Since I moved to Oregon in 1981 I have made the hike to Dog Mountain on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge every year; in recent years I go on several trips to view the progression of the magical carpet of flowers that makes the area famous. To call the scenery breathtaking hardly does justice to the experience. Near the top of the trail, there is a spot where a Lazuli Bunting has a perch on top of a tree and sings its song each spring when the flowers are in bloom. It's quite a spectacle with yellow balsamroot flowers spilling abundantly down the slope. I first attempted a photograph three years ago on a 35mm camera. It was a great shot, but to do the area justice I needed to take it with my 4x5 camera. It took two more years before I finally got the right combination of light, no wind, a great flower year, and a sky with delicate clouds and no jet trails — which unfortunately appear in this area at the best times for a picture. Since the peak time for blooms lasts only about a week, it's very hard to get a photograph with so many other conditions that need to be right.
I view this photograph as one of my finest examples of what can be accomplished with film and the large format technique. The colors are vibrant and stunning, and the detail throughout the tonal range is rich and draws the viewer in to explore the scene.
While the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area has been managed to preserve the natural landscape, Dog Mountain is one place where a comb-shaped group of trees marks the location of logging activity across the river, on a ridge just east of Mt. Defiance in an otherwise-untouched area of pristine forest.
Also visible in the photo are flowers of the White Western Groundsel (Senecio integerrimus v. ochroleucus, shown in the full detail view), Few-flowered Prairie Star (Lithophragma parviflora), and Mountain Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza occidentalis). The botanical name for the yellow balsamroot flowers is Balsamhoriza deltoidea. It was an important food plant for Native Americans. The large, sturdy taproot, young leaves, and seeds were all eaten.
Good photography in the end is about control of variables and the luck of uncertainties. Exposing film properly, having the right equipment on hand, the right film, proper focus, and skill at choosing the right moment are all key to producing an excellent shot. On top of all that come the weather, light, wind, and the variability of seasons each year that can result in a beautiful landscape, or something less memorable. When plants, animals, or the position of the sun and moon play a role in the picture, there can be a limited number of times in a year when the photo is possible. It's humbling to see the potential of a picture, but to realize the window has closed on it for at least another year.
Recently a friend asked me how I feel when I make a photograph that's exceptional. I thought for a moment, and said, "These special images stay with me forever. I am creating decorations for my soul, working on a remodeling project of who I am". How satisfying it is to move ahead in life with new and wonderful memories of places I've been, and to bring them to other people's lives. The true magic of photography is this simple fact that an image doesn't exist until a person travels to a spot, studies it, composes the camera, creates the exposure, and makes the print. Before that time, nothing existed. After it, there is something new and wonderful that came seemingly from nowhere. Those of us who photograph know that much effort can be involved in an image but the magic of its creation can be viewed as a singular moment where once the shutter snaps, things are no longer the same.