For this baby boomer, the older the wiser

Boomer wisdom. It’s something we treasure, because while the world perceives nothing but loss the older we get, we know differently; we know, the older the wiser. So it is for Mike Plews of Missouri Valley, Iowa, who put his experience to work by putting it away on vacation.

Perfecting the Busman’s Holiday is kind of tricky.

Mike Plews

Mike Plews

I’m a news photographer, been doing it for forty years and it can be a stressful occupation, so vacations represent a welcome break. Along the way I have also been an enthusiastic amateur landscape photographer. Once a year my wife packs me up and we go to some place where the yellow police tape doesn’t follow and I get to make some images.

Switching subject matter without switching mindset doesn’t work very well. Over the years I’ve blown more than one vacation by trying to “cover” my trip like a news story. Coming back from a holiday more tired than when I left can legitimately be considered a failure and I have chalked up a few.

A couple of years ago I came across The Little Book of Contemplative Photography by Howard Zehr. In it Zehr talks about the language we use to describe the act of making an image. He suggests a change in thinking that I found eye-opening. Drop all the aggressive descriptions for more introspective language.


What that means is, we tend to describe photography like a big game hunt. We take, shoot, acquire, and capture images. Zehr suggests instead that we think in terms of receiving images as gifts. When I started thinking of photography in those terms, my personal work got smaller and quieter, and I did too. The experience changed from a hunt to a conversation and that
made all the difference for me.

This year Mrs. Plews took me to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park for my annual R&R. We have been going there since our honeymoon in 1980 and this year we hit the changing leaves of the aspens at exactly the right time.

The mountains were awash in fall colors. A few years back I would have lost my mind trying to “capture” every shot possible. This year I relaxed and did some photography but also spent a lot of time sitting on a rock just being there with my wife. Of the images I brought back, there are almost no big sweeping vistas. Things just felt more natural on a more intimate scale.


We came across a little mountain stream and stopped to make some frames. Going slow, I tried several angles and focal lengths, each time asking myself, “What is this stream telling me?” It was as relaxing an experience as I can remember up in that treasure of a national park.

Walking back to the car, I caught myself humming one of my favorite Mose Allison recording, “One such perfect moment, never twice th’ same, one such perfect moment, will keep you in th’ game.”

As I said, Busman’s Holidays can be tricky.


  1. I write books and I understand completely what you’re saying. It’s hard work to open my laptop and tell myself to write a story. It’s pure joy to see a story happening in front of my eyes or creating itself in my head. Then when I go to write it, I can lose myself in my imagination.

  2. The quality of today’s digital cameras has unleashed already gifted people to be even more so. I have actually watched expensive yet mediocre “professional” photographers get replaced by the rest of us with a passion for photography.
    When we think about an image and have an emotional connection with what we see, the possibilities are amazing.

  3. Great thoughts, Mike. Sometimes it’s best just to let life and a good photo happen. Glad we had the chance to work the “yellow tape” beat a few moons ago. I learned much from you that stays with me today.

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