Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Telling a Different Story

It is a cool and breezy morning here on the riverside, too cool and choppy for kayaking. I just took a batch of lemon lavender blueberry muffins out of the oven, and the kitchen smells amazing. The pick-your-own blueberry farm up the hill is having a bumper crop this year, and we went yesterday for the second time this season to build our supply of frozen blueberries to get us through until next July. I’ve also been making and freezing lots of garlic scapes arugula pesto and made a trip to a local lavender farm that has a large, lavender labyrinth in full, purple, fragrant bloom.

There is so much to do at this time of year, and it feels like July has raced by at warp speed! In addition to all the wonderful, outdoor activities, I have been focusing on redesigning my website, which has included creating a graphic identity and curating and purging my photo libraries to create galleries for my site. My redesigned site is nearly ready to launch, and I’m excited about it! It will even include an online shop, and emails you receive from me will look much better!

This is my year of decluttering, and the journey continues! After clutter clearing my home and car in the spring, I had intended to declutter the rented storage unit that houses my parents’ possessions. However, that has not happened yet. First, I took a little break, and then I turned my attention to digital decluttering. I lightened up my computer, phone, and emails before tackling the big job of paring down my photo libraries totaling 10,000 images. So far, I’ve downsized my online photography portfolio of 1400 images to 400, and what a marathon job that was! Even digital decluttering feels amazing! What began as a home clutter clearing project has become a year of decluttering in different areas of life. It feels incredible…and there is still much more to go!

It’s never easy to go through photos from 2014 (the year my mom passed away) and 2015 (the first year without her), and I can look at pretty much any photo and remember whether it was taken when my mom was alive or after she passed. That is how significant it was to lose her. It’s how I gauge time now. The two major eras of my life are A.D. (after her death) and B.C. (before children), but I wasn’t doing much photography before I had children, aside from waterfalls (and no silky, long exposure shots back then!).

Going through my photo library is an invitation to rewrite my story of the past three years by viewing it from a greater distance. I’m able to see the larger truth of the landscape that was outside the frame – the context within which the images that filled me with such joy and awe were captured. The 2014-2016 time period and the images attached to it carry an afflicted emotional overtone when I review them – even many of the striking images, like this one (featured in my 2017 calendar) that was taken during this weekend last year.

Moments like that were breaths of fresh air that elevated me above the heartache and confusion that were just outside the frame. When I look back at images like this, I remember how truly awesome and breathtaking the moment was, but I also remember the emotional backdrop of that time and am so grateful I am not in the same emotional place I was in even last year at this time (let alone, three years ago!). I also realize how much stronger I am now because I have achieved emotional freedom and disillusionment. This is why I finally can go through my photo libraries and delete many images that were part of a story that has changed…because I have rewritten my role into a much more empowered one, and that changed the whole story.

The three years I spent wandering through the wilderness following my mom’s (and eventually my dad’s) death were a time of vulnerability, distraction, illusion, and heartache. I was not able to see clearly the forest for the trees. It felt like I was under a spell from which I could not break free. I couldn’t see where I was or where I was headed and had no idea how things would turn out – and often misplaced my energy and attention. Thanks to the gift of time, there are some things I couldn’t see back then that I can see very clearly now and that helped me find my way back to what feels like my true path.

But as the bumper sticker says: Not all who wander are lost. Even during the wilderness years, I continued to look for beauty and joy every day, to uplift me from the gravity of the loss of my mother, that long first winter without her, a temporarily empty nest, and my attempts to fill the empty spaces. I connected with so much beauty and joy because I needed to! Photography truly can be a spiritual practice.

Now that I’ve come to what feels like the end of that chapter and dusted myself off, I want to do something to honor it and provide closure. I love stories about people going on long, transformational journeys through the wilderness, like Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, and the movie, The Way. Both Cheryl Strayed and the main character in The Way were bereaved and found their way back to their true selves on the long trail. I love the idea of doing some kind of pilgrimage. Cheryl didn’t know what her destination was until she reached it. But when you reach it, you know you have arrived and that the wilderness chapter is behind you.

I would love to do something like that – at least in theory. The possibility of walking part of the Appalachian Trail or even just a ten-day hike on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail closer to home, have arisen as possibilities. But I’m 50 now, and I have tendinitis in both arms. I don’t really relish the idea of roughing it in a tent, carrying everything on my back, and walking for hours or days in the rain without showering. As much as I romanticize it and live vicariously through other people’s accounts, I don’t know if that path is right for me. Maybe an extended, spiritual retreat or a trip to Hawaii to scatter some of my parents’ ashes in one of their favorite spots would be more my style. The last time my parents were in Hawaii, my mom called me and recounted excitedly an early morning plane ride she took at Haleakala that sounded like a peak experience for her. She said it was so beautiful, with rainbows all around, and she wished I could have been there to see it and photograph it. Maybe something like that.

I don’t yet know how I will honor and provide closure to my three years’ journey through the wilderness of grief. However, the dark spell finally has worn off (thank God), and I am certain I will find a way that is mine and isn’t borrowed from someone else – and that I’ll know it when I see it.

All I know at this point is that I feel like myself again. And that’s enough for now and something to be grateful for.

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The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2017. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography ( Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do! 🙂

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