In the late 1990s I began feeling that nothing ever changes and that there is nothing to do in my home town (Iowa City, Iowa). When that feeling settled in my soul most heavily I felt like I was stuck inside the rotating Hamm’s Beer advertisement that can be found in one of the city’s neighborhood bars. It’s one that shows a tent on an island. The scene gradually rotates to become a waterfall, then a river, then the tent, the waterfall, the river, the tent, waterfall, river, tent, never ending, never changing, just rotating from one scene to the others. Like the ad, my life in Iowa City seemed to follow a very predictable path from one location and activity to another, and another, then back again. Simple. Predictable.
Could it be, I asked myself, that this mind-numbing predictability lies as much – if not more – in the quality of my attentiveness as it does in the nature of Iowa City?
To explore that possibility, I began taking photographs from the footbridge which crosses Iowa River near Hancher Auditorium. I did so virtually every day from September 8, 1998, through September 8, 1999. Always standing in the same spot, always aiming my camera southeast over the river toward the University’s “Laser Center,” always snapping the shutter at 5 p. m. Central Daylight Time (CDT), I gave myself time to meditate, to pay very close attention to what I smelled, tasted, touched, heard, felt on my skin, felt inside, and saw when I opened my eyes, and to be open to serendipitous connections with this living, breathing world.
On the day shown in the photograph (May 5, 1999) I wrote:
A very strong wind is blowing directly into my face from the south, and large cumulus clouds are moving swiftly toward the northeast across a background of radiantly blue sky. So much is going well in my life right now, I cannot help but feel blessed today. The book that I have been working on for the past four years nears its end, my younger son will soon graduate from City High, my older son seems to be doing well in his new job, I soon will be departing for a three-week seminar in Germany, and my plans for the future are becoming much clearer. Reflecting on the slow greening of the river’s banks over the past few weeks, I think of veriditas, the power of life pushing out from each living thing. Each organism expands and transforms from within. Always subject to random variation and constrained by environmental pressures, it develops into what it has evolved to become.