I was recently in southern Missouri where my wife and I were visiting a close friend. This wasn’t a photography trip, but we did visit some amazingly beautiful areas. The timing of our visit was perfect as the redbuds and dogwoods were blooming and numerous wildflowers were also in bloom. As beautiful as the trees were, it would be the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) that would end up being the star of our visit.
On our last afternoon there, our friend took us to an area along a river that often has Virginia bluebells blooming. We didn’t know for sure that the bluebells were even blooming yet or how extensively, but our friend knew that in some years they have been really outstanding in this area. This was one of those years. As we pulled up to the location, we could see a carpet of blue surrounding the trees. I know that description gets used a lot, but in this case it is accurate. We couldn’t park right next to where the bluebells were blooming so we couldn’t see individual flowers, just a mass of blue flowing around the tree trunks.
We began our walk towards the flowers and individual clumps of the bluebells were the first we came across. I had never seen these flowers before and enjoyed looking at the clusters. It was a cloudy day and the soft overcast light really showed off the blue of the flowers. It was also a calm day and the stillness of the area was noticeable, almost like the world was holding its breath so as not to disturb the beauty of this area.
I was fascinated with the shapes and textures of the flowers themselves and I think I could have spent a long time looking at and photographing individual flowers. I don’t like to admit this, but I was too excited to get to the main area where the bluebells were thick to spend much time with the individual plants.
I’m hesitant to even try to describe what it was like walking along the trail through the main area where the bluebells were really thick. It was just an amazing, magical experience. The stillness and the quiet of the area with the sounds of the river flowing in the background and the amazing colors flowing around the trees were just overwhelming. When I first downloaded my photographs I didn’t even want to look at them, I knew they weren’t going to be able to convey what the experience of being there was like. I really have been trying lately to make photographs that give a sense of what the complete experience was like for me when I was at the location I was photographing. Our experiences of a place are so much more than simply the light that strikes our optic nerve and I really want my photographs to convey more than a simple recording of light. I knew in this case though that I would fail.
I know this sounds like hyperbole, this was just a magic, mystical place. I would not have been surprised if a unicorn or something like that would have walked out of the trees (ok I would have been surprised and a bit worried that I had hit my head or something, but still it was that kind of place!).
As were walking back to the car (very reluctantly) a light rain started to fall. The sound of the rain striking the trees above us only added to the wonderful experience. You just could not have planned a better day to visit this place.
We all talked about how lucky (blessed) we were to have visited when we did. A week later or earlier and maybe we would have missed the bluebells blooming at all. I know that blooms like this can vary from year to year as well. Maybe next year there won’t be hardly any bluebells in bloom. This area floods frequently as well so under different conditions the area could have been under water. It made me wonder how many magical moments I have missed in my life because I was caught up in the past or the future and not paying attention to what was around me right now. Being more present is one of the greatest gifts I have received from photography (not that I’m very mindful, I have a long way to go in that area). People sometime ask what I hope my photographs will “do” or why I make photos. I’ve really been interested in that the last couple of years and I still don’t have a good idea, but one thing I do know is that I hope my work will inspire others to stop and pay attention to what is around them in ‘the now’. I’m very grateful for not missing this “now” moment.
For related photographs, please stop by my “Blooms, Blossoms, and Leaves” gallery.