“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Over the years I have attempted to articulate the power of nature, I have fallen far short every time. I’m afraid I will forever fall short. But that’s Okay. It is not about reaching a pinnacle of ultimate wisdom, but about experiencing every moment in search of it.
Most images that I present as photographs have not been made deep within the wild outbacks of nature. I have never made claims to such. Distant, far off, or remote landscapes have, in my opinion, been mistakenly made to somehow seem “better.” They are not. Only distant, or remote. Nearly all images I have made over the years are but the skins of nature. Captured in familiar, unfamiliar, intimate, and vast landscapes.
Images that I capture and share with the world are most often a simple peek at the surface of a landscape. They are part of a much deeper and meaningful experience. This can be misleading. I must choose what to photograph, how to photograph it, and then how to present it. There is still a “whole” that goes along with any image from any place, near or far. What you see is the 1%. What you don’t see is the other 99%. My hope is that some may wonder about the other 99%. The part that is unseen but tremendously more valuable.
When you look at a stranger, you see their physical appearance. Their physical appearance is not them, it is simply what they look like. There is still a whole, complete, good or bad, person that you do not know, even when you know exactly what they look like. Only after becoming acquainted with another person can you begin to know something about them. It is this acquaintance with the landscape and nature I truly seek.
Our natural world is far older, more complex, and diverse, than I could ever hope to fully understand in a single lifetime, and with out doubt many lifetimes. Yet I still go, I still explore, I still wonder. It is this mystery of the landscape that instills the drive and desire to continue even against all odds of a full comprehension.
It is this mystery far beyond the aesthetics that fills my thoughts and enriches my life. The beauty fills my visual senses, the real and the imagined consoles me even in difficult times. To be perfectly honest, it is what consoles me in every difficult time. The landscape inspires lessons of life, of struggle, of survival, even when all seems hopeless or lost. When I allow it, it’s life intersects with my own. It mingles throughout my senses, and changes the very thoughts in my mind.
These things may seem difficult for others to understand. Those raised in cities, where nature is a man made park, or small stretch of aesthetically pleasing plants. Yet these small even man made micro nature-scapes are sought out. We gravitate to them out of instinct. We don’t need to be told to enjoy natural beauty, we were born with this ability encoded into our very DNA. Many would have a difficult time understanding the significance of a single stem of tallgrass blowing in the wind surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of tallgrass prairie yet they would still find pleasure in it even if they had never experienced such a place before.
For the most part humans gravitate to natural scenes over those man made when seeking out relaxation or pleasurable experiences. I have never heard of anyone from the country stating; “I need to go into the city to relax.” In an interesting article published in the Sage Journal entitled; Development of Visual Preferences for Natural Environments, a study was conducted relating to human visual preferences. The following is a quote from this study.
Human visual preferences for slides of five natural landscapes or biomes; tropical rain forest, temperate deciduous forest, coniferous forest, savanna, and desert, were examined. Subjects were third graders, sixth graders, ninth graders, college students, adults, senior citizens, and a group of professional foresters. A series of 20 slides, 4 examples of each biome, was shown twice to each group of subjects. On one pass through the slides, subjects judged how much they would like to live in an area similar to the one represented; on the other pass, subjects rated the slides for how much they would like to visit an area similar to the one shown. Judgments were made on a 6-point Likert scale. Elementary schoolchildren showed a significant preference for savanna over all other biomes. From midadolescence and through adulthood, more familiar natural environments were equally preferred to savanna. Results were interpreted as providing limited support for the hypothesis that humans have an innate preference for savanna-like settings that arises from their long evolutionary history on the savannas of East Africa.
Natural landscapes have a far greater appeal than just physical. Together with the visual the combinations of sounds (including silence), scents, textures, and colors, all play vital roles in this heightened state of living and being alive.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the primary conclusion to the previously mentioned study. I found it fascinating and somewhat personally satisfying that “Savannah’s” rated the most desired of all landscape options in this select sampling. Open spaces, simple landscapes, and diversity of life. If one has ever visited the African Savannah’s I’m sure they could attest to this. For those who have not there are places within North America that are akin and have even been noted by ecologists to be closely related to and remarkably similar to the African Savannah. A uniquely diverse yet simple landscape. Once covering thousands of square miles from Texas up and into Canada. From Illinois to Kansas. A region known as the Tallgrass Prairie.
This unique and once vast landscape has become the most endangered ecosystem of North America. Today less than 4% remain in it’s native state. Known today as the Flint Hills in Kansas, and the Osage Hills in Oklahoma, it remains remarkably inspiring.
As anyone who follows this blog and has read previous posts I’m sure have heard me ramble on about the tallgrass prairies and the Kansas flint hills. Yes they are my homelands, and yes I hold a bias toward them. This does not mean I have not been personally moved when experiencing other landscapes. I have, and in profound ways. One does not need to go in search of meaning per se, but one does need to be open to it. It can and will happen many times when least expected.
I should not go on pretending that anyone who wishes to experience nature and inspiring landscapes can just because they want to. At least not in person. Though I can not recommend enough that if you have a chance and the ability to experiences such places I believe it to be one of the most important things you could do. To those who can not it may come as a small but satisfying consolation that these places still exists and there are those who understand their importance in human life.
One may become personally closer to these healing landscapes in ways other than direct personal experiences. In the writings and stories told by others, in the artworks of paintings, sculptures, and photographs. In the dreaming of desired landscapes one has the ability to bring these very thoughts to the forefront to aid, strengthen, and heal, mind, spirit, and soul, when other ways can not.
When healing is sought out, the healing landscape will always be there.
The wish for healing has always been half of health.
–Lucius Annaeus Seneca