A Window in Time

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

October 28, 2010

Just north of Arch Rock, a road cut along highway 322 has exposed a magnificent anticline in layers of Silurian rock. The last time that North America bumped into Africa, some 250 million years ago, these layers of rock were bent both down and up. When the rock is bent into an arch upward, that’s an anticline. Where it is bent into a U downward, that’s a syncline. Usually, an anticline ends where a syncline begins–think wrinkles.

Anticline along Hwy 322 north of Arch Rock

Anticline along Hwy 322 North of Arch Rock

I’m no landscape photographer. I don’t even own a wide-angle lens, but rely on a little point and shoot for capturing such images. I do, however, recognize “good light” when I see it as well as the effect that it has on an image. I have planned for some time to “shoot” this formation bathed in the warm light of an autumn afternoon. On my first foray I got the timing wrong and arrived too late; the sun was already behind a mountain. So I came back the next day. This time I timed it perfectly. As I drove by the formation, it was bathed in a warm glow.

As I got out of the car and looked to the west, I saw a wide gray layer of clouds moving inexorably eastward. From where I stood, it looked like I had about five minutes before the sun would disappear, probably for quite some time. Two issues: first, the only vantage point from which to capture this photograph is at the top of a very steep hill; second, I’m a middle-aged fat man. But sometimes I forget I am middle-aged, and I wasn’t always fat; so I assessed the situation and decided that I should run to the top of the hill.

Bad idea.

About a third of the way up the hill I was bent over, red-faced, popeyed, and sucking wind. I could barely stand upright. Looking over my shoulder, I could see the cloud sliding ever closer to the sun. But I was “burning daylight,” to quote the Duke, so I went another 50 yards up, and once again I had to stop. I could taste my lungs. I had some stunning insights into my own mortality. I caught my breath for a couple of minutes, constantly looking over my shoulder as the clouds move closer and closer to the sun. Finally, ignoring my body, in a foolish exertion of mind over matter, I pushed to the top of the hill. I had seconds at most to take the picture.  I was breathing so hard that I was shaking, shaking so badly that I couldn’t hold the camera still. I leaned against a locust tree and breathed as deeply as possible, trying to regain my composure. Eventually, the shaking stopped–as the light shifted from golden to gray and the clouds covered the sun.

So I sat down and contemplated the passing of time, geological time, my lifetime, and from time to time, I looked to the west. And lo, after about fifteen minutes, I saw sunlight streaming through a small window in the clouds. It was a beam of golden light moving directly toward me. I waited, watching the light race down one mountain and up the next until it flowed over me and past me, painting my subject in gold for about 5 seconds.

Quickly I snapped two shots; then the light was gone, the beam moved on.

I drove home with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride in myself as a photographer. I had been in the right place at the right time. I had waited patiently for the right shot. With my little point and shoot, I had done everything right, and my reward when I downloaded the photos that night was two lovely images–with big blurs right in the middle.  Look above and in front of the SUV. See the big smudge?

Apparently while gasping and shaking and fumbling around with my camera, I had put my thumb smack in the middle of my lens.

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