Mount Hood from above Laurance Lake · Mt. Hood National Forest · Parkdale · Oregon · USA
adverb ∣ l'i·stes·so tem·po ∣ \lēˈste(ˌ)sōˈtem(ˌ)pō\
(of a musical passage or section following a change in time signature) at the same tempo as before.
This image was downloaded to my external hard drive at the same time as my goofily titled "Laws of A Traction”, and there it's sat in digital silence for over a year. In the process of thinning my archives to save some storage space, I was thisclose to earmarking this one for the trash bin. But as I'm sometimes wont to do, I did some quick processing steps just to see how the finished product might look on the off chance I might understand the reason I felt compelled to shoot an apparent throwaway image in the first place. Ninety-eight percent of the time, I think to myself I had to have been off my meds. But every once in awhile, one seems to subtly grow on me just enough to hold onto, as this one did.
Depicted here is the shaded snowy north face of Mount Hood looming beyond a mountain ridge harboring Elk Cove Trail #631 along its length. Out of view betwixt them flows the Coe Branch, the thready link between its namesake glacier (Hood's second largest by volume) and the West Fork Hood River.
It's far from being a jaw-dropper and I certainly don't expect it to have the broader appeal of my more traditional landscape images, but I often do enjoy the more subtle and abstract qualities of a natural scene whenever I'm attuned enough to see them. Perhaps it's the cup-half-full part of not experiencing an atomic sky every time out that my otherwise limited visual brain circuitry is freed up to look for other more nuanced things. Though this image may play better as a larger print in which the literal forms of the individual trees can more readily be appreciated, at smaller dimensions there’s a distinctly abstract impressionistic feel to it that appeals to me just as much, if not more.
Visual aesthetics aside, it seems apropos at this juncture in my life to publish an image that subtly illustrates the concept of change in so many ways: the bare mountain ridge giving way to the snow-covered subalpine zone of the volcano...the commingling of vibrant evergreens with their scorched brethren that were ravaged by the 6,300-acre Dollar Lake Fire of 2011...the warmth of direct sunlight just starting to caress the mountain ridge’s spine while Hood takes on a faint cyan hue from light reflected off the bluebird sky.
In similar fashion, my career in medicine recently reached a crossroads, and I faced a difficult decision to either come back to where my career began--and which I’d felt compelled to leave a few years ago for various reasons--or soldier on down my then-current path, which offered its fair share of compelling reasons to stay: great pay, sporadic weekdays off, fantastic benefits and pension, some great colleagues and coworkers, and so on. It would seem to be a no-brainer to stay the course with the latter option. And all it would cost me was a lifetime of restful sleep.
As it turned out, the no-brainer option was just that. But I do indeed have brain, along with a conscience, and I chose to exercise them both. And so I opted to return to the scene where it all began...where I forged my ethic to put people's lives, autonomy, and emotional well-being ahead of dollars and cents...where I embraced the spirit of inquiry and intellectual curiosity inherent in the training of medical professionals...where the imperative wasn't to shear off the corners of square pegs so they could be conveniently shoved into round holes but rather to help shape the holes to accommodate the pegs in whatever shape they came. These were the strengths for which I was recruited away from my first place of employ, yet these were the very same qualities that were systematically slashed and burned over the course of months to years when their effects were deemed to run counter to the prevailing institutional ethic of patient care. To say I was in a constant state of internal turmoil and conflict would have been putting it lightly. And though I don’t think I ever strayed from my vow to never allow the prevailing ethos to trump the emotional needs of my patients and their families at their most vulnerable, my spirit fatigued with the incessant battle I felt obligated to wage on their behalf.
Beleaguered and left questioning if in the grander scheme of things I was, in fact, proving to be a square peg myself in this round-hole profession of medicine, I reached backwards through the years in the hopes of rekindling the fire...if it hadn’t been hopelessly extinguished already, that is. Fortunately it hadn't, and after learning that some critical changes for the better had come to pass, I eventually made my way back to the first job I held out of fellowship. And while it’s not quite like riding a bicycle, I was pleased--indeed, relieved--to be able to embrace and live the spirit of service again rather than only be able to merely talk about it as a bygone figment of an era forever lost to the bottom line.
And so here I go again, making my way through yet another phase of my professional life. I’m sure there’ll be more to come, but hopefully none entailing such drastic and arduous changes (again) that necessitate two painful steps backward before the three forward. But by now I’ve cultivated a vow never to forsake doing what’s right for simply doing what’s easy, and if that’s the price to be paid for knowing my true north and cleaving to it, then I’ll just do my best to enjoy the views along the way.
Change is a force, and with most everything in life, as with life itself, impermanence is the rule. I'm plenty wise to that by now.
But I'm also wise enough to know that there are a very precious few things that are and always will be impervious to the fire.