HUNTING FOR BEAUTY
I grew up hunting. I mean real hunting, with a gun.
Hunting was deeply engrained in family and regional culture where I roamed wild in the foothills of Pennsylvania's Appalachian Mountains, right out the back door. I mostly hunted with my beloved grandfather, who lived next door, and with my older brother before he left home after high school, and sometimes with my dad on a rare Saturday when he didn't need to work. We went out early in the morning, often continuing through lunchtime, and then again late in the day, lingering until dusk.
Most of my friends today don't get this, but hunting was fun. And it was way more than that. A mission of putting meat on the table, the physical challenges of terrain and weather, the strategic choices based on knowledge of my prey (mostly rabbits), and the excitement of the chase all combined together into an enthralling, compelling package for a twelve year old in 1960.
I don't hunt any more. In fact, I haven't since I went to college. I've put hunting way behind me, though the excitement, the anticipation, and the catch are all rewards that I remember fondly.
Now I get all that by hunting for beauty. Seeing it is enough, but with a camera in hand, I draw on the skills, habits, and emotions of my youth.
Searching for the most beautiful scenes I can find in the natural world, I explore early and late in the day when the light is low and warm with deep shadows and rich colors. I need to know my geography and landscapes; not so much the habits of wild animals any more (though there is some of that, too), but the nature of a river's flow, the patterns of forest growth, the interplay of geography and biology. I need to be attuned to the weather and how it might change, bringing a dramatic sky, a frosting of snow, or exquisite rays of light penetrating the trees while morning mist clears. I'm challenged physically to get where I need to go. That might mean a short stroll from the car, or a strenuous backcountry ski trip, a week-long river expedition, or a heart-pounding, pre-dawn race to a ridgetop to catch the first rays of sunrise. Altogether, it's a lot like hunting used to be. Only the prey, and the prize, are better.
Hunting for beauty leads me to total engagement that, in the end, rewards me with a memorable view of the world and a snapshot I can cherish forever.
For me, photos are a valued reminder of our physical and emotional bond to mother earth. The ultimate satisfaction comes during that magic moment when the eye rests on the scene and the joy of its elegance wells up within, telling me that the hunt has been good, that life has been precious, and that in the beauty that remains there is hope for the rest of the world.