Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond – The Age of Wonder

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Good Evening:

Times past, I never cared much for long-form non-fiction. I always preferred novels. However, two years ago on the recommendation of a few people I read Richard Holmes’ 2008 book The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science and got hooked on the genre. The Age of Wonder has the most beautiful book cover I’ve seen and feels like a great adventure novel in many places, particularly the chapters about Tahiti.

Freighter on the Horizon at Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

Freighter on the Horizon at Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

I returned to Sutro Baths today with my zoom lens in the hope of catching closeup photographs of Sutro Sam, but San Franciscans (plus a handful of tourists) had swarmed the ruins because we are absolute suckers for a Pacific sunset. Perhaps Sam didn’t like the vast numbers of two-legged interlopers infringing upon his territory. As I snapped shots of the freighter above, I recalled the stories told within The Age of Wonder about the Romantic age of exploration, the age when almost all of the remaining blank spots on the world map got filled in. The navigator on board that freighter can pinpoint the exact square meter on the globe the bow of that ship sails through at any instant. Only a mere 200-250 years ago, a navigator would have had no idea where he was and no idea where he was going, beyond knowing that he sailed west from the New World.

Photography Students at Sutro Baths, 21 January 2013

Photography Students at Sutro Baths, 21 January 2013

Beyond Sutro Baths, the surf. Beyond the surf, Seal Rocks. Beyond Seal Rocks, the sea. Beyond that, the sunset. Beyond that–well, beyond that, what? What could possibly exist beyond the known world? If you went there, would you find anything at all? If you found nothing, what would you do when the fresh water ran out? In those days, sailors and explorers ventured into the world knowing perfectly well that there existed a very good chance that they would never come back.

Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, 21 January 2013. Nikon Coolpix S9100, Sunset Mode

Sunset, Sutro Baths, San Francisco, 21 January 2013. Nikon Coolpix S9100, Sunset Mode

We don’t wonder about any of that anymore. We don’t need to wonder about anything.

Our plane will touch down in Honolulu’s airport. We’ll step into the terminal while the plane refuels or we transfer to another jet, and there’s plenty of bottled water in the airport shops to drink whilst we await the connecting flight to “Otaheite” (Tahiti).

Darkness Falls, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

Darkness Falls, San Francisco, California 21 January 2013

The greatest strength of The Age of Wonder is that the book engenders within the reader the sense of wonder and amazement people felt when Banks explored Tahiti, Mungo Park explored Africa, and Herschel turned his giant telescope to the heavens. These days, we need to look harder for the places where no one has ever ventured. Sometimes I wonder if one can find a single acre anywhere within the continental United States where no human being has ever stood.

Keep the wonder alive. Turn your eyes to the heavens or to the depths of the oceans, but keep the wonder alive. Wonder what the heck is out there.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Except for the one picture, all shots taken with a Nikon D40 with a polarizing filter; none edited.

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9 responses »

    • Andrew: Thank you for visiting and for writing. I always stick a polarizing filter on my DSLR when photographing outdoors in the American West. Somehow the light seems more intense than New England. I took a few shots of that group, yet despite that filter the sun’s brightness did seem to overwhelm the camera sensor (or whatever the technical term is). Might need an even more powerful filter for such shots in the future. Vonn Scott Bair

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