When asked to describe what I appreciate about my job as a high school math teacher, I rarely fail to mention that I hate change. I’m only partially joking, and I really don’t envy those whose careers twist and turn toward goals that are constantly jumping from one place to another. But this year in particular, I’m being forced to consider that while there is a true consistency in my objectives in teaching, change is still an overwhelming presence. The very thing that fends off any trace of monotony carries with it the greatest challenge, even sadness. The students come, and the students go.
In the fall, I don’t balk at the dozens of new faces, each with an associated name that I do not know. The struggle to form new relationships from square one is part of the predictability of teaching, and it is tinged with opportunity and hope. No, this time of year I’m faced with saying goodbye. It’s true that I do that every year as well. It shouldn’t catch me off guard. I even told my wife the other night that I should be well trained in letting go by the time my four-year-old daughter has completed her secondary education. Of course, the idea came to mind because I’m currently feeling a bit deficient in my ability to let go. Can you blame me? In the last couple days, young people who have walked into my room two hundred times in the last two years, waved and walked out the door for the last time.
Because it’s true that I’ve never approached the end of a school year with such mixed emotions (typically it’s practically impossible to compete with my joy in reaching a time of vacation, family, and personal pursuits), I wanted to share some of the things that allowed the 2013 THMS graduates to make such a strong impression on me. This list couldn’t possibly exhaust the attributes of this collection of young people, and surely, my attachment has grown primarily through individual connections with students in the time I’ve known them. Still, I perceive some value in this exercise.
The first, maybe the most impressive quality of this group of “high school kids” is their friendship. In my mind, I can run through at least a dozen pairs or sets of friends that I would call highly valuable, and that is just amongst the students that I’ve had in classes. These are the kind of friendships that are worth holding onto while life takes so many of us in different directions, and I don’t think Facebook will be good enough. The phone calls and even cross country visits that might be necessary to sustain these friendships will be time and energy well spent. I get to see friends practicing patience, sacrifice, finding joy in the joy of others, forgiveness, and so much more. In spite of the fact that they don’t have college or work friends to compare them with, these students seem to recognize that high school friends offer an opportunity to know and be known at a tangibly deeper level.
Then it’s as if friendship spills over into friendliness. It’s difficult for me to imagine another class where it was easier to join midway through their trek toward graduation. I might overhear someone say, “It seems so weird to think that you weren’t here two years ago. I can hardly believe it.” I only wish it were more perfectly true, but there really are very few perceived boundaries over which these kids aren’t willing to reach to enjoy another persons company.
The third thing that comes to mind when I reflect on the seniors I had in my classes this year is their contagious optimism. Fortunately for them, I think it is anything but a hopeless optimism. Many of them are already learning how hard work mixes with their natural gifts and abilities to produce incredible results. The others, seem to be poised on the edge of that discovery, but maybe that’s my hopeless optimism showing through. Each individual doesn’t only recognize the potential in herself or himself; they recognize and promote the potential in each other by devotion of time and effort in each other’s learning. They are already learning to be teachers at heart, even if that won’t be their professional path.
I don’t have the time I need to continue this list. There’s plenty I could say about the courage of certain individuals in the face of physical pain and the courage of other individuals in the face of emotional pain. When it comes down to what has meant the most to me personally, I would have to say that I’ve felt more appreciated by this group than any previous graduating class. There is very little that is more rewarding for a high school teacher than to feel that your students have understood your intentions and valued your efforts. Lip service can’t accomplish that; it has to be demonstrated through actions.
No, these young adults are not perfect. Just read what they’re posting on Twitter. Yes, my view of the class of 2013 is tinted by calculus colored glasses, which means that I believe I have been exposed primarily to the most easily appreciated segment of the population. But I don’t think that makes what I’ve written any less true. If you are a young person making the transition to adulthood, I hope that this essay assures you that people are paying attention to who you are and that we notice when you choose to do what’s right, even when it’s hard. If you find that your teenage years are a distant memory, I hope that reading this will encourage you to invest yourself in the children who are a part of your life. They will notice your actions as well.
If you are one of the members of the TMHS class of 2013 that I have been honored to know, may God bless you. That has been my prayer for several months, and I won’t stop hoping for it in the years to come. I hope that you will always remember that you have so much to gain by offering your very best to the world and by meeting the needs of your friends and all the others around you. Congratulations on your graduation!
It was good to get out to the coast the other night. While there appeared to be a chance the whole sky full of clouds would light up as the sun set, the display of color was relegated to a portion of the sky that is invisible from most of Juneau. On the other hand, after rain showers dampened my jacket and gear, the scene in this photo came as a bit of a surprise. Somewhere beyond the Chilkat Range, the sun had actually found a clearing below the clouds. As if on cue, an eagle (little more than a speck in this web version) swooped from behind me and spiraled into the upper-right corner of my composition.
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” – Exodus 3:2-5 (NIV)
If I think of the place in the photo as “holy ground”, it is not because I want to use the term in a vague or flippant manner. In the passage from Exodus, what made the location holy? I believe God called the area near the burning bush holy because He had chosen for Moses to encounter Him there. I’m grateful for the knowledge that God, The Source of All Joy, has promised never to leave me, but I am so easily distracted. My awareness of his proximity is often severely lacking.
Standing at the edge of the Herbert River with the magenta flames of dwarf fireweed blossoms scattered at my feet, I’m beckoned to take a closer look at the world around me. In view of the terminus of a mighty river of ice, I get the sensation that I am not alone. From the roar of the nearby waterfalls, God is calling my name. How awesome that He would meet with me! He has chosen places such as these to draw us out of ourselves to where we can see, hear, and feel His wondrous power, beauty, and concern for people like us.
What if we took every step on holy ground?
You’ll often hear photographers talking about “edges” when they list things that have potential to produce engaging and meaningful imagery. Edges come in all forms, from the almost overemphasized edges of the day (sunrise and sunset) to the transition between seasons or the boundary of a shadow. When a photograph contains an edge, it necessarily contains two elements, and those elements are often in conflict. I made the above photo at the end of a day that had been dominated by huge and beautiful cloud formations, but as evening approached (and I was finally free to head out into the landscape) the sky was emptying to a pale blue. I had hoped for the earlier weather to hold, but I was excited by this scene because of the clearly visible edge.
Sunshine on a mountainside is a wonderful idea, and rain on a mountainside is a beautiful theme as well, but when mixed…well…that really gives you something to think about. Questions begin to flood the mind, and as is almost always the case with a photograph, the viewer can write their own story. In reality the showers were neither coming nor going. Instead, the rain seemed to fall into that same valley until the cloud rained itself out and simply faded away. I count it as a blessing that I was there to watch it all go down.
The other day I read that “joy” and “trust” are inseparable. I don’t know if I could wholeheartedly endorse that notion. It seems possible to me to experience joy in a moment, but I might be persuaded that “lasting joy” and “trust” are indeed inseparable. We’re not always basking in the warm light, and if joy is to be more than here one minute and gone the next, a certain level of trust must be involved.
Honestly, I was considering something along those lines when I made this photograph a few weeks ago. I say “honestly” because if you knew the rarity with which I think and photograph at the same time, you would have a hard time believing I was engaged in such a deep reflection. Usually I’m very wholly engaged in “seeing” while I make images, seeing and translating what I see into a photograph. On this particular morning, though, I was waiting. The composition had already been determined through a compromise between the not entirely predictable lake ice and myself, and I was waiting for the light…to not quite come. That is, I wanted to record the very last moments before direct light hit my subject, showing the peak of reflected light.
Reflected light is a favorite of photographers, but that is most often because of the potential for light to pick up color from (really lose some wavelengths of light to) the object off of which it is reflecting. For this scene, the landscape all around me and the hill behind me were covered in snow. The slight warmth in the image is owing to the fact that some light from the blue end of the spectrum had been filtered out by the atmosphere. In the end, I felt like there was just enough warmth to get a nice separation from the dark blues in the deep cracks of the glacial ice.
While I was waiting, I was thinking about waiting, and I was savoring the building light. I was recognizing the fact that never once has the Earth failed to spin me out of the night and back toward the sun. There are things that can be counted on even when you can’t see them through the clouds. There is a spiritual side to that as well. Remember that I brought up a “lasting joy”, but how about a joy that is continuous and boundless. That kind of joy requires trust that is only warranted by God. In Philippians 4:4 (NLT), Paul writes, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!” How often and for how long is this joy supposed to take place in our lives? Always. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find myself living with that kind of joy. The reason is not that God has ever been anything less that perfectly trustworthy and abundantly satisfying. Instead, I tend to place my trust elsewhere, primarily in my own ability.
How do we know that the kind of joy Paul was talking about is real? He demonstrated its existence in his life on numerous occasions. In one of my favorite stories of Paul’s life, we find him in prison, in the inner cell, with his feet fastened in stocks…and he and Silas are singing in the middle of the night! I don’t imagine Paul loved pain and discomfort any more than the rest of us, except that I do think he cherished the resulting opportunities for finding joy in anticipation. From where I’m sitting, every day brings opportunities for find joy in the light and joy in anticipation. All I need is to have my trust held firmly by the right Light Source.
I’ve added a new page to the image galleries. This one features photographs that are predominantly from the Herbert Glacier area, but there are also a few photos from Tracey Arm and the Taku River. I’m looking forward to adding new images to this collection over the summer. Actually, I’m just looking forward to summer in general!
The northern lights are undeniably one of our planet’s most glorious and awe inspiring natural phenomena. Acts of terror that result in the murder of innocent children are as vile and horrific as the northern lights are beautiful. Tonight, following the bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I’m pondering both occurrences and a possible comparison. One thing that I can assure you I’m not doing is taking either event lightly, which ties to the primary point I would like to make.
Last night, I spent over an hour watching a video of a debate from 2011 between Professor Richard Dawkins and Professor John Lennox. During the debate, Dawkins stated multiple times that, to him, the idea of a God who was responsible for the origin of the laws of science and the entire universe also being a God who cared about the moral choices made by human beings was completely nonsensical. I believe that the word he used to describe morality was “trite”. Now, I’m fairly certain that “triteness” is relative in his eyes, as it would be for you or me. In other words, I don’t believe Professor Dawkins was insinuating that the way we treat other people is as insignificant as the color of the car we drive. After all, he was as polite as could be hoped while engaged in debate with someone attempting to undermine and discredit his worldview. No, I think what Professor Dawkins was really trying to say is that morality and speculation about how we “ought” to treat others is of far less significance than the pursuit of truth, or the pursuit of knowledge of the truth.
I think that assertion is much easier to make during a debate at Oxford University than in the aftermath of a tragic event. Some people can’t help it, and some people can’t manage it, but tonight I chose to allow myself to feel a little bit of the hurt associated with the marathon bombing, especially the hurt of the parents whose 8 year old son was killed. The human condition doesn’t feel “trite” at the moment. The choices of the bomber(s) were evil, and it matters. The behavior of those responding in the immediate aftermath of the attack was honorable and compassionate, and it matters. I think it matters even more in the light of stars in the night sky.
The stars above the northern lights in the above photograph provide the human mind with a visual representation of the already enormous and constantly expanding universe. Usually the scale of the universe makes us feel utterly miniscule as an individual, which is reasonable and even important, but we can take another lesson as well. The fact the that world doesn’t stop 50,000 ft overhead could provide a reason to give more, and not less, consideration to each choice we make. If we are as “alone” in the expanse of countless galaxies as we appear to be, and if our choices really are as they appear to be (not random chemical responses to random stimuli), then we might be making the only choices in the universe. I see that as a thought worth pondering.
In the end, I hope that the exquisite spectacle of the aurora, and all the natural world, and tragedy, and all of morality can be seen as signs pointing us toward truth that is beyond the scope even of the universe.
Suppose I awoke one morning to find that my old, heavily used, somewhat abused bicycle (the one I have ridden to work and back every day for the last five years) was gone, and in its place, there is a brand new bicycle. Of course I am thrilled, and I might immediately swing my leg over the seat and go for a test ride. By the time I get back to the garage, I have noticed that every single component I had been pining over for months has been incorporated into this bike, and it feels absolutely perfect between me and the road. The way this new bike appears to have been specially chosen by someone who knows me intimately, makes me laugh at how silly it was that my old bike was too small from the day I bought it. About that time, my wife walks out the door wearing a smile that betrays her immense satisfaction in seeing me appreciating her gift so thoroughly.
The story sounds great so far, but imagine that as my wife walks up to me I begin (still gazing intently at the bike) to extol the perceived virtues of each aspect of the bike. I’m clearly very pleased with the new bicycle, and so my wife is pleased. She is the only one standing with me, but for some reason, it still sort of seems as if I’m talking to myself while I praise the bike. She waits patiently, and I move on to fantasizing out loud about how enjoyable my Monday morning commute is going to be.
My ramblings are interrupted by a car pulling into the driveway. A good friend of mine exits the car and approaches my wife and me. Now suppose I gesture emphatically toward the bike as if to say, “Can you believe this?” My friend laughs, and predictably, the corners of my wife’s mouth turn back up into a grin. I hop back onto the bike and pedal it around in front of my friend while I list to him all the ways in which is surpasses my old bike. When I come to a stop, he asks if the bike was a present from my wife. This will be pretty hard to believe for some, but I reply that I don’t care how the bike got into my garage. “The important thing,” I tell him, “Is that’s it’s here now and I really love it.”
Not being easily deterred, my friend repeats his assertion that my wife is surely responsible for the presence of the new bicycle since there is no other way it could have arrived inside my garage without my knowledge. Instead of giving in and acknowledging this reality, I change my tactics slightly. I relate that I expect I’ll see my next bank statement reflects the purchase of bicycle. I remain thoroughly convinced that my thankfulness for the bike is simply a mindset by which I retain the most satisfaction in life. My friend, who knows the secret truth that my wife has actually sold a prized possession to raise the funds necessary to purchase the bike, begins to feel incredibly comfortable, and my wife is fighting back tears.
If you’re at all like me, the point where you developed a strong distaste for the situation unfolding in the story has probably already come and gone. The scenario borders on completely unimaginable, but it represents a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly prevalent in our culture. Through everything from blogs to documentaries to casual conversation, we’re encouraged to practice gratitude. We’re not just supposed to be grateful for birthday presents or being invited out to dinner. Instead, teachers and friends and online personalities would have you be thankful for every breath, every moment of life.
Of course it’s difficult, bordering on impossible, to be simultaneously grateful and jealous. It’s unusual even to find gratitude mixed with sorrow (although I believe those two “emotions” are far from mutually exclusive). No wonder we’re prodded toward gratitude as a mindset; it improves our quality of life and makes us much more tolerable companions. I’m ready to agree that thankfulness is good in an of itself, but my complaint lies in what is missed when an expression of gratitude loses all value the moment it falls from our lips. What if we’re not gratitude’s highest end?
I hope that most of you are able to follow me as I make my assertion about the greater value of gratitude through a mathematical analogy. I title this post “Gratitude Vector” because I wanted to draw a distinction between things that have a direction and things that do not. When it comes to the movement of an object (especially through two or three-dimensional space), a function for speed with respect to time is quite valuable. On the other hand, all I gain through knowing how fast an object is moving will leave me grasping at straws if I know nothing of where the object is going. Consider the possibility that gratitude, like speed, might be losing considerable meaning when it is severed from direction. Unlike speed, a velocity vector seamlessly combines information about the rate of change in position with the direction of change in position. In fact, it turns out that given a velocity vector as a function of time, it is possible to determine even positions, acceleration, and more.
It’s fair to ask what further benefit is involved with directing gratitude toward the true source of whatever pleasure is being experience, and to answer that question, I’ll return to the story with which I opened this post. There’s no question that I was pleased at having the new bike, but there are two options that could be identified as the source. If I claim the bike as the source of the pleasure, then there can be no practical purpose in directing my gratitude. It makes no difference to the bike. Meanwhile, if I will accept my wife as the “true source” of the pleasure, something very interesting happens. Because my wife is a rational being, acting deliberately, I am finally able to notice that the bike is not the greatest or most valuable gift I have received. The greater gift is love! And it’s not merely the idea of love. My wife has demonstrated, through the gift of the new bicycle, that she has chosen to bind her joy together with mine, that she finds more reward in sacrifice for the sake of my happiness than in reaching her own desires at my expense. When I won’t direct my gratitude toward its true source, I miss the whole point!
To finally bring this home, let’s walk through a pretty straightforward progression (to encourage thought and not as some form of “proof”). Gratitude is a response to receiving something we have not earned. When we get something we haven’t earned it’s called a gift. A gift has a giver. When we direct our gratitude to the giver, it opens our eyes to the greater gift of love. In other words, a gratitude vector (directed thankfulness) unlocks the whole wonderful story. Don’t forget, though, that directing thankfulness to the incorrect source, especially an irrational source, provides no such advantage. The point is that if life is a gift, if each moment is a gift, if the capacity to appreciate beauty is a gift; it’s reasonable to assume that those gifts have an incredibly potent source. Our common understanding of what it means to be thankful leads us to consider God. If we will consider Him, in the light of the gifts for which we are already willing to express thanksgiving, we just might find love beyond our ability to comprehend. A good attitude is nice, but a self-willed positive outlook is worthless compared to the reality altering truth that God loves us! I just hope that the up-side gives you a reason to reconsider something you may have glossed over in the past or a reason to reaffirm something you may have been taking for granted.
At this point, it still sounds almost as if our individual happiness (through our awareness of love) is the primary purpose of gratitude, but let’s turn one more corner. In the opening story, who stands to have the greatest satisfaction as a result of my grateful receipt of the new bike? You might think that it would be me, but one of the most famous and popular sayings of Jesus (even among people who don’t accept his claim to be the Son of God) is that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I take this to mean that when we bring closure to the process of God giving and us receiving life’s great gifts by expressing to Him our heartfelt gratitude, we actually increase the joy of our Creator. Directed gratitude, in this special case, is the very reason for our existence.
“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15 (NIV)
There’s something about light. It is energy, and it is warmth. In a very literal way, light is life here on Earth. While one can hardly believe it’s possible, light is even much more than that. Light caries a undeniable spiritual significance. It could simultaneously be an illustration and a manifestation of divine glory.
The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. – John 1:4 (NLT)
Think about the way a flowering plant soaks in the light of the sun. It turns that light into delicate forms and vibrant colors, but never are those colors more glorious than when reflecting and filtering the light to which they owe their very existence. I would live like a flower, growing out of the spiritual light that has a single source. My actions and my life need serve no other purpose but to reflect the light.
I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve actually been reading more words on paper than on a screen in the last couple weeks. As a result, I’ve spent more time thinking…and less time consuming information from the web. I also haven’t shared much here at the TKM Journal lately, but I’ll to my best to get back on track with that soon. I have seen plenty of glorious beauty in the world around me, since I last posted, but I haven’t seen much of it from behind a lens. In other words, I’ve been giving my camera and creativity a break while I focus on seeing and letting the sights lead me to worship.
Much thanks to my friend Alan Gordon, I received several copies of the Juneau based documentary that I played a small part in filming. The film, originally conceived as a potential entry to the Banff Mountain Film Festival, is called Blue Obsession, and it documents a year of Alan trying to passionately experience Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier in a time where opportunities were both incredible and fleeting. As someone who has been in love with the Mendenhall Glacier almost since the first time I saw it, over twenty years ago, it was a great honor to be able to take part in this small production and to work alongside Alan while making some of my most memorable photographs.
These trailers are fun because they actually show a great deal of footage that did not make it to the completed documentary. Blue Obsession is not currently available for web based consumption, but if that changes in the future, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Earlier today, instead of spending another half hour extolling the virtues the SAT and the ACT, I engaged my “Advisory” students (most of them) in a simple, online adaptation of the Myers Briggs Personality Test. Then, because they caught sight of it on my computer screen, I let my Honors PreCalc students test themselves as well. It was interesting to see the way some people seemed to revel in having their personality described verbally. If the short description was deemed accurate enough, you could see a smile lighting up their face as it was being read.
I wonder what about this process of describing one’s personality is so rewarding for an individual, and I wonder if it has anything to do with our propensity to try and use words like professional, artist, author, or entrepreneur define ourselves and others. Ultimately, it might all boil down to a desire to be understood, to be known. Also, I suppose some titles have such a positive connotation that it’s difficult not to wish them upon ourselves.
In a roundabout fashion, I’ve gotten to the question that has been discussed at some length on other “photography blogs”…”Am I an artist?” I tend to come to different conclusions each time I ask this question of myself. It depends on what I’ve read lately, what I’ve photographed lately, and maybe even how my day of teaching has gone. Sometimes I think I don’t want to sell the creative work I’m doing short by calling it anything but art. Other times, I’m sure I haven’t put nearly enough thought or purpose into most of my photographs to consider myself an artist. In the end, there must be some kind of spectrum to which the term “artist” applies in varying degrees.
Based on the comments I’ve read, most others would use a period of reflection like the one I’ve gone through to fuel their drive to be more of the artist they have the potential to be. Who knows what time will bring, but I’m currently taking the opposite approach. An artist seeks to put herself or himself into their creative work. While I see having my personality and values evident in my photography as a natural byproduct of my process, I don’t want it to be my goal. The whole world is filled with beauty that is not a product of my interpretation, and many other qualities besides beauty are among its adornments. A gentleness in the forest that goes unperceived by me is no less real than it would be if I had the opportunity to photograph that quality. The calm of certain hours on the Inside Passage is just as evident when I see it through my eyes as when I see it through the lens, and it can go on happening without me.
There are moments when this world is all it was meant to be, a wonderful reflection of the glory of its Creator. As a human being, I just want to see as much of that as I can, and I want to see it as often as I can, and I wan to fully appreciate it. As a photographer, I want to help others see the same glorious qualities (beautiful, peaceful, powerful) even if they can’t fly half way around the world to see the Mendenhall Ice Caves for themselves. I don’t want to let myself get in the way of others seeing what’s really there. I’m not saying I want to pretend photography can be a literal and purely faithful translation of the landscape, but I don’t want to hijack the viewer’s opportunity to respond to the subject of the photograph in their own way.
I don’t mind being labeled. I like to feel known and understood just as much as the next person. But I’m confident that I’m known and valued by the one that matters most. I don’t want to be an artist. I want to be a servant.
With big fat flakes floating down from the sky when I left the house, I dressed appropriately for a heavy snow. By the time I reached my chosen coastal location, I should have realized the wind and dipping temperatures would be the real nemesis to my photographic endeavors. I left my down jacket in the car, and was forced to expose my fingers to the biting cold on numerous occasions while I fumbled with knobs on my tilt/shift lens. Lenses that require precision manual focusing are difficult to employ effectively when your digits are numbed and you’re generally uncomfortable. Add some concern about freezing salt water spray, and I really only managed one composition where critical sharpness was reached in all the areas I intended. Praise God though; it was my final exposure that successfully told the story of this evening at the waters edge.
I passed glimpses of color as I drove to this location under infrequently broken clouds. I wanted to see more of that gentle or spectacular beauty, but I knew the alternative was far more likely. The scene I found was elegant in its own way, dark but not empty. It was cold but not entirely uninviting. The crashing waves were more persistent than frightening in their power, yet they hinted at the magnificent force that an ocean is capable of putting on display. And always the wind.
Beyond the scope of the camera and its lens, there was perhaps an even more remarkable occurrence. I was not at all alone while I worked to craft this image. There were a handful of sea birds, of what specific types I know not. There were numerous sea lions who often raised their heads high out of the water to get a good look at what I was doing on shore. They swam back and forth, and beyond them winter whales arched their backs amidst the waves. While I was clenching my fists inside my gloves and turning my back to the wind, these creatures were apparently perfectly suited to carry out their business along the wintery Alaska coast. I am struck by the fact that neither beauty nor living are relegated only to the moments of sunshine, to the places of tranquility. God equips us to live and love even in the bitter winds.
Sharing this photo was spurred partially by a comment I read earlier today about nature being the true artist. I feel obligated to modify the statement to reflect that God is actually the truest artist. My second reason for posting “Winter Ice Study” was that I came across a collection of images celebrating the beauty of ice in various forms, from all around the world. Can you believe they presented that collection on the National Geographic website without referencing this most incredible phenomenon? The truth is, I’m not surprised. In this culture flooded with imagery of seemingly everything under the sun, I have never seen another photograph of this icy occurrence. I’ve never even heard or read any explanation for all the intricate lines that stand out in addition to the apparent boundary lines between individual ice crystals. (If you know where I can find any information, I’m all ears!)
I’ll have to come back to my thoughts about the artistry of God in a different post. Needless to say, I consider myself continually blessed by the ability granted to humans to savor the transcendent splendor of their surroundings.
Update: I also just realized that this image (and another from the same location) were missing, until now, from the “Mendenhall Caves” gallery. To see this photo a little bit bigger, head there or click this link.
I think that the biggest reason that my collection of photographs made on and around the Mendenhall Lake is so extensive is that it is the easiest (totally gorgeous) location for me to access on short notice or with limited time. How blessed am I that a unique natural wonder is a mere five minute drive from my home? Click here to see some of the imagery generated by my nearly countless visits to this favored destination.
Do you ever shout for joy! I’ve been on some amazing summits when the light of the moment moved me in a way that demanded to be vocalized. Usually I can’t just let out a whoop of excitement unless there’s nobody else around. When surrounded by friends, I’m prone to a slightly more subdued, “This is AMAZING!” When my mind is in the space I wish it were in more often, I’ll yell, “Praise God!” and care not whether it rings as foolishness in anyone else’s ears.
I learned a new term today that labels a concept I’ve grown fond of through many different circumstances. The idea is that you and I can simultaneously seek the greatest glorification of God and the greatest satisfaction in our lives, and the term is Christian Hedonism. The phrase sounds both oxymoronic and volatile, but after watching a full sermon by John Piper on the subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is actually profoundly biblical. The apostle Paul is a great defender of the idea that exalting Jesus Christ is the ultimate joy that makes all other perceived joys fade away. One of the first things that comes to my mind is the famous saying of Eric Liddell: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
Sticking with the running theme, here are some of the lyrics of the song “Run”, by Josh Garrels:
I feel the pleasure of my Lord when I’m in stride
For the glory of the Lord is man who is completely alive
While it’s right to recognize God as the source of a beautiful sunrise and the provider of our physical bodies, that’s not entirely the point. Even though we should encourage each other to complete our satisfaction in wonderful circumstances by actively praising God, the Good News goes even deeper. We are able to rejoice in all things because of what Jesus did on the cross. As Paul points out in the book of Philippians, not even death can slow us down. He says in chapter one verse twenty-one, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
I’m praying tonight that God will continue to develop my longing for Him. Ahead of time, I’m thanking Him for the grace He will have to cover me with when I fail to put Him at the very forefront of my life. There’s no doubt that I will fail, but I am convinced of the truth that I will never have more peace or happiness than when I’m lifting Jesus up as high as I can. I want to shout for joy through the way I live my life, to the glory of God the Father!
I’ve mentioned before that this is one of my favorite times of year because of the opportunity to see what other photographers and friends have been doing throughout the prior year. The opportunity is due, in part, to efforts of Jim Goldstein in putting together his annual “Best Of” collection. The “Best of 2012” does not disappoint, and it’s an honor to be among the hundreds of photographers sharing highlights in one place. Look through the list for a photographer you know but haven’t heard from in a while, or click through all the links to discover someone new. Happy new year!
I love music, and hymns hold a special place in my heart. I think of many of my favorite hymns as being traditional, but I wasn’t born until the 80′s, so I can’t be too sure about that. The hymn, “Be Thou My Vision”, holds a special significance to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, nothing gets talked about more in the world of artistic photography than “vision”. Well…it may be surpassed by “composition”, but I try to ignore that. Secondly, “Be Thou My Vision” is one of my wife’s favorite songs of any genre. It is perhaps more meaningful that she should like the song because the memory of it doesn’t reach back into her childhood in the way it does for me. My satisfaction in hymns could be at least partially attributed to comfort in consistency or even a distaste for change. My wife fell in love with the song as an adult because of the words. She even told me, years ago, that she wanted to be assured of “Be Thou My Vision” being played at her funeral service.
My idea to “translate” the song from its original, dated English to a more modern vernacular is not really my own at all. Just a few days ago, I heard a portion of a song where the artist had done precisely that. Last night, though, I was struck with the desire to create my own version. Actually my real desire was to fall back asleep, but that was not working out in the least. I set to work, and while this may not be the finished product, it’s a satisfying draft that I would like to share. The words here could be a prayer for every morning.
You Be My Vision
You be my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Nothing else matters, except that You are
You’re my best thought, by day or by night,
Awake or while sleeping, You’re presence is light.
You be my wisdom; You are the true Word;
Let me be with You and you with me Lord;
You are my Father, and I am Your child;
You live in my heart; we are reconciled.
I don’t need money or man’s empty praise;
You’re my inheritance, now and always;
To you and you only does my heart belong;
God of all heaven, my treasure is strong.
God of all heaven, my victories won,
May I reach heaven’s joy, O bright Heaven’s Son!
Heart of my own heart, wherever you call;
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
This is what I wish conditions were like at the moment. Instead puddles hide under snow on top of the permanent ice on the Mendenhall Lake, which is a combination that instills just about the least possible confidence in someone trying to travel over that ice. I’ve been avoiding working with this photo for a couple years because I thought I would need both focus and exposure blends to bring it to completion. I also wasn’t sure that the result would be something that justified the post-processing effort. Progress in RAW conversion software allowed me to bypass the exposure blending, so I started working. In this version of the image, I’ve done a minimal amount of preparation. If you have any feedback on how or whether this photo fits into my overall portfolio, I would be happy to hear from you.
Sometimes you’re rewarded just for showing up – just for being willing to put down the computer and enjoy the world that has been created. When I left work and headed to the coast, I knew I could be completely content with just a little bit of light. I knew I was looking for a place at the water’s edge, but providence allowed me to stop (out of several options) at precisely the location where I would be able to witness the fullness of a show of light that was far beyond my expectations. I had the idea that the intersection of rocks and water might lead into my photo, but it took a while for me to stumble upon the rocks in this image. They seemed to have been laid out for the sole purpose of moving eyes from foreground to background. Just stand there surrounded by a splendid evening (3:00 pm) and look for the look for the most savory piece. That’s it!
It’s true that ending well caries much more significance in most endeavors, but there’s also something to be said for starting well. This year, I have many personal goals, but my main photographic goal is to make photographs at more times, on more days. I don’t necessarily want to take a greater total number of photos than I did in 2012, but photography is my primary creative pursuit. I just want to have less lengthy stretches of absence from it. I’m pleased to say that today I made new images, and it was a day I would have traditionally stayed in because of the weather and available light. My outing didn’t produce anything groundbreaking, but neither did I come away empty handed. In less than an hour, I made some connections and hurried home happy. I hope you too saw a pleasant beginning to the new year.
In the last few days, I’ve begun the process of adding image galleries right here on the TKM Journal. The end of the year, and during a break from teaching, is a great time to get started on a project like this, and I’ve already been able to get two pages to relative completion. Thanks for taking a look at the new collections and leaving some feedback if you have time.
Personal Favorites: This is the first time I’ve put together a gallery that highlights my most valued images from over the years.
Mendenhall Caves: These are the photos that I’ve become known for by that small contingent of folks who know about my photography at all.
This past year saw a distinct reduction in my pursuit of photography, and while that may seem like a disappointment, I have no reason to complain. Less photography only means more time for the other critical, and often more valuable, components of my life. I loved being able to spend an abundance of time with my darling daughter, Della, and being a more effective teacher, and maintaining my commitments to service in my local church. It was a year full of blessings…and by some people’s standards, I still spent plenty of time outside with my camera. Certainly there were some incredible moments behind the lens!
After several years, the death of one cave, and the discovery of another; I finally got another chance to photograph this intricate ice phenomenon. When conditions are just right (first you need a subglacial cave) the most fascinating patterns form on ice deep under the glacier. It looks almost as if the ice were covered in very pronounced thumb-prints. Then, from another angle, it has the look of some kind of electronic circuitry. Successfully composing near-macro photographs in the dark can pose a considerable challenge though, and I have not always overcome those challenges in the few opportunities I’ve had. This past January I made two or three photographs of these ice patterns that I’m pleased with, but I’m also praying that some future day will provide me the opportunity to make something even better.
For spring break, Breea, Della, and I enjoyed a “warming trip” to the California high desert and Phoenix to visit family. This photo shows off a glorious sunrise on a morning that I skipped the long car ride to explore areas around the old farm that used to produce alfalfa for my great grandparents. Besides a few photos and a fun drive to the Kelso Dunes with my mom, it was awesome to have five generations together in one place again; Granny turned 97 just a month before our visit.
I’m not much of a wildlife photographer. I think I lack a level of patience, and I haven’t invested in the necessary equipment, but this year my friend, Corey, and I made the third of what has become an annual trip to visit the Benjamin Island sea lion haul out. It’s a pretty smelly sight, and yes, you read that right. A sea lion roar sounds an awful lot like a belch and it smells significantly worse. My wildlife photography skills require animals to be predictable and slow moving, and those two things are abundant at this location.
Using lens shifts to record this mesmerizing scene in great detail was a special experience in an of itself, some of the best hours of photography I’ve experienced in my life. That was just the beginning of the fun with this image though. I had never experienced the level of internet “fame” that was mine on the day that I posted this image to G+, and to be fair, I will probably never experience it again. I told friends that I new I had hit the “big time” when there were even comments degrading me for taking the photo and other G+ users for providing positive feedback.
Remember when I said that we warmed up down south over spring break? Well it was a good thing because Juneau set records for coldest average monthly temperatures in both May and June. It’s a tiny aspect of the above image, but you can probably just barely make out the results of those temperatures on the distant Chilkat Range. After a winter of record snowfall in the mountains, it still looked like early April at elevation when I made this photo on the summer solstice. I don’t feel like this image is my most artistic effort, but it records a defining moment of peak color on one of my favorite days of the year. Several hours earlier I was having success photographing a different location, and by the end, it was one of those days that can make an entire summer of wet, cold Juneau feel well worth it.
Mixed in with the recurring trips to my favorite Juneau locations was this day of awesome adventure. It wasn’t the length of trip (under 12 hours) or remoteness of the location (right next to a glacier tour helicopter landing site) that made the time special. It was the grand an unimaginable beauty that we were alone in for a couple hours. The fact that there were a few hundred people, over the course of the day, milling around 100 yards away with no knowledge of what we were doing or seeing only added to my enjoyment. With Corey and another friend, the kayak back across the Mendenhall Lake under the stars (near 11 o’clock) was priceless!
I spent enough wonderful evenings at the end of the Herbert River Trail that I would be remiss not to include at least one photo in this year-end collection. On this occasion (as with most) I was looking for the greater view of fall color, Herbert River being one of very few places in Juneau where fall color means much of anything, but there were only scattered details to be found. I had the good fortune of adding two new lenses to my collection in the past year, and macro lens was one of them. While an image like this one would have been difficult or impossible without it, I haven’t used the macro lens as much as I would have hoped. That is something to add to my list of goals for next year.
Toward the end of the year was when things really slowed down, and I actually went over two months without taking a “nature photograph” for the first time in many years. Taking this time to look back, I’m surprised and very pleased by how many of photos I made over the course of the past twelve months still feel very valuable to me. Beyond photographs, witnessing another year in the life of my daughter and watching her grow in appreciation for God’s creation has been a consistent blessing. Spending time outside in simple pursuits with my wife and other fantastic friends is a true reason for gratitude. And if I want to take more photographs next year, I can always start by not leaving memory cards or batteries at home when I go on awesome hikes with sweet light! May God richly bless you in the new year!
I’ve not been making new photos lately, so I dig into my archive of old images on a pretty regular basis, looking for something. Usually I don’t find anything.