Have you noticed that the view of a natural place never looks the same way twice?
It’s true. Take your favorite field, river, lake or vista. Maybe a place you like to visit, sit quietly and think. Or maybe a place you drive by frequently where a cultivated field is bordered by big mature spruce trees with branches that move like they’re shuffling cards when the wind blows a certain way. A quiet creek cuts through the back of the field and forms a small pond where it meets a beaver dam. The pond was frozen over and blanketed with snow in January; now it’s only frozen on the edges. A week ago there was a solitary coyote standing in the field near the wooded edge; today it’s gone but the way the last evening light is shrouded by a dark rain cloud the yellow grass is more brilliant than you’ve ever seen before – or will ever see again.
I’m thinking about a remote fly-in lake from recent memory. I boated through the narrows early one morning when the fog was so thick you could barely see the person in the front of the boat. The sun had just awakened and it’s reflection was mirrored so vividly on the glassy water that you had to do a double-take to figure out which was actually the reflection. I turned the motor off to grab my camera and all went quiet except for the liquid sound of the boat slowing to a stop. The fog carried a mixture of moist smells from the woods, the water and the rocky shoreline. It filled my head with visions of adventure, and a sense that all was well in this place at that very moment. Hard to describe really.
The next day – heck the next hour – that place looked totally different. The fog lifted and the sun shone through a perfectly flawless blue sky. Yellow birch leaves fluttered in the breeze by the same wind that blew the fog off the lake – like a deliberate breath of the Creator.
On some days that stretch of water looks grey and ominous just like the sky. Other days, cold, wet and blurry like the thick snow that falls from the sky like an invasion of a million parachutes.
Yes you can visit places vicariously. Looking at pictures and videos with descriptive text or narration can give you a sense of what a place is like; but nothing substitutes for the real thing. When the nature of that place makes all your senses pop in a way that is etched in your memory forever. Each day is different. Each moment is different. The lighting changes before your eyes; the wind, the smells, the temperature are constantly changing. Plants grow, animals move, water and ice fall from the sky. Each day brings you closer to another season. Each moment passes never to be experienced again – ever.
There is a way you can participate in the nature of a place. Make it change in a unique way. Not by making plants grow, or wind blow – but by putting you in it. Yes, you can become a part of a place that will never be repeated again – just by your presence. Maybe you’re that person in the front of the boat, shrouded by fog, anticipating the next bend in the river; rod in hand anxiously awaiting the tug on the end of your line that will thrill you almost to tears. It could be the wisest thing you do this year, or maybe in your lifetime.
-Scott Earl Smith