I’ve written before about how one of the things I love about photography is the ability to capture moments of time. The rains in Oregon have started, and I’ve been re-scanning and reprocessing some photographs I took in Kenya in 1995. In looking over these photographs (closely – as I work on them on my computer), I’m able to reconnect with the past, and in a sense re-experience it.
I remember my excitement when our group came upon a pregnant cheetah, and how we all were shooting wildly as if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were standing on a Red Carpet before us. I remember my friend and cousin, Sue clutching my arm, as our jeep pulled into close proximity to three female lions eating a topi, as she kept saying, “We’re too close, we’re too close,” and I remember my own fear dwarfed by my excitement and my certainty that I was all for staying right where we were.
Memories, sparked by handfuls of photos, bring to mind other images not caught on camera – Kenyans walking miles and miles to get to work along the road we were driving to visit Nairobi; the dark smoky interior of a Masai tribesman’s tent, with a fire going in the middle and the yellow cloudiness in the older tribesmen’s eyes, a side effect of that smoke; the heart wrenching beauty of the landscape in the Samburu region; and the warm rich voice of a guide we had in Amboseli near the beginning of the trip who told me to take my time and watch the animals. Such good advice, but shamefully it was hard for me to follow just then when I felt there was so much to see that I could not possibly take it all in – in the allotted time – and that movement to the next place, the next animal would satiate me. It probably wasn’t until we got to the Ark, a place where you watch elephants, rhinos, water buffalo and other smaller animals interact with each other at a salt lick, that I started to slow down and began to realize the full value of his advice.
When I look back now on these photos, I am grateful. Grateful to have been witness to so much beauty, grateful that I had the desire and still have the desire to explore the world around me, grateful that I had the opportunity to travel a bit if only in order to realize just how fortunate I was.
I come from a middle class background, but currently I feel uncertain about many things. I despair about the economy, my work environment, the way people treat the earth and each other. It’s easy to be cynical and to worry, worry, and worry some more. Yet when one travels to a third world country, you realize that troubles and suffering are always relative. Drinkable water, food, shelter. – these are the real problems of much of the world’s population. The animals in the wild each and every day struggle to eat and not be eaten, yet there is beauty and passion in their beings.
It becomes habitual to always think in terms of what we might be lacking and forget about the unique gifts we each have, whether it be our family connections, our close friendships, our loyal animal companions, or maybe our own individual characteristics that allow us to cope with and transcend the challenges we face. It is always possible to find something to be grateful for even if it is just our own spirit that refuses to be defeated or diminished, and that can remain conscious and compassionate towards the living world beyond our selves.
Here in America, we celebrate Thanksgiving, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if every day we could cultivate gratitude for the uniqueness and value of each of our own lives.