A Chapter Ends, A Story Doesn’t
Every day’s sunset is a chapter ending. Only one will be the final chapter. The late Galen Rowell, a renowned landscape photographer said, “You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn’t waste either.”
I don’t want to go. I just don’t feel like it. It’s August in Oklahoma and it’s HOT! I hibernate through summer. Out-of-doors for me is fall through late spring, not summer. Anyway, I step outside and look up. I see a sky cluttered with 18% grey tone clouds. I see plenty of blue patches, some large enough to sew a pair of pants. I see sunlight, bright spot light beams pouring through spaces in between. That’s enough for me. That’s all it takes. In fifteen minutes I’m behind the wheel in FJ and heading out.
I’m trying to get out of Lawton the quickest and safest way I can but also keeping an eye on the rapidly changing sky and its affect on the landscape. If you’re a landscape photographer, being familiar with the surrounding landscape is a plus. Options for possible spots to set up are running through my mind like a slide show. It’s still early, so I’m not feeling any urgency about the approaching end of day. On a hunch, I drive to the farthest away point first. Along the way I pass other promising spots. If my hunch doesn’t pay off I can backtrack. Now, I’m starting to feel the excitement.
Arriving, I start down a trail with only my hiking staff, scouting the area unburdened by camera gear. All’s quiet except for the crickets. The grass is green and tall—unusual for August. We’ve had some rain. I haven’t gone far until I encounter three bull bison grazing on the move, about forty yards away. They’re in single file. A strikingly handsome, fully mature bull leads a young adult and a half-grown one with half-sized horns. A fourth bison, this one old and alone is dusting himself in a wallow about fifty yards farther still. I catch the lead bull’s attention. He stops. I stop. He stares. I stare. He wins; I move first. I go south. He goes north. The other two follow. The old bull stays in the wallow doing his thing. I’m doing mine. We understand each other.
I top a hill that affords good viewpoints to the south and west. I tarry for a time, taking pictures in my mind, first here, then there. Soon, it’s time to trek back to FJ and gear up. When I return, fully equipped and ready for business, there’s not much time left before I find out if my hunch is right. Elk are bugling in the hills to the north, behind me in the east, a pack of coyotes yelp the muster call for their nightly hunt. A dark and foreboding storm is approaching from the south and the sun is sinking slowly toward the horizon in the west. I hear faint rumblings of thunder. The storm’s a long ways off, but there’s still no color in the west, either. Will the storm get here first? I wait.
Soon, the weakening but still arrogant August sun shouts across Buffalo Gap with the last shout of a softer, but still strong voice. From my place atop a boulder pile I’m ready — click, click, click. The light doesn’t last—clouds on the horizon. I climb down. It’s ramp-up time; time to move; the game is under foot. It’s turning into a contest. Who will win: clouds, darkness, or me?
Earlier scouting is paying off. I move to the first position, set up a level tripod, expose, compose, focus: click, click, click. Break down, move to second position and repeat: set up, expose, compose, focus: click, click, click. Break down, move and repeat: click, click, click. Break down and move again: same thing. By now, I’m hearing nothing, I’m feeling nothing, I’m seeing nothing except this SUNSET vanishing right before my eyes. Now I’m heading toward what I know will be my last stand, my final chance to capture the picture already forming in my mind’s eye. I’m all adrenaline. Don’t trip, don’t stumble, don’t fall! Not now!
I see it. The tree. My already rapidly firing heart jumps at the sight. I might make it. I might actually get there in time. Suddenly, I’m there. I know the routine. My eyes are focused, shooting data to my brain at the speed of light. I’ve got this. I’ve got this! My hands are moving in the dark, they know where their supposed to be and what they’re supposed to be doing. Level tripod, mount camera, expose, compose, focus: click, click, click. Again: click, click, click. One more time: click, click, click. Done! Relief! Sigh—relax—breathe—sigh again—wipe sweat off brow and out of eyes; It’s still August. Pack it up and head home.
It’s dark. Crickets, elk, and coyotes return to the night. Where’s the trail? Who cares, make a new one I’m unstoppable! Oh wait, uh, where are those bulls, now? Hmm?
A chapter ends…the story doesn’t. Tomorrow there’s another sunset.