I read an article recently about GoPro, the video camera that can capture images from your point of view—ideally if you’re skiing off a rock face or jumping from an airplane. The article recounts one man’s adventure while biking in Idaho of being surrounded by a running herd of elk. But far from being a magical wildlife moment, it was a disappointing experience, he told the reporter, because didn’t have his GoPro; if he couldn’t capture it and post the video for others to see, the experience didn’t mean anything.
I was appalled when I read that, and yet I realize I do the same thing—albeit on a much tamer level. Shortly after I read that article, I was hiking around Lily Lake, and the sight of golden grasses around the pond (bottom), reflected in the still pond, stopped me. But then I remembered that I had left my camera at the cabin, and started to move on until I realized what I was doing.
I wonder why it’s so difficult to enjoy the view without the urge to document it. These days, when we tell someone we just saw something amazing—a beautiful sunset, a squirrel hanging from your feeder—the first question is: “Did you get a picture?”
But a picture is never the same. Taking a photo of the Grand Canyon is different from being there. Standing on the edge of canyon, you feel the immensity and yourself as a small part of this vast landscape. You smell the pinyon pines, feel the air uplifting from the canyon, and hear the voices of other sightseers, the chatter of the chipmunks, the call of the raven soaring over the canyon. It’s a total experience, and you feel something that you’ll never get from a photo or even from a movie.
A few weeks ago, at the exhibit of Chihuly glass sculptures at the Denver Botanic Gardens (above), I saw people approach each sculpture, whip out their cameras or smart phones, snap a photo, and then move on. I was doing the same thing, until I forced myself to slow down and relax. Maybe it takes too much work to concentrate on what’s in front of us; maybe we’re afraid to let ourselves feel things, and it’s easier to record the experience, maybe to be looked at later. Or is it just that all our minds are running as fast as possible? That we live in a world where speed counts—doing as much as possible in as short amount of time as possible? We don’t have time to ponder.
On my hike at Lily Lake, I climbed up above the lake and stopped to catch my breath. Across the valley snow was blowing off the ridges below Longs Peak, its jagged summit forming a V with Mount Meeker. Below me was the lake, a startling blue, the wind brushing its surface. The smaller ponds on the south side were azure eyes fringed by grasses caught in the sunlight. The longer I stood there, the more I saw, and I felt that this was the first time I was really seeing this landscape, even though I’ve hiked up here dozens of times. If I had my camera with me, I would likely have snapped the photo and then rushed on up the hill, eager to see more views.
If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one to hear it, does it make a sound? If we’re surrounded by a herd of elk and can’t record it, is it worth anything?