I like standing in rivers.
I like rivers in literature. I like Hemingway’s Big, Two-Hearted River and can easily imagine myself in Nick Adams’ place, walking and camping along the banks. I don’t care for fishing the way he did – not that I dislike it, I’m just not as interested in it. But I do like the onion sandwiches he enjoyed.
And of course there’s A River Runs Through It, which is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s a story about brothers and coming of age, but it’s all set around the Big Blackfoot River, and it contains some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
A few weeks back I put the kayak in the water at Francis Walter Dam and paddled up the western branch of the lake, which is actually Bear Creek. At the far end, just past the forest of flooded, dead gray-wood trees, the river finally regains its un-dammed form, returns true to its natural state. It once more becomes shallow, meandering, running over rounded stones and bedrock slabs.
It takes almost three miles of paddling to get there, but the trip is scenic and well worth it, and this particular night was one of those quintessential late summer evenings, when the light was soft and warm, the sky blue with cottonball clouds.
You know it’s going to be a good evening when this happens. I paddled up the last of the deep water, to where the river went shallow, and right there in the exposed bedrock as a notch just the right size and shape for my kayak. When nature provides a custom berth for your ship, you dock and get out!
Bear Creek comes around a bend alongside a steep bank here, and the majority of the river follows course. But a bit of it takes the direct route, and cuts the corner, spilling down among water-rounded rocks and through patches of goldenrod and greenery, to rejoin the main flow. I setup the tripod here and began working.
I got about 15 minutes, during which time the light played across my little patch of landscape, the creek and the mountains beyond, at the whims of the clouds. Light and shadow moved across the scene and I just did my best to capture it, adjusting my position, adjusting my height and angle, all the while ankle-deep in Bear Creek and grinning like a fool.
The technical details? I used the E-M5 + Olympus 12-40mm combo, with both a polarizer and a strong ND, ISO 100, f/8 and f/11, with shutter speeds of several seconds, up to maybe 15 or so, depending on the exact combination. I left the white balance on Cloudy to try and stay true to the warm tones that were present.
But the technical is irrelevant compared with the experience. Standing in the river, feeling the water rushing around by. So often as photographers, we are a step aside from whatever is going on, are a step removed. It’s funny, but it’s almost uncommon that we’re able to be immersed in a moment and physically part of it.
This was one of those moments when it all came together, when I could feel the environment and be part of it. And it was wonderful!