It’s happened a couple of time this summer that we’ve been hanging out on rocks in the Big Sur River gorge, or kayaking in the harbor surrounded by diving pelicans, and I’ve been caught with an uncharged camera battery. I’ve grown accustomed to documenting many of these moments in our lives, and it felt strange each time to be forced into a simple enjoyment of the moment. My favorite Corita Kent quote had sudden real meaning: “Life is a succession of moments. To live each one is to succeed.”
Then I found this poem:
by Wendell Berry
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was living it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
And I worried. About living through my camera instead of in the moment. I’ve taken thousands of photos on hundreds of hikes trying to capture the loveliness of the world as I see it, and the innocence and joy of the boys as they experience it. Sometimes these photos are very good:
And sometimes I wonder what the heck I was thinking:
It’s true that seeing through the eye of a camera is very different from seeing with one’s own eyes. Take a walk through the forest unencumbered by a camera and inhale the fruity fresh juniper scent hanging in the air, feel the soft mat of pine needles underfoot, hear the gurgle of nearby stream, and, with peripheral vision, catch the bright yellow of a banana slug clinging to a rock.
Trying to capture the same beauty and stillness with the weight of the camera around your neck is difficult; with the distraction it’s easy to run the risk of, as they say, not seeing the forest for the trees. But I’ve been browsing through vacation photos from years and am pleased and how much some photos came close at capturing a bit of the beauty I wanted to preserve, and surprised that I actually do recognize myself in the pictures.
I took the challenge of showing one late-morning summertime kayaking expedition to my camera. Here it is, preserved forever. Everything was eating; the sea lions and porpoises chasing sardines, the otters munching on something crunchy. It was VERY cool, and even though you don’t even get a glimpse of my feel you can tell I’m there:
After kayaking we went and had crunchy things of our own.
For now I will happily continue enjoying, and documenting, our vacation moments.