People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. ~Joseph Campbell
The winter solstice seemed as good a reason as any to spend a couple of days in the wild after what turned out to be a much busier and more challenging season than expected; and with the benefit of hindsight, the same also holds true for the year that preceded it. Although not a particularly productive year in terms of photography, it was a year of many unexpected endings and beginnings, punctuated by times of sadness and reflection, as well as great beauty and affirmation.
Leaving home into the cold and lonesome roads as a winter storm was approaching accentuated the changing of the seasons, and made for a fitting end to a busy stretch of travel and work. Between professional commitments and various health issues, little time was left to enjoy autumn. But, what times I did get to spend outdoors were memorable in many ways.
As I left the pavement and headed down an icy canyon, the wind picked up. I set up camp in a protected space by some large boulders and listened to the airy howls and whispers among the bare cottonwoods. Here and there, the clouds broke just enough to let in some of the silvery light of a bright moon, and a peaceful night ensued. My thoughts drifted to another canyon in another desert where, a year before, I looked into a calm darkness and it looked back into me. It was the first of several times in the months to come when I sensed that an episode has ended, but also that I am better prepared than ever to write the next one.
The following morning I had a large complex of canyons to myself. Save for a flock of juncos, Millie the dog and I were the only life forms within sight or earshot. The cold morning found us hiking into the peaceful stillness of a small tributary to visit an ancient desert dwelling in a deep sandstone alcove. Shortly after entering the slickrock womb, the winds picked up again and flurries of snow were visible from the safety of the deep chamber. I thought about the people who lived here, thousands of years ago, imagining the scents of their fires and food as they sat and watched the passing storms, as I am. I remember visiting this canyon earlier in the year shortly after receiving the news that my book More Than a Rock was accepted by a major publisher. The ancients left no written record save for curious images on the rock. What might be left of my own images some thousands of years from now? In a strange way I suspect it matters less to me than it did to them. I am content with paper and pixels, and when these expire, let the works of others take its place. Surely those to come, at least some, may possess more knowledge and insight than I ever will, and they deserve their day.
In the afternoon I headed to the high country as the storm grew stronger. Driving a two-track road into the soft golden winter sun, lined with large rabbitbrush bushes glowing in the last of the light. I had a clear view into the mountains, now covered in new snow. Chill and warmth, sadness and joy, memories and plans, all collapsed into a beautiful visceral present. I stopped often to savor the light, the sting of an occasional errant snowflake, and the thoughts triggered by every sensation. I thought with pride about my wife and the home we made for ourselves here, and reminisced about times in such places with old and new friends. And I was filled with hope for more such memorable times in the years ahead.
And so, I end the year with great relief and also with great hope; with profound memories and with much to look forward to. Another year not wasted; may the next be every bit as satisfying.