Sep 23 2014

What’s In A Name?

Maine 1000p-19Recently I spent a little time in Maine. My mother as well as my sister and her family live in Brunswick, just north of Portland. Before heading back home to Southern California, Vicky (my wife) and I went to Acadia National Park. While this was not a photo trip, I did, of course, spend some time photographing both in the Brunswick area and in Acadia.

I sent a group of photos to Chuck. This is one of his favorite places. It was my favorite place while I was there – my favorite place is always the place where I can be out in nature spending some time being close to and connecting with God’s Creation. Connecting with nature, and God, means for me, being aware of the totality of nature from bugs to landscapes, and photographing it all. Chuck liked my pictures and said he was glad I got to photograph some “creepy crawlies.” Kidding, I said that we lovers of God’s Creation don’t call minibeasts “creepy crawlies.”

Maine 1000p-13But this got me thinking. When Genesis says that God looked over his creation and said it was all good, I don’t think He said, “And those creepy crawlies are okay, too.” “Creepy crawlies” is a judgment of God’s Creation based on our prejudices, not God’s.

Maine 1000p-05The poet Maya Angelou used to emphasize how much words matter. I think they do. What words we use to describe our world affects how we see it, and this definitely affects how we see nature. How often have deserts and wetlands, for example, been called “wastelands” or “worthless” as a justification for destroying them? Or how often do you hear about a desert being “restored” or “reclaimed” or “made useful”?  I find it hard to believe God looks at His world with those descriptions. Once you spend some time in a desert, you discover what an amazing ecosystem it is with everything perfectly aligned to the environment. Just as it is. Without our help. Imagine that!Desert1

Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NIV)”  I like the translation of this version by The Message, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” And of course there is Psalm 19:14, a verse memorized in so many Sunday School classes, “Let the words of my heart and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Now I really can’t believe giving prejudicial names to any of God’s creation, from spiders to people, swamps to mountains, is something that would be pleasing in God’s view.

Maine 1000p-06

– Rob

The pictures you see here are, from the top, sunrise at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, a daddy-long-legs (also called a harvestman), a jumping spider, Death Valley, and a tussock moth caterpillar.


May 29 2011

Names and Places

This past Friday I got to spend an entire day photographing.  Although I was able to photograph a variety of subjects the day began and ended taking pictures of waterfalls.  It started with a beautiful waterfall called Creation Falls in the Red River Gorge National Geological Area.  It concluded at another pretty waterfall, Broken Leg Falls, in the Daniel Boone National Forest.  The two waterfalls are very different but both are quite scenic and made delightful photographic subjects. 

On my way home I kept thinking about how the two waterfalls were both lovely but that their very different names seemed to affect my experience and enjoyment while in their presence.  The name “Creation Falls” put me in a contemplative mood and made me mindful that Creation was putting on a show for me.  It made me mindful of the Creator’s presence and prompted words of praise and thanksgiving.

The name “Broken Leg Falls,” however, had a different affect on me.  I’m not exactly sure how this falls got its name but after taking the perilous trail down to the bottom to photograph it I think I have a clue.  This waterfall was delightful to behold but for some reason its name bothered me and dampened my mood.  I confess I have the same feeling whenever I visit Dog Slaughter Falls near Corbin, Kentucky.  Shakespeare may have believed that a rose by any other name would have smelled just as sweet but I’m not convinced that names don’t influence how we feel about things or experience them.

On visits out West I have photographed Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and Devil’s Canyon in Montana.  In both places I couldn’t help but wonder what the devil had to do with either one.  Both the tower and the canyon are majestic examples of God’s Creation and deserve better names.  Why do so many places have the “Devil” added to it?  (The only place I’ve thought it appropriate was the “Devil’s Golf Course” in Death Valley National Park. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.)

Names are very important. The Scriptures certainly back this up.  In biblical times place names and people’s names typically told a story.  Names also were more than what someone might call you.  Names represented one’s character.  In fact, in numerous cases when a person’s  character changed he received a new name.  Abram becomes Abraham.  Jacob becomes Israel.  Simon becomes Peter.  Saul becomes Paul.  Names make a difference.  They did then; they do now.

Obviously, I cannot change the name of places I feel deserve a better moniker.  I’d like to, but I cannot.  I guess this boy born half way between Possum Trot and Monkey’s Eyebrow will just have to accept that some of God’s wonders have gotten stuck with rotten names and try not to let it interfere with my enjoyment of those wonders.  It won’t be easy but I’m going to try.  Wish me luck…


(Top image: Creation Falls.  Bottom image: Broken Leg Falls.)

Jun 21 2010

What’s in a Name?


When I travel to different areas, I always try to find guide books to the local plants and animals (although now I have guides to most areas of the U.S.). I want to know what is there. And if I can’t find out what something is, I will check with the rangers and naturalists that are at so many of our parks.

Now I understand that it is difficult to know every plant and animal everywhere. I have to constantly remind myself what things are when I revisit an area that I have not been to in a while. But names can be important.

I think it is very interesting that in the second story of creation in Genesis, the Biblical writer makes a big deal about Adam naming “every living creature.” There are a lot of references to names in the Bible, including names of God, but I think a relevant passage is from Psalms 91, verse 14, “I will protect those who know my name.” This can be interpreted as being in a great relationship with God because you “know” His name.

Names connect us with God, but also with anything we know the name of. It is easy to ignore a person we do not know, but not so easy if we know their name, so to speak. I think this applies to nature. If a landscape is simply a bunch of brush, it is easy to ignore it and even denigrate its stature. If it has a name like chaparral, it suddenly gains some status and stature. If the Gulf oil spill is soaking some birds, that is a lot harder to relate to than to know it is soaking the feathers of pelicans and any number of other species of water birds.

So I think the reference to names in Genesis is very important because it says that the life around us is important. If it were not, what would be the point of giving it names? Names make the world specific and offer us a solid connection to it. If we know the name of someone, they can become a friend, even if we don’t always remember their name at first. Even if we don’t remember the name of a flower, once we know it has a name from a book or a naturalist, that flower gains a stature. The opposite of that is when we don’t know a name (0r think that a plant or animal has a name), the creature involved becomes anonymous and easy to ignore, and then perhaps, to forget so it becomes vulnerable to destruction and loses our care. God’s creatures do have names even if we don’t know them, that is another point of the writer of the second creation story, and that gives them stature and importance with God.

I think photography is a little like that, too. It gives us a very specific vision of nature. A photograph of trees is never simply a generic forest. It always has specific characteristics of the trees, characteristics that are as unique as names. Photography and names help us connect directly with God’s world.

The little butterfly seen here is a skipper, a very specific type of butterfly, and it is sitting on a bidens flower.