“Do You Want To Go On An Adventure?”
That’s what my grandfather would ask me and my brother when we were kids in the 1970’s. By that point in their lives my grandparents had moved away from the middle of the gritty river city to the outskirts of Memphis, Tennessee. My brother and I, who felt like we had been transported to the edge of civilization, jumped in excitement every time we were asked this question. Past the end of the street were rolling hills of cattle pasture divided up by scattered patches of unfelled trees. The fields doubled as a major utility corridor. Our ‘adventure’ was simply a walk through those farmlands, where we might encounter some exotic wildlife unheard of in the city, like a cow.
I blame my grandfather, in part, for infecting me with the travel bug. Maybe his grandfather had done the same with him, passing along stories from when he had worked on a riverboat with one of America’s most famous adventurers, Mark Twain. Whatever the origin, I have since childhood always wanted to know what was a little farther down the tracks, or what sights might lie beyond the next hill.
When I was 17 my dad took me to climb Mt. Rainier. I’d only been in snow a few times in my entire life, and never more than two feet. Not only was it was the first mountain I ever climbed, it was the first time i’d been out of the Southeast. The travel bug was reawakened.
At 19 I saw a flier on a bulletin board in college for jobs in Glacier National Park. I’d never heard of such a place but I assumed it was in Alaska. I mailed in the application. When I was hired it turned out I was supposed to go to Montana, not Alaska. That didn’t make much difference to me. Both places sounded equally far away to a teenager in Alabama, before the internet (or cell phones) existed. In Glacier I met other people like me, who had the travel bug, who were adventurous and who were not afraid to move somewhere as a stranger knowing nobody. We had great times. The experience changed all of us for life and we are still friends more than 25 years later.
Trying to explain to my hometown friends and family what I was doing in the mountains of northern Montana was no easy task. They had absolutely no idea how to relate to what I was experiencing. I convinced some of them to come with me, but for the others, instead of phone calls I began to write frequent letters coupled with pictures. My mom had given me a cheap K-mart camera shaped like an ice cream sandwich and I used it frequently, even though I barely had enough money to afford film, had no car, and the camera store was a two hour drive away.
My pictures were terrible. The scenery was unforgettable.
That was the question I kept asking myself when I was disappointed every single time I excitedly opened the envelope, bursting with the strangely pleasant chemical aroma of freshly developed photos.
There were many reasons.
I’ve been taking photos ever since. Fortunately i’m better now at visual communication than I was then. But the question remains for every photographer, no matter how experienced they are.
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