Taking back my joy

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to share any stories.  I have been on a fair number of adventures with so many gems to share – but alas the traveling (and the working) have pushed this to the back burner.  I am confident no one wants to read a blog post about the projects I marked, report cards I wrote, or the boxes I am currently packing for an upcoming move (and everything in between).  But maybe, just maybe, you might want to hear about some of the things I have seen, or more importantly, learned, from my times away.  I have been lucky enough to see some new places, experience new cultures, eat excellent food, channel my inner child, rest among the stars, listen to some waves, and stand beneath trees so tall they serve to humble you in a forest so green there are not words to adequately describe its many shades.  And that is where I start my story today.  In a forest.

You would think after a 10 month writing hiatus that I would start with more focus.  Maybe chronological order.  Start with where I left off.  Whatever came next.  But I have to start with a recent story – and the one that’s been weighing on my mind for the last two and a half weeks.  It’s a story of a stranger in the forest.

If you are a traveler, like me, you may find the world a constant source of inspiration.  This could be in trying new foods, learning new languages, standing among beautiful art, or visiting historic sites.  It could also be from swimming with the sea turtles or enjoying the warmth of the sun as you dip your toes in the ocean.  Or it could be beneath the stars, around a campfire, in the backcountry.  Or maybe even on the road, going from the worlds biggest ball of yarn to a remote ocean cave filled with sea lions.  Each one of us is inspired differently.  For me, I see beauty in so many things, each nourishing or inspiring a different part of me.  It’s part of why I love to travel so much.

The other thing I love to do is take pictures.  I take pictures because I love to.  Because I love to see and capture beauty.  I love the colours and patterns that exist in nature, the stories hidden in old stones, and way light bounces off things.  I don’t have a gallery where I sell my photos for the big bucks, and I’ve never worked for National Geographic. But my work isn’t terrible either. I know what I’m doing.  And I love it.  As I learn more and more about myself as a photographer, I have come to find where my passions are, what my style is, and also, where I need to push myself to grow and become better.  I want to be better.  Because I love it.

So when I travel, I am inspired double – both by the travel experience and the chance to grow as a photographer.  And this is a gift.  It makes me feel alive.  It makes me feel connected to the earth.  To others.  To myself.  There is no moment in my life where I am more in the PRESENT than traveling somewhere new, or trying to fully see it from the viewfinder of my camera.

So enough with all the preamble.  My story.

We spent the first week of July in the Pacific Rim National Park – the far west side of Vancouver Island.  In honour of Canada’s 150 years (in it’s current form – though the First Peoples have called Canada home a lot longer than that), National Parks were free – and it seemed the right time to spend a little of our summer re-connecting to one of the amazingly beautiful things about our country.  We headed out west with Chris, Sarah & Amelia for a week of hiking, surfing, reading, eating, and playing in the ocean.  I will tell you more about that adventure later.

On the last day of vacation, on our drive back home, I was lucky enough to get to have coffee with a former student (now a newspaper reporter – so proud of her!).  On the drive down Hwy 4 heading into Parksville, we made a quick pitstop in Cathedral Grove, in MacMillan Provincial Park.  It was on my list 5 years ago when we first came our to the west west coast – and then again on my list this time, on the way in, but it just didn’t happen (opted for goats instead – again – more later on that).  We didn’t really have a ton of time to stop – in fact – we weren’t going to.  And then I saw the trees and my shutter finger got twitchy, and in a slightly panicked raised voice I told Ray to pull over.  I had calculated it closely and I figured we have 15 minutes to spare to keep me on time for my coffee plans – and I just couldn’t drive past it again and not at least stick my head in the forest.

And I am so glad I did.  It.  is.  amazing.

Beautifully manicured paths under giant trees, with the early morning light cutting through just so in order to let it highlight the many shades of green I loved but could not name.  The richness of the reds in the Cedars, and the majestic nature of the 800 year old Douglas Firs cannot be underestimated.  I wanted to capture it all.  If I wanted anything from my photography it would be to bring home photos that capture the truth of what I see, and what I feel when I see it.  An impossible task really.  But it doesn’t prevent my from trying.

So here I am, in love with these trees, dreaming in greens, wanting to find a way to make my camera do and capture the forest the way I was experiencing it, and all on a 15 minute time frame.  So what did I do?  I started power walking, and snapping.  Walk.  Stop.  Zoom in.  Zoom out.  Rotate.  Bend my head just a little.  Change my focus.  Did I stop breathing?  Take a deep breath.  Walk.  Stop.  Repeat.  I was running on adrenalin and pure wonder, living in the perfect space where my creativity comes alive.

And then, there was this guy.  The forest is quiet.  It’s early.  I am staring at a tree in the distance and the light is bouncing off the lichens in just the right way.  I’m trying to get it just so.  A millimetre to the left.  No.  right.  Zoom in.  No out.  Be quick!  Time’s running out.  Snap.  snap.  snap.  And the guy, with his unassuming camera and quiet demenour speaks up.

“Why are you shooting in burst mode?”

I stopped for a minute to process his question.  I mean, I wasn’t shooting in burst mode.  I was shooting single shots.  One at a time.  Just really quickly.  I was in a hurry.  I was super inspired.  Nothing seemed out of the ordinary for me.  I started to question myself – who was this guy?  Am I doing something wrong?  I don’t think I am.  So what is he asking me?  Of course all this happens in quick succession – and then I respond.  Simply.

“I’m not.”

He’s not satisfied with that.

“I can hear your camera.  I’m just trying to understand, what would you use burst mode. I mean, I guess I could understand it if you were shooting sports or action of some sort, but I was just trying to figure out why you would deem it necessary here.”

So I’m confused again.  Is he asking advice? Is he trying to tell me something.  This encounter has me very uneasy.  Am I suppose to be the teacher, or the student, in this scenario?  So I keep it simple.

“I’m not.  I’m adjusting my focus and my focal length, and reframing, just in quick succession.”

He, again, is not satisfied.

“Well,” he continues, “I am a professional photographer.  And never in my career have I seen someone shoot burst mode in these conditions.”

I got it now.  I’m the student.  At least according to him.  His condescending tones are unmistakeable at this point.  I’m not sure how to respond, so I shrug, and walk away.  Quickly, as to separate myself from him enough that he can no longer here the sound of my shutter.  I skip past a series of beautiful trees as a totally different wave of adrenalin washes over me.  I’m ready to bolt from this forest and get out of here.  This beautiful, calm, serene, rich-in-greens, forest which why I was deeply in love had now become the place where self-doubt took root.

Was I doing something wrong?  Am I a terrible photographer?  Why did I take so many shots? Are all photographers laughing at me?  Am I an imposter?  Why am I here?  What settings did I set? 

Pause.  Look through my pictures.  Are they redundant?  What have I done?  The whole world will know soon.  My art is embarrassing.  My pictures aren’t worthy.  Why did we stop in the first place?

It’s all it took.  But a moment.  Just one moment of shaming.  I got back in the car in silence.  About 10 minutes down the road I told Ray what happened.  And now I was mad.

Mad at him.  Who was he?  What makes him a professional?  Why did he feel he had the right to make a judgement?  What did he hope to accomplish in his comments?  Why would anyone want to do anything that might dampen someones passion and creativity?  What did he have to gain, by interputing my joy?

Mad at me.  Why did I let him steal my joy?

That’s the thing about exploring and creating.  It involves taking a risk and making ourselves vulnerable.  And when you are out there, being vulnerable, you need people to help encourage you and hold you up.  It makes you better.  But when you take those risks and open yourself up, and someone (for whatever reason) does something to take away from that – it hurts that much more.

I came home and loaded in the pictures from our holidays.  I edited them all.  Except those from Cathedral Grove.  I let them sit for two weeks before I could look at them.  With each picture I was hyper critical.  Was it any good?  Did it achieve my goal?  I deleted two-thirds of them.  I left a dozen.  It has taken conscious effort to look at them and not feel insecure.  To look at them and remember the wonder and joy I had, before I let him take it from me.

So today I am taking my joy back.  Because my favourite colour to photograph is green.  Because the way the light plays with the lichen and moss is exquisite.  And because nature is truly the most beautiful creation of them all.


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