Original article written by Don Boyd for publication in The Santa Fe New Mexican, repeated with permission.
My daily pilgrimages to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge ended one year from the day they started on December 21, 2021. More than a thousand photographs later, I am still processing not only images but the richness of the learnings, questions and experiences as well. As you can imagine, there were many challenges along the way; everything from a wrenched pelvis when a ladder rung broke to a mild case of covid-19 during the last week of my year. My few absences – 9 days in total – were all the direct result of visits to my 97-year-old mother.
What motivated me to commit to and sustain such a journey? I answered the question this way in my March 2022 article for The Santa Fe New Mexican: One of the important gifts of the refuge, a reason I think so many visitors have told me that it “feeds their soul,” is it reminds us that we humans are but a small part of the cosmos. Like looking at the stars on a clear night, our experience at the refuge can fill us with wonder and awe.”
At times, there is a primordial instinct that catches us in our domestic lives: small though we may be, we too are made of parts of our planet, the stars and the universe beyond. The comfort in that experience is like that in the timeless embrace of a loved one, like a child being held by its mother or father, and by the vision of the cosmos at night. The refuge does indeed feed our souls. Though the universe is immense and expansive, we are a part of every atom in it.
The refuge offers us an opportunity to look back in time. While not really a wild place – it is far too small and heavily managed and visited for that – the refuge does offer us a glimpse into our wild past when humans first came on the scene. The wonder and awe we experience is the result of a glimpse into a world that existed before we reshaped it to meet our species-exclusive needs. In our shared cultural and myopic arrogance, it is easy to think that everything on this planet revolves around us. In modern times we have certainly ordered our lives and designed our habitat as if that is true. Being on the refuge every day, I have constantly been reminded of how each plant and animal, from the bears, mountain lions, cranes and geese to the willows and fungi, are here because the evolutionary process over millennia accounts for their presence. Each living thing here owes its existence to everything else, and has been here far, far longer than we humans. To our credit, we recognized the importance of saving some of this eco-system. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge owes its 57,331-acre riparian habitat to some far-thinking humans who understood what its loss would cost all of us.
Year of Refuge has been a deeply personal journey, a process of self-discovery, one of seeking to know how wonder and awe are awakened in me and what refuge means. Every day I have discovered new reasons for appreciating this place that has been set aside for the lives of the animals and plants that have been here long before we human animals arrived. I could talk about beauty that is ever a part of what refuge means to me. But, I would rather you look on as I did at a seemingly endless murder of crows, a ribbon of moving, black silhouettes against a late afternoon gold-toned canvass of autumn cottonwoods.
I would rather you look at the two deer whose quiet feeding I have interrupted. Half-hidden in fall’s soft afternoon light adjacent to the Rio Viejo creek, they have scant seconds to decide if I pose a threat to them. Responding to my silent entreaties by not bounding off, they allow me time to mount my camera atop the tripod.
Finally, I want you to see a pair of sandhill cranes, mated for life, as they make their brief, awkward transition from birds with seven-foot wingspans to land animals that need the earth to sustain them as much as I do.
All of these are timeless moments, the place of no clocks or business or signs or flashing lights nor anything else that calls me to be anyplace else but where I am . . . just places where I in my refuge can see, hear and feel the life so abundant around and within me.
On Tuesday, January 17, at 7:00 PM MST, I will be interviewed on Zoom about my Year of Refuge by Trisha Sanchez of Friends of Bosque del Apache. I will present a short slide show and speak briefly, followed by Trisha’s interview. You will be invited to ask questions as well following the interview. These meetings are typically reserved for OASIS members of Friends of Bosque del Apache – those making a monthly donation; however this time, Friends are kindly allowing anyone interested in the YEAR OF REFUGE project to register and join in. You are also welcome to pass along the registration link below if you know others who might be interested. At the conclusion of the interview, Trisha will draw from those attending for a 16” x 20” print of the snow-capped Magdalenas from the Refuge. I look forward to seeing you on the call. Here is the registration link: https://secure.friendsofbosquedelapache.org/a/year-refuge-zoom
You can follow Don’s continuing journey at Facebook.com/DonBoydPhotography and sign up for the blogs and newsletters at his website, www.donboyd.com, and be informed when the book, YEAR OF REFUGE is available.