I lost my camera in the Sierras during my last field-work week. I was childishly devastated about this – less due to the loss of the machine and more due to the loss of the photographs on it plus the inability to take any photographs during this week out in wilderness. It is silly, but it matters to me.
Word to the wise : if you should be required to bush-wack for a holiday hiking excursion or for work purposes, DO NOT keep anything in your pockets. I like to think that I have made my sacrifice to the manzanita gods, by them taking my camera, and that now I can bush-wack through manzanita bushes everywhere without fear of tripping or tearing my pants.
I also like to think that someday in the future, maybe even far into the future, someone might find my camera. The machine itself will be non-functional but the SIM card inside shall be intact. Maybe at this point the SIM card will be outdated technology, like Microfilm, but somewhere will still exist a functioning historic relic of a thing once known as a “SIM card reader” and they will be able to access the photos on it. As those who know me best know, almost all my photos are of landscapes – mainly mountains and trees, so this found SIM card of mine can act as a sort of time-capsule to how the land used to look in the Northern Sierras, and my hope of hopes is that the land looks the exact same.
Anyways, as I was pouting about this but telling myself to get over it, I read a bit of My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir, and as Mr. Muir often does, he spoke right to my heart’s need:
The whole landscape showed design…How wonderful the power of its beauty! Gazing awe-stricken, I might have left everything for it. Glad, endless work would then be mine tracing the forces that have brought forth its features…beauty beyond though everywhere, beneath, above, made and being made forever. I gazed and gazed and longed and admired…made hurried notes and a sketch, though there was no need of either, for the colors and lines and expression of this divine landscape-countenance are so burned into my mind and heart they surely can never grow dim.
Such wisdom. Although I love to photograph and share nature with others in this fashion, save nature for myself to gaze upon at home when I’m not actually in it, there is indeed “no need” because such spaces are “so burned into my heart and mind” that they can “never grow dim.”
I shook off the embarrassment and frustration of losing an item in the woods, and was then inspired. Although John Muir made pencil sketches of the landscape, I do not have any such artistic talent. However, as he paints pictures with words, I can too make “word pictures” (although I would never claim ones so captivating as Muir’s). So, in the absence of my camera, here are some of my “word photographs” from the week:
The moon shines brighter in the wilderness. It is like a spotlight, like a search light calling you back to your center. It makes a play of conifer branch shadows on my tent roof – a visual lullaby that allows me to take the forest into my dreams.
The granite amphitheatre is haphazardly assembled. Some large pieces here, some flat pieces there, and jagged edges all around. But, upon closer inspection, it appears more like the best jigsaw puzzle you could ever ask for – much thought put into the assembly but a challenge to re-create it should we break it apart. Some sections are long, flat slabs with narrow ledges, and their flowing topography appears as the stone version of gently cascading water, petrified. Other areas at first appear as unthoughtful piles of granite (somewhere between “stone” size and “boulder”) but upon further gazing they appear to have been place with intention, are perfectly fit together such that no swapping of places could be allowed. When I first see this granite amphitheatre, I very nearly think it might be snowy slopes, the hue is so clean and bright. But it is the creamy color of the stones mixed with July sunshine that has deceived me. The longer I look, the more colors emerge: splotches of rose, burnt orange, salmon, and the occasional lime green. The palette is made perfect by veins of evergreen appearing without predictable pattern, lines of fir trees dripping down the granite slopes – a stationary stream of green manzanita carpet accompanying them with a sprinkling of mountain hemlock spires. The varying heights found therein create an unexpected visual harmony in the variety. The morning breeze begins while I sit on, sipping licorice-scented tea. The water ripples in response, in an invisible and silent conversation with the air. There are several conversations occurring at once it seems, and the lake’s surface allows me to see how the wind moves. In certain spots the water’s reflection is projected on a boulder’s surface and the bottom of a few fir tree branches making for the best drive-in (“sit-in”?) movie. I could sit and watch this rerun for hours and hours. There is a stillness here that is almost tangible, feels so thick that I could almost grab it in hand.
A mote around a mote around a lake. This makes the lake a two-dimensional fortress with a few boulder-islands in the center. The mote water is an amber brown full of tree frog tadpoles that scatter like suddenly-broken glass shards as they hear my approaching footsteps. They burrow themselves deep into the silt carpet below, safe and warm and camouflaged. Earthen walkways border the motes, making for soft sidewalks accented by tall grasses and a variety of low shrubbery. Song birds periodically adding their call from the fir hemlock forest I came from and shall return to. The wind glides its hands over the shin-high grasses as I walk and then kisses my cheeks – a refreshment from the sun blazing down from the cloudless sky overhead.
Under the shade of a limber pine, I find a mossy seat to eat my lunch. A scattering of cumulus clouds overhead and a whispering wind suggest the possibility of an evening rain. The water ripples, almost emerald in hue – the whole body of water looks like a sea of gems, a pool of jewels. Long-fallen trees along the shoreline are white and as dry as bones, but they make for happy frog homes. The granite hillside opposite is nearly vertical, with dark black streaks acting as a visual echo for years when there was actual snow-melt, the moss there long grown dead and dry. The contrast of evergreen and granite cream could lull me into an eternal-afternoon daydream (it is the color scheme of the Sierra, so maybe of that of my spirit in this season as well).