Seeing in Nowhere

Driving through the Panhandle of Texas is always a playground for the imagination. That might be due to the lack of contours south of Amarillo or that there is so much Old West history about this area stored in my head. When I am not imagining what it was like to ride a horse or heard cattle and not get killed, there really isn’t much outright captivating about the drive. Except, this time, I was seeing everything around me through the camera lens, looking for a shot to be had, hiding in plain sight. Being a photographer has challenged me with a hopeful seeing and searching for beauty even in what appears to be the most mundane places. And West Texas can be pretty mundane.

For instance, the sky in West Texas is so much wider and further away than it is Colorado. Though CO has plenty of amazing vertical to look at, the flatness or drop in altitude seems to make the Texas sky feel like a transition from a movie theater to a planetarium in visual mass alone.

Both of these pictures were taken while still driving through this very expanse on my way to Lubbock. (Like I said, it’s pretty broad and flat and not hard to drive):

Cracked Sky - Day 116

Big Sky Texas

The following day, I was finishing up the trip to Austin. Between Lubbock and Austin, it used to be masses of farmland. Then someone decided that since the wind seems to never take a rest in these parts, that one might as well turn that wind into energy. Now, there are Wind Farms for over a hundred miles of the drive. Though I’ve seen these giant turbines in numerous places, something about their layout in this area of Texas gave the feeling of driving through some giant giraffe playground. I could see why Don Quixote thought a windmill was a giant to be slain.

Energy Giants - Day 117

I almost expected these beasts to move slow-like across the road, stepping in that measured lazy motion of an elephant. I was enamored for hours.

But I didn’t used to see this landscape through such eyes of wonder. The numerous other times I’ve made this drive I gripped and groaned through the presumed monotony. I would stop for fuel and see my prejudiced, critical spirit rise up as I heard the thick accent and fractured grammar coming from a manure-stained, cut-off t-shirt wearing local in a dust-covered Co-Op hat telling the equally small-town, mousey girl at the register some story about his hot-rod or such. I would see characters and not another human being with a story; who has worked hard, and does every day; that longs not so much for a vacation in the Bahamas as just a moment of rest for calloused hands, or from the banks. I would think to myself, “How does anyone live out here in such desolation???”

It was a new way of seeing and hearing old roads, this time around. The seeing seems to have its spark through the lenses of the different cameras I carry with me these days. The hearing came about though the grace of books like Wendell Berry’s that remind me “What People Are For,” and attempts to listen more than speak – even if it is only speaking in my own head at the time.

There is a whole world out there, even in the dull places, if we are willing to let our eyes wonder and listen to our imaginations. Nobody is just a someone, a farmer, a trucker, a barista. Nowhere isn’t a place full of emptiness, but is drenched in possibility.
Kendall R2 Comments