A Soft Knock on the Inner Door
by Dewitt Jones
January 18, 2016 - 11:57pm

Crash! I can't see the waves before me, I can only hear them - their dull intermittent thunder like the beat of a solemn drum. There, in the dark, I remove my shoes. Warm, like the body of some giant animal, the sand presses around my toes as I move toward the water. I find myself stepping softly so as not to wake it. 

Crash, crash! The drum of the waves beats on. I am not counting the steps yet, somewhere in my brain, I am aware how many I have taken. At step seventy, my heel hits in soft sand but my toes find the edge of the wave line - sand wet and cool, coated with a few bubbles left from the last retreating surge. Still without my sight, I turn ninety degrees and head north - along the wave line, the edge, the confluence of sea, land and sky. I love this beach; feel so comfortable here; know it so well. 

As I walk there in the dark, the wave's thunder slowly shifts - no longer the mantra of a drum, now a soft knock on an inner door, "Let me in. Let me in." 

What happens next is difficult to explain and difficult to write.  I guess I simply open the door. In an instant everything is changed and yet nothing is changed. I am still walking but here, on the edge, for a moment, there are no walls. I am part of the confluence. Old boundaries and definitions blur. I feel fear, then great beauty, then peace. I don't know how long I walk in this state.

Finally a wave, just slightly more powerful than the rest, thrusts the edge of the Pacific around my calves. The shock sends me scurrying like a sand crab back to "reality". My body shudders. I spin around twice, just to make sure where I am.  I realize I am smiling and shaking my head unhurriedly back and forth.  Predawn light has turned the beach into the subtlest of color landscapes. I jog back toward the car to get my cameras.

As I shoot that morning I keep thinking of my walk on the edge. It isn't the first time I've been in that state. Nor am I the only one who has been there. Stephen Graham described it beautifully when he wrote, "...as you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of a forest, or sprawl wet-legged on the shingly beach of a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens."

I hope some of you reading this blog know what I'm talking about. I believe this kind of experience is the result of seeing deeply and, for me, that's what photography is all about.  I love to look at things and my cameras give me a socially acceptable way of staring. The more I look, the more I learn to play the edge, the edge between analysis and simply merging with what's before me.

Years ago I moved from Marin to the town of Petaluma in Northern California. Every evening I’d walk around my new town just looking, filling my lens-eyes with the miraculousness of everyday things. On one level I was getting to know my neighborhood. Maybe I’d even find a photo or two. But these walks were really for internal not external photography. Just walking, seeing, playing the edge - waiting for that door to open.

One night, as I returned from my walk, the sun was setting over the hill behind my house. Delicate pastels of pink shimmered in the sky to my left. Directly in front of me a mercury vapor light atop a lamp post glowed a soft yellow green. To the right the sky was fading from indigo to black. It wasn't a photograph, it was just a moment. One silly moment in my life, no different than a million others except that in this moment, subtly, thunderously -- once again the door opened.

 I stopped and stared. Behind my eyes, tears welled up. 

Annie Dillard's words filled my head, "I walk out; I see something, some event that would otherwise have been utterly missed and lost; or something sees me, some enormous power brushes me with its clean wing, and I resound like a beaten bell.” That night, under the lamp post, I don't know who saw who, but I resounded. 

When the door is open, we make images not on our sensors but on our souls.

jeannemaxon January 19, 2016 - 6:36am

I call it the photo album of my soul - those moments like you describe that are forever in your heart and memory. One of those for me is the sight of the full moon over Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, OR - illuminating the night and leaving a trail across the sea. I know exactly what you mean.

Carolon January 19, 2016 - 6:42am

Sometimes I just put the camera down and sit and soak it all in. Taking it deep inside me and healing my soul.

Cathy Drewon January 19, 2016 - 8:18am

Hmmm, yes that indescribable place that we yearn to describe ... to share with others. My words always fall short of my experience. More than an experience, it is a world ... a universe without names and narratives, without division. I always cry. I always have this bone marrow deep feeling of home whether the doorway was galaxy or grain of sand, a bold panorama of sunrise sky or a single blade of grass dancing in the wind. Thank you Dewitt, for bringing me back to the threshold!

John Predmoreon January 19, 2016 - 9:45am

I want to thank you. I am a priest and I find that my preaching and yours, my photography and yours, have similar qualities. Your photos are much better, but I appreciate your positive regard for all things. You seek beauty and capture it very well.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.