Here is the photo. If you’re a regular reader, the words are below.

An alarmingly hot day in the Badlands, and one of the best days of the year.

This has been a difficult year. Death and illness and change has hit hard, and too many people close to me are in active, crushing states of grief. They are always on my mind, as is the reality that I can do very little except lurk in the background, waiting to be there if needed.

We lost a huge number of artists this year, and they took a massive amount of undone art with them to the grave. One of them, Carrie Fisher, holds onto life as I type. I check the news every half hour for an update; she’s the embodiment of how to accept one’s humanity and come to smile at it a little, and squeeze what laughter can be had from it — which, if you’ve read her writing, turns out to be a lot. The world needs more of her, not less.

There is instability looming in the country and the world. Some deny it. Some are eager for it. Others of us see something much darker in it.

I said recently that I don’t quite know how to do life anymore; this has been one of those years where the table has been flipped in so many planes. I’ve also heard it said that in order to be useful in this new age, to have the maximum helpful impact, one must pick something to work on, that focus is key. This is a problem for my split personality: I’m half logical lawyer, lover of analysis and order, and half creative, spinner of tales and imagery. I’ve asked myself which half of my self I should inhabit in the coming days.

Fortunately, the answer is what it’s always been, of course: all of it. It’s tempting to believe that logic and analysis has little place in a world where truth is based on whatever animosities are simmering at the time, where teenagers are getting rich pumping made-up stories into the pipeline, fantasies that are wholly without reality but oh-so-alluring to our resentments.

Or, maybe the world needs more of the logical and analytical, not less — as long as we recognize the limits of it.

The other half of me seems equally useless in this age. Wildlife, a source of wonder and the basis of so much of my creativity, is going extinct at a rapid clip. A huge chunk of the country has decided that it knows more than the scientists who would drag them screaming into modernity, and have concluded that climate change doesn’t really exist. So of what use are my stories and photographs about wild animals and nature?

That, also, is an open question. Maybe the world needs more of that, not less, too, but I don’t know. And I’m not sure it matters, because it’s what I can do and it’s what I have. So that’s what I’ll put into the world. Children’s writer Joan Walsh Anglund, in a quote widely misattributed to Maya Angelou, said that “the bird sings not because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”

So that’s the path for me, until I have no more feet or the world has no more trails. One of those things is certain to happen, and the only question is — always — when.


17 thoughts on “The path ahead

  1. It’s a beautiful image, and I hope you do continue to provide us views like this. Though the world has gone wonky and the future is uncertain I believe we have to look for the best of ourselves and of our world and share that regardless of what others do or believe. I think you do that and I appreciate your effort to share.

  2. You describe my life, my essence, and my being with these words.

    “And I’m not sure it matters, because it’s what I can do and it’s what I have. So that’s what I’ll put into the world.”

    I think that, alone, is worth putting it out there.

  3. The world needs more of you. (And you, and you, and you, everyone reading this comment.) So be you, boldly and unabashedly, as we head into 2017’s uncharted territory. I believe that if everybody does this, the world will be saved.

  4. I’m so sorry to read about the many losses in your life over the past year — and your despair at the negativity that seems to be sweeping the planet. In a similar state, I was talking recently with a friend about the sense of almost paralysis that comes with each morsel of bad news. “Do what you can,” he said. Making a glorious photo or rescuing a snapping turtle or speaking up if you see injustice may seem insignificant (and almost pointless) but as Jim so wisely says, “If everybody does this, the world will be saved.” Hang in there … and I’ll do my best to hang in there with you.

  5. I don’t know either, Jennifer. We are maybe an even bigger mess than we could possibly measure. I’ve never been as uncertain about the future as I am right now.
    But I do know this. You have taken me to some exceedingly magical places with monkeys and goats and prairie dogs. I’ve used your images and stories to escape some ugly stuff a few times and I am grateful to have your talent to lean on. Even when you write about the ugly stuff, your words find a way to guide my mind through the minefield and into reason. And, quite often, hope.
    For whatever that’s worth.
    I appreciate your creative personality. And, luckily, I have a good lawyer already.
    But, if I needed one…

  6. I chose to live in both. This year has ended several relationships, friends and family have passed from this world, seemingly, leaving some of their story untold. I too live in duality, one of technology, analysis, and the contract, the other is similar to yours, on the trail or on the river, camera in hand, trying to keep those moments with me, I bask in nature’s glory, every time a new and exciting experience. Both define me, yet I lean towards the latter, since it refreshes me.

    I’m enjoying this blog journey, finding others like me, like you. Journeying together. A fellow blogger recently commented to me that if the rest of teh world was like this community of bloggers, it would be a much better place. I tend to agree.

    1. I also lean to the latter. I try to make my logical self power my creative self. It’s an awkward, fumbling balance, but so far it works. 🙂 Here’s to another year of basking for both of us.

  7. Thank you for sharing this perfect quote – “The bird sings not because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
    We all have doubts and questions and worries that we can’t hope to answer – but we keep doing what we can, and finding others to share it with – and we find we draw strength from each other.
    Keeping my fingers crossed for 2017 🙂

  8. Dawn,
    We definitely need more of you then less. I don’t know you, but I enjoy the photo’s and comentary. I never would have guessed you were a lawyer, what a great balance of logical thinking, writing, and creative photography, you have a gift for all three!
    For me, I look to 2017 with optimism. I believe disruption is needed right now, without it we are headed down a certain path. I also have faith in humanity. Not because humanity is good, but because humanity yearns for a greater purpose and because God is always in control.
    Keep inspiring us and enjoy the trails!

    1. Ha! Yes. Dawn is the commenter above. 🙂

      Whether we need disruption or not, we’re going to get it! So I hope we all pitch in to make what arises from the disruption better than what came before. I’ll do my best to stay on trails and keep up the sharing! Thanks. 🙂

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