Field Notes: A New Lens

Exactly 120 days ago my morning mountain bike ride went from a pleasurable outing to a near catastrophic nightmare. The crash, which I still can’t remember the details of, unfortunately landed me in the intensive care unit of a Level 1 trauma hospital.  From there, the lens with which I view the world changed exponentially. 

The first couple of weeks following my crash I was primarily focused on managing the pain, which day and night was relentless. I was ceaselessly shuffling between the couch, a chair, a different chair, the bed, the floor or wherever else I could find safe harbor from the constant paroxysms of pain. 

In addition to the broken and rebuilt structural body parts, I also sustained a traumatic brain injury, fortunately not a catastrophic one. I was told not to overstimulate my brain while it healed itself so I should avoid reading, electronic screens, no driving of course and no loud noises or being around erratic movements. For a couple of weeks I essentially just moved from dark room to dark room. 

My brain injury mercifully healed quickly and I was assured by neurological professionals that all my cognitive abilities were intact, though I still needed to reassure myself I was “okay”. Having always found comfort in reading, I dug into my small collection of valued books and started re-reading my favourite compendiums by Hillerman, L’Amour, and of course a healthy measure of Abbey. I actually read nine books in a span of four weeks, something I hadn’t done in quite some time.

Being a photographer, I also spent my involuntary idle time reading more about the photographic virtuosos like Bresson, Adams and Ho. I read more about artists such as Frida Kahlo, who unquestionably exemplifies how art can emerge from adversity. 

At six weeks post-crash my wife was understandably skeptical of my brilliant idea of packing up our little teardrop camper and heading out for a little photographic road trip…skeptical especially given I was still braced and harnessed up. For me however, I was desperate to remove myself from that constricted emotional hole. I needed some form of normal life, or at least to get a glimpse of it again. If nothing else, I could take my cameras out for a ride and feel like I was doing something, anything. Thankfully, she acquiesced, we hitched up the camper and headed out.

Over the next seven days we chased some incredible fall colours down to the San Juans and explored long abandoned ghost towns along some nervy four-wheel drive roads. We spent an implausibly beautiful night in the open spaces of the Utah desert where the stars above were preposterously abundant and flamboyantly illumined. High in the Rockies we camped alongside ice-laced alpine rivers and lakes with nighttime temperatures dipping well below freezing. Admittedly, I needed help doing some of the things around camp, things I could typically do in my sleep, but that little excursion did more for my recovery than all the physical therapy sessions combined. 

Within two days of getting my medical leash slackened at twelve weeks post crash, my wife and I hopped on our mountain bikes and went for a ride. A week after that, I climbed a backcountry peak with a friend and skied back to my truck, twice. Anxious? Nervous? Yeah, it certainly messed with my head a little, but the more sinister, the more ominous thought was NOT doing those things again. I finally began to feel as though the foundering ship I’d been on had started to right itself again and I could begin to see an end to that execrable episode. 

The general consensus among a plurality of photographers is the focal length most equivalent to the human eye is somewhere between 40mm and 50mm with an equivalent aperture of f/1.8 to f/2.8, hence the designation of “the classic view” lens. Scientific sorts will argue the focal length of the human eye, based on the curvature of the eye and the average distance between the retina and the eye lens, will have a typical nominal focal length of 22mm with an aperture of f/2.1 to f/3.8.

Photographic acceptances and scientific postulates aside, I am 100% convinced I now see with a wider, faster and sharper lens on life than I did before my crash. The colours around me seem more exact, more brilliant. The details around me are far more comprehensive, more inclusive. My focus a little quicker, the big picture a little bigger. The appreciation of my life outdoors intensely more acute.

With my personal view of the life becoming sharper and more enhanced after this unfortunate affair, maybe my photographic pursuits will benefit as well. If Frida’s story taught me anything, there is beauty and art to be extracted and created from the most tempestuous of times. Here’s hoping.

Travel far, ski fast, pedal hard, live simply.

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