Photo Story: Rivers in the Gravel

In my last post I used an image that I found literally laying at my feet, in a place I never would have thought to look.

I had only recently begun exploring photogrophy as a more serious project at the time I took this picture. All I have been using up until recently was the (arguably quite decent) camera on my smartphone, playing with shutter speed and ISO to learn as much as I could about proper exposure and technique.

What was probably more annoying for my family during that time (probably still) is that I was constantly fiddling with my phone and taking pictures everywhere that we went. The upside of this is that I have continued to be even more eager to get outside with the family, dragging everyone to the local parks and woods as much as possible, even though it was middle of winter at the time.

My family is game, however, but not without their own opinions, as is perfectly within their rights. Picking locations that my children will enjoy is usually pretty easy because they are also into exploring nature, the more dirt and mud the better. On this occasion, however, they really wanted to head to the playground very near our house, attached to an elementary school. This playground has some nice equipment and lots of space to run, but everything is either covered in pavement or pea gravel. Not what I expected to be a photogenic location.

Despite this I still spent as much time as possible trying to find interesting shots, even if it was just practicing focus adjustments and composition.

As the play time extended over the one-hour mark and the weather continued to be unseasonably pleasant I felt as if I had exhausted all of my potential photography targets. As I was debating whether or not I needed to convince everyone that we were going home, the golden hour of sunset started, adding some extra contrast to the scene.

There, at my feet, was an interesting sight. Long pine needles, grouped together, lined up in wavy formations, snaking around the gravel. Here was nature at work, using rain water to collect needles and deposit them artistically around the playground to highlight where water pooled and drained. It was an amazing example of the fact that we cannot avoid the influence of natural cycles, even in environments that have been constructed specifically to eliminate needed maintenance of plants and landscaping. In some ways, seeing these flowing needles out of a more natural context highlighted the forces at play. This was a wonderful subversive wu wei at work, effortlessly showing us that no matter what we do nature will not be sidelined or ignored.

I got a few pictures in the angled light, but wasn’t able to capture the energy of these needles. Just having seen it, however, I felt even more sure about my time spent with a camera. Training myself to look helped me to notice something I never would have seen before, which added so much value to my visit to the playground that day. For me it was a friendly gesture, letting me know that no matter where I looked I couldn’t truly be separate, and that if I keep myself open, I will be able to connect myself with something larger, even in the most unlikely of spaces.

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