The Accidental Photographer

The author, rockin’ the feathered hat, with brothers at Fort Ticonderoga, New York. Photo by Shirley Castle.

I never intended to become a nature photographer. Yet I have always been one.

When I was young and my family went on day trips, my mother would hand me a camera. That’s me with my brothers, in the middle, rocking the camera bag and feathered hat.

I’d often return with a few photos of ships and cannons, but many more of trees and oceans or perhaps a seagull. A refection in a puddle. I wasn’t very good at photography, but I liked pointing the camera at interesting things and seeing what came out.

Later while hiking through the mountains, I’d often stop at an overlook or in pretty forest glade and dig a camera from my pack. I yearned to show the range of colors and gradients and the steepness of an ascent. I struggled to capture the majesty and depth of grand vistas and blazing bowls and how connected to a greater universe I felt. More often than not, my Instamatic hopes disappointed in print.

I graduated to 35mm camera for newspaper work, often photographing people, events and local sports. Still I’d fill rolls of film with winding country roads, pretty town squares, and bands of colorful foliage.

Buy a house in the woods, raise kids, and inevitably we needed a good digital camera. I determined to learn this new tool. I took seminars and courses. I took the camera on walks as I stalked color and light. When nothing else captivated, I abstracted shots. I have grown obsessed with reflections of light on water.

A few years back I took a break as a writer and editor. Call it a mid-life crisis. Call it a career reset. The winter snows piled up. I was aimless. One day I stepped onto the snow. I hadn’t been able to stand atop snow since I was a scrawny child.

I walked into the woods in winter, atop two feet of frozen snow.

The thick white cover submerged the underbrush. Tall oaks and beech and maples stood sentinel, waiting, as I chose any path through the maze.

I could go anywhere I wanted.

I stepped into the woods while lost, and I found myself.

Lost, I walked into the woods and realized I could go anywhere I wanted.