For three memorable years I lived in an Alpine village overlooking the valley of Glarus with my wife, Swiss psychologist Doris Laesser Stillwater. Surrounded by peaks over 3,000 meters high, our view surveyed an idyllic panorama arising from the continental collision of Eurasian and African Tectonic Plates.
Coming from North America, where I often had the good fortune to reside in picturesque landscapes, I was still unprepared for the endless, exhilarating majesty of the Swiss Alps.
As someone who cherishes his indoor time, sitting at computer or playing guitar, I was nearly lifted out of my room by the sheer grandeur of this pristine environment. I was compelled - as if by a force beyond my rational mind - to walk.
It certainly helped to have a dog who encouraged my outdoor movement - a Tibetan Terrier named Okko. Together we would go for hours, often off the leash.
Waking in the morning, feeling the weather, and knowing I would soon be walking in these mountains- there arose a sense of coming home deep inside. During this chapter of my life I also became fascinated with the possibilities inherent within photography, and the beauty which a fine lens can produce.
It was during one of these excursions when I realized that within walking distance was an infinite variety of views. I would sometimes seek out a spot from where I could spend an hour or more, often taking hundreds of pictures from every possible angle.
As I walked along the paths, whether country road or deer trail, I discovered new vistas at every turn. Over a great meadow, across a rushing stream, along a rocky escarpment or through a verdant forest, the landscape held so many variations, so many shades and contours. And each season brought forth an entirely new perspective to witness, with the deep snows of winter offering the greatest contrast- often including the thunder of avalanches in the not-so-far-off distance.
A weathered barn, whose boards and beams had endured countless storms over the centuries, caught my imagination. A placid herd of cows contentedly enjoyed their continuous grassy meal, undisturbed by this stranger walking by. An empty chalet perched high atop a steep ridge, while a hawk called from the open sky.
Hiking these mountain trails with my camera brought me into a peaceful state of mind, and renewed a sense of gratitude for the world around me. I always returned refreshed, more alive than before.
Within a short distance from where each of us live, there is an entire universe awaiting our attention. Whether deep in an urban setting, along a suburban street, or far out in the country, each step we take is an open invitation to see with new eyes.
Certainly, some environments lend themselves more easily to this kind of visual exploration. In particular, if we have the good fortune to live in close proximity to nature the choices of what we might focus upon grow exponentially.
As in so many areas of life, it is often only our mind that is the limiting factor, what gets in the way. Blinded by our own assumptions of what we know, we may believe we have seen this tree or touched that flowing water - but in fact, not really seeing, not truly touching.
Yet as the mind quiets down, the heart opens. The eyes re-focus, and we begin to comprehend the magic in the moment. The ‘ordinary’ transforms into ‘extraordinary’ within walking distance of where we now stand.