As many of you may know, I am infatuated with photography. Since art school, I have been a photographer, getting my first real professional-level camera over 20 years ago. Back then, it was a film camera. Shooting film, you get just 36 shots a roll, at most, so you had better make them count.
Today, with the advent of digital cameras, you can shoot all day and bring home 1,000 images. Sometimes, I do that. Even so, the number of photos I consider successful is only a few each time I pick up a camera. In the film days, you would develop what is known as a “contact sheet” with all the shots you took on that roll arranged in a neat pattern on a single print for review. You would analyze your pictures and choose which to print in the darkroom at a larger scale. In other words, you took all the images you captured that day, chose one or two, and let the others go unprinted, maybe forever. They may not have been successful images on their own, but they informed you as a photographer and made the successful pictures possible.
When you make up your contact sheet, you are surrounding yourself in your failures, with just a glimmer of light once or twice a roll (if the light was right, and you had executed your plan perfectly). The other 35 shots are in the waste bin.
I think the contact sheet is a good analogy for our everyday struggles. When we at the SBLC clean up a vacant lot in Saginaw, sometimes we find new illegal dumping there just a few days later. Sometimes, the flowers we plant in Arenac County don’t tolerate the soil conditions and refuse to emerge. In Bay City, we have built trails that have been washed out, we have pursued land to protect in Iosco County that we could never close, and we have had to cancel over a dozen critical volunteer events this season alone. Another good example might even be this weekly newsletter! For every final version I send out on Monday mornings, I have probably re-written it two or three times to get my point across.
All of these are failures, in a manner of speaking.
Yet, we try and try again. My grandmother always used to read “The Little Engine That Could” when I was a toddler. Our family motto may as well have been “I think I can, I know I can” as we always had to work harder and hustle faster to succeed in my hometown of Auburn. Rarely did things work out at the family hardware store on the first try, but after rolling up our sleeves, we made it happen.
Our philosophy at the conservancy is the same. We are a small group with huge ambitions, vast responsibilities, and a powerful calling to elevate landscapes for the benefit of all. There are so many challenges in our way, both new and old, but we are resolute. We have you and your support, we have an urgent role to protect nature, and we have the strength of our experience and passion to succeed. At the conservancy, we may stumble, but we get back up every time.
With hope for our community and an open heart,