Thanksgiving Day, Phoenix, Arizona

(I have not yet located the photo that accompanied this article.)

Someone else was tending the turkey, setting the table, and fixing the feast. So I set out on Thanksgiving morning with camera in hand.

Thunderbird Park stood out on the map at the northern boundary of Phoenix as a destination close enough to permit me time to get back for dinner at 2:30. I knew nothing about the park so wasn’t sure what to expect, but it looked large enough to ensure plenty of photographic possibilities.

I have never been one to take a lot of pictures preferring the images imprinted in my memory to the ones recorded on film. But recently I have been lured to try my hand at recording scenes that reach beyond the “trip to Phoenix” shots—ones that capture the rhythm, the beauty, the essence of a place and distill it into a few shapes, colors, or faces that reflect an inner pulse. I have found this is not easy.

The Park turned out to be a perfect example of the low desert peaks that punctuate Phoenix and radiate out from it in all directions. I parked the car and set out on foot across the desert toward the base of a rocky compound ridge dotted with cholla, sage, and stunted palo verde. The slope sported an occasional saguaro, the unwavering symbol of the low Arizona-Sonora desert. Jumbled outcroppings of blackened lava, a few splotched with vivid orange and chartreuse lichens, testified to volcanic disturbances in former times.

I stopped, considered photographic possibilities, clicked, chronicled, clicked some more and lost myself in time and space.

A few people materialized hiking down a well-camouflaged trail on the rocky slope. Never having been able to resist a trail leading out of sight, I began climbing.

The going was rough. This cone materializing from the desert floor was a gigantic pile of mid-size rocks. Without watching every step even a mountain goat would trip and fall. Back and forth the rough path led up the slope with the ridge always beckoning, always just a little farther away than it looked. I climbed and climbed up the north side of this heap, one eye on my watch wondering if I would reach the top before I needed to turn back to meet the dinner deadline.

At last the path leveled. I had reached the ridge. There to the south beneath me Phoenix stretched for miles, the air as clear as it was when it lured the first immigrants to its stunning vastness.

The trail continued, promising even more if I followed it; but I turned back knowing I would try to return. What is there about a path that compels me to follow it? Whether it’s a path up a mountain or into a forest, or a path to learning a camera’s magic or how to make words say exactly what I mean, I am always seduced by the promise that there is more just beyond the bend, just behind the lense, in the blank page ahead.

The trick is to get back in time for Thanksgiving.

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