Inspired by the best

How many times in life don’t we reflect on what we’ve accomplished, what we’re doing and where we want to go, only to say, “I wish I could be more like …” (fill in the blank)?

Maybe you wish you were better at sports or music; maybe you wish you were better at your job.

I wish I could be a better writer. I wish I could be a better photographer. I wish I could be a better person. My list could go on and on … and it often does in the back of my mind.

So often, the people we want to be more like are admired not just because they’ve found success in life, but because of the passion they have for what they do.

On Sunday afternoon, as I sat in a comfy chair at the Palace Theatre in Luverne, I was mesmerized by the photographs spanning the large screen before me. Images captured by Jim Brandenburg, a Luverne native and former Daily Globe photographer who went on to have a 20-year career with National Geographic, had me wishing I had just a tenth of his photography skills.

As I listened to this world renowned photographer talk about his pictures and the places he’s been, I soon realized his talent isn’t just in taking beautiful pictures — it’s in finding the images in nature that might otherwise not get a second glance. He finds a way to tell a story through the lens of his camera.

Mixed in with images of wolves, lynx and songbirds captured near his home at Ravenwood, near Ely, were pictures of Touch the Sky Prairie, just a short distance from Brandenburg’s boyhood home north of Luverne.

It has been four years since I’ve visited Touch the Sky — in fact, the last time I was there, Brandenburg was leading a Bridges to Nature program with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Teachers were learning about the prairie and stumbled upon an exciting discovery — several western prairie fringed orchids, a federally-threatened species. Until that day, I don’t think I’d ever seen someone more excited about a flower growing in a former pasture.

Brandenburg may be passionate about photography, but in listening to him speak, it’s also obvious he has a passion for the prairie — for nature, in general.

I was at Touch the Sky that day in July 2010 to write a story about Bridges to Nature, and I went home feeling inspired — much the same way I felt on the drive back to Worthington late Sunday afternoon.

I will never be a world-class photographer, but in the years since I’ve returned to my hometown I have developed a passion for the prairie.

It started with the prairie garden a group of 4-H’ers planted out on our farm in 2008. As I anxiously awaited for all of the different grasses and flowers to grow (we finally had our first blooms on the meadow rose and lead plant this summer — it only took six years!), I also started to take a closer look at what we already had growing in the prairie pasture out behind the grove.

When I was growing up on the farm, I hadn’t a care about the wildflowers and weeds in the field and pasture. Now, I delight in finding something that I can successfully identify in one of my two Minnesota prairie flower identification books.

Brandenburg’s photography has always inspired me to open my eyes and find something extraordinary in the ordinary, but his passion for nature has been equally inspiring.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my camera — and the Back 40 at the farm — awaits!

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