On my photography outings I often try to adopt a mindful approach. I say try, because I regularly fail like a chicken trying to lay a perfectly round egg. The last week was not any different. My head was full of good intentions; to take some time to relax, not judge the outcome and let the photography process unfold organically -whatever that means. The result was slightly different than anticipated. Sometimes when you’re looking to savour a juice peach, life hands you a lemon.
A few days back, a sunny spring day, was a good day to go exploring, find something new, and shift creativity from neutral into first gear. I’m on a ridge overlooking the Bow Valley. The ridge is exposed to the southern sun. As I walk I feel the heat of the early season sun linger in pockets around me. I sit down in a hotspot and let the world around me unfold. Inspiration will come, I think. If not, it is pleasant relaxing my eyes on the distant mountain panorama. I sit down and focus on my breathing. Deep breath in, long breath out. It’s the start of my long-intended and long-anticipated meditation sessions in the wilderness.
After a minute I get bored. It’s a common pattern. My mind wanders off, thinking about a stealthy cougar approaching, ticks crawling up my legs or amazing photography opportunities waiting just around the next bend. To sit down and stop my mind from going in circles often turns out to be a real challenge.
Today is no different. I’m happy to be out in nature. My body is calm, but my mind is restless. I pride myself on the intention of just sitting and being. “Here’s a high five to myself for even trying”, I think. My eyes are already scanning the area around me for a photo subject. I soon discover a flower that peaks my interest. The sun sits high in the sky, so I use my backpack to create some shadow on the flower. The backpack is shaped awkwardly- a flat back and round front. It’s not unlike my own waist these days. The pack does not easily stay in place on this moderate slope, so I wiggle it into a juniper bush. Finally it sticks. I lean forward on knees and elbows and start the interactive game between camera, flower and elements.
Suddenly the light is back on. The backpack rolled over like a helpless beetle. I don’t care and keep going. “Thump”, the backpack makes a sound again. Now I look up. Only a meter away the backpack has taken another tumble downhill. With my camera in hand I sit up and observe. The backpack flips once again, gently limping down the hill, taking a quick breather after every somersault. “The next juniper bush will grab it”, I tell my dog. Wrong. The pack’s round front leaps gracefully over the bush. “Thump, thump, thump”, the backpack is now gaining momentum. My world stops for a moment while I witness the pack transform from a leaping gazelle into a cartwheeling rock. It seems to be enjoying itself. My lenses inside the bag have come along for the joy ride to the valley floor.
Deep breath in, long breath out. To my own surprise I don’t respond; I just watch in awe. My thoughts have come to a four-way stop as my backpack shamelessly runs the traffic light. Like a Buddhist monk I sit and watch. Ten seconds of mindfulness. The backpack has by now disappeared into the trees some fifty meters below. As in a sudden awakening, I jump back on my feet and start running down the ridge with my camera in hand. Soon I stumble, plummet and tumble headfirst through numerous juniper bushes. Acknowledging my camera survived the first beating, I get up again and navigate the steeper part of the slope with a lot more awareness. In the trees on the valley floor I find my pack. The lenses, packed in soft, foamy cushions, are shaken but not stirred. No damage at first sight.
My lenses have taken a beating, but two days later I’m outside again, drifting through the woods with no particular plan other than to test the lenses. My dog Charm is again by my side. I’m surprisingly calm today. The rushing sound of a creek pulls us in. The sun plays with rays of sparkling white water as it rushes over a log. I find a nice angle and set up a tripod along the creek, aiming to take a long exposure shot. The shore is rocky, covered with soft, slippery sphagnum moss. Charm finds a soft green pillow and wallows in the sunlight. I set the exposure time on my camera to thirty seconds, press the shutter button, step back and let the camera do its job. I relax, sit down and continue where I left off a few days ago. I am relaxing my muscles, smelling the woods, feeling the sun on my skin. Deep breath in, long breath out. I can’t believe I am actually doing it.
“Plunk” I hear next to me. I look up. The camera and tripod have disappeared. All that remains are a rock and rushing creek. I can’t believe it. The tripod fell over and landed in a dark deep pool. I can’t even see the camera. Like the episode on the ridge a few days back, I am left stunned for a few seconds that seem like eternity. Deep breath in, long breath out. I am no doubt living in the present. Mind is empty, hollow, vacant. Then, as if a spark hits fuel, my brain starts racing again. “Do I untie my shoes, jump into the creek, scream, just give up?”, I rush from thought to thought. I decide to reach into the pool with both arms and blindly feel my way to what appears to be my gear. I lift up the dripping mess. “There goes my photography for a while”, I say out loud. My dog looks at me from her mossy bed and silently acknowledges this newly acquired wisdom.
For a while I sit on the moist moss and lick my wounds. The camera is water logged and lifeless. The lens is saturated with milky muck. It’s too late for CPR, defibrillation or surgery. Even though frustration is dripping from my face, I realize life has once again handed me perfect little exercise in remaining calm and trusting a good outcome.
Deep breath in, long breath out. The universe obviously has other plans for me this week. I decide to embrace more writing this week. Perhaps I’ll buy a lottery ticket. Don’t things often turn out for the best after life appears to go tumbling down a mountain? As I walk back home, I promise myself to apply what I heard on the radio the day before. What do you do when life hands you a lemon? You take a huge bite out of it, knowing lemon is good for you.