“When we are young, wandering the face of the Earth, wondering what our dreams might be worth. Learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time.” – Rush, Dreamline.
Recollecting and reminiscing, my post-birthday thoughts were noticeably darker than average. Now 24, hair thinning and cartilage thinner, I was feeling particularly mortal. A little bit of youth leaking out daily, each time I passed on an adventure. It was the type of blues that clung to the back of your thoughts, weighing down a normally positive approach.
The mounting pressure created a sense of urgency. So I revolted in an ill-advised, brash fashion. A rebellion pinning me against my greatest and previously undefeated foe: Winter.
The polar vortexes of 2014 were as fierce as they were photogenic. Hence the scene for my excursion.
The goal: to recreate this photo, replacing the autumnal backdrops with frosted, alabaster landscapes . Capturing tundra-like scenes and further polishing my new found photography craft in the process.
The venue: Wildwood Nature Center.
The endeavor: trekking through a near mile of snow covered woods on two mechanically flawed knees, reaching the destination and returning before work.
Into the White Nothing
I was still wearing the scars from an earlier clash with Old Man Winter. In that brush, I was 13. A freshly-turned teenager, exploring the depths of youth immortality. Brash. Ill-advised. I sled down a hill. Brief moments of euphoria dislocated into searing bouts of pain. Exiting the toboggan, a hundred yards separated from the point of departure, I pivoted. The body turned, the kneecap remained. When the patella slid back into place, it shattered the knee bone and ripped the quadriceps.
I called for help. My dad and uncle found me at the bottom of the hill. Even at that age, I was a Bubba. Two grown men were unable to lift me up the icy slope, now seemingly a mountain. The ascent was brutal. When I made it to the peak, the knee had doubled in size.
In the frozen cacophony of Wildwood’s forests, I trampled a similar snow underfoot. No longer a boy and increasingly aware of it. Recent weather blanketed weary tree limbs. A mid-afternoon sun hid behind massive cloud formations. Only a dull glow to illuminate the subjects of my photos, but it would have to suffice.
I purposely began this adventure on the other side of the wildlife reserve, the North entrance, a lake away from the coveted bridge.
I gave myself a little over an hour to explore the snow-laden woods before worrying about making it to work. I wanted more time, but today would not allow it. The first captured scenes were promising.
I lingered here for awhile. The path under the trees calling to me. I’d have followed it to the very end, to the solidified waters of Wildwood Lake, but, alas, that was not my fate. A shot presented itself in the form of some fisherman’s misfortune. Vibrant orange juxtaposed against pale snow, but what showed up in the viewfinder didn’t do it justice. Like MJ said, though, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Time melted into the ether. In a half hour, I’d have to relinquish this quest, leave the serenity of Wildwood, and clock in at WHP. The tripod folded, almost reluctantly, as I packed it up and slung it over my shoulder. I wielded it like a battle axe, proudly, triumphantly. The pace quickened, much to the dismay of my aging joints. I then realized the folly in my plan.
The walkway through the woods wrapped around the lake, leaving no direct route to the sought after man-made overpass. I would have to cover roughly two miles of slushy earth in thirty minutes to reach the destination. Plausible? Absolutely. Admirable? Indeed. Rational? No. Hell no.
It was another blow to my weakened psyche. To know that, despite rigorous effort to restore strength to my knees, I’m incapable of making that trek. Dejected, I turned around. A cold, familiar walk to my car. It was a wise decision to forego the exploration, but sensibility doesn’t build egos. My thoughts were heavy.
Another miscalculation, this time in my favor. I had time, I realized. I could drive closer. I could make it happen. In my noble steed, a Chrysler Cirrus with 160,000 under the hood, I bolted out of the North side lot. She slid across the slippery roadway. A calculated drift. Accelerating through Industrial Drive, I arrived at the park’s main entrance, drove to the far end of the parking lot, and slid again into a space.
In one seamless motion, I grabbed the sticks and Sony Cybershot while opening the door. Joints snapped and crackled upon exiting the car, but they didn’t pop. The sign read “Delta Boardwalk 0.4 Miles.” The bridge unseen but waiting for me at the end of the walk.
I passed on several photo ops, the most intriguing: a family of mallards swimming through a narrow unfrozen patch of the Paxton Creek. This opportunity surrendered for the greater good of this mission.
When the tree line thickened and the boardwalk narrowed, I checked the phone again. Months of endurance training paid off. I had made better time than anticipated. I stopped to capture a message in the forest. Not deeply poetic, but it gave me peace.
I saw the outline of the bridge in the peripheral. Snow clung to the railings, two inches on either side. The rush of running water drew my attention away. In an instant, I mounted the camera and popped a pic of the Paxton winding.
Momentum built. A deflated morale rallied. Stride length doubled. I finally stood on the meager bridge over a tiny creek in a subzero woodland, soaking in my victory.
I was a King of Winter, fabled and stoic, at least by my own accord.
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