Saturday, November 12, 2011


Above: Autumn Color in Idaho


Note: click on a photo to view a larger-sized image

After the Fall

- Warning - A Post That's Not for the Squeamish

If you don't have a strong stomach, or you are about to have a meal, or you just had a meal, move along, there's nothing to see here.

Since early October, I've piled on the miles, not not much on my bike, but in cars and trucks and vans and planes and on my feet, as I've conducted almost too many photo trips (and one camping trip) to recall. I barely seem to have been home since the beginning of autumn. My journeys are almost over for the year, and I'll finally be home after next weekend, next year.

Autumn is the time of change. On one of my recent trips, I could say that the sense of change was palpable, after an incident in Yosemite. In fact, there was for me a distinct whiff of mortality that accompanied the autumn chill.



Before that happened, I enjoyed a couple of terrific outings. I've already blogged a little about the first, my trip to Yellowstone Country, when, in the company of a fine group of photographers, we photographed buffalo and geysers and grand landscapes, as we traveled through portions of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming (and where I learned about the death of Steve Jobs, which I wrote about a few posts back.

In Yellowstone, we had plenty of opportunities to photograph some of the spectacular thermal areas, like Canary Hot Springs, above, on the north side of the park.

Above: At Black Sand Basin

And we had a few chances to photograph Old Faithful, viewed above, one day in sunlight and day under cloudy skies after a night of snowfall.


There was no lack of wildlife, from bears to elk, bison to pronghorn antelope (pictured above).

We also found a herd of sheep in Wyoming, as we motored toward Jackson Hole, with a Great Pyrenees guard dog that was having some apparent difficulty serving as leader of the pack.

On my next trip, which was conducted on behalf of Harvey Mudd College, there was more wildlife. For this trip, we camped at a beautiful campground just south of the little resort town of Pismo Beach, along the central coast of California. My "official" duties were to help Irene Shibata, our gourmet chef, prepare meals for the group, although I also helped organize a trip to Montana de Oro State Park, where the Coast Range Mountains come right down to the sea.

By the way, if you, reader, have a group and you'd like to have someone – i.e. me - conduct a camping trip for you, let me know.

Above: kelp at one of the tide pools at Montana de Oro State Park.

Above: Sea Anemone

On our way over a backroad to Montana de Oro, we passed a multitude of bike riders as the made their over the mountains. Who were these intrepid riders, where were they going? We finally asked one of them, as he slowly pedaled his way upward, what the ride was about. It was the Solvang Double Century, a 200 mile ride that cyclists were trying to finish within one day.

I half wanted to be with those cyclists, as I hadn't had a challenging ride like that in over a year. In fact, I'd broughtmy bike with me on the trip, in the vain hope I'd have a little time to ride it along the coast. Irene made sure that didn't happen. I still planned to ride my bike, at some point, on my next trip. Little did I know that next trip might have ended my cycling career.

I said goodbye to the alumni group from Harvey Mudd College, and to co-hosts Irene and Hal Grant (who also likes camping and photography). I drove over the Coast Range Mountains into the Central Valley of California, and then on into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to a rendezvous with Ken Rockwell. We were going to spend the next few days conducting a photography outing for the Yosemite Conservancy (for whom I also conducted a couple of family camping trips this past summer).

Color isn't a primary feature of Yosemite; the granite cliffs and pine forests are the dominant visual features. Even so, there isn't any particular difficulty finding color in the park.

Above: Giant Sequoia (aka a redwood)


Above: Yosemite Valley with a Rainbow in Bridalveil Fall

Above: Big Leaf Maple at Fern Spring

As most photographers know, it's not easy to photograph people. There's always the element of rejection when we ask directly to make a photograph. And yet, for me, that's the best way. I do like to establish a rapport with people. However, time is often in short supply. That's when I'll say, as I did to the couple above, "Hey, you two look great. Could I make your photograph?" They had been walking away from Glacier Point, with it's view of Yosemite Valley and beyond, toward their car.

The couple, who were from France, were very obliging, as I asked them to pose for our little group of photographers in front of iconic Half Dome. Perhaps they were so willing because they had been married a few days earlier, in Las Vegas.

That night, not done with photography, a few of us walked over to the base of Yosemite Falls. There was a significant amount of water in the falls, and with the help of some flashlights, we lit the lower fall and photographed it. This was a group experiment, something I had not done before, and a learning experience for all of us, as we played with f/stops and exposures and the flashlights (my little headlamp had a far-too puny light to make any effect, although it did let me see where I was going, at least when I had it on).

We also made some exposures pines and a granite cliff silhouetted against the night sky, with the Milky Way clearly visible.

And then it happened. I had turned off my headlamp, so as not to blind anyone or wreck an exposure, and stepped forward in the pitch black, towards one of our group who was shining a flashlight at the water. I thought he might want me to relieve him. A couple of steps past our tripods, I managed to trip over a five-foot long, half-foot high rock that sat quietly waiting for me on the otherwise flat, open viewing area below the fall. I went down hard and fast, stinging my knees, my right wrist, and my right elbow.

Rarely have I experienced such sharp pain, and as I tried to stand, I thought I might vomit. I stretched out next to the rock, as my companions asked if I needed them to call 911.

"Do NOT call 911," I pleaded, with pain so awful, and my bone-headed misstep so ridiculous, that I started to laugh out loud at myself. When I finally did stand, I discovered I could barely take a step with my right leg.

"I might need some help getting back to the room," I admitted.

"We'll call 911!" came the reply.

"Do NOT call 911," I answered.

Eventually, after everyone made their photographs, I was able to hobble on my own back to my room. I was able to walk the next morning, with some difficulty. Because of the medication I'm on that thins my blood, I expected to see quite a bruise on my thigh. There was nothing. I considered myself lucky not to have broken a kneecap or two, or my arm, or my femur, or my skull.

The next day, I was off with Ken on another trip, this time to the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


The pain continued, making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for me to sit on the ground or lay flat, which I like to do to make a photograph. I had to pull my right leg up with my hands into the car in which I was riding.

On the way home from the Sierra east side trip (I'll post some photos here soon), I drove through Yosemite again. I pulled my bike out of the back of my little truck, painfully threw a leg over the handlebars and the top tube, and settled myself on the narrow saddle. Each revolution of the pedals made my thigh ache a little. Maybe it was the flywheel effect, but whatever the reason, the pain was far less than what I felt when I walked.

So I made a leisurely 20 mile loop around the Valley, then rode slowly up to the wonderful Tunnel View, to take another look at the rainbow that formed within Bridal Veil Fall, which happens each day in mid to late October. Again, despite the pain, I felt lucky that I hadn't done more serious damage to myself.

Then it was time to head home for just a few days, before my next trip.

Two days earlier, in my room at the cute Bridgeport Inn, I noticed little islands of purple had formed on my thigh. Bit by bit, those islands merged over the next several days to form a super-continent of purple that covered most of my right thigh, and continued over my knee and part way down the right side of my lower leg.

The photo below, made a day or so after I returned home, came a few days before the bruise stopped spreading, and a day before my wife, Kathy, commanded me not to show her my leg again.

I'm still hurting a little, 26 days after my epic fall. The remnants of that bruise still decorate my thigh. And I'm still thinking I'm as lucky as I was unlucky to still be here on this good earth, in autumn, under the sun and the stars.




Note: click on a photo to view a larger-sized image (OK, maybe not the last photo)


4 comments:

Bob said...

Dave - I am glad that the damage from your misstep was not any worse...ouch...also glad to hear that you are healing and can cycle...see ya soon - Bob

Stefan R. said...

nice blog Dave! ;)

Simple Citizen said...

Your pictures are amazing. I've loved Yellowstone National Park my whole life, and I used to be a guide for day hikes to Union Falls.
Someday I'm going to find a photographer as talented as you who wants to take the hike with me or do a horseback trip to the falls to take pictures.
I want my office to have a HUGE picture of Union Falls in it - and you style is exactly what I'd want.
Keep up the good work, sorry about the fall, and great blog.

Andrys Basten said...

Wow, you led us October 29 (and gave tips for Oct 30 outing that you wouldn't be at) AFTER you did this to yourself.

I once ran to the store while at a gasoline station and triped over a cement/concrete island and came down very hard and the doc said I fractured some ribs. I will never forget how painful that was. And how long it took to get normal breathing and walking back.

Glad you are okay. I wouldn't have known in late October when you were helping us.

Love being able to see your creative photos here.

- Andrys