2018: What the Light was Like

One of my favorite poems, by one of my favorite poets, the late Amy Clampitt, is “What the Light was Like.”  It’s a long poem set on the coast of Maine, with a detailed tour of tidal scenery as that tide takes us in and out while the poet contemplates the heavy theme of mortality.  At one point, she wonders what the light was like that last time it was viewed by the subject in the poem.  So as I look back on a rather strange year (more on that in a day or two, watch this space), when I was a little too in touch with my own mortality, this poem came to mind repeatedly, along with my own contemplation of what the light was like this year.

One of the results of all that contemplation is that I intend to do a lot more writing in tandem with my photography going forward, much of it on more philosophical themes than I’ve indulged in the past.  For this post, however, I’m going to keep it relatively short.  I wasn’t able to do as much shooting this year (always a frustration), and what I did photograph was more intimate and contemplative.  This seems to be the style I most gravitate towards in recent years, and I’m happy to continue exploring that.  My favorites this year mostly reflect that.

The singular experience for me this year happened early on during a solo trip to the eastern Sierra.  My goal on that trip was to find and photograph some of the wild horses that range just east of the Sierra Nevada, in the high tundra-like plains of Mono County.  The trip itself was an act of faith, because there’s never a guarantee you’ll be able to locate any of the herds, and a winter storm was also forecast during my time there.  I was exceptionally lucky to find the horses multiple times over the course of the trip, but nothing quite compared to that first evening and my first encounter with them.  It was windy (REALLY windy), making the already-frigid temp of 18 degrees seem so much colder.  But there I was, waist-deep in sagebrush and creosote bush and rabbitbrush, sharing a long gaze with a wild mare.  I wanted that moment to last forever, and stood there shivering (I was a bit underdressed for that kind of cold) until my hands were too numb to operate my camera any longer.  I ended up with mild hypothermia, and it was 100% worth it.  I’m including an extra pic in my 10 best to give you an idea how close I was able to get during subsequent encounters with the horses that weekend (plus, the yearlings in the pic are just adorable).

So with minor further rambling, here is what the light was like (or my 10 favorite instances of it) for 2018 (just click on any of the images to see larger versions).

A wild mare sizes up the photographer from a safe distance in the middle of a sagebrush sea. She is the very embodiment of freedom.
Yearlings in winter coats
Dense stand of Lodgepole Pine and Ponderosa Pine near Mono Mills
The San Emigdio foothills at the base of California’s “grapevine” on the way to Los Angeles catch beautiful light in the afternoon.
One of two iPhone shots that made it to my 10 Best – sunlight dancing on the surface of Lake Sabrina in the eastern Sierra.
And the other iPhone shot – the impossibly beautiful trail into the 20 Lakes Basin in the Hoover Wilderness.
I continue to be obsessed with aspen, in no small part because of how the light plays with them. This grove was so intensely lit that it took on an otherworldly feel, and that’s what I tried to capture.
Probably the prettiest light we saw during our trip to Colorado and Utah was on our last morning; I loved the way the variable light spotlit different parts of this grove, making those yellow leaves glow like little bits of sunshine.
Aspen aren’t the only thing I like to shoot in autumn-the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada host beautiful groves of Pacific Dogwood, whose leaves change to scarlet in fall.
One of the Southwest’s great appeals for me is how well some of its landscapes lend themselves to detail and abstract shots. This area near Factory Butte was new for me this year, and I can’t wait to revisit it soon.
One of the things I love about the California coast is the way its foothills turn emerald green in winter, when much of the rest of the country is dressed in drab browns and greens. This walnut grove on the central coast is already showing the results of steady winter rains.

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