As we were wrapping up another year this past week, I spent some time thinking about what was different for me in 2015. What was the one event or activity or mindset that marked the year? Like the past few years, photography was a big focus for me. But I actually had a big shift this past year in my approach.
It happened in late July. We were driving home from vacation. I was already feeling that post-vacation let-down. We had a relaxing week just hanging out together as a family. No work. No sports. No schedules. We had some fun adventures and great time together as a family. I also had been able to spend lots of time doing what I do when we go to a new place. I love looking at the world through the lens of my camera.
I love looking for the beauty in a new place. I love capturing the interesting angles or finding a unique perspective. I often get up early before my family and sneak off into the quiet of the morning to capture an image. They are used to me veering off the path or lagging behind because I’m taking a close-up of a bug or a flower or a tree.
As we were driving home and I was staring out the window, I wondered if the people who live in this place every day could see its beauty. How did they resist the urge to stop their cars and take photos all the time? Were they so accustomed to the beaches and the trees and the lighthouses and the sunsets that it was harder to appreciate their charm?
Then I started thinking about the place where I live, and I asked myself the same question. Why is it that I feel such a sense of urgency to capture the beauty of a place when I’m on vacation? While I don’t have beaches or lighthouses nearby, I do have plenty of interesting scenery just a short drive from where I live. Maybe I needed to try harder to really SEE the beauty that’s all around me.
Maybe the shift in my thinking isn’t completely obvious, so let me explain a little more. I’ve always been good about taking photos of our life. If I saw a beautiful sunset, I would grab my camera. If the kids were playing a sport, I would take a million photos. But what if I really made an effort to go out and SEE the beauty in the everyday landscapes, fields, paths, flowers and moments that were there all of the time?
I started the very next day. While we were on vacation in Michigan, I had read online that there was a field of sunflowers about a half mile from where we were staying. We tried to find it, but apparently, the farmer had decided to plant something else in that field.
Then it hit me. Maybe I could find a field of sunflowers at home! We looked on the Internet, and I found one about 40 miles away. Driving 40 miles to find a field of sunflowers was something I would easily do on vacation. Why not do the same thing in my normal life?
The next day, I decided I really wanted to start collecting photos of the area right around my home. I drove down a road that I take numerous times each week to go to my job and our church. This time I took my camera. I’ve noticed the horses and the fields and the beauty of this farm before. But I wanted to really SEE it. I wanted to look through my camera and follow the long white fence and focus on the amazing view of the fields behind it.
My photography adventures have been neverending since then. I rarely leave the house without my camera in the passenger seat. I take it on walks. And I take walks on new trails and different paths, looking for the beauty. If the weather is particularly interesting — the sky could be full of big fluffy clouds or consumed by fog — I don’t hesitate to stop what I’m doing and go out looking for the beauty. Why not?
I have an app on my phone to keep track of the pattern of the moon and the time of the sunset and moonset. I leave a few minutes early when I know it’s possible the sky could light up in astounding color while I’m driving to pick up a kid somewhere.
I’ve found the best spots to get a clear view of the sunset or the moonrise. Since that moment in July when I decided to start seeing my world better, each day felt like a new adventure to find the beauty in my world.
I read an article lately that talked about how Americans are obsessed with vacation. We spend 95 percent of the year planning and counting down to the 5 percent of the year that we’re on vacation. “But what if we tried to create a life that felt like a vacation everyday?” the author asked.
For me, that’s how I’ve felt this past year. I love going on vacation and exploring new places. But finding the beauty in the world doesn’t have to only happen when I’m far away from home. I go out looking for spider webs. I search for animals in the pond. I sometimes make an early morning drive to the river just to watch the sunrise. Making such an effort to see the place where I live has made me really stop and appreciate the life I have and the beauty of what’s around me every day.
So what about you? What was different for you in 2015?