Saturday, September 6, 2008

What Would Ansel Adams Do?

When I go for a hike in the mountains these days, I like to take a leisurely pace, pausing to enjoy the scent of the trees and plants, marveling at the brilliant little bursts of color that wildflowers bring to the trail, many times even managing to spring up from between a couple rocks in the middle of the path.

I like to pause to listen to the birds sing, or watch squirrels gathering pine cones, chipmunks in their racing stripes scurrying around and whatever else happens to make itself noticeable. Sometimes I like to just stand and look at the way the sun and shadows of clouds lace across the tops of the mountains. I like the sound of a stream as well as the sight of a waterfall. I like to see a fish jump and break the surface to catch an insect, and the way dragonflies making elliptical patterns in flight, grasshoppers hopping, flying and landing again. Spiderwebs woven on rotten logs. Baby pinecones dripping with fresh resin that is so potent that it makes me want to breathe deep to inhale more of its scent which energizes me. I can't get enough of the smell, so every few steps for a while, I pause to inhale more. I feel so alive and this scent is so enjoyable right now. Even now, hours later as I recall it, I wonder. How can such a simple pleasure be so satisfying? How could it not be? All of life's pleasures are simple at heart.

When I see trees growing up from under boulders, my mind tries to picture the order of things, and how that might have happened. A whole grove of aspens, and a few boulders in the middle of them. How did that happen?

Sometimes people are going up the trail at a rapid pace, and I remember when I used to hike at a brisk pace. When I was younger I was an active member of Sierra Club, and we used to go hiking every weekend and sometimes in the evenings midweek, sometimes making them moonlight hikes. There was a group of the really hardcore hikers within Sierra Club called the Fourteeners. Membership was for people who had hiked up at least 10 mountains that were at least 14,000 feet in height.

I hiked a few of those back then, and I remember that there were some very aggressive hikers from that group who would get up early in the morning and hike until dark, trying to see how many 14's they could bag in one day. I never had a desire to try that. In case you are wondering, some of those hikers used shortcuts. They didn't really go all the way back down to the base of each mountain and hike to the top again. When you have some that are clustered close together, you can just go down to a saddle, a natural connecting bridge between the mountains, and head to the top again and only return to the base when you were done for the day.

For me it is all about enjoying the journey. It always was. Of course, when you hike in a group, you have to keep up with the group, but even then, it was always about enjoying the beauty of nature. I was never in a race to see how far or fast I could go in a day.

While contemplating a few of those vistas today, as people were passing me by, I thought of Ansel Adams, the great photographer, and how he would often stay in one spot for a whole day or longer, just waiting for the sunlight or moonlight to help compose the perfect picture. It was all about the play of light and shadow on the great landscapes that made his photos some of the most popular ever made.

Today, most people use digital cameras and then they manipulate their images through programs like Photoshop, which can make an ordinary photo look spectacular. Perhaps many people today don't have time to let nature help them compose great images. We are all multitasking and have so much to do.

Lots of hikers talk a lot. I tend to be more quiet when I hike in order to hear the wind, the water, the trees, the birds, insects and animals. I like their sounds as well as the sights.

I wonder if Ansel Adams would have used those same techniques if he had been born in recent years. I do know that there is a sense of wonder, beauty and joy in the simple appreciation of taking a walk in nature. I do know that it feels very satisfying to do it at a slower pace and be more observant. And yes, I know others have other priorities, like using the mountains to train for competitive sports.

For me, I simply enjoy being out in nature, especially wooded areas. I do not stand in one place all day taking photos. In fact, I don't even own a camera. But definitely can sense the decompression from the pace of business and traffic, just taking a walk at an easy going pace, looking, listening and not having any expectations, just enjoying each moment for what it is.

I also know that when I come back from such excursions, not only has my playful spirit enjoyed the day, but somehow it also provides me with fresh ideas and a smile in my soul, as well as on my face, not to mention the good it did for my whole body. Some things just take time.

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