Thursday 2 September 2010

The sunless sunset

In 1988 an Italian named Carlo Cipolla, a Professor of Economics at Berkely, wrote what would become his most famous treatise: The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity. A brilliant, incisive piece of pseudo-academics that is almost above criticism. Cipolla's Second Basic Law states that:

The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

I only mention this in passing by way of defence. I mean, anyone, regardless of any characteristic they may or may not possess, is capable of acts of profound stupidity. Like, when embarking on a camping trip, leaving their tent on a tree stump. Or, after four hours behind the wheel getting from Las Cruces to Tuscson, Arizona, driving for another hour to photograph giant cacti at sunset, only to arrive without their camera.

I was more than happy to bury this fact along with all the other shameful and embarrassing secrets I keep from you, but it bears out an interesting point. Upon realising my mistake, my first instinct was to disbelieve, and keep driving for another couple of miles. Then, as the image of the camera sat on the motel room bed crystallised in my mind, I pulled over to check. All wasted moments.

The sun was dropping at a rate of knots, and I had a decision to make: press on and enjoy the Saguaro National Park at sunset, but without taking photos, or try and hoon it back across Tucson, grab the camera and return before darkness falls. Or to put it another way, savour the moment, without the opportunity to preserve it for posterity (and an imaginary blog audience) or risk losing the moment altogether, but retain the chance to preserve what little might remain.

My decision was bold, fearless and earnest. And, not for the first time today, stupid. Granted, I got back to the Oh My Days Inn a lot quicker than it took me to get out there. I didn't slouch on the way back either, not even when a speed camera blatantly flashed me doing 60 in a 50. And all the time the sun was laughing at me as it slid down the rear view mirror and out of sight.

So, stressed from the Bullitt like drive across town and in near darkness, I embark upon the loop drive round the cactus park. By now the peculiar little nocturnal creatures that call the barren forest their home are out in force. They're running all over the road and I have to drive at 10mph to save them from perishing under my wheels. It's too dark to take any decent photos, and when I do try, I am rushing, not thinking straight, and trek out into the middle of a bloody cactus forest without my widest lens. I take nothing of any value whatsoever, and here is the proof:

Next time I'm faced with a similar dilemma, I'll think of this image, and put the present in front of the future.

By the time I'm heading back, I'm tired, hungry and annoyed. The camera's on the passenger seat, settings all over the place from the last picture I tried to take. I stop at traffic lights and, I don't know, there's a balance to what I see in front of me. The setting sky and its colours, the lights, the pylons. I grab the camera and shoot through the windscreen, fumbling for focus, just before the lights go green.

Now I might be kidding myself here, but I love this picture. Despite, maybe even because of, all its imperfections. The longer I spend travelling, the better I get at taking things in my stride. Believing, really believing that, in spite of our stupidity, for every opportunity we lose, spurn, squander, or never notice, another, no less equal, takes its place.


  1. me gusta mucho esa foto aunque tenga imperfecciones =) hola, chico! xxx

  2. The last thing you said... It has bounced around my head- much less eloquently-many a time. I have tried to find forgiveness from my worst critic by highlighting the difference between being stupid and doing stupid things.

  3. And... For what it's worth, the first photo is my favorite. Obviously one's expectations shape one's likes and dislikes, but I think the uninterrupted ombré effect of the sky is very rich.