After a long Canadian winter, I generally look forward to the first signs of Spring. Here in the Rocky Mountains, we typically have to wait until April to witness the first flowers popping up on sunny south facing slopes. As the sun rises higher and higher above the mountain ranges, the snow melts quickly in sunbaked spots while underexposed slopes still cling to layers of snow and ice. The landscape slowly morphs into something new, a transition I have now witnessed many times before. My mind predicts the changes of the season in detail; first this, then that. But this year I am committed to silencing my mind for at least a short while and embrace a concept that is called “Beginner’s mind”.
The practice of adopting a Beginner’s Mind starts with taking all your judgments, beliefs, opinions and locking them up in a closet where we can easily access them later again. It’s about investigating something new with curiosity, excitement and wonder, even if we have investigated it before. It’s about recognizing that our great intellectual mind serves a purpose, but also distorts and hides things from our view. I decided to experiment with this concept while wandering the local trails, with camera in hand of course.
The exercise I’ve given myself is centered around one flower, the Prairie Crocus. If my locked up mind serves me well, it is the first flower to make an appearance on the local mountain slopes. For a week now, I’ve been keeping an eye out for the first one to appear on the sunny slopes directly behind our house. Even though the objective is to discover the flower as if it was presented to me for the first time, my competitive mind is determined to make a game out of the search.
After a few days of scanning the slopes, today, on April’s Fool’s day, I found one brave lonely fellow. It is an unusual teaser of a hot day, as if the weather gods are playing a joke on us, knowing the rest of the week will bring the usual temperamental Spring weather with rain and snow storms. I am surprised to find one small crocus brilliantly reaching for the sun this early in the season. It is not safely tucked in between other plants to hide from a merciless world. No, this flower is committed, wide open and unlike me, living non-stop in the moment. As if in a love affair with the life giving sun, it was not shy about erecting triumphantly in this morning’s sun. Once opened, it’s sunny yellow core and soft lavender colored sepals drew my eyes in. The first insects and butterflies dart around it as if they found a formidable treat. Over the course of the coming weeks, more of this flower’s relatives will no doubt come out of hibernation, having no choice but to be lured by the irresistible heat beckoning from above.
As I photograph the flower, I am trying hard to the silence my lively mind and discover it again for the first time. This prairie crocus is not big, it measures only 4 inches. It has an unusually large head compared to its body. Unlike babies, I figure this flower is not really going to grow out of its odd proportions. I swerve back from preconceived notions and judgments to new discovery. The flower is covered with an army of tiny white hairs. To a macro photographer the hairs are perhaps the most fascinating part of the plant. Water drops balance on top of the woolly threads, refusing to disperse into smaller drops. The round bubbles make up their own mini universe and reflect the world surrounding the flower, including the photographer, in an amusing distorted manner.
I decide to revisit this gorgeous hairy monster in the days to come, through rain and snow, discovering it in detail with a child’s curiosity. In our rushed, mind-dominated society it is easy not to care about the short lifespan of this flower, but I’m curious to observe it from day to day. It is a liberating feeling to let go of the imprisoning attitude of “I know” and to embrace “I don’t know”. To be curious and to welcome what is presented to you in the moment can be refreshing to say the least. Even though I have taken lots of photographs of this flower species in previous seasons, I am determined to explore it again and discover something new. Since the Crocus is the sole flower brave enough to populate our fragile slopes and face our moody weather for several weeks, my mind has surprisingly agreed to go along with this approach.