Be Still

March 21, 2024  •  Leave a Comment


Arches National Park, Utah
Though I've spent a great deal of time in Arches National Park and always make it a point to visit during (theoretically) less busy times of the year, it was surprisingly slow when I was there earlier this month: fewer people than I've ever encountered.

On the morning I made the photograph above, not only was there nobody around, it was utterly quiet: no animal sounds, no passing vehicles, nothing. The absolute silence was remarkable, and all the more amazing considering the location.

I'm more accustomed to early mornings where, depending on the time of year, there can be a variety of natural sounds, many courtesy of wildlife. Things like bugling elk, or the croaks of a raven, or the occasional rippling of water as a fish jumps or a beaver dives. 

Either way, whether it's complete silence or the subtlety of nature's soundtrack as night lets go, for me there is something special about the dawn. It has beckoned me for most of my life.   

Growing up in a neighborhood that was well outside of town, it was as close to the country as you could get and still be in suburbia. I spent many an early Saturday morning sitting outside in the backyard with a notebook, listening to the world awakening and jotting down what I was experiencing. 

One of the prerequisites for a magical early morning experience - as I define it - is stillness. You won't hear the nuances if you're talking or otherwise occupied. You won't notice the whish of the bird's wings cutting through the air as it swoops over your head. You won't hear the ice cracking. You could miss the sound of twigs snapping as a moose forages somewhere off in the darkness. You might not notice the loon's call, or water gently lapping at the shore. 

To experience the stillness you must be still yourself.  

This is one of the reasons I enjoy shooting alone. While it's possible to hear nature's music when others are around, it's more difficult to do so and my connection with the place is typically not the same.

This is why I like the off-season in national parks.

It's why I try to find locations to shoot that are further off the beaten path.

This is why, when I take others out on location to shoot, I'm mindful of not spoiling the mood. I avoid talking loudly and/or excessively. Connecting with nature is a crucial component when it comes to a successful shoot. Chatter inhibits our ability to hear what the landscape is trying to say, to notice things, and to think creatively. 

It's important to be still, to engage, and to be fully aware of our surroundings. 

I have mixed emotions whenever cell signal is extended within national parks. More connectivity isn't always a good thing: in my view it's often the exact opposite. Sure, it's nice to be able to consult the weather app - but does it stop there? Expanding the opportunity to stare mindlessly at a screen is not a net benefit. 

Nature is far more entertaining than anything Hollywood could ever produce. More beautiful. More peaceful. More captivating. It's filled with artistry. It never goes out of style. There are no reruns; from one season to the next, one day to the next, even from one hour to the next, it is never exactly the same. It is a reliable companion and a great healer. It evokes reverence. It encourages contemplation.

Put the phone away, or keep walking until you're out of range. 

Be still and truly experience the bounty nature has to offer.

Odds and Ends

Last week I promised a peek at some more conventional subject matter from my latest visit to Moab. At the top, of course, you'll recognize Balanced Rock. I really wanted to do something with it in either full or partial silhouette because its lines are so lovely and distinctive. I'm also drawn to the miniature version of it which stands behind its shoulder (when you're shooting from a certain angle). Kind of a little Echo. 

I started each day at Balanced Rock but wasn't having much success, until the final morning when I was treated to beautiful conditions. This was surprising; as the sky began to lighten there was a heavy bank of clouds stubbornly hugging the eastern horizon thanks to departing rainfall, while directly overhead the sky was completely clear. Not at all promising. I fully expected simply to enjoy the morning unfold as a spectator. The scene continued to evolve, though, and it ended up being a lovely, understated, unusually-extended display.  

Another happy outcome was this image of some of the sandstone fins in the northern section of the park:

IMPOSINGRIDERS ON THE STORMImposing sandstone fins reach up to touch an equally dramatic sky

Arches National Park, Utah
I've had my eye on these for years. Having shot at or near here quite a few times I've never been completely satisfied with the result. 

Though dramatic fins are scattered liberally throughout this area, these are the ones I'm most drawn to - specifically the way the smaller fins mirror the two dominant ones in the foreground, and the relationship between them. The problem is how to complete the composition: something interesting has to be happening overhead. I finally got what I needed. The orientation, shape, and character of the sizeable cloud on this stormy afternoon was perfect.

I shot this as a 1:1 in-camera, and envisioned it as a black and white.   

By the way, if you're wondering what will happen next with these fins geologically, they'll continue to erode and will eventually transform into arches or windows. 

In Local News

The first official grizzly bear sighting of the season in Yellowstone National Park occurred on March 3rd. Nothing yet in Grand Teton National Park. Male grizzlies come out of hibernation first; females with cubs won't begin to emerge until April or May. 

I'm so hoping the Queen of the Tetons, Grizzly 399, will still grace us with her presence. There is no denying the fact that she's getting up there in years. May her reign continue...

In both GTNP and YNP, plowing operations are underway to clear packed snow from roadways in anticipation of reopening to vehicle traffic. Weather permitting, the first roads are slated to open in Yellowstone on April 19th. In Grand Teton National Park, the Inner Loop will reopen on May 1st. 

The winter skiing seasons at both Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole Resort are scheduled to end on April 14th. 


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