Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Missions of San Antonio

I have a picture in my mind: there’s this little Franciscan monk wearing a black robe. He has a fringe of hair around an odd-looking bald spot. The sun is hot, maybe a hundred and ten degrees. This guy is lugging fifty and sixty pound rocks across an empty clearing and piling them carefully one on top of the other. Maybe he pauses to take a drink of tepid water. Maybe he takes a second to wipe his brow. Maybe he prays.

As my “eye camera” draws back from a perspective in the clouds somewhere, I see many of these dark shapes moving across a desolate clearing carved out of a savage desert. What are they doing? Why are they doing what they’re doing?

They are building Missions – churches. They are literally building San Antonio.

There are four Missions here. They were all built in the 1700’s – I imagine by sweaty little guys in black robes with some help from the local Indian population.

These Missions are amazing to me. It’s history you can touch. And it’s history with the magical ability to touch you back. You can put your hand on the same warm rock that some anonymous person placed there over three centuries ago. I defy anyone to say that’s not magic.

Sheree and I packed up the cameras and crept out of our lodgings three mornings in a row to get these pictures. Even before the sun comes up, you can feel that Texas heat the instant you step out of the door of your air-conditioned home. It’s not a nasty heat. It’s an enveloping warmth.

When the sun starts to come up, the air fills with this wonderful energy and the sky is painted with such vibrant colors you can hardly snap the shots fast enough. (Photoshop users can make a dramatic sky much moreso by going to Image> Adjustments> Contrast and Brightness and working with those “Oooo” and “Ahhhhh” inducing sliders. A good rule of thumb is to move them only a little. Remember that you are simply trying to enhance the sky…not make it look like Armageddon.)

Sheree, being an intrepid sort, suggested we go back to one of the Missions for sunset.
I wasn’t getting anything that night that made my heart flutter until it was almost dark. Green lights from the trees nearby came on. They bathed the Mission with this other-worldly glow. I set the ISO on the camera to 100, set it on a concrete block (I don’t carry a tripod) and used the Self Timer feature to eliminate any camera shake. The exposure must have been thirty seconds or more. But when the shutter finally clicked closed, I had a wonderful image.

There’s really no way to capture what the Missions feel like at night or in the early morning. When I look at these images, I remember the peace drifting through the air around them. You can feel that these Missions have been here for centuries…and they will still be here long after we’re gone.

I remember the multitude of cats that crept out in the early morning hours to keep us company. I remember the excitement we both felt, standing in the middle of a field, watching the sun slowly creep along the stonework.

And I remember, most of all, thinking of all those little guys in black robes, sweating under an unforgiving sun to build a monument to their God in the middle of a desert.

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