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Lost and Found in White Sands


White Sands with Starburst ©Lynne Buchanan
It has been just over a year since I returned from my incredible 13,000+ mile solo cross country journey, the whole point of which was to lose and find myself.  I am over 250 pages into my book about this experience and as I am writing, I am revisiting the photographs I made on the trip.  While I was traveling, I was also trying to process a few photographs and write this blog.  Often, I did not have time to really go through all the photographs and am finding lots of wonderful images I didn't catch then.  I did have to leave time for a little sleep.  Three months was a long time to be on the road.

When I arrived at White Sands, it was late in the afternoon.  The ranger groaned when she saw me and said, "Oh, you're a photographer.  You're the ones that always get lost out here.  You always get so caught up in taking photographs that you forget to look where you came from." I promised I wouldn't do that, and then I went out wandering through the dunes.  At first, I kept looking back, mindful of her warning and not wanting to be a further embarrassment to my profession.  Then the sky started to do what it is doing in the image above (the color version is at the end of this blog).  The sun was heading lower and lower into the sky and I knew it would hit the mountains and make a wonderful starburst.  I started running with my tripod, to get into a position where I could frame a composition I liked with the yucca, dunes, mountains and clouds.  I was practically hyperventilating and I completely forgot where I came from.  I'd also gone over many dunes to get past where the footprints were, so the only ones I saw were mine and I couldn't find the ones that had led me to this place.  It was going to get dark soon and I had no idea what was out there.  I consoled myself by noting that I'd left the grizzlies back in Montana and Wyoming.  It couldn't be that bad, could it?

Fortunately, as I was wandering back, I ran into a couple from the air force out walking their dog.  I told them my story of getting lost and they laughed and led me in the right direction back to my car, allowing me to save face this time.  Still, there is something so freeing about realizing that you have gotten 100 percent lost in the moment; that all you are doing it reacting to what is and celebrating it with ever fibre of your soul.  

The Way of the Ridges ©Lynne Buchanan
The next morning, I got up and arrived at the park as soon as it opened, driving as far back as I could so I could hike in a remote area once again.  I had a couple of bottles of water with me and realized that I better not get lost, because I could end of very thirsty.  Again there was no one there, but I remembered what had happened the night before and this time I kept looking for signs and physical formations I could follow like this ridge.  I counted the dunes I crossed, remembered  peaks and valleys, as well as patterns and textures.  It was a different kind of being in the moment, a kind of being that reminded me of when I used to play that game as a child where people say a word and then have to repeat what everyone said before them.  It is a being in the moment that is aware of connections and history without getting stuck in the past.  What a wonderful exercise for my brain and it worked, mainly because I was paying more attention to what was on the ground and I wasn't losing my head in the clouds like I often do.

White Sands with Full Moon ©Lynne Buchanan
That's not to say that there weren't interesting clouds in the sky and I did notice an almost full moon above a crater-like formation on the earth.  White Sands is so barren and strange that sometimes I felt like I was on another planet, although I definitely wasn't weightless and free.  The sand is so powdery and white and it was definitely strenuous slogging through all the sand, but worth every ounce of physical exertion.

I only stayed until the late morning, because I knew I had to get out of there.  A giant storm was brewing that chased me all the way across the country from there to Florida, and I still had to get through the mountains of New Mexico, so I could make it to Texas and had head south.  

I am sure it was the storm that had created the amazing clouds the night before and which continued to add drama to the sky.  The image below is the starburst photo in color.  The sky was so colorful, I actually had to tone it down a little bit.  When it was all happening, I couldn't believe my eyes.  Who can blame me for getting lost.  Which image do you prefer, color or black and white?