Photographing the land’s moments

Wild flowers and wild fires combined a while ago to present some of the most splendid photographs imaginable. Even the rawest photographic rookies were bound to capture hazy beauty cast on the region’s wild flowers blooming in smoke drifting south from large Canada wild fires.

Those nature-provided special effects especially were apparent during northern Driftless Area sunrises and sunsets, when the smoke combined with deepening summer ozone to filter the sun’s bright heavy-metal screams into soft-orange meditative symphonies. No computerized digital enhancement could improve the spectacles shown to us.

A similar moment flagged my attention the other morning as I was driving along an area highway. The sun was peeking through a hole in the clouds, allowing only sprays of silver light to streak from the darkened sky. Shadowed green fields and woods slow-danced in the breeze under the mirror-ball lights darting from above.

I glanced toward Dee, who was riding in the front passenger’s seat, to share the moment with her and ask whether she could grab the camera and photograph the scene. But a busy previous night and that day’s early start had gently taken her hand and playfully led her down slumber’s dreamy path, so I remained quiet and went back to focusing on driving.

Focusing on the highway became increasingly difficult as the clouds opened further to allow more of the sun’s lasers to hopscotch the corn’s leaves. Fields and trees otherwise monotone turned into a summer morning’s garden salad of greens.

Dee stirred, and I again hoped she was waking to share the splendor falling from the heavens. But she repositioned herself on the seat and continued to sleep; her face turned and exposed her right cheek to caresses by one of the sun’s extended fingers.

I laughed to myself about how it wouldn’t help to ask Dee to use the camera, only then remembering that we’d left the camera back at our farm. The idea of using the camera on one of our cell phones crossed my mind, but I didn’t want to do that while driving and I was staying with my conviction of allowing Dee that much-needed rest.

Instead, I took the photograph with my eyes and allowed my mind to process it deeply into my being. It would be, for the time being, a photograph that I’d hold within while it developed into words I could use to paint the picture.

There have been plenty of moments during my time when that’s happened, and there are times when I decide to not share with others the pictures that result. Mostly, though, I feel a need to share what I’ve seen – a personal thing for which I won’t criticize or deny others when it comes time for them to make such choices. Some people, I know, are content in holding their eyes’ pictures for only themselves.

The concern I have is that we do that too often, keeping too much to ourselves without preserving some of today for generations to see tomorrow.

The scenes change here in the northern Driftless Area, no matter how we want them to remain the same. I look at photographs of our old Eimon Homestead farm and see trees where 100 years ago there only was grass, and see grass where 100 years ago there were trees. Buildings at the farm have come and gone and come. I’m happy people took photographs so I could know this place so much better than I could if I hadn’t known what formed it and what leaves enriched its soil.

It’s too easy to take for granted that generations will know what our ridges and coulees held and what our hands did to reshape the ridges and valleys into what they’ll have become, good and bad. And, it’s too easy to believe all we see is only for me and not for us.

Sometimes, though, I’ll go with using only my eyes to photograph something so spectacular as the sun beaming through the hole in those clouds, allowing that moment for me.

The hole in the clouds closed a couple minutes after it had allowed me time to enjoy their games with the sun and to take the special photograph I’ll carry with me for the rest of my mortal days.


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