The Painful Part

| August 8, 2013

My romanticism by no means allows me to indulge in the sentimental cliche that the great artist “dead” lives “forever and onward” in the “continuing glory” of his “immortal” work. –W. Eugene Smith”

I realized the other day how much I miss walking. My knee is improving slowly and it’s likely that I’ll be in hiking shape again in just a few days. I can’t wait. I have driven the local two-track roads several times recently, to some remote and beautiful places. But, without walking, I still feel like an observer and not a participant; I witness the scenery, but I’m not in it; I can read its stories, but I am not a part of them. I need to immerse myself in these places in both body and spirit to feel alive. I need to disconnect from the world of roads and vehicles to fully experience the wild. To walk away from human-made conveniences is to enter a different dimension of existence, not hindered by effort and difficulty and solitude, but enhanced by them.

I like finding places where I can sit comfortably, away from the roads and trails, with a pleasant view or by a  stream or in the shelter of an alcove; out of sight, far enough that I can’t hear the buzzing of motors, and where no other human is likely to intrude. When I find such a spot, I stay there, sometimes for an hour or more. The longer I’m there, still and quiet, the more the essence of the place penetrates my awareness. Surface features reveal the forces that made them; plants and animals tell their stories of adaptation and overcoming the challenges of the place; weather and light and rock speak of the life journey of the Earth, itself – where it’s been and where it’s headed. It is a tapestry of stories, almost endless in variety and scope, yet each profound and meaningful … and temporary. And in this vast web of tales, I get to weave my own.

The painful part is the recognition of the transience of all things, from the fallen cottonwood leaf decaying in the dry creek bed, to my own existence and the fates of species, planets, galaxies and beyond. Nothing is forever. It is hard for many to accept just how fleeting and inconsequential a slice of time and space we occupy and that we, like all things before us, will wither and morph into yet other things; and the memory of our existence ultimately will be erased. Our lives will end, our bodies break down, our organizations and empires and civilizations will fall, and it is far more likely that we’ll become little more than curious fossils to a different intelligent species some millions of years hence, than persist as a species. This magnificent sandstone desert will erode and disappear, quite soon on the geologic scale. Not a thing we can do will stop the wind and water from chipping away at rock. We are powerless to control the movement of continents; to keep the sun sufficiently fueled to prevent the demise of our solar system; or to halt the lifecycles of stars, the collisions of galaxies, the growth of black holes or the inflation of the universe.

This should be most obvious to those of us who create. Our work, our images, our writings and interactions matter because they matter now. They matter to us and to the people we touch. If we are particularly fortunate, they may matter for some time beyond our own days. But, they do not matter in any permanent sense. We do what we do because it enhances the present. What we do means nothing because, beyond some brief niche of time and space, nothing does; at least nothing that is within our ability to comprehend.

The beautiful part is the same as the painful part. When you see your own story as but one thread in the grand fabric of existence, you also realize how amazingly fortunate you are to be conscious and aware, and to experience the beauty and mystery that is everywhere. And with that realization, you can also see more clearly the proper way to write your own story; to chart the course of your own journey; to be important in the limited sense that you can be.

The sad part is that so many learn too late, sometimes never, to appreciate the astounding beauty of it all; the importance of now and the folly of wasting the greatest gift you will ever be given – your short time on this magnificent Earth.


A Day in the Life

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an 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 (4)

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  1. Phil Hemsley says:

    Eloquently expressed sentiments in a reverent ‘call to arms’ to us all.

    Your reflective thinking shows such a genuine appreciation for the time you have spent in the wild places.

    The meditative enlightenment as you talk of in the line “The longer I’m there, still and quiet, the more the essence of the place penetrates my awareness” – is a fine thing to encourage. It is always fascinating to see how the complexity of a grand scene or an ‘inner landscape’ unfolds, if one has the opportunity to absorb the essence of it over a considerable period of time.

    If landscape photography is imbued with a soulful & emotive essence, it has the power to make the viewer stop & consider it’s story of time & place… and with luck, it may inspire them to take time out of their comfort zone and go an explore the old world.

    I wish you a speedy recovery and shall enjoy seeing more of your photographic studies of the wild places 🙂

  2. Wonderful insight Guy.

  3. Alex Filatov says:

    Wonderfully written as always Guy. We may be nothing but grains of sand on the cosmic scale of things but each one of us is so much more, carrying memories, hopes, dreams and aspirations as we go through life. Hopefully not blindly but with eyes open, aware. Always seeking the true purpose behind our existence and never letting life pass us by.

  4. Greg Russell says:

    I may have missed something in another blog post, but I am glad your knee is healing. I was down with an ankle injury earlier this summer and felt much of the same frustration you write about here. It’s not that I couldn’t get out, it’s that I couldn’t *get out* and walk around as easily as I needed to. From Thoreau and Abbey to all of us who find a sense of belonging in the outdoors, walking is paramount.

    Walking is important for the reasons you talk about here. It allows us to discover the world around us and reminds us of our own place in the web of life.

    Well said…