I’m not sure what, precisely, it is about unfettered and unbothered solo walking that is so inspiring but I find myself repeatedly lit on fire when I wander.
Two things. First, it appears that the act of wandering is fulfilling because, in one way or another, that’s what we’re all doing. We’re wandering. Searching, looking, absorbing, seeking something. The wandering itself isn’t entirely fulfilling. It is what one gets from the wandering that is important. It could be anything. A clearer thought. A moment of peace. A connection to a greater something. A little bit of all of the above.
Second, a friend pushed me to something the other day that I found enlightening. He more or less demanded that I tell him a bit of what I felt as I wandered around. No one really presses me to tell them what I’m feeling, but it made me think about why I do feel such a draw to just wander around the forest making photographs.
Here it is: I wander because every time I go into the wilds, whether it’s the perfect little footprints of a squirrel in the snow, a ray of light that pierces the undergrowth and sets a single tree apart from the forest, the way a certain stand of trees blows in the wind or the way the tundra falls, for a split second I feel like I can see Narnia. Like the animals will start talking and the trees will start dancing and adventures will be had. If only for a split second, I see another world. A pure world. A world of everlasting glory.
Here in this world, we see only brief glimpses of that world. For the most part, the forest and the mountains and the weather and the winds are groaning in tribute to the fact that they are not a pure world. But here and there, snatches of a separate, perfect, purity can be found. The more you connect with what is around you the more you see them.
My wanderings with a camera are merely reflections of this feeling.
What do I feel when I’m out there doing photography and seeing the wilds? I feel like I want to record those split seconds so that I don’t ever forget them and, in the end, after thousands of photographs, perhaps I will have a faint image, a vague imprint, a portrait of what that other pure, mysterious world looks like. And then, when I’m longing for that pure Otherworld, I can come back to the images and look at them and for a little bit feel like I live there now.
Peace and Love in the Pursuit of the Otherworld,
I decided to take a brief break from the photo-secesisonists today to look at some O’Keefe and read a bit in Galen Rowell’s Retrospective. First, I was surprised at how unimpressed I was with Galen’s work at the beginning of his career. It seems fairly documentary at a very basic level. However, as his work progresses it started to take on an almost impressionistic, dream-state, kind of feel. Second, I found a really compelling story about a trip he took with Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Rick Ridgeway. Ridgeway recounts it in an aside in the book entitled “The Difference Between Looking and Seeing.” I copy it below interspersed with a couple photos from last week.
“We stopped in front of a large print of several basaltic rocks with smooth, faceted faces. The black rocks were huge gemstones rising Stonehenge-like out of the flat hardpan. We were silent for perhaps a full minute before we began to comment on how this image, unique among the others Galen had made during our expedition, seemed somehow to capture the wild power of the northwest Chang Tang — the only remaining corner of the Tibetan plateau as yet unoccupied by human beings. We also noted how quintessentially a Galen Rowell photograph that it was recognizable as his, in the way that a painting by Picasso or Miro doesn’t need to be attributed to the artist.
“But where did he take it?” Jimmy asked. ”I was wondering the same thing,” Conrad responded. ”I don’t remember seeing those rocks, do you, Rick?” ”No, and I’ve been trying to retrace the trip in my mind,” I said. ”I can’t place them.” ”It’s not like we didn’t all walk by them,” Jimmy added. ”We were together the whole trip.”
“That’s the thing isn’t it,” I replied. ”We all walked by them.”
Conrad said, “But only Galen saw them.”
A pretty huge shot of the property that Cache Creek Outfitters operates on. We shot a meet and greet here last night. This is 123 images stitched and blended. Photo © Ryan Day Thompson, 2012
I got into the car to go the Tetons and woke up here instead. Photos © Ryan Day Thompson, 2012
Jess Pemble and Angela Tomczik take in The Diamond on approach at Lumpy Ridge. Photos © Ryan Day Thompson, 2012
I recently had the privilege of leading my dad up Osiris (5.7) on The Book of Lumpy Ridge fame. It was a very good day and an important one for me. He hasn’t been on rock in nineteen years except for the day I started climbing when he took me to some short little 4th class slab and showed me how to tie in and belay. It was pretty amazing to have him following and talking about my gear placements, praising many and chuckling at others, and generally bantering about climbing for a few hours.
In the day he was a Camp 4 dirtbag climbing El Cap classics and taking our family all over the west: when we weren’t in Yosemite we had stints living in a tent in Joshua Tree, Tahquitz, and Stoney Point, with stops in Zion, Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Moab, and we based primarily out of Telluride (lifts and pre-ice park Ouray in winter, Ophir Wall in summer) and Dolores until we moved to Denver. Despite all of the climbing he did in my first ten years growing up, I hated heights and we weren’t encouraged to pick up climbing at all. It wasn’t until late in 2010 that I decided to do that and now here we are.
Anyway, it was a happy day :-)
Photos © Ryan Day Thompson, 2012