I’ve had a bit of a crackup this summer. I spent July feeling locked up and frustrated, facing a series of unpleasant events: a persistent health issue resurfaced with my son just before school was scheduled to resume; a dire and expensive house calamity kept me out of my sewing room and completely eliminated any time to get out into nature with my camera; familiar relationship issues that my partner and I know we must consciously work to address left both of us feeling alienated and alone; the money I’d planned to allocate to my creative work, including travels, had to be spent on the first two events; and finally, a supportive relationship that had been reliable for years was also compromised during this time.
And I realized, one night in the wee hours as I was chatting with that presence some people call God, that I was standing alone, and many of the support structures that I’d carefully cultivated had been stripped away. Home was compromised; my primary relationship was in a strained and distant place; I had to prepare my kid for a medical procedure that scares him; and I felt mute and outside myself, untouched by wonder and the things that make me fly. And my plans, the plans I’d laid to travel and shoot and write, were all lying in shambles on the floor of my messed-up house. I ached to get away, to be where I could feel whole, to climb a mountain or drink from a rushing stream; to see a bear or a moose. I began dreaming about my house in Montana again, that place from which I feel exiled, somewhat homeless.
When I wasn’t feeling completely blank, I felt quite petulant and butthurt. I withdrew into myself and faced forward, trying to put things back together one step at a time. One by one things mended — the house got fixed, we re-centered our relationship, my kid blossomed in middle school — but not my state of mind.
The only thing I’ve ever felt comfortable asking from that presence that some call God, but that I’m too uncertain to name, is to be held in that presence and to be led where it wants me to go. I don’t believe human beings are competent to ask for specific outcomes; we often have no idea what is best for us. Too frequently we confuse it with what is easiest. So that’s what I asked for. Take me where you want me to go.
And then the messages began.
“Show me your wilderness,” invited the Nat Geo Facebook post. “You don’t need to travel to participate in this photo assignment. Look for the “nature in your daily life, and make pictures that capture the wilderness that … thrives around you.” I blinked. There was no wilderness around me. And I couldn’t get out to find any. Stuck in the suburbs. Sniff. But apparently Nat Geo didn’t think so.
For awhile I’ve suspected that whenever we long for something, really ache for it, and spend a lot of time thinking that we’d be okay if only we got it, that it’s probably better for us that we not get it. At least not immediately.
I started to wonder if I was being asked to find something here. I drove north to see bison. I got frustrated that they were behind a fence. I wanted to be in the Badlands instead. But still…I spent time with those big beasts that I love. I started going back to the prairie patches where I’ve done so much butterfly photography. Herons appeared on my pond again, along with a familiar muskrat. I started wondering where else to go here, what else to see. A frog hopped across my path this afternoon — another message.
Then tonight, as I was trying to book a flight for a long-awaited trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I felt something gently tapping the window behind me. At first I thought it was rain, and ignored it. Then I heard Travis pointing behind me and saying “WHOA! Look at that!” He would later tell me that he first thought it was a bat or a hummingbird. But whatever it was, it was knocking on the window. I turned around to look.
I knew what it was immediately. “Turn on the porch light!” I yelled. “It’s a Luna moth!” The dog looked alarmed. I knew what he was thinking: Would he need to mount a defense against this Lunamoth?
Travis flipped the porch switch and the giant moth flew immediately to the screen outside it, as I’d planned. I grabbed my camera and tripod and crept out the front door and around back. And there it was, illuminated by the porch light.
Wildlife knocked on my window here in central Indiana — as soon as I was open to it. The message it brought was this: Travel when you can. But don’t forget what’s here. Photograph it, explore it, learn from it. You needn’t travel to write.
The bison may be fenced here, but the Luna moths aren’t.