Seizing the Moment – Part 2

photo credit: Stephen Matera

Presence.  Awareness.  About 12 years ago, when my son, in utero, died at 33 1/2 weeks, I decided my life had been underwhelming.  When faced with this devastating grief, I decided I was done “just getting by” and faced into what I had around me that I hadn’t been enjoying, noticing or simply addressing.  “Facing into” included addressing problems in my marriage, embracing my longing to get into “real” nature, confronting my personal challenges of living in the LA urban sprawl when I loved country living, and integrating the inner athlete who had been put on the back burner during my doctoral studies.  More recently, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this past five years has been one of saying good-bye to several friends as cancer took over their body and something less mentioned and much less significant, was rehabbing a shoulder injury that hurt for about a year and a half and kept me from my summer rock climbing expedition in the Casades.  What all these realities have propelled me to do, is ask myself,  “What’s around me that I need to grab hold of?”

This year, as I began my 48th year on this earth, the answer to this question came easyily – A photography and canyoneering trip in Utah (a former yearly spring break destination -pre-kids) with a National Geographic photographer, Stephen Matera, whose work I’ve admired a several years now – especially since he sometimes shoots in my hometown.  Given that my shoulder was rehabbed and I had stayed in shape enough to manage canyoneering, I decided to jump in (or in canyoneering terms, down climb) into the adventure.

The 12 hour road trip was completely worth it.  Utah’s rock formations are unique, simply magnificent.  My appetite for rocks has always been insatiable.  I used to have my own rock tumbler, which polished rocks collected from hikes.  Everywhere I go, I still collect rocks (unless it’s forbidden) and have a lovely collection in a planter.  For this trip, as I drove, each area brought with it a unique geological treasure so the visual feast kept me driving, ignoring the stiffness in my joints.  (The sun went down while I was in Capital Reef, a beautiful area.)


Day 1 — Overview of the Area – Dirty Devil and Robber’s Roost

For our evening shoot, the clouds left us looking for wonderful contrast since we weren’t guaranteed good lighting at sunset.  Our guides didn’t disappoint…

The above picture – illustrates something I learned about my photography – I tend to crop things too much – as Steve reminded me, “give the composition some space to breathe.”  Nonetheless, in this photo, I enjoy the contrast of the two trees, each with different green, along with the rock in the background.

Photo below – my view while at base camp.As I’ve mentioned above, I love Utah for all the different rock formations – from the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Capital Reef – this unexplored area of Dirty Devil/ Robber’s Roost didn’t disappoint.

We developed our canyoneering expertise as we went.  Steve is executing a “chimney” move to traverse the canyon.  This, along with “stemming” were two techniques we used all day long as there was water in the canyon when we were there, making it tough (until about 1/4 of the way in when all of us but our guide were wet and then we didn’t care if we walked through the water)
 I’m executing a “bridge” move.  This is fairly upright compared to what we have waiting for us up ahead.

The next three pictures were taken by Stephen Matera — you can see the water sitting at the bottom…it ranged from ankle deep to about 5.5 feet deep (I swam through that section.)
Even though I was exhausted after a grueling canyoneering day, shooting the stars at midnight was a definite highlight.

Prior to this trip, I felt much more comfortable getting up close and personal with macro shots, like the ones below, than shooting landscape, which I never felt quite satisfied with.  I’m excited to claim landscape has become a new favorite and though I like macro shots, I feel more confident with my landscape composition, which encourages me to attempt the larger scenes.  In the past, I’d have deemed them much more uninteresting in print than in person – so the “why bother” mentality would win.

Even though I was exhausted, this last picture (below) gives testimony to my commitment to not losing a Utah sunset by driving through it.  Unfortunately, I drove into rain clouds so this is a partially sunny/ cloudy sunset.  But I wanted to at least do due diligence of applying what I’d learned with decent lighting, so I stopped to shoot Chimney rock.  (Still, a non-cloudy sunset would have made the rock light up brilliantly.)

The trip was a wonderful culmination of learning, experiencing and challenging on so many layers.  It felt good to be alive.  It felt stimulating to learn.  Conversely, it felt humbling to learn.  It felt wild to be trying something new.  It felt like home to be out in nature and quiet.  I also felt expectant for beauty in obvious and subtle places rather than having my “urban dull” on.  I loved meeting new people and hearing their story.  I felt refreshed while exhausted.

Unfortunately, my adventure didn’t end with me getting good rest to make up for all lost sleep during the workshop (and the pictures below aren’t nearly as pretty).  Instead, I was one of those rare people who picked up an infection in the canyon’s water (at least according to healthline website scrapes gotten in fresh water like what was left by the rain, can cause this type of infection).  I rushed to the ER to make sure the infection didn’t spread to my entire lymphatic system (my official diagnosis was Lymphganitis) after several hours of heating the area brought the infection to the surface.  (A longtime family friend, who is a nurse, gave me this suggestion and I took her recommendation seriously to the point that I brought a hot rice compress to my  daughter’s concert that night so I could put heat on it long enough to expose any infection within my system.)  My concern and thus action to take heating the area seriously paid off.  The first picture shows Monday, then Tuesday at 1 pm and the third picture shows what showed up at 10 pm.

You might say I was a bit freaked out when I saw this red streak going down my arm but then when you add the on-call nurse saying, “You need to get to the hospital and be seen within an hour.”  I became VERY freaked out, in which case my coping strategy is to be witty at every opportunity and not have a mental breakdown.  Needless to say, the ER doctor informed me I had medically high blood pressure and, “was I treating it?” for which I answered, “You’d have high blood pressure too if you had this red streak running down your arm.”  We each laughed but nonetheless, he didn’t fully believe me as he rechecked my blood pressure before I was discharged.

Overall, I was grateful for my mom who invited me to take a first aid class with her when I was in fifth grade.  I may have been one of two children in the adult-centered class but it taught me three things that have stuck with me 1) I don’t know what I don’t know – so ask.  2) Early intervention is ALWAYS preferred to later.  Therefore see #1.  3) Red streaks running down your arm are BAD.  Therefore see #1.  As well, my mom was the one who suggested I talk with Eunice, our family friend who is a nurse, and it was her who told me to draw any infection out and to get help immediately if it worsened.  So the lessons I learned from this experience are 1) a wipe is not the same as washing a scrape with hot soap and water  2) wash all scrapes immediately (not 24 hours later at the hotel) after coming in contact with stagnant water 3) everyone needs a nurse as a friend ;-).

In the end, this trip felt like a culmination of leaning into my love of adventure and desire to live fully as well as leaning into the frailty of life – never knowing when something serious could invade my body and change my healthy status.  All in all, the first quarter of my 48th year has started with gusto!  Grateful.

Seizing the Moment – Lessons from Nature and Cancer

Last year in California, we had a superbloom spring – where the flowers open in abundance when rain hits in winter or fall after a considerable drought.  For us in Southern California, we’d had five years of drought before we welcomed last year’s superbloom that brought millions of visitors to witness the hillsides and deserts in all their glory. With this year being a superbloom fail; instead, year one of drought, I’m grateful I trekked to the hills to witness the blooms.  It’s easy to disregard the urgency of such moments.  When I’m juggling all my aspects of doing life (self-employment, mothering two active kids, volunteer work, church, friendships, family, etc) it can be easy to tell myself, “I’ll catch it next year.” Or, “It’s not that big of a deal, it can wait.”  With my words I ignore a reality that is undoubtedly true – “seize the moment because it will pass.”   And with things of nature, this is doubly true.  The moment won’t come around in exactly the same way -ever.  And just like going to the gym and working out, I don’t think there has ever been a time where I’ve regretted missing sleep to catch an eclipse or sunrise or time at home over traveling all day to witness canyons and rock formations.  Adding to my sense of urgency is the reality that loss of life happens.  In the past five years, I have lost three good friends to cancer.  These were friends who spoke into my life, knew me over a decade – some two, and were significant encouragers in my personal and professional growth.  What they taught me, no matter how long they lived with cancer, is that there isn’t a guarantee for tomorrow and even if it seems tomorrow will come, there isn’t a guarantee for how much or how little pain there will be.  So if you can do it, and have the opportunity, better do it now before the window has passed.

I think this sense of urgency is one of the gifts these women left me with.  I’m trying to live now with a, “Don’t wait.  Do it now while you can.” These pictures from last year’s superbloom remind me that I didn’t wait.  We got up before the sun, drove the 1.5 hours and beat the weekend crowds in order to witness and enjoy these poppies at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.  I find mentally marking these type of remembrances, when I did something well and didn’t let the moment pass, encourages me to look for the present moments when I want to skip over something that needs to be savored, or taken in, or leaned into so the “it’s too much effort” belief doesn’t win out.  This year, I’ve created space to “take in” – a canyoneering trip, a trip to Italy, a 30 year class reunion, a writing retreat in New Mexico – twice, and our yearly camping trip with 40 other friends.  And yet, I want to make sure I’m not forgetting that each mundane, every day moment calls out to be “taken in” because if I wait until these “big events” – well, I’m missing a lot of life.  And as I’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death during these past five years, I know that each day is truly a gift and I hope I can do it justice by living well.  In the name of Beth, Amy and Danielle, I want to honor the gift they weren’t given – more time.

May you also seize the day, capturing the moments of your life by paying attention and finding what there is to enjoy.  As well, may you be encouraged to shift as I’m trying to do, to live more “urgently” with time because we never know what the future holds.