Driving on the Interstate recently, on a long flat stretch where a tractor tilling the earth stirred up a mountain of dust backlit by the setting sun, I was reminded of this photograph. The golden light shining through the stirred-up dust was beautiful; I wished I could pull over and stop to photograph it. Instead, I just appreciated the scene at seventy-five miles an hour. Considering the above image I think about how, at various times of the year, farmers enrich the soil to get desirable results. What is it that enriches my life? And am I sufficiently engaging in those activities and environments?
Movies, television programs and commercials show people having fun, but seldom do they show people engaged in activities that are enriching. Lately I’ve noticed that in some cities the preference of park boards has been to provide facilities for recreation—picnic shelters and benches, playgrounds, merry-go-rounds, playing fields, volleyball courts, golf courses, canoeing and walkways where vendors can set up for special occasions. Other cities place more emphasize on the management of their natural resources. For instance, the Metro Park system in Columbus, Ohio has as its stated mission, “To conserve open spaces, while providing places and opportunities that encourage people to discover and experience nature.” (My emphasis). In one of their brochures I learned that each year, “More than 7 million people enjoy quality outdoor times in the parks, and more than 180,000 people participate in free nature education programs.” Nature first, recreation second. I drive one hundred miles to explore and photograph in those parks because, although there are picnic venues within them, the primary feature and attraction is nature.
Certainly, people who live in urban areas need outdoor places where families can have fun. But they also need well managed and maintained wilderness places where they can walk through tall forests and gorges, meander along creeks and discover meadows, ponds and marshes—diverse ecosystems where birds, reptiles and animals are protected. Having been in nature I seem to breathe better. We say it “re-charges our batteries,” perhaps because we come away feeling “charged” wish fresh inspiration and determination. There’s also a kind of satisfaction that derives from experiencing nature—like having a drink of water after being very thirsty. I like to think it has to do with reconnecting with our primordial roots where lurks the unknown, chaos and the Great Mystery.
Nature is just one source of enrichment. They abound, even in the most complex aspects of modern life. For instance, why do I choose not to have a smart phone or engage in social media? Why do I write this blog when few people subscribe to it? Why do I research, write and self-publish novels when only a handful of people will read them? And why do I continue to photograph with black-and-white film? Because all of these activities enrich me. As does nature.
Of course, as individuated souls, what enriches one will not enrich another. Just as some plants thrive in nitrogen-rich soil, others abhor it. The challenge then is to discover the activities and environments, even the people and social situations, that feed the soul—and engage them often.
Everybody needs time to reflect and contemplate, and the most inspirational and peaceful place to do so is in nature.
About This Image
Title: Harvest Moon
Location: Wilmington, Ohio
File #: 992
I made this photograph on one of my two-day photography expeditions. I’d set up my 4×5 view camera by the side of the road to shoot in the other direction. The light wasn’t right, so I waited. And waited. And I looked around. The sky was so bright when I started, I hadn’t noticed the moon. And the expanse of field seemed featureless. Still, I kept looking in that direction because of the wispy clouds. I must have waited a half hour for the sun to set between a barn and a silo. When it finally did, I took the shot. By then the sky had darkened and the moon became obvious, so I crossed the street and composed the shot.
Suddenly, what I thought was smoke appeared on the horizon to the right. I was going to wait until it dissipated to take the shot, but when I realized that it was dirt being stirred up by a tractor I changed my mind. The tractor was moving slowly enough that I had time to do a critical focus, take a meter reading, set the exposure and insert the film holder. By waiting, I also noticed that the sky darkened even more, making the moon and clouds a little brighter. When the stirred-up dirt reached the left side of the frame I took the shot. I used Kodak T-Max 400 film rated at 800 and processed it normally in Xtol developer.