Words That Last Longer Than A Lifetime

If by Rudyard KiplingI do not remember the first time I came across the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. I loved it instantly. There are so many powerful life lessons in the 32 lines.

The poem was published in 1895. Nearly 70 years later my grandmother, Gertrude Ahearn, gave a copy of this poem to my father, Michael Ahearn, the day he shipped off to join the United States Marines. For the rest of his life, this was his favorite poem. But that is not the end of the family connection. Years after his death, these words still remind me of my father. Every time I read this, I remember the kind of man he was and the way he exemplified what a good man’s life should be.

Over the years I have made photo collages with this poem, but I have always tried to incorporate the entire poem into one photo. Without fail, the words tend to overwhelm the image. This is one of my early attempts. I did a series of photos of Calla Lilies and the shape of these reminded me of the word “if.” I like this, but I mostly feel the whole poem is just too much for one image.If by Rudyard KiplingI have been thinking a lot of my parents this week and, of course, this poem came to haunt me again. I wrote it all out in my journal and decided it is well passed time for me to memorize the whole thing — I know it in pieces and parts of it, but if I were asked to recite “If” in order, I would botch the job. As I started thinking of the words I remembered the incredible sunset I photographed about a week ago. The mountains catching the last rays struck me as a worthy backdrop for a poem about personal integrity and strength of character.

To read the entire poem go to: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175772

Remembering Kansas

I’ve been living in Montana for almost two years now. And still I am constantly reminding myself not to take this place for granted. Pay attention. Look around. Get outside and into the wild. Photograph EVERYTHING!

I am not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, in fact, there is a part of me that has begun to think this might be the place where I’d finally like to stay. None the less, I have to remind myself to do these things because otherwise I get blind to what is right in front of me. I forget to be awe-struck by what I see every day. I forget that the pattern of my life has so far been, to move to a new place, spend a few years, enjoy it while I am there, move on, and never return on any kind of permanent basis. I do not want to miss the opportunities that surround me here because I am aware that they may not always be mine.
One of the places I lived and once loved was Kansas. And last week I had a bit of a Kansas moment right here in Montana.

In 2002 I got my first newspaper job at a daily paper in Salina, Kansas. That was not my dream location. Kansas is not what springs to my mind when I think of scenic wonders. I wanted mountains, or an ocean, not the never-ending prairies and flatlands. But I was there for almost two years and in those years I did learn to appreciate the sprawling beauty of it.
When I was in the midwest I loved to storm chase. I never caught up with any of the tornados, but Lord knows I went looking for them. We had a storm come rolling into the Flathead Valley from the west and the famous big sky was violently filled with clouds pushing their way in. As I went looking for a view of the storm to photograph I headed west and found myself in the wheat fields of Montana. The golden wheat and the big sky, it was all so familiar. The one major difference was the line of mountains off to the west. Kansas definitely doesn’t have that vertical element along the horizon.
Sometimes I find myself missing the endless open of plains. I find myself thinking, it has been too long since I passed through that area, and far too long since I had the chance to really see and photograph it. Most of the photos with this blog entry are several years old. These are from my life then. But they are also a reminder to me. Again, always the message is: don’t take this place for granted.

I don’t want to leave Montana, whenever that day may come, and think, I wish I had done more. I wish I had photographed more. Explored more. Traveled more. Hiked more. Seen more. Captured more. When it’s time to leave I want to pack up my journals and my box filled with photos without one shred of regret. They are my tangible memories of my life and moments I lived and loved. They are my proof that I did not waste the time that was given to me.

There is a poem by Mary Oliver that expresses this best called When Death Comes. The last stanzas of it read:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.