Breaking The Spell.

Photograph Jeremy Wade Shockley/SU DRUM

By Jeremy Wade Shockley

Nature is most powerful in its twilight. I take in the beauty of a fading autumn, the brittle nature of my surroundings, noting the coolness in the air. I feel a strong connection with my past, and a deeper tie to the earth this time of year.

The Vallecitio Valley of my youth is a product of hard work, heavy with the smell of earth and the approaching cold. Today is warmer than any day we are likely to see between now and spring. I will soon shed my long flannel shirt and felt brimmed hat, setting them safely to the side. The silence of nature is amplified, a calm before the storm.

I approach the land with respect; tactically setting the gas powered saw across some downed timber. Mentally gathering myself, physically prepared. The sound of the saw is the sound of the season; the hard work is a reflection of the past. The pine smell is intoxicating; sweat stings my eyes. I feel good.


Photographs © Jeremy Wade Shockley 2010.

A Creative Non-Fiction Essay

By Jeremy Wade Shockley

The large sheet metal door slides to the right with resistance, breaking the silence of the land. The smell of sage and juniper rise from the desert, a reminder of recent rain. The horizon looking north toward Colorado and the La Platas still holds its blue-gray demeanor. Late afternoon sun shines brightly upon my grandfather’s Stetson, a light straw affair, not nearly as dilapidated as the one I last saw him wearing. As he steps into the shadows of the workshop, he pushes the hat back on his forehead, revealing wisps of thinning gray hair above his weathered ears. Pearl snaps catch window light on a cuff of thin flannel material, signature western wear.

Shelves climb to the ceiling on either side of us. He reaches for a few stones, newly cut and polished, and spits on his thumb to better wipe the dust away, revealing shimmering quartz surfaces that he holds between two worn fingers. His pinky is missing. Filtered light catches the reflection of the smooth rock. The dust stirred by our presence stands in the air like a heavy beam caught in the sunlight. Tires and tools are stacked over and under decaying boxes of oily cardboard. The air smells of grease. A large industrial metal lathe sits to my left; I focus my eyes on the rusting thermostat, once selling Dr. Pepper. Nearby, an old Coke bottle sits on its side amid other windowsill clutter. Grandpa is searching for something. “See if you can pull down that box,” he demands, pointing a crooked finger above my head. It’s full of wooden containers, dated by a thick lacquer finish. He hands me one, a keepsake.

He pulls an old stool from somewhere, collecting his thoughts as he exhales. I take a few photos, realizing how out of place the Nikon seems in this antiquated reality. A workshop filled with tools, equipment and possibility. Dated. I feel a deep sadness for my grandfather and his way of life, both on the brink of disappearance. I let the camera rest as the old man shuffles outside. “Well,” he sighs, “we best be getting on. Dinner ‘ll be ready ‘for you know it.”

“Give me a hand with this door,” he says.

Creative Non-Fiction Revisited.

Photograph Martin Anderson. All Rights Reserved.


By Jeremy Wade Shockley

Broken glass littered the slope surrounding a deep fire pit, faces both familiar and unfamiliar greeted me as I stepped across the multicolored, pebbly surface, barefoot-ginger. The glass bits were now worn with time, or use, interwoven into the stones and earth that made up the surrounding hillside. A great dome sits, on the level, to my left, worn canvas covering the menagerie of blankets, a frame work hewn of willow limbs, a product of longstanding tradition and expertise.

Conversations were lighthearted among the men and women who had invited me on this occasion, a few stray sparks lifted from the rocks as they were ceremoniously carried inside, collecting together at the heart of our presence. Circular. What was said next, the songs that were sung, and the great blessings are private. They belong to those who were there, and those before them. I will say no more.

Blackness enveloped me, one set of senses traded for another, the sweet smell of herbs overpowering my nostrils. Mind, body and spirit set free- alert. The cool earth to my back, under my palms, the feeling of soft quilt on bare skin, the heat rising upwards, prominent and powerful from the start. Time has no place here, I search my thoughts and consider my future. I am present.

The light is blinding at first, strength and fatigue occupy my body at the same moment as I stand. Slightly bent, I move to the left, slowly, gathering my thoughts and paying respects, I travel towards the light in a clockwise fashion. I straighten myself as I step back into the cool morning air, humble and lighthearted. It was a good sweat.

Creative Non-Fiction: Week Four.

Photograph Jeremy Wade Shockley/SU DRUM

The creak of the wood under my worn boot brought back memories from so many summers past. The pine needles that always gather on the redwood steps remind me of all the times I have swept them away. There is a 90 degree bend in the staircase leading up to the deck, sheltered by tall pines, these trees are rich in sap and the pungent smell brings on another set of memories.

Passing across the weathered deck and into the half open barn door I am hit with an even stronger smell of dust, made more noticeable by the heat. Open rafters warm the loft by day, greedily sucking the heat back as night falls. This loft is the barn, as my cousins and I call it, and it only held hay for one or two summers as I recall. In our youth we set up camp first, slowly adding pieces of furniture and eventually beds and a TV. Here we could escape responsibility; there were fewer rules and no enforceable curfew. Youthful innocence at it’s very best.

A pair of ground squirrels play chase along the outside banister as I lightly set the record needle down on a favorite Bob Dylan track, the crackle immediately disturbing the silence of the room. Was it nine or ten summers that I spent up here, working alongside my grandfather, escaping to the barn at each day’s end? The best days were those shared with my cousins, each year remembered by the posters and odd things that we used to adorn the walls and open nooks. Now every corner of this once empty space holds memories, memories that are represented by the tangible things we collect, perhaps a bit dusty. I am cheered by the smell.

Photograph © Jeremy Wade Shockley 2010.

Here I was on a ski mountain for the first time in over two years, and it had been almost four before that. My memories drifted back to college, working at the bike shop, heading to the mountains intent on maximizing the season pass. I was younger then, less confident I’m sure, but somehow I remember being more confident. These thoughts crossed my mind as I watched the ski crowd, young and old, bustle to and from the lifts, restrooms, and overpriced eateries. Those with too much gear were brightly colored and awkward, the other, local element on the mountain exuded arrogance and purpose- the two were intertwined there at the base of Wolf Creek- there was an almost insect like busyness to the untrained eye. I again found my thoughts drifting back to a time when I might have easily passed through without a second thought.

I was here to rekindle my love affair with the slopes, to share with Rachel a sport I had once so ambitiously pursued. A gust of wind stung my face, exposed from the nose down, in one quick motion the ski lift swooped me up in the air, almost surprisingly so. Only then did I leave the commotion behind, free to bring my thoughts to nature. A dead tree approached on my left, draped with various beads and other adornments. For a moment I felt sadness, which quickly passed. Perhaps nature feels honored by such gifts…I entertained this thought some more before dismissing it, after all those beads were never placed with such high intentions. The Rockies came into sight above the mountains, high, proud, and much the same as they have always been. A feeling of calm entered by mind and once again I was aware of the equipment and the impending dismount directly ahead of me.

Creative Non-Fiction: Week Two.

Photograph © Jeremy Wade Shockley 2010.

The soft spongy earth and high grass soaked my shoes immediately. A thick heavy mist hung over the landscape- I had come north to Cajas for the streams. Cuenca with its dense population and cobble stone streets was foreign to me, but the rhythm of casting a fly rod, reading the current, transcended time and place- taking me from the high Andes back to the Vallicito valley. My mind at ease in the new surroundings.

Photograph © Jeremy Wade Shockley 2010.

They say change is inevitable, that tourism will be the new economy. I prefer to remember it as it was- the community that gave it’s self to my upbringing- following the cobblestone streets in the footsteps of my grandfather. Patiently listening as he spoke to the other fisherman in his daily routine.

Photograph © Jeremy Wade Shockley 2010.

The extreme heat was inhospitable, the landscape thundered in my ears. Adrenalin coursed through my veins making the experience bearable, almost distant. I was assured that the high ridge was safe, running like a black spine above the sea of fire and fury below. My instinct was to flee – eyes fixed on the molten earth.

These excerpts are part of the in class writing assignments that seek to emulate creative non fiction, each excerpt written in under two minutes. Our instructor, the renowned William R. Gray, teaches various courses on the art of prose throughout the year. As a photojournalist, I feel that mastering the English language, and how it is written plays a very strong role in the field of photojournalism.