I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember and photography has been one of my hobbies since I was 15 years old. It is through these interests that the concepts of texture, light and composition have come to occupy a very active part of my existence.
Decades ago I heard a Navajo prayer, and one small part of it has become deeply embedded within me; “With beauty all around me, may I walk”. This passage has combined with my inner-photographer and caused me truly look at something, to actually see it as it is, and it leaves me open to wonder.
Some might say “Well you live in Alaska. Of course you are surrounded by beauty!” I’ve been out watching exuberant Northern Lights dancing around sharp bitter stars at 40 below, footsteps squeaking the snow in a way that unique to the extreme cold, moonlight turning the frosted snow into fields of subtly sparkling jewels… pausing in the amazing quiet…to be joined by the hoot of an owl. I’ve stood on a pier looking down on a mother orca and her calf swim past in crystal clear water at sunrise. These moments are rare, but beauty is not.
I’ve traveled outside of this state, and on rare occasion, outside of this country, and I’ve never traveled away from beauty. I’ve spent an hour watching a spider building its web in Mississippi, marveled at vines climbing telephone poles in Hawaii, become entranced by the texture of sand in the Caribbean, from a helicopter I’ve seen a flock of a million flamingos turn at the same millisecond and flash from pink to white. In Detroit a single giant brick smoke stack stands among the ruins of a long defunct factory, a seeming sentry.
Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve seen a mother and baby lost in each other’s gaze.
Recently someone commented on an amazingly beautiful video of the earth shot from and orbiting spaceship. He noted that the earth is beautiful from far away, but the closer you get the more uglier it becomes, and then he expressed sadness. I can only guess, but my assumption is that my distant friend had encountered pain and grief, and began to focus on it. He looks for the ugly aspect of life and finds it. I look for beauty and I find it.
Like so many things in life, balance is critical. It is possible for me to look only for beauty and not experience the fullness of life; much like others can walk past sublime beauty as they look for the next bit of pain or ugliness. From a perspective measured in years and decades instead of days and weeks however, even some of the moments of pain are elements of a beautiful story.
While I was at lunch recently I saw what surely must have been a grandfather, grizzled and bearded sitting with his granddaughter and her two young kids. Her hair was died an improbable color of red, piercings and tattoos visible. You could tell they loved each other’s company, and both worked to feed and entertain the boys. It was a table tinted with love, extending into the past and projecting into the future.
Seeing beauty or pain reminds me very much of something that is taught in motorcycle safety classes; “You go where you look.” This is true on a motorcycle, and practically speaking, it is true with life in general. I look for beauty and find that I’m surrounded by it.
Dear reader, I wish you a sense of wonder, the ability to see old things with new eyes, to see the essence of what is rather than tinted through a filter of pre-judgment and your past pains and disappointments.
May you walk in beauty.