Bullfrog Spirit

This image was made during an all-day hike I did around the Old Growth loop of redwoods at Henry Cowell Park. I had arrived before sunrise and my intention was to stay until sunset. I had made a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, two bananas, and two apples. I was carrying my camera bag and my tripod and listening to podcasts.

There were two podcasts that I remember most vividly from that walk. One was an episode of Legion of Skanks when they were on the road in Boston talking about going out to dinner at a chain seafood restaurant and then one of their homeboys got burned with coffee when they stopped at a McDonalds while driving back to NY. That podcast is entertaining, a reliably funny comedy team, but the strange thing is how when I walk for a long time in the woods, I remember what I am listening to so vividly. I also listened to a podcast by the Art Newsletter that was devoted to a show of Vermeer that is happening currently in Amsterdam. This juxtaposition of low brown comedy and high-level art talk is a perfect characterization of how I feel about art generally, and especially this image of the bullfrog.

I was studying the light and trying to learn the redwoods. When I hike a place repeatedly over a period, the powerful compositions eventually make themselves known to me. It is an interesting process, like studying a difficult text of literature. At first, you are just going through the space and your mind is thinking about other things as well as the task at hand. The more you go back over the same terrain or text, however, the more it starts to make sense to you. You begin to master the landscape and understand what is coming up and when certain angles or phrases crystalize into something vivid and important.

This twelve-hour expedition, however, proved to be harder than I had imagined. I expected there to be some discomfort certainly but as the day progressed the pain become more and more intense, and the fatigue was a very real thing. Still, I focused my mind on studying the trail, on watching the light and in making myself set up the tripod and make some images any time I saw a good composition come into being.

I began to feel a little bit desperate and then more so. I knew there was no danger really. I could leave at any time and hike back to my car and to civilization. The park Rangers were clearing storm debris on that day and making little mounds of the branches to be burned on a later date. The Visitor Center had a fire going inside in their fireplace and the smoke from the chimney hung in the air of the old growth grove scratching my eyes and throat. There was no wind at all. My legs were sore, my back ached, and my mind raced and kept insisting on getting the hell out of there.

Surely, I had seen enough. I had made dozens of loops around the giant trees, and I knew each corner and turn of the trail. Faces had begun to show up in the burls of the redwoods and even then, I was no longer impressed. I was experiencing low level hallucinations, like I was on a small dose of mushrooms and the trees were full of things I may not have seen otherwise. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.

What the fuck was I doing? My dad was dead, I needed to find more work, and this sure as hell was not going to help. That’s the nature of art. You don’t do it because it is obvious or because it makes sense. You do it because if you don’t do it, you will hate yourself. If I left earlier than sunset, nobody but me would know. But I would know and that’s absolutely the worst audience to let down. So, I kept trudging through the muddy path making my stupid little pictures. I had lost my sense of humor. The faces in the trees mocked me. My food was all gone.

I came around the corner, though, and there was a little pile of rocks, and someone was looking down at the ground right in front of it. What the fuck was that? It was a half blind bullfrog. Someone had set up a marker so dumb tired hikers like me wouldn’t step on it. I waited for the onlooker to move on and then I set up my tripod as low as it would go and started to photograph the bullfrog. It wasn’t moving anywhere. You could see it breathing but one eye was completely glazed over, and it showed zero signs of fear. I could get as close as I wanted to without me bothering it one little bit.

It was an ugly little fucker, but I loved it. It was my spirit animal.

I got as many shots as I needed and then continued my torturous trek, now with more energy and an absolute refusal to quit. If I had left, like the little wimpy voice inside of me kept begging me to do, I would have missed my spirit animal. Fuck that voice.

Anyways, this is the only bullfrog I have ever photographed, and I think it is one of the best images I got that day although there were many and it was worth it. I studied the light, learned the compositions, and had a visitation from a spirit animal. Still need more work, my dad is still showing up in my dreams, but art isn’t supposed to cure all your problems. It’s an adventure of the spirit. Making art is supposed to inspire and inspire me it did.

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