To Slow the Sinking

by Kathleen Deep


Preface

I close my eyes and remain still. I taste the air on my tongue and breathe in the daylight. The faint noise of bird sounds and rustling leaves echoes around me. I can feel the breeze pushing against my side, while strands of hair graze my face from cheek to nose. I ignore the itch and remain stationary.

My eyes are still closed.

I feel the weight of my camera in my hand as I holster it against my waist. I shuffle my feet to correct my balance, agitating the knee high water I stand in. The sound of the rippled water quickly settles while the feeling of pressure against my legs returns. I open my eyes to enjoy the view from the center of the marsh.

Looking down through the viewing glass of my camera I concentrate my gaze to the two by two inch frame of the viewfinder, the terrain to which I stand in and every object within it condensing into a single frame. When slowing my seeing, I become more aware of my behaviors while wading and walking alone in these wetlands. Whether I am in the woods or wading through water, I choose to stabilize my camera utilizing the surrounding trees, rocks and ground. In some scenarios my body becomes the tripod, and I will lean, hold or sit in my surroundings to secure the camera; making the experience an interactive performance.

I wonder what my relationship is to these places, and where my comfort in silence and solitude derives from. There is a sense of an unknown to these places that motivates me to explore further. The more I explore and photograph my surroundings the more I develop an understanding of them. When I understand them the closer I feel to becoming part of them. It is time to go. The warm glow on the horizon signals the setting of the sun, and I know I must navigate my way out before dark. I tread carefully raising each foot slowly, planting every step with a heavy heal before raising the other. Quickly, I reached the thicket where I entered the marsh. I pass through feeling the twigs pinch my ears, and drops from the morning rain kiss my cheeks.

After my waders have been hung, the dirt on my boots wiped clean, my body checked for ticks and in clean clothes, my practice extends to writing about my wanderings in a journal. Writing has become a powerful tool in understanding how I digest what I see and experience. Here, I will share with you the writings from my journal.

Walk with me.

I
“The beautiful is always strange” -Baudelaire

There is a magnificent pool of bubbling soupy muck at my feet. A lovely vernal pool to be more specific, whose swirls of colors and algae demand a closer look. I lean in mesmerized, gazing at the leaves and brush swallowed within the dirty broth. Around the perimeter of the pool lie masses of salamander and frog eggs. Squatting down to get closer I notice they are dark green and creamy glossy white sacks of gelatinous mucus-like snot, beautifully speckled with black pearls. I am interested how these delicate forms are carefully anchored to the sticks that rest just above the water, allowing the mass to hang submerged. Leaning in even closer my nose fills with a musty odor, wondering if the gooey parcels at my feet were the culprit to causing the stench. Unable to contain my curiosity I gently move some leaf cover and am rewarded with the revelation of a different group of eggs. This cluster was a thin layer of clear to pale green distinct beads, nestled together beneath the surface of the water. Emerging from beneath them swam a few tiny tadpoles; their tales pulsing vigorously and their movements quick and staggered. For a few short moments I watched them with a diligent stare, before delicately replacing the leaf cover and departing.

There is a different kind of energy here, perhaps fueled by my discovery of the vernal pool. I am eager to venture deeper into the woods and focus my gaze to the ground. This pool extends at least another twenty feet before the other end disappears into the leaves. The reflections mirror the life above with dream- like movements; the ripples from my walk morph dark shadows and colors into engaging moving pictures at my feet. I find a place to sit and take in the smell of the vernal pool and soggy leaves, the sounds of the birds above my head, and the feeling that nobody knows where I am.

II
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough” -Robert Capa

When spring begins to come in full bloom and the foliage is at its greenest hue, the fields of fern and brush transform again into lovely picturesque visions. What a delightful sight to see the crisscross jumble of the fern blades and the vibrant flowery shrubs that grow between them. The bushes are topped with new leaves, and the surrounding trees are full enough to give shade. Navigating through, my eyes devour every glimpse of the overgrowth that surrounds me. Up ahead, shapes of the glistening pond in the distance begin to appear from behind the grasses. The bright overhead sun creates a blinding reflection masking any movement or colors in the water, disguising any clues that may prepare me for what I may see when I reach the ponds edge. After finding my way through I am rewarded with an extraordinary sight. Stretching from edge to edge there are hundreds of lily pads lying across the water. Each pad exists in its space perfectly next to its neighbor, without exposing a glimpse of the water beneath them. Floating so tightly together their near pattern like formation is barely interrupted by the dead tree trunks that emerge from below. Like a polka dot, white lily flowers scatter across the scene; their creamy yellow centers only visible up close. In the distance their petals appear as a wisp of color, blending into the landscape as my eyes lose focus. Looking to the left and right, this view is far and wide.

But there are more pleasant things to experience here. There are the sounds of the dragonflies buzzing and the echo of the ducks and heron in the distance. There is a guttural call close by that startles me to turn around. But there is another magnificent sound I can only describe as a hand slapping a knee. Over and over, near and far, the sound echoes like a rhythmic beat. It is the sound of dozens of frogs launching from the pads into the water. I feel like I have witnessed the scene at its liveliest. I feel content where I stand and relaxed in the moment, knowing it is only this place staring back at me.

III
“Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer it has chosen” -Minor White

The opening of the trail quickly disappears into the trees, and I am feeling excited to follow my feet for a while. I travel against the flow of the river, where the flat forest spaces turn into pine covered hills. Soon the terrain becomes challenging rock faces that require caution to move across. I am conscious of their placement and the size of the gaps between them. I study their shapes and the dancing shadows cast from the sun. From my perch atop the rocks I observe the sunken branches, the leaves falling into the river and the fish that surface to peck at them. Where the water is shallow, subtle indications of the red orange sand appears through; their colors dissipate into the darkness where the river runs deeper. Making my way across, I re-enter the forest and continue my walk.

The air smells different the deeper I walk into the woods. The scent of soggy leaves and dirt fills my nose, blended with the smell of pine needles and the bug spray on my skin. It doesn’t sound like much of a wonderland, but I don’t miss the sweet smell of fresh air and the river at the moment. I feel alive in the freedom and satisfied with the adventure. I am learning that it is not always about achieving the next photograph, but about the feeling of being here, living and breathing in this place.

 


Visit Kathleen’s website to see her photographsTo Slow the Sinking is available as a PDF file here..