ago. I am watching the last blast of rain blow across Little Diamond lake. It came in suddenly and is already leaving, like an giant steam engine thundering through the station.

Diamond Lake smallI am at Little Diamond lake is just south of the Canadian border, north of Spokane, feeling the distance from what is familiar – a market down the street, a gas station around the corner, local news on TV. Up here in the wilderness, I am a long way from everything I am used to.

The days are long. The mind wanders. Memories fade. Plans fall apart and it doesn’t matter. Being here now has a feel to it. A description of it is always too late. It is stillness that appears to be moving.

In Tibetan tradition, a ‘bardo’ is the state of existence between two lives on earth, when consciousness is not connected to a body, but still held to the ground. The present moment – the now – is a continuous bardo, always suspended between the past and the future. If you stop reading this, look up … and then go back to reading, you have created a bardo. If a departing spirit is wrapped up in unfinished business, it drifts in The Big Bardo (between lives). For many, it is a little bardo getting from breakfast to lunch, let alone the whole day. ‘Bardos’ are the valleys between the peaks in the wave. In this case, it is the place between what I was and what I will be.

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Last year, I left everything behind in San Jose. Not just my family, but all the stuff, with which I was familiar. I disposed of memories like old medals and trophies, clothes I never wore, a pile of old magazines for which I had photographed the cover, hundreds of books and a collection of old furniture. Signs of a previous life. Now, everything I own fits into my 20 year-old Tioga. That was the beginning of this particular bardo, the start of life on the road.

Another feature of this experience is that the end is unknown. If it were known, you would already be there mentally and you wouldn’t really be disconnected. In the same way, if you haven’t let go, then you’re not really on the journey yet. That experience – letting go of all you know, not knowing what comes next, is pure movement. There is nothing to hold on to. There is only being alive.

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As I write this, it is a couple of days later. I am back in the Columbia Gorge, basking in an early morning breeze blowing down the river into my little RV. Waiting out the weather as I creep up the coast.

So often, uncertainty is not resolved in the direction we thought was our way. That is why so many people avoid bardos when they see them coming. People like me, those who like life on the road, will face the uncertainty in order to experience something new. Often, for me, it’s been when I have nothing left to lose … as the song goes.

Butterfly and flower smallBee and flower 1 smallI made it to Mt. Vernon. The sun is flooding through the trees and warming everything up. Here, there are no magnificent vistas to photograph, no dramatic coming and going of the light or rushing rivers bursting through the green. So I settled down and looked around me. Seems like I’m slowing down as I move further north. Looking closer at things. I wonder if that means I am getting somewhere.

I moved again. To Birch Bay. From here, that somewhere looks like Canada.

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Two Sides to Everything

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Crescent Bar on the Columbia River

It’s early in the season in the Northwest, so the countryside is not crowded. That’s good. But the weather hasn’t cleared up yet. That’s bad … for a potentially leaky roof. It’s a longer rhythm up here in the Northwest. The sun appears at 5:00 am and sticks around for 16 hours. Not only is there more rain, there’s more light. No wonder everything grows so green. I dashed from the North Oregon Coast, just ahead of the rain, and landed at Crescent Bar on the Columbia River. From there, I rode Alice over the spine of Washington, across the Cascade mountains. We stopped for a breather at Ponderosa Peak.

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The view from Ponderosa Peak

After crossing Washington State, I camped out at La Connor, near Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. Fifty years ago, as a freshman at UCLA, travelling with the rugby team, we took the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was at sunrise. I was standing on the bow … the sharp light in the sky folding in and out of the clouds, the wind whipping off the water … I have never forgotten.

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The San Juan Islands

This time I took a ferry out to Friday Harbor, as far as I can go without crossing to Canada.

Boats are clearly a way of life in the San Juan Islands. The ferries carry hundreds of cars and trucks between the islands every day. The main cabin of the ferry has jigsaw puzzles laid out on some tables, so that shifts of passengers can work on them, taking for granted the spectacular display of the world around them.

The Puget Sound is beautiful here at La Connor. It is an Indian reservation. ‘Lone Tree’ is an ancient Douglas fir, broken in a storm 3 years ago, that has stood watch over the Swinomish lands for generations, guiding those who navigated this part of the bay.

This experience is the opposite of a city, like Los Angeles, where I lived as a young man. Richard Feynman, the eminent scientist, liked to say that there is always another way to see anything and that being able to see things in another way was important to understanding the universe. As a boy, in Darwin, I hung out at the beach all the time and set my schedule by the tides. Then I went to school in the city and forgot all about it.

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Lone Tree at dawn

Here, at the edge of Puget Sound, I can see the flow change direction again. I don’t see how the native tribe could not believe that they belonged to Nature and owed everything to her. Back then, what happened, happened. There were no contradictions. There was nothing to worry about. They were home.

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Lone Tree at dusk