Aug 24 2014

On Prairies and People

_DSC6661A couple of weeks ago I met up with Rob Sheppard to do some photography of the prairies in southwest Missouri.  I had never photographed prairies and, although I had a few preconceptions of what a prairie would look like, I really didn’t know what to expect.  When we stopped at the first spot and got out of the car I must have had a bewildered look on my face because Rob asked me what was wrong.  In a sense I was bewildered.  Even though I didn’t know what to expect in the prairies I have to say I did expect more.  That first prairie looked like little more than a common field.  I couldn’t see what was so special about it,

Today I know that prairies are very special.  At one time prairies practically covered the middle section of North America; the area was a virtual sea of grass.  That is hardly the case today.  As noted in the Peterson Field Guide on the North American Prairie, “less than 5 percent of the original tallgrass prairie still stands unplowed, and about half of the original mixed-grass and shortgrass prairies have vanished.”  A landscape that at one time covered one-third of the continent barely survives today.  In most instances it has been converted to farm land.  Thankfully, several states have recognized the need to preserve sections of pristine prairie and these are open to visitation.

_DSC6153At that first prairie I struggled with how to photograph what I was seeing.  I think I struggled for a couple of reasons.  First, I had not previously attempted to photograph prairies.  Second, I really didn’t understand them.  I had no knowledge of a prairie’s unique characteristics or their ecological value.  One might think that would not hinder a photographer’s efforts to capture a landscape but it does.  It makes a world of difference!

_DSC6507The more time I spent in the prairies the more I came to appreciate what they had to offer.  The more I came to appreciate the prairies the better my photographs became.  Since returning home I’ve read a bit about the prairies and feel like I now have a better handle on what prairies are and their value.  I’d like to think that if I photographed a prairie area tomorrow this newfound knowledge would be reflected in the images I took.   Studying one’s subject and spending time with it are necessary to give one the eyes he or she needs to understand and fully appreciate that subject.  That’s just the way it is.

That happens to be true in areas beyond photography.  I believe it can also be true of understanding and appreciating others, especially those we don’t know so well.  There are people groups that at the present time seem foreign or strange to each of us.  We have preconceptions of what they are like but we will never really know them or appreciate them if we do not take the time to learn about them and actually spend time with them.  We will never know their beauty and uniqueness looking from the outside.  We must make the effort to get to know them for this to happen and invest the time that is necessary for doing so.

_DSC6100By coincidence, at the same time I was photographing the prairies in southwest Missouri with Rob in another part of the state racial tensions were erupting in great force.  The events in Ferguson have made it apparent that we still have a long way to go in tearing down walls that separate people.  The walls that separate people these days are quite numerous.  Some are racial, others economic.  There are also social, religious and sexual walls that divide people and create a distance that keeps us from actually getting to know and appreciate those on the other side.  These walls keep us from seeing the beauty that God has placed in all people.  If we are going to take seriously the divine call to love others as God has loved us (John 15:12) then we must make the effort to tear down these walls and get to know one another.  Sure, this can be risky business but in the end it is even riskier not to try.  Whether it be prairies or people, we must spend time in their presence and strive to learn more about them if we are to fully appreciate them.  Whether it be prairies or people, the survival of each may well depend on our willingness to do so.

–Chuck

(I took the prairie pictures included here on the trip to southwest Missouri described above.)


Aug 17 2014

My New Hero

_DSC6224I have a new hero now.  It happened by accident a few days ago.  Rob Sheppard and I hooked up in Missouri for a few days of photography in the southwest portion of the state.  We wanted to explore the prairies in the area.  It just so happened that one of the prairies we visited ended up being located quite close to the George Washington Carver National Monument.  Since we were that close by we decided we’d stop in and visit the place.  That decision proved to be a significant one for both of us.

_DSC6217Neither of us knew much about Carver other than he was an Afro-American who became famous for studying peanuts.  I have long used a particular quotation by Carver when I do talks on God and Creation.  He once said, “Nature is an unlimited broadcasting station through which God speaks to us every hour—if we will only tune in.”  Based on that quotation I assumed Carver was a person of faith.  I had no idea just how much so until touring the national monument that bears his name.

_DSC6201George Washington Carver grew up a slave that knew neither his mother or father.  He fell in love with nature as a young boy and in particular was fond of wildflowers.  With great determination he pursued an education, something that was not easy to do for a black person at that time in history.  He was extremely bright and talented.  He had great artistic talent and was also a musician, but he was destined to make an impact on the world through his botanical studies.  The list of his accomplishments is staggering.  In his book on Carver called The Man Who Talks With the Flowers Glenn Clark says “he discovered 300 new uses for the peanut and 150 new uses for the sweet potato and before he was through he had rebuilt the agriculture of the south.”  A movie about Carver’s accomplishment was shown at the national monument and after viewing it Rob and I both marveled that most people know so little about this great man.  His story truly is an amazing and  inspiring one.  It is a story of one who endured great hardship and adversity but overcame it.  It is a story of faith and perseverance.

Had blogs been in existence in his day it wouldn’t surprise me if Carver would not have written one similar to Seeing Creation.  He wrote and spoke often of the close connection between God and nature.  He once said, “nature in its varied forms are the little windows through which God permits me to commune with Him, and to see much of His glory, majesty, and power by simply lifting the curtain and looking in.”  At another time he said, “More and more as we come closer and closer in touch with nature and its teaching we are able to see the Divine and are therefore fitted to interpret correctly the various languages spoken by all forms of nature about us.”

_DSC6206George Washington Carver spent a great deal of time in communion with both God and nature.  He often gave God credit for his many discoveries and encouraged people to get to know both God and nature better.  He urged people to experience nature more, saying, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books,  for they speak with the voice of God.”  Once Carver came to look at the world this way he said “never since have I been without this consciousness of the Creator speaking to me through flowers, rocks, animals, plants, and all other aspects of His creation.”

I read a brief biography on Carver last night and it made me even more aware of what a person of faith he was.  His faith in God connected him even closer to nature and also to his fellowman.   He committed his life to studying one and to serving the other.  Carver lived a life characterized by humility and integrity.   He showed the world that faith and science are not opposites but companions.  He showed the world what one person who lives for the glory of God can do.  For all of these reasons and more, I now have a new hero.  How the world could use some more people like George Washington Carver today!

–Chuck

(All four of the pictures used above were taken at the George Washington Carver National Monument this past week.)