The Mountain Within

3:30 am. I’m cold; I clamber out of my tent into a mossy, dewy morning. Mountain air; the fresh, fragrant clear beauty fills my lungs. Grabbing my camera bag and tripod I head over to a group of photographers ready to capture sunrise.  Its July, a few days after my 28 birthday, this trip was a gift to myself. The mountains with a group of strangers and a wily Quebecois as our fearless photography leader who I am sure is part mountain goat as he nimbly walks along the crooked path dimly lit by our headlamps.

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. What a place to wake up to.

I set up creek side ready to capture the beauty of the sunrise, my tripod legs in the water my camera perched on top, test shots, adjusting settings, more test shots, trying to anticipate what the morning glow will bring.

Splash.

A piercing cold shoots up my arm as I reach for my submerged camera in the bottom of the creek. I watch my hand grip its body in the clear glacial water and I pull it back to the surface. I stare at the camera as water empties from its insides. Its day one of a backcountry photography course under the stoic majesty of the Matterhorn of the Rockies and I just ruined my gear.

This moment stick out for me. Despite having anger bubbling just under the surface for so much of my life, I didn’t get angry, I remember looking up at the mountain and thinking “well, its not like I can’t enjoy this place”.  The leader of the group came by to console me, lent me his gear, and got me a bucket of rice from the fancy lodge and for the rest of the week I had a recycled industrial size bucket of Hellman’s mayonnaise that housed my camera submerged in rice. I wasn’t upset; in fact I nicknamed my next camera “Hellman II” in honour of this moment.

In therapy I was ask to think of a memory that was true happiness and dumping my camera in a creek was that memory. It wasn’t that I was happy that I managed to ruin a few thousand dollars of camera gear; it was that in that group I didn’t feel the need to be anything but myself. We were strangers, brought together by photography, sleep deprived as we attempted to capture ultra early morning sunrise and ultra late sunsets. These were my people, my kind of people. That wily Quebecois would end up being a very trusted friend, his wife would be one of the people my family contacted when I went missing and they would end up being two people who I came to rely on for support during my recovery.

A few workshops later I would meet two ladies from central Alberta, mothers, photographers and amazing people. Once again, a friendship forged in early morning photo-shoots, swearing at a uncooperative tripod leg and nursing giant bug bites. These would be two people who provide me with support, friendship and the confidence to pick my camera up again after being majorly depressed.

Another group of Manitoban photographers would send me plaid related items in the mail because they know I like the pattern, again another group of people who would be incredibly supportive through my recovery.

A Parks Canada employee that I met through a another course would provide some very needed words of encouragement during my darkest times.

Community, build under the unlikely set of two to three days of photography workshops but have forged lasting friendships over time. Taking pictures in the mountains with strangers is where I felt like I belonged. My life always felt like this jumble of suspended animation but for some reason the mountains made sense and the people who come to soak in that mountain culture, be it for 3 days or a lifetime, have always been allies to me.

Somehow dropping my camera was this moment of clarity where the world was showing me that my material goods weren’t my source of happiness, I was, and will always be my own source of happiness. I realized over the last few months that I don’t need to go to the mountain; I carry that mountain culture inside of me.  

In Kindness, 

Sithara