I love wild places and open spaces. I mean wide open spaces, the kind with big skies, and nobody in sight for miles. I like the way it feels to be completely and totally alone. Nothing but the earth and the sky and you. I think that is why I'm so drawn to the mountains. The ocean has that lure too if you can manage to isolate yourself on a boat, but beaches are normally crowed and I get seasick easily.
I feel like some of my most vivid memories are etched in these places. When I think about Kansas I think of insane lightning storms and crouching in a field (stupid, I know) taking long exposure photos of bolts shooting across the sky and striking the ground. Or driving down dirt roads I had never taken before just to see where they went and then watching the sun sink low on the horizon as the endless fields of wheat dance and sway in the golden light. Kansas is so beautiful despite what many people say. They say that because they have only driven through. They don't know what Kansas is like any better than I know what China is like. Step outside and look. There is beauty everywhere, and people normally find what they are looking for. Also, nothing makes you appreciate home more than leaving it for a while.
When I think of Alaska I remember the last few steps of an exhausting climb and the first sight of what lies beyond the mountain I had just conquered...vast, open, and seemingly endless space. Well, that and more mountains. I remember being in a semi-grumpy mood because of sheer exhaustion but I put one foot in front of another for hours until I almost fell into an incredibly bright, blue glacial pool. My exhaustion and bad mood instantly disappeared and was replaced with pure joy. To this day that is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. When the sun finally started going down again I remember staring up at the sky and thinking I have never been so close to the stars before. They were so close, within reach it seemed. And then there was the night when I saw the northern lights flow like a bright green river from mountain top to mountain top. Alaska is the kind of place that can change a person and the kind of wild that most people only hear about and never experience because they choose to go to Cancun instead. Once you've been to Alaska, you will never feel a desire to go to Cancun again. Or maybe you will if wild and free isn't really your thing and you're scared of bears and moose.
When I remember my time in Arizona I think about laying on the beach at the very end of Navajo Canyon at Lake Powell and staring at the brilliance of the night sky when there are no lights around to impede on the natural beauty. The next day we woke up with the sun and a pack of wild horses galloped past my friends and I, so close I was actually very frightened. Then we found a hidden waterfall, a natural spring, and Anasazi ruins.
These memories are why I keep traveling. I keep looking for the same feelings of peace and joy in different places. When all the walls and barriers fall away leaving you and the open space. You and nature. You and God. I think that is what freedom feels like. To me, it's kind of a spiritual experience. Like maybe I know my purpose and I fit into the natural world. If only for a moment.
In España I felt that way a few times. But I lived in the city, and although it is possible to feel completely alone in the city, especially a foreign one, it is a lot more difficult to actually be alone. I felt that way after a storm one day when I was out in the beautiful countryside of south Spain. A rainbow came out and I grabbed my camera and ran. I ran through puddles and mud. I ran past horses, over hills, and out into the open space where I could see forever in every direction. There was nothing but the earth and sky and me. I thought of nothing but breathing and being. And I was perfectly happy.
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Kat Carney is an outdoor adventure photographer. She loves surfing, climbing, canyoneering, and mountaineering, and can often be found wandering around both the east and west coasts in her built out suburban. See her adventure wedding portfolio at www.swellandstone.com.