Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics of photography to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

F-4 Phantom

F-4 Phantom
F-4 Phantom

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tallgrass Prairie Part III - Listening to the Song

By mid-afternoon the day was beginning to heat up, but it still was not as oppressively hot as it can be in Oklahoma.  Those days were yet to arrive in another few weeks. On this late spring day, the temperature pushed toward the mid to upper 80’s but the sun was tempered somewhat by a layer of high thin clouds. Another two hundred yards in front of me advanced a rocky arroyo that swung in an arching loop that covered a half mile or more in length and maybe another two hundred yards wide at its widest. Across its flanks acres of prairie flowers bloomed adding splashes of red, blue, white, and yellow that blended with the prevailing greenness of the tall grasses.  It was not yet peak season for the grass and the fields and rolling hills were yet to achieve their maximum effort of growth. Underfoot, the rocky flint like chert  crunched with each step…at times catching the side of my boot twisting the foot to one side. At the base of the arroyo a small amount of water trickled and pooled in some of the slower and larger basins…mostly it was dry. I wiped some of the perspiration from my brow and walked another fifty yards to the southern edge of the draw where a set of cedar trees were growing. Their shade offered a fresh respite from the warmth of the afternoon and the constant Oklahoma prairie wind provided some cooling relief.

I had discovered this arroyo a year or two before and now it had become one of my must see hiking places when I am on site. For the most part, I simply sat in that small patch of cedar tree shade and simply listened to the sounds of the prairie. Keeping time with the wind prairie birds cast their chorus and insects added their fluttering drum. The grass swayed and the cedar trees hummed with each beat of the breeze. The spontaneous rhythm of the prairie song continued unabated with a new chorus…new rhythm…new words with each passing moment. With my camera pack propped behind me, I leaned back and closed my eyes...still weary from the early rise that morning…and the prairie song fill my soul.

Exploring the tallgrass prairie requires more than simply driving through and stopping at a scenic overlook. It requires a willingness to step into it…experience it up close…to feel it underfoot…to hear its song….to listen to its words. When allowed to speak to you such as this… you then begin to see what the prairie has to offer photographically.  For now it becomes less of a visual capture…and more of a spiritual understanding that leads to the capturing of its flavor, strength, serenity, and power. It’s less about what to look for and more about listening to what it says to you…for it will reveal itself to you and each revelation is different for each person.  The idea then becomes not to simply photograph a few visual reference points…but to capture your revelation in such a way that others who see your work understand why it was important for you. What’s important is not what you capture…but how you capture it.

I spent most of the afternoon exploring that arroyo until the sun began to lower toward the horizon. I stopped for a while and watched it settle before making the hike out before darkness settled in completely. In hiking the prairie this way, I’ve been able to discover intimate locations that only the wild bison and prairie birds know about. I think of parts of it as my person place…a place where I can release the stresses of life and discover a renewed mind…a place where what once was…still is.

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