The British-American poet W.H. Auden waxed in “Sext” – part three of “Horae Canonicae,” a series of his poems, first published in a 1955 collection, titled “The Shield of Achilles” (The Shield of Achilles. 1955):
You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,
you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon
making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,
wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.
How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.
A generation later, in his 1990 book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi proposed the concept of flow as “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 1990). Csikszentmihalyi's “flow” is not hedonism – instead, it is when your whole being is engaged in an activity and you are using your skills to the utmost. Time both stands still and flies by.
Auden and Csikszentmihalyi describe my experience when I am engrossed in my landscape photography.
As I approached my 60th birthday in 2017, I considered celebrating it by visiting Asia, specifically, Japan, for the first time. An acute spike in political posturing on the Korean Peninsula, and the thin-veiled threat by Kim Jong-un to lob a nuke on a neighboring country, prompted me to reconsider. I defaulted to a road trip to West Texas. For native Texans, and transplanted ones like me, the Big Bend in West Texas is as revered as the Texas Hill Country.
One mid-November morning, with my camera gear close at hand, I drove counterclockwise around the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop, a 75-mile stretch of Texas 118 and Texas 166. Anchored to the east by the town of Fort Davis, this loop is the highest public byway in the state. It vies with El Camino del Rio, the stretch of Farm to Market Road 170 tracing the Rio Grande River just west of the ghost town of Terlingua, as the most scenic stretch in Texas.
I was soon in my zone of nirvana. Auden observed me forgetting myself in a function. Csikszentmihaly noted my being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. My camera's eye and my human eye became one. Time lost its normal cadence and became fluid. I captured image after image, intoxicated by the high desert light, vegetation, and vistas. The nearly vacant two lanes of asphalt were my space-time conduit and the through line of my adventure: an adventure that etched a long-term memory in my cerebrum (asamonitor.pub/3BR5FBr).
And, oh, by the way, I eventually visited Japan in November 2019, and it was equally magical.