One of the beauties of being a photographer is that we always have a place to go inside ourselves where we can find a sense of safety, a place we know to be true and real, a place where we’re of this world, but apart from it.
These past few weeks have been unprecedented, both for the world at large and our own personal worlds. Much of what we thought was stable and solid suddenly became jello under our feet.
Historically this week, Les and I are leading a photo tour in Charleston, SC, but when the coronavirus broke out in South Carolina, we decided early on to cancel the event. Les has led a photo tour in Charleston this week for years, so it was weird to think we’d break with tradition. We debated at the time whether we were being too cautious, but we’re grateful now that we did cancel, for our participants and ourselves.
So in lieu of being in Charleston, this past Sunday morning, we instead went to our favorite sunrise location, East Fork Overlook, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway closes for the winter in November, and usually reopens in late March or early April. We missed being “up there” and decide to take advantage of our newly open calendar. The morning’s weather forecast was for less than optimal overcast skies, but, as Les likes to say, “The first rule of photography is you gotta show up.”
Climbing highway 276, our headlights shown clear in the darkness until we reached the Parkway. There we turned left and drove directly into a very thick, dark cloud bank. Unlike all the other times we’ve been on this road heading for sunrise, this morning I felt uneasy. (Les did as well, he told me later.) Usually I’m uplifted by the sense of adventure and the anticipation of seeing the mountains dressed in the glory of sunrise. We’d driven through weather here many time before, sometimes having to creep our way along. But this morning, the uncertainty, the danger, I felt swirling around us of late transferred to the cloudy darkness. For a moment, I imagined in my mind’s eye an angry survivalist-type person or the infamous Sasquatch jumping out of the fog into our headlights.
Eventually, the cloud cover thinned as the elevation increased after passing Cherry Gap. Given several minutes to think through my
unease, I realized I was creeping myself out because I’d brought my anxieties up the mountain with me. I’ve cherish these mountains and the sense of place they’ve given me since the first time I stepped out of the car with my camera. Not wanting to contaminate that sense, I told the stupid voices in my head to be quiet, take a deep breath, and go back to bed. The voices obeyed and I peacefully became “Janet the photographer” again.
Arriving at East Fork, we were given a wide-angle view of the clouds we’d just climbed through with the sun just beginning to tint the far, narrow horizon. Les pointed out we had a low ceiling this morning and a short window of time to shoot if the clouds opened up a bit, which they graciously did as the sun rose.
Without comparing notes, we each pulled out our Fuji 50-140mm lenses to reach out to the visible ridge lines, now with color flushing the sky beyond. When the sun was able to find space between the clouds, we both switched to our wider Fuji lenses, my 16-80mm and his 16-55mm. After shooting for half an hour or so, we put our gear up and sat in the car for a few minutes to watch the scene continue to change, hesitating to leave.
It soothed our souls to see the ridges again, right where we left them last fall. Being there reassured us that some things in life are rock solid and unwavering. At a time when life has abruptly gone out of sync because of a microscopic virus, being able to celebrate the beauty of the oldest mountains in the world was a divine gift. Then, with church services cancelled, we wound our way back down highway 276 to Pisgah Forest listening to our pastor on the car radio as he gave his Sunday sermon. Our hearts were right again.
While we are restricted in our habits for the time being, photographer friends, we have a tool we can use to set aside the confusion and the angst of the day. That is to become our photographer selves, shutting down the voices in our heads, who discuss the what-ifs and tell us to be fearful. Give yourself permission to get your gear, then find a safe “socially distanced” place where you can use your talents to be true and real, sooth your soul and celebrate the beauty of this world. Take heart. Some things in life are solid.