Homecoming

“You know this story of yours might be a homecoming.”

This idea was presenting to me by a friend and fellow photographer after we overlapped on our current projects. My current project IS a homecoming, and each and every time I bring my camera to eye I can sense and sometimes feel the influence of my father. He’s out there somewhere. Sometimes he plays tricks on me. (The hummingbird thing..I know that was you padre.)

SR_dad_me_Wy

The short of it is I miss the old man. Dad was the reason we first went to Wyoming all those years ago. The cross country drive with siblings and a car sick dog. The silence, the wind, the smell of sage after a rain. Like an infection, that place put the hooks in me and never let go, and it’s because he put me there in the first place. I set my pants on fire with a branding iron because of him. I got trampled by cows because of him. I got stepped on, scraped off, bucked off and knocked over by horses because of him. I got my fingers caught in the fence because of him. I broke beaver dams because of him. I picked up nails because of him. I learned to shoot, hunt and fish because of him.

SR_beaver_

SR_calf_

Wyoming was true open space and once you have it in your bloodstream there is no antidote available. You have to live with the knowledge of what it’s like. The overwhelming din of absolute silence and isolation. The elements, those you need to mind or they will erase you from this place, and the landscape that reminds you that you are one step away from nowhere. I think about this place on a daily basis. I don’t fully understand it, not sure I ever will, but now I have New Mexico and this place is rapidly filling a mile wide void in my mental state. I need this place more than I want it, if that’s possible. Dust and bones, history and the knowledge that out there, around the next bend or over the next ridge line, is the unknown I’m stalking like the ghost of a bygone time.

SR_dandy_

The sound of leather soled Western boots on the dry ground. The flash of lightning and simultaneous pounding of the accompanying thunder. Hail so thick it looked like snow. Watching game move through that first crack of morning light, foreleg lifted but not yet placed, nostrils exhaling the steam of a heart driven combustion engine, all senses on high-alert. It was all too good to believe. Of course I had no pressure on me, it wasn’t my ranch. It belonged to him, and his ranch partner who is equally guilty in this crime of my exposure to the West.
SR_Juan_me

Juan wasn’t my father but it sure felt like he was, and this was a good thing. Juan wasn’t from the West, he was Cuban, but as they say he got west as fast as he could. The real deal cowboy. Not the rodeo type or the owner of a 4×4 with a lift kit, he was right off the pages of what you think you know about the West. I saw him do a lot of things you probably wouldn’t believe, so I’m not going to waste your time with trying to explain them to you now. He had a touch of the wild in him, probably still does. I hid his cigarettes and he ran me down and made me give them up. He made me do everything I was afraid to do. He taught me an extreme range of words I wasn’t supposed to repeat. He bought me a hamburger after I started crying when I slammed my head into the passenger side window on the way home from a trip to Ft. Collins to pick up tractor parts. He rescued my fingers from the fence. He left me in the middle of nowhere with a notepad and my first “assignment” to track the cows being bred by the lucky bull in front of me. It was perfect.
SR_mule_arizona

There was also another guilty party. Yep, mom was there too. She taught me a lot including what a Pentax K1000 and Haliburton case looked like. That case went everywhere we went, just like the bag I carry today. From truck to truck it would be stuck behind the bench seat as we roamed the pastures or mountainsides coming out from time to time to make these pictures you see here. Back then what she did was considered not extreme but dedicated. Like a slow trickle from an irrigation pipe, it might not seem like a lot but when all is said and done a photographic archive exists and the thirst of a field is satisfied.

I’m not sure where I go from here. I really don’t know. All I know is I can’t run from the demon forever. At some point the haunting of the West will come calling and I will need to go and pay whatever respect is required. It might be nothing. It might be everything. Until that time I’ll continue to drift. And when I’m out there amid whatever it is that brushes against me, I’ll know that the old man is there too, right where he should be.

Dedicated to BOJ

Thanks for putting me there.

20 Responses to “Homecoming”

  1. jacques says:

    Fine writing , sensitive eye and that opening line is a killer -father and sons and the photograph of you and Juan and those reds are True..this is wonderful Dan , thank you.

  2. Bishop says:

    Thank you for sharing a part of your story with us. Your story and writing reminds me of my own time on the western slope of Colorado…fine times indeed. But the best line of your writing conjours up the greatest memory. You wrote, “the silence, the wind, the smell of sage after a rain.” There is nothing to this day, absolutely nothing, that tops the smell of sage after a rain for me. Even from here in suburban California, I can draw upon that smell and bring back a multitude of memories. Thank you for helping me to do so this morning.

    All the best — Bishop

    • Smogranch says:

      Bishop,
      I completely agree. Sometimes I get lucky here in New Mexico, that combination of summer rain and dust in the air. It’s not sage but it’s damn good.

  3. George says:

    Moving and outstanding, Dan. You have a book in there, you know.

  4. LionelB says:

    Often it is the things which really matter which are left unsaid. Words sometimes seem an insufficient currency. Your culture has provided an abundance of fine poets but I can think of none better right now than Robert Frost. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood; And sorry I could not travel both; And be one traveler, long I stood”. I am sure you know the rest, probably by heart.

  5. Mei-Chun J says:

    Great post, Dan! Thank you for sharing beautiful memories of your childhood.

  6. Aguirre says:

    Daniel, great, great piece. I’m haunted by the same memories and longings. Living should be about paying homage to the essence of our beliefs and who we really are; those beliefs fomented in our youth. Our lives become utterly messy because we fail to heed the calls of our common sense. It’s B&W, man. So simple. Yet so very gray. So very difficult. Blessed are those wide-open spaces.

  7. Eric Jeschke says:

    Hey Dan, love this piece. Especially the picture with the dandelion.
    I know that when the west entered my consciousness I was never the same after. In fact it influenced *everything* after. Every thing.

    Good stuff.

  8. Simone says:

    Thanks for sharing. That’s great and deep. And I’m afraid when you come so personal any attribute is irrelevant and any comment somehow trivial. It should (will) make anyone remind and think about what kind of universe is a child. I should document myself about Wyoming !

  9. Cara Milnor says:

    I remember when you brought me this puff ball. What mother could resist such a cute kid. The camera had to come out. This may be your most famous picture. You had the spark even then. Love Mom.

  10. joe dupont says:

    Beautifully told story that helps to explain where you are coming from as a photographer. Helps that you are as good a writer as you are a photographer (complimenting both here).

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