Sunrise is always worth the risk.

Heaven's Peak at Dawn

It’s only mid-afternoon, but already it feels as if today has been a very long day. I know that this is to be expected when I go to sleep at 10 p.m. and set my first alarm for 2 a.m. in the morning. Why the strange hours? Why else? Sunrise.

Sunrise is always worth the effort. Sunrise is always worth the risk. Set the alarms. Drag myself out of bed. Shower and make ready. I am up well before dawn chasing a dream in my waking hours.  To capture the spectacular moment when the light, all golden and glowing, first touches the earth. It is a dream worth waking up early for, but as I make my preparations I do so knowing there are no guarantees with sunrise.

Maybe all that magical light I’ve been dreaming of will stay locked away and hidden behind a dense and deeply frustrating cloud bank. Maybe the colors in my imagination are too vivid and the reality will end up softer, more muted. And we’re talking about sunrise in the mountains. Mountains tend to draw in their very own weather patterns which are impossible to predict even from so short a distance away as 60 miles. Logan Pass really isn’t that far away from Kalispell. But the mountains make all the difference. You can have bright blue skies here in Kalipsell and snow storms over in Coram. And vice versa. There is just no telling.

So I get up. Always take a shower, otherwise I’d be considerably more likely to fall asleep while driving in the wee small hours. Gather my gear. And go. I go hoping. My very version of the leap of faith.

This morning I did not get what I wanted at all. I wanted an East-side sunrise. This is important to me because I know Logan Pass will be closing even before coming snow forces the road closed. They are doing a lot of construction up there and the tourist traffic slows that down. I want a sunrise looking out over Saint Mary’s Lake.

Turns out, Logan Pass is open. Except at night. At night the road is closed from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 2:15 a.m. until 7 a.m. I’m up at the park pretty early, but I not early enough to meet that short window. I got to The Loop at 4:30 on the nose just in time to greet a guard telling me I could go no further. He was as kind as he could be, but I was highly disappointed.

Hours later the sun starts to come up. I wasn’t going to get the sunrise I had so wanted. This particular sunrise was shall we saw less than awe-inspiring. Light clouds washed everything out leaving the mountains and vistas flat, boring compared to how it could be.

But there was one moment. One moment to redeem the day. One moment to make the effort worthwhile. I had parked at the top of The Loop facing Heaven’s Peak (elevation 8,987). And that snow-capped mountain caught the very first rays of light. Just enough to light up the very top. One brilliant spot of gold against a vibrant blue sky and a mostly silhouetted base. Black and blue and flaming gold. Definitely worth the drive. Definitely worth the effort. Always worth the risk.

And hey, it’s not as if I turned around and left at this point. No-no. I went up to Logan. And I saw my first big horn sheep. Four of them. Very large. And not the least bit afraid of me. They let me get close.

I still want that East-side sunrise. And I know I have to go soon. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to drag myself out of bed again that early on Saturday. Even if I don’t get exactly the photos I want I know I will leave the park with a deep sense of satisfaction. You see, even when I don’t get what I am dreaming of, I can be happy, even proud, knowing that I did not simply let the moments and opportunities pass me by. I would rather risk a sunrise that doesn’t quite thrill the photographer in me, than sleep in and wake up after the sun, wishing I had risen earlier.

That's my jeep that this guy just strolled alongside of...I'm going to have my jeep in the newspaper. : )

A Tom Dorsey Photo

Long ago and far away I lived in Kansas and where I worked for the Salina Journal. It was my first full-time newspaper gig and in many ways a proving ground of sorts. I got there in 2002 and left at the end of 2003. It seems like a lifetime ago.

While at the Journal I worked with two very talented photographers, Tom Dorsey, the chief photographer, and Ryan Soderlin. This was fairly early in my life as a professional photographer and I feel that I learned so much from working with these guys.

Ryan is the person who introduced me to the idea of the “37th frame” a concept strictly digital photographers would have no connection to. It goes back to the days when photographers bulk loaded their own rolls of film. A roll of bulk loaded film is 36 shots. But sometimes you would have an extra frame. That 37th frame became a shot that a photographer takes just for themselves. Not for the paper, not for any audience, it’s a chance to reconnect to the art of photography. When I started in all this, I began on film and sometimes I still miss it. I have bulk loaded my own film (who could ever forget the days of T-Max and Tri-X). Even though I’m well into the digital age (and glad to be there) I still try to make time for those personal shots. Without them, I think I would get all too jaded.

From Tom I learned about Photoshop and color. He’s the person who really helped me understand the value of quality toning and editing. Tom always had such a sense of wonder in his photographs. I don’t know exactly how long Tom has been with the Journal, but it’s got to be going on decades plural by now. And even though he’s in the same place, looking at the same subjects day after day and year after year, Tom still manages to keep his eyes open and see the beauty around him.

Today as I was surfing the Associated Press TOPIX (top pictures from around the world) I saw this lovely sunrise of barn out in Kansas. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s a Tom Dorsey photo. It’s been years since I’ve had the chance to visit Kansas. Seeing that photo seemed like Life presenting me the perfect excuse to call up an old friend just send well wishes. I’ve already told Tom congrats on the phone, but he gave me permission to share this photo on my blog so here it is…

Congrats to Tom Dorsey for winning the attention of the AP and subsequently the world with his beautiful photo.

The sun illuminates clouds early Thursday morning June 16, 2011, behind a barn east of Salina, Kansas. Later in the morning thunder storms dropped heavy rain in the area. (AP Photo/Salina Journal, Tom Dorsey)