Discover more from Ordinary Collisions: Intersections of Nature & Culture
Collisions of desire and uncaptured light
Social media sabbatical, week two
Things I wanted to photograph but didn’t
How soil feels after three seasons away
New bursts of air on skin bared to the breeze
Otters making their way across the ripples of the lake
Rain’s anticipatory scent hanging low over the landscape
An apple blossom’s first blush, slowly opening to the season
Cacophonies of bird and frog song, a wild symphony of sound
Pea shoots and rhubarb rushes, garlic growth and daisies dancing
Spring’s fusion of muted palettes and the brightness of fuchsia flowers
Gardens gradually coming into their own, and then suddenly, life everywhere.
How contentment can sneak up on a person who takes the time to omit
that which doesn’t give life and instead focus on those things bringing
peace and stretching out time into something to savor and letting
what is be beautifully whole even when it’s undocumented, only
experienced as another layer of texture in a life fully lived, a
life full of photographs not taken because some things
are meant to be threads weaving light uncaptured.
Ordinary Collisions: Intersections of Nature & Culture is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
I’ve been off social media for a week and change now, and I’m taking far less photos, because,
How many photographs does a person truly need to take of the bright pink crab apple blossoms? Of asparagus spears? Of spring wildflowers? They are reliably beautiful, year after year, so this year, I’m just noticing them.
Though I’ll go back to taking some photographs eventually, some photo free time is making me nostalgic for the old days when most every day things were largely undocumented.
I wanted to see what it was like to take my own advice and not continually step outside a moment to capture it. This is forcing me to let the experience of noticing something be enough.
Had I run to grab a camera when the fox trotted along the lakeshore as dusk fell the other evening, I would have missed the second one that followed in her footsteps.
I’ll leave you with a brief excerpt from a chapter called “Paying Attention in a Digital Age” in Collisions of Earth and Sky.
About 70 percent of the time, I find myself taking the iPhone with me when I go out, just to be able to snap a photo or two. It’s nice to have some pictures of the parts of my life that happen outside of the living room—we live in an area with lots of lovely scenery. It’s nice to have photos of my daughter as she grows. I have a slight obsession with taking pictures of plants, the garden, and food, so I have fun setting up shots in artful ways to capture the feeling of the moments and places that mean so much to me. These aren’t inherently bad things.
But taking pictures of them often quite effectively plucks me right out of the moment. As I try to capture it with a camera, I step outside of it, and its energy immediately changes. I’m no longer participating. I am capturing moments rather than being in relationship with them.
One winter morning, after gliding across the ice-covered lake on skis, I turned east toward the rising sun and stopped in my tracks. It looked as though millions of tiny diamonds had been strewn across the surface of the frozen water in the form of snowflakes. I thought to myself that this must be what glitter is trying to emulate, like somehow stars have dropped out of the sky. The landscape hummed with the sort of shimmer only possible when light and snow are willing to fully harmonize. Had Marie Kondo appeared out of the ether to ask if it was a moment that “sparked joy,” I would have said yes.
I stood there for a while just looking at the glittering landscape, feeling the sun through the chilly air, leaning on my ski poles. The iPhone with its camera had been left inside charging on the countertop in the kitchen. But I wished I had it. I wanted so badly to document the beauty I was seeing and share it with someone—and more often than not these days, that happens digitally, on social media. I’d rather say I just stood there marveling at nature’s beauty, fully present and mindfully enjoying the view, but I’d be lying if I did. Instead, distraction from the allure of making an Instagram post out of what I was seeing dominated my mind. At that moment, I was trying to spark joy from the wrong place. Instead of living in the moment, I was imagining the next post.
It’s a fine line to walk, isn’t it? I need to stay mindful of some of the subtleties that drive why I take so many pictures in the first place and why I then so often share them on social media. On one level, I share all of these photos on various channels to keep my friends and family in the loop: I like spreading my love of growing vegetables and getting out into nature because I believe those things to be essential for well-being. You just never know when a nice photo will inspire someone to do something positive. Yet the energy of wanting more from a moment is hard to sidestep. I can’t say I sidestepped it successfully that day out on the lake, but I am glad I noticed what was happening. Observing yourself doesn’t always invite celebrational whoops. But the more I make a point to pay attention, the more I notice myself falling into the habits that don’t serve the kind of life I want to be living. There is certainly a time and place for photography. Sharing photos is fun to do. (By now, we know that the dopamine hit your brain receives when people like your posts is fun too.) But thinking about how I’ll turn a breathtakingly beautiful moment of stillness and light into a social media post is not how I want to move through life.
Beauty should be shared—there’s no question there. But beauty should also be experienced without turning it into something it’s not. That day out on the lake wasn’t an Instagram post. It was a human bearing witness to a brilliant tapestry of light, frozen water droplets, and air that will never weave together in that exact way again. A social media post can’t capture that energy, no matter how expertly it is edited or how many little red hearts light up the screen after it’s been shared.
All this to say, here’s to the noticing, here’s to allowing the desire to share to be there, and here’s to allowing an experience to be what it is, uncaptured.
Also nostalgic for the days when people sat around debating things instead of just going to look up the answer on the internet.