Our National Parks Odyssey: Time Marches On
By Andrew R. Slaton—
There was so much sunshine in those days. The abundant and pillowy cumulus clouds were always present, but they seemed to narrowly skirt obstructing the source of all that light for a suspiciously long amount of time. The cold, dark shadows would come eventually.
Open country has always had a way of capturing my full imagination—in an all- encompassing way. It wouldn’t matter what manner or shape of landscape; the Scottish highlands, rocky mountain spires, the dank swamps of the southeast, or any of the fine Texas ecologies. First I see, and next, the overwhelming desire arises to wander through it. To explore. To know it. It has been that way from the beginning.
The first days… then weeks… even months of life on the road were full of wonder and excitement. Every rise in the asphalt brought new adventures. Every dusty path forward, a new sight to behold. Work dropped like manna from above, just when we needed it. We were living in the ethereal light and warmth of an Almighty hand. It feels like a whole expanse of time gone by since those days. Actually, it’s been five years.
This year, though, has been a different one. We re-prioritized. During COVID, we realized just how on the edge we’ve been living. So we made the decision to pay off all our debt as quickly as possible. That being our main goal, we chose the three largest metro areas in Texas to focus on this winter, since work was still abundant.
We started picking up weddings and portraits, commercial shoots, and even some video work. It was a far different pace from the previous years of nomadic, freestyle living. But it felt good. We were hustling again. Serving a wide variety of clientele and steadily diminishing our debt. Seeing that deficit dwindle was perhaps the most rewarding. Remembering how to shoot some of these other things, and to do them well was a close second. The debt monkey that was always on my back as a freelancer began to shrink and lose its power.
I guess I didn’t mention it, but we ditched the plans to buy a house and settle down. At least for now. I mean, have you seen the housing market!? We realized shortly into the process that we could save a lot of money and keep making big progress on that debt by simply continuing to live the lifestyle we’ve made our routine for five years. It is surprisingly inexpensive to do what we do, the way we do it. So after a very productive winter and spring in Texas, here we are, back up in my happy place, Wyoming. I’m still doing some weddings and commercial jobs, but I am mostly back to my nature work and workshops. At least for the summer and fall.
The sage brush this time of year is a silvery mint green and the aspens, or quakies, shimmer lime and darker shades of green in the afternoon sunlight. A likely hundred-year-old, western-style, lodge pole fence flanks my right, the dense foothills of my favorite range in the Rockies my left, as I casually walk a trail. Old here, and then ancient over there. But it’s all relative. These particular mountains are part of the youngest chain of mountains in the world. Regardless, I think I’m often drawn to the old, timeless ways.
I just hit the trail no more than two hours ago. My pack heavy and fitness from the winter months found wanting, still I trudge along up the mountain, the nearby songs of mountain birds a melodious soundtrack rising above the static of buzzing flies and mosquitos. “They’re not too bad yet, thankfully,” I think out loud, to myself; years past they’ve been horrendous.
Out in the backcountry… this is where I’m meant to be. I’m humbled and deeply aware of my immense fragility, but in the same breath, confident and self assured. I feel the most “at home”, and yet often most discomforted. The paradoxical duality of existence all hits at once. This trip is special for me. It’s not about accomplishing. It’s about being. And being content. Though I’ve brought my camera. I’m still learning how to “just be.”
Most of my treks have a specific purpose, a goal (or many) in mind. See, I’m what those familiar with the enneagram calls a Number Three personality type. Look it up, it’s not a waste of time. But a quick synopsis of what it means for me and my “number”… my greatest fear is being useless. And my greatest desire is, you guessed it, to be successful. Now success is certainly in the eye of the beholder. And therein lies the “purpose” of this trip for me. So actually, I did find a way to make this trip about accomplishing something. Got it?
I am (and I suspect we all are) always redefining what success means. For me, it meant something very different when I was in my twenties than it does now in my forties. And I suspect it will continue to evolve. Anyway, back to “being.” We can all admit that at times in our lives we become stagnant. Stuck. Stuck in our work, stuck in our relationships, stuck in our damned ways. But this is a reality of the broken beauty of humanity, and realizing it is a great opportunity for change.
I sit here, in my glorious surroundings thinking such thoughts…where a man can breathe, and think, and be. Where he can grow beyond himself and become bigger than his measly ego. Where he can hear God, once again. Time in the wilderness is always a refreshing experience for me. A gentle reminder that I am dependent on my surroundings to nourish both body and soul.
But I’ve realized my work has grown stagnant. Creativity can be slippery when time and routine have created ruts in your brain. So how do I deal with that? Well, first I think it is important to admit you’ve committed no grave sin, but it is a crime against oneself to live in denial. When the proverbial clouds build and block the light, how do we regain our ability to see? I think that’s the time to slow down and re-evaluate. And that is what I’ve been doing.
We are still on the road and Ellen, myself and the pups are good right now. After five years, it’s harder in some ways…but easier in others. I’m learning to be. That’s hard. But I’ve begun to learn that to foster growth and creativity it will take time.
Time is tricky to nail down, really. Sometimes we perceive it as slow; other times we can’t seem to catch it, like a snake slithering through the summer grass. Time doesn’t care. Neither terrors in the darkness of night nor joys in the light of day can stop it. It just marches on.
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.
He is a Red River Pro who outputs his National Parks prints in limited editions of ten each, printed on archival Red River Papers with fade-resistant pigment inks.
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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