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From the Field: Connection and understanding through word and image

How a thrifted film camera and a field journal help ground me.

By: Bree Salazar + Save to a List

In 2015 at the hopeful age of 23, I moved to Yosemite Valley: a place I had never really heard of, let alone been to. Growing up, having regular access to the natural world wasn't something I was privileged to. Suddenly being surrounded by waterfalls, granite peaks, lush meadows, and clean air brought about an immense amount of new experiences and healing opportunities that I could have never imagined.

But, in the essence of major life changes, while I was going through beautiful transformations, I was also intaking recurring griefs. For example, in this new community I had to assess the rising shame of not knowing “much” about the outdoors in unison with navigating my first time living in a white neighborhood, and the feelings of frustration and otherness.

To survive the overwhelm, my primary aim was to reject the idea I needed to prove myself in order to feel valid. I also had to rewire the capitalist dispositions of “making the most out of everything” and “taking full advantage.” Amid the heavy focus on becoming something, it was pivotal to embrace my natural inclinations and where I was already at.

Volcanin craters are obscured by clouds and rain. A tree sits in the distance to the left of the craters. Sagebrush and rabbitbrush plants scatter across the desert floor.
35mm photo by Bree Salazar

So, I sought to swim parallel to the shore, instead of fighting the waves. What I wanted to be I already was, and that took time to understand. I had to accept that certain days outside could be worthy in spite of not being how I envisioned them and, beyond that, perhaps I didn’t need to bother having such expectations in the first place.

Now, instead of sticking to rigid tick lists of hiking x amount of miles each week or becoming a pro at x amount of hobbies, I intend on being more open to and with myself. More often than not, listening to my body and abiding by what feels good in my heart leads me to spending time on things that are meaningful to me, and not just in a merit sense.

Four people sit in a gray canoe floating on still water. The sky is blue and clear above the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
35mm photo by Bree Salazar

This isn’t to say that I don’t have goals or maintain habits; I love seeing my progress in the outdoors and my creative work, and having some sort of structure definitely helps me feel capable and ready. But my ultimate endeavor is to better understand my motivations. In this pursuit, I embrace flexibility and exercise unguardedness in ways that steer me toward being in the here and now.

After all, the Earth itself asks us to just come as we are. An adage many of us hear often, but seldom adhere to.

Luckily, the age-old practice of doing what you can with what you have is a helpful strategy in this pursuit. Having an affinity for DIY spaces, being raised in a working-class, single-mother household, and being a person of the global majority, this was something already instilled within me. And it’s been beautiful to apply it to my time outside.

Clouds sit just above Sierra Nevada mountains, colored red by the rising sun. There is a wooden, old building sitting wtihin the sagescrub desert floor.
35mm photo by Bree Salazar

As things ebb and flow, sometimes I’m lucky enough to have a mountaintop to work with, other times the grass of a city park. Through it all, passively documenting my time and feelings outside with a thrifted film camera and my journal has been an available constant. These ordinary items help me along as I continue to work through the experience of staying present.

Many people will say similar things about practicing film photography. Composing a shot takes intentional observation, as exposures are finite. What is really going on in front of me? What’s something I’m maybe not yet noticing? Sometimes the photos can be fun and impulsive, but one thing remains true, at least for me: each click of the shutter button is fueled by the sweetness of delayed gratification.

There’s nothing like spending a day out in nature, coming upon a beautiful scene that fills you with awe, and snapping a photo with your faithful Yashica, not even bothering to pull out the phone. Then, once the photos are developed (which can sometimes take months,) you’re taken right back to that moment and feeling (even if your finger is a little bit in the shot)!

Comparable to photos, there’s a lot of satisfaction in etching insights into a field journal and appreciating the way the brain makes sense of things. Whether it's a quick poem, a list of some sort, or just scribbled phrases, I'm impassioned to follow where the train of thought goes when in the presence of plants and animals and things. 

It’s especially beautiful when I happen to be in a completely different state of mind upon referring back. It’s kind of like getting a portal to a version of myself that is right there with the awesome nature scene, something so powerful to have access to.

A person wearing a red bandana and a white, long-sleeved shirt sits behind a granite rock and very closely in front of a High Sierra peak. The sky is a deep, clear blue.
35mm photo by Bree Salazar

These images and words are all mostly born out of quiet time spent alone while moving my body and discerning various systems in the natural world. They’ve shown me the rhythms, patterns, and languages at play as I get to ponder and love how I fit in with it all.

Though I definitely have much to learn, what I love about these mediums is how I get to gracefully memorialize my perspectives and that which I am perceiving, while also honoring the fact that they are ever-changing.

What I wish I knew back then, or rather, what I’m grateful to know now, is how I emulate the fluid cycles of the Earth. This reminds me that my connection is not conditional, but has always been intrinsic.

Snowy mountains sit just behind an unfrozen lake. Gray skies sit above.
35mm photo by Bree Salazar

June 20th

The longest day is but a minute’s difference
a summit you notice only when you’ve just arrived
the heartbeat before a deep breath’s release, a cycle’s subtle turn

There’s no thing to prove, only feel,
with this extra time

What gets put out comes back in other forms
Ricocheted colors in the foreground, 
or eventual thin, sonic air in the background

Living laterally

Knowing the life source so well by now, and holding on less and less
with each following day

August 15th

I lie flat on a rock at the edge of the water,
immediately I melt into the stone, imbibing the sun,
as if this is all that has ever been known to me

I slip my feet into the cold blue
they greet like familiar friends

I imagine, briefly, what it would be like to part with this spot,
this position, this sensation,
but there is a lapping at my heels and a warmth on my skin
that promise to last forever,
and they do

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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