Mostly Cloudy, 17 Degrees, Light North Wind
I don’t know if I have indicated that my plan for this project is to photograph and write about my walks for an entire year. It’s a very ambitious plan and seems almost impossible, frankly. But that’s the idea, mainly because the woods change so much with the seasons and I want to capture that. The passage of time and the cumulative experience of a year or years is key to my feeling for the place. But, though there is a continual gradual change, there are long periods of similarity as well, especially during the summer and winter. I could just skip around through the year, picking days here and there to take the camera and write, but for now I’m going to try to do it every day.
Just five days into the process, I have already begun to doubt whether I can make new images for that long in a pretty limited area. We’re talking about trying to make at least one unique image on each walk, hopefully more. That’s 365 images or more likely 700 or 1000. That’s a bunch. The entire length of the trails in the woods are certainly no more than a mile. It could easily be much less than that. I’ll have the changing weather and seasons in my favor, but still, you would think there might be only so much subject matter and so many compositions to find. We shall see.
Having Jamie along improves things as he at least is moving all the time and his behavior and interactions with me are interesting and varied. I don’t know if I’ll be able to capture much of what passes between us since it’s often a momentary gesture, a look in the eye that tells the story. I love the ways he connects with me on these walks. I’ll make an effort to capture that interaction, but using a camera inevitably interferes with our interactions or misses them so easily. I’ll work on it though and perhaps he will get more comfortable with the camera as he sees me use it day after day.
I noticed a few examples of those momentary exchanges on today’s walk. One that I notice almost every day is as we come to the end of our driveway, he looks to see which way I’m going to go. Often he just judges my body language and make the turn on his own. Often, I will see him looking at me and waiting and I’ll just make a quick gesture with one arm—this way. And he wheels and takes off in that direction. It’s cute as can be. He’s always very excited as we begin our walk. It’s the high point of his day without a doubt. He wheels and trots off purposefully in the direction I indicate. He’s on a mission.
We take for granted that dogs can read our gestures but actually they are one of a relatively few animals that understand them. If you give an arm or hand signal to a chimpanzee, even though they are much closer to us evolutionarily, they would have no idea of the meaning. But dogs have evolved alongside us and in connection with us and they understand immediately. You can even point just with a gesture of the head and eyes and they’ll get it right away.
Another little moment that stuck with me today was as I was slipping his leash over his head when we left the woods and returned to the road. I use a choker type of chain over his head, so I take it off entirely when I let him loose. He knows when it’s time to get back on the leash and I call him just quietly, hey buddy, and he hold his nose up in the air for me to slip it on. His expression is so soft and sweet at that moment. He’s offering himself up to me. Okay Dad, here I am. I’m ready to go.
The last little moment is when we get back to the house. He stops on the patio before we go inside. I slip the leash back over his head and bend down to him and cradle his head in my arms. I put my face right down next to his. He seems to appreciate and love this. Again, his expression is really sweet and gentle. I love that moment.
Jamie is mostly pretty sweet, but not always. I don’t mean that he’s unpleasant, but sometimes he is really intense. When he’s waiting for me to get ready for our walk in the morning, he stands at alert and tries to bore a hole in me with his eyes, willing to me to go. When I put his collar on and try to give him a little rub on the neck, he turns away immediately and trots toward the door, looking back at me.
He’ll give me the same treatment later in the day when he thinks it’s time for us to go on our afternoon walk. This is usually hours before it’s really time. He plants himself at full alert in front of me and stares at me at full intensity. Not long ago, I heard someone say that dogs will not hold eye contact with a person. That is definitely not true of Jamie. He will hold unbroken eye contact for as long as he thinks there’s any chance that you will do what he wants. I’ve locked eyes with him before with the intent of , kbreaking his will and making him yield. He won’t do it. He just stares at full attention. And dogs don’t have eyelids like ours. They don’t blink.
But enough about Jamie for now. Back to the photography. As I said above, I was worried that my pictures would very quickly become monotonous on the same walk with similar conditions, but that wasn’t the case today. I did several new things. I shot some of the dense brush of the upper level of the woods. With the fresh snow on the branches, they looked pretty interesting. I also tried to compose some of the same general views that I have been shooting a little differently. I slowed down a bit and experimented a bit more with framing and viewpoint. A little tighter, a little wider, shoot from a lower perspective, off to one side, aiming the camera higher and lower to see what each of these changes will do to the compositions. As I have said before, I tend to compose instinctively and I probably take for granted all of the variations I come up with for each shot. Each variation is significant. Each change alters the feeling and the meaning of a shot. It’s one thing I love about photography.
Today I could tell I was more into the photography than earlier. I’ve gotten over the initial doubt and awkwardness with the camera and I’m beginning to notice things of interest more quickly. It’s funny that in our day to day lives we function by screening out most of our surroundings and focusing on a few things of significance at the moment. We take that habit with us everywhere, even on a walk in the woods. So today I began to drop that habit and just notice a texture or a composition that I have been walking past for years. I noticed the delicate traceries of the brush, the rich darkness of the few little patches of pines, the bark of the trees. I tried to pay attention to when my eye or my mind noticed something interesting. It’s such a subtle thing. We see these things all the time and dismiss them. Today I tried to double back and attend to those things and then explore them a bit with the camera.
One of the most striking examples of this today was not just noticing the beauty of the bark on some trees. I’ve photographed bark a bunch of times, never with much or any success in the final images. Of course it remains to be seen until I edit and print the images, but today I just framed the tree trunk in a different way. I didn’t try to crop close as I usually do, emphasizing only the trunk, but I stayed back a bit, keeping the camera horizontal despite the vertical subject matter, and I let the trunk play off against the background of trees and sky. I used a wide open aperture to get a shallow depth of field and blur the background. This should make the trunk strong and the background soft. It looked good in the lens. We’ll see how it looks on screen and on paper.
This is the kind of thing that you live for as a photographer. To notice and create an image that has power and uniqueness. We’ll see, but I think that may have happened today. It’s such a cool experience. I didn’t pre-conceive it. I feel only partly responsible for it. I just noticed, looked through the lens, and there it was. It’s a gift. An unexpected gift.