I’ve never been a big one for assignments, but recently I assigned myself a doozy of a project. This past August 10, I began taking a photo a day of a park I drive through almost daily on my way to work, and publishing those photos on a blog called the Water Works Park Project. My intention is to continue to do this for 365 days.
Here’s one of my favorite efforts so far.
There are a lot of nice parks in my fair city, but Water Works Park, in my humble opinion, is my favorite. It’s one of the largest municipally owned parks in the country, and it has a river running through it — lots of wildness to be had right in the heart of the city. There are, if course, endless photo ops in its miles of meandering roads, but for this assignment, I chose to concentrate only on my one little commuter corner.
I’ve received a bit of push back on that decision. This is not the most picturesque area of this park. In fact, it houses the business end of running a park like this — two overflow ponds, a big ramshackle barn where the working vehicles hang out, lots of rolling machinery and enormous piles of sand to keep the roads clear in the winter machinery.
Why limit myself to that? Because I feel the urge to go deep now, rather than wide — Micro instead of macro. I’ve driven through that little corner nearly every day for more than eight years now, and nearly every day I see something different, interesting, beautiful, sometimes extraordinary. I’ve learned to approach each visit with new eyes, and I’m never disappointed. Mother Nature (along with some very talented people) can put a lot of WOW! into a very small space. The deeper you look, the more you see, and the more there is to reveal.
It turns out, this effort is a good metaphor for my approach to both language and life lately. As a writer, I find myself drawn to more finite, defined forms. My poetry favors the formal haiku 5-7-5 form, even to use as stanzas to build longer poems, because the discipline imposed by the strict, minimalist structure gives me a framework to go deeper, illuminate complexities, find a better word or combination — like looking at individual facets inside a diamond.
OK, blah, blah, blah. Here’s where I’m headed. As we grow older our lives by necessity grow smaller. The borders of our worlds contract, whether we want them to or not, especially if we live with chronic illness. Traveling becomes more problematic, socializing more tiring, just getting around more difficult. Over time, more and more of our life is behind us, friends become memories, opportunities dwindle. We throttle down and the world rushes by us in the fast lane, oblivious to those left spinning in its wake.
Boo hoo. It clear to me that there is no point in expending precious energy on lamenting what’s gone (beyond a reasonable mourning period, of course). But I’ve discovered at least one other, more affirming choice – to back burner the worst of it by focusing our energies on the best of what we have every day — put on a new set of specs, look into the diamond of our lives, and find a new way tell our stories. Then sit back and see what happens.
At this point, my little photo experiment has become something of a spiritual practice for me, a daily prayer in gratitude to the here and now. The results have been small, but mighty.
I’ve learned to ask for new eyes to see with every day now. This has allowed me to focus so intently on the beauty, joy, love and other good things that are right in front of me, that my inner emotional borders are expanding, and those pesky outer limits imposed by my physical reality seem to matter less and less.