Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Life Lessons

This was a week when life quietly stepped up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and, in words that felt filled with grace and compassion, whispered: “Excuse me, but I think you might sometimes forget that I don’t go on forever.”

It was a week, you see, when I heard that two people I know, one a young man, the other an older, much-loved grandpa, had died. And news came too from Mt. Rainier -- as a hiker and climber I have spent many happy days there -- that four people are missing after last week’s winter storm that in two days dropped four to six feet of snow in the high country. An air and ground search was mounted, but was called off yesterday when another storm moved in.

Such a week.

But there was also this:

A couple from the local Tibetan community called during the big snowstorm, wondering what the roads were like where I live. My friends needed to make a trip to a town about 20 miles away to pick up a visiting Tibetan lama who would be their house guest for several days, and their route would take them through my snowy neck of the woods.

I told my friends that I hadn’t even tried to drive since the big storm, but had made a trip to town that morning on cross country skis and had seen that a few folks were out and about in cars. I was a bit worried about my friends’ plans to drive on the snowy roads, and it occurred to me that I might be more experienced at navigating than they are. I offered to join them on their trip.

My friends have a vehicle with four wheel drive, so driving wasn’t too bad. We took it slow and easy, and I joked with my friends, saying that once we had the lama in the car, we’d have his good Karma with us and could drive a little less cautiously.

We picked up the lama, and I liked him immediately because he had a smile that brightened even that stormy day. My friends and I decided to take a more major highway home, so driving was in fact a breeze.

The next day my friends invited a small group of people to their home and the lama offered Tibetan Buddhist prayers for world peace, and that beings would not suffer but find contentment.

Yes, it was quite a week.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sacrament of Snow

I don’t think I’d be overstating things too terribly if I say that, in the American West, snow is something of a sacrament.

To be more accurate, water is the real sacrament here. But since a lot of our water falls first as snow in our mountains where it naps peacefully till summer and then melts, it is plainly logical that one should pay some pretty heavy homage to the miraculous snowflake.

Rivers and streams are Mother Nature’s transport system, bringing the mountain snowmelt down to nourish her valleys, and those water courses are then tapped into by farmers who irrigate thirsty fruit trees, hops fields, grapes, and more. If you additionally consider the hydroelectric power that we Westerners generate from water that began as snow, you’ll appreciate that cold, white stuff for us is more than something on which we ski and snowboard. Snow is darned near as essential to us as air.

It felt good, then -- very good -- to wake up to a fresh snowfall yesterday in the Pacific Northwest, since our winter weather the past couple of months has been unusually warm and dry and un-winter-like. The mountain snowpack has been looking a bit anemic, and when I heard a radio report that said that Mt. Rainier might get as much as 47” of snow in the next day or two, I believe a lot of us thought: Well this is more like it!

I took a camera in hand and hiked around the area where I live. A neighbor’s horse was exploring his suddenly-white pasture, and it seemed to me that photographic possibilities were falling from the sky along with snowflakes. The iconic Northwest fir trees were stunningly beautiful, and the witch hazel plant near my back door (it always blooms right in the middle of winter...what’s up with that?) looked spring-like, even in the chill.

Lastly, I photographed the snow-covered prayer flags that Tibetan friends gave us when they came over for a picnic last summer.

This canvas of white will last only a few days here in the lowlands. Up in the high country, however, the sacrament of snow will remain, sustaining us through even the warmest of days of summer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Gift, Shared

I bought you a gift for Christmas...though no, you didn’t find it wrapped under your tree, and I must apologize too that I haven’t even told you about the gift until now, three weeks after the holiday.

The gift is a superlight, 1-man tent, which I realize is not something you asked for. And what’s even weirder about my gift is that I’m not actually going to present it to you, but rather I’m going to use it myself, kind of sharing it with you. But trust me, I bought the gift with you in mind, and I think you will like it that I/we have the tent.

I guess I need to explain myself?

You see, I’ve been making a list of amazing mountain locations where I’ve camped in past years, places that I think beg a revisit. I thought maybe you too would like to see those places, and that (here’s the cool thing about the tent I bought) I could do the hikes by myself (the tent is, after all, a one-man shelter) and I will take photographs for you, then post the images here on this online journal where you and I meet. You won’t need to toil your way up a steep trail, or get blisters or bug bites, or even sleep on the ground. My hope is that you will get to enjoy the visual benefits of me using your/our gift, but that you can stay home and can read a book or nap while I schlep my backpack and cameras in the mountains.

How cool is that for you?

This gift-sharing scheme of mine will be swell, too, in that I’ll get to make pictures on my hikes that you will know were done with you in mind (photographs are only fun for me if I get to show them to others.) So the Christmas tent I got for you/me will have a life that will go on and on, all year long.


The two pictures I’m posting today were shot in the past week or so on ferry trips across Puget Sound. The top image presented itself during an on-and-off rain squall, while the scene below was one I photographed at sunset.

The photo trips I’ll take us on in the coming months will be a bit different because they’ll primarily be done on foot. I hope you’ll enjoy the visual gifts I find and bring back for you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Auspicious Beginning

Two days before the New Year I was driving to a wedding I’d been hired to photograph in the sweet little town of Sequim at the foot of the Olympic Mountains. Passing a blustery and choppy Sequim Bay, I saw the wonderful rainbow you see above. A U-turn and a quick hop out of the car later, the rainbow was recorded as the beginning of my wedding day documentation.

Rainbows are said to be a sign of good luck for a wedding couple, and the wedding guests were all abuzz later with talk about the band of color they too had seen in the sky. "Did you see the rainbow?"..."Did you see the rainbow?" I heard folks asking one another again and again.

For two happy newlyweds that day, the amazing rainbow was an auspicious beginning of a marriage. For the rest of us, it offered hopeful possibilities for the New Year.