Reawakening

| June 5, 2017 | 45 Replies

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy. ~W. Somerset Maugham

I walked out of the canyon in the golden warmth of the late afternoon sun. It felt good to be out again, to have walked for a full day in a remote, lonesome and beautiful place. I arrived at the trailhead, such as it was—a random spot where I could leave my car by the side of a two-track road—shortly before sunset. After many hours of seeing nothing to indicate the existence of other humans, I emerged in a place that was still quite remote and where seeing others was very improbable; but I was by a road, by a vehicle, again within reach of that other world—a world that most people find comforting and sheltering but that to me has always been a mixed bag.

I felt elated to be reminded that such places as I had just visited are still out there, and grateful to savor what’s left of them and what’s left of me. On my way in, it was hard to ignore the “development” and the plethora of visitors encountered in once-lonesome places: places I have lost over the years. They are still there, on the map, on the ground, but their character and the experience of being there is no longer what I remember it to be; and they are no longer the wild, inviting, exciting, anonymous and peaceful friends they once were to me. As for me, I have been sick for well over a year, unable to write or photograph much. The places I knew are not coming back, at least not in my lifetime. But my health has improved and I am inspired again.

I am a loner, and always have been. I do not know, nor want, to be anything else. I revel in aloneness. I have little need for social interaction and I avoid it to the degree that I can. I am a philosopher in the classic sense of the word: a lover of knowledge, a seeker of answers and meanings, a logician. However, I will not pass for a philosopher in the academic sense. Philosophy was once synonymous with science, later adopted by theologians, and ultimately ended up like so many dissected lab specimens in the academy, and like such specimens it has also become sterile, lifeless and dull. On occasion, however, philosophy had the good fortune to be hijacked by freethinkers—scientists, politicians, artists and laypeople—obsessed with unraveling the great truths of existence, with finding another piece in an unsolvable puzzle. I wish to count myself among these.

I looked back at the canyon where I had spent the better part of the day. I walked among glowing sandstone walls and through crystalline pools, rested by twisted and tormented old trees, visited with delicate spring flowers soon to vanish, listened to the calls of wrens and sparrows and ravens, stalked lizards and butterflies and tadpoles. So many, so varied, so full of wonder are the experiences to be had in this landscape. I have read the accounts of others who explored this desert, but I did not come here seeking to feel like Powell or Abbey or Stegner or Ruess or anyone else. I came here wondering what this land would feel like to me, as me, and with the great hope that it would not feel to me as it did to others. And my wish was granted.

I am a visual artist, painfully aware of the crippling limitations of using just the sense of vision in expressing the many dimensions and sensations of my deepest thoughts and most satisfying experiences. Art to me is not just the pursuit of some idea of aesthetic perfection, but a means to a more meaningful and satisfying life. I strive to make beautiful images, but I am also taken aback when beauty is all that one feels when seeing my work. It is like complimenting a chocolatier for just the sweetness of his confections, or praising a vintner for the pleasantly tipsy feeling brought on by her libations. I wish for my work to embody some of what I felt, not just what I saw, and certainly not what you—the viewer, with your own sensibilities, knowledge and feelings that are different from mine—would have seen, or felt. I wish more people saw their way to the great joys of self-expression, and to those found in savoring the expressions of others; to the inner rewards of mindfulness, of discovery, of nuance and of complexity.

I fear those who fear complexity. I fear those who speak knowingly about things unknowable. I fear those who claim subjective perceptions as objective truths. I fear those unable to defend their actions and opinions by means of logic and reason. I fear those who advocate for some better future without ever taking the time to appreciate the present, to be present, to allow and to encourage others to be present. Most of all, I fear those whose morality is not founded, above all else, in compassion.

How temptingly convenient it is to remain in the shallows, to float the river of life on a raft of ignorance and cynicism and conformity, to wait out the clock. I realize what profound sensations and experiences, inspiration and discoveries that I was fortunate to feel—in person, with all senses, enhanced by knowledge and philosophy—and that I would never have felt if I did not pursue them, if I did not work for them, if I did not endure risk and effort and pain to attain them. There’s a degree of depth, I learned, that can only be earned by stepping outside the shelter of human conventions, conveniences and rituals. And once you are out and have mustered a degree of objectivity, you realize that the distinction between shelter and prison is not as clear as you might like to believe.

On a recent workshop, a fellow photographer asked me if I use my knowledge of visual expression to manufacture experiences for my viewers that are not founded in reality. I do not. In my work I wish to convey some of my own experiences, as real as they are in my own, subjective, mind. But I do not fabricate or fictionalize. Not because I dislike fiction, but because my real experiences are more moving to me, and more worthy of expressing, than anything I could make up. The philosopher, like the artist, and unlike the journalist, has no obligation to be objective. But, if his philosophy is to be of use to anyone—or even just to himself—he must frame his arguments so his readers know how his subjective conclusions were derived out of objective observation. A true philosopher also does not shy from having his conclusions challenged. On the contrary: if he is unable to defend them, and finds himself in error, he is a step closer to the truth.

In the heat of the day I sat in the shaded recess of a sandstone alcove at the foot of a steep wall. A pool of water rippled by the breeze caught the sun and reflected a dazzling display of dancing light onto the walls. I made a conscious effort to be mindful of little details: colorful pebbles in the water, small iridescent eddies appearing and vanishing, water skeeters and beetles, the hushed whisper of the wind, the quaking of leaves, the motion of grasses. I then closed my eyes and meditated for a bit. It seems odd that the experience of meditation—when one deliberately disconnects from the external world—feels so similar to the experience of mindfulness—when one deliberately focuses all attention on the external world. The defining characteristics of a meditative experience, I found, have less to do with the things you pay attention to, and more to do with the things you do not pay attention to: the self, others, the past and the future.

I made few images, attempting to apply skills not exercised in a while. It was hard, and satisfying. Indeed, there were many easier and just as aesthetically pleasing images to be made, but there comes a point when you have to get past the easy ones to remain inspired and challenged, to proceed down the path to whatever is there that is worth finding and that you know you will never find. But you are better the closer you get.

I recall other lives in other places. I recall escaping jobs and crowds and cities and traffic and politics to find solace among wild lands and wild lives. I recall in particular walking out of a business conference into a busy street, dressed in my “business casual” costume, and feeling frustratingly ordinary and acutely aware of the moments of my life slipping away. I recall wondering why I was trying so hard to make it work, to fit in. Why would I want to fit into this? I don’t even like it. Why am I trying so hard to convince myself that there isn’t something better to be had; and how would I know if I didn’t try? And now, even as I struggle to pick up where I left off, in what seems like waking up from a prolonged nightmare, I know the answer. There is.

Thank you for letting me ramble. Thank you for letting me announce to the world that I am writing again, and working again, and inspired again.

 Still Standing

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Journal, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is a published author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau – a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (45)

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  1. Lori Ryerson says:

    Far gone, but not gone far. Welcome back.

  2. TJ says:

    Congratulations on getting back in the saddle. There are obviosuly lots of things many people can relate to in your writings but the one tha struck me personally was the trying to fit in.. trying to make something work. I’m stuck there right now but it’s more out of financial necessity with co-parenting a nine year old child. It’s an extremely frustrating place to be: to feel so ready and able and conscious of where I am versus where I want to be, and yet still remain grateful that I am even where I am and have places to go. It’s all about pushing… sometimes a millimeter at a time.

    I’m curious as to which skills you applied which you hadn’t applied in a while, if you’re comfortable sharing such information.

    Again, congratulations on the renewed energy.

    • Guy Tal says:

      Thank you, TJ! I was referring to creative work. I felt very detached from the world for a long time and although I loved being outdoors, I wasn’t very motivated to make something of my experience other than to just be there. Creative work requires investment of self in multiple ways—emotional, intellectual and physical—and I just didn’t have it in me.

  3. Resonates deeply. Beautifully written. Thank you! Glad your heath is on a upswing!

  4. Jim Sabiston says:

    “And once you are out and have mustered a degree of objectivity, you realize that the distinction between shelter and prison is not as clear as you might like to believe.”

    Brilliant.

    And welcome back.

    Jim S.

  5. Reb Babcock says:

    Guy,so glad to hear you are getting your health and inspiration back. Many of us find peace and solace in your musings. Ramble on! We look forward to your new writings and images.

  6. I relate to your post deeply, Guy. I don’t even know where to begin, there are so many points of relevance and connection. I’m glad you are well again and creating.

  7. John Barclay says:

    Thank you Guy. I appreciate your photography and your words. You are an inspiration to and for the photography community that I love. I am glad your health is improving! Welcome back.

  8. Rebecca Neff says:

    Beautiful. I haven’t even seen your photos yet, and you already paint beautiful stories with your words.

  9. Kim Barton says:

    I’m so thankful you are recovering and reclaiming your means of expression! I have’t the eloquent words like you do, but I will say that you succeed in making images that, to me, express at the same time a profound silence and a flood of emotion…the quiet joy of being in that place.

  10. Guy, this was such a beautiful post. I can only say, thank you.

  11. Greg Rodgers says:

    Glad to hear you are feeling better, Guy. Didn’t know you were ill. That’s a long time to be sick. And I can appreciate what you wrote about elements required for commitment to creative actions. Sometimes, while in recovery, one must learn to accept what is and mostly be until change comes.

  12. Barry Wolf says:

    Guy, your words especially resonate with me at this time for, as you know, I, too, am on the comeback trail. I have been thinking that it is time for me to pick up my camera and get back out there. While I live in the midst of what passes for “civilization” and an ever-increasing population (aaaaaghhhh!!!), I do live close to two natural oases in the midst of all the madness. Although they do not afford me the solitude I desire, they both help feed my soul for the nature that I crave. Many thanks for your wonderful thoughts and for sharing them with the world.

  13. Steve Bunderson says:

    Welcome back old soul. You have been missed. Your musings about your search for the “collateral beauty” around you was just simply beautifullly phrased. Your words resonated in many ways with my heart and soul. I look forward to more “rambling” thoughts and visual treats.

    • Guy Tal says:

      Thank you, Steve! I appreciate it.

      • Steve Bunderson says:

        You are so welcome. As a retired advertising photog i have been a little out of the loop for over a year with health issues and I understand the “charge” to the soul from getting out and experiencing nature. I now do a fair amount of milky way photography and sitting under the stars is very therapeutic to the soul. Thanks again for your words. Many of them are imprinted on my soul for which I am very grateful. Hope your health continues to improve.

  14. Wade Thorson says:

    Thanks for all of your hard work and inspirational writing. You speak from the heart, and I am listening. I read your essay out loud to my girl friend last night, and we spent the rest of the evening discussing many of your thoughts. We agreed that you are part Abbey part Adams part Camus, and a little Albert Schweitzer. Thoughtful discourse is becoming such a rare thing these days, and I relish in every essay you write. Now I just have to break out of my corporate cubicle and practice what you preach.

  15. Guy, I’ve followed your work in Lenswork. A friend we have in common, Chuck Kimmerlie, speaks respectfully of you often! Personally, having a philosophy credential myself, I just want to offer the concept that philosophy is the main trunk of the tree … all of the sciences are the branches! Respectfully, Michael Flicek

    • Guy Tal says:

      Thank you, Michael! I hold Chuck in very high regard, too.
      I remember on the first philosophy class I attended, the professor drew on the board a circle within a circle and told the class that one is science and the other philosophy and asked us which we thought was which. Philosophy is not just the trunk, it is the container for all human thought.

  16. Deigh Bates says:

    It is such a treat for me to open your blog link and find a new posting – makes my day/week and I am glad that you are back to writing and photographing with improving health. (W. Somerset Maugham – one of my favorite authors!!) Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  17. Blake Pridgen says:

    What a great essay, Guy, as usual. Your’s is such a refreshing voice in the phoblographysphere. I’m glad to hear you are on the mend and getting back in the saddle. I can relate in a way. I had a health crisis that sidelined me for months last year, to the point that I wondered if I’d even be able to hold my job down, much less explore my favorite wilderness lands with a camera in hand. I made a blessed recovery and am grateful for the perspective the experience provided about the relativity of life and the privilege of good health. Most problems melt away when compared to a serious illness.

    That said, welcome back!

  18. Tom Coverdale says:

    Guy, really enjoyed reading this blog! I am also reading “Not a Rock”. I find myself captured by your writing and my photography totally blocked. This is not a complaint, it is the realization that my work up until now has been duplicative of others, interesting but not expressive, and lacking in any emotional content. I need to evolve but I’m stuck. My focus for several years now has been technically driven and in pursuit of great pictures in all the same familiar places. I have soured on this “approach” while digging into your book. I have had to reread several essays and many paragraphs two or even three times to get my techno locked mind around the concepts. I am praying that by the time I have finished consuming your word that I can find a better approach and direction for my work. Thank you for kicking me out of my personal prison! I am also trying to read all of your past blogs but finishing Rock first. Tom

  19. Herb Cunningham says:

    Great to see you back!
    Change in the wild places is usually
    not positive; I remember when I was
    a young engineer in the Bay area in the
    60″s that
    “I was born 50 years too late” because
    of the incessant development that was
    happening at the time.
    Being at peace means being alone-I saw
    a TV news program about ranches in
    south Texas where the reporter asked a
    rancher (in middle of 30,000 acres)”don’t you
    get lonely”- he said to the reporter:
    “how can you be lonely in a place like this”

  20. Dan Baumbach says:

    Very happy that you’re feeling better. I love reading of your wilderness adventures.

  21. Brad Mangas says:

    Your work, writings and imagery has always inspired me Guy. I am looking forward to the “Reawakened” future. May your journeys be many, safe, and forever personally inspired.

  22. Dick thomas says:

    Many times I read your writings over and over, sometimes trying to understand, but most times getting so much more meaningfulness out of your words each time. You are the only writer that I am compelled to follow in this fashion. I’m so glad things are better. Please take care.

  23. Peter Higdon says:

    Great that you are writing again. I very much enjoy your blog, and this post is up to your normal excellent standard. It is good to read something like this that makes me think about my life.

  24. Leo Ridano says:

    Welcome back .Glad to read you again.

  25. Leo Ridano says:

    Welcome back. Glad to read you again.

  26. people use to say that during our grandparents time things didn’t change. Wrong. They did, but slowly.

  27. Andrew Teece says:

    Welcome back! You truly are an inspiration.

  28. Belinda Jiao says:

    ‘my real experiences are more moving to me’– can’t agree more. Well-written!

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