Photography 101: Landmark

Rarely do I have an unobstructed view of a landmark.  Typically, those are BIG things, and there’s something in front of them.  Well, if that’s the way it is, then I guess that’s my point of view. 

It kind of makes you think about focal points and how you see the world.  Steve is always saying that he’s ‘holistic’.  He likes to see how the whole picture connects.  I usually try to organize the world in a more linear fashion by taking out the thread that I’m interested in and laying it out flat for observation.  Compartmentalizing, he calls it.  So after I’ve drawn out various parts and examined them, he squishes them together again.  We’ve gotten over fighting about this; now it’s an exercise that edifies both of us. 

Take it apart; put it together.  Try to see the world from someone else’s point of view.  Yeah, that’s a good practice.

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Photography 101: Water

Water in the desert.  It’s a huge factor, and not in the way you’d think.  Water shaped the desert landscape, even though you might think there’s none there.  The canyons and caverns of the American West were formed by water.  I heard a very enthusiastic Death Valley National Park ranger named Jay Snow expound on this amazing fact.  He was right.  Death Valley is all about water.  So is the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns and all those other iconic desert places.  Many of them were once part of a vast inland sea, believe it or not.  Water is ancient and powerful and wild.  When we’re not tampering with it, that is.  (and that’s a huge topic for another post on my ‘In Wilderness…’ page)

Upper Falls at Bandelier

Upper Falls at Bandelier

Carlsbad Caverns ceiling

Carlsbad Caverns ceiling

 

 

Photography 101: Street

street

Highway 4 near Jemez Springs, New Mexico

The Photo 101 prompt says, “try to capture an establishing shot: a wide-angle photo that sets up a scene. It might mean moving back some steps, or finding higher ground (like climbing stairs) to fit all of your scene in one shot.”  Here’s the ‘higher ground’ I used to get this shot:

scilla in NM

photo by Steve

Wilderness and the Myth of Nothing

“There’s nothing out there!  It’s a barren landscape.  Why would you want to go there?  Why should we preserve that useless place?” 

Nothing out there, eh?  Well, if that’s Nothing, it’s pretty spectacular.  It’s vast, for one thing.  Stretching in all directions, as far as the eye can see and further.  And it’s limited, encased in a single droplet from a juniper berry, sweet and pungent in my mouth, yet powerful enough to stimulate a rush from my salivary glands and wet my parched throat.  You could live on Nothing.  Many have, and left their artwork in symbols on the rocks.  Yes, they had time for Art in ‘subsistence living’.  Do you have time for Art in your life?  It is barren of some things.  There are no strip malls.  There are no straight lines.  There is a meandering curve of vegetation down there.  It’s a lot more narrow than it used to be.  The air is warming.  The climate is changing.  Fecundity is fighting the curse that foists barrenness upon it. The energy of life will not give up easily.  And that’s why I want to go there.  To learn.  We must preserve it in order to let it teach us.  We are ignorant.  We ignore the wilderness and call it Nothing.  There is a story there.  A Myth.  One day we may get wise. 

the myth of nothing

The Ojito wilderness

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent

I wish I’d taken my camera up to Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument.  I did not.  But those ladders were thrilling! Here’s a shot from tripadvisor.com:

ladder-to-alcove-house

photographer unknown

The descent is about 140 feet.  Not bad.  Another favorite spot is Holy Hill in Wisconsin.  There are 178 steps in the tower.

Holy Hill025030Hiking in New Mexico and Texas this month led us down into some beautiful canyons: Mills Canyon (1000 ft. elevation change)…

Mills Canyon…the Frey Trail down to the Visitor’s Center at Bandelier (484 ft. elevation change)…

frey trail…and our favorite, the ‘strenuous’ 1500 ft. Lost Peak trail that gave us views down into Dog Canyon and to our riparian campground on the other side.

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Of course, in hiking, what goes down frequently also comes up.  Steve turns 50 tomorrow, so we’re working on keeping our knees in shape!  Which way is more difficult depends…he beats me uphill, I beat him downhill.  (‘Course, he’s 6’2″ and I’m just 5’4″ and we’re weighted differently because of gender…and because I carry a pack and he doesn’t.)

May all your ‘down days’ include scenery like this!

(scroll down for another Halloween post ‘treat’!)

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

I am late jumping into this week’s challenge because I’ve been on an adventure!  I’ve been in California for the last week visiting family and taking excursions.  I lived in CA for 15 years, but it’s been 4 years since I’ve been there.  In the interim, they’ve established a new National Park.  The Pinnacles have been designated a National Monument since 1908, but 2 years ago it became a National Park.  And it’s still the newest one.   My father and brother used to hike there years ago and raved about it to me.  This week I made my first visit.  California condors have been reintroduced to the area, but I didn’t see one.  I did see a tarantula and a wild bobcat, though!  The tarantula was in one of the caves that was formed when giant boulders from the top of the Pinnacles crashed down into the canyons.  It was very dark under there, and it took me a while to figure out how to photograph the critter.  The CCC built some very helpful trails with stairs and railings in the 1930s that make exploring those caves and getting up to the rim of Pinnacles relatively easy.  What you might not notice in the photos is the silence.  Yes, even in California, one can find silence.  Solitude.  Space.  But those places seem to be shrinking every year as population and development boom.  The state has changed since I left in 1991.  And it will keep changing.  Some changes are good though.  It’s nice to know that condors live there now. 

Celebrating 50 Years of Wilderness Protection

It’s a time for celebration! 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the landmark conservation bill that created a way for Americans to protect their most pristine wildlands for future generations.  The 1964 Wilderness Act…created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast. This anniversary is a wonderful chance to celebrate all that’s been achieved for wilderness in the past 50 years and remind Americans of all that we can achieve in the next 50.” (from The Wilderness Society website, http://www.wilderness.org)

wilderness

I read this call to celebration with great delight. My partner Steve is also turning 50 this fall. We’d been searching for a way to live out the next half of our lives more intentionally embodying all that we’ve come to value. He’s been reading up on ‘Deep Ecology’ lately and examining his own philosophy of land ethic, relationship to the Earth, and living responsibly. It can all be a very thick soup to me, but at the mention of “WILDERNESS”, I began to find a kind of clarity. Images, feelings, an intuitive sense of freedom and sanctity began to emerge from the murky definitions and contradictions. Yes, I value ‘wilderness’. I need it. I know this, deep in my soul. What is this recognition about? What does ‘wilderness’ mean, and what do I learn from it?

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The Wilderness Act of 1964

tent

What is our relationship to wilderness – or to Nature, for that matter? Are we visitors? Are we managers, stewards, masters? Conquerors? I hear the ‘beep, beep, beep’ of construction vehicles in reverse and the thud of jack-hammers that are currently tearing down the green space near my home and widening the interstate highway to create a Research Park, and I know that a large part of my culture is dedicated to conquering and altering the land and calling it ‘development’.

playing house

I am drawn to the prairie, to the woodlands, to green space wherever I find it, but I don’t want to be a mere visitor. I belong to this planet. My ancestry is here. When I was a little girl, I used to play in the Forest Preserve across the street from my house. I would duck beneath the shady boughs of a bush and sweep out some floor space with a stick. I would set up rooms and fashion utensils of twig and bark. I played House for hours on end, staking my claim, perhaps, to domesticity within that habitat. I want to live on the Earth, with the Earth, not in dominance or enmity, but in peace and harmony. In order to live in peace, however, I have to know when to leave well enough alone. I know this in my relationship with people, and I know this in my relationship with animals. It’s called Respect. Why shouldn’t this be true of my relationship to land and sea and air as well? Let it do what it wants to do. Let it enjoy autonomy, as I do. Let it be “untrammeled by man”.

 If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” – Lyndon Baynes Johnson, President who signed The Wilderness Act into law.

secondary wilderness forest

Is it naive to think that there exists any place on Earth that is truly pristine? Perhaps. And that need not be grounds to dismiss the idea of wilderness with a cynical roll of the eyes. I believe there is merit in creating what I call ‘secondary wilderness’ by allowing areas that have been previously used and even exploited to return to a more natural state. There is much to be learned by observing what time and non-human agents will do in a particular environment. Steve and I found a section of secondary wilderness right here in Wisconsin. Although most of the 110 million acres of federally designated Wilderness is west of the Mississippi in mountains, deserts, and Arctic tundra, there are forests in the North that have been abandoned by logging operations and allowed to return to wildlands. The Headwaters Wilderness in the Nicolet unit of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is 22,000+ acres of previously logged forest that has been left wild since 1984. There are 2 Forest Service roads that divide the area into three sections, but enough contiguous acreage to qualify still for wilderness status. Backpacker Magazine’s site has given it the distinction of “deepest solitude” within that Forest. We headed there just after Memorial Day.

wilderness map

wilderness:(1)  a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) :  an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)

We found a dispersed campsite across the road from the designated wilderness on the banks of Scott Lake. As we set up camp, we were greeted by two trumpeter swans on the lake, a raucous chorus of frogs and a host of mosquitoes. That night, we had a bit of rain. In the morning, a bald eagle perched high in a dead tree on the far side of the lake, illuminated by the rising eastern sun. Staring at him through my binoculars, I imagined him enjoying an aerial view like ones I’d seen in pictures of Alaska. Could I really be in the wilderness, finally? My rational brain convinced me of the disparities, but my romantic soul glowed. Even here, in Wisconsin, there can be solitude, common-union with nature, and a wild hope.

 

swans 2

“…in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind…I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. We require an infusion of hemlock, spruce or arbor vitae in our tea…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862

We found a hiking trail into the edge of the wilderness, marked by a series of white diamonds on the trees. The trail was maintained, after a fashion, but not with meticulous interference. I preferred it to those wide, paved “trails” in city parks where cyclists, boarders and baby strollers whiz by all weekend.

The inevitable down side of climbing the wilderness mountain is returning to ‘civilization’, re-entering the spaces that humans have altered and asking a million critical questions about our involvement. Was this action necessary? Was this change beneficial and for whom? How is this decision going to effect this environment, this habitat, this life? How do I take responsibility when my ignorance is so vast? How do I do my best to learn and choose and be aware? What do I do when I see individuals or systems causing destruction?

I learned the 4 pillars of Environmental Education while volunteering at a local Nature Center: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. My experience in the wilderness took me on a journey past those milestones: being aware of the solitude, of the multitude of interconnected lives as well; being awed by the variety and majesty of all that I saw; feeling a deep desire to protect, to respect, and to serve Life; and finally, deciding to make changes and choices in my own life and lifestyle, to learn to embody the experience, not just as a vacation or a change from habit, but as a daily practice.

wilderness sunsetSteve & I are planning to attend the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico this October. We are eager to explore the sacred space of our common ground, the Earth, with like-minded people who are also interested in fostering the understanding of our life in proximity with each other and with the life around us. I look forward to feeling the refreshment of wilderness in my soul and encountering new ways of expressing the spiritual aspect of this quality of life in art, morality and intellectual discourse.

Please consider this an invitation to join me, if not at the Conference itself, in the exploration of Wilderness as a part of our humanity. Please share comments here and likes here.

Ben Jonson exclaims: ‘How near to good is what is fair!’ So I would say, How near to good is what is wild! Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees. Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps.” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking” 1862

.

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

FrayIt just so happens that I spent two hours sailing aboard the S/V Denis Sullivan today; some of that time was used to photograph rope.  I also hauled line to help hoist the sails….not that it did much good to have the sails up.  It was quite still and foggy.  There was barely a ripple on Lake Michigan.  It was quiet and peaceful and echo-ey and atmospheric.  And humid.  The sun broke through the fog just as we were coming back to the pier.  Steve was imagining what it would be like to be truly adrift in the doldrums.  The Sullivan was equipped with a motor as well, so we had no chance of being stranded.  But if we were living in the 19th century…well, we’d get back when we got back.  We would travel at the speed of one frayed knot. 

An august gathering of birthdays

If you ask around, you may find that families sometimes have uncanny clusters of birthdays.  For my family, that cluster occurs in August.  Both my maternal grandparents had their birthdays in August, although I don’t remember the exact days.  My brother’s birthday is today; mine is on Thursday.  My brother-in-law John’s is the 25th; Steve’s brother-in-law Dan’s is the 22nd.  My husband Jim’s birthday was August 26.  What could be the reason for all these babies being born this week? 

Gotta be Thanksgiving.  We are the product of grateful coupling, I suppose — cold nights and tryptophan relaxation.  Why not?  The harvest is in.  Be fruitful and make babies. 

As a child, my end-of-the-summer birthday precluded school parties and peer recognition.  I was content with family gatherings that included spare ribs, corn-on-the-cob and chocolate cake (my frequently requested birthday dinner).  My children introduced new birthday traditions, like Hoops & Yo-yo cards…

hoops-and-yoyo-hoops-and-48396f48c66ec-gifand this hysterical Birthday song by the Arrogant Worms (click to see youtube version w/lyrics) often sung over the phone by my oldest, Susan. 

Lately, I’ve been giving myself year-end treats.  I started this blog to mark my 50th year.  The next year, I bought myself a digital camera to replace the Canon AE-1 that my husband had given me 33 years earlier.  This year, I bought plane tickets for me & Steve to travel to California to visit my mother, my siblings, the family grave site (where my sister, my husband and my dad are buried), giant redwoods, tide pools, pinnacles and a winery.  I am looking forward to unwrapping that gift slowly over 6 days.  I want to savor it as much as I can. 

At the piano in the old homestead.  Photo by my sister DKK.

At the piano in the old homestead. Photo by my sister DKK.

Today, though, I’m wishing my brother a happy birthday!  He was a gift brought home from the hospital on my 11th birthday.  He helped me grow up in a million ways — first by taking my place as the baby.  As adults, we’ve always had miles and miles between us keeping us apart.  I’m hoping that when that distance is bridged, we’ll find much to connect us again. 

photo credit: Josh Galasso

photo credit: Josh Galasso

Weekly Photo Challenge: On the Move

“On the move” in an accelerating society with handy pocket-sized digital cameras may manifest in a blur of city lights and speeding vehicles.  That’s not my style.  I don’t have a smart phone, and my favorite mode of transport is my own two feet.  Slowing to a stop on a trail to snap a photograph of my companions and surroundings is my way of depicting my life, my movement.  “I am the joy in change and movement” is Steve’s self-expression of identity.  I delight in putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward at a pace that allows awareness, self-control and grace.  “Walk with me” is an invitation to a deeper experience of moving with life, apace with the planet.  For a truly masterful illustration of this theme, visit Steve McCurry’s blog titled “One Step at a Time” here.