Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dusk to Dawn

Rounding the turn our truck swings into oncoming traffic.

“COLIN!!!” screams everyone I am driving.

I look back to the road and away from the shear glowing peaks of Glacier National Park.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?” pleads my mom.


Of course the last thing I want to do is drive, being in Glacier and all, but if I don’t, we won’t go where I want to go, for this is a family reunion, and, as it is with all families I’m sure, mine all wants to lead and all wants something different and wastes hours in argument.

With only one night in the park, I have no time to waste. St. Mary’s Lake calls like a siren and I must comply. But I do pay more attention to the road. Killing my whole family doesn’t suit my gentle nature.

Our truck slides to a stop in the St. Mary’s parking lot, my family exhales, my equipment is unloaded, Tango – my brother – and I wave good-bye, and it is time to work.

Glacier’s weather can be anything from easy blue skies to chomping blizzards this time of year, or so I hear. Today is in between. The sky’s few clouds let ample sun through, but 40 mph winds make walking too close to any edge problematic. But for me, it is bliss. The light clouds mean interesting skies with speckled illumination on the ground, and the wind is kicking up ravenous surf on the lake that adds bravado.

I decide on a spot, but we need permits for overnight camping. The rangers are nice enough for people who think their civilized rules are the only thing keeping their park from digressing into something unwieldy and dangerous and … what’s the word? Natural.

A fifteen-minute video explaining said rules is forced upon us. It says three things; yell “BEAR” while walking on the trail so you don’t accidentally scare one; avoid your food so as not to attract bears; and if a bear attacks lay on your stomach. If he is not satisfied with attacking your back and tries to role you over, go with the roll so your back is again on top for his easy consumption.

Properly frightened and confused we head back to our spot on the lakeshore.

Wind claws the lake spraying its blue blood high into the air. Droplets attack my lens.

A water funnel twists on the surface a thousand feet off, eight hundred feet off, five hundred, one hundred – “that’s gonna hit us!” Tango rejoices.

And it does. I spin left. Tango, right. We go from dry to drenched in .02 seconds, and it’s over.

I’m sitting now, sideways, madly grasping my camera. Tango, still standing, with his hair twirled up into a point, simply smiles at me with a glazed giddiness like a reformed drunk just baptized.

“That was wild,” he states.

As the sun drops, the clouds dwindle. My shot is framed and ready. To add motion and shape to the foreground waves I set my shutter speed to 1/20 of a second. Then I open the shutter for three minutes to capture the first stars of the night, trailing towards the setting sun. An orange remnant of the day clings to the last clouds.

Click for full-size view

Wind, still ferocious, growls and rips at our clothes as we search for a campsite above the shore, but a line of three bent trees further along the edge tricks the wind up and over. A calm alcove huddles beneath, and so do we.

The Pleiades meteor shower scrapes rubies and emeralds across the atmosphere as we stare up. Some streaks hang for 30 seconds or more. It is hard to tell if they are really there, or if it is an impression burned in my retina.

Then Glacier’s peaks turn pink. A full moon rises behind us.

This too I try to photograph, but I’m too tired and forget half the necessary steps. Tango smokes to my right; wind blows his red ash across the camera frame.

On three hours of sleep, I’m up before dawn. Wind lessens his fury seeing we made it through the night, but his waves still paw the shore.

Three boulders sit in the surf asking to be my dawn shot’s foreground. I balance them with my favorite peak in the top right of the frame. Trailing off to the left are some more mountains I do not know the names of.

The sun rises like the moon, but now I am ready. Clouds above bounce light onto my foreground evening the scene’s lighting.

Gentle yellow paints the peaks and the tips of trees. Water plays in the boulders. Click.

Click for full-size view

(Legal Disclaimer: The events in this story may or may not have happened in the way described)

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