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

Benefits of Photography for Mental Health

Photography Tips

This post will emphasize depression, as this is the mental health struggle I have experience with.

Redirected Focus

Depression is the great isolator – it strains or diminishes the sufferer’s relationship with others and one’s self. It strangles hope, and decimates one’s ability to make goals and plans for the future. Depression is an inward-focused disorder – a sufferer is overwhelmed with emotional pain and retreats deeper and deeper into his/herself. The colors of life fade, and the heart grows dull and weak.

Enter photography, an art that requires one to focus on the outside world – to search out and find pleasant or interesting subjects to photograph. This is a beautiful and healthy thing.

In the midst of a photography shoot, one can forget the pain for a while, and focus on the art of photography. One gets wrapped up in the process, and sometimes a photoshoot becomes one of the few escapes from persistent depression.

Improved Self-Worth

Photography – like all worthwhile arts – requires practice. It takes time and several duds to get results worth posting. Yet, as a photographer makes that upward climb, a sense of pride and assurance emerges.

Photography has the benefit of the improvement being obvious as one studies one’s photo journey over time. Seeing the improvement enhances one’s sense of self-worth and competence. Every bit of self-esteem is valuable to a sufferer of depression.

Physical Exercise

It is common knowledge that exercise can help ease depression. Yet summoning the will to just move can be too much.

Photography requires one to move – it can motivate the depressed and otherwise lethargic soul to get up and go. The call of adventure – and the chance to capture as yet unseen beauty – can be just the push one needs.

Connecting with God

Divinely designed beauty is everywhere (particularly in Montana!). In nature, free of the distractions and pollution of the urban atmosphere, God’s presence is magnified. Surrounded by the the sweet serenity of nature, I can hear God most clearly. I recharge and connect to my source of Strength, and I am empowered to make it through tomorrow.

Conclusion

Exercise, adventure, and connecting to Creator God combined makes photography an excellent coping mechanism for anyone who loves it. So get out there and shoot, and just maybe, photography will be the coping strategy you need.

Nature Photography: Finding Picturesque Locations

Photography Tips

There’s nothing like a stunning landscape to liven up a room, or to inspire an artist’s heart. How much more thrilling when you, with your own camera, capture a beautiful scene yourself!

Before you can start shooting landscapes, you need to find ideal locations.

Go Beyond the Highways

It’s no secret: the best way to see America’s grand landscapes is by road trip. This also means sites near the highways are the most photographed.

Go deeper for more unique photographs!

  • Ranch access exits lead to less-traveled roads through gorgeous country.
  • Fishing access sites often connect to trail systems with beautiful river views.  
  • Dirt roads penetrate deep into less-trafficked areas.

State and Regional Parks

Nature is most prominently on show in national parks (do I need to mention Yellowstone?), yet state or regional parks hold secret gems.

Some of my best landscapes (LINK) are from Headwaters State Park in Montana, and the Wind River Canyon in Wyoming.

Love Hiking & Camping

The deeper you go, the more pristine the wilderness. Accessing remote sites requires an investment of time and effort. This means lots of hiking, lots of camping – you will be miserable unless you genuinely enjoy both activities.

A good trail book – by a local author – will be your best friend, and help you get started if you are new to outdoor living.

Consider Lighting

Consider the time of day you will be shooting. Try for the early morning or around twilight – both times of day that have dramatic lighting for beautiful results.

There may also be fewer people on the trails. Shooting landscapes is easier when there are not a hundred hikers passing through.

Relocate

If nature photography is your driving passion, and you have the means and opportunity to do so, consider relocating.

The reality is some areas have more wilderness locations (and thus landscape opportunities) than others. A few days or weeks is often not enough time to take full advantage of a wilderness area.

Staying Safe

  • Keep your phone charged (buy a car charger if needed).
  • Fill up the gas tank before you leave.
  • Go with a friend, or at least your dog, if you have one. Both can be deterrents to dangerous animal life (four or two-legged).
  • Bring extra water, food, and bear spray (if needed).
  • Avoid roads too rough for your vehicle (unless you have a vehicle made for rougher terrain).
  • Avoid trespassing. Not only is trespassing illegal and inconsiderate, but many property owners have dogs and/or firearms. It is not worth the risk.

At the end of the day, nature photography is an excuse to go adventuring. You will find the best landscapes the deeper you go into the wilderness, and the more you devote your time and heart to it.

What are some of your favorite sites for nature photography?