Six months ago, I quit my job. After 21 years of being a Presbyterian pastor, I resigned.
It didn’t really make sense. We were a few months from our first college tuition payment. I was in the career I had trained for, with a doctorate degree, and a great staff and congregation. I even had a pension. Who has one of those anymore? There was no particular reason, but one afternoon last February, my wife asked me how I was doing, and I said, “I think I’m going to quit my job.”
In retrospect, I can see more clearly what led me to that moment. I was tired, anxious, and restless, still a bit disoriented from a recent sojourn into the badlands of cancer. I was cancer free, but hardly free from the trauma of it all. I was also energized and delighted by an emerging vocation in photography. A chemo-inspired pledge to do an art show led to a small, thriving photo business. My images were starting to show up on the covers of magazines, annual reports, and the National Geographic Instagram feed. I had no illusions that I could make a living from that, but there was a growing tension between being a pastor and being a photographer.
In some ways, my resignation was an impulse that churned under the surface for years, but there is one thing I can point to that brought it to the surface and gave it urgency. It was a photo of Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies, also known as the Wild Horses Monument, in Vantage, Washington. It’s an art installation of iron horses on a ridge above the I-90 freeway, halfway between Seattle and Spokane. It’s perhaps the most viewed piece of public art in the country, with over 10 million cars passing by every year. I have a photo of the Milky Way above the horses that won a prize at the Spokane County fair years earlier. Subsequent conversations with David Govedare, the Native-American artist who created the statues, had sparked my imagination about other ways to show off this special place.
In recent years, every time I drove by, I envisioned a photo of the moon rising behind the horses. I wanted to show the perspective of a massive moon enveloping the whole series of statues on the horizon. The challenge was getting the right conditions and alignment to get the shot. In January, I showed up at my office, as usual, but a news flash about an impending super moon, sparked the recognition that the opportunity had finally arrived. The planets were literally aligned to get the photo, but there was one problem. I had a meeting scheduled that evening with some elders from the church.
I started down a familiar path of acknowledging that my creative energies would have to take a back seat to my responsibilities. It’s a familiar path to anyone who has lived within the constraints of a career. The wild horses would have to wait until I had free time. My creative visions would have to pause until I didn’t have so much on my plate. My imaginings would need to settle down, until I wasn’t so locked into a schedule of evening meetings and busy weekends.
But something strange happened along the way.
I decided I couldn’t wait. I surrendered myself to the muse, and canceled the meeting.
I got in my car, and drove 2 hours to Vantage, WA.
I set up the camera a mile away from the horses on the banks of the Columbia River, and immersed myself in the anticipation of the moon peeking above the horizon.
When it did, I was out of position, with the moon nowhere near the horses. I picked up my gear and ran to the north, heart pounding out of my chest. I set back up only to realize I’d gone too far, so I ran back. The moment had arrived, and I breathlessly mumbled to myself, “Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it.”
I finally got to the right spot and had only a few minutes to set the exposure, compose the image, and click the shutter before the moon was past the horizon. With moon shots, there is this fine balance between the moon being too bright and the landscape being too dark. I focused in on the lead horse, and took a few shots, and then it was over. The balance was lost and the moon was too high.
“Did I get it?”
I scanned the screen on the back of my camera.
“Oh, that one looks promising.”
I packed up my gear and headed home with a deep sense of satisfaction, and a bit of unease.
The experience sparked a recognition that it was time for a change.
I couldn’t wait any longer.
The moment had arrived.
On the drive home, I might have even mumbled to myself, “Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it.”
If you’d like information on the efforts to complete Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies, go HERE.
All of my photos are available as 5x7 notecards, 8x12 matted prints, and canvas and metal prints. Go to CraigGoodwinPhoto.com for more information.