I like taking photos when I’m out of the country.
Photographing things in Mexico is effortless. I’ll never understand the nuances of every festival or ritual, but I can enjoy the pageantry and the color and the incredible effort and artistry that goes into creating so much beauty.
Then I come back up north and look at the mud. It’s a big change.
The skies were overcast for the first five days after my return from Mexico. The temperatures were unseasonably low. There was some rain. There might even have been some snow, if you count the white, pelletlike things that dotted the sidewalk. Maybe it was sleet. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
“What is this?” I asked an innocent passerby. He shook his head disapprovingly.
“I have no idea,” he said.
And I realized that I was terribly spoiled. Taking pictures in Mexico took no skill at all. I decided I needed to start taking pictures right here at home.
The first day was not a great success. The sun stayed stubbornly behind a cloud. The few blooms that were out had been nipped by the frost. I took a photo of some branches against the gray sky and a carved stone pillar covered in green lichen. The lichen was vivid green after sleeping all winter. The lichen seemed about as happy as lichen can be, and so I figured I could make more of an effort.
The next day I happened upon some crocuses forcing their way through the muddy soil. The crocus is not a showy flower, but their sheer numbers were amazing. I found a handful of daffodils blooming in a spot where they caught the occasional bit of sunshine.
The third day was colder than ever. I headed out the door for my walk and turned right around, went inside and put on warmer clothes. The sky was dark in the middle of the afternoon. I photographed a hydrangea, left over from the previous year, bleached and brittle, shaking in the chill wind.
I wanted to photograph one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood through the fence, but a row of garbage cans was in the way. I contorted into a strange position, and a woman walking by looked at me curiously.
“I’m trying to take pictures,” I told her, “even on the gloomy days.”
“Well, this is a good house to photograph when it’s gloomy!” she replied. The house looked menacing under the heavy clouds.
On Sunday, I went to church. A new pastor had been hired while I was in Mexico, and he preached a good sermon. The choir was especially strong. And, sometime in the middle of the service, a little bit of sun crept out. I looked up and saw the stained glass.
“Oh, look,” I thought. “Finally, some color.”
After the service, I climbed the wooden stairs to the balcony and I looked through the vibrant stained glass. It was all the color I had been missing since coming back from Mexico.
And I felt a lot better.
I’m not sure if the new minister would approve, but those windows did more for my soul than his sermon and the beautiful music put together. Those windows gave a sermon of their own. Those windows lifted my spirits and made me remember how much unseen beauty there is — all the time.
They reminded me that it’s not what I’m looking at that matters — it’s what I’m looking through. Looking through eyes trained to see beauty, I see beauty everywhere.
I left the church, thanking the windows on my way out.
Till next time,
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