Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. 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 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.

Backroads

Backroads
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Friday, November 9, 2012

The TGP - Part II - The Prairie's Song

A soft voice seemed to rise from the fragrant prairie carried across the sea of grass that pitched and danced on the Oklahoma wind...a voice that cast its song for all to hear, "Listen...as I speak of times past..." it whispered..."Come..and see...share my story..."

 I stood atop a grassy knoll a few hundred yards from the gravel road that undulates through the preserve. It was late May 1996, and the oppressive Oklahoma summer heat had not yet arrived.  Even so, it was warm enough. In all directions from that vantage point all I could see were fields of grass ranging across the southern edge of the Flint Hills Region...only a scattering of trees...not a man made object. A few hundred bison were meandering across the flanks of an ajacent hill a few hundred yards away...their guttural bellows keeping time with the prairie's song.

For a moment it was as though time had rolled in reverse and I had been transported to another place in another world...a time before even my ancestors first moved to Indian Territory..a time when bison roamed free and wild by the millions and the tallgrass prairie stretched unbroken from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.


Below me, acres of pale purple coneflowers sprouted out of the earth adding their color and fragrance to the warm earth-scented aroma that presented its greeting to travelers crossing its boundaries.  To the north a field of blackeyed susans exploded in a menagerie of yellow that contrasted with the prevalent green shades.  Powder like summer clouds drifted overhead in a cobalt blue sky casting shadows that created a broken atmosphere that helped cool the landscape. Prairie insects swarmed here and about...landing on long stems of tall grasses that swayed in the breeze...then off again to another. Birds...the dickcissel, a scissortail, meadow larks, a buzzard or two...added their movement and flight to the choreography of the prairie song.


For a stretched moment I rested on the edge time atop that grassy knoll and allowed the prairie song to fill my over-stressed senses with its soothing flavor. The stiff breeze seemed to gather around me and lift off my shoulders a heaviness that pressed against my life. I felt at home. I felt at peace.

My first encounter with the tallgrass prairie preserve was by far the one that carried the most impact. Growing up in Oklahoma, my appreciation of the prairie was tempered by an attitude that it was simply a big field full of weeds. No longer would that attitude prevail. Never again would my sight be blinded by inexcusable ignorance about the significance of what the prairie has to offer.

As I sat on that isolated knoll and watched as one of those legendary prairie sunsets developed, I knew that I surely must return again...someday...to capture photographically the emotions and feelings this single day of discovery afforded. Even though I did return several times after that, my first true photographic attempt was to wait the better part of a decade before it materialized, but since then, I've made numerous trips to and hiked deep across this landscape searching for those elusive moment that define what I discovered and experienced on that first day.


I have hiked across parts of the Rocky Mountains, a small portion of the Appalachian Trail, forded freezing trout streams, walked along ancient and rustic beaches, explored the rolling hills of the Ozarks, and canoed rivers still wild and free. I have photographed the amazing skies of Kentucky and fell witness to parts of creation only observed up close. To those endeavors, they all pale in comparison to the revelation discovered while sitting atop that grassy knoll in the heart of Oklahoma's tallgrass prairie. I suppose the reason why is because it was so unexpected. I was caught off guard by the power of the prairie song...a song that still calls to me each day.  It is a song that speaks of times past and the discouraging loss of a once magnificent landscape. It is a song that to all that hear it, not all...listen.

Keith

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