I remember clearly the day I met Julie. More than that, I remember my state of mind, the doubts and questions I'd been having about my photography. 

 It was the year I received my first digital camera, and I was deep into taking photos. Not being bound by a roll of 36 exposures or the cost of processing and printing gave me the freedom to explore and experiment more than I ever could before. And the place I went to most often was Eastern University. 

I have been taking photos at Eastern since the age of 12, when I went there to visit my brother on weekends, and later, when I was a student. Since then, I've captured images there in my camera, in sketches and watercolors, and in words, every year and in every season. You'd think I would have exhausted every subject, theme and condition. 

If that wasn't true after all those years, I was beginning to think, in that year after switching to digital photography, that maybe I really had exhausted all the possibilities. I had taken literally thousands of photos at Eastern. The day I met Julie, those doubts about whether there was anything new or startling in my photos were taking hold of me.  

Photography as an art form is, like all art, an expression of ourselves, and I'm someone who likes the safety of familiar places. I like to be close to home. I also know that art lives and breathes in paradoxes, and one that I've always appreciated is that art is freedom, but there is freedom even within boundaries. Art by its very nature is limitless. The writer in prison can "see" the world, and the writer who is free to roam ~ but confined to this Earth ~ can create a Narnia or Middle Earth. The poet can explore all the depths of human emotion within the 14 lines of a sonnet. A child with a box of seven crayons is unbounded. The only limits are those excuses we tell ourselves about needing space, inspiration, quiet, better tools, more time. 

I could go on with more examples, and probably just examples, because, as is so often the case with truths that live at some deeper level inside of us, I know it, but I can't find the words to articulate that truth. Also, the case with many profound but simple truths is that, though we know and believe them, we have our doubts and sometimes we need something to help us see again; something to bring us back to those fundamentals. It can be something big ~ an extravagant gift from "wisdom" personified...or it can be quiet and subtle. 

Meeting Julie was one of those quiet, unassuming gifts. 

I went to the campus with my camera as I had so many afternoons, and, when I got out of the car, I heard splashing. I was used to the wing beats of the geese on the ponds as the geese gathered momentum for flight. But, today, I also heard laughter. And there in the middle of the pond was Julie, swimming. 

The ponds are manmade and shallow, full of snapping turtles, algae and what, um, geese leave behind by the minute. In all my years at Eastern, I had never seen anyone in the ponds, intentionally or accidentally. So, you can imagine my surprise when I saw her, not only swimming, but diving under, splashing, and floating, lifting her leg up out of the water with her foot draped with whatever it dug up from the bottom of the pond. 

I also think it's illegal for students to swim there, which just added another layer. I ran to the pond grossed out by the thought of her in there, full of admiration for her bravado, secretly impressed by her defiance, and excited by the photo op. I took several photos and, when she walked out minutes after I took the photo above, I asked her, "Why?" 

"I'm from Virginia..." 

She let if float out there as though that statement would tell me everything I needed to know. She then went on to explain that she and her dog went swimming in a pond back home that's just like the one at Eastern. 

I still smile when I think about her declaration, "I'm from Virginia." But now my smile is tempered by something more than charm and humor. I realized that day that, just as her simple statement conveyed more than biographical fact, the simple image of her swimming and emerging from that pond gave me so much more than an anecdote or a memory.  

Seeing Julie made me realize once more that, even when you think you've seen it all in one place, when you think it has given up all of its secrets, when you doubt that there's any more wonder...life surprises you. 

Thoreau said that we should beware of all enterprises that require new clothes rather than a new wearer of clothes. Sometimes, as artists, it's good to be wary of those voices inside that tell us we need new sights and experiences to inspire our art rather than find new eyes to see with, patience to wait, and imagination to take hold of the ordinary and transform it into something extraordinary. 

That's not to say we don't travel or experience or find new themes or subjects. We do all those things as our hearts and vision leads us, but we don't do them as a last resort when the wells run dry, but from the wellspring of what we love or as an expression of who we are. 

Julie reminded me that who I am is someone who loves those places and people that are close to him; that there would be more Julies at Eastern, and there have been; that the clouds would form in new ways beyond trees that I've photographed a hundred times; that the ponds would change and the light would change them one morning to reveal something I'd never seen; that I have only begun, only touched the surface... 

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