photo credit: Stephen Matera
Presence. Awareness. About 12 years ago, when my son, in utero, died at 33 1/2 weeks, I decided my life had been underwhelming. When faced with this devastating grief, I decided I was done “just getting by” and faced into what I had around me that I hadn’t been enjoying, noticing or simply addressing. “Facing into” included addressing problems in my marriage, embracing my longing to get into “real” nature, confronting my personal challenges of living in the LA urban sprawl when I loved country living, and integrating the inner athlete who had been put on the back burner during my doctoral studies. More recently, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this past five years has been one of saying good-bye to several friends as cancer took over their body and something less mentioned and much less significant, was rehabbing a shoulder injury that hurt for about a year and a half and kept me from my summer rock climbing expedition in the Casades. What all these realities have propelled me to do, is ask myself, “What’s around me that I need to grab hold of?”
This year, as I began my 48th year on this earth, the answer to this question came easyily – A photography and canyoneering trip in Utah (a former yearly spring break destination -pre-kids) with a National Geographic photographer, Stephen Matera, whose work I’ve admired a several years now – especially since he sometimes shoots in my hometown. Given that my shoulder was rehabbed and I had stayed in shape enough to manage canyoneering, I decided to jump in (or in canyoneering terms, down climb) into the adventure.
The 12 hour road trip was completely worth it. Utah’s rock formations are unique, simply magnificent. My appetite for rocks has always been insatiable. I used to have my own rock tumbler, which polished rocks collected from hikes. Everywhere I go, I still collect rocks (unless it’s forbidden) and have a lovely collection in a planter. For this trip, as I drove, each area brought with it a unique geological treasure so the visual feast kept me driving, ignoring the stiffness in my joints. (The sun went down while I was in Capital Reef, a beautiful area.)
The above picture – illustrates something I learned about my photography – I tend to crop things too much – as Steve reminded me, “give the composition some space to breathe.” Nonetheless, in this photo, I enjoy the contrast of the two trees, each with different green, along with the rock in the background.
Photo below – my view while at base camp.As I’ve mentioned above, I love Utah for all the different rock formations – from the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Capital Reef – this unexplored area of Dirty Devil/ Robber’s Roost didn’t disappoint.
We developed our canyoneering expertise as we went. Steve is executing a “chimney” move to traverse the canyon. This, along with “stemming” were two techniques we used all day long as there was water in the canyon when we were there, making it tough (until about 1/4 of the way in when all of us but our guide were wet and then we didn’t care if we walked through the water)
I’m executing a “bridge” move. This is fairly upright compared to what we have waiting for us up ahead.
The next three pictures were taken by Stephen Matera — you can see the water sitting at the bottom…it ranged from ankle deep to about 5.5 feet deep (I swam through that section.)
Even though I was exhausted after a grueling canyoneering day, shooting the stars at midnight was a definite highlight.
Prior to this trip, I felt much more comfortable getting up close and personal with macro shots, like the ones below, than shooting landscape, which I never felt quite satisfied with. I’m excited to claim landscape has become a new favorite and though I like macro shots, I feel more confident with my landscape composition, which encourages me to attempt the larger scenes. In the past, I’d have deemed them much more uninteresting in print than in person – so the “why bother” mentality would win.
Even though I was exhausted, this last picture (below) gives testimony to my commitment to not losing a Utah sunset by driving through it. Unfortunately, I drove into rain clouds so this is a partially sunny/ cloudy sunset. But I wanted to at least do due diligence of applying what I’d learned with decent lighting, so I stopped to shoot Chimney rock. (Still, a non-cloudy sunset would have made the rock light up brilliantly.)
The trip was a wonderful culmination of learning, experiencing and challenging on so many layers. It felt good to be alive. It felt stimulating to learn. Conversely, it felt humbling to learn. It felt wild to be trying something new. It felt like home to be out in nature and quiet. I also felt expectant for beauty in obvious and subtle places rather than having my “urban dull” on. I loved meeting new people and hearing their story. I felt refreshed while exhausted.
Unfortunately, my adventure didn’t end with me getting good rest to make up for all lost sleep during the workshop (and the pictures below aren’t nearly as pretty). Instead, I was one of those rare people who picked up an infection in the canyon’s water (at least according to healthline website scrapes gotten in fresh water like what was left by the rain, can cause this type of infection). I rushed to the ER to make sure the infection didn’t spread to my entire lymphatic system (my official diagnosis was Lymphganitis) after several hours of heating the area brought the infection to the surface. (A longtime family friend, who is a nurse, gave me this suggestion and I took her recommendation seriously to the point that I brought a hot rice compress to my daughter’s concert that night so I could put heat on it long enough to expose any infection within my system.) My concern and thus action to take heating the area seriously paid off. The first picture shows Monday, then Tuesday at 1 pm and the third picture shows what showed up at 10 pm.
You might say I was a bit freaked out when I saw this red streak going down my arm but then when you add the on-call nurse saying, “You need to get to the hospital and be seen within an hour.” I became VERY freaked out, in which case my coping strategy is to be witty at every opportunity and not have a mental breakdown. Needless to say, the ER doctor informed me I had medically high blood pressure and, “was I treating it?” for which I answered, “You’d have high blood pressure too if you had this red streak running down your arm.” We each laughed but nonetheless, he didn’t fully believe me as he rechecked my blood pressure before I was discharged.
Overall, I was grateful for my mom who invited me to take a first aid class with her when I was in fifth grade. I may have been one of two children in the adult-centered class but it taught me three things that have stuck with me 1) I don’t know what I don’t know – so ask. 2) Early intervention is ALWAYS preferred to later. Therefore see #1. 3) Red streaks running down your arm are BAD. Therefore see #1. As well, my mom was the one who suggested I talk with Eunice, our family friend who is a nurse, and it was her who told me to draw any infection out and to get help immediately if it worsened. So the lessons I learned from this experience are 1) a wipe is not the same as washing a scrape with hot soap and water 2) wash all scrapes immediately (not 24 hours later at the hotel) after coming in contact with stagnant water 3) everyone needs a nurse as a friend ;-).
In the end, this trip felt like a culmination of leaning into my love of adventure and desire to live fully as well as leaning into the frailty of life – never knowing when something serious could invade my body and change my healthy status. All in all, the first quarter of my 48th year has started with gusto! Grateful.