For the Beauty of the Earth…

Thanksgiving has long been one of my favorite holidays, not for the sake of the various foods prepared, but because I find a true joy in being grateful. Though it can be supressed or misdirected, I think gratitude is probably the most natural response humans have to God. Expressing gratitude has such a wonderful way of benefiting both the recipient and the person sharing it, which is why it feels so right. The reality of my own photographic style is that I am often completely caught up in the moment and my surroundings, but when I take time to contemplate the act, I recognize my underlying goal to show appreciation for the experience of living. The camera allows me to be consistently conscious of the multitude of blessings that surround me, even when I don’t have it in hand.

Last Sunday afternoon (because that is when the sun goes down these days), my wife, Breea, gave me the gift of time to hike out into the winter wilderness. I was hopeful that the increasing clouds on the horizon would not interrupt completely the light of the setting sun, and I hiked the trail above the west side of the Mendenhall Glacier to a spot that gives a stunning view over the ice and of the surrounding peaks. The sky was plain in the direction I wanted to focus, and my tripod was unwieldy on the steep slopes and snow, so I composed all my photos with a long lens using IS. Shooting handheld is unusual for me, but I love the incredible freedom it gives to respond quickly to the ever-changing light on a varied landscape.

I almost always hike to my destination enjoying my surroundings but with my camera remaining in the backpack. But because of the fickle light, I forced myself to stop when I got to a place on the trail that offered a clear view of a scene I had been enjoying through the branches of the trees. Indeed, the light only lasted for about a minute after I stopped. What I found special was the role warmth plays in this photograph of snow and ice because of the way the warm light reflects back and forth in the crevasses.

The contrast of warm and cool became something of a theme through the rest of my outing, and each subsequent image would show the combination in a new way. The photo below was not one I knew I would like as much some others at the moment I tripped the shutter, but I wanted to make a record of the impressive lighting and features. While later viewing the image, I grew more and more fond of the lines and colors. Sometimes we don’t appreciate something the way we should at first, but when we take time and give consideration, the value that was initially misjudged becomes apparent.

I saw the paths of light and shadow from this next photograph leading away from each other within the scene, and I thought it made a poignant statement about the paths of thought we choose to follow. When we perseverate on the darkness that surrounds us, and everyone faces their own challenges, there’s a tendency to become despondent or even despairing. When I instead count my many blessing, it’s a way to follow the light path toward a place filled with peace that is easily missed. In the end, I know that the metaphor is a bit of a stretch, and the photo doesn’t quite capture the response I had to the scene for some reason, but I still like the concept.

This broken section of glacier where the edge of the ice is falling over a steep bank has always caught my attention on visits to this location. Theres a fanning pattern and a sharpness in the edges of the ice that continues to conjure up images in my mind of tongues of flame. Even as the light faded on this afternoon, I got that same impression. Again, it connects to the theme of pairing cold with hot in an unexpected way.

In the final photo from the set, direct light is completely absent from the scene, and yet there are some ways that a subdued warmth covers an even greater percentage of the image that in any of the previous pictures. It’s about perspective, and I controlled the white-balance settings to reflect my impression that the cold didn’t take over the scene after the sun set. It’s like the part of the classic movie, Pollyanna, where the main character claims she can find something to be thankful for in any situation with a list of examples that border on the ridiculous. This may, in fact, be my favorite photo of the group.

I find that the beauty of the Earth is an inspiration to be thankful for a great many things with more significance than a stunning landscape can possibly have. It’s a hook that pulls me in and reminds me to consider all the blessings of relationships that will be more permanent than glaciers or even the mountains and valleys that they shape. This morning I have plenty of other inspirations for a grateful attitude: my daughter, Della, crawled into my room about an hour ago and asked me to tell her if her feet were stinky after I took off the brace she wears on them at night; I talked to my brother on the phone yesterday just hours after the birth of his twins; I’m looking forward to an evening of celebrating this holiday in the company of most of Breea’s immediate family. I could go on and on, but I will do that in my own mind over the course of the day and those to come.

Thanksgiving is a state of mind that is much more easily attained with knowledge of God’s greatest gift to each of us. When Jesus paid the price for every wrong we’ve ever thought or done, God showed us a love that was beyond anything we could merit. The only reasonable response is thanksgiving, and eventually we learn to love in return. Every good gift comes from God, and I would like to close these thoughts with a line from the chorus of the song from which I borrowed the title for this journal entry. “Lord of all, to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise!”

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