Editor’s Note
January 2013
Wide World

Let me tell you about a photo that hangs in my house. It was taken by W. Eugene Smith, and its title is “The Walk to Paradise Garden.” It shows his two young children, hand in hand, on a dirt path in the woods, emerging from shadows into the light of a clearing. It reminds me of myself as a young boy exploring the wilderness of my backyard in southwestern Oregon. My backyard had this: my favorite black walnut tree, deer tracks, a hornet’s nest, squirrels.

W. Eugene Smith photographed “The Walk to Paradise Garden” in 1946.
Photo: W. Eugene Smith, Black Star

I would wander its seven acres, hoping to see a cougar (I never did). Or go down to Griffin Creek, hoping to discover an arrowhead (I often did). Years later, I understood that what my backyard contained, most of all, was the infinite horizon of possibility.

There is another layer to Smith’s photograph that also speaks to the power of exploration. Smith had been seriously wounded while covering World War II in the Pacific. He hadn’t shot a photograph in a long time. He was in pain and deeply troubled.

“I followed my children into the undergrowth ... How they were delighted at every little discovery!” Smith wrote. Then, an epiphany. The sight of his children so engrossed in their small expedition, so in thrall to discovery, lifted him out of darkness. “I wanted to sing a sonnet to life and to the courage to go on living it.”

You will read in these pages about explorers who go to the deepest, coldest, highest places on Earth and beyond, but the truth is that exploration is as near as your backyard—and it can be profoundly life affirming.

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