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Wonder and Wildness


Wonder and Wildness

Have you ever entered a landscape that just truly feels like it’s of another world? Or maybe, it is instead a landscape that is so inherently and purely of this world that we’re just amazed that this is the same earth that we walk upon, in awe that the crust beneath our feet formed and molded into the landscape before us. It seems so incredible to me, the places that have been created over time by the forces of nature, and even more amazing that we get to live among them, see them with our own eyes, walk upon them with our own feet. Amazing that we can be wild within that wilderness. 

For me, I get this swelling, it seems, that happens around my heart when I step up to a truly incredible view of a place. I feel a deep, inherent, reverence build within me. It’s almost that feeling you get as tears begin to rise, but this isn’t that throat-closing feeling that comes when tears are trying to break through, this is one of opening, of becoming. It is like my heart is swelling near to burst, to reach out to this place I’m witnessing, wanting to connect fully and come home into this wildness.

This is why I think I describe it as an otherworldly feeling. The emotions that arise when you let go of distractions and find yourself standing firmly on the earth beneath you, surrendering to that pure awe seem too big to hold and comprehend. But I think it is actually so inherently human to feel this way. Those emotions are a testament to our deep connection with ourselves and our earth. 

I’ve experienced this feeling a few times in my life. I think when we’re closer with that state of being, when we’ve let go of distractions and are open to it, we find that the sense of wonder is closer at hand. I experienced this feeling over and over again while traveling through Scotland. Each time though, felt a bit different. Sometimes it would be a quieter, subtler feeling of connection. And sometimes it would feel like an all-encompassing, earth shaking feeling that I was stepping into a place that I was meant for. The more I've gotten to that place of pure emotion, the more and more I've started to seek it out.

Last year, I had one of these moments, but it was an even more unique experience than ever.

My partner and I were nearing the end of a two week trip through Utah and Northern Arizona. We’d seen incredible views in Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Escalante, and more. It had been a trip of slow exploration, we’d had a general direction we were heading, but we weren’t rushed. I had one definite side trip planned though, a place I’d long wanted to see, called White Pocket.

White Pocket is part of the Vermillion Cliffs in northern Arizona. The whole region is fairly remote, everything a bit harder to get to. White Pocket is in particular quite difficult to get to, only accessed via a 2 hour trip on rough 4x4 roads. It is not a drive for the faint of heart, that is for sure. I’d decided to find a guide to take us out there, knowing we’d enjoy it more if someone more experienced drove us down those roads. 

That was a very good decision. The roads were insane to maneuver, and as we set out we found ourself driving into a snowstorm. This didn’t seem to worry our guide, if anything he was more excited for the challenge. I had wanted to capture sunset, so we drove there in the late afternoon, dense clouds enveloping us as we drove on. The roads were incredibly muddy with all of the falling sleet and snow, but the jeep we were in handled it all well. We eventually pulled up to the end of a road. Fog rested all around us, blocking any views. We were the only car there.

Our guide told us he’d take us into the landscape and show us around briefly, then leave us to just explore on our own until it was dark. We bundled up and headed out into the cloud. As we walked in, forms and shapes of the rock emerged out of the fog. The first area of rock you walk through is White Navajo Sandstone. It rests there solidly, looking as if it had just formed, all bubbled and folded over like the skin of an ancient and leathered creature. It is incredibly pure stone though, pure in color, and untouched by any plant life. Only rock stretches out in all directions.

As we walked in further, the fog started to lift and the landscape swirled into life around us. Further in, the rock changes and becomes more dramatic in height, cresting like waves of the sea, frozen in time. The white yields to a mix of pink and red sandstone, swirling and mixing together creating large crescendos and miniature valleys. The terrain is filled with these depressions, or “pockets”. That day, they were filled with water that was so clear I wouldn’t know it was there until it rippled around my boots.

Once our guide had left us, the fog really lifted, revealing the entire rocky scape before us. It became a huge playground for us. We ran all over with no fear of hurting the soil or tripping on roots, there was only barren rock before us, inviting us to explore all of its nooks and crannies.  We ran around a few of the larger ponds, and explored some of the small caves carved out by years of wind and rain. 

The area is a Jurassic-aged dune field, our guide had told us. The wind had whipped it up into the swirls and forms as it rests today, and over time it hardened into the stone we now see, the ripples still present as if it was a dune you could still climb. Rain and water formed the depressions, and continue to fill them. The rock, seemingly so still and rigid, with no life present, is still very much changing and evolving. 

Turn after turn in this landscape lead us to new views. We had the whole place to ourselves, so we explored as we played. We climbed up cliff faces and slid back down, leaped across ravines, tiptoed across knife edges in the rock, and shimmied through tight passages. We explored all of this world that we could in the hour of daylight we had left to us. 

I could have sat and just looked at one square foot of rock for ages, studying the way it melts and folds and swirls. I snapped only a few pictures as I went, wanting to capture these small, yet huge, expanses of rock to study later. I couldn’t really capture this place, its scale, its true texture, the feeling of wildness and freedom it evoked, but as always, I tried. 

As the sun started to set I had scoped out spots I wanted to try and set up for sunset shots. The wind started to pick up, fiercely. It blew dramatic ripples across the clear expanses of water and started to chill us to the bone. 

As the light faded, we climbed up and over one of the taller waves of sandstone and got a view of the larger expanse of pink and white. That sense of wonder swelled. This time, so different. 

Typically, I find myself arriving at a vista, knowing that I am stepping up to a look out that would evoke some sense of awe. But that day, the view came later and it crept up on me. I found that this feeling had slowly unfolded within me as I explored the landscape first. I had immersed myself in it, and it had revealed itself slowly. Not until the end did I get to look out over this place and see it in all its twisting and turning. That sense of wonder and wildness had been rooting itself within me for hours, through the intense drive, through all the climbing and sliding and peaking around waves of stone. Here was just the culmination of it all, a glimpse of that deep wonder, just a moment, before it all faded away. 

We were told that once it was dark we could follow the line of pockets to the north get back to the Jeep. Our guide said that it was rumored these perfectly round indentations were dinosaur prints cemented into the sandstone over time, or maybe, he said, they had just been hoof prints from thousand year old cows. We followed whoever’s tracks they were, and they were my last glance back, in the near complete darkness, as the stars began to reveal themselves above us. 

I've come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t put on earth for speed and thrill. I tried for a while to embrace that kind of lifestyle, but I’m contented now knowing that I’m here to seek out the quieter moments. I often wonder if we are all, in some ways, here to learn to slow down so that we can see and hear and smell and feel the the wildness around us, embrace the wildness within us. It can surprise you, that wildness, when you give it the space to. Sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in earth-shaking ways where you feel so completely connected to the earth beneath your feet, the air in your lungs, the color and light greeting you as the sun sets and the stars start to twinkle in the heavens. 

As I sat here this morning, preparing to write, I watched the fog roll in over the red rock across the valley from my living room. As it did, the sleet began to strike the windows. The fog descended quickly through the river valley and the wind picked up, blowing a fierce mix of ice and rain.

A single bolt of lighting flashed, its orangey-crimson light diffused through the thick air. The clap of thunder followed, echoing through the valley, and then gave way back to the sounds of the powerful wind and ice. I looked up into the abyss of fog and cloud above and could see sheets of water moving like waves through the sky.

Within minutes the ground was covered in white. While the wind still pummeled to the south, I watched as large fluffy snowflakes floated directly in front of the window panes, protected from the wind by the edge of the house. Gentleness, was present even here. It’s always surprising me, this natural world around us.

We tend to seek out these extravagant places of wonder. As a photographer, I do of course. But, as I’ve started to enjoy slower times at home, as I watch from my seat by the window the changing of the seasons, I’m starting to see I can cultivate this feeling of wonder here, closer to home. This wildness, it seems, is always within reach, always with us, always within us if we just pause and look for it.


I spent much of my fast-paced 2023 trying to understand how to ground myself, how to slow time and find a sense of presence, and how to get back to older, more deep-rooted, more natural ways of being. I’ve tried and failed and tried at this over and over again. For years, really, I’ve done this, but I finally feel like I’m getting closer and closer to some understanding of how I am supposed to be in this world. 

I’ve always been drawn to natural places, they fascinate me and call to me. As I get older, I want to spend all of my time out along a river bank, or in a grove of pines, or brushing my fingers through tall grasses. I’ve found in my time with the rocks and trees, there are a few things in the natural world that we can always count on. Those forces of wind and water have much to teach us about deep time and slow change. In some ways, the last 3 years of living in the West have been, in a way, a slow study of wonder at the beauty and complexity that wind and water create. 

Through the next year, I will explore my relationship with the landscapes around me, trying to discern what these natural places mean to me in this current world. I hope to weave my way through thoughts on the places I have been and seen, as well as the landscapes I am seeking out throughout this year, my current places of solace and grounding. Through this time of reflection, I will be exploring the relationships between landscape, wind and water, those great forces, artists really, of time and space. 

This is part two of a series of writings associated with my 2024 calendar, but whether or not you have a calendar for the year, please join me back here monthly as I unravel these feelings and wonderings about our deep need for connection with our natural world. 

1 comment

1 commentaire

Beautifully expressed! I've been to White Pocket, and it is truly all that you share and describe and you've done it justice. It is probably the most surreal environment I've experienced, wondering at the creation and symmetry of it as there were multitudes of rocks with repeating patterns as the rock solidified and yet there were so many different forms the rock has taken. For me, that speaks to the magnitude of it all and yet the simplicity that there are processes at work here with wind, water, time. Thank you for this, it leaves me grateful and introspective.

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