Archive for November, 2008
After crossing western Canada and traveling south through Idaho and Washington, I visited with friends in Oregon for about two weeks. On most days, a friend and I took Sabrina and wandered along secluded streams in the Cascades. Creeks and rivers have always figured largely in my life, from growing up along the shores of the mighty Ottawa, to paddling the waterways of eastern Ontario with Don, to camping beside the Smith and other rivers of the Pacific Northwest. Without hesitation, I can say that the most memorable hours of my life have been spent on or within a stone’s throw of moving water.
The cold, clear waters of the Cascades hold a special place in my heart for I came to find peace next to them after my father’s death, so it was there that I returned during this journey. I was not disappointed. We sat beneath the eroded basalt of waterfalls while water tumbled overhead (mp4 video clip). Beside fast moving streams, we found Water Ouzels, also known as American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus). Of these birds, John Muir wrote:
He is a singularly joyous and lovable little fellow, about the size of a robin, clad in a plain waterproof suit of bluish gray, with a tinge of chocolate on the head and shoulders. In form he is about as smoothly plump and compact as a pebble that has been whirled in a pot-hole, the flowing contour of his body being interrupted only by his strong feet and bill, the crisp wing-tips, and the up-slanted wren-like tail.
No matter where we went, we found a Water Ouzel or two to keep us company. The sight of them brought back memories of the hours that Don and I spent watching ouzels along some of these same rivers in 2006. This time, I shot a few short movie clips of the ouzels just with my still camera. I’ve made a one minute movie clip of an ouzel hunting for aquatic invertebrates in a clear mountain stream. It’s not really very good, but gives some idea of how these little birds dive into the fast-moving water, walk about on the bottom, then climb out to bob on bent legs while singing a few notes before diving back in. Listen for the chirps and warbles which can barely be heard over the rushing of the stream in the final seconds of this clip.
As mentioned in the previous post’s comments, I’ve reached my winter destination in southeast Arizona. However, there are a few things left to write about the journey, and several photos that I would like to share, so I’ll continue on with the account that leads to my doorstep.
Writing about this trip has been more difficult than expected. Driving long distances alone and dealing with the van’s mechanical problems often left me too fatigued to write, let alone think. However, I believe that’s because my trip followed so closely in the footsteps of a year spent dealing with Don’s illness and his eventual death less than three months ago. Add to that the overwhelming landslide of forms that must be filed, phone calls that must be made, and struggles with the bureaucratic red tape that ensues when someone dies, and it’s little wonder that my energy levels have struck a new low. However, I’m here and feeling that I would like to fill in some gaps on this journey.
The top image was taken alongside the TransCanada highway somewhere in Saskatchewan. I pulled off the roadway to photograph a derelict house surrounded by broken trees and brush. Inside, strips of plastic sheeting flapped and twisted, incessantly tugged by the eerily moaning prairie winds. As I shot several photos, I found myself slipping into sadness and stopped to analyze why that might be so.
Since setting out on this journey, it’s become increasingly apparent to me that, when someone very close to you dies, the world is seen through different eyes — maybe best described as “old eyes”. This isn’t a recent epiphany. About ten years ago, I cared for my father through end stage kidney cancer, so I was well aware of how my world changed on the night that he died. It was as though the earth shifted, moved by a quake registering only on my personal seismograph. Caring for Don through end stage lung cancer reified what I had already felt. The world I inhabit has shifted once more. Pressure cracks have appeared in a landscape where underlying tectonic plates tilt and grind. The path I once followed ends at a cliff’s edge. My world is now filled with metaphors of birth, life, love, loss, and death. A derelict house becomes a reminder of how fleeting are our lives and our creations. Smashed out windows, gaping doors, or a fallen roof are signs of irreparable destruction and termination. Of course, most photographers are aware of the existence and use of metaphor in objects and landscapes. It is our stock in trade. But there is a difference between making use of, and living within, a world filled with metaphors.
On this journey, landscapes have become mindscapes. On the rolling, golden wheatfields of Washington and Oregon, the division between earth and sky seems blurred and vague as a softly sculpted knoll conceals all but the edge of the next cloud bank drifting beyond. Driving through the mountains, one ascends from sunny valleys to mist-shrouded peaks and passes. Am I still in the mountains, or am I now traveling through air? Life and death seem not far removed from such questions. Well, one thing is for certain — metaphorical or not, I am in a different place now than I have ever been before.