Things You Can Find Down on the Ground
I was out for a walk earlier today and started thinking. We're generally in such a hurry to get some place we often don't really notice where we are. We may be looking ahead and to the side, but rarely down at the ground. It's time to consider what you can find on the ground.
Some people will scratch their head in puzzlement at this notion, arguing that you should leave stuff on the ground alone. After all, it's dirty, and you don't know where it's been. Better to focus on where you're going, they'll say. But I don't buy that. Even once I get to where I'm going, things will be no different. Perhaps the sights above ground will be more obviously photogenic, but what about that ground? It was there the entire way to my destination, just as it is once I get there. I'll be missing a lot if I don't pay attention to it.
I like the ground. Flowers and other small plants obviously grow on the ground. But perhaps that's too obvious. What else can you find there? Ah, that's one of the main points I want to convey. You'll never really know unless you stop, set a spell, and see for yourself. I've mentioned before that there's an old abandoned gravel pit on my usual route out to the Olympic Peninsula that I often make a point of stopping at. Anyone else would think I'm nuts, but they don't know what I've come to learn. There are great images to be made pretty much anywhere, and that includes inside an old abandoned gravel pit. A favorite exercise of mine consists of walking out into the pit and sitting down somewhere at random. Once I get comfortable, I know I'll start to see more and more in my surroundings. If I sit there long enough, I'm bound to find myself reaching for my camera and tripod.
But flowers, mushrooms and other small plants aren't the only things you can find down there on the ground. Sometimes you can find wildlife too. And I'm not talking about slugs and other crawly things that one might think about when contemplating what lives on the grounds. Sometimes you can be surprised by much bigger wildlife. Once while lying on the ground to photograph some small flowers atop Blue Mountain in Washington State's Olympic Mountains I was more than a bit surprised to see movement in the viewfinder as if something were coming toward me — something big. Taking my focus away from the camera I found in front of me two deer calmly foraging for food in the dawn light, completely unconcerned as to my presence. Getting up and taking a few steps backward I was able to frame one of them cooperatively looking off into the distance. Those small flowers were still there as was the sunrise beyond, but now I had a silhouetted deer with a full rack of antlers filling the majority of the frame. Had I been brusquely tramping about, there's no doubt those deer would have beat a path well clear of where I was at. Wildlife inside National Parks does tend to be more tame than outside, but there are limits when around us noisy humans.
Sometimes you can find the sky itself down there on the ground too. It all depends on where you point the camera. With a foreground of tiny flowers or whatever else you may find, there's a whole world and more possible for filling the background. Sunrises and sunsets are beautiful most any time, but photographs of them risk coming out too much like every other sunrise and sunset shot without rooting the image with something more. Since the sunrise itself if relatively predicable, given sufficiently favorable weather, it can make more sense to concentrate on the foreground than the background you pretty much expect will happen. Sitting down on the ground and waiting for things to happen at sunrise and sunset can often prove more fruitful than does seeing a wonderful sunrise and scrambling for something to put in the foreground on the spur of the moment.
Sometimes you can find chewing gum wrappers and other evidence of human activity on the ground. Even miles from roads, other people that came before you can let you know they were there by what they left behinds. And that's unfortunate. I've never been able to understand why people spend their time and money going to remote and beautiful places, only to slowly but surely contribute to making those places look increasingly like the city streets they left back at home. The whole point should be to preserve those special places, not only for the enjoyment of people today, but also for the benefit of future generations. Most of these places only look the way they do because we humans haven't yet left their mark on them. The only way to keep it that way is if each of us helps by recognizing the value of that goal and not getting in the way keeping it alive.
"Staying grounded" and being "down to earth" are both common figures of speech referring to a tendency to use common sense and not get caught up in one's own success and dreams of success. But it also means to be fully conscious of and fully present with your environment and your place in it. Perhaps this state of mind is something else possible to get in touch with when you're out shooting down on the ground. And wouldn't that be nice.