Category Archives: Utah

The Sweetness of Solitude

 

Traffic. I detest it.

The cars were at a standstill, two lanes thick. Hope was doled out sparingly a few feet at a time every minute or two. After what seemed an endless wait the bottleneck was released, but then immediately the two lanes merged into one. Plodding along at 25 miles per hour, crankiness was brooding under the surface as I wondered why I should be stuck in a jam of cars and people in this place.

This was not a weekday commute on the interstate of a crowded metropolis; it was a beautiful October weekend at one of America’s most spectacular national parks in southwest Utah.

I can’t blame the hoards of tourists and photographers from all over the world for swarming to Zion in autumn, as it is one of the great spectacles of the American Southwest. But I was in no mood for congestion. I craved quiet and solitude where I could create in peace.

 

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion's east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

Climbing the switchbacks toward Zion’s east side grants a stunning view of the main canyon

 

The vast majority of Zion National Park’s visitors congregate along the main canyon road, where the beauty slaps you in the face with its utter grandeur. But I knew on this day I had no patience for these crowds, so I drove past the renowned Zion Canyon Drive and wound my way up the switchbacks, through the long dark tunnel, and out into the light of Zion’s east side.

Here, the number of cars and people are a tiny fraction of those crammed into the valley on the west side. Immediately I began to feel tension starting to release. Though the landscape on this side of the tunnel was less famous and more subtle, I knew it would suit me photographically. And most importantly, I knew I would find the delicious solitude I craved.

I navigated the curves of this much quieter road and found a promising pullout at the entrance to a small side canyon. From the road I caught glimpses of glorious autumn color lining parts of the canyon, and with much anticipation I hoisted my photo pack and tripod on my back and began climbing down a rough path leading to the canyon floor. I prayed for God’s grace to give me eyes to see his glory, and for the ability to make inspiring art in his world.

This little canyon proved a very blessed choice indeed. Right away I was treated to intense reds and oranges of lovely late-October maples, and further along in my wandering I came across a captivating mini slot canyon. There was more to explore and photograph than would fit in one day so I was happy to return to this and other nearby side canyons on Zion’s eastside for several more days of exploring and photographing sandstone patterns, autumn leaves, mountain goats, and sunsets.

 

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion's east side canyons

Showy maples bring jaw-dropping color to the autumn party on Zion’s east side canyons

 

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

Characterful sandstone walls in glowing reflected light bring a mini slot canyon to life in Zion N.P.

 

As much as I loved making images here, it was the sublime solitude that I most cherished. Not another soul interrupted my free-flowing thinking down in these canyons. While the crowds filled the main tourist sites and visitor centers ten minutes away, I basked in the deliciousness of being utterly alone. When God assigned my personality he made me an introvert, and it is in sweet solitude that I am strengthened and refreshed. It is in solitude where I best process my thoughts, ponder decisions, do my most inspired creating, and work my hardest. Solitude prepares me to love and serve people; without enough quiet alone time I quickly become no good to anyone.

 

___________________________________

“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech.” – Charles H. Spurgeon
___________________________________

 

And it is in solitude where I most naturally commune with my Creator and think on his amazing glory. During these quiet canyon hikes my mind was occupied with the Good News of God revealed in Scripture – that fallen rebels like me have been outrageously loved and forever forgiven by trusting in the perfect once-for-all performance of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, very God himself. A free gift! No earning required, nor even possible. All of mystifying grace, none of me. There are depths to this spectacular salvation found in the pages of the New Testament that I am only just now beginning to comprehend, and what I’m seeing is creating a profound paradigm shifting in how I relate to my Father in Heaven and live out of his love. I hope to write about these things in the coming new year.

 

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

A solitary fallen maple leaf complements the textured lines of sandstone during autumn at Zion

 

If any readers are in the mood to share, I would love to hear your comments about the idea of solitude. Is it something you crave? In the hustle of work and family and holiday chores, do you find you don’t get enough restful silence? When you are able to carve out time alone, what do you do with that time? What occupies your mind? Does solitude renew your spirit? Or like one of my good friends, do you find being utterly alone more draining than it is rebuilding? I would love to know my readers better if you are so moved to share your thoughts.

 

“In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.” – Richard Rohr

 


Giving Thanks for Aspens, Alligators and All Things

 

The region surrounding Moab, Utah is a red rock playground. Two national parks – Arches and Canyonlands – provide endless views and explorations of magnificent canyons, arches, and all variety of fantastic rock formations. This is as good as it gets for many visitors to the famous American Southwest. But for me, what most calls my name in this area is the La Sal Mountains, a range of high peaks reaching 12,721 feet above sea level and towering over the red rock country of Moab.

 

The 12,721 ft. La Sal Mountains rise above the Colorado Plateau near Moab, UT

The 12,721 ft. La Sal Mountains rise above the Colorado Plateau near Moab, UT

 

The La Sal range is host to wonderful groves of aspens, perhaps my favorite of all trees. Last fall I explored for my first time the La Sal Loop Road that runs up and down these peaks and was delighted with the autumn color I encountered in 2013, but this October arriving quite late in the season I fully expected all the color to be long gone. But just as I mentioned in my last post about another mountain range in Utah providing surprise color a few days before reaching Moab, so again here in the La Sals I was treated to a late-season display of gorgeous golden aspen and hillsides of brush turned shades of yellow, orange, and red.

 

Slopes in the La Sale Mountains are a wash of autumn color in early October

Slopes in the La Sale Mountains are a wash of autumn color in early October

 

I was overflowing with thankfulness to God for the gift of being among these special trees in Utah. I love the earthy aroma of autumn aspens, the soothing sound of the little leaves fluttering in the breeze, the quiet intimacy of strolling through a grove, the contrast of white trunks against yellow fall color, the smooth solid feel of the trunk as I pat them like a cherished old friend. In such an inspiring location, thankfulness flows without effort.

 

A quiet aspen grove makes for a serene location in the La Sal range near Moab

A quiet aspen grove makes for a serene location in the La Sal range near Moab

 

But in all honesty, I must admit that being thankful has often not been my usual response to my world. I’ve been ‘blessed’ with the ability to find a flaw in most everything and everyone, to see the glass half empty, to wallow in discontent and voice endless complaints to the few people in my life who would tolerate my negativity. I don’t know at what age this kicked in, but I do know most of my adult life has not been consistently lived out in a state of thankfulness.

When I departed southern Utah – a place I have cherished deeply for many years as a landscape photographer – and arrived back home in Florida a couple weeks ago to end five grand months on the road creating images, I knew my tendency would be to focus on the sense of loss at leaving behind sublime autumn aspens and many other spectacular areas, and to sit in discontent over returning to a relatively mundane normal life in the flatlands and being cooped up in a home office. Intellectually I knew I had much to be thankful for that was awaiting me in Florida – a most amazing wife, a wonderful new church with new relationships ready to be cultivated, a comfortable home made more lively by our two cuddly cats, and lots of winter sunshine and warmth. But being bountifully blessed has historically never prevented the complainer from showing his ugly face around these parts 🙂

 

A grove of aspens explodes in bright yellow on a hillside covered in scrub oaks

A grove of aspens explodes in bright yellow on a hillside covered in scrub oaks

 

Now I am happy to report that the transition back to Florida has been much more positive than what I had feared. Much prayer, including from dear friends, paved the way, and the old grouchy critic in me has been kept at bay. During the first few days back home I took notice of the incredible lushness of the Florida landscape, from swaying palms to all manner of flowering shrubs and trees. My senses came alive when I dipped my toes in the Gulf coast again. Time reconnecting with my wife has been precious. And I experienced a renewed sense of awe at God’s creative artistry when I gawked at an extremely large alligator lounging in shallow water. Somehow, someway, an attitude of thankfulness had carried over from the aspens of Utah to the alligators of Florida.

The powerful grace of God at work in me despite my many flaws and weaknesses is the only explanation I have for a heart that continues to give thanks to him. And what a difference it makes to my soul, and to those around me! To find the beauty and blessing in all circumstances each day is powerful medicine, lifting the spirit and bringing joy both to self and to relationships. I’m humbled to know my natural tendency to grumble, and I pray by God’s continued grace I can cultivate consistency in living a life of intentionally “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20, English Standard Version)


Eating Bacon to the Glory of God

 

The full moon on this night was huge, and crazy-bright. It lit up the rugged mountains bordering a lonely highway through the Nevada desert. I blasted along the quiet road with the accompaniment of classic 80’s Dire Straits on the truck stereo, and thinking about my wife. We were in the middle of a 5-month separation necessitated by my photographic work and I was eager to pick her up in Salt Lake City the following day so she could join my adventures in Utah for ten days.

 

A full moon rises above Nevada desert mountains at dusk

A full moon rises above Nevada desert mountains at dusk

 

It was a joy to be reunited with Wendy, and after a quick stop for fresh supplies we were ready to head that afternoon to our planned destination of Moab for exploration of Arches and Canyonlands national parks. But as we began the drive I couldn’t stop thinking about a nearby detour, one of the most sublime drives I’ve ever been on – the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. This spot is known for excellent fall color and I had photographed there in previous autumns. But my travels this October had been delayed and by now I was certain that any remaining color would be well past peak and not worth changing our plans for.

Still, I couldn’t quit thinking about this Scenic Byway, and as we neared the exit for the Alpine Loop I was pulled in like a magnet and decided to delay Moab so Wendy could experience this wonderful mountain drive, even if there were no beautiful leaves to decorate it.

As it turned out, our only regret in this last-minute route change was pulling our 24-foot trailer up the narrow winding road, which had my wife clinging for dear life to the grab handles and me doing my best strong-man-in-control-unafraid impression 🙂 But to my startled delight the Loop colors came on late this year and our eyes joined a visual party of aspens and maples displaying full autumn glory!

 

Layers of steep mountain ridges glow with a riot of autumn color in American Fork Canyon, UT

Layers of steep mountain ridges glow with a riot of autumn color in American Fork Canyon, UT

 

For the next two days we drove up and down the roads in this spectacular little piece of Utah, admiring views of 11,752-foot Mount Timpanogos clothed in yellow aspens, strolling through quiet groves of trees, searching out pleasing photographic compositions among the overwhelming fall splendor that was everywhere before us. A special treat was waking up in our trailer one morning to a couple of moose just outside our window, a cow and her calf leisurely grazing only ten feet away. It was a moment of majesty that Wendy captured well, pointing her camera through the small window of our kitchen.

 

A cow moose and her calf graze right outside our camp trailer (photo by Wendy Martin)

A cow moose and her calf graze right outside our camp trailer (photo by Wendy Martin)

 

Clouds reflect warm light at sunset over Mount Timpanogos draped in golden aspens

Clouds reflect warm light at sunset over Mount Timpanogos draped in golden aspens

 

Earlier in my trip I had texted Wendy about my delicious camp breakfasts and she was looking forward to me whipping up that grub for her too. So after our moose gazing it was my pleasure to fry up the natural uncured bacon, scramble the organic free-range eggs with chunks of melty Tillamook cheddar goodness, and make toast by pan frying hearty sprouted grain bread in butter (and then topped with tasty Oregon huckleberry jam).

The aroma of the bacon frying that morning got me to thinking about how God can get glory through our food and drink.

Several years ago I read an article by pastor/writer John Piper titled How to Drink Orange Juice to the Glory of God. At the time it did not seem to have much impact on me. And then one day in my kitchen cooking up a late breakfast with Applegate Farms Organic Sunday Bacon, the flavor explosion from that tasty meat literally caused me to worship God right on the spot. The previous reading about how to glorify God with how we eat & drink likely helped set the stage in my thinking, but it was only through experiencing for myself God’s good and gracious gift in that spectacular bacon that I finally understood how a person could eat bacon to the glory of God, or drink orange juice for his glory, or whatever your food and drink may be in that moment.

Here’s how it looks for me to magnify God’s glory as the unique succulent flavor of bacon hits my taste buds:

– I acknowledge that the bacon comes from God. He is the source of everything.

– I overflow with thankfulness to God for the bacon. I thank him for designing and creating pigs. I thank him for the financial ability to buy bacon. I thank him for the stores that sell it, the distributors that get it to market, the butchers who prepare it, and the farmers who raise the pigs.

– I enjoy it! With all of my senses. God is most glorified when we thoroughly enjoy his good gifts to us.

– I allow the incredible flavor of bacon to point me again and again to just how amazing our God is, his creative genius in the making of such a treat and his graciousness in blessing anyone with $4.99 and a frying pan with this rich pleasure.

 

A quiet grove of aspens nestled in the Wasatch mountain range along Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

A quiet grove of aspens nestled in the Wasatch mountain range along Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

 

This is the life I desire to live out with my wife more and more, in the ordinary circumstances of daily life as well as in the more glorious moments, whether traveling and photographing in eye-popping autumn wilderness or just sitting down to eat our simple breakfast: to see the hand of God’s provision in all his good gifts, to receive them with joy, to be ever thankful, and to worship God’s gracious and loving character.

“So, whether you eat or drink,

or whatever you do,

do everything to the glory of God.” 

(1 Corinthians 10:31, GOD’S WORD® Translation)

 

 

 


First Things First

 

How to begin?

The idea for this blog has been percolating for some years now. Finally sitting down to attempt writing the first post, I am overwhelmed by a hundred questions banging around in my head, the nagging noise of fear, confusion, doubt, and much resistance. Then the words of a dear friend in email bring me back to what the focus is all about, and I know now how to begin…

It’s all about the glory of God.

 

Mesa Arch glows from reflected light at sunrise in Canyonlands National Park, UT

On the short hike in the dark of early morning to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, it’s difficult to imagine the glory that awaits.  Arriving at the expansive span before sunrise, with the view of the Washer Woman formation,  the pulse quickens.  But it’s about 15 minutes after the sun has risen, when bright sunlight hitting the red rock below bounces up to set Mesa Arch’s belly glowing in fiery reflected light, that your jaw drops in awe of the spectacle you are witnessing.

 

To place myself in the path of God’s glory, have my eyes opened to it, and drink deeply of it, has become my passion and life pursuit as a Christian and photographer of the landscape. But it was not always so. Most of my years have been spent desperate to find some small glory for myself, clinging to the approval of people, striving for performance-based acceptance, and distracted by far lesser passions. In recent years my sovereign Father has been gracious to lead me into brokenness, exposing pride and idolatry within, and tearing down the facade. And then in love he has begun rebuilding the foundations of identity based on who he is and what he has done to rescue inept rebels like me through his Son Jesus Christ, and through that is stirring up an appetite for his amazing glory.

By God’s grace I hope to use the medium of this blog to share glimpses of the Creator’s handiwork that he has allowed me to capture through the art and craft of landscape photography. As the prophet Isaiah declares, “the whole earth is filled with his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3b, ESV), and my cameras can testify to this. Scriptures, writing, and other resources may be used with the photography to help magnify the greatness of our God.

Clearly a Christian audience is in mind here, with the hope of bringing encouragement to people who trust in the triune God of the Bible, but all are welcome.

 

Yellow and pink monkeyflowers decorate the Paradise River in Mount Rainier National Park, WA

High up on the flank of towering Mount Rainier in Washington state, the Paradise glacier is the source of a river bearing its name.  For a few summer days one particular August, which is more akin to springtime in this high country, the conditions combined to create a rare spectacular yellow and pink monkey flower bloom decorating the Paradise River and falls just below the glacier.

 

Each week I will endeavor to prepare a table with delicacies of the Creator’s magnificence and invite you to pull up a chair and eat and be satisfied. But any fruitfulness from these efforts will be solely up to God’s moving and working. My foundational role is simply to glorify the Lord by seeing and savoring the awesomeness of his works, then responding with gratitude and worship through the creative process of image making and writing. This is his call for me, by his enablement.

If you choose to journey along, may our souls resonate with the psalmist:

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”  (Psalm 34:8a, ESV)


%d bloggers like this: