KEVIN TATE: Photos return thousands of words from yesterdays

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

I look at the cold black and white photo and feel a day bathed in warm summer light, breathe the heavy, humid air that hangs over the water, feel it rush by thick and fast as the boat glides along the river’s smooth surface. I look at it here but, in my mind, I’m there.
The photos from time spent outdoors are portals to those yesterdays, direct connections to thoughts and feelings as alive as they ever were. Some are from my first days afield. Some are very recent. Some predate my arrival here altogether.
So many of our oldest photos are of our times spent outside. Sometimes most of the photos we have that don’t directly include our children fit this description, and I’m not long in wondering why. A good bag of birds or stack of rabbits, a limit of mallards or any deer at all certainly rates as a photo opportunity, a time we’ll want to look back on, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
I flip through photos taken of my Old Men in their prime, dressing fish with smiles on their faces, pulling seines through brown water, hands and knuckles hardened by a lifetime of work deftly handling a delicate task, their eyes steadily intent on their job. Why was this something to remember? It was worthy because they were deep in a project of their own. The day was theirs and all that was in it. They strove as hard on the weekends as they did during the regular 8 to 5, but the weekend hours were different. Then, they were under their own supervision, and the happiness that glowed still shows through in that lost moment frozen in shades of gray by the camera’s eye.
I look at a photo of my kids on a pond levee, fishing poles cast down, playing with a box of crickets. The insects were purchased for bait, but their presence alone had the day’s main trophy already hooked. They smile the smile of discovery, their eyes tell of minds processing what they find.
What will they remember when they look at these images years hence? Happy thoughts, I hope. A time before responsibility. A time before demands. Maybe the freedom only the innocent can know. Maybe that, too, is part of what drives us to keep shooting.
Somewhere in every outdoor experience there is a moment of purity, of thanksgiving and of joy. Staring into still images of moments whose time lies ever further behind, we can make that rush stand still, for a while, and remember it.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.