Nature Recorded: Reclaiming Digital Documenting

By Samir Shukla

The place is same.

The scene is different.

I have mentally marked a spot at my house, just under the deck on a patch of paved area snuggled against the backyard. This is where I stand several times a year specifically to observe nature's changing drama.

In spring the grass is a soft green, wildflowers bloom, perennials return. On a hot summer day, the grass is darker and stiffer, the trees are fully loaded with foliage while darting birds and jumpy squirrels are busy going about their business. The fall can be a drama of red, yellow and orange. If the fall is especially dry, like this year, the ground cover turns a sadder brown, colored by the fallen leaves. The stark emptiness and lack of foliage in winter evokes an entirely different mood and when it snows, well, that's a whole different palate of winter colors.

As the seasons rotate, nature fused by its emotional ups and downs, realigns the palette, updates the foliage; the colors mingle and emerge with new hues, unfolding like a magic trick, a slight of hand that updates the illusion. This magic trick, though, is not lightning fast, but slow and deliberate. An artist creates a new painting, a singer croons a new song, and a dancer changes her footwork. Nature is a combination of all three and more, refreshing the senses with each episode.

For years I have thought of photographing the view from my designated spot at different times of year, but till now I have resisted this particular digital documentation. We take hundreds, even thousands of images in our content-saturated contemporary times. Smart phones with large memories along with cloud servers keep the endless images easily stored. Everything is photographed.

In this self-imposed non-photographed setting, I memorize the image of each season and compare it with what the trees, the grass, the sky, the air itself, looked, felt and smelled like a few months earlier. I close my eyes and test my memory. It's a still dream, a meditative exercise testing memory cells, with the resolution set at its highest.

I resist the urge to whip out my phone and take a photo. On this spot, about five to six times a year, I record the image in the memory recesses of the mind. It's an image only I will remember.

I like to compare it to a batch of written words, whether they are part of a novel or short story. The description of a particular setting is frozen in the words describing it. Readers can close their eyes and imagine the setting. In this instance, I use the image saved in my mind instead of words.

We are a part and parcel of nature, yet the workings of nature never cease to amaze me. There's art in nature, music as well. The cool, steady breeze of fall drones like a sitar, the winds, thunder and sudden rains of summer are like a rock concert. A cold desolate winter day can be a somber violin solo. Springtime is the most joyous of all, where the music is an orchestral feast.

These musical flourishes can be added to that still image in my mind for enhanced effect.

Here in the South we are fortunate to have defined seasons that make this effort of recording images in the mind a revelatory exercise.

Find your own spot. I recommend somewhere near your home. Return to the same exact spot, standing or sitting in the same position, gazing at the same area, at different times of year. Just observe. The change of moods, colors and sounds are revealing. Set aside the urge to take a photo with your phone. Just this one spot, every few months, take a few moments to simply observe and mentally document.

These images will only be stored in your mind. It's pretty amazing to see and remember specific natural surroundings, the colors, shades, feel of the air, shapes of shrubs, that low hanging branch on an oak tree, and bunches of wild berries, things that maybe taken for granted with a quick photograph.

This is your world, this little spot. The images will not be captured and endlessly shared on social media or other ways. These are your secret images, yours to keep and cherish. When a moment of stillness and calm is needed during times of chaos and noise, close your eyes and return to one of these stored images of that special spot you have chosen.

So, here I stand at my spot, looking at nature's painting as it stands today, and now close my eyes and mentally change the colors, add leaves, remove leaves, imagine birds and fireflies, a dusting of light snow, all taken from different images in my mind.

These are my own personal images, taken only for my mind, backed up and saved in the best storage device.


Samir Shukla is the editor of Saathee magazine. Contact -