Archive Page 2


Pecha Kucha Presentation (20 seconds on each of 20 slides) Arcata, CA, 9/7/13


For the last few years I’ve been very interested in natural beauty and how it affects us in psychological, emotional and spiritual ways, and I’ve been sharing my exploration through my photographs and coffee-table books.



Years ago, After earning my degree in geography, I set out to see the planet I’d been studying, with my camera, but I grew weary of the weight, and care for the equipment and film, so when a truck ran over my camera I quit photography. Whenever I had the urge to take a photograph, I’d stop and look and ask why. Studying the scene.


Fast-forwarding, decades later, while teaching aikido, I met a master of japanese aesthetics, and became his student. A few years later digital photography finally met the quality of film, and so I returned to photography. Next, I closed my school and returned to outdoor adventures.



I ended up hiking among these incredible granite spires in patagonia, and when I returned to show my teacher my photographs he told me to make a book. While I was hiking I’d been writing about the experience of having my mind blown by the mountains, so the result was the book titled THE GRANITE AVATARS OF PATAGONIA.



In the text of the book I asked why a human should have an experience of profound, mind-blowing awe while looking at a mountain. My conclusion was that the mountain must be in some profound relationship with humanity, and that the mountain must be divine, that is, an aspect of the source of all physical reality.



By extension this led to the realization that all of reality is the manifestation of the Source….that this is all one field of consciousness. If the division of consciousness was in order for it to experience itself, then the experience of beauty gets even more interesting.



A few years later I was invited to give a TED presentation. In preparation, I realized that natural beauty can be divided into yin and yang, that is, comforting beauty and shocking beauty, And that my interest was in shocking beauty. I’m interested in the experience of aesthetic arrest.


I was fresh from hypnotherapy school, and fascinated with the study of consciousness. researching, I found Thomas Campbell’s theory of evolution away from entropy. Tom explained to me that my photographs of mountains and canyons moved people not only because of my sense of composition, but because the subjects were resisting entropy, refusing to crumble due to the forces of erosion.



Next I made the book called Moved by a Mountain, a study of the view from my Alaska cabin. In it I asked why we call an alpine view “inspiring.” Inspiration usually comes from the acts or creations of others. The mountains just sit there. Again I asked if there is some kind of communication from the mountains to our souls.



I realized that over the 30 years that I had enjoyed my view, the mountain I call “the throneroom” had been inspiring me to seek dignity through its example of integrity…through it’s resistance to the forces trying to break it down.



Today, having just returned from backpacking in the sierras, I realize that Yosemite park was created around granite with integrity, while more fractured granite peaks remain unfamous, hidden in secret nooks of the national forests. 

It seems the psyche of we humans responds to lithic integrity.



If crystals vibrate and radiate some form of energy which is more intense with the size of the crystal, then what might be emanating from such massive unified granite structures as half dome?  Cerro Torre, or Monte Fitz Roy?     …How might we experience that energy?



These days I’m interested in the aesthetic arrest and awe that comes from other aspects of nature. Why do old growth redwoods move us? What do they communicate to our psyche? Like mountains and canyon walls, they too stand tall, and they resist decomposition. But like us, they are alive.



My sense is that they inspire us to stand tall, with good posture, despite the defeats life presents.

It has been proven that plants perceive their environment, especially the mental environment. They are aware of our thoughts. The question is, do these giants communicate back to us?   …and can we receive that communication.



What about clouds? For centuries clouds have been used in religious artwork, usually associated with heaven. Is that simply because they are platforms in the sky, or do the shapes of clouds communicate something to us?



I think they do, because it’s only certain types of clouds that attract our attention. Its the clouds that seem solid because they have such shape; the ones that move, billow or reach and stretch in ways that capture our eye. They seem to be alive because of this movement.



What about the big ocean waves of winter storms in the pacific?

Size is a theme running through my work. Big things make us feel small. Maybe from early childhood we are programmed to respond in a subordinate way to the big ones. 

Awe is wonder with a dash of terror, and it’s facilitated by hugeness. 



Awe can bring us to Aesthetic arrest, drawing our attention so entirely on the object that we can temporarily lose awareness of our individuality–our separateness from the object.

 In James Joyce’s words “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.”



Awe, aesthetic arrest, and shocking beauty are all opportunities for us to realize that our relationship with nature is much deeper than is commonly acknowledged.



I try to provide that opportunity to people with my photographs and books, but that’s only a substitute for the direct experience of having your mind blown by nature, and asking why.

You can Email me your answers at


a quick look at Moved by a Mountain

use this URL to see a 5:40 video paging through my new book, “Moved by a Mountain”:


radio piece about “Moved by a Mountain”

radio piece about “Moved by a Mountain”

this is a 3 minute radio piece. Peter Shepard of KBBI, Homer, Alaska offers a brief magazine short the new book MOVED BY A MOUNTAIN. (see the last 2 posts)


The Teaching of the Great Mountain

A Mountain in Alaska Directs the Mind Towards Selflessness

Photo and Quote from the New Book Moved by a Mountain.

A Mountain Can Have a Profound Effect on our Consciousness.

This excerpt from Moved by a Mountain:


Imagine that you have arrived in a mountainous area during a storm, when thick, dark, low clouds have been pressing down on the earth, preventing any view of the mountains. After a day or two, the rain stops and the clouds begin to thin and brighten. You begin to feel the invisible sun’s warmth on your face. A patch of blue sky is revealed here and there. Then, you turn your head, and are awestruck at the sight of an alpine crest, appearing through a hole in the clouds, far above. Its beauty has a theatrical quality, as when a curtain is lifted to reveal a carefully planned stage.


This can be one of the most powerful visions in the mountains. Perhaps in part because of the conflicting images: an immense mass of rock floating in the sky, defying the laws of Nature. The scene could evoke archetypes of, or deep mental associations with, the supernatural–deities or angels, or God. Maybe the intensity of the experience is partially due to the element of surprise: the shock of the unexpected perspective, and the sudden onset of awe.

No matter what the psychological mechanism, that awe is a signal to us, a communication from the Field of Consciousness, reminding us to see past our habitual thought processes, those rooted in a world-view of our own fabrication.


There is a traditional Zen statement that can be translated as, “Clouds leave, blue mountain appears.” Seeing the mountain is a metaphor for the experience of spiritual insight. Suddenly we realize that we have been living in the cloud of our own mental construct, our fantasy of reality, and our concept of self. The truth has been there all along, eternally, but we’ve been trapped behind a veil of mist, unable to see.

The mountains and the clouds conspire to express what it is we need to know; our need to know it is revealed by our immediate and profound response.


Thomas Campbell’s Foreword to my new book, Moved by a Mountain

Moved by a Mountain

Moved by a Mountain

only 200 copies of the book are available for Christmas. they are pre-publication copies that are embossed, numbered and signed. get them for yourself and for gifts at



By Thomas Campbell

The photographs of mountain landscapes on these pages are not the casualties of ever increasing entropy (erosion), but rather the survivors of an inexorable process dictated by the second law of thermodynamics that moves all things physical toward higher states of entropy with the passage of time. Such mountains stand tall and proud, unyielding to the endless tortures of wind and rain, snow and ice, unmindful of the relentless freezing and thawing of the seasons. Contemptuous of the might of men, they remain unbowed, magnificent, and majestic for all to enjoy and appreciate.   Though they are much older than humans, we are both the result of eons of evolution; enduring the abuse and enjoying the benefits of many millions of years of random destruction and creation to become what we are now, survivors on an evolutionary journey that is still unfolding. Though our paths are very different, the process is the same, and thus, there are lessons we can learn from the wisdom of the ancient mountains.  As it becomes increasingly clear, we are all interconnected in fundamental ways which we are just beginning to understand – all joined as one living small blue planet.

The majestic landscapes depicted by Reed’s photographs remind us of our comparative smallness and insignificance. Simultaneously, we can identify with the persistence and enduring power exhibited by these wild monuments of nature. As Reed discovers in his account of living in the presence of The Throneroom, we can become mentally, emotionally and spiritually entangled with these mountains in a profound way, and the result will resonate with our core as a perfect meditation of being whole and complete in the moment. In that identification of oneness with the mountains, we can begin to realize that we are a part of what is real, and sacred, and grand in the big picture, as well as what is small, profane, and dysfunctional in the little picture–that we too are a piece of something beautiful; a work of natural art that is shaped in the little picture by cycles of birth, choice, and decay.  Through observing the resistance of The Throneroom, Reed awakens to an awareness of the continual struggle against the tide of increasing entropy; that human beings are also in the process of forming something majestic that is bigger than ourselves.  The hope of our species is that our boundless collective and individual potential will one day develop its own expression of beauty and perfection that will be no less a majestic part of this world’s landscape than the mountains in these photographs.

From our perspective, these wild and dangerous places are metaphors for the invincible, powerful, adaptable, and immortal – all things that we, as puny physical beings, are not. Yet, surprisingly, they are good metaphors for “we the people” who collectively animate the form of an evolving humanity that has few limits placed on what it might become. Moved by a Mountain reminds us that we, like the mountains, face the challenge to persist and endure until we become a thing of peace and beauty.  Love is our destination, and the mountains show us our path and urge us on to be all that we have the potential to become.

As we look at these dramatic photographs of The Throneroom, we get a momentary taste of our immortality as conscious beings…a challenge to evolve and become, to persist and grow, as both individuals and members of a race with nearly unlimited potential. Gazing at these photographs, we can sense the awesome power of natural existence, the challenge and uncertainty of a dangerous environment, and the immortality granted by evolution that subsumes the individual. This state allows us a healing and helpful glimpse of a bigger picture that puts our individuality in perspective as a part of something larger, more lasting, and more significant. Thus the mountains speak truth to us. If we listen, we can resonate with their message at the core of our being.  They inspire us, and in doing so become beautiful in ways we deeply understand but cannot express at the more shallow intellectual level of facts and models of human behavior.

These wild places and high peaks put us in touch with our own power and purpose; we see our own potential in their images and find healing and peace in their encouragement to join with Gaia and all of her creations to become all that we can be, a necessary step toward actualizing the potential of the whole.  They nudge us onward to find our destiny as they have found theirs; our destiny, an expression of natural love, encouraged and focused by their destiny, an expression of natural beauty.  Only together can we succeed for, in truth, we are but one.


Moon over the Throneroom

Moon over the Throneroom


Will AWE Allow Us to Shift?

Will AWE Allow Us to Shift?

The link above is to a 1-minute video I had to make for TED. The transcript is below:

Why is it that a human can be moved to the experience of profound awe by viewing a mountain? This was the basic question of my first book, The Granite Avatars of Patagonia.

As a wilderness photographer and author, I have asked, “What is natural beauty?” And I’ve concluded that Natural beauty doesn’t exist. It’s a noun we use to label anything in nature that causes certain emotions, falling into 2 categories: comfort and shock. Comfort obviously serves us, but how can shocking awe serve us?  Maybe it’s to wake us up to the realization that there is something more important than our survival, our comfort and well-being, our freedom from suffering, even our freedom to pursue pleasure. Maybe Awe is what will allow us to shift attitudes and policies and laws so that we can live in a sustainable harmony with our precious environment.


Natural Beauty and aesthetic Arrest (TEDx presentation, Homer Alaska, 9/10/11)

Click Here to watch the TEDx presentation

I’m called a landscape photographer, but when I give presentations to photo clubs I begin by stating that I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist who uses a camera. But even that’s not true. Once I was in my booth at an art show and someone asked if I was the artist. I answered “no, I’m just the photographer,” thinking that nature is the artist. 


We don’t have a word for what I do.  My art is to position myself in the right place and be there at the right time to see something in nature with a certain kind of beauty that is dramatically powerful. Timing is important.  The Greeks had a word for beautiful, that came  from their word for “hour”, indicating that beauty happens at a certain time. I agree.

 My goal has been to produce photographs of nature that I’d want to hang on my wall and look at every day, but it’s taken a few years to understand what I’m really doing and why. 


My quest for an understanding of beauty led me to study with a master of Japanese aesthetics, Shozo Sato. He taught me tea ceremony, flower arranging, and calligraphy, and helped me understand composition on a deep level. But I had a more fundamental question: what is beauty? 


Eventually I realized that beauty doesn’t exist.  It’s a noun we use to label anything that causes certain emotions in us; therefore beauty IS in the eye of the beholder. Because we are all unique personalities with complex psychologies, and all at different stages of our spiritual evolution, different stimuli will evoke those emotions in different people.


What emotions?  We don’t have a word for our emotional response to beauty. We can be pleased, satisfied, satiated, calmed, soothed, relaxed, fulfilled, or, we can be captivated, astounded overwhelmed, awed, enraptured, become ecstatic, or feel harmonious or at one with nature. 

 I think there are two basic emotional responses to natural beauty–comfort and shock. The shock is what interests me.

Denis Dutton, an art philosopher who has given a TED presentation, confirmed my suspicions that humans seem to have inherited an aesthetic sense that causes us to appreciate hospitable scenes with livestock and water and shelter–what I’d call a pastoral scene. This is the type of beauty that evokes comfort. I appreciate this kind of beauty–this is my cabin here in Alaska–but I don’t photograph pastoral scenes.  

Dutton says that “in general, people everywhere who have been subject to the will of nature are less inclined to be charmed by its beauties.”  But I think he’s leaving out the concept of choice. When people of undeveloped areas have no choice but to live subject to the will of nature, then they would love to dominate it, and the beauty of a landscape is of little concern.  But here in the developed world where we have a greater ability to insulate ourselves from nature’s will, we can choose to go into nature, be subject to its will, and still be emotionally moved by its beauty. Many will even intentionally endure discomfort in order to find inspiration from wilderness.  


Inspiration, breathing in, GASP, is our response to shocking beauty. Exhalation, breathing out, SIGH, is our response to comfortable beauty. The in-breath is the renewal and the out-breath is the expiration, the release, the end. When we are stunned by the perception of what is, for us, profoundly beautiful, we first breathe in, and are filled with what might be considered divine. Then the mental construct of self can expire.



In his book, “Mountains of the Mind,” Robert McFarland claims that it’s only in recent times that humans have begun to appreciate the extremes of nature, which have been so inhospitable for all of history. He says that the meaning of awe has also changed. The original meaning had more to do with fear. It comes from an old English word meaning terror and dread.  Todays definition, “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder,” still includes that element, but as you know, in recent decades the word “awesome” has lost it’s potency, the meaning has changed, and so we have lost a means of communicating an emotion that is at the heart of my inquiry –that is, why the inhospitable is profoundly beautiful to some people.  This was the basic question of my book, The Granite Avatars of Patagonia. Why is it that a big rock can shock a human into a profound state of consciousness?



  A few decades ago Joseph Campbell said, “The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object….you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest.”  “Aesthetic arrest” is what I‘m interested in. Campbell borrowed the phrase from James Joyce who wrote that in the presence of great beauty “The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.”  In my words, the egoic mind is stopped and we are left face to face with the true nature of reality: one immense, infinitely complicated, interconnected miracle that our consciousness is part of, yet can be enraptured by. 


While researching the true nature of reality, I came across another Campbell–Thomas Campbell, a physicist who has been exploring in other dimensions for over 30 years.  This Campbell has written what he calls his big TOE in which he says that all of existence is evolving away from entropy, that is, away from chaos and towards organization, harmony, and ultimately towards Pure Love. This made perfect sense to me. It confirmed my suspicions about human evolution.  But I was confused by the fact that many of my most dramatic landscapes were photographs of the results of erosion, which is an entropic process. Why is entropy responsible for revealing divine sculptures of rock that are shockingly beautiful?  I was stuck on that one, so I asked Mr Campbell, who pointed to the obvious, that the granite spires and canyon walls that I photograph are what resists entropy.  They are what is still standing after millions of years of being attacked by the brutal and relentless forces of erosion. He said they convey a sense of awesome, invincible power, and that in viewing them we can be reminded that we are an integral part of the source of that power. He said that can have a healing effect.  


A majestic peak seems to say, “The world around me may be falling apart, but I stand strong, with dignity and integrity, pointing the way past the ego, to love.”


 We don’t have a word for this spiritual healing by natural beauty.   The Spanish word “alucinante” led me to create a word:  “elucinate, which means “to reveal the truth (or enlighten) by blowing one’s mind.” Please use it if you like it.



 My suspicion is that while we humans are evolving towards love, we are all at different stages. I suspect that fear is associated with entropy, and that fear is what prevents us from experiencing aesthetic arrest when observing nature’s most inhospitable and awesome scenery. When we are fearful we do experience the terror of such powerful landscapes, if we allow ourselves to really look, and we will keep our distance. But as we evolve past fear, we can actually be healed by that same landscape, especially if we enter it. 


 The word “heal” comes from the same root as “whole.” Just as two sides of a wound come back together, we can heal the rift between our individuated selves and the omnipotent forces that rule over all. 

This is why people can have life-changing experiences in dramatic wild landscapes, and why I find compositions in such places, record them with a camera, and show them to others. 


May 2018
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