It’s July, I’m home in Vermont and I am desperate for landscapes. This seems a bit silly, after all, how desperate can a fella be for a landscape shot. All you have to do is go out and find a big attractive lump -mountain, barn, lighthouse – in the background and then find a big attractive lump – flowers, stream, rock – in the foreground, jam them all together and, viola, a winning landscape photograph.
Here’s the catch: When you are living east of the Mississippi there is always something in between your two lumps. Usually, it is called the forest. Either those darned trees block the lump in back or in order to see the lump in back you have to get so high the lump in front is lost. This phenomenon is the derivation of the saying “You can’t see the lumps for the forest.” Some people have substituted the word ‘trees’ for lumps but the original saying had ‘lumps’ in it. Don’t argue with me, we have 1000 words still to go.
The grand scenics were, by far, the toughest shots to get for my book, The Nature of Vermont. I had the detail shots, the intimate landscapes and the semi-close images but landscapes with a distant horizon and a pretty foreground were a bear to get. It’s that darned forest. Vermont is called the Green Mountain State but it really should be called the Green Forest State. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the northeastern forest. I am a forest junkie. But there are times when the forest is really just a pain in the neck.
So I have resorted to hiking up mountains to find lookouts to get the shots I need. The problem with this approach is that it requires considerable physical effort on my part and I would rather simply skim the cream from the roadside than go through all the effort to churn the milk from the summit.
Case in point. I have been waiting for two weeks for a clear, blue-sky day to chase some landscapes. With a trip fast approaching I settled for a less than beautiful day to climb Camels Hump Mountain. Camels Hump is the most well known and beloved mountain in Vermont. In fact, it is depicted on the Vermont quarter. I have to have a shot or two from Camels Hump for the book. Without a shot from the top of The Hump (as we call it) I would have all my flannel shirts confiscated and I would have to pretend New Hampshire is really the prettier state. Both of those things are nearly impossible for anyone who has lived in Vermont for any period of time.
I don’t mind hiking. In fact I like hiking but hiking and climbing a mountain with a 40-pound pack are two different things. One is invigorating and the other is, well, just plain stupid. I chose stupid. Up I went leaving the trailhead in mid-afternoon to get to the top for the nice late afternoon light. Unfortunately, despite my considerable effort and my desperate need the light didn’t cooperate.
This is not to say that I didn’t take any pictures. I hiked all the way up there, by god, I was going to take a shot or twelve. At the time I thought what I was getting was pretty good. I remember thinking, ‘the haze isn’t really that thick and the light isn’t really that dull.’ I also remember being pretty happy that under the circumstances the images I had gotten were really pretty darn good. I was even mildly surprised that I was able to get such good shots.
Exertion is the Devil’s hand to clear thinking. When I got my three rolls back a few days later I saw what I really shot…..three rolls of dully-lit landscapes with awful white, hazy horizons. The only pictures that worked were a few compositions of a rare tundra wildflower that can be found in Vermont only above tree line. Of course, I already have three or four nice shots of this flower in bloom. Now I have five or six nice shots. So the only images I got after all that work were of exactly what I didn’t need.
Wait, there is more irony to this story.
Three days later the day I had been waiting for dawned bright and clear and magnificent. By noon I was prowling around the western flanks of The Hump looking once again for my elusive Vermont landscape. This time I was in my car, map in my lap, looking for a vantage point from which I could put the outline of Camels Hump in my composition. I drove every back road, every dirt lane; I even drove places I probably wasn’t supposed to drive. I drove near the mountain. I drove far from the mountain. I drove up other mountains. I drove along rivers, through valleys and into people’s driveways. The entire time the sky was clear, blue and magnificent. And the entire time I didn’t take a single shot. Not one. Nada. Zip.. Zilch. No lo compositiono. I got nothing.
The problem was that there was always something I didn’t want between the mountain and me. Trees, power lines, ugly houses, forests, gravel pits, interstate highway, power lines, did I mention power lines? Not distant, hardly noticeable power lines but big, obvious, can’t avoid’em power lines. For four hours and over eighty miles I looked for landscapes and instead got bupkis. I have plenty of bupkis. I have plenty of petootie as well. I don’t need anymore petootie. I don’t need anymore bupkis. What I need are landscapes!!!!!
I know that you have all figured out by now that I climbed the mountain on the wrong day. I would appreciate you not pointing that out to me.
I did learn a few things. I got to know the area west of The Hump very well and found some other things to photograph on another day. I found a nice little café to eat dinner and a bakery that sells wonderful chocolate chip cookies. I also put in time out in the field.
Time spent in the field is important, even time that is unproductive. In fact, the more unproductive time you spend out in the field the better your shots are going to be when your luck finally turns. That is Middleton’s Law #2. Middleton’s Law #1 is that good nutrition and good photography have nothing in common.
In a week or so, while practicing Law #1, I expect Law #2 to get me some spectacular shots. If not, I’ll just keep looking and keep expecting even better shots. And yes, I will hump back up The Hump. It is, after all, on the Vermont quarter.