I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places while out backpacking, but the image I chose for October might be my favorite photo capture from a hike. The shot was taken in Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness in October of 2009. This was a period of transition for me, as I’d just left Montana to move back to Iowa, and needed a decompression trip to come to terms with leaving my beloved adopted home behind.
Flying into Bangor prior to the hike I couldn’t get over the view; hundreds of square miles of hardwood forest in brilliant hues of autumn. As cheesy as it sounds, the closest I could come to describing it was the thought of millions of cotton swabs dipped in colorful paint. Reds, golds, browns, greens and orange; a virtual palette covering all of the land.
The trek itself was extremely challenging. I set out to walk a nearly 300 miles section of the Appalachian Trail, starting at Mt. Katahdin and venturing down to Gorham, New Hampshire. I’d completed all but the northern most portion of this before, but had a few weeks to spend in any way I liked and wanted to immerse myself in the Northwoods and check out the New England color. Unfortunately the immersion that occurred wasn’t exactly what I had in mind- there’s just something about me being in Maine that seems to trigger torrential downpours. It rained and rained, then rained some more. Streams were swollen, rocks were slick and the trail was nothing but mud. It rained almost non-stop my first ten days on the trail. (And then it turned to snow…)
This photo op presented itself one blustery afternoon as I climbed above tree line just when the storm was trying to break. The clouds parted and for a brief moment beams of light began to illuminate the valley below. Soaking wet, with an air temperature in the 40’s and wind gusts that made it hard to stand upright, I shivered uncontrollably as I dug my camera from my pack and worked to compose the scene. It was important to me to include a white blaze in the photo (a navigational marker from the trail) as I was trying to symbolize the AT experience; at once capturing its difficulty and its beauty.
The occasion was fleeting and soon the sky cast over and it began to rain some more. I hurried to top the mountain and scrambled back down the other side, the necessity of motion overruling all else. Thanks to that brief glimpse though I had captured a moment, and with it an image that expresses what an entire experience meant to me.
And in a way, that’s what photography is all about.
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