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. A 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.”
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. I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.