Saturday, April 14, 2001: Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area
I am discovering more what it means to be a landscape photographer. Frustration, failure, and triumph mingled together in unpredictable ways. Getting up early for the sunrise isn't my idea of fun, but seeing a beautiful morning unfold can be one of the most inspiring things. It has changed my view of life in ways I never expected.
Two days ago I went out to Crown Point in the Columbia Gorge. Five times I've made the trip in the last three months. The times before greeted me with fog, ice pellets, and rain, but not a single photograph. I got up at 5 am, and took the view camera--and the ski gear, so it wouldn't be a waste of effort! Though almost late for the sunrise I got there in the nick of time. Traveling east, hints of red, pink, and purple reflected off the river. There were a few more clouds than I wanted but the colors where the light showed through were so breathtaking I was shaking with excitement while setting up the camera. I caught myself thinking: "Why do I want fewer clouds?" That is not Nature's way. My role as photographer is to record what is happening, not to complain it isn't to my liking.
Arriving a bit late, I only got one good shot. Would my spur-of-the-moment exposure decision be right? I took two more frames for insurance and packed up to go ski. Today I got the film back. The first shot was exposed perfectly! The view is up the river showing Beacon Rock, a dusting of snow on the distant walls of the gorge, and below them, low clouds on the eastern part of the river. Pink and purple light reflects off the water with higher clouds lit from underneath, glowing in rose-red. The clouds look like the great hand of the Creator, molding a fiery and magnificent landscape for the first time. There are a few images I've seen that are truly moving in their impact, and this is one of them. As a photographer it's a great reward to witness and capture this scene on film.
Something entirely unexpected happened that morning, the fog completely hid the Bonneville dam from view. The gorge could be appreciated the way it might have been seen in the times Lewis and Clark explored it. Looking closer at the enlarged print, the tips of four electrical towers barely poke through the cloud. One has a flashing red light on top.
Since that day I've been out to the same spot three more times for sunrises. One has provided good light, the others were too cloudy or washed out. It showed me just how special those great sunrises are. Magnificent light is to the photographer like trying to find true love. It takes a lot of patience and effort, many false starts and failures, but once in a while we encounter the beauty and fulfillment that makes it all worthwhile.
The chance of finding something new in the beauty of early morning is a force that keeps driving me to rise before dawn. As each one of those great sunrises becomes a part of life, I now understand that I've always been on a search for true love of nature. To finally be aware of this feeling and to know I am getting closer in that search is a discovery about myself. I never want to lose the curiosity and childlike enthusiasm it brings.