There are moments that tilt life, even if we don’t know it at the time. Not the big moments, when our paths take sudden and dramatic turns, like locking eyes with the stranger who will become a great love, or taking your child in your arms for the first time. The quiet ones. Moments that say, from now on, your path will change. It may not be a dramatic shift, just a tilt, but it may make all the difference. The photos accompanying this post are from one such tilt.
One tilt can lead to another, even eleven years later. When my dog, Splash, came into my life in 2001, she created a tilt, for the simple reason that she has never understood cars, and I couldn’t let her off leash anywhere a car was conceivable. I started taking her on trails, mostly through the woods of Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island, and so started an entirely unexpected chapter of my life. The most important aspect of that chapter, for this post, is that I began taking my camera with me everywhere we went.
I wasn’t new to photography, but up until then it had been about things — my son, trips taken, gardens I designed, flowers I wanted clients to see. In the woods it became aimless. As my eyes lit on something that touched me, I took a picture of it.
This produced a bunch of very uninteresting photos. It took a while to convince me that the camera and I see the world differently. My eyes can pick out the truncated branches and twisting trunk of the dead tree that looks like a rough-hewn angel. The camera records every branch and trunk in the neighborhood, so the fascinating dead tree is barely evident. One spring I was convinced that I could convey the castle-like qualities of aging stumps, with their upper edges worn into crenellations and their ramparts of moss. The camera, lacking my imagination, recorded a bunch of old stumps.
I kept going. There were delicate wild azaleas and cascades of mountain laurel in the spring, sweet-scented clethra in early summer, gold grasses and red sumac in the fall, light glimmering on the water, tracery of branches in the winter. It was part of the meditation and the fun of being in the woods season after season. The camera and I began to come to grips with each other’s strengths and limitations.
When we left on our journey in 2011, I had been making mandalas for a few years, and was still working on them as we traveled. The easiest art to practice on the road, however, was photography, since it involved no supplies, no setting out or cleaning up. I could just grab my camera and go, and it went everywhere with me, recording our adventures.
That didn’t change dramatically in the month of May, 2012, but it tilted. I came to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for a month off. George had had complicated surgery in February. In April we’d made a trip to the east coast to see friends and family, and to finalize the sale of his boat. He stayed in the east to do that, and I came to Coeur d’Alene. It wasn’t a happy time. We were both exhausted and out of kilter. My son, Luke, the main draw in this neighborhood, was going through his own challenges. I spent an unusual amount of time, for me, just sitting and watching the Spokane River go by.
But something wonderful was happening on Tubbs Hill, a promontory into Lake Couer d’Alene, a wild place, full of trails, right in the middle of town. It was a banner year for wildflowers. Everything was blooming in full force. Once I saw this, off I went, day after day, morning or evening, sometimes both, taking pictures of the whole show, starting with a patch of shooting stars, out on a small ledge over the lake, their vivid pink glowing in the late afternoon sunlight.
I left the trail and got down on the ground with them, taking picture after picture, day after day, as they bloomed, faded, and went to seed. Lying in the golden sunlight, in the cool May evenings, with Splash settled near my feet, was heaven, and as flower succeeded blooming flower, a heaven that lasted for two months.
One day, a few weeks into the season, I was on the ground, taking pictures, just off a little used path. After a while I sat up, and looked up. I’d forgotten where I was, and everything rushed into my heart at once — the cool, dense earth I was sitting on, the trees soaring above me, the sun showering through the branches like ethereal gold coins, the lake glinting off to my right, the green breath of plants surrounding me, the delicate beauty of the wildflowers, my passion for them.
Let the heart love what it loves, says my favorite sutra. Life tilted, and the tilt has made all the difference.