Our National Parks Odyssey: Heading In A New Direction
By Andrew Slaton—
A cloudless, blue sky is excellent for just about everything except making dramatic photos. That’s what I had all summer in Wyoming. But it didn’t much matter to me.
Low hanging scrub cedars dominate the immediate landscape. Concrete, ground up by time and pressure surrounds me. We are parked in a sparsely occupied, old RV park near the banks of Lake Whitney, in the Texas Hill Country. The weather is a lovely 70 degrees or so and I currently sit outside with my laptop, passively smoking my pipe, writing this latest installment.
I always enjoy writing these pieces. It is quite reflective and cathartic, most of the time. I often feel a sense of purpose and certainty as I think through the recent past and the immediate future.
The world feels much less certain today though. It is November 3, 2020, Election Day. On the cusp of chaos… so they tell us. The worst of the COVID pandemic looming… so they tell us. Unrest, isolation, hatred, economic uncertainty sweeps throughout the land… so they tell us. Don’t worry, I won’t get political here. That’s not what this is about.
No, what all of these things bring to mind for me is that I’ve learned something about myself… I have learned that I need to feel wild sometimes. I have a deep need to feel competent and strong. To feel fear at night, when rustling and grunts can be heard just outside the tent… To feel alive and vulnerable.
I had a goal going into this summer… to spend as much of my time as possible backpacking my favorite mountains in Wyoming. It was a success for me, in that regard. I had the pleasure of spending 50 or so nights sleeping beneath the stars, carrying everything I needed on my back, allowing my feet to take me deeper and deeper into to the most beautiful wilderness area our world has to offer.
I told Ellen all the way back in March when we decided to leave Florida, that my goal this summer would be to backpack as much as possible. And that I would love her to join me, but if her thyroid began acting up in May, making her weaker than usual. So it was me, all by my lonesome; I would be going it alone. Well, as it turned out, it ended up being just what I needed.
Why would I subject myself to the pain and danger that come with heading alone into the mountains carrying a 45 lb pack on my back? And why would I want to give up the comfort of a bed and home cooked meals? I get asked these questions a lot.
Well, in my humble estimation, I think there are several factors… first, it’s the exercise my mind and body both want and need. At this point in my life, I’m feeling a bit more my age, and it’s harder and harder to stay in shape. Backpacking forces me to work at fitness. I mean, what am I gonna do 10 miles into the backcountry when I’m tired, just lie down and give up?
Second, it’s a confidence booster to know that I can survive and overcome difficult situations on my own in the wild. I’ve never felt so small and humbled, yet so competent and strong as I have when backpacking. Those feelings combine illicit gratitude and confidence.
Third, time in nature is healthy for the brain. It’s no longer just a hippie trope that “getting back to nature” is good for you, it’s science. The effect that spending time in nature has on the human brain is astonishing.
Beyond all this, I think spending the days quietly alone, surrounded by nature, is healthy for all of us, too. I know this is a luxury, and for that I am very thankful. I have learned over the years to approach the alone time with balance, though. Too much of a good thing can be bad. No need to be a hermit. That’s not healthy either.
Every time I go into the back country, I return with a deep thankfulness for what I have, and for the fact that God has breathed life and strength into me. I may never get another summer like this one… and for that reason, I know I’ll never forget it.
Maybe I didn’t come away with all of the images I envisioned and hoped for, but I what I did come away with was a new list of locations (for next year), and a deeper understanding of who i am, what I’m capable of, and a clear sense of purpose.
My career is heading into a new season. One of growth and change, helped along by time (experience) and a new sense of self. I may not be able to make my living shooting landscapes, but now I know my mental and physical limits better than ever and I realize that I still would rather be making pictures for a living than doing anything else– whether that means shooting weddings and portraits, industrial, commercial, editorial or active lifestyle and nature.
A renewed love for what I do has come over me. And because of that, Ellen and I have restarted our old wedding and portrait business that had been put on hold for the last five years. The commercial work has started to pick up as well, and the assignments I’m getting have me excited. I’m ready to dive back in full force.
As I mentioned in the last post, we may have decided to settle down a little, but after five years of living on the road, it doesn’t much feel like settling. It feels more like taking an exciting next step.
About Andrew Slaton
Andrew Slaton is an award-winning photographer who has done assignments for more than 50 clients and specializes in lifestyle and outdoor images.
Visit Andrew’s web site, view his work, order prints and learn about his upcoming workshops.
Catch Andrew and Ellen’s videos at their blog.
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