It is that special time of year when temperatures drop to single digits and mist rises from the frigid river into golden morning light. I don’t want to lose my warmth but I’m compelled to pause and admire the ice and light.
Picturing things seen only with difficulty — the miniscule, remote or submerged — has often been a path to interesting photography. In the early days it could simply mean riding the rails for a week to capture images few in the world had seen. For me it means stopping and pulling the camera out when it’s minus 6°F.
Susan Sontag suggested “the image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.”¹ In contrast to those early days of photography, we now face an endless barrage of exotic imagery — exotic women, places, cars. Beauty is banal.
Sontag, Susan, “On Photography,” p. 85
Although I recognize the cliché, I am also moved by so grand a spectacle with me it’s only witness. My commute coincides with the sunrise and river mist only a few days each year at a time when there’s rarely anyone else on the path.
The colors change quickly for the few minutes I follow the river, from brilliant orange and yellow to pastel pink and blue. The bare branches of cottonwoods are coated thick with the rising mist.
Geese huddle in the shallow waters below the Baybrook pedestrian bridge. It doesn’t seem the best way to stay warm but I’m sure they’ve developed a strategy. Not long ago I was riding carefully through a throng of teens jockeying to jump shouting from the bridge.
I let my gaze rest a moment downriver from the bridge every morning. Sometimes I’ll see a heron poised mid-river, other times a man in waders casting for the same goal. Or a dog lunging into the water after a ball. Sometimes a large tree has come to rest in the river (these cottonwoods aren’t strong). I look to see which of a million possibilities exists that day.