This morning, I got up at dawn and went out with my video gear in hopes of getting some nice footage. It was a frustrating session. I didn’t get anything outstanding, but I did get some decent footage (featured in the above video) and I most certainly had a number of vivid and pleasant experiences. This set me to thinking. When it comes to nature immersion, is it really a good thing for me to be driven primarily by my goals, and by the technology I am using to capture images and sounds? The following essay addresses this concern.
Goals and Nature Immersion:
Nature immersion, at its core, involves relaxing the mind to allow for a deep, multi-faceted engagement of the senses. An overly-active, goal-oriented mind often works against this process, confining experience to a narrow scope which blinds one to the larger totality of the moment. It can be argued , however, that by focusing our attention, we actually heighten and super-charge experience, though within a narrow, restricted domain. So perhaps the best solution is to embrace both approaches. Why not gain a mastery of our inner process and cultivate the ability to consciously move from one domain of experience to the other?
For me, the two approaches have often posed something of a dilemma. A big part of me enjoys the goal-oriented approach … to go out into wild nature with the intention of capturing cinematic videos and high-quality sound recordings that I can share with others. When engaged thusly, I become intensely focused on animals and their sounds. I become like a hunter stalking prey (though without the killing). This most certainly begets vivid, hyper-sensual experiences quite unlike those generated from a more normal state of mind.
Yet I am aware of the limitations! By adopting a focused and object-oriented approach, it becomes difficult for me to “stop and smell the flowers.” I may be in such a rush to fulfill my goals that I do not notice the beautiful reflections on the pond or the rich smell of the rotting leaves underfoot. And even if I do, there isn’t the time to stop and simply enjoy the show. My goals indeed propel me forward but I become like a horse with blinders. I see only what is in front of me and nothing to my sides, above or below, or behind me. I view nature through the window of my gear, through my lens and my microphone, directed by my intensely-focused mind.
So what to do? Obviously, nature immersion comes in different flavors. I propose that we first define a continuum of experience, ranging from intensely focused and goal-oriented to wide open and all-inclusive. The challenge, then, is to cultivate both extremes as well as everything in between. Once we become aware of “where we’re at” in any particular instant, we become empowered. We can choose to change course, to move from a focused, object-oriented appreciation to a more de-focused and broad sensory appreciation … or vice-versa and then back again. We now have control over our selves and can shape the quality of our experience by maneuvering in whatever direction we like.
Touching wild nature, experiencing immersion and being released from stress and worries, can occur with either approach. So why not become flexible enough to embrace the extremes and move freely between them? Only then will we be able to control our own destiny, at least during the slices of time that we devote to immersion in the natural world.
You’ve touched on a dilemma that I believe plagues all nature lovers who record via video or still photos. To be or do? Sometimes I purposely leave the camera behind and just commune. If I miss a shot, I just let it go. It comes down to staying in balance.
This is a wonderful essay. When out in nature I find I usually am in the state of (as you put it) a de-focused and broad sensory appreciation. When in this state I am amazed at the deep thoughts that come to the surface of my awareness, such as solutions to problems or creative thoughts. On the other hand if I am (for example) searching intently to see the Northern Lights when I am visiting New England, I usually have NONE of those revelations.
I recall a lesson that Gordon Hempton taught about recording in a location: first spend a day there without equipment, just ambling around listening. Then come back the next day and mic the sweet spots you found with “natural sound stages”–some sounds near, some far, a panorama…
I’ve never had the patience to follow this good advice. Maybe when I “retire.”
Dan: I’m on permanent retirement and have been for quite awhile, even though I have to work and make money. At least I try to cultivate that state of mind and being. It seems not a good idea to wait, given that life can go poof at any point along the way. Yet I still fall prey to the usual problems that keep me from being fully present.
i got so busy commenting on the essay, forgot to comment on the video, which is splendid. that cardinal and wren song SO heart lifting.
Lang, I appreciate your concern regarding missing the big picture in the field while focusing on the narrow subject of the bird in your lens or in your microphone. There are many wildflowers I too have not looked at, or bent over to touch, while out filming birds. But you are not making an important point in your argument. The essence and intricacy of Nature goes both ways. There is big and there is small. Your own video shows it. You see the separation of feathers at the throat of the singing Carolina Wren, the looking around of the Cardinal,… Read more »
Like photographs, my videos provide a second window into reality. Watching the videos during editing, I notice things I did not notice in the field, such as the goose actually skating on the ice (the geese were too far away to see that clearly, but it shows up clearly in the video). I have always had mixed feelings about focusing entirely on “collecting,” either images, videos, or sounds. I would never give up doing that for obvious reasons (which you’ve summarized), but then again there is a cost. Sure I feel the wind on my face when videotaping, but I… Read more »
I think about this often when deciding whether to take my camera on my walks, a bird walk or whale watch. I used to always take my camera, for fear of missing “that” shot, the one that often didn’t come out as well as I thought it should. I find that my camera can be a distraction from really “seeing”, hearing, and smelling all there is to see, hear or smell. This was true especially on whale watches, trying to get that great fluke or breach shot, and missing some of the awe of the experience. I have thousands of… Read more »
Yes, sometimes the struggle to capture the moment interferes with one’s perception of the moment. This happens to me all the time.
You can’t do both (at least, not at the same time). There was a time when I wanted to become a nature video/photographer. Bought a camera, lenses, tripods, backpacks, a decent sound recording system, etc. Got hundreds of great pics and videos, only to discover years later that I forgot the most important thing in the equation: to really enjoy doing it, to let myself be mesmerized by the wonder of God’s creation. Now (having sold everything) when I get “out”, I simply sit myself down and listen, smell, and watch. And this is such a more pleasing experience. Not… Read more »
Claudius: You hit the nail on the head! This coming spring and summer, I’ll be practicing how to shift my frame of reference willfully, even when toting gear around.
Claudius: I completely understand why you made the decision to sell your equipment. I actually did that myself long ago, though I ended up returning in part due to my fascination with the technology and fun to be had in relation to it. But I am also interested in freeing myself from constraints. This coming season I’ll be experimenting with these ideas and will relate my experiences and conclusions right here on my blog. Thanks so much for commenting!
Just don’t do any “radical” shift, so that I don’t feel sorry for sharing my thoughts 🙂 Take care!
I promise … no radical shifts!
totally off topic comment==apology. how do you put your photo with your comment? i have looked every which way and can’t figure it out. but i am know for techno deficiency 🙂
Billie: All you need to do is create a free account at gravatar.com and your pic will show up automatically. I actually intend to e-mail all my commenters and ask them to do just that, so that we can see each other when commenting. I should do that soon!
very interesting discussion. i have struggled with this issue in a much more limited way–usually just making simple recordings or short video clips. I agree that doing so can really draw you into the experience in an intense way, but the disadvantage I have found is how it heightens my awareness of all the “annoying” things that go on in our world. I hear the airplanes, far off cars, shouts of people, slams of car doors and realize how I filter those out or don’t listen to them so much when i’m just more relaxed and enjoying, although even then… Read more »
Billie: You’re oh so correct! Sound recording in particular makes one aware of all the noise pollution. It’s funny how “normal” people can just filter out those sounds while watching birds. But once you start recording birds, such annoyances take center stage.
Lang, slow down; it’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast. You also miss the sense of where you are going and why. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
If you want to truly enjoy your life, you must be at peace with yourself.
I not only enjoy your videos and soundtracks, but also your poems, and writings. You have much to offer, but offer it at a slower pace, Breathe.
Connie: I’m workin’ on it! First, a long slow breath …
thank you for focusing on something to entertain and WOW us who don’t get to see the ‘up close’ shots that are stunning. We are unlikely to sit in a closed blind (except for sharp tail grouse dances) and see what is going on. The binoculars help but your sound recordings wow us.
The prep work we don’t see, but suspect can eat up a lot of time.
Soooo, thank you for your ‘focus’ and choices. We really enjoy it!!
Lang that was beautiful to watch! Thanks for sharing such visually rich footage.
Thank you Lang for another soul-quenching video (just loved the crested redbird with his earnest deliberateness at dawn!)….followed by your fascinating essay on finding the balance between one-pointed use of the mind and an openness that lets go of and transcends the mind, and how one might move between the two. Though I myself don’t make nature videos and soundscapes, I can apply your thoughts to my own attempts to use the mind and the other non-mind faculties in ways to promote peacefulness and joy and growth in the inner divine.
Susan: Now I just need to apply my own thoughts …
The wonderful fleeting moments seem to have a way of making us focus and set our goals don’t they? You’ve captured those moments and so unselfishly did what you need to do to share them with us….like the ice skating goose! Thank you Lang for doing that for us.
I really am enjoying this video you just sent.
You’re welcome Joann! Glad you noticed the ice-skating goose at the end … it’s subtle.
So what to do? Wow, I would love to see the entire continuum in your videos–pond reflections, wind and weather, the odor of those flowers–both extremes and everything in between. Sounds interesting and looking forward to the results! I enjoy shooting video “narratives” with natural on-location audio on specific properties for local land trusts. Call it a hobby. When I go out I never know what I might find and bring home. I consider the material “found objects” and act creatively from there with technology. But I would like to think the technology does not drive me. The unpredictability of… Read more »
Norman: I very much identify with the process you’re describing. I intend to creates nature immersion narrative videos that will combine closeup clips (of birds and frogs singing) with habitat footage and striking closeup of flowers, dewdrops, etc. I’m still trying to figure it all out, but I should make considerable progress this coming season. I have a 3-axis stabilizer for habitats and a motorized multi-axix dolly for closeup work. Can’t wait to jump into the thick of it once the landscape is greening and the migratory birds are back. There is a film I love called Microcosmos. It is… Read more »
It’s a funny situation. Whenever I have been out recording birdsong there is an urge to go on; to find the next spot where something may happen; to find out what is on the pool/tree/in the ditch ahead. I agree, though, that this can lead one to, relatively, rush through the very thing that ought to be lingered over. I have also tried sitting with my recorder, a mic 20yds away, a flask of coffee, and just waiting for an hour to see what occurs. You are right. A combination of stopping and staring at a leaf, and striving to… Read more »
Yes, respond to one’s inner calling and realize that it’s vitally important to take time to smell the flowers, even when rushing from one thing to the next. I remind myself of this frequently, and it helps for sure.
Nice essay, Lance. I found that during my many years as a nature guide, I became too focused on the interpretation of nature and not the experience of nature. It’s taking me a long time to achieve that balance. Though I have nowhere near the photographic skill level and ear for nature that you have, now I generally just go out without a goal and if I see something that I want to record and perhaps even share then I do that.
Thanks Tony. I too went through a phase where I led nature walks and poured out the information, as if that were the point. That’s not inherently a bad thing to do, but the problem is that the leader literally becomes a talking head and that greatly influences the experience of not only the followers, but the leader as well. I actually developed an exercise for people who go on guided nature walks, encouraging them to periodically tune-out the talking head and just listen to the quality of the total soundscape, including hearing the sound of the words of the… Read more »
Your essay is a great reminder that we should be aware of the difference between just absorbing and being goal oriented. I find myself switching back and forth and want more of both. Fortunately I do spend a great deal of time in nature — sketching, writing, photographing, and savoring.
Elva: I just checked out your blog. Very nice indeed! Lovely paintings and great thoughts. I really like your most recent post: “Selective Listening”. Great ending “…. and dusk at the pond always makes my heart sing.”
I suppose each of us establishes our own balances. Personally, I have to make a conscious choice when starting out which I’m going to do. If I’m shooting, I have an agenda; if I’m communing, I have none. The lines can blur a bit at times, but then I seem to be doing a compromised job all around. For me, it has to be one or the other.
I like the idea of doing one or the other, but I find myself mixing the two in some fashion. The key, I think, is being aware of one’s state of mind in the moment, not a “thinking” awareness as much as a deep knowing of one’s current process. That might allow for seamless switching, without a bunch of analysis. Practice makes perfect, I suppose.
Not knowing is most intimate
Alan: I think I know what you mean, but please explain.
For days that we either do not have…or take the time to wander, listen, and observe in the outdoors, how wonderful it is to have your site to connect to and drink in…whether goal focused, or free-form! Thanks, Lang!