A Wild Return by Megan Youngblood
When I was 15, I took a black and white photography class at school. I started spending my lunch breaks in the dark room; I loved the smell, the red tinted lights. I also loved how having a camera transformed teenage loitering and mischief into an artistic pursuit. Trespassing became location scouting. Asking friends to hang out was suddenly casting.
I grew up in Northern California, and have always loved my home state. The mountains, the ocean, even the hours of flat farmland along highway 5. It’s a beautiful place. I left for a while in my early 20s and moved to New York but I missed the perennial warmth, the golden light, and I wanted so badly to surf. And so here I am. Even though I live on the other edge of the state, I still feel like I’m home.
This year, I spent most of January and February in Sri Lanka, a gorgeous teardrop-shaped country with dazzling tea-covered hills and warm water waves. Throughout my month and a half in Sri Lanka, I rode trains, walked through markets, surfed most mornings and some evenings. I did freelance work at a coffee shop, where I’d chit chat with other travelers as we sipped coconut lattes, our biggest concerns finding waves and functioning wifi. I thought my return home would include a quickening, a return to car-bound bustle and business, a departure from the tropical haze, where nothing can be accomplished in the midday heat, not even thinking.
About a week after I got back, we went on lock down. There was an extreme jet lag paired with an almost return culture shock as I got used to a place so unlike the one I remembered. I had expected to return to my routines. Dawn patrols. Photoshoots. Rights at Malibu. Weekends at San O. Trips to the grocery store that didn’t involve all-out panic. But the universe had different plans.
Of course, there are upsides if you look for them. I see more wildlife now, something that I’m not used to down here in the knot of highways that is Southern California. This week, I’ve seen jelly fish in the harbor, owls in the park, and a bunny scurrying across the sidewalk. My boyfriend saw a fox with a squirrel in his mouth the other day on a bike ride. I think there are two parts to the seemingly sudden wildness of our surroundings. The first is the obvious: there’s more wildlife out because there are less people. Yosemite Valley, with its rushing river of visitors temporarily dammed, has apparently been reoccupied by bears. The other change is in our awareness. As our lives become more quiet, more still, we become more aware of the small beauties that surround us, more likely to stop and watch the hummingbirds fly by our windows. So for now, that’s what I’m doing. I am hopeful that when the hum of traffic on the 405 returns, when the pointbreaks are once again crowded, when feeling salt water on my skin is simply part of my morning routine, like coffee, I hope I remember to be grateful for it all.
These photos are all from within the last year, across Sri Lanka and Southern California, shot on my Mark III.