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What Do You See?

November 23, 2009

Abstraction is everywhere in nature.  Even so, it isn’t always easy to extract a successful image from the chaos.  Patterns, lines, colors and textures can be difficult to arrange into a cohesive composition.  But every once in a while all the difficult work is done for you, leaving you to do little more than point the camera and press the shutter button.

Three summers ago I spent a week roaming the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado on an alpine wildflower pilgrimage.  I’m fairly well traveled in the San Juans and was intent to seek out locations I’d not yet seen.  On a rainy afternoon I stopped at Mad Mamas Pies in Silverton for a momentary respite from the storm.  I broke out my topographic maps and began pouring over them while scarfing down a delicious slice of chocolate pie.  I located a nearby basin that appeared to have potential, finished my pie and headed out into the storm.  I passed the Silverton ski area and took a right on a rough dirt road.  Up, up, up I climbed toward towering peaks issuing streams that cascaded through wildflower filled meadows.  The road came to an abrupt end high in a basin ringed with peaks that dropped dramatically into an alpine lake.  The mountain slopes were littered with talus that precariously clung to slopes so steep they taunted gravity and challenged the angle of repose.  Patches of dirty snow lingered on the opposite side of the lake.

All of a sudden the rain abated.  There were no more flashes of lightning, no more thunder claps.  The wind slowed to a gentle breeze.  I seized the moment to jump from my truck and walk to the edge of the lake.  Wildflowers lined the shore in shades of red, purple, yellow and cream but I couldn’t take my eye off the Rorschach test on the opposite shore.  Uncertain of how long this break in the weather would last I set up my camera and composed an image of the talus and snow reflecting in the rippled waters of an alpine lake in a place known as Velocity Basin.

A few minutes later an uncomfortably close lightning strike signaled that it was time to retreat to the safety of my truck.  Rain began to fall and the wind whipped all around me.  I didn’t get to make any images of the wildflowers and peaks.  Instead, I came away with something much more unique.  Mother Nature offered me a gift.  She designed a beautiful abstract, presented it to me and graciously allowed me just enough time to photograph it.  For all the havoc she is capable of wreaking, it appears she has a soft side too.

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