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Outdoors Column | Les Winkeler: Watching your life flash before your eyes

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During the past two weeks I’ve undertaken the time-consuming task of deleting duplicate and out of focus photos from my computer files.

While I love taking photos, editing can sometimes be tedious. I’ll come back home from a photo shoot with a pretty good idea of which photos are going to be the most aesthetically pleasing. After downloading the images to the computer I’ll gravitate toward those photos.

I’ll meticulously work with those images, then walk away. As a result, thousands of substandard and blurry photos have accumulated on my computer.

Frankly, I hadn’t given the matter a second thought until recently. My wife and I have taken to turning on the computer and watching the slideshow as the computer randomly shows images on the screen. Suffice it to say we’ve reached the point in our lives where we are easily amused.

Conversely, while watching the slideshow it became painfully obvious that some hard drive housekeeping is in order.

While the work can be tedious, it is also fascinating. Hours fly by as I sift through the photos – whether it’s pictures of Christmas long ago, that trip to Yellowstone or the thousands photographs of the flora and fauna of Southern Illinois.

Sorting through each individual photo – I’m now beginning the year 2018 – is like watching a reality show/travelogue. It’s a very personal experience, literally watching your life flash before your eyes. It’s also an enriching, personal journey.

While there are still many places in this country I’d like to see, we’ve been so lucky to see so much of what this country has to offer.

Before I started thinning the files Monday morning a photo flashed on the screen, depicting me, camera slung over my shoulder, standing in a meadow in Yellowstone National Park. The image stays on the screen just a few seconds, but that photo captured my attention.

I sat staring at the computer, no longer seeing the images flashing on the screen, but reliving that visit to Yellowstone, seeing the huge herds of buffalo grazing in Lamar Valley, deeply breathing the cool October air, experiencing the foul smell of the sulfur pots and waking one morning to the magical sight of 3-4 inches of snow.

For a couple minutes, I became Walter Mitty, although a Mitty content to drink in the sights, sounds and smells of nature.

Later that day while actually clearing files, I made my way through the rolling countryside of Nova Scotia. I visited the shoreline, strewn with huge granite boulders. I also worked my way through the Everglades, seeing limpkins for the first time.

There were photographs from the Everglades of a huge flock of white ibis that took flight as we drove by. The photo took me right back to that very moment. I remember thinking, “Now I know how Marlin Perkins feels.”

(To anyone under 60 years of age, Marlin Perkins was the longtime curator of the St. Louis Zoo. He hosted a weekly wildlife/travel show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”)

I’ve already deleted about 5,000 photos and I’m barely a third of the way through my files. There are still many places I haven’t revisited – the Rocky Mountains, Crater Lake and Yosemite to name a few.

I’m anxious to see what photo adventures are around the corner … and, how much better the slideshow will be when all the photos are in focus.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.


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