The Greatest Gift


In this sunlit desolation of rock and thorn, where the sun beats down through an unending march of days and the desert silence which broods among the boulders and Ocotillos is broken only by the harpings of the wind, we can spread freely the net of our minds to gather those priceless, fundamental stirrings of the infinite which are most easily come by when one is close to nature. Marshal South

I recently celebrated my birthday in Death Valley National Park. Reasoning that all my clients are wonderful people and a joy to be around (this is no lie) – especially considered in the context of photography and Death Valley –  I chose to schedule photo tour clients on my birthday. While some opt for more civilized days or nights on the town with a fine dinner, friends, and a show, my time spent quietly in nature amidst the sun-burnished desert holly, half-billion year old canyons, and ancient night sky are among the simplest of joys – they make me happy. I don’t need any wrapped presents or candles or cake – these are the gifts I want and love.

I’m always a little hesitant to share my “methods” with my clients. I meet most of them at their lodging, where they’ve often spent a comfortable night under a roof with the possibility of evening television entertainment. They are often surprised when they learn that I forgo lodging and sleep under the stars. Not camped in a tent – literally, on the ground and under the stars (never in “developed” campgrounds). It is not a budgetary constraint – it is a choice. Sometimes the kit foxes visit me at night (sometimes walking around on and smelling my sleeping bag – “lie down, kit!”). Often I hear my coyote friends nearby reveling in their hunt. I have no fears about sleeping beautifully this way – much worse (and louder) things can happen in any city on any given night. There is no quiet like the quiet of my preferred Death Valley sleeping sites.

My “method” ceased being a choice long ago – after a great many years of doing it this way, sleeping under a tent canopy or roof feels wrong when there are planets, meteors, and a raging night sky to lull me to sleep. Rest assured, I’ve had plenty of middle-of-the-night rain drills which send my scurrying like a wood rat. My ancestors slept like this; it feels right to follow in their steps and try to understand a little of their existence and their communion with nature. It cannot be so terribly different from my own experiences.

One of Lynda’s goals was to experience and photograph the Milky Way. Any day or month of the year, I get to experience this brilliant flaming Galaxy over the Death Valley night sky. And while I don’t care so much about making photographs of  it – I observe it nightly in real-time H.D. with my own eyes – I don’t take it for granted. Never for a second.

In a world which often seems to be speeding (and spiraling) out of control, I feel eternally thankful and blessed for these gifts. The gift of sight lets me see nightly that infinite galaxy overhead. The gift of sound allows me to hear gentle desert winds rake across the hairs of my outer ear. And the gift of simply being allows me to take pleasure in the simplest joys which were enjoyed by my ancestors (and which are frequently lost on modern man).

Thank you for a most wonderful birthday in Death Valley, Lynda and Jim!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For information and photographs, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on Facebook.

You’re invited! Stargazing in the Mojave National Preserve – Sept. 24, 2011

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You are welcomed to join the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Old Town Sidewalk Astronomers, myself, and others September 24 in the amazing Mojave National Preserve for food, frolic, and most importantly to enjoy the Preserve’s deep night sky. Camping is FREE all weekend at the group campsite. We will meet at the Black Canyon Group Campground located across the road from the Hole-in-the-Wall visitor center. The program will begin at 6pm. Please bring food, layered clothing, and camping gear.

Late September is a great time to explore the Preserve: Warm days and cool nights. Wildlife activity increases in fall as our date should coincide with fall bird migration. Late-season blooms, including the beautiful yellow hues of Rabbitbrush come into season.

This year the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy (MNPC), Old Town Astronomers, and NPCA will provide beverages and snacks. NPCA will discuss the value of our ever diminishing night sky and natural quiet, and what is threatening those resources. The Old Town Astronomers will provide telescopes and world-class interpretation of the cosmos.

Bring friends, bring dogs on leashes, and feel free to invite others to join. If you haven’t experienced the Preserve’s pristine night skies, they are not to be missed. NASA’s Jane Houston Jones has reported that fall is a great time to see the Milky Way galaxy. Please RSVP to David Lamfrom of NPCA if you plan to attend. It is not requisite for attendance, but does allow for enough snacks, wine, etc. for everyone.

On Sunday morning, I’ll be leading a hike to a special location within the Preserve. Be sure to find me on Saturday night if you’d like to join me on this outing! See you September 24 under the night skies!

*Please note: Mojave National Preserve does not have services, so be sure to bring food and to gas-up before arriving. Fenner is located one exit east of Essex Road on I-40, and has food and gas, but is expensive.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.