The Ansel Effect: Lessons from a Balloon on Beauty, Contrast, and Connectivity in the Channel Islands

Having grown up in a family of photographers, an understanding of contrast was as inherent as that of riding a bike. The juxtaposition of light and darkness required to produce an impactful image is a concept I have found to be woven through nearly every aspect of life.

Kayaking at Santa Cruz Island

Beautiful Kelp, crystal clear water, unadulterated by society.

Yet as we paddled around Santa Cruz Island, those lessons I had learned from my granddad were shrouded by the sheer majesty of the island’s rock faces and the incredible beauty of the waves lapping up against them. I was filled with a sense of peace; entirely immersed in the wonders of nature, far from the sound of traffic, the throes of endless emails, and the day to day bustle.I was completely awestruck by the seemingly endless depth of the kelp beds, the entertaining dynamics of the sea lions, the acrobatics of the cormorants diving into the ocean, and the sounds of laughter and happiness exuded by my fellow paddlers.The sense of peace I felt was suddenly penetrated by a strange glimmer about a hundred feet away.As we paddled over, those first lessons in photography became glaringly evident as I realized that the piercing gleam was that of a mylar balloon adorned with the faded letters of “Feliz Dia de las Madres.” A balloon that had once brought a smile to a mother’s face as her child gave it to her for Mother’s Day was now stretched across a kelp bed, a potentially lethal threat to the very marine life we had been in awe of throughout our trip.As our world has become increasingly “smaller” with the advent of new technologies and the rise of globalization, it is conspicuously evident that we do not exist in isolation. Every action causes a reaction – and some seemingly worlds apart, like the happiness of the Mother’s Day celebration that resounded as a potential threat to the marine life on Santa Cruz Island.As we picked up the balloon and tied it to the kayak, that peace I had felt was weighted by a sense of frustration about the unrealized impact of actions a world away. That balloon had floated into the sky, away from the sounds of laughter and happiness in celebration of Mother’s Day, landing in the midst of a world that had seemed to be so far from modernity – nearly untouchable.As I thought about the implications of that balloon, that sense of frustration was amplified as we found balloon after balloon entangled in the kelp beds touting “Congratulations Grad!” and “Happy Birthday!” Yet nothing seemed that happy or congratulatory as I looked around us at the beauty that was imminently threatened by these vestiges of celebrations occurring miles and miles away, a contrast etched profoundly in my consciousness that quickly turned into a heightened motivation to share these lessons and take action.From a symbol of celebration to one of endangerment, those balloons served a powerful lesson; one of contrast, one of connectivity, one of our resounding responsibility to realize our impact. And yet also one of opportunity to remember that every small action makes a difference.As I went for a run pondering this article, I saw an old balloon on the side of the road signaling a party long gone. Stopping to untie it and take it home, I realized yet again that even those seemingly small steps make a difference, perhaps even a world away.As Ansel Adams once said, “No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.” The ‘granite mountain’ of Santa Cruz Island and the inherent juxtaposition of our impact therein provided a powerful lesson, invigorating a deepened sense of responsibility through the stark reminder of our interconnectivity.

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