"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."
- John Muir
I often comment regarding The Experience as being the core aspect of any adventure. In previous columns I reference eating at local venues, of spending time with the people who live in the area, of getting away from the tourist traps and exploring a place on your own.
There is a sense of the world that one gets when you're out amidst nature and utterly away from the trappings of mankind (excepting the occasional road, which tends to be necessary unless you're hiking your way through or to nowhere in particular). And I've found that these are the moments that leave me the most profoundly aware, the most effectively changed by my surroundings. I think, perhaps, that the core of this is in the ability to stop and appreciate the moment -- something that is difficult to do when cars and pedestrians are whizzing by on their most important tasks to their own set of lives.
Part of a photographer's job is to stop those moments in time, which makes it all the more profound when the world itself seems to stop for us, allowing me to look and truly see what surrounds me versus trying to capture a fleeting moment of a person crossing a crosswalk, or a sad expression, or a gesture.
But there are times when you have to put away the lens and participate, because it' the only way as a traveler that you can yourself be more than an observer. In other words, standing in awe of a cascading waterfall is all the more profound if it's just you and the waterfall.
This imagery, the waterfall, came to me having once had this precise experience. Just outside Skagway, Alaska, I was up early in the morning before locals or tourists could make their way about. I found a cemetery that was an interesting subject for my morning walkabout -- though in this particular morning it was a drive-about adventure. As I was shooting, I became away of a drowning roar in the distance. I spied a sign that gave name to the falls -- the name is lamentably forgotten and doesn't appear in any of those shots. Walking down the dirt path, over a handful of rocks and through a very thickly wooded forest, I came to the source of the sound. A fifty or so foot crescendo of water coursing down across darkened rock in a torrent of what I assume was melting snow making its way to the Skagway River, now a couple of hundred yards or so to my back.
I got my camera and made ready to grab a few shots of this hidden gem, when it hit me that I was being somehow disrespectful to the moment. Here I was, miles from town, genuinely alone in the middle of a beautiful forest, being treated to my own individual pause in time. No one else was here to participate, which meant the scene was there for me alone to witness. To honor.
Making the photograph would, to me in that one small instant in time, lessen the impact of the experience. The photograph would not do justice to the event, and so I made the decision to lay down my camera and find a nice little perch on which I could simply appreciate the scene before me. And so, as a traveler I overrode my instincts as a chronicler of the destination and elected to simply participate in it for a few moments.
These are the moments of magic, of memories. I experienced many such events on that voyage, but of them all, only the time I spent with the waterfall is for me and me alone. I can talk about it. Tell about it. But other than your own imagination, the experience was as ethereal as the mist at the base of the falls. Perhaps artists like James Coleman or Ansel Adams could do it justice, but for me my mind's eye holds the only image fit enough for the moment.
That moment in time.
(I have, for illustrative purposes, included shots of other waterfalls you may enjoy. None of them are the one I mention above.)