Some time ago along with a few friends, my wife and I decided to spend a couple weeks in the backcountry in and around Yosemite. Although we had never done backcountry camping before, we were open to the adventure.
Our destination was a lake some 12 miles back outside of Hetch Hetchy. As we started our hike, we were much more interested in the destination than the journey. I remember loving the smell of the forest and the cool quiet that surrounded us. Today I love the outdoors and attribute some of that admiration to this trip.
As we rushed along the trails I took a few images but never really stopped to enjoy the view like I would today. Back then I was carrying a Minolta X-370 film camera. I wasn’t yet a photographer but this was the camera that started it all for me. I shot some slide film during the trip but mostly black and white which I processed and printed myself.
Our trip was full of many surprises, one being a jet-powered helicopter flying over our campsite every morning at sunrise for five days, constantly grabbing water with a bambi bucket from a river to extinguish a nearby fire. That thing was loud—I mean the kind of loud that scares you even when you know it’s coming. Needless to say, we cut our stay in that area short. Being woken up by a jet-powered helicopter wasn’t our idea of a good time.
Did I mention the mosquitos yet? They drank the Deet repellent of off our bodies like a morning tea. In case you ever wondered, Deet will melt pretty much everything plastic. My Raybans still show some scars from that trip. At one point of the trip, my wife counted… counted I say… over 150 mosquito bites. That was a long night in our tiny tent applying calamine lotion.
Despite the challenges we faced, it was a great five days in the backcountry and the surrounding wilderness getting to talk to some cool hikers on the trails and experiencing some fantastic views.
A defining moment
We came into a clearing where the path made a slight left. I can still see that clearing and remembering all I wanted to do was get to camp so I could take my boots off. There was an older guy just sitting to our right probably enjoying the view of the area we were about to blaze through. He reminded me of someone that had been in the outdoors for some time and someone that was completely content.
We paused for some water, said a quick hello and just as we turned to head out he said, “Walk Slow and Read”.
I clearly remember thinking at that moment “what a silly thing to say”, and off we went. For some reason, that experience never left my brain. I’ve thought about it for years and here I sit some 25 years later writing about it. It had an impact on me that outlasted most of my high school education. Some years ago I even made a sign of the saying which I still see multiple times a day. That sign reminds me to slow down and enjoy each moment when possible, but it also makes me think about what I may have missed because I was always running at full throttle.
I recently returned home from a short trip to Zion National Park. I have been many times, so I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to photograph. I also didn’t have much of an agenda, so we just took our time and wandered more than anything else. It was great! I felt like I really got to enjoy the park more than earlier trips where we rushed from one potential capture-spot to another. Maybe that guy was right!
I used to embrace “Walk Slow and Read” as a concept that I agreed with but didn’t entirely adopt. I thought of it as more of an idea that I would envoke at a particular moment rather than a life philosophy.
I have no clever formulas or charts to prove that we all work too much or that we all need a long vacation. However, since most of us work more than we vacation, I feel confident to say that we all work too much and we all need a vacation.
Time passes so quickly, but I have an idea for how we can slow it down just a little. If we “Walk Slow and Read,” remember, and embrace our moments, we will set a marker in our memory of that experience. The more markers we set, the fuller and longer the year can feel and maybe slow the passage of time.
With the recent passing of my father, that brief encounter with an unknown man that instilled those four words into my being, “Walk Slow and Read,” has taken on an even stronger meaning.
Be the tortoise. It’s the journey that matters not the destination. Stop and smell the roses. These are all very similar sayings that never stuck with me even though I understood the concept. Life is too precious to blaze through a beautiful clearing and to not walk a little slower to read the world around you. “Read” the clouds, “Read” the trees, and take it all in. Take the time to connect with people. Years ago, I attended a workshop by a photographer named David Peters. He challenged us while on our lunch break to learn someone’s dream. Crazy talk I thought! No one will tell me their dream. I was amazed to find that simply complimenting our server and asking what they did when they are not “here” was all it took. They shared how they wanted to go back to school and become a nurse. How cool! Marker set.
There are certainly times to run and walk fast so long as we can remember to “Walk Slow” more often before we run, and remember to soak in and “Read” the precious moments we have “for tomorrow is promised to no man”.
Another take away for me is to be open to an experience you might not expect. If we are always in a hurry, there are a lot of opportunities we could miss. It could be as simple as someone looking at you from across the room, or as significant as recognizing a need in an industry that you could fill and build an empire from.
Taking a hike led me to a saying and experience that changed me. I believe that so long as we are open to the input, the universe will be willing to share.
So my friends,
“Walk Slow and Read”