You are hiking in the autumn forest, enjoying the sunlight filtering through the few last vibrant leaves clinging to the branches. There is always a rewarding view at the top of this trail, and you are ready for it as you come out onto the sunny, open meadow crowning the hill. But when you reach the summit and look out onto the scene, you stop in surprise. All around, filling the expansive valley below you, is a rolling white layer of clouds reflecting the sunlight. A few hills and peaks share their summits with you above the fog, the last of their autumn color shining bright, but the rest of the world is hidden down below. You can hear there is a world down there… The sounds of the morning commute come through. You pause for the moment, realizing the people making their way through the world for their morning routine are experiencing a very different reality from you. They are surrounded by a chilly, dense fog, while you are in the warm and open sunlight, above it all. You pause, and enjoy the moment.
What do you think? Can you picture the scene?
I hope so, because I don’t have a photograph. For some reason, my trusty iPhone did not get charged last night. I plugged it in before bed, but something weird must have happened, because the battery died before I even started my ascent up the hill. Oh well, I thought. There will be other foggy mornings to photograph. I’m not missing anything.
As I walked through the forest, I realized there won’t be other mornings like this morning. There was a beautiful layer of yellow leaves still clinging to some of the lower trees, while the oaks had lost all their leaves. OK, so I’ll miss that. Next time I’m on the same trail, at the same time of day, the leaves will all be down. A small moment of sadness, and then an increased awareness of my surroundings, realizing that my memory and experience will have to suffice. I can enjoy that.
When I came out to the top of the hill and saw the valley shrouded in fog, I knew that this morning, this scene would never be repeated. The last of the autumn color was one thing, the perfect meeting of the fog and the sun and the autumn color was another thing altogether. I whole-heartedly wished my camera was working.
Because I couldn’t photograph it, I spent a lot of time looking at it. Memorizing it. I walked around the hill and to take in the scene from different angles and points of view. It’s still there, this image. It’s in my head, carefully stored away, for when I want to revisit it. A special moment in a familiar place.
While I wish I could have shared it with you through a photograph, mere words will have to suffice today.
I could write how this is a lesson in making sure your phone is charged, to have an extra battery pack with you, or whatever. That would be the great photography advice to give you.
But I think the lesson here is that you don’t always need a camera to capture the experience. We photographers can forget that. Because I couldn’t take any photographs, I spent more time within the moment than I otherwise would. I paid closer attention, so that I would remember the details. I savored the scene in a way I might not have, had the camera been available.
I would have spent so much time capturing the moment, I wouldn’t have experienced it.
Today, I’m happy for the experience. That’s all we really need.