Saturday, April 27, 2013

Learning the Lingo

The friends who usually join me on the adventures I do in the mountains and wilderness areas here in the Pacific Northwest are typical, normal hikers...and by “normal” I mean that my friends are not photographers.  Oh,  they do carry cameras with them on hikes -- little, pocket-sized digital point-and-shoots -- and when we get to the summit of a mountain or a viewpoint overlooking an amazing river or canyon or whatever, my friends pull out their cameras, shoot a frame or two, and then sit down to eat the sandwich they brought along.

My friends do not carry extra lenses, filters, or a tripod, and sometimes I envy the lightness of their packs.  My friends do not look at a scene and think, “Wow, this is nice...but it’d be better if I move over there so that tree is in my foreground,” and they certainly don’t think, “The sun will set in four hours and I need to stay here on this cold mountaintop till then and hope for really nice light at sunset.  I have a headlamp in my pack.  I’m pretty sure I can find my way back down the trail in the dark.”

On the trips we do, my friends joke that I am the Expedition Photographer, and they often show great tolerance of my artistic obsessiveness.  They don’t seem to mind if, for a minute or two, the group has to stand around cooling its heels because Kurt has spotted magical light on a grove of aspen trees.

This week my buddy Neil (he’s kind of the unofficial social secretary of the group I hike with) joined me on a road trip over the still-snowy North Cascades Highway,  and, further east, on a trek along the rim of a canyon in the warm and sunny Methow Valley.  Though I sometimes  do solo trips without friends along so I don’t have to worry about my photo agenda getting to be too big a pain for non-photographers, it is safer and more fun to travel and hike with good company.

At one point on our canyon hike,  Neil and I paused and I shot a series of individual pictures of a wide landscape, knowing that I would piece them together later on the computer into a panorama.  The clouds and the land looked amazing (click on the bottom picture to see it at a size that better does justice to the scene.) Neil got out his pocket camera and he too photographed the landscape.

“Nice Light!” my non-photographer friend said, and I cracked up because Neil’s words were exactly the kind of Photographer-Speak/Kurt-isms that I often use when I’m seeing photo possibilities in the mountains. 

I figure it’ll only be a matter of time now before Neil too begins to pack along a couple of extra lenses and a tripod, at which point I'll hafta pull Neil aside from the non-photographers in our group and teach him more of the artsy-fartsy lingo.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring's Pennies

I was walking earlier this week along the path that passes near a wetland area down the hill from our barn.  It was very late in the afternoon -- getting toward sunset,  actually -- and, looking down, I noticed that golden, end-of-day light was back-lighting wildflowers at my feet.  I got down on my hands and knees for a closer look and realized that the flowers were bleeding hearts, which are favorites of mine.  I had a small camera kit with me,  and a tripod -- how lucky was that?!! -- and quickly (I knew the wonderful light wouldn’t last long) I made a few photographs. The resulting image is posted above.

Another day I made an image of a Spring blossom on our magnolia tree, a brightly-colored background created by Tibetan prayer flags that hang in our yard.  As I thought about the post I’d do today, it seemed that these two images would pair nicely because both scenes were...well, so very simple and commonplace. 

I remembered something Annie Dillard wrote in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”:

If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

In the Desert

Well, we finally did it.

My friends and I have been talking about it for weeks, often the conversation taking place under circumstances like this:  We'd be driving home from an adventure in the snowy high country after spending a day in an amazingly beautiful alpine landscape. Our brains were bathed in the happy-juice endorphins created by a hike well-done, and we were high on camaraderie.  

“We should go over toward Yakima and do a hike in the desert,” one of us would say.  “We can find trails over there that should be snow-free, and the wild flowers will be out.

“It’d be nice to be able to hike without having to wear snowshoes.

“And it’s too early for snakes.”

If my friends and I -- macho and fearless all -- needed to be convinced that it was a good time of year for our group to head to the desert, well,  the snakes-are-still-sleeping argument was all that needed to be made.  In a month or two it’ll be getting toasty warm over in Central Washington. Rattlesnakes will come out of hibernation and they’ll rear their ugly, venomous heads and rattle their nasty, threatening tails. 

“We should head over there soon,” we said.  And this week we went.

We chose the Skyline Trail that ascends the rim of the canyon cut into the earth by the Yakima River.  We hiked on a mild, Spring day, breathing in the sweet smell of desert sage. We were serenaded by meadow larks, and -- I am happy to report -- we encountered not one rattlesnake.

“This is country that, for some, could take some getting-used-to,” I thought to myself as we walked, because the desert is a much different world than the picture-postcard places where my friends and I usually ramble in the Cascade Mountains.  The Spring weather and seasonal colors we enjoyed will be short-lived in the desert.  It will be hot and dry in short order.  I'll visit and enjoy the desert then too, but it will surely be different.

The day we were there, the desert was the perfect hiking environment for a group of friends who wanted a break from the snows of the high country... a day made all the better because we could wander absent-mindedly,  without the bring-us-back-to-earth, rattling intrusions of Brother Snake.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Farewell to Winter

My hiking friends and I all live on the west side of the Cascades, but the weather forecast last weekend for the rainshadowed,  east side of the mountains was for balmy temperatures in the mid 70’s, which sounded awfully appealing.  My friends and I have been on a real, adventure-junky run lately, getting out into the mountains most every weekend, but all the trips have been in the snowy high country.  Sunday, as three of us kicked around possibilities of where we might hike that day, Central Washington’s sagebrush country,  with its snow-free trails and trek-in-shorts weather, beckoned.

Why then, am I posting pictures today of snow?  Well, because, in the end, my friends and I decided to stay on our side of the state. We pointed our car toward Mt. Baker, venturing yet again into the high, white world.  The coming months, we reasoned, will present limitless opportunities for warm weather hikes in a green landscape.  We wanted one more day in the snow. We strapped snowshoes to our boots,  and we trekked up, and up, and up. 

These pictures are from a place called Schreiber’s Meadows on the south side of Mt. Baker, a landscape of white where the view of the pyramid of Black Butte just blew me away. It was a four hour, nine-mile trek to get to the meadow where the snowcovered peak stood out dramatically against the cloudless sky.

My friends and I stood in awe, looking up.

The hike-in was, of course, only the halfway point of our day. We still needed to retrace our steps to get back to the car, and it was getting late so we did not linger long in the meadow.  Trees were casting long, late-afternoon shadows in the snow and we quickly scarfed a few trail snacks for energy, then started the nine mile trip back down.

It was dark by the time we arrived at the car and began the drive home. Eighteen miles is quite an effort on snowshoes,  and by day’s end we were beyond tired. We were also happy that we had chosen to spend the day where we did, trekking one last time in a wintery snowscape and bidding good-bye to the season.