“If one more person told me, ‘When one door closes, another door opens,’ I think I was going to scream,” a photographer named Mark Hirsch shared with me last week.
Anyone who has gone through their share of losses has got to appreciate his honesty. The man sure did come by his cynicism honestly.
First to go was his amazing job. He was an oh-so-talented photojournalist who worked his way up the management ladder at a major Midwestern newspaper. He was laid off after 25 years.
“It was demoralizing,” he said. “What was I going to do? I was a 47-year-old man in the upper crust of management. What was I going to do? Go back taking pictures?”
What sounded rather beneath him turned out to be Mark’s ticket to reinventing his career.
“I actually built up a nice freelance business, a combination of photographing presidential contenders in Iowa and gathering corporate clients in the agriculture and academic worlds.”
Well, until that day he was on assignment in Watertown, S.D. You know that feeing you’ve been hit by a truck? Mark does. Because he was actually hit by a truck.
“I opened by eyes, and it was like a Looney Tunes cartoon dancing around my head,” Mark remembered. That concrete truck collision caused him a massive concussion and months of struggles — sleeplessness, memory lapses, irritability. “The biggest part was the emotional ordeal recognizing how close I came to not being here,” Mark said.
Another door closed.
About this time, Mark bought his first iPhone. “A friend who is a photographer said, ‘Isn’t the camera great?’ I thought he was kidding! It’s a cell phone! I have thousands of dollars in lenses, why would I use a phone?”
Maybe because another door was possibly opening.
One day early last year Mark was passing a large oak tree near his home. “I’ve passed that tree in that cornfield for the last 19 years and never really took time to look at it. I remembered my friend talking about my phone. ‘Treat it like a camera.’ So, I made a picture of that tree and posted it on Facebook.
He went back the next day and the next and the next, each day taking a different picture of the tree. People were starting to wonder.
“My wife wondered why I kept getting up before sunrise,” Mark laughed. “She asked, ‘Where are you going? You’re doing what? Why?’ ”
A friend emailed him after seeing all these tree pictures on Facebook, “Dude, What’s with you and that tree?”
But another friend could see the beauty unfolding. “He challenged me to take and post a picture every single day for an entire year.”
The daily task brought unexpected gifts. “It taught me to slow down and see things that are there. If a picture wasn’t happening on any particular day, I would have to relax and appreciate little things.”
That’s how Mark came to capture beautiful images of fireflies, the pattern of the bark, the majesty of that tree in the middle of a farmer’s cornfield.
From those images “That Tree” Facebook page and Instagram feed came to be. That old oak tree has taken on an online life of its own with followers and fans all across the world. In fact, this online photo journal will be published as a good old-fashioned book next month.
Turns out the answer to Mark’s woeful question, “What will I do now?” was right out his front door.
We spoke the day he was to drive his oldest daughter off to college.
“What do you want her to know that you’ve learned?” I asked.
“You don’t have to go halfway around the world to find exciting wonderful things,” he said. “Most people haven’t looked out their front door.”
Who would ever guess that next door you’re waiting to open might actually be your own.