Saturday, March 29, 2014

Finding the Beautiful

Main Street, Clarksburg, WV
By Mike Layne

In a photography class in college, and in books I've read since, the idea of looking for beauty in the mundane has always struck me.   To look at an ordinary every-day landscape and turn one unique angle into a stunning photograph is an ability I admire.  I'm no photographer myself.  I take well meaning snapshots and occasionally stumble across one that captures the scene the way I intended.  What strikes me as magic about great photography is that everyone looks at the same scenes, but a photographer sees something the rest of us don't.  Photographers see the beautiful in the midst of the ordinary.  What a great euphemism for life.   What if we all looked at life the way a photographer looks at landscapes?  Because the beautiful is there if we look for it, in landscapes and in people.  We can choose to see the bad, the mundane, the ordinary.  Or, we can look past all that the way a photographer does and choose to find the beautiful.

I was thinking along these lines this morning as Spencer and I set out on a hike through Clarksburg and up Lowndes Hill to the Civil War trenches.  I run this route sometimes in the evenings.  It's a moderate 3 mile round trip with around 350 feet in elevation gain.  The views of the city of Clarksburg are decent from the top, but compared to a stunning waterfall or a massive rock formation, it is a little on the mundane side.  Rain was in the forecast for the afternoon so a State Park trip was out.  With only about an hour to spare before the weather changed, we needed something close and a three mile round trip
Rays of Sunlight
from door step to door step is as close as it gets.  I was a little worried how Spencer would do in the child carrier on a more urban hike.  I normally try to set him down every 20-30 minutes for play time.  We'd be on public highway all the way so no place to set down if he got antsy.  This turned out to be fine.  Today I was again struck by the notion that kids have things to teach us.  Spencer didn't see the aging buildings or vacant lots.  Nor did he care much about the litter of beer cans and even an old couch at one point.  Spencer saw a chance to get outside and explore.  He was as happy on my back going down main street as he was in the natural beauty of Coopers Rock State Forest last weekend. We made our way through town and up Lowndes Hill as the sky continued to darken.  Beyond the beer cans and the couch, we also saw 8 deer cross the road 50 feet in front of us.  This is not an unusual occurrence in West Virginia and I've always suppressed a little amusement when tourist ouuu and awww about deer.  But to a two year old child the experience was new and as exciting as if a bengle tiger had crossed in front of us.  We made it too the Civil War trenches after 30 minutes of hiking, snapped some shots and turned around.  On our way
Sleepy Little Boy
back down, just for a few minutes, the clouds broke and rays of sunlight spread out across the valley below us silhouetting the tree line.  I snapped a few quick shots, the clouds closed in again and we continued down the hill.

A few minutes later Spencer went to sleep.  We finished the hike home and, as the rains set in, came inside for some breakfast.  As I'm typing now the weather outside is nasty.  The wind is blowing rain against the windows, the sky is grey and I hear we can expect this to change to snow in the AM.  Sometimes when life makes it easy to see the ugly side of things, we have to remind ourselves to look a little harder.  Sometimes it's all in how you frame it.

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