Posted on June 18, 2017
This summer it will be 13 years since I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s disease. He would have turned 87 next month, and I have no doubt that his body would still be going strong if the Alzheimer’s hadn’t taken over. Sadly, it’s difficult to fully appreciate a parent’s influence until they’re gone. We’re certainly aware of the love, wisdom, advice, discipline, tears, and laughs while we’re in the midst of growing up, but it takes being a parent to fully appreciate our parents’ influence on the adults we become.
Dad was a United Methodist minister who literally practiced what he preached. In 1965, when Martin Luther King issued a plea to clergy to join him, Dad borrowed money and flew across the country to march with Dr. King in Selma, Alabama (he was on national TV getting arrested). His was an inclusive theology that respected all religions: I can remember Dad preaching at the local synagogue on a Saturday, and reciprocating in our Sunday service by opening his pulpit to the rabbi. And I’ve lost track of the number of homeless people, including families with young children, we housed while they tried to get back on their feet.
More than the values he instilled, so many of the things that define me today are directly attributable to my dad’s influence. My love of sports and sense of humor for sure. And when asked how I became a photographer, I have to cite Dad. My standard answer has always been that Dad was a serious amateur photographer whose 80-hour work week offered too little time to pursue his passion, so he made up for lost time on our summer family vacations—I grew up believing that a camera was just a standard outdoor accessory. But I think his influence goes deeper than that. More than simply modeling camera use, Dad instilled his appreciation of nature’s beauty, and his longing for its soothing qualities.
Our vacations were, without exception, camping trips—always tent-camping, though in the later years we splurged on a used, very basic tent trailer (no kitchen, bathroom, or any of the other luxuries available in today’s tent trailers). A few times we (Dad, Mom, my two brothers, and I) hit the road for a longer camping trip, one summer taking a month to camp all the way across the country, another summer venturing into the Canadian Rockies. But usually we took advantage of the mountain scenery (always the mountains) closer to our California home.
Of these locations, Yosemite was the clear favorite. Marveling at the Firefall from Camp Curry and Glacier Point, waiting in lawn chairs at the Yosemite dump for the bears to arrive for their evening meal (really), rising in the dark for a fishing expedition to Tuolumne Meadows, family hikes up the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, are just a few of the memories that I only realize in hindsight formed my Yosemite connection.
My favorite Dad photography story happened when I was about ten. It involves an electrical storm atop Sentinel Dome, and his desire to get the shot that was so great that it trumped common sense. As his ignorant assistant, I stretched to hold an umbrella high above Dad’s head to keep his camera dry. (In his defense, as Californians, lightning was a true novelty that trumped full appreciation of its dangers.) We didn’t get the lightning, and more importantly, it didn’t get us. But what I remember more than anything about that day was Dad’s excitement when later that afternoon he was able to photograph a rainbow arcing across the face of Half Dome.
This story has achieved family legend status, and we’ve felt a special connection to Sentinel Dome as a result. When it came time to scatter Dad’s ashes, Sentinel Dome was the obvious choice.
One more thing
I have the reputation for being very lucky where photography conditions are concerned: The clouds that part just as the moon rises, the snowstorm that blankets Yosemite Valley just as the workshop begins, the rainbow arcing across the Grand Canyon. In our family we like to believe that Dad is somehow up there pulling some strings. It’s just the kind of thing he’d do.
I love you, Dad.
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Posted on October 17, 2013
Usually an image comes together on the spot, an organic blend of location and light unique to the moment. But some images I carry around in my brain for years, fully aware of the elements and how I want them assembled, and hopeful to be present when that happens. I have a number of these “dream” images rattling around between my ears, and every once in a while the stars align and I actually get to capture one. For example, on every visit to Sentinel Dome I would eye the granite indentations on the southeast flank and picture them as pools of rainwater reflecting the sunset sky, framing Half Dome in the distance. Wouldn’t it be great if….
One showery October afternoon a few years ago I made the hike to Sentinel Dome with these indentations in mind. I knew that the recent rain would quite likely have filled them, allowing at least part of my dream to come true. After summiting the dome I beelined to the other side and found “my” pools exactly as I’d hoped. The sky was a promising mix of blue and gray, but the sun was still at least an hour above the horizon. Nevertheless, the air was clean and western horizon was clear, essential ingredients for the colorful sunset I so wanted. Dare I hope?
I walked around a bit and mentally refined my composition—rather than set up close and use an ultra wide-angle, I moved back as far as the terrain would permit. This allowed me to fit the pools in the frame at a longer a focal length, which would compress the distance separating Half Dome and the pools. To reduce the expanse of granite behind the pools, I flattened my tripod as far as it would go and framed my shot. With closest pool about six feet in front of me, stopping down to f20 and focusing on a point about twelve feet away gave me sharpness throughout the frame. With my composition set and waiting on my tripod, I readied my two-stop hard graduated neutral density filter and adjusted my polarizer, then sat down on the (hard) granite, and waited.
The sunset color that finally came was more than I dared hope for. The sun was at my back, but with clouds overhead and the western horizon wide open, the crimson glow stretched all the way to the eastern horizon. I clicked this frame when the color was at its most intense, so brilliant in fact that every exposed surface seemed to throb with its glow.
A Few Images On or Including Sentinel Dome