Last fall, I was on a health kick. I walked fifteen thousand steps or more every day. I was particularly fascinated with Cwmdonkin Park near my home. It was the boyhood haunt of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. His family home is just around the corner. But it was not some mystical connection to a dead poet that drew me there. It was leaves.
I have never had the privilege but New England in fall is on my bucket list. I remember as a girl raking the leaves from the front yard and sidewalk. I loved jumping in the piles before we burned them (back then we did not know about composting or the damage we were doing to the environment). I was fascinated with the beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds. And while I have never been a huge fan of brown, even those held their own beauty.
Cwndonkin, in particular, has a strong mix of flora and foliage. Being a Victorian-era park, it is rife with non-native trees and plants. The Victorians, living in the age of Darwin, had a special fascination with transplanting plants, trees, and even animals from their native lands to British soil. Of course, these days we are more enlightened on the dangers of such experiments.
I wanted so desperately to capture the beauty of those leaves. As I walked I used the camera on my phone. But the pictures were far, far less than what I wanted. I had an image in my mind of how the photo should look, of what I was seeking to capture. I had seen other photos, I knew I wanted the focus upon the leaf itself, a gentle blurring of the background. But try as I might the camera on my phone would not suffice. It was not the right tool for the job.
So, I took to collecting the leaves. Taking them home, using old pieces of fabric as background to stage photographs. I tried using the camera on my Kindle, perhaps that would be better. The results were pitiful.
The season passed. Winter came. Then spring. I looked out our bedroom window as the first buds of May burst forth with vibrant colors. And once again, I was caught in this need to capture their beauty. Since my birthday was coming soon, I asked Alan for a camera. A good one. He bought me one. And I was off.
Of course, I never thought of myself as a photographer. In fact, in the days before digital, when film was costly and developing took days before you saw the results of your efforts, I was the last person you wanted behind a camera. I cut people’s heads off. Not literally, of course, though my caustic tongue has been known to do so figuratively. But I could never seem to take a photograph that was properly centered.
These days between the instant gratification of digital photography and the wonders of Photoshop, any idiot can be a photographer. And this one has become one.
I did not though just jump in. I took a course in photography. Well, sort of. I do not like peopling so much anymore. So, I took an online one. Fundamentals of Photography taught by National Geographic’s Joel Sartore and offered on The Great Courses. (I highly recommend them and this course.)
Mr. Sartore covered all the basics: shutter speed, aperture, composition, and light. It is this latter that I want to talk about. Sartore favors subtle and natural lighting. He feels that early morning and late evening, dawn and dusk, are the best times for taking pictures.
But you know me – the rule breaker. I tried things his way. But the truth is most of my favorite photographs are ones that he would call blown out. This one, in particular, is one of my first. I use it as the background on my laptop. I see everything that Sartore would say is ‘wrong’ with it.
And that is why I love it. I love the glaring, bright, light of the sun. I can almost feel its warmth even now on a crisp autumn morning in my thick socks and flannel pajama bottoms.
I have taken once more to walking through the parks, Cwmdonkin and others near my home. Every morning that the sun is out, I take my camera and get in my daily steps (or at least make a serious dent in them). The first time I did, the goddess spoke to my heart: every leaf deserves a photograph, we all have a story worth telling.
But this week it was a different revelation. My purpose is to capture the light. While I respect Mr. Sartore’s expertise. None of my photographs will ever make the cover of National Geographic. Being a photographer, or a writer, is about personal style. While you may begin by copying the works of the masters, it is only when you find your own style, your own voice that you truly become an artist.
The other revelation that came to me was – no matter how good I get, how fine my camera, I will never succeed. No photo is ever as beautiful the subject, especially when it comes to capturing the elusive dance of light through a fall leaf.
Just as no words can ever describe the completion of true love. No words can ever seize that moment when I stand in his arms, my head beneath his chin, my face buried in the soft, roughness of his beard…and just be. Knowing that I am loved. I am complete. I am whole. I am where I belong.
But still, I try. I am compelled as a creative to attempt the impossible. As a photographer, I break all the rules, striving to grasp the elusive and breathtaking glory of the weakened autumn sunlight filtered through those golds, bronzes, and fiery reds of her seasons. As a writer, I struggle to communicate the wonder of those moments, perfectly normal and completely unique.
Why? Why would I strive like Sisyphus to push a boulder up the hill, knowing that it will only roll back, knowing that I can never succeed? It is not some self-destructive streak that drives me, but a compulsion to share the wonderment with others. We live in a world where people have lost connection.
We have lost the connection with nature. Our food has become fast, convenient, and disconnected from the earth from which it springs. The taste of a mater warm and fresh from the vine has been lost. We do not grow our own food, so it has no value.
We rush from place to place, failing to inhale the beauty all around us. Our cars insulate us. We focus only on the road. We hear only the music blasting or the hum of the engine. We smell leather and plastic rather than the rich loam of earth. And we become enraged, entitled, and disconnected from where we are truly going.
And saddest of all, we have lost true connection to one another. Friendship is minimalized to someone to get drunk with in the pub. Our relationships are built on months, sometimes years, of pretending to be someone we’re not to get someone else who is not what they seem to love the person we never were. And we wonder why the end? Why divorce is so rampant? Even our children have become nothing more than possessions, mini-mes that can be shaped and molded to reflect positively on us as parents.
If one photo I take encourages someone to stop and look at the light, or better yet, to get out there in the real world, nature that at least for now can still be found, then I have done something of value.
If one word that I write carries someone through their darkest hour to find hope, love, and healing as I have with him, then I have accomplished a miracle.
Yes, I will never capture either light or love. They are not things that are meant to be imprisoned in photographs or mere words. They are precious moments intended to be lived and experienced. But my feeble attempts at doing so are signposts for others to their beauty. I hope that each of you will follow those breadcrumbs to your own truth, love, and enlightenment.
Goddess bless from our @HomeCrazzyHome to yours,