Why are fails a must? Why should we embrace the moments that don’t work out like we hoped or planned?
This past weekend I traveled to Chicago for their Open House Chicago event. Armed with my itinerary, maps, and a backpack full of healthy snacks, I ventured into the city like it was my first visit. 8 hours later, I was back on the train, exhausted, sore and to be honest a little defeated.
Fast forward two days. The weekend is over and I’m packed up and heading home feeling, well, just a little sorry for myself and struggling to understand exactly what went wrong. In all fairness, I had a great weekend. I got to wander the streets of Chicago and discovered wonderful little suburbs with amazing parks and shops, all on my own. (This introverts happy place.) What was missing was the hundreds of photos I had anticipated collecting along the way. Oh, I took pictures, lots of them, but I didn’t “make” anything. Downloading my camera each evening I found myself promptly deleting a majority of what amounted to snap shots at best and just bad photography at worst.
I headed west towards home and tried to console myself with the idea that while photographically speaking the weekend was a bust, I did get some much needed time to myself and had really enjoyed the city and all it’s fascinating character.
Having lived outside of Chicago (many, many years ago), I was familiar with it’s Federal Preserve areas in Cook County. Forest, lagoons, prairies, etc. After stopping for a cup of coffee near Schaumburg I decided on my route home and began what would turn into an 8 hour drive. Still completely frustrated with myself I made an unplanned pitstop at Poplar Creek Equestrian Trail. At first glance it wasn’t anything special. A forest area with a few interesting trees and a couple worn down trails running directly through the middle of the preserve. Not know exactly why, I changed into my rain boots, grabbed my camera and tripod and headed out on the lowest lying trail. Several steps in I realized that I wasn’t really even looking around me. Instead I was caught up in the negative gremlins running amuck in my head. I was upset and near tears because I am still learning and am not always able to get the shots that I want and patience with myself, is not one of my virtues. For a few moments I stared at my camera and contemplated just getting in the car, scrapping my planned route and just jumping onto I-80 and getting home as fast as possible. I was tired and missed my family anyway. It was that moment that I finally looked up and took in my surroundings.
It had rained that morning and the sky was full of rolling and brewing clouds. It was cool but not cold. It was perfect, actually. The tree line directly in front of me wasn’t exactly bursting with color but the gray skies made the best of it. I was too low in the field to get a good shot of the tree line so I found a trail that took me up just a bit higher and gave a vantage point. Along the path I came across a small hill about two feet high and maybe three feet wide, just wide enough for my tripod and narrow enough that I had to watch my footing or I would slide down or knock my camera over. After taking a few test shots I stopped thinking and just let myself relax. The photos still were not perfect, there was nothing terribly exciting about the scene in front of me except that I felt utterly and completely at home in it.
I truly enjoy exploring downtown Chicago but it does not compel me to lift my camera to my eye and push the shutter button. It draws me in with it’s fascinating architecture and history. The energy is contagious and the crowds of diversity that ebb and flow around me remind me of what an amazing world this is. At the same time, it’s hard edges, honking horns and constant movement make me feel slightly on edge and unable to focus. It inspires me but it leaves me tired and searching for something a little less…demanding.
Standing on that little hill in the middle of a prairie preserve, there were no thoughts about the city, the people, the buildings…or anything really. I was right there, in that moment, feeling of the cool, damp air and witnessing the awesome beauty of the rolling clouds and listening to the sound as the breeze rushed over the trees and into the hill beyond. I have often dreamed of the opportunity to travel to some amazing location like New Zealand and what it would be like to photograph such brilliant landscape but the truth is, it doesn’t matter if it’s there or my back yard. We live in a wonderous world and beauty surrounds us at every turn. My desire is to seek it out and embrace it and share it. I admire those who find it thrilling to photograph architecture and I will continue to enjoy their work but I will never be one of those people. Chicago taught me that.