After my mastectomy, I admit I cried. It wasn’t my breasts I was mourning but my arm and the life I had before cancer struck. Every year before that fateful spring I would plan a vacation that involved photography. Some years, I planned more than one trip. Those were amazing years.
I have a few sets of friends that I’ve met from photography classes I’ve taken. Most, if not all, are film photographers. You would have to be as the pacing of a film photographer is different than a digital photographer. A film photographer measures light and then contemplates where the meter settings should be to enhance the shadows and highlights of the scene being captured. Development, composition, exposure and film speed are all considered as well as the lenses used and filters. It is a slow process that involves a lot of math and time. On one trip, my friends and I snuck into a National Park when the moon was full, hiked two miles to the ocean’s edge, took a maximum of 12 photographs in the dark and talked about light reciprocity for nearly two hours as our bodies were attacked by mosquitos. It was a thrilling evening beyond measure.
I have traveled to Big Bend, Yosemite, Death Valley and many roads paved and dirt in between. Film photography tends to attract a nerdy group and they are usually male, except for my friend Freda who is just an incredible traveler and photographer. The guys are a bit like the professor on Gilligan’s Island except my friends would have been able to fix the 3’ hole in the boat. They come with tools and electronic gear that clutters up the dashboard. My friends and I like to go “off road” and we have so much gear that I sometimes think if I demanded we go to the moon they would be able to get me there.
We ride out to middle of nowhere and once we see something we like we stop the truck and hike out even further separating as our eyes pull us in one direction or another. Our backs are laden with camera gear, tripods and film. Walkie talkies keep us connected but we will not see one another for a few hours as we individually measure light, compose photographs and then capture them. I cannot explain why but the combination of solitude, math and the creativity of composing photographs clears my brain and peels back the dusty layers of work and responsibility. It is in that meditative state that I find my true self. It is pure joy and finding it renews my body and soul. A week of following the light and capturing it is like drinking from a spring of eternal happiness.
When I woke up from my mastectomy, I had 24 lymph nodes removed from my right arm. I will never be able to hike with full gear on my back again. Some people have said I could go digital but it is not the same nor are the results. Digital photography doesn’t put me in a meditative trance.
After writing about my week with the blacksmiths, a longing was born deep within. I wanted to go hiking in the woods with my camera again and meet up with my soul. A week ago I could not quell the desire any longer and I took off to Harriman State Park. I’ve had three years of exercise, an armband fitted specific to my needs and a much smaller backpack and tripod has been purchased. I packed up my Hasselblad with one lens only and promised myself that if I felt anything funky in my arm I would turn back.
The hike was nothing compared to what I’ve done in the past but I did go deep into the woods. Somewhere near a stream that gurgled ever so quietly with leaves applauding overhead I found that meditative state and met up with my true self. I didn’t cry as I expected to. Instead, I reveled in the joy that washed over me and promised myself to keep working on my strength. I will never be as I once was but I can do more than what I am doing today. I need to make this a habit.