Thursday morning, 8am
The sun is already rising over the east side of Forest Park, delayed a bit by the towers of the Washington University Medical School complex from reaching Circle Lake, where I park my truck and waddle towards the ring of cypress trees, trying to keep my snow pants from sliding down to my knees. It seems the elastic in the waistband has gotten stretched too much and though the saggy look is au courant in some circles, I find it makes walking rather awkward. This morning as I was dropping Rebecca off at her school I made mention of the late, great elastic waistband and blamed its current condition on her. She was a bit miffed.
Looking towards the sun may indeed make you squint, but it also reveals a lot about the world around us. The leaves of trees glow with the sun behind them, magically transparent, their veins revealed in all their lacy intricacies. Today, there are no leaves to blush golden green in the day’s first light, but on the lake, its waters lightly frozen over, the patterns of the ice gleam under the sun’s bright inspection, and the circle of cedars, dappled in the morning’s first light, reflect brightly on the waters as of yet unconfined by ice.
Learning to see the world around us is a critical part of the elevation of photography from document to art. I call it “thinking inside the box”, and like the cliché movie director, framing the scene with his hands, we photographers must learn to separate the essential from the distraction, the core truth we wish to reveal from the addenda piled around it by circumstance.
“Nature is visually chaotic.” my friend Brad North once said to me. “The photographer brings order to it.” I don’t think the idea was original with him, but it was better than his usual “I was with this really hot chick last night, and…”, plus it made sense. We fame in our viewfinders and change our position and focal length until we achieve unity of vision, the background reinforcing the subject and directing the viewer’s eye where we would have him look. Or not, as in much of the work I see.
Today, I wore light gloves inside heavy mittens and my fingers fared much better than yesterday. I clambered back into my truck (my only recent concession to the redneck within), and drove across the park, watching the long shadows of the day’s beginning play across the terrain’s dips and curves. Turning left onto Fine Arts drive, I crept up Art Hill towards the tribute to my favorite saint and then down toward the zoo, where I turned right into the Kennedy Forest, further frustrating the driver behind me. Turning left in the traffic circle at Wells Drive, I noticed a park ranger SUV parked on the bicycle path near US40, its engine running and lights flashing. I parked, wandered about a bit and then found the rangers at the top of the bank by the Clayton Road exit ramp, their backs to me, inspecting an orange and yellow tent set in some scrub brush (hint; if you’re looking to hide out in an urban park and wish to evade notice by the authorities, choose a camouflage tent, not one in bright colors).
According to the rangers inspecting the site and the debris left there, it was common to find “human nests” in the park during the warm months, but not so much this time of year.
“This one is fresh.” they told me. As we are all leaving the scene, I ask if Chopper is still on the force and find out he is now working security in the Zoo. I’ll have to see if I can find him on one of my Zoo days.