I’ve always loved my work as a travel photographer. For me, it dovetails perfectly with the work of A Peace of My Mind. When we visit new places…when we get outside of our comfort zone…we learn to see the world in new ways. It’s good to step out of our routine and open our eyes to other possibilities.
For the past three weeks, we were fortunate to travel with good friends through Europe. After a busy few years building A Peace of My Mind, I was able to set work aside (for the most part), wander through storybook landscapes, meet good people, and see the world in some new ways. As always, life is complicated.
You’ve heard of the slow food movement? I like to think I am a part of the slow thought movement. I don’t always do well in the insta-tweet world. It takes me time to process my thoughts, but here are some nuggets I am working through from the trip.
The Isle of Sky is a stunning piece of heaven on the west coast of Scotland. Rugged coastline, electric green landscapes and fluffy white sheep to gobble it up. We hiked in the sun. We hiked in the rain. The trails were full of people taking in the mountains, waterfalls and shorelines. We met people from 4 continents and we met local people, too. One of them talked about how the island had changed since the tourists discovered it. It was busy now. The roads were full (by Skye standards) and just getting from his home to his farm pastures could now be a challenge because of the tourists. As a tourist, that’s a little uncomfortable, but I could see that it was true…the place opened up to share its wonders with the world, and the local folks paid a price. “But,” he added, “it has made it easier to make a living.” Walk lightly when you travel. You make an impact.
Also in Scotland, we stumbled into a farm that was shearing its sheep. It was a migrant crew from Australia that was doing the work…I guess they’re good at that. It took exactly 60 seconds for one man to shear one sheep. The wool came off in a big sheet and another man folded the fleece blanket and stuffed it in a bale. It turns out there’s no money in the wool any more. They shear them for the health of the sheep and the money is in the meat. “What happened?” I asked the farmer. “Synthetics,” he replied. Polar-tec. Fleece. It had gutted the market for sheep hair. The farmer was wearing a new, high-tech fleece zip-up himself, and it was covered in wool.
Tuscany is beautiful this time of year. Shades of brown and tan accented by spears of green Italian Cypress, all under a cobalt blue sky. As a photographer I was excited to drive by fields of sunflowers, but curious about why their heads were bowed so early in the season instead of facing the sun. It was a 12-hour drive to get to our place in Tuscany and the first thing I did was take a long, luxurious shower. The days were hot, so we adopted an Italian schedule…we were active early and late in the day. We passed the hottest hours in the shade and in our case, at a pool. As the week went on, we saw signs of stress in the landscape. It wasn’t until we got home that I read Italy was in one of the worst droughts in 60 years. The sunflowers were bowed because they were thirsty. I wish my showers had been shorter.
Just walking through the streets, we encountered people who looked like they might be from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq…I found myself wondering if they had been living there for years…generations…or if they were a part of the new wave of immigrants and refugees who came to Western Europe in the past couple years. Headlines took on a new reality. I weighed the circumstances that brought me to Europe for recreation and them, perhaps, survival. There was very little to do in those fleeting encounters. There were no solutions in those brief moments. So I tried to make eye contact and smile…exchange just a bit of humanity.
Five years ago we had the chance to bring our kids to Europe. We had all our reservations booked and a month before we traveled, one coastal village in Italy we planned to visit was devastated by a mudslide. We received an email that our reservation was cancelled because the inn was destroyed. We wondered if we should choose a different part of the country to visit. Who wants to go to a disaster area? Then we saw a news story. It quoted a local villager who said, “Please come…we need your tourist dollars to rebuild.” So we went. We found a room in a neighboring village. We went to see the recovery effort and we spent some money. This trip we revisited that village. Talking to a local, he said, “All better.”
Life is complicated. Travel is beautiful, and people are, too. However you walk through life, do it with care. We are all in this together.