Sans Photos

This is my response to the Weekly Writing Challenge from the WordPress team. You’ll see why I coudn’t say no to this prompt.

Until I got a sleek, shiny brand new iPhone for my birthday three weeks ago, I had stayed away from the overall Snap Shot frenzy.

Surrounded by people of all genders and ages who clicked at everything catching the fleeting interest of their wandering eye, I preferred my notebooks – I keep one in each of my purses.

I don’t think anyone ever noticed me writing in my notebooks. That’s how busy people were snapping and shooting all around me.

And then overnight I became one of them.

I found myself observing my surroundings wondering if this tree, this dish, this bird, would make a good pic on my recently created Instagram page.

And I clicked on the square Camera icon with the frenzy I had criticized and mocked.

I neglected my notebooks and instead posted my snapshots on my social media pages.

You can suspect that in such a brief amount of time, I was still caught between conflicted feelings.

Enamored with this smooth new tool that allowed me to be like anyone else.

Saddened to be like anyone else.

Excited to be part of the relentless Snap Shot movement.

Troubled to leave part of my singularity behind.

After this long Thanksgiving weekend where I had plenty of time to take countless pics of my fabulous life and also to think about my new addiction, I was ripe for a little walk on the wild side.

After school drop off on this crisp and sunny Monday morning, I made a purposeful detour and took a No Through Road I had often meant to visit. My beloved new phone was fully charged and I drove in search of the perfect spot to take a few pics to share with my online community of friends.

As soon as I was off the freeway, my shoulders relaxed and I rolled down my window.

This is perfect, I thought, taking in the flamboyant autumn palette of the vineyards and orchards.

I searched for a safe spot to park, anticipating with a gush of adrenaline the beautiful pictures I would take.

I pulled at the end of a dusty driveway marked Private and left my warnings on to be on the safe side since several signs warned of farming trucks crossing the road at all times.

A waft of cool air with a hint of soft warmth welcomed me when I stepped out of my car and I unzipped my jacket. The sky above the Northern Sierra was spreading, blue and cloudless, while on the valley side the grey ribbon of polluted air was thickening.

I reached for my phone but these two skies seen through the screen of my lovely phone appeared bleak and uninteresting.

Frustrated, I stepped ahead, toward the vineyards where grapes had already shriveled before becoming the raisins that define this part of the big California valley.

This will make a nice picture, I thought.

Snap. Shot.

On the other side of the road, a small animal zipped between the olive and almond trees.

“Shoot, I missed it,” I said out loud, clutching my phone.

A Fedex truck ambled in the distance and the driver waved when she passed me.

I waved back, my phone tucked in my palm.

That’s when I heard the birds. I shaded my eyes. Even in the late fall the California sun is unforgiving. I couldn’t spot the birds and they must have known it since they went on with their chirping and singing, making the most interesting conversation.

Too bad a picture can’t capture this sound. A video could, I thought.

And excitement grew inside me at the idea of posting a cool, short video where nobody could see the birds and only hear them.

That’s when I smelled the earth. Dry and dusty, the soil in this part of our state personifies our lengthy hot California summers.  It had rained and even snowed in altitude less than two weeks ago and the result of the small amount of precipitation would have been impossible to notice through a picture, but a human eye couldn’t miss how the dirt had slightly caved in at the feet of the trees. Some fallen leaves had rotten and the smell tugged at me.

I was back to the forests of my childhood. They had nothing in common with this arid California landscape the forests of my native Normandy, yet on this gorgeous Monday morning, the mushroom-like odor of the soil was unmistakable.

I climbed back into my car, moved by the memories the smell of earth could trigger. I should have made a U turn since this road obviously led to a cul de sac. But curiosity won over the rational and I drove toward the end of the road. My phone quietly settled in the cup holder.

A light breeze coming through my halfway down rolled window played in my hair. The morning sun warmed my skin and I would have closed my eyes had I not been driving.

Except the Fedex truck I didn’t pass any other cars and the road belonged to me.

In the crook of a curve, the blend of gold and copper leaves of native oaks and vines caught my eye and took my breath away.

Under the morning light they wore a patina similar to the hue of sepia in old photographs.

In the east, a higher flat-topped hill dominated the vineyards and orchards. I had no difficulty imagining horseback riders on top of this arid mesa.

The notion of distance is misleading when you drive on unknown territory, but I estimated that I had driven no more than five miles since leaving the freeway.

And yet I was at the end of the world.

After a set of several curves the road split into a fork with one large property on each side. No doubt the owners of the vineyards and orchards lived there.

I parked once again to admire the red fruits of a bush that grew at the feet of an oak. The contrast between the vibrant green of the leaves and the red as blood of the fruits was stunning.

This bush would look great at home, I thought.

I had no idea of its name and in the past, I had sometimes picked a leaf to identify a tree I liked at the local nursery before planting it in my yard. Now I could snap a quick shot.

But when I reached for my phone, I realized that I had left it in the cup holder and that I had in fact not taken a single picture since I captured the grapes and trapped them under the Photos icon.

I dug through my bag and got my small notebook. I jotted a few words down.

Gold. Copper. Earthy. Arid. Plants red as blood. Sky larger than earth. California in the fall. Solitude. Memories.

Leads for sentences and perhaps more.

And I retrieved my way back to civilization. Traffic on the freeway was fluid and yet the sight of cars and trucks was a shock to my ears and eyes. The clock on my dashboard read five after nine.

Only, I thought. I have only been away for twenty minutes minutes?

Who would believe me? For proof of my escapade away from everyone and everything I had one single picture.

Not even great, I thought when I checked it back home. How could you ever think you would capture the colors and texture and smell and…At least you had your notebook.

I mechanically opened my inbox. The first email in the queue line came from WordPress.

The Weekly Writing Challenge, I thought, scanning the prompt.

A smile grew inside me.

This is made for you. Yes you can live sans photos. At least for a week.

So I sat down and typed.

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