I once traveled 5,500 miles from home because of a photograph.
I saw it by chance one late fall afternoon, while skimming through a tour-company catalog that had just arrived in my mailbox. Walking back down the road from getting my post—I live in a semirural area—I thumbed through the publication’s colorful and glossy pages. While the images they held were all beautiful in their own way—mostly depicting azure oceans, grass-green jungles and coffee-colored bears—one particular photo stopped me in my tracks.
The photo was predominantly red in color and showed the sharpest, jaggiest mountain peaks I had ever seen. It had been taken at the time of day when the light was sultry and soft; a time of day I don’t believe we have in Wisconsin or, if we do, I’ve never seen it. These ragged points in the Andes Mountains looked as if they were enveloped in a warm, comforting fire that burned somewhere off the page, but with flames that didn’t destroy.
Looking up to the headline, I saw that the photo was illustrating a trip to Patagonia. Until that afternoon, I had never dreamed of traveling to Patagonia; never even had it on my radar screen. But that day, when I saw that photo, I knew that Patagonia was where I had to go.
The catalog was the 2006-2007 edition from Natural Habitat Adventures. (At the time, like most of you, I was on NatHab’s mailing list since I had taken a few of their other trips.) The photo was the creation of one of NatHab’s naturalist guides, Eric Rock. Why it touched some part of me so deeply is something I’ve been trying to figure out ever since.
Was it the rich color, the particular perspective, or the exact cropping that so moved me? Was it something that had nothing to do with what was inherent in the photo itself—could it just have been that with the leaves beginning to turn crimson and scarlet all around me, I happened to be in tune with that hue that fall day? Was it a random glitch in the catalog’s binding that made the book naturally open to that page and cause my eye to linger a bit too long, sparking a connection?
As a writer, I admit that I am sometimes jealous of photographers. No matter how compelling I think the magazine, book or ad copy I’ve written is or how enticing the headline, what makes people want to stop to read the words is almost always the image. Conduct your own experiment; just glance at any brochure or article and notice what catches your attention first.
Last month in this column, we talked about why you choose to travel. I travel to understand my home a little bit better. Joan Campbell, in a comment, wrote about her reason. Joan’s mother had told her that travel was a good investment because “once you’ve taken a trip, it can’t be stolen or lost, and you can’t be taxed out of it.”
But once we’ve decided that we want to travel, what is it inside us that makes us want to go there? For me, it once was a photograph. But can a phrase, a book, a poem, a film or a simple recommendation from a friend do the same thing? When it comes to travel, does anything touch us as much as an image?
How do you select which part of the world you need to travel to? Please post your answer below.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,