Into the West Away

“How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight  
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea  
Soars the delightful day.
To-day I shall be strong,
No more shall yield to wrong,  
Shall squander life no more;
Days lost, I know not how,
I shall retrieve them now;
Now I shall keep the vow  
I never kept before.
Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies  
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground  
Falls the remorseful day.”
—A.E. Housman

I keep a running list of places I wish to see and photograph before I die. Some call such a tabulation a “bucket list”; I prefer to call it something less morbid: my “shot list.” Although I knock off destinations from the list with regularity, it never seems to get any shorter; in fact, my inventory grows rather than shrinks, as I add new locations faster than I can cross old ones off.

One item that has sat on my list for a few years is “kayak Lake Powell.” I made my first attempt last November, but a blast of unpleasant and unseasonably cold weather turned my plans on end. This year, I finally made it on the water for a week of adventure on Powell’s Caribbean blue waters.

I explored some remote side canyons that piqued my interest, leaving my kayak to continue on foot. In one canyon I found knee-deep mud, a long swim through a narrow slot, quicksand, an enraged beaver (I kid you not)—and exactly the kind of image I came there to make: something that hasn’t been seen thousands of times before. So I was finally able to remove one item from my list, to free up space for many more.

Housman’s poem reveals, perhaps, a profound truth about the arc of a person’s life. In youth, life itself is filled with promise, unsullied by the occasional cruelties of this world. In middle-age, when one perceives that less years lie ahead than behind, promises are made to use the remaining time wisely. In old age, those promises which remain unspent blossom into regret.

The remorseful day awaits us all, stalking like a cutthroat in the shadows, bent on mischief. A chilling thought, perhaps to some, but to me it is a call to action: there’s no time like the present to start living your dreams. No one can possibly live them all, but we should all strive to tick off as many as we can. And most important of all, never stop dreaming.

"Into the West Away" by Ian Plant

Technical details: Canon 5DIII, 14mm, ISO 100, f/11, 2.5 seconds.

Ian Plant

Author: Ian Plant

World-renowned professional photographer, writer, and adventurer Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine, and a Tamron Image Master. Ian is also the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Ian leads photography workshops and tours around the world to help beginner and advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision.

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