Look, I shouldn't have gone. Back home, it was grading season, and I bit off more than I could chew by teaching two courses during my first year of retirement. I was busy beyond busy. I'd overbooked myself for the last month, running off to speak about this or that, hither and yon--sometimes with my wife, sometimes not--and the last thing I should have done was fly up to Ontario for a three-day retreat for preachers and spouses. I'm not even a preacher.
But I did. I'm a sucker and a glutton for punishment and, when push comes to shove, I love to travel. Well, let's put it this way: I love to see new places; and I'd never been "up north" in Ontario before. I guessed it would be something akin to the beauty of northern Minnesota, my dream world, but I'd never been there. So, I went, but I shouldn't have.
Still, it was a good time.
One afternoon a bunch of retreat-ers hauled me along to Algonquin Park, a monstrosity of a park, not far down the road from the retreat center.
Listen--when you're the speaker at a retreat, there's really no down time. You're worried about how your shtick went last time, and you're fretting about what on earth might happen the next time you're behind that podium. Besides, I was bushed--six trips up to the front of the room was no piece of cake (the food was wonderful, by the way).
But I went along on a quick jaunt to Algonquin Park, where we saw a couple of moose and took a short hike around a lake. This lake.
I like taking pictures--no, I love taking pictures. But I like taking pictures when I'm alone, when I can sketch out something in my imagination before pointing the camera. I like having the time to see. I like going off by myself and hunting for beauty--I really do. I've said it often on these pages--looking for beauty is just plain good for the soul.
But on this short hike around a sweet little lake, I was one of a dozen hikers footing it through the woods, and I had to keep up. So I didn't have time to size anything up, didn't have time to pour over what might be a good shot, didn't have time to plan or to meditate, couldn't even create a frame with my fingers. Nope. Just point and shoot and move along. By the end, I was covered in sweat.
The sun wasn't out either. Taking pictures is all about light, finally, but, just then, on our little jaunt, it was in hiding behind some gray clouds that promised rain, some at least. The sun brightens colors, deepens them. If you don't get glare and if the images themselves don't burn, most often I prefer sun. Nope--not this time. Let's list things here: I'm bushed, I'm marching along, not planning, the sun isn't out, and--I forgot to mention--I came armed with my littlest camera. I know, I know--the miraculous things camera-makers are doing with cameras these days makes everyone into a photographer, but I had neither time nor technology to take the really good shots.
Here's the real bottom line: I have never been in a place--anywhere, any time--where suuch gorgeous pictures literally jumped into the camera. I wish I could say these shots are comely because the landscape photographer knows how to arrange a canvas as if it were a precious still life. I wish I could say that these works of art are meticulously planned and executed. I wish I could say that I was a really, really talented photographer. But these are just plain snapshots.
The plain truth is Algonquin Park that overcast early summer afternoon--the oaks and maples only beginning to leaf--was perfectly gorgeous. I couldn't have missed with a Brownie.
And that's why, this morning, I'm thankful for a retreat I really shouldn't have taken. Beauty is its own excuse for being.