Looking for wildflowers

From my teen years onward, I have always been interested in photography. It’s much more than just “taking pictures” to record people and places for the sake of posterity. At root, it’s a way of seeing the world, of learning to appreciate form, color, perspective, and the interplay of light and shadow.

As humans, we tend to walk through the world in such a me-centered way that we hardly notice things that don’t serve our immediate interests. Photography can change that. Our interests expand. We suddenly see things that were always there but remained invisible to us; we learn to appreciate their beauty.

For me, it was a fascination with wildflowers. Hiking in the mountains with friends, it was easy to notice and marvel at the big things: towering trees, snowy peaks, vast expanses of sky.

But these were matched by the wonder of the little things: wildflowers of an amazing variety, some so small that you’d have to get on your knees to see them. Their color and symmetry spoke to me of the majesty of God’s creation as surely as did the mountains and sequoias. Many times, the other hikers had to wait for me to finish while I changed lenses and got down in the dirt to capture another photograph. 

Of course, photography itself has changed. Gone are the days in which I used to lug around a case loaded with gear, including an assortment of lenses and extra film. Now, I no long use film or pay to have it processed. No more “bracketing” shots to make sure I get the right exposure. No more storing boxes and boxes of Kodachrome slides or hauling out a heavy projector to show them. Now I just whip out my iPhone, Photoshop the results, and store them on a hard drive or post them to Instagram.

Done.

And the benefit to all this isn’t just that it makes the work easier and less expensive. The upshot is that I have a decent camera with me nearly all the time — which means that part of me is constantly noticing things I would otherwise miss on my way to doing something else.

The photo above was taken a few years ago in Olympic National Park. My wife and I had just turned 60, and our daughter was set to turn 30. To celebrate, the three of us flew up to Washington state to join my son and daughter-in-law for a wonderful vacation on the Olympic peninsula. The weather was lovely, the house we rented was spacious and comfortable, and the scenery… well, the scenery was picture-perfect.

We visited the park on a day trip, enjoying the crisp alpine air and the stunning vistas of the Olympic Mountains. On the way back down, something caught my eye, and I pulled the car over into a turnout. There we had a panoramic view of Hurricane Ridge, the tops of the peaks shrouded in mist. My daughter — a photography buff like dear old Dad — and I quickly set about trying to find the right angle for the shot.

Then I saw them.

Daisies: dozens upon dozens of them, nodding their cheery heads in unison on the other side of a low rock wall. Suddenly, they became the subject, the mountains the backdrop.

And once again, I found myself on my knees.

Sometimes, that’s the best angle to see what needs to be seen.

“Wildflowers.” There’s something hopeful and grace-filled about the word itself: in the wild, there are flowers.

But you have to look for them. You have to notice.

We pray to move mountains; we lift our eyes unto the hills. This is all well and good and biblical. Still, I wonder: why don’t we pray that God would help us pick out the little, wondrous signs of grace that are already all around us? Again, it’s a way of seeing.

We’re on our knees anyway. Who knows what God might reveal to us down in the dust, if we would only notice?