I've always wanted to be a native Indian. That is to say, I've always felt anachronistic in my spirit and mildly out of place in the mainstream current of our culture. Although my teen years were tough, I have many fond memories of long nights listening to my favorite cassette tapes of nature sounds, cuddled under covers with native Indian how-to and philosophy guide books: my bible as a boy. Those volumes spoke to me and resonated so deeply that they helped shape me forever. They taught me to open my eyes and live more consciously. They guided me to a greater sense of connectedness and appreciation of the natural world and all its gifts both seen and unseen. In the Canadian forests of my youth I learned how, or attempted on several occasions, to tan a hide, snare squirrels, collect and prepare wild edibles, preserve meat, build shelters out of pine or spruce boughs, construct solar stills, identify game trails, trees and stars.
At the age of 13 I asked my folks for a -10 degree mummy bag for Christmas and by New Years I had a 4 inch foamy on the ground and a 12 foot tarp roped up between a spruce tree and the fence in our back yard. This proved to be a good bed for a night or two that morphed into weeks, and then into months. I remember that period fondly because I slept so well under a crisp starry sky or snowy winter night, bundled up in my bag, drawstring pulled with only my nose braving the elements. I had never felt more alive or alert in all my young life.
In the 8th grade I had a group of young fellas from school convinced that we should all run away to live in the wilderness together. I had done enough reading for the lot of us and had even convinced myself this was the only option to live an authentic life. Our culture's intoxicating consumerism, insatiable greed, incomprehensible disconnect from our roots and the natural world that sustains us, was something of which I wanted no part. So, the boys and I arranged a rendezvous time and location to launch our retreat to somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. When the day finally came I loaded my external frame pack, strapped my father's pump action 22 to the side, hopped on my bike and pointed my wheels west. Roughly halfway to the rendezvous I experienced one of the biggest scares of my young life when I peddled through a busy intersection and spotted a Calgary police cruiser idling at a red light. I remember hauling ass through the adjacent neighborhood making sure he couldn't find or follow me. I was certain he had noticed the rifle strapped to my back.
When I arrived on time at our agreed location I was the only one there. I waited and waited and waited until finally one boy showed with his school bag of books and a story about how he couldn't do it, he couldn't go, none of them could. I was completely devastated but little did I know it'd be a good blog entry years later.
I have no doubt my folks will read this and reluctantly remember that day all too vividly. I can picture how they must have walked into my room that morning, attempting once again to corral me out of bed and on the bus to school. Instead they were greeted by a hand-written note taped to my cassette player; "push play" is all it said. My stereo no doubt crackled to life and broke their hearts. What they heard was a recording of my voice telling them I couldn't be a slave to this world and needed to find freedom and solace the only way that made sense to me at the time - in the wilderness. I told them I loved them and not to worry, I'd be alright. I'll never forget the emotion, fear and sharp words from my father when he finally caught up to me later that day. "This isn't the wild west, Jamen!!" I could tell he was horrified by the thought of losing his son and relieved I hadn't succeeded.
So what is my point and how in the world does this story tie into an image of a Maasai warrior I captured, decades later, somewhere in Africa, half-way around the world and far from a boyhood fantasy? I suppose the reality is I've never lost my appreciation for the indigenous cultures; the original caretakers of our planet. In many ways you might catch me still standing on my little white soap box, stating how I think the natives were the ones that had it all figured out. That is to say, had it figured out until we showed up, the white man, with our cholera, catholicism and obscene sense of entitlement.
Truth is, the man posing for me in the image was impressive. It was easy to see his unmistakable pride while he gently tolerated me and my barrage of questions concerning his village, rituals, religious and spiritual beliefs. He had unwavering patience and kind eyes. I can only imagine his history or the history of his people. And despite the fact he seemed to me to be otherworldly, he felt oddly familiar.
His wind-rustled cloak, fearsome gaze and the undeniable beauty of this image pierced me so deeply that when we finished shooting I needed to walk alone in the darkness during our retreat from the canyon. I simply could not contain my emotions as I felt as though I had captured something I had lost. And that little boy buried deep in my bones came flooding out.