I was in the city of Paris last month, and no other place in the world reminds you of the beauty people can create. The city made me think about how I can better dedicate the time I have left on this planet to trying to leave it more beautiful. I know Paris is a far cry from the wilderness but there was one phenomenon I witnessed here that I see far too much of in the outdoors back home in Colorado: incessant cell phone photography.
It seems that some people are more obsessed with taking photos of great works of art than they are with actually looking at them and experiencing them. The crowd surrounding the Mona Lisa, elbowing to take crappy photos of it or turning around for selfies with that famed smile, has become just as much an experiential art piece as the painting itself, a statement on how our society only views beauty as something to be captured and claimed. Why not just stop and spend some time with the art, see it, interpret it? I have no basic problem with taking photos of art. But when you simply snap and move on, you are engaging in something bizarre.
I all too often see this happening in the outdoor space, too. On one side, outdoor photography has always been about ego gratification. Hey, we all want a shot of us shredding that steep line or standing out on that precipice. But all too often, influencers are simply heading to beautiful, rare, all too rapidly disappearing places for no other reason than to rack up more followers.
I’m guilty, too, I guess. It seems to be a basic instinct for us in this age, an addiction as bad as cocaine in the 1980s. So here is the first thing I want to commit to doing to try to help bring some sanity to this pressure-cooking planet. I will leave my phone in my pocket more. I may miss out on some incredible posts, but I may also find a sense of peace that seems to be missing from my skull recently. I won’t tell anyone where I went. The place, the view, the moment will be part memory and imagination.
I thought about the power of memory when Notre Dame burned, too. I have been to the cathedral several times throughout my life and it always impresses in a different way. This time, I thought about the building of the place, how it took lifetimes, how nameless artists put their mark and personality in a building meant to serve something far beyond individual lives. I also experienced it differently because of the people with me. My kids were here for the first time. I viewed it through their perceptions. My mom has been to Paris many times since she was 11 years old, and this was the first time she climbed to the top of the bell towers on Notre Dame. Her smile stayed with me. I also looked closely at the cathedral’s stone and saw fossils in it—it gave me a sense of deep time, that rock once on the bottom of the ocean could build this. Yes, I took some photos, but I looked beyond my phone.
When it went up in flames, I thought how odd that the memories we made there were now more powerful images, and even more powerful memories since they carry a weight we did not know they would have two weeks later. I thought about so many wildfires that I have fought and seen ravage beautiful wild places. About how important the memories we make in this fading paradise should be to us. About how we need to get out and see more with the people we love.