Lessons From the Side of the Road

The Oasis

May 26, 2002

Lately it seems that my muse has either been overwhelmed or just plain uninspired. I actually have been writing over these past months, but most of the work has been on reworking entries as I rebuild my website.

At first I thought that rewriting would be simple, and some of it has been, but then there were the entries that caused me to cringe and grimace at that thought that someone might have actually read them.

The question that has come to mind from time to time is; So why do it?

What has guided me through this process is the thought that someday what I have written might be of interest to my children and maybe even their children, who as of yet, are not even a gleam in a parent's eye. (At least I hope not.)

So back to the issue of the "challenged" muse. If you leave out the grind of daily life and the I went there and I did that entry, what's to write about?

For some time I've had a couple of ideas floating around in my head, images and all, and I think that it is time to try and put them on paper. Often I stop at the side of the road to take pictures, and some of those images and experiences have been bottled up, some of them for years.

You never know what you will come across when you pick up a camera and head out on the road.

Splashes of green against a rocky backdrop suggest to me either California or perhaps a resort in Arizona. The reality is that there are many places where this image could have come from, contrasting cold lifeless stone and what appears to be a park.

Many years ago I had this image made into large print, but was always disappointed in the quality of the image. The colors were washed out, and it did not speak to me of the contrast I saw that morning in the Sinai Desert.

The splash of greens belies the greater context of the desert, the barren rock and cold stone. In this place life springs forth from snows that occasionally grace the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Over one thousand five hundred years ago The emperor Justinian ordered that the St Catherine's Monastery be built on what was purported to be the site of the "burning bush." It's walls range from 20 to over 200 feet in height and it is surrounded on two sides with gardens.

The trip to the oasis and the Monastery were one of the final stops of a week long journey through the Sinai that I made with a group of about 40 other students from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (Snow on the Sahara details one mis-adventure on the trip)

After a fitful attempt to sleep on the bare desert floor sprinkled with an early April snow, we rose before dawn so that we could watch the sunrise from the summit of what is purported to be "Mt. Sinai," the very summit from which Moses came down with the ten commandments. Over the last thousand years a stairway of over 4,000 steps has been built by the monks to the top of the 7,500 ft peak and we descended those steps to the valley floor.

Our approach to the Monastery was one of start contrast, from the barren cold slopes of the mountains to the warm morning sun in a valley full of color and life. After hours of walking this garden was the first sign of life we had seen in a desert land that has been described as having a "Martian landscape."

As is often the case when traveling with a group there is little time to compose and shoot. Frequently I have found myself "at the end of the line" lagging the group so that I could try and get just the right shot.

In 1999 a sister publication of the National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure created a top 25 list of adventure travel destinations. It is no wonder to me that a visit to St. Catherine's made the group.

Sometime during that morning I wandered off from the group and framed a stand of desert palms against the early morning sun.

Is it contrived, this image?

Is it truly representative of this place?

As the photographer, I am in control of composition and therefore do I record, or do I manipulate, or both?

As the morning progressed I came back to the palms but by this time the harsh light of the desert sun washed away the drama of the early morning.

Gone were the deep shadows of dawn and the subtle hues of green, as bright light has the effect of washing out color.

As I put together this piece I also went back and updated my Sinai Gallery with a host of images from the climb and the Monastary. After all was said and done, I don't really remember much about the climb, other than the night we spent trying to sleep in the snow.

We climbed thousands of steps and I don't really remember much of that trip either.

What I remember the most about that day is a lesson of photographic power, not because of what I choose to show you, but because of what I chose not to reveal.

Ever since that day, I often look with jaundiced eye at any type of travel brochure.

For I figure that given enough time, I can make the worst places on the planet look like a great place to visit.

Hopefully, after 30 years, the oasis has been cleaned up and the dump in the desert is a distant memory.



One of the beauties of the web is that you can see some of the same trees from these slides taken 30 years ago and the entire Monastery surrounded by the desert; here and another here.