Oregon · USA
Everything happens for a reason, even if the reason only comes by way of retrospect. Staring down the barrel of a seven-day stretch of work over the 4th of July weekend that included three straight days of call--the experiential equivalent to naked house arrest in a room full of fire ants--I felt a dire need to escape the confines of my condo walls. And even though forecasts called for no end to the unprecedented and stifling heat wave that’s assaulted the Pacific Northwest, the comforts of air conditioning and Netflix wouldn’t be enough to keep me at home.
But sleep...THAT'S a different story.
Plans to set out for a 2-hour drive to catch Lower Lewis River Falls right at sunrise devolved into a pathetic six-hour snoozefest marked by recurring 30- to 40-minute cycles of the alarm going off, utter disbelief, doleful whimpering, reevaluation and rationalization, alteration of destination plans, drifting off back to sleep, and fitful nightmares about...not waking up in time. By the time I did muster enough impetus (mostly in the form of intolerable urinary urgency) to claw my way out of bed, the sun had already ascended pretty high in the mid-morning sky and was starting to smother the earth under a pall of oppressive heat that I was hoping to avoid with my super-early start on the trail.
As it stood, however, I parlayed my late start into a furiously but fantastically unproductive afternoon of long-overdue errands (which largely remained long-overdue). But the impulse of stir craziness grew more and more frenzied as the day wore on, and I figured that by suppertime most of the crowds surely would have abandoned the nigh-insufferable cool kids’ playground once revered as the Columbia River Gorge to get ready for hipper twilight hangouts. So we ventured out and arrived at the Horsetail Falls Trailhead outside of an hour shy of sunset. For sure there were a fair number of cars and revelers still out, but the worst of the human rush hour was done and gone.
Despite the stuffy atmosphere and the prematurely withering licorice fern that usually festoons the moss-covered boulders with green well into mid-summer, there was no better way to spend the waning moments of Sunday daylight than exactly where I was, doing what I was doing. Ascending the trail, the fluctuating drone of vehicles rumbling down the Historic Columbia River Highway slowly gave way to a jazzy ensemble of pleasant birdsong. At regular intervals the feathered vocalists graced us by flitting into view: American robins, darked-eyed juncos, raucous but handsome Steller’s jays, and cedar waxwings hunting insects on the wing in the fading light boldly competed for center stage, but ultimately it was some cuddly ground-bound charmers that managed to steal the show. Although we saw an unprecedented number of pikas among the talus fields, an unseen number of them seemed to revel in a sadistic game of Misdirect the Easily-Obfuscated Humans (EOH for short), their endearing meeps emanating from hidey holes and crevices and echoing from every conceivable direction except directly overhead or underfoot (but pretty damn close...).
Ponytail always seems to photograph well under a wide variety of conditions, rarely in need of the heavy-handed hyperreal processing that seems to be so en vogue these days. I generally prefer my subject matter and its subsequent presentation to be in its most pure and pristine state possible but for a few minor artistic liberties anyway, and the thought of altering a natural scene to cater to my artistic sensibilities seems a bit too tantamount to drastic plastic surgery to me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a little cosmetic surgery, of course (and in fact I cloned out a small but distracting tree trunk from the very top right corner), but to me there are pretty well-defined lines that are crossed where the artifice begins to blight the original scene rather than complement it.
Beautiful as she always is, then, in all Ponytail was a mere footnote to the delightful parade of pleasantries on this warm summer evening, and in fact the most beautiful thing I witnessed that day managed to escape the viewfinder of my Sony a7R. Just as well, I suppose. I’ve got a ways to go before my photographic skills could ever truly do that scene justice. Indeed, I’m thinking I won’t every really get there with my fleshbound foibles and finite earthly lifespan...but I’ll never stop trying as long as I’m blessed to be privy to it.