All I want for Christmas….

Lunar Rainbow, Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite

Lunar Rainbow, Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
15 seconds
ISO 800
26 mm

I returned late last night (well, early this morning) from my 2013 Yosemite Moonbow and Wildflowers photo workshop will lots of great new images and two fewer teeth. True story. The images I can verify; the teeth you’ll need to take my word for. Read on.

Chapter One: In the big inning

Twenty years ago I lost my two front teeth in a freak umpiring accident. Snapped off at the gum line, if you must know. (Nobody ever fouls a pitch straight back in slow pitch softball. Or so I believed.)

The visiting team was rallying in the last inning, with the tying run on second and their portly first baseman waving his bat in the box. The pitcher arced the ball homeward and with an awkward swing that somehow defied reality as defined by Newton, the batter sent the ball spinning toward my face like a yo-yo returning on a string—the picture of that stitched globe obscuring my view the instant before impacting my mouth is permanently etched in my memory. And with impact, Newton returned, imposing his second law with painful suddenness: Force equals mass times acceleration. I never did find out how the game ended.

Two emergency root canals the next morning were followed by a summer filled with trips to the dentist (I should have demanded my own parking space). By September I sported two gleaming crowns, affixed to the surviving tooth stubs (a process that involved embedded metal posts and “permanent” glue), a near perfect match that returned my smile to its original splendor.

Chapter Two: Be true to your teeth (or they’ll be false to you)

Apparently “permanent” means something different in the world of dental adhesives, because over the years (and despite my obsessive commitment to not testing them) my crowns have spontaneously detached several times: Once in the middle of a ten mile run, another time on Christmas day while snowed-in at my brother-in-law’s house in Colorado and fifteen hundred miles from my dentist. Each time I managed to avoid swallowing them, then had to endure much abuse (at the hands of the people who are supposed to love me most) until I could get back to the dentist for an application of the latest space-age cement guaranteed not to fail. Sigh.

Given the history, my biggest fear has always been that my crowns would lose purchase during a workshop (try saying ISO and shutter speed without your two front teeth), but since it only seems to happen once every three-to-five years, I felt fairly safe. I mean, what are the odds?

Chapter Three: Murphy is alive and well and living in Yosemite

After three-and-a-half days photographing waterfall rainbows, a rising full moon, a moonbow (lunar rainbow), and lots of dogwood with a group really nice (and fun!) photographers, my Yosemite spring workshop wrapped up Thursday night with a sunset shoot at one of my favorite Merced River spots. Half Dome, glowing with the warmth of the setting sun, reflected in the river as photographers contentedly crafted their own Yosemite masterpieces. What could go wrong?

I was helping one of the photographers add motion blur to his Half Dome reflection when my two front teeth (they’re connected) dropped without warning from the ceiling of my mouth. To avoid all the complications from the teeth slipping out the backdoor and down my throat, I reflexively dipped my head forward and opened my mouth, snatching them from the air before they could fall into the river. My workshop student was more than a little confused by my sudden theatrics until I flashed my toothless smile and explained that I’d just “Lotht my crownth.” I tried to deflect the inevitable (good natured) derision by telling the rest of the group that their workshop-mate slugged me for not answering his questions quickly enough, but they knew better.

Fortunately the teeth’s failure coincided with the end of the workshop, and I comforted myself with the knowledge that in the bottom of my suitcase was a tube of Polident I’d been carrying for years to mitigate (the very unlikely event of) just this calamity. After saying toothless goodbyes to the group I decided that, with nothing more than a four hour drive, requiring no more human interaction than one or two drive-thru passes, I’d wait until I was home with a mirror and clean, fully lit bathroom to temporarily reinsert my teeth. Then first thing in the morning I’d  call the dentist to schedule the few minutes it would take him to “permanently” reattach my crowns. With that plan, I tenderly folded the teeth into a clean napkin from my glovebox, where they’d stay until I made it to the dentist the next morning. And that’s exactly how it would have happened….

Chapter Four: It gets worse

I pulled into the garage a little after midnight, grateful that the teeth hadn’t failed until the end of the workshop and pleased with myself for somehow not frightening the friendly barista who delivered my mocha through her sliding window. I grabbed my phone and wallet from the center console and reached for the napkin containing my teeth, which should have been right there in the cup holder. Hmmm.

A frantic search ensued, starting with all the logical places (beneath the seat) and becoming progressively more desperate (glove box, ash tray, back seat). Before dismantling the spare tire compartment I mentally reconstructed my trip home and flashed to the gas stop in Livingston (one of many generic, brightly lit exits with an assortment of gas stations and fast food selections dotting Highway 99 in the Central Valley). Slowly memories of a quick housecleaning while waiting for my gas to pump materialized—into the convenient garbage can went my Starbucks cup, fast food wrappers, a few stray napki…. Oh. Oops.

So what should have been a fifteen minute ride in the dentist’s chair turned into a two hour marathon involving Novocain, drills, goopy molds, and six hundred of my dollars while the dentist fashioned temporary crowns that will keep me from looking like I ended up on the wrong end of a pool cue until he can craft the “final solution.” In the meantime I’m instructed not to use my front teeth for anything but smiling—”Not even to tear bread,” he warned as I walked out the door. (Which I’m pretty sure means that while they’re in there, I can charge all ice cream purchases to my HSA card.)

Oh, and my dentist a$$ure$ me that ver$ion-two of my crown$ really will be permanent.

*   *   *   *

About this image

About the only thing this image has to do with my teeth is I still had them when I took it. That and the fact that it was captured during the workshop that terminated in their demise. It’s a “moonbow,” a lunar rainbow caused by the light of a full moon. Witnesses see a shimmering silver band, but moonlight isn’t strong enough to reveal color to the naked eye. A camera, on the other hand, can accumulate light, making the scene in the image much brighter than being there.

While beautiful to photograph, the Yosemite Falls moonbow is no secret. The exposure is a piece of cake compared to the rest of the experience, which includes hundreds of photographers and point-and-shoot gawkers jostling in the dark, blowing mist. But despite the difficulties, the tailgate atmosphere at the bridge beneath lower Yosemite Fall is generally festive. Some photographers get a bit testy when a gawker (ignorantly) fires a flash, but generally a good time is had by all and those who want a picture (and are properly equipped and have some idea of what they’re doing) succeed.

The night before this I took my group out for a moonlight shoot without the moonbow (and the crowds) to get everyone comfortable with moonlight photography before braving the mayhem at the lower fall. Unfortunately, on our moonbow night unexpected clouds obscured the moon for most of window when the moon would be low enough for the moonbow. Nevertheless, the moonbow made several brief appearances (each time eliciting cheers) and most of the group got something, many that included a few moonlit clouds to enhance the sky. I spent most of my time working with the group (not the easiest thing to distinguish a dozen specific individuals from a couple of hundred strangers bundled in the dark against the elements) so this was the only moonbow I got that night.

Join me as I try to reprise this shot in my upcoming Yosemite Moonbow and Wildflowers photo workshop.

Yosemite After Dark

Click an image for a closer look, and a slide show. Refresh the screen to reorder the display.

8 Comments on “All I want for Christmas….

  1. Boy that’s a story I can really sink my teethe into…..great writing Gary! You made me laugh al lot just now 🙂

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