I would climb to great heights, even though I was afraid of being up high, unsecured, looking over a precipice, to get the shot. I would climb through caves, even though I'm claustrophobic, spelunking in cramped quarters, wading through a dark cavern, where the frigid, black water came up to my chin and the cave ceiling scraping my chapeaued head, holding my camera above the water with one hand, steadying myself with the other.
I took chances, in my youth. I rode my bicycle, leaping down sets of staircases. I once soared from the top of a parking garage, landing hard on the grassy ground below, bursting both tires, bending the front forks, and putting my face into my handlebars, splitting my lip, the blood staining my shirt.
I would climb down balconies, holding onto iron railings, dangling off the platforms, feeling for the ledges below.
Okay, that one was pretty stupid.
As I've aged, I have taken fewer risks. I've settled down. I no longer put myself in jeopardy. But I see that playing it safe has prevented me from taking some photos that I have really wanted to capture. On my recent trip, along Georgian Bay, I stood at the sidelines, watching my wife and kids climbing over rocks, descending into a cavern that I once swam under the cool, clear water to access, years ago. I stood and watched because I was carrying three cameras and the accompanying equipment, and I had more than $7,000 worth of gear to care for.
I was wearing slip-on shoes with little tread, and the thick fog that washed over the Bruce Peninsula left a damp coating over the rocky crags. From high above the grotto, I stood and watched.
And then I remembered: I used to be a risk-taker.
I watched the hoards of people climb down the rocks, and back up again. I saw my wife and young daughters work their way down, stopping every once and a while, looking out for me, waving, telling me to watch them as they headed down. I watched the route they took, made note of where they stepped and how they held onto the ledges, and I said, screw it, I'm heading down.
I had two camera bags: my own, and my wife's. She wanted me to hold her camera while she made the descent. My sling bag would shift as I moved, so I'd have to take my time. Because I had a third camera with me, my father's old Minolta SRT-101, which sat in my bag, my new camera had to remain slung over my shoulder, unprotected. I looked at the other visitors to this national park, none as encumbered as I was, and I new I was adding extra risk in heading down. But I wasn't about to leave my equipment unattended.
I took my time, feeling each step below me, ensuring I had a firm grasp on a rock before lowering myself. If someone would come up behind me, wishing to get past, I would step aside, let him or her through. I wasn't about to be rushed. Where some people shuffled, I crawled, unafraid to sit on my butt to move forward. I was taking a risk, but I wasn't willing to risk falling by moving too quickly. I didn't trust my feet, riddled with arthritis, prone to rolling out from under me.
As I neared the bottom of the rocky cliff, I could hear my family exclaim at my attempt to join them, the cheer and excitement. With about another 10 feet to descend, my wife came up to meet me, to reclaim her camera. At this point, a fall would still hurt, the potential for broken bones a reality. But I had come too far to turn back.
I was willing to take that risk. And the risk paid off.
At the bottom, I removed my shoes, waded into the cold water, and carefully made my way inside the grotto.
I was a risk-taker once again. Older, a little wiser, and much more careful. But the risk was well worth it.
The ascent back up the cliff was a little easier, in part due to the confidence that I gained coming down to get these shots.