I started bringing a camera along on my morning walks in the state park at the end of my street. The park is 170 acres of wooded terrain on a high bluff overlooking the Connecticut River south of Hartford. The trails are not too challenging for a guy my age with gimpy knees. I go walking there in all seasons except late spring and summer, when the mosquitoes and deer flies take over. The camera is a whiz-bang 35mm SLR digital model that takes far better pictures than my level of technical proficiency would otherwise permit. Mostly, the camera is a reminder to pay attention.
With a camera slung over my shoulder, my surroundings are no longer a dull backdrop for my wandering thoughts. Although the main trail runs along the bluff overlooking the river, I am not much interested in expansive views. These days I prefer to poke around in the park's many nooks and crannies. Lately, I have been exploring a trail that cuts through a ravine with a narrow creek winding along it. My eye is drawn to light, color, movement and texture. The morning sun burns through the still-bare trees of early April, casting long shadows on the brown carpet of leaves underfoot. The leaves part like a curtain on a steep embankment at the creek's edge, revealing a bright green apron of moss that trails down to the water. I remove the lens cap from my camera and fiddle briefly with the settings before taking a few shots.
My best pictures are often tightly framed, more abstract explorations of form and texture than landscapes. I understand now what Monet meant when he said a landscape does not exist in its own right. Everything depends on light and atmosphere, which change continually. I can return to this same spot later in the day or on another day or another season and encounter something entirely new. There are no objects in reality, only shifting patterns of light and shadow.
It's odd that you would need a camera to help you see, since a camera, even in the hands of a master, is still a poor substitute for the human eye. It is merely a pretext. A camera, at least, can be relied upon to record what passes through its lens, whereas there is no guarantee the mind will register what is seen with the eye. Alas, we see only what we are looking for, and because we are nearly always seeking something else, we are blind to the splendor that all lies all around us.