Nature & the Nature of Hope

Photography, Thoughts and Essays

Can you imagine a desert as a place of life? The work of photographer Guy Tal captures the surprising vibrancy of Utah’s badlands. His landscapes are visions of desert wonders. He has lived and worked in the Utah wilderness for over two decades, and his identity is interlaced with the environment he loves. In his artist statement, he uses religious terms such as “temple” and “sanctuary” to describe his relationship with the land. Perhaps he has formed a subconscious spirituality based on the environment that has shaped him. And this worldview seems to have led to a place of dark expectation.

Tal expresses his lack of hope for the wilderness’ future in a recent blog post. His essay is a beautiful, but sobering read. In it, Tal laments the changes reshaping Utah’s desert. Once reliable creeks are drying up; plant life is struggling, and animals are perishing. Society is divorced from nature, and humanity is too selfish to care. What gives meaning to him is dying. Thus, Tal embraces fate. He tries to accept the degradation of the land he knows so well. He concludes all he can do is live fully today while taking solace in the fact that he tried. He expects that future generations will only know a shadow of the wilderness that has inspired his art and given his life meaning.

I am a landscape photographer, and Tal’s essay has me pondering my relationship to the land I love. Western Montana is also changing. Population growth is exploding, and not all new arrivals care about conserving Montana’s environment. More foot traffic means quicker erosion of Montana’s trail systems. A greater number of people litter or carelessly harm wild places (e.g., using trees for target practice).

Yet, to me, nature has always been a mirror of Someone greater. I believe there will be a time when God renews and restores creation.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Romans 8:18-22

Even if the mountains crumble and the lakes dry up, I can walk in hope.

Does this mean I don’t care about conserving the wilderness I call home here and now? Not at all. Rather, my hope strengthens my love for God’s natural world and spurs me to action.

Do you have hope? If so, what is the source of your hope? I would love to hear your story if you care to share.

Bannack: The Living Ghost Town

Bannack, Montana

Something yellow and timeless glittered in Grasshopper Creek. The discovery put fire in miners’ hearts, and Montana’s first gold rush began in 1862. Bannack burst to life and peaked at 5,000 people.

History

Gold fever and a population explosion created an ideal environment for crime. Bannack was a frontier town, and there was no established judicial system. Road agents (bandits) flourished. In fact, Bannack’s sheriff, Henry Plummer, was said to secretly lead a gang. Residents formed vigilante groups. The vigilantes of Bannack crossed into infamy when they hanged Henry Plummer. Vigilantes regularly hung their victims without the benefit of a trial.

Unlike most boom towns, Bannack survived for a century. The town went through repeated booms and busts. Improved mining technology, like dredging, was used to wrest more gold from Grasshopper Creek. As the town matured, its lawless character faded. More families made their homes in Bannack, and a church and a brick courthouse (later turned into a hotel) were built.

Yet dreams of gold died in the dust. Bannack declined after World War II, and became a ghost town. Several former residents and various groups concerned with preserving history worked to save Bannack. Eventually, Montana turned the site into a state park.

Bannack State Park: Living History

Today, Bannack is a living ghost town. Homes and businesses from all periods of Bannack’s history are well-preserved. To step into Bannack’s houses is to step into the inner worlds of the people who once lived there. Bannack is a portal back into time. Places I had learned about in history classes came to life as I explored the town.

Landscape

Bannack is located in a rain shadow – the land is essentially a desert. The lush banks of Grasshopper Creek offer the only reprieve from sagebrush wilderness. The spirit of the Old West is alive and well in this landscape.

I love the photos I took during my Bannack trip, but nothing compares to experiencing the sights yourself. If you find yourself in Big Sky Country – and you have a streak of history buff in you – make sure visit Bannack!

References

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Early in June I went camping with friends in Grand Teton National Park. We hiked past Jenny Lake and up to Hidden Falls (pictures below). We also had the chance to drive through Yellowstone, where we stopped by Lower Falls in Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. I had the pleasure of photographing these beautiful landscapes between rainstorms. From lupines to sunflowers, the wild flowers are in bloom. The forest is unusually verdant thanks to ample rainfall.

We left Yellowstone on Sunday night, June 12th, a few hours before the historic floods that closed the park. I am awed and grateful that God delivered us from what would have been a disastrous situation.

Interview with the Artist

Photography

I had my first interview about my photography thanks to Mark with Naturalist Weekly – see it below! Thanks Mark for the opportunity! It was a pleasure working with you!

Naturalist Weekly

Several years ago, I was taking a morning hike up Spruce Peak in Stowe, Vermont. When I reached the summit of the mountain, I turned around to admire my accomplishment. What I noticed when I looked back towards town was how the clouds had settled into the valley covering everything with a softness that only nature can provide. There was something in that moment that provided me with a sense of peace and wonder. It was something that, if I was a photographer, I probably would have wanted to capture.

However, I am not a photographer. Unless you count my dog photos. But as much fun as these are for me, these photographs don’t necessarily capture the same sense of awe and wonder like a great vista or an expansive landscape. That is probably why I was drawn towards the work of Tressa Mancini

Tressa Mancini is a photographer from…

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