Insights / Photography

Saint Cottonwood

Cottonwood, tree, Kodiak, Island, Alaska, plants, sunrise

I pulled over to the side of the road and parked near a chain link fence. Last week’s snow squeaked underfoot as I shuffled around the car: setting up the tripod, locking the camera into place and dusting the front of the lens. When I left the house, the thermometer read three degrees (F). I fumbled with my gloves and rubbed my hat against my forehead to ease the wooly itch.
I stomped in place to keep warm. The sunrise colors wouldn’t kiss the snowy mountaintops for another 20 minutes and my subject, the gnarly cottonwood tree I’d found the day before, wasn’t going anywhere soon. So I used the time to scout out good positions for taking the shot. Picking up the tripod, I wandered around, zig-zagged to and fro, peering occasionally through the lens to line up the tree with the mountain peaks. (I could have passed for a drunk on an early morning binge).
When everything felt right, I pulled a stick from my pocket and set in on the ground to mark the spot. I repeated the drill until I had four locations staked out.
Only thing was, all the locations were in the middle of the road.
By now the Earth’s shadow was lighting up the peaks with a salmon-pink glow. I moved into a position, but just as I prepared to squeeze the cable release, a blue pickup truck appeared in the dim light and headed right for me. Should I grab my equipment and run, or trust that the driver will see my red jacket and go around me? I gulped, smiled and waved my arms like an airline employee guiding a jet on the tarmac.
Cottonwood, tree, Kodiak, Island, Alaska, plants, sunrise
Whew. For the next 45 minutes, I conducted my photo-dance in the road: Snapping pictures, smiling and directing traffic.
While driving home, it occurred to me that some of those drivers maneuvering around the lady in red, were probably not very alert (pre-coffee) or were distracted: talking on their cell phone or rushing to an appointment. I could have been hit by a car. What was I thinking?
I’m not trying to be morbid here, but consider this: In an instant we may be required to leave this world, cancel all our appointments. Just like that. Makes you wonder, where are our thoughts during the course of the day?
Brother Lawrence practicing the presence of GodSaints and other holy persons like Brother Lawrence (1611-1691) tell us that one of the best ways to get control over our random, runaway thoughts is to practice the presence of God (however you may perceive Him or Her). Brother Lawrence would go so far as to pick up a straw from the kitchen floor, all the while loving God.
This is not about religion, dear readers. It’s about improving our lot. Yesterday, while reflecting on that morning of photographing and directing traffic, I came across a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, a shining example of practicing the presence of God.
“If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart…” Imagine, to possess that kind of devotion. (Gandhi died by an assassin’s bullet in 1948).
So my personal challenge is to hit the pause button more often — while photographing a sunrise, pulling weeds or stirring a pot of soup — to bless my actions, say a prayer for a friend or to simply give thanks for the cottonwood tree.
Thanks for being here.
Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska

More resources you might enjoy:

The Practice of the Presence of GodThe Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims by Brother Lawrence (Amazon)
Mahatma GandhiGandhi the Man, by Ecknath Easwaran available through Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri Press.
You can find dozens of articles, tips, recipes and essays by Marion on her original website.
To enjoy more of Marion’s photographs (or to order canvas prints, mouse pads–you name it–using Marion’s photographs), please visit

No Comments

  • Linda
    January 4, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    What a BEAUTIFUL post and what a BEAUTIFUL picture ,dear. I am glad that you are a good traffic directer – I enjoy having you share this life experience with me. : ) So, Keep up the good work.

    • marionowen
      January 5, 2012 at 7:20 AM

      Thank you, Linda. The blog is a little different format from my newsletter that I published for a number of years, but it will contain a similar variety of topics — I guarantee! Good to hear from you. Cheers and blessings, Marion

  • Dennis
    January 4, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    GOD is not Him or Her. HE is Him.I would not fool with words that may insult HIM all for the sake
    of satisfying some fools that don’t know or care about the difference.
    Jesus called GOD His Father (not mother)

    • marionowen
      January 4, 2012 at 5:57 PM

      I respect your opinion. Thank you.


Leave a Reply