Friday, June 15, 2007

NPR - I am first a Geographer

I got to thinking about who I am, something we all do occasionally in our life. We all like labels, mostly to others to explain who we are, or want people to perceive us, and what we do in our life. It's about our being and doing. And we like to explain it to ourself, to assure we know ourself and ensure we're ok with ourself and our life. Or at least I do and notice many people do. And the reason for this thought.

Well, I am, first and foremost, a geographer. I'm not necessarily one of those professional geographers, who you know as professors at universities or some "expert" on world events. And while I have BA and MS degrees in geogaphy, and have used it throughout my career in the US Geological Survery, I never understood how many people don't realize the importance of knowing geography, when it often very simple to use in many task in work and life.

To me, however, geography is how I think, and how I see the world. I'm one of those people who's mind works spatially and in mental maps. I got this revalation when reading Edward Hall's book "The Dance of Life" years ago. Everyone's mind works in a fundamental way, it's basic operating mode, such as words, music, math, tastes, physical movement, interpersonal communications, intrapersonal communications, artistically, spatially, and so on. It's why our education system fails, because it fails to teach to other modes but only those who work in words or those who can translate words to their modes.

I see the world spatially. I translate everything to visual images or maps. I translate maps to visual images, directions to pictures, and places to mental images. Once I go somewhere I remember the trip by the images of the places, roads, etc., that are visual clues to going there again or remembering the route. I rarely remember an address but I'll remember the place. I can't tell you how to get somewhere but I can describe the route you take.

After being a geographer first, I'm a hydrologist second. It's what I did for 28 years with the USGS, but studying, researching and understanding rivers are a part of my psyche. I like rivers. While there were days of doing field work where I was tired of either the cold and rain of the Northwest or the heat of Southwest deserts, at the end of the day I enjoyed just being in the world next to a river. I also enjoy fly-fishing, just to be there. I rarely catch fish, but it's not about really catching fish that matters, it's about being there.

Two events in my life emphasized my innate sense of connections to rivers. The first was a trip and the second a book. In December 1975 Linda and I took a trip from Sacramento, California to Bellingham, Washington to attend graduate school at Western Washington University. It was a period of extensive severe flooding throughout western Washington and the Skagit River was well above flood stage. I was awed by the power of the river and the stupidity of people living in a floodplain.

This later became my original thesis topic, but failed three-fourth of the way through it as I learned about the Skagit River valley people. The second was Alan Watt's book "Tao: The Watercourse Way" which describes Taoism with a river. The image has stayed with me and something I realize if I ever can understand the image in the smallest way I can begin to understand being a Taoist. It's the adage, if you can understand it you can't describe it, and if you can describe it then you don't understand it.

After being a geographer and a hydrologist, I'm a photographer. This is a outgrowth and expression of my visual mind. Photography is the outward expression of my mind through my eyes with film or digital images. I realize I'll never be a professional photographer, the drive and motivation aren't there to pursue it to the fullest extent required by professionals, but I am serious to produce the best images I can, or try to at least - attempts and failures included. I know this for several reasons.

First, much of the technical side of photography doesn't interest me, the depth of knowledge and experience for fine art photography. This requires extensive time that I want to devote to other interests. Second, it requires patience and perservance, and for the same reasons I don't have the interest to stay focused through the many problems for small, incremental improvements I don't often see or understand. Third, it requires focus on a theme or project. This I'm working on, and may be the avenue to overcome my problems to be a better photographer.

I've explained my history in photography and my view of being an ordinary photographer, which is mostly being a serious casual photographer, meaning I focus my photography on the field side, something I've done since I started in 1969, and now in my new life, aka retirement, I'm working on the serious side of photography with the production side.

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