Why I spent May on a scavenger hunt

Back in April, I was scrolling through Facebook when a post popped up from our local park district. They were promoting an event that immediately caught my eye. It was a photography “scavenger hunt.”

Participants would be given a list of items to find and photograph during the month of May. I already spend time each week searching for beautiful scenes to photograph, so this sounded like fun.

But then, I read through the details. At the end of the scavenger hunt, the photos would be displayed in a little museum in town. Judges would choose the winners, and the public would also be invited to vote for their favorites.

No way.

Just the idea of having judges look at my photographs was making my stomach upset. As much as I post my photos on social media, I got nervous thinking about my photos hanging on a wall for people to vote on. Besides, I would probably be the only person to even enter, and then I would feel even more ridiculous!

Then, I started thinking about all of the things I encourage my children do. I thought about our oldest son who creates short films and has to sit in the room while people cast their votes for their favorite. I thought about the times the boys have performed in improv shows, hoping the audience will think they are funny. I thought about our second born going through a week of tryouts for high school baseball. I thought about the girls doing gymnastics or cheerleading, taking huge risks to perform in front of a crowded room. If one of my children loved photography as much as I do, I would absolutely sign them up!

Since the beginning of the year, I have spent a lot of time learning about myself and some of my personality traits that keep me from becoming the person that I want to be. As a 3 on the Enneagram, I have discovered that my fear of failure plays a major role in many of the choices that I make in life. I absolutely cringe at any situation in which my creative work will be analyzed. I’ve come a long way in this regard, but I’ve realized how often my fear of being critiqued holds me back.

So, the first weekend of May, I had a rare Saturday morning that was a blank page on my calendar. My husband took the girls on a road trip to visit his parents, and the boys both had plans. I excitedly packed up my camera gear and set out on my scavenger hunt.

I needed to find photos in five categories: Birds, blooming trees, wildflowers, being green and at the park. The photos couldn’t be of people. They had to be taken within a three-week time span. And they had to be within a certain geographic area.

I leisurely roamed around the river walk downtown. I hiked through the woods. I crawled under a bridge. I waded in the river. I sat down in the middle of a field of wildflowers. I stood for 20 minutes in the swampy area next to a lake watching two swans fishing at sunset. I lost my shoe in the mud.

I realized that everywhere I went, I was thinking about those five categories. It was interesting how my brain started noticing things I might not have seen otherwise.

I knew that I could find swans in the lake that’s just behind my house. But now I made a special trip to catch them swimming right in the spot where the sun was about to set.

Here are a few others of the swans:

I was constantly on the lookout for the gorgeous blooms of blossoming trees. But the scavenger hunt made me more aware of the contrast of a red barn to frame my photo.

Here are a few others of the blooming trees:

I would have never discovered that one of our local parks is completely covered in bluebells in May if I hadn’t been on my scavenger hunt.

Here are a few others of the wildflowers:

I set out to try to find a frog in a swamp for my photos of “being green,” but then I realized how the reflection of trees on the swamp filled my viewfinder with green.

The hardest photo to find was “at the park.” I couldn’t think of a creative way to photograph a park scene without including people (which was against the rules). I took a quick walk around my neighborhood one day without my camera, when I noticed that our local park looked lovely when gazed from a distance between the branches of some flowering trees. I walked the mile back home to get my camera so I could check the last item off my scavenger hunt list.

I returned to the spot to take my photo and realized I had forgotten my SD card. There was no way I was giving up! I walked home and came back a third time to complete my final photo!

This weekend, we got to go see the other entries in the scavenger hunt. It was weird to ask my family to go do something that was centered around me, rather than one of them. It seems like every weekend is me bouncing from one event to the next to cheer them on for something.

Three other people entered the contest, but only one other person was an adult. The other two people entered in the youth category. While we were looking at all of the photos and casting our votes, several other groups of people came in to look at the photos. I smiled as I overheard them talk about my photos and try to decide which one to vote for.

My 13-year-old daughter was the only one available to go with me on Sunday to see the results. “Just try to act like we are randomly visiting the museum,” I instructed her. “Pretend you don’t even know about the photos, and we just happened to see them.” We laughed at ourselves as we tried to walk in casually.

When we saw that all five of my photos had earned a blue ribbon, she excitedly grabbed my phone to take some photos. I loved all of my competitor’s entries, and I really wished she had won in some of the categories. Regardless of the outcome, it was really the experience that made it fun.

I had a month to focus on a goal that wasn’t about work or my kids. I noticed the beauty of my community in a new way. And my family got to cheer me on for a change!

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So what about you? Have you done something recently that was just for you?

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